Monthly Archives: January 2015

Bao Bao Dumpling House – Bam Boom Bao Bao

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I’ve wanted to go to Bao Bao since they opened not that long ago and the main reason for my desire to visit was that I love dumplings. Pork, chicken, red fire ants, whatever – just put properly seasoned stuff together, encapsulate it in a doughy wrapper, feed it to me with some sort of sauce, and I’m like a chipmunk in a field full of acorns. And as such, it wasn’t any surprise to my wife that I kept begging her to get to Portland’s new dumpling purveyor.

When entering the restaurant, I immediately thought that it looked very plain, though that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. The floor was bare and there were a bunch of tables in there along with the bar, but there wasn’t anything in particular that stood out. We were there for a very early dinner so it wasn’t too busy, but there was a small crowd eating and drinking. We decided to sit at the bar. Why not?

A bartender gave us menus which we immediately perused. One page was food and the rest were beer, wine, and cocktails. While they had some signature drinks which sounded really interesting – Sake-tini anyone? – I just wasn’t feeling a beverage other than water that night. My wife settled on a chardonnay and explained how boring I was while I sipped my delicious water and we both started searching for food.

The food menu was short, consisting of a few cold items, a few hot items – I wasn’t one of them, and a bunch of dumpling varieties.  Dumplings were available boiled or pan fried. I was pretty much focused on dumplings and not really feeling anything else. I figured that’s what I should be eating at a dumpling house.  When the bartender came to take our orders, I put in a request for the boiled Kung Pau Chicken dumplings while my wife ordered up the Asian Slaw with red cabbage, pea pods, carrots, shallots, and peanuts and some boiled Cashew Chicken dumplings.

We sipped our water and wine for a little while before my wife’s slaw showed up. She chowed down on it and really seemed to like it. I passed on trying it as I was completely dumpling-focused. As the slaw was about to completely disappear, our little meat purses came out. Mrs. Portlandeater’s came with a sauce while mine did not. I asked the bartender about the three sauces that were set at the bar. There was the obligatory soy sauce and also some black vinegar which was to be added to the soy in order to pump it up.  Last was the chili sauce for those who wanted fire in their dumplings.

I took the little sauce dish I was provided and added some soy and a solid helping of black vinegar to it. I also dropped some of the chili sauce on a plate. Then, with my magical dumpling eating routine, I tried a half dumpling plain. It was really excellent. The sweet, slightly spicy dumpling featured a nice peanut crunch. The outside was doughy, adding to the perfect texture. The seasoning was great and the chicken was plentiful. These were winners. I tried them with the soy and vinegar and it was a superb addition. The chili sauce was great too, though quite hot, so I used it sparingly. My wife’s dumplings were more of the same, though I preferred mine by a narrow margin.

When we were done, we debated ordering more or going somewhere else for a full meal. The dumplings were good though, so we decided to stay. I ordered the boiled Pork Mapo Dofu which the bartender told me were spicy pork and tofu. My wife went with more of the cashew chicken, but this time she wanted them fried. We waited for our additional food while discussing parodies of parodies of B-movie parodies from the 1950’s in addition to singing horror movie theme songs. The food came while we were “Ah”-ing the Children of the Corn theme.

It was time to dig in and I tried my Pork Mapo Dofu, which I really enjoyed saying. Pork Mapo Dofu. Pork Mapo Dofu. Pork Mapo Dofu. When I got to actually eating the Pork Mapo Dofu and not just saying it’s name, I dumped it in my Pork Mapo Dofu hole. The Pork Mapo Dofu dumpling was indeed spicy with strong overall tastiness. I ate the Pork Mapo Dofu with the sauces and without. I also tried my wife’s fried dumplings. They were fried on one side and very good, but for my money, the texture of the boiled ones was best. It didn’t take long before my mouth was on fire from the Pork Mapo Dofu dumplings and just a little too much chili sauce.

After all was said and eaten, were quite pleased. Our food came to 46 bucks with tax and tip. It seemed quite reasonable for 24 dumplings, a slaw, and a glass of wine. I found the Kung Pau the most tasty, but all of our food was very good. I definitely recommend Bao Bao if you love dumplings. They’ve got many options and they know how do make ’em. You may not want to go if you’re looking for lots of different types of food or a big meal, but if you’re just looking for something delicious, go and order the little pods of love to your heart’s content. Pork Mapo Dofu.

Stay hungry.

Feel free to email me at peterpeterportlandeater@yahoo.com with any thoughts, suggestions, criticisms, or otherwise helpful info or post your thoughts below. Also, like the Peterpeterportlandeater page on Facebook.

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Sur Lie – A Little of This, A Little of That

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When it comes to eating in greater Portland, there are so many places I haven’t been to that it feels like I’ll never get to all the places I want to try, especially as more keep opening. I figured I’d knock one off the list though and went to Sur Lie on a frigid Saturday. January in Maine doesn’t make leaving the house a fun time, but I hoped that some delicious food would warm my soul and give me the kind of experience that would blanket me in a little culinary joy.

Sur Lie opened about four months ago on Free Street in Portland, serving a tapas-style menu. Their food is created by chef Emil Rivera and is very eclectic, offering many options on an ever-changing menu. We arrived early for our reservation. The interior of the restaurant was sizable and quite nice. To the right was a great bar and to the left was the main dining area. We were immediately seated at a sweet booth by the window and provided with food and drink menus. In addition, we were offered some blood orange soda which I declined as I don’t drink soda. We had an out of town visitor and decided before ever looking at any menus that we would all order food to share with the table.

We looked at the drink menu intently. In between discussions about the paranormal, abnormal, and the completely normal, I set my sights on one of two drinks. I was considering either the Man Made with Bulleit Rye, Cynar, apricot syrup, and whiskey barrel bitters or the Nectar of the Bogs with 8 Bells Rum, vermut, cranberry shrub, decanter bitters, and angostura. When the waiter came to take our order, my wife got some wine, our guest had the nectar of the bogs, and I went with the man made. We anxiously awaited our drinks and focused on choosing some food.

The food menu at Sur Lie consists of lots of sections of all small plates. Categories of food included Fromage, Charcuterie, To Settle and Nibble, Crisp, Pleasant, and Bold. Each section had at least one option that looked appealing to me. Although we had decided to share, I really wanted to have some of the Clam Chowder – clams, potato cake, and herbs. I didn’t envision sharing it with anyone, but my table mates were okay with that. My wife decided that she wanted to try the Sweet Pea Hummus with mint oil, lemon sabayon, and lavash. Guesty McGee ordered the Fried Milk-Braised Cauliflower with honey soy glaze after exclaiming that he loved cauliflower. We received our drinks and shortly thereafter conveyed our choices to the waiter.

Our drinks looked ready for sipping. Mine came with a large square ice cube. For those in the know, a large, single square or circular cube creates a cold drink that isn’t watered down. We were off to a good start and I didn’t waste any time getting it to my lips. I made a pouty face and sucked in the delicious drink. It was excellent – strong, but with just a slight touch of fruity goodness from the syrup. It was a win. Everyone liked their drinks and I eyed the nectar as a potential second slurper.

With our drinks positioned in front of us and a substantial amount consumed, the sweet pea hummus made a visit to the table. We all took a crisp and tried it. I wasn’t sure I’d like it, but I did. The smooth, green concoction and mousse-y sabayon dollop made for a flavorful cracker topping with a hint of sweetness. Soon the rest of our food was delivered. My chowder was presented with two whole clams in shell with herbs, the potato cake, and a couple lardons. The food deliverer poured in some warm milk.  The cauliflower came on a plate in the glaze. I waited for a spoon and once it arrived I tried my clam chowder. It was very good with a special shout out going to the potato cake which I found to be especially delicious. We all tried the cauliflower and it was utterly fantastic. The crispy coated cauliflower combined sweet and salty with great texture. My wife felt it was one of the best things she had eaten in a while. It was a hit with the table.

After our first round of food was done, we needed more. We ordered another drink, the nectar for me, and a beer and wine for the rest of the crew. Then the discussion started about what to order next. After careful consideration, we went with BBQ ‘Shrooms – oyster mushrooms, house bbq sauce, and cornbread. I love all manner of mushrooms, so I was very hopeful that this one would be special. We also decided on Brussels Sprouts with salmorra, lardons, and marcona almonds. We threw in Fried Baked Potatoes – peewee potato, aioli, nori dust and added the optional haddock. Lastly, we asked for the Country Fried Chicken Biscuit – house made buttermilk biscuit, butter lettuce, gravy. It was a lot, but we weren’t sucka MCs, so I knew we could handle it.

Out came the second round of drinks and I was excited to try my ruby red concoction. I took a sip. The nectar of the bogs was a cousin of the cranberry martini. More complex than a simple vodka cran or rum punch, the cranberry wasn’t overwhelming and the drink was smooth and light. I was pleased with my choice. We waited for round two of the food to follow our drinks and it arrived with little delay. I started with a taste of the sprouts. They came in a red sauce which zipped them up a bit. They were great. I quickly moved to the mushrooms. I started with a few crumbs of the cornbread which I found dry. Then I are a mushroom. It was drenched in sauce. I reconsidered the bbq mushroom situation for a minute and then I combined a bite of the mushrooms and the cornbread. Well holy shit on a solitary shipyard! The cornbread soaked up the sauce making it moist and flavorful while reducing the potency of it on the mushrooms. Separately – not great. Together – Wowee! It was like a magic trick.

Soon I was prepared to move on to the chicken and biz. They were solid. The chicken was expertly seasoned. The biscuits and gravy were standard, but good. I then went for the only other item left. I took a potato and some fish and dipped them in the aioli. Yes! Again, we had a winner. Both parts were good plain and even better with aioli. No one seemed to disagree and we all ate like we were woodchucks chucking wood. It’s off topic, but I wonder how much wood we would have chucked if we were indeed woodchucks chucking wood.

As we were finishing the myriad delights, the chef came to our table to ask how we liked the food. We liked it a lot and told him so. After inquiring, I found out he came to ME from DC by way of Puerto Rico. We made note that we really loved the cauliflower and he indicated that he had about thirty preparations of it in his wheelhouse and also noted that vegetables were some of their top sellers. It’s no surprise, the vegetable dishes we had were simply amazing. We continued to chat with the chef for a bit and then looked at dessert menus we had requested.

Dessert was a must and the menu made a choice very simple. As I scanned it, I stopped where it said Catbird Creamery Ice Cream – eggnog ice cream, bruleed French toast brioche, almond brittle. Anyone who knows me or follows my blog knows that I’m utterly obsessed with Catbird Creamery so I ordered that for the table without wasting any time. I didn’t even worry that the menu indicated it was $66 and hoped that was just a misprint.

Ice cream was delivered and came out over the brioche and stabbed with the brittle. I really can’t say anything about it except that it was outstanding – basically French toast topped with creamy deliciousness and crunchys and a little smear of what I believe was strawberry sauce. Just saying that brings back the joy it caused me. I refrained from eating it all as quickly as possible and not leaving any for others. Instead, I attempted to act like an adult and actually share it. We finished it in due time and were ready to bring closure to a fine night of food.

The meal came to $156 with tax and a good tip. The service at Sur Lie was great. The visit from the chef was particularly fun. The food was super. This place knows what’s up and they got the right guy to put out food that will make peoples’ bellys sing a song of happiness. There’s just not anything about Sur Lie that wasn’t up to par. It was nice to be able to try a bunch of different foods and experience much more than a normal meal might offer. Sur Lie isn’t going anywhere. They clearly know what they are doing and they appear to keep switching things up to keep it interesting. Make a reservation and go. Quick.

Stay hungry.

Feel free to email me at peterpeterportlandeater@yahoo.com with any thoughts, suggestions, criticisms, or otherwise helpful info or post your thoughts below. Also, like the Peterpeterportlandeater page on Facebook.

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The Eating Portland, ME awards for 2014 presented by Peter Peter Portland Eater

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So long as you have food in your mouth, you have solved all questions for the time being.
-Franz Kafka

These are my awards for 2014. If you’re like me and enjoy things that are awesome, you’ll like these because they recognize the restaurants I visited and wrote about that stand out from the rest. As always, I never get to write about as many as I would like since I have other commitments, but there are still plenty of eateries that deserve a pat on the back because of the quality of their food, service, and atmosphere. I decided to use pretty much the same categories I did last year as a matter of simplicity.

It is of particular note that I have gotten some criticism from people indicating that I say I like every restaurant. That is mostly true as I don’t go to many restaurants I think will be disappointing. In the end, I give criticism where it is due, but I don’t go out of my way to put down good food for not being great. However, if you’re looking to find out what was truly best, you’re in the right place, because this is where I let that be known. Read and enjoy…or don’t. That’s up to you.

Restaurant of the Year – Nosh

As always, this is a tough decision because there are so many great restaurants I’ve visited. My trip to Nosh was very recent, but I just can’t get it out of my head and must go again really soon. They won an honorable mention from me last year, but the menu they instituted after that is a spectacular display of decadent, unadulterated food heaven. They were really good before, but they have stepped up their game in a very serious way and entered into greatness with food that is simply genius in an over-the-top way.

Nosh has a variety of food for meat eaters and vegetarians alike, but for my money, their burgers are the best I’ve had. From their famous Apocalypse Now burger to the Mac n’ Stack I had on my last visit, if you’re looking for a burger with severe health repercussions and wicked flavor combinations, Nosh offers a bunch of them. But even before you get to that, you can choose from one of the best beer selections in town and a host of great appetizers. In short, Nosh has it all. So go there and get ready to die happy for a totally reasonable price.

Honorable Mention  – Petite Jacqueline – See below

Best Ethnic Food – Petite Jacqueline

For the second year in a row, the runner up for restaurant of the year is a winner in this category. Petite Jacqueline’s French cuisine has the unique quality of impressing me more every time I visit. Whether it’s because I know better what to order or simply because they constantly step up their game, I don’t know. What I do know is that I always leave there feeling like I made a really good decision going in the first place.

When I reviewed Petite Jacqueline earlier this year, the French onion soup and burger left me thinking that I just don’t go to the popular eatery often enough. I’ve never had a bad meal there and they definitely work to impress all their customers. And if you’re not a huge fan of French food, it doesn’t really matter, because most of their culinary creations are tastefully done with just a French twist, so there’s no need to go hardcore into a French food revolution.

Honorable Mention – Paciarino

With so many good options, even the honorable mention here was a difficult choice, but the lasagna at Paciarino was absolutely fantastic and a bit different than any lasagna I ever had previously.

Best New Restaurant – Bramhall

While I didn’t have a full meal at Bramhall, there’s no doubt this place had a little something special to it. Built to give a speakeasy vibe, it does so without question and doesn’t even have a sign to alert patrons as to it’s location. The combination of delicious food, excellent drinks, and really cool atmosphere make this place truly a must before going to your favorite dinner location nearby. Just the fact that they turned what are essentially BBQ chips into a delicious plate of slightly spicy, somewhat hearty nachos is a masterpiece of simple food made great.

Bramhall is a definite win for anybody who goes and while you can certainly eat sandwiches and such there, the specialty is drinks and their selection and preparation are outstanding. So order your favorite whiskey or other spirit and get ready to have some fun. The excellent staff will accommodate your needs and you’ll likely be filled with the joy of feeling like you’re in ahidden drinking room. Note that it’s a really great place to bring your friends who like to keep their drinking a secret.

Honorable Mention – The King’s Head

I truly enjoyed The King’s Head. Again, I didn’t have a full meal there, but the food we did have was very good and they really know how to make a drink. Additionally, the atmosphere is perfect for imbibing.

Best Upscale Restaurant – Walter’s

Walter’s has long been a favorite of mine and was probably the first high end restaurant I ever went to in Portland. No visit ever makes me reconsider my time there. Both their drinks and food are incredibly delicious and always make me wish I was still hungry and thirsty so that I could eat more from their very appetizing menu. This is a place you can take a date that will impress. You can count on it!

Honorable Mention – Vinland

Vinland’s very unique take on food leads to delicious cuisine that is often healthy and quite interesting. This is another place that wouldn’t fail to impress your Match.com hookup of the day.

Best Eats on the Cheap – Ruski’s Restaurant and Pub

It’s hard to find fault with Ruski’s if you go in knowing it’s the epitome of a dive bar. They’ve got dive down to a science with very inexpensive food, ornery bartenders, a lackluster interior, dartboard, and the like. They’re the total package and would be well suited to serve your dive bar needs year round. Go and order a beer and nachos and just sit there in a hellacious heaven of deliciousness without a concern in the world.

Honorable Mention – J’s Oyster Bar

J’s is another dive bar that does it right. When we were there, the crowd was so entertaining I was almost willing to pay for the show. Add that to the fact that their food and beverages never disappoint and you’ve got yourself a legendary Portland locale serving reasonably priced delights.

Best Appetizer – Timber

If you read my blog – and you do if you’re reading this – you know that I wasn’t overly impressed with my main course at Timber, but I need to give credit where it’s due – their jalapeno mac and cheese is one of the best things I’ve ever eaten. If I didn’t care about my health, I’d eat buckets of that stuff every day. It’s that damn good. If you haven’t tried it yet, you are honestly missing out on something that has few equals in the wide world of appetizers.

Honorable Mention – Grace

The first time I ever ate at Grace I only had a cheese plate. While I can’t ever remember eating any bad cheese plates anywhere else, Grace had one of the best ever. Because of that, I have made a commitment to have a full meal there. If it’s half as good as the cheese plate, I’ll be happy.

Best Place to Grab a Drink/Bet/Wine and Chill Out – Lolita

Lolita had a significant service issue when I was there in that everything was exceptionally slow, but they had just opened a few weeks earlier. Fortunately though, they served one of the very best drinks I had all year. If you’re not in a rush and just want to have outstanding cocktails, Lolita will make you happy. They seem to have a knack for making strong drinks that don’t make you feel like you’re getting kicked in the throat as you drink them.

Honorable Mention – Slab

Both the inside and the outside of slab are really cool places to sit and have a beverage. I strongly recommend you don’t try the outdoor seating this time of year though. It’s cold out there.

Those are my picks for 2014. I’ll definitely get back to all of them eventually, but first I’ve got to go review a bunch of different places I haven’t written about yet. Stay tuned in 2015 and subscribe to stay up to date on what I’m reviewing, what I think about the food I’m eating, and where you should go next. You probably won’t regret it.

Stay hungry.

Feel free to email me at peterpeterportlandeater@yahoo.com with any thoughts, suggestions, criticisms, or otherwise helpful info or post your thoughts below. Also, like the Peterpeterportlandeater page on Facebook.

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