Meredith and I don’t often visit new restaurants in their first week of operation. We typically like to avoid the crowds and let the establishment work out the kinks, but after a few days of hearing and reading so many good things about the newly renovated, re-geared, and renamed Empire Chinese Kitchen, we decided that an early dim sum lunch was just a little too tempting to delay.
The new owners of Empire have done an awesome job with the renovation. Long before our meals had arrived, Meredith was happily snapping photos of all the details of the dining room and gushing about the natural light, open space, and relaxed feel of the room. We arrived right as the doors opened and were lucky to get a booth by a window before the room (and waiting list) quickly filled up.
We started with a couple of tasty cocktails (the Yellow Fever and the Dragon’s Milk) and ordered a handful of small plate and dim sum dishes which arrived in a slightly staggered fashion, leading to a leisurely tapas-style lunch. First up were the delicious peking duck buns (my personal favorite) and the har gow (one of a few of the gluten-free options on the menu). It’s a standard rule of thumb for me that pretty much anything served in a steamed bun will be awesome, and the savory peking duck didn’t disappoint – I’d highly recommend trying it. We also tried the lobster dumplings and the unique Empire egg roll, made with pastrami and asparagus and served with honey dijon. We thoroughly enjoyed each of the dishes we tried, and the three-count dumplings led to a number of small chopstick sword fighting battles.
All in all, I think we’re both glad that we ignored our recently-opened restaurant ban this time around, and can’t wait for a revisit to try the remaining items on the menu. Anyone want to join us?
Updated: Unfortunately Fromviandoux has closed.
Over the past couple of weeks, whenever someone mentions that they’ll be soon be spending time in Camden (or anywhere in the mid-coast region for that matter) I all but interrupt them and insist that they treat themselves to Afternoon Tea at Fromviandoux during their trip. We owe our friend, Anestes, for putting this gem of an experience on our radar, and on a recent excursion to the area, I was able to take advantage of the suggestion and give it a try myself.
Afternoon Tea at Fromviandoux consists of a pot of tea and three scrumptious accompanying courses that are quite honestly almost too lovely to eat! I chose the Avena’s Garden blend which was first served with scones, a peach bread, housemade cream, lemon curd (my favorite!), and jam. After that what followed could be considered a meal in and of itself – eight tea sandwiches presented in pairs. Of the sandwiches, the lobster salad on a cheddar biscuit was simply divine. Up next were the petit fours! At this time I was more than just a little full from the first few courses, but I’ve never in my life turned down a plate of sweets sitting in front of me. The hazlenut chocolate truffle, the strawberry shortcake, and the date & fig “newtons” were all delightfully delicious.
The warm, inviting interior and plentiful light inside the Fromviandoux space creates a perfect environment for such a lovely experience. After such an enjoyable afternoon, I now have my sights set on returning with Michael for one of their Cocktail Wednesdays or Wine & Cheese Saturdays.
With my family in town from Wyoming, we had a chance to partake in many of our favorite activities (read: eat at some of our favorite restaurants) this weekend! On Friday night we met friends at Hunt & Alpine for drinks and then we made our way to Flea Bites for some dinner from Small Axe and ran into even more friends. Saturday was spent working, but on Sunday we celebrated my dad’s birthday by brunching at The Good Table, hiking at Wolfe’s Neck, and dining at Local 188 + Gorgeous Gelato that evening. A wonderfully delicious, fun-filled weekend with family that we don’t see nearly enough!
On Tuesday evening, Meredith and I had the chance to do something we’ve been looking forward to for a very long time – visit Portland Hunt & Alpine Club. Tuesday night was just the soft opening leading up to Thursday’s grand opening, but after months of getting excited from Hush Hush preview events and watching construction and planning updates on their facebook and Instagram feeds, we could barely contain our excitement for what is hands-down one of Portland’s absolute best bars and sure to be a regular hang-out spot for the two of us.
Owners Andrew and Briana Volk have done an outstanding job designing their new space on Market Street. A clean, modern interior with dark wood accents, Eames and Tolix furnishings, floor to ceiling windows, and of course, a large metal-topped bar make for the kind of place that I could easily imagine spending an afternoon, evening, or multi-night stint. Details like the stamped leather drink menus, the map-printed house menus and coasters, and the lighted, mounted antlers in The Lodge are just added eye candy, and we haven’t even discussed the mouth-watering cocktails yet.
Oh, those cocktails. I’ve already spent a fair amount of time on this blog writing about how Andrew can absolutely kill it when it comes to creative, beautiful, and delicious libations, but when I say that he’s outdone himself with the menu at Hunt & Alpine, I mean it. With pretty much something for anyone, I won’t try to dictate what you order, but from the soft opening, I can personally vouch for the Old Fashioned-esque Toronto, and my favorite from the evening, the Chilton County, with bourbon, lemon, peach butter, and egg white. Meredith was a huge fan of her White Noise, made with St. Germain, Cocchi Americano, and grapefruit zest, and has barely stopped talking about it. As we watched our friends at the opening sample their own drinks, the response was pretty much a unanimous “wow” from everyone in the room. If you’re having a hard time deciding, I wholly recommend taking it to the maestro himself with a few parameters and letting Andrew make an excellent recommendation.
I’m getting a little long-winded and could probably rave about the cocktails, chef Ricky Penatzer’s small plates (like the open-faced sandwiches, “The Hunter” charcuterie plate, “The Skier” cheese selection, or the savory popcorn), the atmosphere, or how we’ve already made plans with half a dozen friends to meet here over the next couple of weeks, for another few paragraphs, but I won’t. Simply try Portland Hunt & Alpine for yourself, you definitely won’t regret the choice.
In lieu of our weekly round-up of travel & food-related links, we thought we’d share this fantastic video by my sister & brother-in-law. They traveled to Maine earlier this summer and put together a short film with some of the footage they shot that week. We love it. And we love them!
Have a wonderful holiday weekend, friends!
It seems like I’ve been waking up each morning for the past week trying to think of creative excuses to find myself in the area of Broadway and Main St. in South Portland, all for one reason – Little Bigs. It’s slightly outside of my normal route into Portland or to get onto I-95, but the delicious doughnuts and savory pies that they’re serving up are definitely worth the detour.
It’s pretty easy to see why doughnuts like the raised yeast raspberry Bismark with cream cheese or the traditional cake buttermilk glazed have my attention, but the gluten-free egg pies (like the bacon, onion, and cheddar, or the broccoli, tomato, and goat cheese) in pressed russet potato crusts have had Meredith pushing for return trips just as much as me.
So far, we haven’t stopped by for their lunchtime savory pies, but you can bet that it’ll only be a matter of time. If you find yourself starting out on an early road-trip South or just in the neighborhood for any reason, definitely drop in and try some of these ‘delicious hand foods to go’.
Meredith and I often get asked by visiting Map & Menu readers, family, and friends what to eat in Portland, so inspired by the recurring ’10 Plates’ feature in Food & Wine and a delightful dinner in Kittery with a fellow food-crazed friend, we found ourselves talking about a few of our favorite dishes from around town. Sort of an “if I could have a single item off of 10 different Portland menus, what would they be?” Not surprisingly, it was pretty difficult to limit ourselves to only ten of our top menu staples, but we were somewhat aided by the fact that a number of our favorite restaurants have ever-changing menus, and we wanted people to be able to order any of these items at any time while in Portland. So without further adieu, here are 10 of our favorite bites to eat in Portland:
Fore Street Mussels
Don’t get us wrong, just about everything we’ve ever tried at Fore Street has been perfect, but for the two of us, no meal there is complete without starting with the mussels. In typical Fore Street fashion, the dish is beautifully simple (essentially garlic, butter, and mussels), but give me a loaf of Standard Bakery’s bread, and I’ll return a completely clean dish – devoid of buttery broth and all.
Otto Pizza Masher
Mashed potato, bacon, and scallion on a pizza. There’s a reason this piece of heaven is one of the few standard slice offerings whenever you visit Otto. If you’ve never tried it and you manage to walk past Otto without grabbing a slice, I commend your will power.
Blue Spoon BLT
We needed a picture of this Blue Spoon lunch time favorite to round out the post, but knew that we wouldn’t have time for a lunch in town, so I did what any reasonable bacon lover would and ordered it for breakfast. Two thick slices of sourdough are home to a plentiful amount of applewood smoked bacon, tomato, lettuce, and rosemary mayo. Pair it with a Peeper and the whole grain mustard potato salad, and you’re in for a treat.
Eventide Brown Butter Lobster Roll
We just covered Eventide’s lobster roll on our Maine Lobster Roll roundup a couple of weeks ago, but once you take a bite of the warm, savory lobster meat, there will be little doubt as to why it’s deserving of the repeat mention.
Blue Rooster Fried Brussels Sprouts
Blue Rooster knows how to do it right. I’ve never heard Meredith get excited about hot dogs lunches, but when they’re dressed like the Colombiano and served with a side of the fantastic fried Brussels sprouts with sweet chili sauce, sesame, and queso fresco, who can blame her for her excitement?
Petite Jacqueline Cheese Plate
This one is a little more loosely defined than the rest, since it’s not a particular combination of cheeses that has repeatedly won us over, but rather the fact that every time we try a few cheeses off of Petite’s menu, we immediately make sure to write the name down for future reference.
Duckfat Fries with Thai Chili Mayo
If you’ve ever experienced the fries at Duckfat, you know why this item is on our menu; but it’s time to stop playing it safe with your truffle ketchup, and dip those bad boys in the thai chili mayo – you can thank me later.
Pai Men Miyake Pai Tan Ramen
To me, this is Portland comfort food at its finest. In a city where at least 3/4 of the year can be aptly described as “chilly to frigid,” a warm, flavorful bowl of Pai Men Miyake’s pai tan ramen can warm even the coldest of Southern transplants. Did I mention the pork belly part of this equation? Winning.
El Rayo Fish Taco
Some people prefer fried fish in their fish tacos, but once you’ve tried El Rayo’s version – grilled achiote seasoned fish fillet, sliced avocado, crunchy veggie slaw, and that house chipotle mayo – I think it would sway even the most loyal of fried fish followers.
Boda Beef Panaeng
It’s hard to describe just how spot-on this meal at Boda is. Right to a fault since being the first dish I ever ordered at Boda, I’ve never seen reason to try any other part of the menu. I’ll let the menu do the talking – “braised organic Wolfe’s Neck Farm beef in a flavorful panaeng curry (salty and sweet with aromas of Thai basil and lime leaves) with coconut cream, served with jasmine rice.” It doesn’t hurt that this is quite possibly the most delicious gluten-free meal I’ve ever had in my life.
Well, it’s impossible to say that this list covers all of Portland’s best dishes, but I think it’s a pretty fair sampling. We’d love to know, what dishes would you add to the list?
Last week, we spent an amazing day on one of the most delightful places we’ve visited in Maine – Isle of Springs. Over the past few years, Meredith has had multiple photo shoots on and around the island, but until our friends from North Carolina, John and Emily, invited us to their family home on the island, I’d never had the chance to see what all the fuss was about. Simply put, it was amazing.
The weather was gorgeous and the island was more Maine-ly picturesque than one could imagine. Our hosts were both welcoming & accommodating, taking us on a guided walk around the island and boat ride through Sheepscot Bay and into Boothbay Harbor, and spending the evening entertaining us with great stories and tasty food. By the time we pulled back into our driveway late that evening, we were completely spent from the day we’d left behind, and collapsed into bed, dreaming about future trips to the island.
A special thanks goes out to Emily, John, and the rest of the Ayer family for the unmatched memories.
Last week, after we returned from Snug Harbor Farm in Kennebunk, Michael admitted that he had incorrectly thought I was being a little melodramatic when I came home raving about my first visit to the farm last spring. I think I recall touting it as “pretty much the most amazing place ever”, to which Michael smiled but took with a grain of salt. (If you’ve read this blog for more than a few posts, you know that I can get a little excited about some of the places we visit.) I must admit though, it was exceptionally nice to hear Michael show almost the same enthusiasm after he’d had a chance to experience the farm last week on our day trip down the coast.
Snug Harbor Farm is far from your average nursery. Perhaps it’s the rows upon rows of beautiful topiaries, or the seemingly endless supply of the most gorgeous and unique succulent arrangements (a number of which can now be found around our house). Maybe it’s the delightful collection of home & garden goods in the shop, the wonderfully kept old farmhouse property, the gorgeous terra cotta pots (yes, even the pots are awesome), or even the adorable farm dogs that might just follow you around while you browse – believe me when I say that there is just something special about this farm.
Inspired by this article in the latest issue of Bon Appétit, Michael and I had our own little picnic dinner by the sea last night at Fisherman’s Point. We prepared one of the recipes from the article - a quinoa salad with peaches & pickled onion – packed some cheese, crackers, and a bottle of wine, grabbed our favorite blanket and walked down to the shore.
It was the perfect evening – other couples were there with similar picnic ideas, enjoying the light, (almost chilly) salty ocean breeze. Michael and I watched the boats returning to their moorings in Simonton Cove, and lost track of time daydreaming about owning our own boat and possible adventures exploring the various islands of Casco Bay.
We visit Fisherman’s Point often throughout the year, but in our four years of living within a five minute walk of this picturesque park in South Portland, we’ve somehow never thought to, or made time to picnic there. After last night’s lovely experience, we’ll surely make time to do it again in the coming weeks.