Tonight, Meredith and I enjoyed a private peek into part of Portland’s food and cocktail future with a sampling of two future area establishments, and I’m happy to report that the town seems to be in good hands.
The Portland Hunt & Alpine Club has been on our radar ever since Andrew Volk and his wife Briana announced their creative idea after moving from the other Portland, where Andrew was an award-winning bartender at one of our favorite Portland, OR restaurants, Clyde Common. The concept is brilliantly simple – a club where the craft cocktail comes first, an “ever-changing cocktail menu that will reflect Andrew’s experience and passion in the industry”. There’s a membership aspect to the club that features, among other things, personalized cocktail menus, trips, tastings, partnerships with other bars, and annual and monthly events, including their “Hush, Hush” speakeasy (to which we were fortunate enough to score an invite), featuring talented chefs alongside Andrew’s cocktails. How amazing does all of this sound? Sign us up!
The third of the Hush, Hush events took place last night at Might & Main’s awesome new digs on Fore Street. The space is perfectly Portland and perfectly Might & Main, and having worked with these talented folks in the past, I was excited to catch up with them and others over drinks and food.
The drinks. Andrew absolutely killed it with the libations. Featuring the Fernet Branca portfolio, each cocktail was pleasantly unique, inventive, and flavorful. We started with a refreshing Herb of Grace Punch (Candolini Ruta Grappa, black tea, oleo-saccharum, and lemon juice), which judging from what I’ve read about the bitter Candolini Ruta Grappa, “refreshing” is no easy task. Next, was the Punt e Mes Sangaree (Punt e Mes, Royal Rose Tamarind, nutmeg, and grapefruit peel). This one was slightly heavier than the first, but delicious none the less, and seeing the Biddeford-based Royal Rose Syrups being used was a huge plus. Unfortunately, in the excitement over the cocktails, the accompanying food (which I’ll get to in just a minute), and the pleasant company, Meredith and I accidentally skipped over the third offering: the Saffron Sour (Fernet Branca, Royal Rose Saffron, egg white, and lime juice), but we have it on good authority that this one might have been the best of the bunch! Finally, the Fratelli Stinger (Brandy, Branca Menta, and a lemon twist) finished our drinks for the evening with a deep citrusy mint send-off.
You’d think that all of the above would make for a good post, but I’d completely fail you if I didn’t tell you about the second half of this tasty evening – the food. Chris Gould (of Boston’s Coppa and Uni) prepared an exceptional spread of small plates to accompany the cocktails. Chris, with his wife Paige, is planning on opening a “seasonally inspired small plates restaurant with international flavors” sometime later this year, and if the dishes we sampled tonight were a fair preview, this yet-to-be-named place will quickly rise to the top of any Portland must-eat list. Chris’s Little Neck Clams (with a lobster emulsion, uni, and wheat berries) and Goat Cheese (with Za’atar, dried olive, and lavish) were flavorful but perfectly balanced, and I could have eaten the Smoked Brisket (on homemade potato rolls, with dijon mustard, and pickles) until I had to be carried away. The Yellow Fin Ventresca (with preserved orange, anaheim peppers, and celery leaves) however, was a dish that left me sneaking back, again and again. And again.
I think that when it’s all said and done, the hardest part of last night’s Hush, Hush is the waiting game we’ll now have to anxiously play until both of these places find their permanent homes. Until then, you can rest assured that we’ll be keeping our ears to the ground for any updates, and that when they do open their doors, they’ll have at least two faithful patrons waiting on the other side.
I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but we haven’t posted a single photo of our lab, Orvis, in quite some time. If you know Michael or me, you’re surely aware that this is quite uncharacteristic of us. We’re downright smitten with that dog!
To remedy the lack of Orvis-ness on the site, I thought I’d share some photos I took of Orvis on a recent walk to Fisherman’s Point, just down the road from our house. It was a cold, grey day and the snow from the recent blizzard had mostly drifted away. This spot overlooking our neighborhood dog-friendly beach, is one of my very favorite places to visit any time of the year.
Meredith and I first found out about the Jonathan Edwards Winery when we spent an evening at Black Trumpet Bistro, in Portsmouth, chatting over dinner with the very knowledgeable and incredibly friendly wine buyer, R. J. Joyce. He recommended a delicious 2009 Merlot that paired perfectly with our meal, and told us that if we were ever in southern Connecticut, that we should drop by the winery that had produced it. Last weekend, we took him up on his advice, and did just that while staying not too far away in Watch Hill, RI.
The Jonathan Edwards Winery, in North Stonington, CT, would be worth the visit even if the wine weren’t as wonderful as it happens to be. Situated on a picturesque 50-acre converted dairy farm, the vineyard and winery (in the remarkably-well renovated dairy barn) fit perfectly with the rural Connecticut countryside. With daily tastings and tours, that can be tailored for the amateur (Meredith and I) or the true oenophile, and a tasting room with comfy leather seating in front of the fireplace and a porch overlooking the vines, it’s the kind of place where one could easily lose an afternoon (and evening). They even hold a number of concerts, dinners, special tastings, and custom events on most weekends, year-round.
I’ll try not to show off my lack of wine knowledge, but I thought it was incredibly interesting to hear about how the winery is completely unique in its method of bi-coastal production. The Jonathan Edwards Winery grows some of its grapes on its own vineyard in Connecticut, and leases farmland in Napa Valley to grow other varietals. Because of this setup, the winery is able to offer an extensive list of wines, suited to the different climates and growing seasons.
On our visit to the vineyard, Meredith and I were shocked at how many people showed up on a wintery afternoon for the tasting and tour. With a light snow falling outside, we decided to warm up with the 7-wine tasting, and spent the afternoon with good conversation, an informative (but not overwhelming) tour, and some of the most flavorful and balanced wines we’d ever had the opportunity to try. When it was finally time to go, we selected a few of our favorites (the 2010 Merlot, the 2009 Cabernet Franc, and the 2010 Napa Chardonnay) and begrudgingly headed back into the cold.
Michael & I usually keep things pretty low-key on Valentine’s Day. Our celebration always includes cooking a nice dinner together in the evening and a simple exchange of handwritten cards. In the recent years, we’ve noticed that one of the things we look forward to the most on Valentine’s Day is seeing the work of Portland’s Valentine Bandit.
Every year on Valentine’s Eve, the bandit (sometimes known as the phantom) secretly places hundreds and hundreds of red hearts on the walls, windows, and doors of many of Portland’s storefronts and buildings in the middle of the night. It’s a simple thought, but a grand gesture, that reminds us of just how much we love our city and the people in it.
This year, seeing a heart in the window of Longfellow Books brought a little extra warmth to my own heart. This past week, Longfellow suffered a tragic accident, when a water pipe from the floor above burst in their shop, ruining thousands of books – almost 50% of their inventory. Longfellow is a Portland staple, and to see the community rally around them has truly been touching. If you, like us, love books and the important role businesses like Longfellow play in a community, please help out.
Typically we only write about one black lab on Map & Menu, but over the weekend I met a dog who is a bit of a celebrity in Boston – Catie Copley. She’s the Canine Ambassador at the Fairmont Copley Plaza where she spends her days greeting hotel guests and accompanying them on walks throughout Boston. Originally trained as a guide dog, Catie has been the star of two children’s books and is even mentioned on Boston’s Duck Tours upon their arrival in Copley Square! According to one of the concierges with whom I spoke, Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, Taylor Swift, and Bernadette Peters are just a few of the celebrities Catie has impressed over the years.
I met Catie on Friday afternoon and happened to find out that the following day, there would be a celebration of her eleventh birthday party at the hotel. As luck would have it, I was returning to the Fairmont Copley the next afternoon, and sincerely hoped I would have the chance to see the birthday girl herself! Not only did I have the opportunity to see her (three times!), but I also managed to grab a few photos of Catie. I couldn’t resist sharing them on Map & Menu, and urging all dog-lovers to stop in to see Catie on your next visit to Boston. She is such a sweet pup!
It goes without saying that Michael and I (and perhaps Orvis since the hotel is dog-friendly!) will be staying at the Fairmont Copley the next time we’re in Boston for a night or two. Once we make our reservation, we’ll inquire about Catie’s availability to go on a walk around the city with us – from what I’ve read online, her schedule fills up quickly!
There are a handful of shops in the Old Port that Michael and I visit nearly every single time we’re out and about downtown, and Blanche & Mimi is one of them. Located on Middle Street right in the heart of the Old Port, Blanche & Mimi is home to one of the finest collections of vintage and new home accessories in town. Several of the most treasured items around our home were found at Blanche & Mimi, and it’s always one of the first places to visit on our list when we’re looking for the perfect gift.
Since many of our friends and two of our sisters started having children in the last couple of years, Blanche & Mimi is also our go-to shop for baby gifts as well. The back of the store is dedicated to all things baby and filled with the most darling baby clothes, sweet & snuggly stuffed animals, and children’s toys & accessories. On more than one occasion, when Michael and I have been stumped as to what to buy for our niece or nephew, the girls at Blanche & Mimi make the perfect recommendation that in turn make our sisters smile from ear to ear!
Since returning home from France, I’ve noticed how much I’ve come to appreciate the eye of owner, Hilary Sinauer, and her ability to source such a splendidly unique collection of goods. Browsing the selection at Blanche and Mimi is the closest experience I’ve had at home to our afternoon of antiquing in L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue.
Lately we’ve noticed how often Hilary seems to add new items to the shop. We’ve visited on three different occasions in the last five or six weeks, and each time we’ve been in, Michael and I have noticed how many new objects were added since our last visit. This makes stopping in the shop an absolute must whenever I find myself in the Old Port, and I strongly suggest you do the same the next time you’re in town!
After spending the last four Christmas holidays in North Carolina with our families, Michael and I have decided to give Christmas in Maine a go this year. The sheer possibility of having a white Christmas sends me over the moon with excitement! Since we’ve typically spent so much time away from our house during the holidays, we’ve never seen the point of having a Christmas tree that’s anything more than the small Pottery Barn one we keep on the table in our entryway. All of that changes this year, and of course, the second after we finished our meal on Thanksgiving, I was already pestering Michael about when we’d go and select our very first Christmas tree.
We’d been familiar with The Old Farm Christmas Place in nearby Cape Elizabeth for a few years now, as one of our go-to, Orvis-approved, hiking trails borders the farm. In fact, I’m fairly certain that we started tossing around the idea of spending Christmas in Maine while hiking one weekend last December, when we saw families finding and cutting their Christmas trees at the farm next door. Set on a hilly farm in Cape Elizabeth, there are few things more Christmas-inspiring than row after row of fir trees, and the possibility that one of them is there for your living room. There was never a question as to where we would get our Christmas tree – visiting The Old Farm Christmas Place was a given.
This past Sunday we bundled up and headed over to the farm to cut down our tree. The Old Farm Christmas Place is just as charming as it sounds – the barn, wreaths, rows of trees, tractor rides, and even hot chocolate and a fire to warm patrons. Given that we were new to this whole Christmas tree farm thing, we didn’t know that we could actually cut the tree down ourselves. You have the option of tagging your selected tree and having someone at the farm cut it, or you can bring a saw (or borrow one of theirs) and do the job yourself. The staff at the farm was extremely helpful, and we got to work right away. By the time Michael was sawing away at the base of our tree and I was giving it a little push (and shouting “Timber!” like a champ), we’d completely forgotten that our fingers were numb from the cold – all we could think about was the fact that we were cutting down our Christmas tree ourselves. With a saw. Lumberjack style.
Afterwards we rode down the hill in the tractor with our tree, a seven foot balsam fir that fits perfectly in our living room. It’s lit and decorated, and once we finish it up, we’ll be sure to share it with you. If you don’t already have a tree for yourself, we highly recommend that you pay The Old Farm Christmas Place a visit!