Monthly Archives: March 2013

Eating, Drinking, St. Patrick’s Day, and Consumption Laws

FB_IMG_13459295361487497St. Patrick’s Day passed as it does every March. Because it fell on a Sunday this year, bars such as Brian Boru in Portland were encouraging the state to pass an “emergency” law allowing them to open at 6am instead of the usual 9am that is currently allowed by state law on Sunday. Every other day of the week, liquor can be sold starting at 6am and ending at 1am. That means that Monday through Saturday liquor can be sold 6am to 1am and on Sunday 9am to 1am. It’s actually fairly simple. There aren’t a lot of other laws to go with that and if you live in Maine, you pretty much know the other ones – no drinking in public, no taking liquor out of a place where it’s meant to be consumed on premises, etc.

The issue with St. Patrick’s Day is of course that a decent number of people want to drink all day starting early and ending late or one or the other. I’ve personally never been that excited for St. Patrick’s Day and don’t usually make much effort to go out for it. I’m over 21 and I can pretty much drink alcohol whenever I want so it’s not critical for me to do it on that day, but certainly there are times that I want to go out and have some drinks. So while I don’t necessarily understand what’s so special about pretending you’re Irish one day of the year, I understand quite well wanting to go out and have a good time for any number of reasons.

As will happen every so often, St. Patty’s day fell on Sunday this year. Bars, especially Irish pubs, thinking they could earn more money by opening earlier, asked that the state make an exception and allow them to open when they would have been able to if  it had been any other day of the week. The state, despite having plenty of other pressing issues on their plate, agreed. It should be noted that years ago the law required no alcohol sales prior to noon on Sunday.

I believe the state did the right thing in this case. But the issue brings up many questions about what the state could do better in regards to the restaurant/bar industry and alcohol regulation. St. Patrick’s Day isn’t the biggest drinking day of the year – that designation is reserved for the day before Thanksgiving – but it’s probably second or third. And with significant demand, bars were allowed to open bright and early which earned them and the state some revenue they otherwise would have missed out on. Certainly, with the economy as weak as it is, this is a good thing. But even in more prosperous times, would it be that bad? Of course not.

This all begs the following question: If bars are allowed to open at 6am on a Sunday when the demand is high for their products, why wouldn’t they also be allowed to open when the demand is lower if they still felt they could make money? The answer, as far as I can tell, is that there isn’t any reason at all. I would suggest that it’s a leftover law that, while softened, still is outdated and without purpose.

Taking this issue further, it should be noted that Maine, while having a massive tourism industry relative to its size and incredible restaurant scene has some of the stricter alcohol laws in the country. None is more noticeable than the early end to sales at 1am. The reasons that I’ve heard for this are primary law enforcement related. But I question if these concerns are rooted in reality. While I haven’t done any hard scientific research on this issue, I have experienced nightlife in other areas of the country and world with different laws.

In my extensive experience going to bars in Portland later at night – primarily when I was younger – there were indeed fights, which I believe is one of the primary law enforcement concerns. They occurred later at night, usually after the bars closed and in the area of establishments serving food to intoxicated patrons. I have a suspicion that not much has changed since those days.

One place that provides an interesting comparison to Portland is New York City. While NYC is well over 100 times the size of Portland, it also allows serving of alcohol until 4am.  In my experience there and from the experience of friends who lived there, there are rarely fights or other crimes that occur from people leaving bars, even very late at night. Why is that? Presumably, people still drink like they do in Maine and they’ve certainly got plenty of time to do it.  However, they have more time to leave the venue on their own and go their own way. If they do get into a fight or cause some sort of problem, what’s the difference whether it occurs at 1am or 4am? What happens if you don’t limit the hours establishments can serve at all like in Nevada? Certainly there is alcohol related crime just like anywhere else, but at least everyone isn’t leaving together to cause trouble en masse.

There’s no doubt that people are more likely to commit crimes when drunk, but are they more likely to be drunken criminals at 2 or 3am than at 1am? Partiers will start drinking later and it won’t be any different than it is now. If they have to go home at 1am as determined by current law, they start early or drink faster. I know because I have done it. If people aren’t rushed, they won’t have to do that and can enjoy themselves at a leisurely pace.

Of further importance to this issue is that restaurants could be open later, allowing more people to be served and more revenue to be earned. This would likely be a significant assist to restaurants and the economy in general. A change in the laws would likely take six months to a year for residents to get used to, but tourists, often coming from areas where they can stay out later, would spend more money. Many restaurants here make their latest reservations around 9pm. In other areas of the country, people aren’t even getting ready to go out yet at 9.

So why doesn’t Maine allow establishments serving liquor to make their own choices regarding hours of operation? No place would ever be forced to stay open. They would make their hours of operation based on whether or not they thought they could make money. Can someplace make money 24 hours per day? If so, why would the state stop that? The truth is that a 24 hour bar/restaurant is pretty unlikely to succeed in Portland, but why stop it if it if it could?

It’s unlikely that looser serving laws will have a negative impact on criminal behavior, especially violent criminal behavior, other than to possibly change the time at which it occurs. People get drunk now if they want and they commit crimes if they want and that won’t change. What will change are attitudes and revenue. The “I’ve got to hurry up and get drunk” attitude will be gone. The forcing of all drunken individuals onto the streets at the same time will be gone. Revenue will be increased and citizens will be able to decide when they want to go out. It’s time for the state should consider loosening or removing serving time restrictions for bars and restaurants and get more in line with states that have done the same. This will be great for tourism, the state, and citizens who want to enjoy a later night out. There are already a number of great reasons to visit this great state. Let’s add a night life to the list.

Stay hungry.

Feel free to email me at peterpeterportlandeater@yahoo.com with any thoughts, suggestions, criticisms, or otherwise helpful info or feel free to post your thoughts below.

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Silly’s/Silly’s With a Twist – No Rhyme, No Reason

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Take a buffalo. Sauté it with butter and anchovies. Then breed it with a dragon, some dynamite, and a beagle. Put it in a cotton candy maker, cover it in chocolate sprinkles, and drive it through a car wash. Shove it all into a spray can and call it by the name of your favorite soap opera star. Then spray it all around the house and lick it off the walls. That’s a craziness that resembles Silly’s.

Silly’s is a rare eatery that successfully manages not to have a cohesive theme.  It’s sort of the Seinfeld of the Portland restaurant scene. A mish-mosh of people, food, scenery, and total randomness make up the awesome that is Silly’s. Their website even describes the application for employment as a plain white paper plate with which you can do whatever you want. It’s definitely a little different from your everyday yum-yum joint.

First opened in 1988 and moved to its current location in 1997, Silly’s was sold in 2002 to current owner Colleen Kelley. Then, just a little over a year ago now, Kelley opened Silly’s With a Twist next door. SWAT is pretty much the same except with a full bar for those whose thirst requires adult libations. Both places have seating available outdoors for the warmer months.  

It was a busy night at Silly’s when we arrived. We took the last two available seats at SWAT which were located at the end of the bar. There are a few things about the place that stood out once we were seated. The bar top was made of a huge number of corks. The staff all appeared to be happy and most were tattooed. There were lunch boxes on the tables that house menus, napkins, silverware, etc. And there were games such as Trivial Pursuit available to keep customers entertained. All of these added to the Silly’s craziness.

We were given separate food and drink menus. Ordering from the drink menu was skipped in favor of water, but they had a number of specialty/signature drinks and a bunch of signature milkshakes. We could also make our own shake in which we had the option of including almost any crazy thing we could think of from bacon to Tang to avocado. The menus both had a great selection of vegan and vegetarian, gluten-free, and dairy-free options.

Pretty much everything at Silly’s, from the sauces to the desserts, is made in-house except for a few items such as the falafel and jerk seasoning. That is definitely part of what makes Silly’s so special and, considering the size of the menu, it is very impressive. The food menu includes apps, dinners, wraps, pizzas, and lots of other goodies. In my experience, the cooks will adapt to almost any special request. If you can think of it, they will try to make it.

On most of my visits I order the Nacho Nacho Man – Silly’s has some great names for their food – to start, and my wife usually orders the Fried Pickles. Both are shining examples of the great food at Silly’s. For the nachos, you can choose either corn or flour tortillas. I usually pick the flour for a change of pace since pretty much all nachos are made with corn elsewhere. The tortillas are then topped with two types of cheese, jalapenos, and scallions. You get homemade salsa, sour cream, and avocado pulp on the side. I order without avocado since I despise the mushy green stuff. You can get them vegan or with pulled chicken or herbed tempeh for an extra charge. Regardless of how you prefer them, I believe these are some of the best nachos in Portland.

For a guy who likes tons of toppings on his nachos, what makes the sparsely topped delights so damn good? First, there’s plenty of cheese. The flour tortillas are a nice twist on a traditional nacho. Also, the homemade salsa is one of the best I’ve had. I’m not even sure what makes the salsa so good, but it is really outstanding.   Lastly, there is a secret ingredient which I add to make the nachos burst with spectacular and dynamic flavor. That secret ingredient is Silly’s house-made maple habanero hot sauce. Not too maple-y, nor too habanero-y, the combination of sweet and hot make their hot sauce probably the best I’ve ever had. I’m pretty sure it would go well on anything and next time I buy a bottle of hot sauce, that’s the one I’m buying.

The fried pickles are my wife’s favorites and I must agree that they are some of the best in town. They have a slightly spicy breading and come with a whole condiment bottle of Silly’s spicy dip which seems to be some sort of southwestern sauce but is a bit tastier than what you might get elsewhere. You can also get them served up vegan-style for a small charge.

We received our apps and I just about fell out of my seat. I don’t know if Silly’s had too many nachos in stock that day or they just knew how hungry I was, but I don’t ever remember their nachos being as big as I got on this night. Needless to say, I was pleased with the portion size. We placed our orders for the rest of the food, but I had it in the back of my mind that I might not even make it past the nachos.

I ordered a Buffalo Fried Fish Abdullah Wrap and my wife a Falafel Abdullah Wrap. When the food came out, I was still working hard on my nachos and my wife on her pickles. We had pretty much resigned ourselves to the fact that we weren’t going to finish our meals, but it was getting to the point where we didn’t know if we were even going to start eating our wraps.

Nearing the end of my nachos, I ran out of steam and my feeding frenzy came to a halt. I couldn’t even bite into my wrap. The fish had to be taken home. Mrs. Portlandeater had some pickles left, but took a couple of bites of her wrap and took the rest home. We were disappointed in our abilities to shove food into our face, but excited to have some left over. Our food came to $40 including tip and lasted for two full meals. That said, the meal was outstanding and the service is always excellent.

When we ate our wraps at home the next day, they were yummy and really big. Mine had a whale-sized piece of fish in it, some blue cheese, buffalo sauce, lettuce, tomato, and possibly some other delicious additions.  The falafel came with a cuke dill sauce and some veggies.

If the food at Silly’s isn’t enough to get you there, you should also know that they take buying locally seriously and are very eco-friendly. Virtually all of the few items they don’t make in-house, they buy locally from small, family-owned businesses. Additionally, their services such as banking, laundry, and web site design are all purchased locally. They use eco-friendly products such as recycled and compostable take-out containers. They recycle plastic, paper, metal, cardboard, and the fryolater oil ends up used as fuel for vehicles. Check out their website for all the specifics.

I like everything about Silly’s.  They care about other businesses and what’s around them.  The food is top notch.  The staff is very friendly. Yes, the nachos are absolutely amazing, but I also highly recommend Rings of Fire, Beelicious Stirfry, and Chicken in a Boat which are some of my other favorites. I still enjoy trying new items too since they have so many delicious choices on the menu.  I assure you they put out some seriously delectable goodness. If you haven’t tried the Portland staple that is Silly’s, you need to check it out as soon as possible. It might be the best restaurant value in Portland.

Stay Hungry

Feel free to email me at peterpeterportlandeater@yahoo.com with any thoughts, suggestions, criticisms, or otherwise helpful info or feel free to post your thoughts below.

Fish Bones – Neither Fishy nor Boney

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Trying something different for our second restaurant week excursion, my wife and I decided to venture about 45 minutes away from home to Lewiston. We wanted to try a new restaurant while also having the opportunity to visit and dine with my parents. We decided to try Fish Bones, an establishment that’s been around a few years but was new to both of us. Fish Bones has a reputation of being one of the better, higher-end restaurants in Lewiston, but since Lewiston doesn’t have the food scene that Portland does, I was curious how we would fare.

We arrived early with the thought of getting a pre-dinner drink, but when we got there, we decided against it. We had a half hour to wait before our 7:15 reservations, but the lounge area had plenty of seating available even though they were very busy. We waited while engaging in good conversation, reading some local culture magazines they had available, and watching food that came out to see what was in store for us.

The restaurant was very nice inside. The brick walls which used to house a mill gave the place a great look and contrasted really well with the wooden bar and rustic theme. You might call it rustic industrial. The lounge housed the bar, a few comfortable couches and chairs, and a table or two. There was a dining room on either side of the lounge. One seemed a bit more private as though it might be used as a function room. What appeared to be the main dining room had the kitchen located in the rear.

While we were waiting for seating, the hostess followed up with us a few times – once prior to our reservation time, at 7:15, and at least once after that. Our table was finally ready at 7:30, 15 minutes after our scheduled reservation, but it’s reasonable to give a 15 minute leeway as that’s how long most restaurants will hold your table if you’re late. We were seated in the main dining area and provided standard menus along with the one for restaurant week.

Shortly after being seated, the waitress showed up with water and took our drink orders. I passed on the drink since I was driving, but everyone else ordered wine. Our drinks arrived quickly and we were then given a basket of bread and butter. There were various types of bread and they were all delicious. A short time later we placed our orders. Their regular menu was full of seafood and land-walkers, but we all had the fixed price restaurant week meals which meant we each got to order an appetizer, entree, and dessert.

Three of us ordered the Lobster Rangoons for our appetizers.  My dad chose the Mussels Margaritas, but unfortunately, the waitress returned to tell us they had just run out. He said it was no problem and followed our lead with the rangoons. The food came out in what seemed like no time at all. The plate had a salad of Asian vegetables in sweet Thai chili sauce flanked by two rangoons.

When everyone dug in, the decision was unanimous. The food was awesome. My mom’s fear of Thai chili sauce and my dad’s apprehension from a not-so-great experience there a few years ago after they first opened were both set aside. The Asian-themed app was thoroughly enjoyed by all and truly left us wanting more.

For entrees, we had a full sampling of the restaurant week menu as we tried all three between the four of us.  Dad and my wife had the Panko Crusted Haddock and Native Fingerlings; mom chose the Filet of Sirloin and Maine Shrimp Risotto, while I tried the Baxter Crusted Pork Medallions. The meals came out in quick time and again, everyone was very pleased. My pork was coated in spent grains from the local brewery – Baxter Brewing. It was a cool idea, but it could have used more seasoning. However, it came with a creamy herb and wild mushroom spaetzle that was very flavorful so I mixed pieces of pork into it and they went together as perfectly as a married Tiger Woods and random women at nightclubs.  Both the portions of fish and beef were sizable, with a significant amount of shrimp on the plate with the filet.

The last course was a choice between Maine Apple Cobbler or a Stowaway Brownie Sundae. We all chose the sundae, but by the time we got to dessert, they were out, so we ended up with the cobbler. Our waitress let us know there would be a bit of a delay for this part of the meal because a bunch of them were ordered at once. Since we were pretty full, a few minutes extra wait was actually a good thing. It was also not a big deal because, except for the seating, they were on point the entire night.

Our cobbler came out eventually and was served with house-made bacon brittle maple ice cream. I’m usually not a big fan of maple, but I must say this one was well done. Everyone agreed. The cobbler was yummy and the brittle in the ice cream was a nice crunchy touch.

After we were done, everyone was stuffed. I’m not sure anyone completely finished their dessert and some took food home. Everyone had a great time and a great meal. Four $32 meals and 3 glasses of wine came to $160 plus tip.  A little bit of a wait and running out of a couple items were minor speed bumps in an otherwise great night of food. The service was excellent and our waitress was on top of everything. It turns out that Lewiston does have a place for foodies. If you’re ever there, you should definitely check out Fish Bones. It’s worth it.

Stay Hungry

Feel free to email me at peterpeterportlandeater@yahoo.com with any thoughts, suggestions, criticisms, or otherwise helpful info or feel free to post your thoughts below.

Back Bay Grill, Musings of a Restaurant Critic, and the Need for Truth in Blogging

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I’m a shitty restaurant critic. It’s true. And the reason is for it is very simple. I just like food too damn much. Period. So how does my love of food translate into being a terrible critic of restaurants? That’s a good question and again, it’s simpler than you might imagine.

You see, when I go out to eat, I’m not expecting a lot. Of course I want the place to be clean. Like everyone else, I hope the service is good, I hope there’s an interesting list of options on the menu, and I hope that once I place my order I get something that I can, quite literally, write about. Whether the food is good or not, I write about it either way, but I do take some precautions to make sure that I’m getting tasty, fresh, appetizing food before I ever walk in the door. I really don’t hate my taste buds or stomach enough to go somewhere I think will serve me a rancid turkey burger.

Usually, I go to restaurants that I think I’ll like. Sometimes they’re ones I’ve gotten recommendations for or ones I have been to before. Occasionally, I’ve just driven by a place that looks interesting enough to check out. Other times, it has been a combination of factors that got me there. I’m not just picking places to eat by rolling dice. I’m always reading reviews and talking to people to get their thoughts if they’ve been someplace in which I’m interested. Once in a while, I’ll just go to a random place that I’m completely uncertain about, but that doesn’t happen very much.

My love of food being what it is, once I get to the restaurant, they’ve got it pretty easy with me. If they don’t do something completely idiotic and serve me a decent meal, I’ll not only speak highly of them, but I’ll probably go back. I don’t even really care about the price if the food is very good. Plus, if they’re an independently-owned and local restaurant, I’ll tell others about them in my blog. That’s all it really takes – nothing stupid and good food. Even that comes with a caveat – nothing TOO stupid and good food regardless of how it compares to other restaurants in the area. So if your service is so-so and your $5 nacho is good even though there are half a dozen restaurants whose nachos are better, you still get a “thumbs up”. I’ll probably mention the mediocre service in my blog, but it will be in passing and I won’t make it the focus. The wait-person will probably still get a pretty good tip too. Maybe I’m a sucker, but that’s the way I operate.

If I have such a high tolerance to nonsense, how can I possibly be a good restaurant critic? This is a good question and one which I have been asking myself since I started this blog. The answer lies in the truth. I have mentioned some flaws at local restaurants, but on the whole, I’ve had outstanding food, so I rarely criticize it except maybe to say that one aspect of it wasn’t quite right. A restaurant with bad food in this area is unlikely to last anywhere close to a year. There’s just too much competition.

In my past blog entries, I haven’t left out any details about food and I haven’t ignored any other issues either. I promise to continue doing this. I also promise to be even truthier, making sure I hit on more aspects of the food, service, and intangibles at the places I visit. I promise to keep coming up with new ideas and produce exciting content including more pictures, videos, and other new concepts which I devise. I pledge to visit more restaurants, drink more beverages, and eat more food. And I swear that I will do my best to bring you the hard-hitting facts about the local Portland restaurant scene. And this, my friends, brings me to this past weekend.

Saturday night was a night almost like any other. We typically go out for dinner early because Maine/Portland closes early. Most restaurants close around 10pm even on the weekends and bars legally close by 1am. We scheduled a reservation at Back Bay Grill for restaurant week but it was a little later than our typical dinner time. The reservation was for 8:15, but that just meant we would have time for a beverage before dinner. Because there isn’t much else around the restaurant, we figured we could have a drink right there while we waited for a table. I was excited to visit as I’d never been there before. I wasn’t driving, but we had loose plans for later in the night, so I wasn’t looking to overdo the drinking. I figured I’d lightly front-load (drink early and sober up on the back end), have a nice meal, and retain my faculties so I could still function after dinner.

Back Bay Grill is an extremely popular, high-end restaurant. Their food is expensive, but there’s a reason for it. They’ve won lots of awards, been featured repeatedly in magazines and newspapers, and have even been dubbed “the best restaurant in the state”. In a state with amazing culinary culture, that is major statement. They also have their fair share of local celebrities who dine there. These factors combined with restaurant week made me think it would be a very busy night. I was right.

We arrived at 7:15 ready to quench our thirst. I immediately noticed the small open kitchen and the staff working hard. Light music played in the background. The gentleman running the front of the house greeted us and offered to take our coats but we decline and decided to keep them with us. We announced our intentions to have a drink before our table was ready and were informed that even though there were two seats available at the bar, those seats were reserved for 7:45. That was no problem we told them and offered to give up the seats as soon as the party with the reservations arrived.

When we sat down, the bartender, who had also helped figure out the bar seating situation set up places for us including using a napkin as a tablecloth which is kind of a nice touch. She poured us glasses of water and offered us drink menus and white truffle popcorn. We happily accepted both and began to look at the menu. That’s when things started to get interesting. For the next what felt like forever but was probably at least ten minutes, we were completely ignored. We weren’t given the popcorn, we weren’t asked what drinks we wanted, and we weren’t even looked at. I wish I could say the last part of that was a joke or exaggeration, but I’m dead serious. Parties on both sides of us were being served, so it took some effort to not glance in our general direction.

After the ten or so minutes had passed, we received out popcorn which was quite delicious. The front of the house manager showed up a few minutes later and offered us beverages. I decided on a Manhattan with Maker’s Mark and my wife ordered her usual chardonnay. As I was being handed my drink, I was told by the manager that he forgot to put vermouth in it. He quickly corrected the situation and let me know that if it needed more to just flag him down. The drink was perfect, but he came back in a couple minutes to verify that it was okay. It was extremely strong – something I didn’t have a problem with – but figured because of that it would probably be my only drink of the night. I guessed the cost was about $12 but the happiness it brought me was worth at least that.

For the better part of the next 45 minutes, we were ignored, save for taking away our empty basket of popcorn. This wasn’t all bad as we really didn’t need anything, but we did find it interesting that no one ever came to kick us out of our bar spot as we were told would happen. Around 8:15, we started to wonder what was going on, but we were told that our table would be ready shortly. We were also asked if we had kids or a babysitter that were waiting for us since we were checking our phones. It was courteous of them to ask, but we did not. Ten, 15, and then 20 more minutes passed before we were finally told that the people who were supposed to be at the bar had cancelled while the people at our table were ordering more courses and taking much longer than expected. This would turn out to be the great mistake of the night.

When we were told that there was an issue with our table, we offered to eat at the bar. The manager was gracious that we would consider that and said he would comp us our drinks. While we were thankful for this, had we been told earlier that the bar reservations were cancelled, we would have offered to just eat at the bar at that time. It would have been a simple fix. It was clear that the staff was working very hard, but this one oversight on their part could have made a huge difference in our experience that night. Nonetheless, my drink, now free, was ensuring that I had a good time. I decided not to order another one as I was looking to leave the restaurant on my feet after we ate.

We were given dinner menus. One side had the restaurant week fixed price menu and the other had their standard menu. We both decided to order from the restaurant week side which meant picking one of three of each of the following: appetizer, salad, and entrée. The price was $42 each which was a good option considering that ordering off the regular menu would likely have cost even more.

We got some warm bread and proceeded to wait again. In fact, we waited so long that we were offered another complimentary drink. The wife was driving so she passed, but I, never one to turn down a free drink, ordered a Peak’s Organic, still certain that another Manhattan would have left me unable to leave the restaurant on my own accord. The bartender commented that “we are going to take advantage of you at the end of the night” because of the free drinks. I laughed and thought it was good use of humor to ease the pain our hunger was causing. I received my beer and proceeded to drink while we were waiting for the first course of our meal. At some point while engaging in beer drinking and conversation with my wife, someone who left apparently forgot to shut the door, so cold air blew into the bar area. When my wife went to close it, there seemed to be an issue with the hinges which made it impossible to close completely.

Eventually, we were given some Crispy Fried Pork Belly with Manchego and Herbs. It was a good teaser and soon after, the food we ordered came out. I had the Soba Noodle Salad while she had House Cured Gravlox. I liked the salad. While I’m not sure of the intricacies and conventions of naming food, my food was primarily noodles in a broth and was served with a spoon. I think it’s fair to call it a soup. It was good, however. I enjoyed the light wasabi flavor in the broth. She was lukewarm on her food, possibly as a result of her distaste for the long wait we experienced.

The second course was Bacon and Endive for me and Mixed Greens for her. The food came out reasonably soon after our prior course was done. When my wife tried her food though, she noticed an issue. Her greens, which were supposed to include stilton, candied walnuts and port wine vinaigrette, were missing the vinaigrette. I tried a bite and I couldn’t taste it, nor did we see any dressing on the bottom of the plate. We told the bartender and she offered to just bring us a side of dressing “because of the way the night had been going”, adding that their policy was normally to take it back and fix it. I must say that my food in this course was very good. I don’t love endive usually, but the way it was served with mustard and bacon vinaigrette, brown butter apples, and crispy manchego was really delicious. The bacon was strong and smokey and the dressing was superb. Again, Mrs. Portlandeater was reluctant to praise the food too highly.

Our final course was soon delivered. I had Seared Skate Wing which I was pretty sure had something to do with skateboarding sneakers and my wife had the Black Truffle Risotto. Skate, as it turns out, is actually a fish and came in saffron beurre blanc with grilled radicchio and chickpea mash. The risotto was with roasted wild mushrooms, butter braised leeks, and fontina. My fish was excellent and was a healthy portion. The chickpea mash wasn’t great as I felt it was a bit under-seasoned. However, the grilled radicchio was amazing. There were only a couple pieces on my plate as it wasn’t the focal point of the meal, but I could have eaten that all night. I’m serious when I say they should take a bunch of that and make it into a salad. It was truly outstanding. My wife did seem to enjoy the risotto better than the previous courses. She probably wasn’t starving by that point which gave her the opportunity to really enjoy the food.

When we finished our last course, it was 10:25pm. We had been there over three hours. My wife was exhausted. I was amazed at the entire experience. It was also pretty clear to me that the staff was embarrassed about it. In some respects they should be. Though they tried very hard, which was obvious, there was a break in the line somewhere that caused multiple excessive wait times. And while I’m certainly no Peterpeterportlandhater, I believe the waits could have been easily avoided or at least made to be not such a big deal with a little more communication. I never feel I am owed anything but were it not for the much appreciated free drinks, I would be hesitant to ever go back. In this case, I might consider it because of the effort to make up for the errors.

So what can Back Bay Grill and other restaurants learn from this experience?
1. When you have an opportunity for a customer, offer it to them right away. Had we been offered the bar seat at 7:45, we would have taken it instead of waiting for a table the length of time it takes a sloth to run a marathon. They could have offered our table to someone else when it was free and they wouldn’t have had to worry about when the people at that table left. We love sitting at the bar because it offers more of a social atmosphere and you always have a bartender there if you need something. We also had the option of refusing if we didn’t want it.

2. Let your visitors know what’s going on. When we got there, we were given water and menus and then utterly ignored for ten minutes or more without so much as a glance in our direction even though the bartender was walking in front of us repeatedly. A simple “I apologize for the wait, we’re extremely busy, but we’ll be with you in just a few minutes” would have given us a much better impression than the cold shoulder we received.

3. Back Bay Grill did the right thing by offering free drinks. While it doesn’t eliminate errors, it shows an effort to keep the customers happy. It saved us probably $25 while it cost them maybe $5-8 in product. That along with the really friendly, hardworking staff, made what could have been a very bad night more tolerable.

Stay hungry.

Feel free to email me at peterpeterportlandeater@yahoo.com with any thoughts, suggestions, criticisms, or otherwise helpful info or feel free to post your thoughts below.

Dancing Elephant – A Hidden Gem

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Every once in a while, you find a restaurant that doesn’t seem to have anything going for it – it’s hard to find, doesn’t look like much when you do find it, and always seems to have such a small crowd that it makes you think they might not even be open for business. When you do finally discover the place, sometimes it turns out that they actually can create a great meal if only you give them the chance to prove it. Dancing Elephant is one of those places.

Dancing Elephant Indian restaurant has been around for a year or two now. Located in an unassuming, easy-to-miss spot on Main St. in the heart of Westbrook, they have a large, albeit sparsely furnished, dining room with a full bar. They serve lunch six days, dinner seven, and offer takeout for those who hate leaving the house for more than a few minutes at a time.

Decorated just enough for you to be able to be able to determine they serve Indian cuisine, Dancing Elephant has maybe a dozen tables with room for probably few more if they wanted. They have a decent beer, wine, and liquor selection with a few unusual bottles including some Indian wine.

When taking a look at the menu, what stands out is the sheer number of available items. I would normally say that there are too many, but they do all seem to be unique and have their own feel and flavors. That being said, there is definitely some room for improvement on the physical menu as it needs a bit more division between items to make it easier to read.

The long list of choices at the restaurant includes some starters such as various appetizers, soups, and breads. The huge dinner selection contains several items each of chicken, lamb, seafood, vegetarian, tandoori, and other categories of food. If you can’t find something interesting here, it’s entirely possible you should never eat at a restaurant again because you are certainly much too picky.

After considering the possibilities, we started with the garlic naan. If you’ve never had naan, it’s a popular Indian bread. The garlic version at Dancing Elephant is fresh and has fresh garlic pressed into it. When our food came out, it was consistent with what we had come to expect from prior visits and, as is typical, it was delivered with three freshly made chutneys.

I have no idea what the chutneys at Dancing Elephant are called so I name them by color – red, green, and brown. They each have a distinct flavor. The red is relatively mild and chunky with an onion base. The green seems to be made of a number of different herbs and spices. The brown is a sweeter sauce and the most liquid of the three. All of them have fantastic flavor but my favorite is the red which goes really well with the naan. Regardless of which you prefer, you’ll have plenty as I believe they provide enough for a table of at least eight regardless of how many people you are actually with. They could probably ease up on this a little for the smaller parties.

We enjoyed the naan and I found an appetizer that looked good. The name of it escapes me, but it was essentially deep-fried squares of cheese. Upon first tasting them, I found them to be fairly bland, but I suspected they were made to be eaten with my beloved chutney. I was correct. The green chutney paired perfectly with the cheese as though the sauce contained the specific spices that could or should have been cooked into the app itself.

Moving onto the entrees after a thorough perusal of the menu/book, I picked out a chicken dish I had never tried before – Chicken Shami Korma. The Shami Korma is made with boneless chicken, cashews, raisins, almonds and creamy sauce. It’s definitely got one of the coolest names on the menu and I ordered it hot cause I ain’t no sucka. My wife ordered the Chicken Saag which is chicken in a spinach cream sauce. The entrees all come with basmati rice.

Our meals came out in their deceptively-sized serving dish. The dish looked tiny, but contained a substantial amount of food. I plated a bed of rice and spooned a generous portion of the Shami Korma on top of it. The sauce was outstanding. I was a bit skeptical of a creamy sauce with Indian food, but my concerns were unfounded. The chicken was very tender and the spice level was perfect. In all my fatness, I was able to finish my food which amounted to about four small plates of rice covered in the chicken. My wife really enjoyed her food too. She brought some home and suggested that Dancing Elephant might just be the best Indian food in the area. She’s a huge fan of Indian food and has dined on the aptly named “Curry Row” in New York City on numerous occasions. She knows her Indian food and insists this is the good stuff.

Without any room left for dessert, it was time to head out. The meal was a bargain at under 40 smackers before tip. The service was good, the food was flawless, and the place was actually lively that night which was nice to see. They tend to be slow when I’ve been in the past, but they undoubtedly should be busier based on the quality of the food. Check them out or try their sister restaurant in Portland – Dancing Elephant II – which recently opened on Wharf Street. They really put effort into making sure you leave with a smile on your face. If you like Indian food, you’ll love Dancing Elephant.

Stay hungry.

Feel free to email me at peterpeterportlandeater@yahoo.com with any thoughts, suggestions, criticisms, or otherwise helpful info or feel free to post your thoughts below.