Monthly Archives: March 2015

Tiqa – Takea Piqa Tiqa

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We visited the new Tiqa restaurant after once cancelling prior reservations, so I was anxious to check out the joint at the bottom of the Marriott on Commercial St. I’d been waiting for weeks. My first thought when I arrived was that it was absolutely enormous in there with two bars, a large dining room, and a spacious lounge. According to their website, there is also a patio and a large private dining area.

With separate dinner, wine, and drink menus, along with two friends joining us, I knew I had my work cut out for me.  I didn’t have enough brain power to spread out between conversation and multiple menus, so I had to focus extra hard on the drink selection in order to be ready when everyone else was. I squinted my eyes and tried to use some Jedi mind tricks to concentrate. After failing repeatedly, the Jedis worked their magic and I settled on a Dawa – Absolute Vodka, muddled lime, brown sugar, whipped honey stick. For just under six bucks, it sounded like a bargain. Everyone else ordered wine.

As we all continued to talk, I waited for my drink and tried to figure out what I wanted to eat. There were several items that appeared to suit my fancy. I wasn’t the only one; the entire table agreed to share a few apps. While finalizing our app orders, our drinks came out to greet us. My dawa made it’s introductions and I tried it on. With only a sip of the juice, I was taken away into a hidden land filled with vodka and lime, where vodka punched you in the face and lime soothed your every fear. It was a beautiful land where brown sugar and honey on a stick sang a sweet serenade in the background. The drink was a delicious concoction, but not one for the feint of heart as the upfront vodka injection created for a not-so-subtle awakening.

Our waitress soon returned and we found ourselves agreeing to share three appetizers. First, I chose the Broccolini Frito Misto – pickled mustard seed, tomato mustard, farmer’s cheese. We followed that up with the Falafel- chickpea fritters and purée, cucumber-tahini – and Hummus – sesame, garlic, olive oil, pita. Once those orders were placed, we attempted to choose some main courses.

At about the same time we place our entree order, we were presented a plate with three types of bread. They came with Olive oil and zaatar, which is a combination of Middle Eastern spices. I dug in. They were all excellent with both the oil and a generous sprinkle of the spice. We ate bread and participated in table-wide discussion about the topics of the day, including King Missle, milk thistle, and dog whistles. Right in the middle of our dog whistle discussion, the bread came to a timely demise and we all simultaneously salivated at the thought of our apps.

It wasn’t but a snap of the fingers before our starters joined the empty bread platter on the table. Without hesitation, I slapped everyone else’s hands out of the way and dove my paws into the fray of food. I jumped at the broccolini and cut off a piece to throw between my jaws. I was sure to get a full sampling of the veg, a piece of the cheese, and a dab of the red tomato mustard sauce that accompanied it. I was quite pleased at the result. The mustard seed was evident and gave a slightly tangy flavor. The cheese was a nice addition. The sauce was good, but not necessary as the rest of the course was so good without it.

After downing a piece of the broc, I dug into the hummus. It was a good offering and had a bit of zest to it – quite flavorful. It was standard or better and definitely worth the order. I tried the falafel which was fine, but I am not a huge fan of falafel, so I focused mainly on the broccolini. The more I ate the green stuff, the more I liked it. It was an outstanding take on a simple item. Everyone seemed to enjoy the apps with each eater having their own favorite.

When all the food was gone, some of the table ordered more wine and we waited for our meals. They didn’t take long to show though and my wife and I were brought orders of Sayadeya – Pan-seared hake, tomato vinaigrette, basmati rice, almonds, and fried chickpeas. One of our table-mates ordered Fattoush Bread Salad – pita, mixed greens, cucumber, tomato, sumac vinaigrette – and two kabobs – Cilantro-Yogurt Marinated Chicken with zucchini and tomato and Tzimmes Marinated Beef with eggplant, green onion, and tomato. There was also an order placed for a salmon special. I took a good look at everyone’s food and decided it was the right time to attack mine.

My hake was well-seared and set on a bed of the rice surrounded by triple tomato and several chickpeas. The plate was drizzled with a bit of the tomato vinaigrette. It looked good, and upon tasting, I determined that it was indeed worthy of my consumption. The light fish mingled with the seasoned rice to create a delicious dance. The chickpeas were crispy and combined with almond slices to give some crunch. The vinaigrette added a tiny bit of acid. It was an easy-to-eat dish – not heavy, but still hearty.

The salmon at the table looked as pleasing as the hake and the salad looked good too, but I was particularly impressed by the kabob presentation.  The kabobs came with cucumber sesame salad and spiced basmati rice. It looked like a significant amount of food and I imagined that as my meal on my next visit. The combination of meat and vegetables on a stick with the salad and rice just seemed a perfect combination and it appeared to be enjoyed.

In the court of Peterpeterportlandeater, my final verdict was satisfaction. The food was fresh, delicious, and well-presented. The service was great. The final cost wasn’t cheap at about 60 bucks each after tip, but that did include seven drinks, so the food wasn’t any higher than other Portland restaurants of Tiqa’s caliber. I liked it quite a bit and can’t help but notice that Portland suddenly has quite a Mediterranean restaurant scene popping up. I think they can definitely all safely survive as long as they continue to provide great food and service. I give my seal of approval to any restaurant that has those qualities and Tiqa definitely does.

Stay hungry.

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PHOever Maine – Westbrook Vietnamese If You Please

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If Portland restaurants are the swimsuit model on the front page of Sports Illustrated, Westbrook restaurants are the ugly duckling younger sister. The model is incredibly beautiful, fun to be around, and attracts quite a crowd. The ugly duckling wears her hair in a bun, dresses in frumpy clothes, and always has her face in a book. When the duckling gets asked on a date though, she lets her hair down, gets dolled up, starts to dance, and everyone takes notice. I wanted to dance with that duck and get my ugly on, so I drove on over to Westbrook and visited PHOever Maine.

PHOever Maine is a family-owned restaurant located on the Westbrook-Portland line in a non-descript strip mall.  The restaurant is very nice inside with a bunch of tables and a bar. We sat at the bar with some friends who arrived before us. I was excited to try some Vietnamese food for the first time ever, though much of it appeared so be somewhat similar to other Asian food I’d had in the past. That weren’t no thang for me though as I love pretty much all Asian cuisine. In fact, after fresh, Maine seafood, I’d have to say Asian is my favorite.

The restaurant wasn’t very busy and my friends are quickly becoming regulars there, so we struck up a conversation with the bartender who was one of the owners. He mentioned that the restaurant opened about a year and a half ago and specializes in making authentic Vietnamese food they have made in their family for years. We talked and talked about food, life, and just about everything before I told everyone to focus because at some point we had to order. We started with drinks. Everyone else ordered beer and wine, but I went with the Tet Tamarind – tequila, tamarind, and Vietnamese chili syrup. I also asked if I could try a sample of the Sam Adams Cold Snap on draft. Then we continued talking.

Drinks arrived in short order. I tried my mini beer first. It was too light for me, but I was ready for my tequila elixir. The drink had a color that was slightly dark and was accompanied by a slice of lemon. I tried a sip. It was ugly duckling’s first dance and she was shaking her ass. Holy mother of mayhem! You probably wouldn’t believe that it was one of the best drinks I ever had, but I promise you I was. I had my womanly cohorts try it just to prove my point and they loved it. It was potent and slightly sour with great flavor infused by the chili syrup that brought a nearly, but not completely, undetectable hint of heat. It was executed perfectly. I once again focused everyone’s attention to the menu while keeping my lips on the luscious libation.

I found it difficult to want to eat anything but pho, considering that it was clearly their specialty, but there were a number of other items that made me think twice. However, I kept going back to the pho, you know? Once I decided on pho fo sho though,I had to pick which one I wanted. They had all manner of proteins to go with the pho. The menu indicated that we could mix and match too. I settled on Pho Ga Chicken – noodle, scallion, onion, and cilantro in broth – after considering the one with meatballs. I stuck with the regular size, but for a buck less you got a small and a buck more gave you the large. I also graciously offered to share Crab Rangoons with my wife who ordered Cadillac Mountain Pad Thai with chicken as her Maine course. Our friends went with an app of crispy Tofu Triangles with peanut dipping sauce. They also ordered up Pho with Tofu and Mixed Seasonal Vegetables and the Veggie Vietnamese Crepes.

By the time we finished ordering our food, I was long since done my utterly delicious drink and thinking about getting another one. I noticed a martini menu in a table tent and took a look at that. After careful consideration, I went with the Maine Very Berry Martini – Absolut Berri Açai, fresh squeezed sour mix, simple syrup, and merry garnish. Shortly after that, everyone else followed my lead and ordered a second drink.

When my drink came out, I took a sip. It was excellent and pretty much exactly the type of drink I like – fruity and flavorful, but in truth, it didn’t compare with the Tet Tamarind. The Tet was simply on another level. Nonetheless, the martini was very good and I sipped it happily. Everyone continued to drink and chat until the food started to arrive.

Our crab rangoons and tofu triangles were soon presented to us. I tried a crab rangoon. They were excellent – crispy, creamy, and seemed to have real crab meat in them which is key to the perfect rangoon. I tried the sweet and sour sauce that came with them, but I’m not a fan of sweet and sour in general, so I preferred them plain. Then I tried a tofu triangle. They were tasty and crispy on the outside. With these, the peanut sauce definitely took them to another level. The sauce was very peanuty and delicious. We chomped down on our last bites and waited for the entrees.

Veggie Vietnamese Crepes were the first meal to come out. There was a whole set-up to go with them. The crepes needed to be quickly dipped in water, let to rest and soften momentarily, and then filled with its innards of veggie stuff and wrapped. I was very interested in the process, but other food followed immediately, drawing my attention in a different direction. My wife’s pad thai arrived next, followed by the pho. The pho came with a side of bean sprouts, culantro, Asian basil, and lime. I pulled all the culantro and basil off the stems and threw it in. Then I dumped all the bean sprouts in the bowl in a fit of sprout spasm. There were a lot and after I dumped them, I realized I might have made a mistake. Half of them probably would have been sufficient. I left the lime alone for no particular reason.

Before I could try the pho, I had to eat a bunch of bean sprouts. I ate sprout after sprout until my bowl didn’t look like a bean sprout forest. Then I noted the great looking slices of white meat chicken in broth along with the onion and scallion. I took my spoon and scooped some broth into my pho hole. It was delicious. The pho flavor was intense even though the broth was light and simple. Rarely has so much been made with so little. I tried the chicken and it was tender and saturated with great flavor from the broth. It was only aided by the herbs I added. Everyone loved their food, though my wife found her meal a little on the sweet side. My only regret was not using any of the sauces they had available – hoisin, soy, fish, chili, and sriracha – but the food didn’t need it.

We finished our food and I actually felt pretty good. The pho was relatively healthy but also very tasty and, as you would expect, not at all heavy. I was quite pleased, but even more so when the entire meal including tax and tip came to only $55. That included 4 drinks, an app, and two entrees. It was one of the least expensive meals I’d had in a while. I’m surprised this place isn’t filling up. It should be. The food was top of the line, the staff is very friendly, and it’s really nice inside. This ugly duckling has let her hair down and untucked her shirt. Go get some Vietnamese food at PHOever Maine and start with the outstanding Tet Tamarind. You’ll be sure to leave happy.

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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