Monthly Archives: August 2013

The Grill Room – Wood-fired Grillin’, Old Port Chillin’

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Opened in 2008, The Grill Room & Bar was the second of four “Room” restaurants opened in Portland by Chef Harding Lee Smith. The Grill Room fancies itself an “urban steakhouse” and with their wood-fired grill offerings and contemporary menu, I think that’s a fair assessment. It goes without saying, but I’m going to say it anyway – the wood grill is the centerpiece of the cooking at The Grill Room. Among the mostly-grilled menu choices are soups and salads, a number of appetizers, pizzas, ala carte wood-grilled meats and fish with ala carte sides, and wood-grilled entrees.

We had reservations – not ABOUT eating there, but TO eat there – and arrived a little early since we were already in the area. The Grill Room has a great outdoor area, so we requested outdoor seating. Our table was ready exactly at our reservation time and our request for outdoor seating was granted. The weather was perfect when we sat at the tall table with high chairs. We were left with menus and had a couple uninterrupted minutes to review them.

Before long, our waitress showed up at our table and offered us water which we gladly accepted. She then took our drink orders – a Manhattan for me and a glass of wine for my wife. When she returned with our drinks shortly thereafter, we had the opportunity to ask a couple questions about the menu. We were also given the specials of the day. There were quite a few of them, but the one that stood out for me was the lobster mashed potatoes. Our server left for a few moments and we had some time to make our final decisions and sip our beverages.

The starters looked great. I considered The Wedge – a lettuce wedge salad with bacon and blue cheese. I also thought about the Cheese Board, but with four cheese options, I thought it might be too much food for a starter. Finally, I decided on the Wood Oven–Baked Brie with chive oil, balsamic syrup, and pepper jelly. If it was half as good as it sounded, I knew it would be a winner. My wife ordered the Caesar Salad.  For my main course, I went with the Maine-Raised Burger with sea salt fries and also threw on a side of the lobster mashed potatoes. She ordered the Wood-Grilled Salmon with the zippy sauce – their wood-grilled meats come with a house-made sauce – and a side of organic carrots.

While we waited for our meals, we were brought some bread with olive oil and some salt and pepper. The bread was definitely one of the best around Portland – soft, slightly chewy, and flavorful with a hint of herb. I ate more than my share and probably would have eaten more if there was more in front of me. I tend not to eat much bread unless it’s part of a sandwich, but theirs is really exceptional.

Shortly after the bread was finished, we received our appetizers. My brie was a large round hunk with the assorted toppings drizzled on. It came with several crispy bread/cracker pieces. My wife’s salad came with a crisp round piece of cheese on it. I assumed it was parmesan. They both looked delicious and we were more than ready to dig in.

I immediately cut a slice of cheese from my spaceship-shaped brie brick. For good measure, I took the slice with my fork and dragged it through the oil, syrup, and jelly that were on the plate next to the cheese. Then I put it on top of the bread and dropped it into my pie-hole. Ho…ly…wow! The soft, warm, wood-grilled cheese complimented by the slight addition of spicy oil, sweet-spicy jelly, and the acidic syrup turned out to be one of the best appetizers I’ve ever had. Add in the crispy cheese-holding bread and you’ve got the type of food that gets a party started right and quickly. The Caesar Salad was a solid offering which my wife enjoyed. Both apps were finished in no time at all. I was thoroughly amazed at how great mine was.

The rest of our meals came out a short time later as I was still basking in cheese afterglow. My burger came on ciabatta and had some standard and slightly fancy toppings. I ordered the burger with gruyere medium well and it was still juicy, though half of it was closer to medium rare. The local beef was fresh, high-quality, and made me feel good about supporting local farmers. The fries were piled high and fresh. They came with what I believe was lemon ketchup. My side of lobster mashed was sizable and had both small and large pieces of lobster. They definitely didn’t skimp on the costly crustacean. Her salmon and carrots were good. The salmon had a crispy outer crust and was moist inside. The carrots had a nice sweet, buttery glaze.

Our meal was good without a doubt. I was overly full and should have passed up the lobster mash. The Grill Room is not inexpensive though, as our bill was closer to $100 than it was to $90. The food, service, and atmosphere are all great, but this Portland highlight fits into the special occasion category for me. However, the apps and drinks are quite reasonably priced relative to other local eateries so it might be worth a somewhat frequent trip to the bar.

Regardless of your financial situation, you’ll definitely want to go to The Grill Room for the wood-grilled brie. The brie was out-of-this-world delicious and was only $9 by itself. It is very much worth that. Double your bill by having a signature drink and you’ll have an outstanding start to a great night without spending all your dough. If you’ve got more cash to spend and are looking for a special treat, they’ll serve you up a multiple course, tasty meal that will leave you happy and full.

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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Zapoteca – High End Mexican Dining and Drinking

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This week we were visited by friends from away and wanted to take them to a place that would give them a taste – literally and figuratively – of what Portland was all about. We had already cooked them a Maine seafood dinner which was purchased fresh on Commercial Street. Now it was time to switch it up a bit and show them the variety that Portland offers.

After considering a number of options for the out-of-towners, we happened upon Zapoteca as a start to our evening. It wasn’t an obvious choice for us. We had been there before, shortly after they first opened. The drinks had been excellent but the food was entirely underwhelming. We toyed with the idea of giving them another chance, but never got around to it. We had heard so many good reviews of the place recently though that we realized we might be missing out on a restaurant that could provide a much improved experience.

One interesting aspect of the restaurant is that they offer free valet parking. That’s a pretty good deal particularly if there’s an event at the civic center which tends to cause parking to be at a premium in the Old Port. We were early enough that we were able to find a spot without any trouble though. On our walk to the entrance, we did see a valet working hard as he ran to either pick up or return a vehicle.

Upon entering, the restaurant was moderately busy. We had reservations and only had to wait a couple of minutes to be seated. We were directed to a six-top, but there were only four of us. I actually liked that as it gave us some room to spread out. Menus were provided as we were seated so we didn’t have to wait to start perusing the fare. A waitress visited us promptly and provided water for the table. A few minutes later she returned and gave us the drink specials and also noted that the menu had recently changed. That was a good sign.

Zapoteca has a great selection of tequila, from the reasonably priced to the exorbitant for those looking to party like it’s a Mexican holiday. They also have an extensive selection of cocktails made with local liquors. We all decided to order different drinks. I had a local cocktail – the Balsy Berry – with Maine Twenty 2 Vodka, strawberries, agave, and Balsamic. The other drinks included La Rumba – a delicious take on a mojito, a classic Marguarita, and a special with gin and blueberries. As we expected, all the drinks were outstanding.

Now we had to decide on some food. We were there primarily for a drink and starters as we intended to go somewhere else for our main course. I noticed the menu had all its food categories titled in Spanish which makes sense, but it’s a bit confusing if you don’t know the language. The menu started simple enough with two version of guacamole, both the standard and a Chipotle Agave Bacon offering. Next came salsa selections, ceviche, salads, traditional specialties, and everything else. I was immediately drawn to the salsas.

For varying prices, you can try one, three, or all seven salsas with chips. To share with the table, we decided on the Nine Chili, Cashew Smoked Jalapeno, and Roja. My wife went with the Enchiladas Suizas De Apollo – wood oven roasted chicken enchiladas with all the fixins. Our friends decided on the Queso Fundido Con Championes – wood roasted Jack cheese with mushrooms and dark beer served with grilled white corn tortillas. By the time we finished ordering, we were all hungry. I was hoping Zapoteca would not disappoint.

We received our orders in short…ummm…order. The waitress pointed out which salsas were which. The enchiladas looked pretty standard. The queso was very interesting and I couldn’t imagine it wasn’t delicious. Everything looked great, but the real test was about to take place. Was the food going to meet our expectations or were we going to leave disappointed as we did last time?

I looked for the perfect chip to dip in the salsa. I found a curved one that looked like it was born to hold copious amounts of salsa. It was shaped like a mouth and appeared as though it had been sprinkled with a little bit of Mexican love. It motioned to me. I introduced myself. “My name is Peterpeterportlandeater. Welcome to my mouth. You shall now meet your doom.” I dipped the chip in the nine chili salsa, choo-choo-trained it into my mouth, and…Bang! With little resistance from the chip, I was in chip and salsa heaven. The nine chili salsa was exquisite. A pureed salsa, the “niner” was equal parts sweet and spicy – the greatest flavor combination in existence. It had great pepper flavor, some heat, and was smooth on the way down.

Next, I tried the cashew smoked jalapeno. It was garnished with whole cashews. This one was again pureed, but a bit more sweet than spicy.  The cashews stood out with the jalapenos as a lighter flavor. The roja was pretty typical with a mild spice and a garlic roasted tomato base. The salsas were outstanding and a definite improvement from our last visit.

My wife and I worked on the enchiladas. The chicken in them was very flavorful and moist. The sauce was excellent and there was a decent amount of cheese. They came with a side of black beans. We all tried the queso in a tortilla. The mushrooms were a nice touch and the concoction definitely fulfilled my cheesy needs. Our friends then placed a late order for Jalepeno Rellenos De Queso. They came fried, breaded, and stuffed with lots of cheese and other assorted Mexican accoutrements. The jalapenos were huge. Though I thought the breading could have been more flavorful, the interior was well done. There was a ton of cheese which I love and the jalapenos were fresh.

Overall, the meal – really a pre-dinner warm-up – was a huge redemption for Zapoteca. The so-so meal I remembered from there became a distant memory and I had a renewed sense of what Zapoteca was all about. The service was very good, the food was much improved, and the atmosphere was fun and inviting. I don’t remember the cost of the meal as my drink was pretty strong, but the whole experience definitely put this joint back on my personal food rotation. I’ll be back for sure. At the very least, I have to try the rest of their salsas.

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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Novare Res – Beer ME

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Watching my wife and her friend run the Beach to Beacon this weekend created a thirst which was nearly unquenchable, but I had to find a way to satiate my liquid lust. Later in the day, long after the race had ended, I would have that opportunity. While the women went shopping in downtown Portland, the men wandered over to Novare Res beer bar to consume some cold beverages.

We walked into the outdoor seating area where we stood for a few minutes. No one seemed to notice us and there weren’t any nearby menus to stare at. We looked around and the few wait staff that were serving beverages seemed busy, so we figured it would be best to go right to the source – the bar. Before heading in though, we noticed that a significant number of customers had small pours of what looked to be all the same beer. We were intrigued, but only later would we solve the mystery of the tiny beer.

There’s hardly a better place in Portland to try new libations than Novare Res. With well over a hundred beers, Novare Res is a beer garden for the casual beer enthusiast all the way to the most serious of beer connoisseurs. Having not been there in a while, I was excited to see what was on the most recent menu which we were finally able to find at the bar. It looked similar to the last one I had seen, but with additional sections of new offerings.

The incredibly large menu at Novare Res has a number of categories including Lambic, Belgian, German, Trappist, and many more. On draft, they were featuring a selection of many beers from Founders Brewing in MI which were on a separate menu. That menu also included three “Founder’s Food” items. There was a third menu that had limited liquor and wine choices and a handful of food options which was a smart move as not everyone drinks beer and if people don’t eat, they die.

After looking at all the menus, I decided that the Founders beers looked good. They had a great selection, from fruity beers to higher alcohol IPAs, scotch-style ales, stouts, and many more. I started with DOOM, an 8 oz pour of a double IPA aged in bourbon barrels. Drinking rule #72 is that anything aged in bourbon barrels is delicious, so that was a safe choice. My buddy chose a different Founders beer.

Since we were right at the bar, we only had to wait a moment for our frothy concoction and we headed back out to the seating area with beers in hand. The outdoor area featured picnic tables and a seating bar. We found a seat at a table under an umbrella to protect my pasty white skin. As we were sitting, we saw people bringing out the game cornhole to play at one end of the outdoor area. We took our first sips of beer and watched customers throw beanbags. My beer was tasty and with just over 10% ABV, it packed a punch. It actually had strong fruity notes – I’ve always wanted to say that – and hit the spot. We sipped our beers, chatted about the days of yore, and contemplated where the current day would bring us.

While enjoying ourselves and shooting the shit, we also continued to scrutinize the menus. I realize that I had missed a lot on the draft menu. We noticed a raspberry ale that looked promising. We also saw a “gift” thanking customers for a great summer. It was a 6 oz pour of the Founders KBS. At over 11% alcohol, it was another strong beer – a stout aged in bourbon barrels with oats, chocolates, sumatra, and coffee. That was the beer that everyone was drinking when we arrived. The mystery had been solved. The reason it was a gift was that the cost of the KBS was only $.25. We decided that when the women showed up, we would definitely buy them a beer and that would be the one. We could only order one each thought as the menu clearly stated “One per customer. Don’t be a dick!”

Once our beers were finished, we waited a bit and the women showed up. We promptly stated that we would be ordering them the next beer. My wife ordered a wine instead, but we got three of the KBS pours and let the women in on the secret. Everyone loved the beer. It had a strong chocolate flavor and a less obvious coffee taste which everyone liked. We also talked about having another beer.

I noticed and was highly intrigued by the Mango Magnifico con Calor – another Founders product which was on draft. The 8 oz pour was described as a high-gravity mango beer with a touch of Michigan grown habeneros. We decided to order one for the table. When it arrived, I separated it into three equal amounts with my wife having a sip from mine. As the beer entered my mouth, I got a hint of sweet mango and then…Holy Hops of Hades…the habenero came surfing in on a flavorful wave of goodness. The beer was the highlight of our visit – really nice flavor and heat. Everyone, including my non-beer-loving wife, loved it. It was interesting and delicious.

Upon finishing our mango habenero beer, we were done at Novare Res and our bill came. The first round had been paid up-front, so the bill included my wife’s wine, three of the KBS, and the spicy beer. It was almost 16 bucks which is probably the least I’ve ever paid for five high-quality beers/wines. It was quite a pleasant surprise and a reminder that I should visit Novare Res more often especially when I have a hankering to try a new beer. It’s definitely something I enjoy doing.

Stay Thirsty.

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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