Monthly Archives: February 2014

C Squared – Lovely Hotel Restaurant for a Loving Valentine’s Day Meal

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After recently trying the bar on top of the new Westin Hotel, my wife and I decided it would be interesting to try the restaurant on the bottom of it. I really didn’t know much about the place other than where it was. The web site, which is part of the Westin site, only had the menus. It wasn’t much, but the food choices looked solid and seemed to indicate an upscale restaurant I would enjoy. We made reservations to go on Valentine’s Day and were excited to try another new eatery.

We arrived a bit early, but the restaurant was only about half full, if that. We were seated within moments in a relatively private section in the back. When looking at the menus, we noticed there were a couple issues with our location. The first issue was that it was very difficult to read the menus due to low lighting in that area. The other issue was that it was extremely quiet there and any conversation, including our plans to take over the world, would have been overheard by anyone in that section. When the waiter came to pour water, we asked to be moved to the main part of the restaurant. Our wish was quickly granted and we got much more well-lit and slightly noisier window seats near the bar.

Once we sat, I became very thirsty and I knew it was time to pay close attention to the drink menu. My wife quickly settled on a cabernet and I picked out the Caipirinha, made with Cachaça Brazilian rum, muddled lime, and agave. We ordered drinks and then discussed which vittles would win our hunger games. I actually thought I had it all figured out without even looking at the menu since I had scoured the one online. As it turns out, the menu in the restaurant was somewhat different than the one procured from the interwebs. It was a curveball for sure, but I would still hit that mofo out of the park.

Our drinks came, but we needed a couple more minutes to make our final food decisions. The question of the night for me became whether or not to order an appetizer. I decided I wanted one and the fact that they had Pan Seared Maine Crab Cakes on the menu definitely helped with that decision. The crab cakes came with Sherry Cayenne Aioli. I love sauces and the aioli sounded great to me. My wife said she’d eat a couple bites of the cakes and went with the Sauteed Maine Lobster with Herb Gnocchi, Butternut Squash, and Kale for her entree. I decided on the Sirloin Steak Burger – Bacon Jam, Local Cheddar, and Fried Pickled Onions on Toasted Brioche with Sea Salt Fries and House Made Ketchup. It was sure to be a winner as I had a burger craving that needed to be satiated.

The waiter returned and the orders were placed with care. When the waiter left, I had definite drink desires and tried my Brazilian beauty. It was outstanding. There’s something about muddled fruit that tastes so refreshing in a drink, particularly when it’s citrus fruit. The lime gave the drink that perfect pop of pure, pleasant fruit flavor. The agave gave it a slightly sweet smoothness to balance out the sour sounds. The wife wilted in her wonderful wine.

While sitting with our drinks and discussing metaphorical metaphysics, the waiter brought a baguette from Standard Baking Co. with a lemon and herb ricotta spread. I dug in. The bread was crusty and delicious by itself, but my second bite required the ricotta. Bite number two was great. The ricotta had much better flavor than regular butter. I continued to pile the bread into my mouth until it was gone stopping only to ask my wife if she was going to have any more. “R woo gunna have anni mur” I said while pieces of partially chewed bread flew out of my mouth. Fortunately, her answer was no and I was able to continue my gorging.

Shortly after the bread tapped out, our crab cakes showed up. Upon arrival, I was a bit concerned about the size of them. They looked dense, but compared to what I am used to around Portland, they were quite a bit smaller. Nonetheless, I dug in with the anticipation of a five-year-old on Christmas. The cakes were quite good. There was plenty of crab and a nice amount of other flavor too. The aioli was excellent, but unfortunately, that was on the sparse side too. Taste-wise, the crab cakes were a winner, but on the portion size, I thought they were a bit weak. I was hopeful that our entrees would be a winner in both categories.

It didn’t take long before the main courses were in front of us. My wife’s lobster dish was quite pleasing to the eye with lots of bright colors. My burger and fries were substantial with a sufficient amount of ketchup for the fries. I started with a fry. It was fresh and crispy. I knew it was good because it didn’t require ketchup to be tasty, but the tomato concoction did add to it for sure. The burger was up to bat next and I squished it so it could fit in my mouth and then slammed it into my face with the force of a thousand pro wrestlers jumping from the top rope. It was perfectly well done and all the flavors in the burger came together to make something great just like the words “dough” and “nut”. The bacon jam was a sweet and salty delight, while the cheddar bit just right and the onions added a nice crunch. The brioche was very good too. Well played C Squared…well played. My wife raved about her lobster dish.

As we ate our delicious food, we realized that this could definitely turn into a Portland place to go. We were pleased with the meal. The drink I had was great. The staff was very accommodating. I thought the restaurant was quite nice. We finished every last crumb of our food. When the waiter returned we weren’t sure if we wanted dessert or not, but decided we would at least look at the menu. There were some interesting options, but we decided against it.

Our meal came to about $110 with tip. It was a little pricey, but it was quite good and I was happy with the overall experience. I do think that this is a place that can survive in Portland and will have some success. Their menu offerings are excellent and their execution is solid. I would definitely go back and I suggest you check it out for yourself. C Squared served their food with love and made it a most delicious Valentine’s Day.

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. Also, like the Peterpeterportlandeater page on Facebook.

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Vinland – One of a Kind

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I’ve always been fascinated by the extremes in life. Extreme sports, people who live in extreme circumstances, and virtually any superlative creation, concept, or being has always been of interest to me. As a kid I cherished that moment when I got my new Guiness Book of World Records every year, focused on finding out just how extreme life could be. So when I first heard about the new all-organic, all-local restaurant, I was fascinated. That was an extreme concept. So extreme, in fact, that it put the brand new Portland eatery in a class of it own within the entire United States.

Chef David Levi’s restaurant creation takes local to it’s very peak, simply ignoring non-Maine harvested ingredients for those which can be found inside this agriculturally diverse state. The only exception is the selection alcoholic beverages which come from throughout New England. Not on the menu at all? Lemons, sugar, black pepper, olive oil, and three-toed sloth. That last one is true, but I can’t confirm if it was considered or not. Combined with the organic component, the all-local eatery is a unique and bold idea and it’s been getting a lot of press including a significant spot in The Huffington Post. But like any good idea, it’s gotten a modicum of criticism too – in my opinion, baseless and without merit, considering that much of it was prior to the restaurant even opening.

The restaurant’s website is extensive, containing a sample menu, details on reservations, the restaurant mission with a set of many guiding principles, and additional resources to learn more about good, wholesome food. I was impressed with the thorough nature of the web site and read it all before going. The chef takes his food seriously and wants to work with only the highest quality ingredients. That much was evident and after reading I was ready to experience his food first-hand. We got to the restaurant right at our reservation time and within a minute or two we were approached and offered a seat at the bar which was perfectly acceptable. The restaurant was very nice with unique ceilings, great hand-made art created from local white birch, and generally aesthetically pleasing features.

We sat down, and without a moment lost, a server/bartender approached us with food, wine, and cocktail menus. My wife spied a white wine with a name nearly as long as the previous paragraph. I laid my eyes on a cocktail which appeared to me to be one of a kind – the Red Rabbit with BMD bourbon, house made bitter-sweet vermouth, raw cranberry, Vinland cranberry bitters, and brandied cranberries. I was definitely curious about the combination of bourbon and cranberry. I’m a big fan of both, but would they succeed in combination? That was the question.

I watched as the bartender made my drink, waiting in anticipation for a new beverage creation to sample. When it was slid in front of me, served with a spoon for the crans, I could practically feel it pulling itself toward me in a one-sided tug-of-war. I pulled back, and like a New Year’s Eve love connection, we were companions on that night without a care for what would be in the future. I sipped my newly discovered red sweetheart and paused to decide it’s fate. I was first hit with a blast of beautiful, boisterous bourbon followed by a bounce of cranberry bitterness and then the most relaxed and smooth finish imaginable. This was perfection. In fact, I can’t realistically believe that the chef knew how good this was going to be when it was created. Could he be that good on purpose? I truly considered it a masterpiece of mixology. It turns out that the drink was actually named after the location where the cranberries were harvested since the owner of that location was a large donor to the crowdfunding campaign to help open the restaurant.

With the next order of business to procure some food, I debated whether or not to get an appetizer. I finally decided against an app in favor of ordering the scallops with potato risotto, shitake-dulce broth, golden beet, roasted carrot, fried wakame, and radish. My wife doubled that order and the wait was on. I continued to sip my drink, fawning in it’s greatness and watched as other customers received their food. The meals actually looked much better in person than in the pictures I had seen.

I was intrigued by the kitchen and overall atmosphere. There was no stove, but rather four cooktops. There were a lot of glass jars with ingredients – herbs, spices, etc. Everyone seemed to know their role and the food appeared to be produced seamlessly with impeccable presentation. I was pleasantly surprised by the laid-back feel I got from the place. The restaurant is unique and upscale but not at all stuffy or pretentious. In fact, I was shocked that the menu didn’t note anything about the local and organic offerings. I think those are noteworthy enough that if it were my restaurant, I would plaster it everywhere with unabashed pretensiosity – I’m pretty sure that’s a word.

Before our meal came out, we were given a small snack of beet chips topped with yogurt and radish. They came out on a beautiful stone which was I suspect was found in Maine. We plopped them into our mouths and they were delicious – crunchy, light and very flavorful. If our meal matched, it would be a great dinner. Shortly after the beet chips slid down our digestive tracts, the meals did indeed arrive in all their glory.

The plates looked beautiful with four scallops separated by carrots alongside the risotto and topped with the other parts of the dish. My first bite focused on a scallop. Perfectly cooked, it was tender and flavorful. I tried the risotto by itself. It could have used a bit more seasoning, but it wasn’t bad. I mixed in the other flavors with the risotto and it was much better. It should be noted that the golden beet on top was outstanding. It was shredded and crispy, similar to a curly, thin potato stick, and gave a killer crunch that was even louder than the beet chip we had had earlier.

Finishing our delicious meals was no problem. We skipped dessert and passed on an after-dinner drink too. Next time, I will partake in both as their selection was limited, but very interesting. I have a tiny bit of regret that I didn’t indulge on my first time there but hindsight is 20/20, of course. Our tab was placed in a book – as in literature – and the meal came to $110 after tip. It was pricey, but the food was excellent, the service was exceptional, and the atmosphere relaxed. The wait staff was also super-knowledgeable and I really enjoyed the experience.

Do I recommend going to Vinland? Absolutely. It’s much closer than Finland which is what spell check tells me to call it, and it’s certainly more delicious. For what it’s worth, it might have also been the healthiest meal I’ve ever had at a restaurant. Now that’s extreme! While it isn’t inexpensive, I might still put it in “slightly more often than special occasion” status. Next time though, I’m definitely asking about the tasting menu. We saw people partaking in that monstrosity of awesomeness and the dessert looked like a mushroom forest. It was a work of art on a plate. More on that after I try 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. Also, like the Peterpeterportlandeater page on Facebook.

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Top of the East – Food and Drinks High in the Sky

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Top of the East is the bar sitting at the top of the Westin Portland Harborview Hotel (formerly Eastland Park Hotel). The entire hotel, including the bar and a restaurant at the bottom of the hotel, is newly renovated. There was no question when we walked in that significant changes had been made and we very much looked forward to reaching the fifteenth floor to see how the new bar looked and experience what it had to offer.

With a few other people in the same elevator who were also going to the same floor, we zoomed our way to the top of the hotel. When we reached the desired floor, we made the very short walk and stair climb to the Top of the East where there were two people in front of us and we were politely told that there was a wait to get in. Immediately, quite a few people filed into the line behind us. That’s when I realized that something strange was going on.

I looked around the room from where we were standing. While there were no seats available, there was lots of standing area. It was made relatively clear to us that the reason we couldn’t get in was due to no available seating, but there was a group of about half a dozen people standing next to one of the bars. Additionally, every once in a while, the hostess letting people in – or not – would walk away for a minute and some people would just walk in on their own. To further enhance the oddity of it all, when seating did become available, there didn’t seem to be any sort of rush to let people in so they could have the seats. The empty seats just stayed empty while people stood in line.

Despite the weird entrance policing which I had never seen before at a bar, we decided to wait for seats to at least experience the new place. We were finally seated at a table after a wait I would describe as not unreasonably long, but completely unnecessary. A waitress immediately came to the table and offered cucumber water which we accepted. Without any delay, she returned and we had our water which was cool as a…ah, forget it; let’s just say it was refreshing. We let her know we would need another minute or two before we made a decision on drinks and any food we might order.

The Top of the East menu was wine-heavy with both bottle and glass options. It also provided a sufficient number of specialty mixed drinks and some light food options consisting of both appetizers and paninis. I was searching for a mixed drink and my wife wanted the same. There was only one which interested me, and that was plenty. I focused on the Hotel National – Bacardi Superior, Apricot Brandy, Pineapple Juice, Lime. My wife put her laser beams on the Green Tea and Honey Mojito with 10 Cane Rum, Green Tea, Honey, Mint, and Lime. When the waitress made her way back, we also threw in a Smoked Chicken, Fresh Mozzarella, and Basil Pesto Panini for good measure.

We received our order after only a short wait. My drink was served in a martini glass and took on the color of the pineapple juice. My wife’s appeared very mojito-esque. I sipped my libation. It was a little sweet, but more on the tart side which I prefer. It was relatively light and tasty and a definite winner. My wife tried hers and thought it was “weird”. Then she stirred it and said it was much better.

Soon the panini called my name. I grabbed one of the three pieces from the serving dish and dipped it in the extra pesto on the on the plate. I took a bite. “Crunch!” The smoked chicken had a delicious and pronounced smoke flavor. The mozzarella added smoothness to the inside and the pesto, which I normally don’t like, was easily the best I ever had. I was quite impressed. The waitress stopped by to verify that everything was okay and then I proceeded to sip, dip, and chomp until my table was devoid of consumables.

At some point, someone – I believe it was a hostess or manager – asked if we would like more water and brought some to us. When our waitress returned, we decided to have another drink. Wife Portlandeater had a sauvignon blanc and I went for an Atlantic Blueberry beer. After a somewhat longer than expected wait, the waitress returned to our table and let us know that our ticket was lost at the bar and if we wanted to reorder, that round would be on them. We placed the orders again and they came out shortly after.

While we were drinking our second round, we were offered some duck fat infused popcorn. We accepted. I felt fortunate as they had been handing some out earlier and we didn’t make the cut on that pass through. I thought it might make sense if they just offered it to everyone who was seated as it was disappointing that they skipped us on the first run. In the end, it turned out to be a very good accompaniment to our drinks. The mixture included wasabi peas and the duck fat was obvious.

After two rounds, we decided to move on. The food and drink came to $36 plus tax and tip which included the free round. We paid and went on our way. It was an interesting experience. It’s quite apparent that a lot of time, money, and thought went into the landmark building, and I expect that there will be a significant revitalization of that location from an economic standpoint. Top of the East was a good experience, but the entrance situation needs to be corrected. It was bizarre. A lot of people were waiting to go into a bar which had plenty of standing room. However, the service, food, and drink were all up to par. The lost ticket was not a huge issue and they more than made up for the error. I recommend going there for a pre-dinner drink, but if you have to wait to get in when it’s clearly not full, I’d like to hear about 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. Also, like the Peterpeterportlandeater page on Facebook.

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