Monthly Archives: March 2016

The Armory – Helping Portlanders Battle Hunger and Thirst

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The Armory in the Portland Regency Hotel has been a popular after work hangout for the Old Port’s 9-5 crowd for quite a while. I’ve been a few times but don’t work in the OP, so it’s not a place I’ve visited regularly and I had never had full meal there before this past weekend. In an effort to get the entire Armory experience, my wife and I went for dinner and drinks to relax after a busy week. The Regency’s lower level lounge is known for their cocktails, and my brief peek at their menu online indicated a pretty typical pub grub offering which sounded appealing.

As is common with a lounge atmosphere, The Armory was relaxed with low lighting and plenty of bar and table seating, including small tables for those who were mainly drinking. When we showed up, it was moderately busy with what was most certainly a lingering post-work crew. The decibel meter registered a little high periodically as drinks had clearly been flowing for a bit and there were a few – possibly tipsy –  patrons enjoying the start of their weekend. We grabbed a full-sized table in anticipation of needing space for the food we would eventually order.

A waitress approached us and my wife and I perused the drink menu seeking a cure for the dreaded workweekitis. As I scanned the cocktail list, which spanned an entire page, I came across a couple drinks that interested me, finally deciding on a Painkiller – Appleton Estate rum, Coco Lopez, pineapple, orange juice, nutmeg. I remembered the lounge well from my last visits and their drinks had always been magnificent. So too was my last Painkiller – ordered elsewhere. I felt that the combination of location and libation might turn out very solid beverage. She ordered a New Harbor Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand.

I was ready to wage war on my thirst when the drinks slid over to us. The Painkiller looked fruity and fabulous with its orange slice garnish. I sipped my medicine and it was everything I hoped – powerful, freeing, and really tasty. The fru fru fruit followed by a little nutmeg spice already had me feeling better. We causally eyed the food to get some ideas about the offerings, but intended to take some time before ordering. Starters, soups, salads, sandwiches, and entrees made up the menu, with nothing outside of what one might expect from that type of location. I leaned toward the entrees, but then shifted my thoughts toward a sandwich. My wife confirmed that she was eyeing the sandwiches too.

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Some time passed as we drank and spoke of our hopes and dreams. Eventually, those hopes and dreams boiled down to what we wanted to eat that evening. It had been a while since we saw our server, but she returned and we were ready to get started with something to munch on. We hadn’t made our final decisions yet, but agreed to share an order of the Chicken Tenders with honey mustard dipping sauce. There was also a buffalo version available, but I was more in the mood for the honey mustard that night.

More tenders than I expected – maybe eight – showed up after what was probably several minutes. I figured there were nearly enough for Dr. Frankechicken to piece an entire bird back together. I quickly placed one on my plate, cut off a bite, and put it in my chew chew drain. It was seriously crispy on the outside, and just salty enough. Then I dunked a bite in some of the sauce. It was more mustard than honey which was perfect; I don’t like it too sweet. Overall, it was quite good even though the base was brown mustard and as a matter of personal preference, I prefer a spicy dijon. Nonetheless, it didn’t distract from my goal of getting the tenders in the belly.

After we finished with the chicken, we finally figured out what was next in line.  When the waitress made her way back to our table, I ordered the Haddock Sandwich – deep fried fresh haddock filet served with lettuce tomato and tarter sauce on a bulky roll. My wife went with the Maine Crab Melt – fresh Maine crabmeat salad and dill havarti cheese on grilled Italian bread. Both sandwiches came with steak fries. Mrs. Portlandeater also ordered another glass of wine, fearing that maybe The Armory was overstocked on the vino.

We awaited our food while reciting bass lines from our favorite 70’s funk songs. As we started Super Freak, we were pleased to see our sandwiches in front of us. I threw the lettuce and tomato on top of my fried fish. Then I took my bulky roll top and smeared all the tarter on the bottom of it. It was a gloriously unhealthy portion of the mayo mixture and I was primed to consume it. I picked up the sandwich, opened wide, and rocked a bite like I was angry at it. It was good – fresh, flakey, and not heavily seasoned, but perfect with the tarter sauce. Then I scooped up a fry and ate that. They were cooked perfectly and had great crunch. Unfortunately, they weren’t fresh cut which was a little surprising, particularly in this area.

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Despite the fry faux pas, I continued to consume my fish and taters. As I finished, my wife offered me the remainder of her crab melt. A couple bites confirmed a simple, but nicely put together sandwich. There was plenty of crab and the cheese provided the touch needed to pump it up a bit without overpowering the shellfish flavor. I finished all the food that was left at our table and we decided to review the dessert menu because it was the right thing to do even though it probably wouldn’t result in us actually ordering any.

With a quick scan, we confirmed the sweets selection had nothing in store for us and requested our bill which came to a very reasonable $65 before tip. My drink was excellent as had been my previous drinks there. The food was good, but they should definitely cut their own fries. It’s expected in Portland and regardless of that, it’s a minor change that would create for a major improvement. Still, the Armory is a great place to get some drinks.  And if you’re there to battle the work week and then get hungry, The Armory is a good place to grab a meal for short money too.

Stay hungry.

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Scales – Fish Food

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Scales is the new restaurant by Sam Hayward, the highly recognized owner of Fore Street. Located on Maine Wharf, its on-the-water location was reason enough for me to get there and check it out within two weeks of it’s opening.  After working really hard to find their phone number, which seems to be wrong on most of the internet, we were finally able to make reservations and get there on a Friday night. The buzz around the restaurant alone had me ready to party before really even knowing anything about it.

When we walked in, I was struck by how large and open the place was. In addition to it’s sheer size, the massive floor to ceiling windows let in tons of light and provided amazing water views. An ice maker next to the host area was hanging from the ceiling and spit out ice into a large wheeled cart, dropping the little cubes like the frozen tears of the Norse god of frost. Other noteworthy features included an open kitchen, a very long, busy bar, and a huge number of staff circulating throughout. We stood and looked around for a minute or two and then, at the prompting of the hostess, we approached the host station. We were a little early, so they weren’t ready for us, but advised that we could go grab a drink.

We walked over to the bar area. There was a chalkboard sign hanging overhead with three different oyster choices. Below the sign was the center of the bar which appeared to be a raw bar prep station. As the minutes passed, I became more and more impressed at the volume of food they were putting out from there. We hung around, but the bar servers seemed to all be very busy and I didn’t feel like inserting myself between the seated patrons in order to get a drink. We instead decided to grab a couple of the chairs they had lined up on the far, back wall of the bar.

After just a couple minutes of sitting, we were approached by someone who brought us to a seat that was very close to where we were waiting. We started to look at the food and drink menus and before long, a waiter approached us. He let us know that they had team service, so it would be he and another staff member taking care of us and also informed us about a couple of specials they had available. He left and promised a return in short order to get our drink requests. My wife and I were uninterested in the specials he mentioned and let those fall out of our brain to make room for what was on the menus.

As I perused the drink list, I skipped past the beer and wine, stopping on the signature cocktails. After considering the handful on the menu and some standards that weren’t on the menu, I  settled on a simple potion, The Loretta – Ice Pik Vodka, fresh grapefruit, salted rim, on the rocks. It was a bit of a stretch for me, considering that I don’t really like grapefruit aside from just a small amount in drinks with lots of other flavors, but I was throwing caution to the wind that night. In an episode of not throwing caution to the wind, Mrs. Portlandeater ordered a glass of the Matanzas Creek Sauvigon Blanc.

While we waited for drinks, my eyes continued to bounce around the room. The ceiling fans, with blades made of wooden paddles, caught my attention. Right when I was about to be fully hypnotized by the spinning oar ends, we got our drinks. Mine looked as expected with the requisite slice of lime on the glass. I was a little nervous about the grapefruit, but was excited to try something out of my comfort zone and see where I stood on the matter of grapefruit and vodka drinks. I took a sip out of my two little stirrer straws. Holy moly!  I never could have guessed it would be so tasty. The citrus flavor lacked any grapefruit bitterness and gave a chill, refreshing flavor that wasn’t sweet, but was still exceptionally drinkable. I liked it a lot and tucked away my previous and admittedly repugnant thoughts about grapefruit.

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We took in our libations and discussed the menu, considering a bunch of soups and sandwiches, raw items, and all manner of seafood entrees. I was having trouble narrowing down what I wanted but quickly consulted with my spiritual restaurant menu advisor and eventually came to some conclusions. I decided to go with the Chopped Salad – winter vegetables, creamy dressing – to start. She went with a cup of Lobster Bisque. For our entrees, I came to the realization that my survival required Fried Whole Belly Clams and my wife ordered the Fish and Chips. We put those in and awaited our Friday night feast.

Exactly six minutes and three seconds after the waiter left our table, we were greeted by salad and bisque. My bunny buffet looked fresh and full, with leaves, slices, and hunks of various greens, carrots, radishes, and other veggies. There were some pickled elements on top and a dressing throughout. I tried a bite. It was excellent. I liked the veg variety and the light dressing added a nice bit of acidic flavor and seasoning. I put a little pepper on it for good measure and consumed the cruciferous creation with abandon. As I worked on that, I snuck a little of my wife’s bisque. The dark, buttery liquid housed a significant amount of lobster and was served with a couple house made crackers. It was smooth and rich, giving a nice pop to the taste buds with every spoonful. We worked to finish our starters and it was no trouble as the delicious beginners warmed our hearts.

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Our empty dishes were hastily removed from the table and I ordered another The Loretta. Then within the time it takes to be really satisfied by a Snickers, we hade our entrees. I first reacted to my wife’s which had a small pile of fries and two large pieces of fish. It was a sizable portion. Mine, on the other hand, was a bit short on the little sand sleepers. A quick count produced 12 on the $24 plate. Nonetheless, I hoped that they would add up to mouth merriness. In addition to the clams, I had house made tarter and hot pepper sauces. I popped one into my mouth. It was actually very good with awesome crunch and nice salty seasoning. I tried one with each of the sauces which were both excellent. The tarter gave a typical zing, but with the addition of some fresh dill. The hot pepper sauce was very interesting in that it had great flavor of hot peppers in a creamy sauce, but didn’t have any of the heat. I wouldn’t have minded a kick, but it was still tasty.

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I worked on my clams which were done quickly. My wife shared the fish and a couple fries and I tried those. The fish was nice and flakey and well seasoned. It went great with both sauces and the fries actually did too, particularly with the hot pepper version. Soon both meals were finished and when I mentioned dessert, we looked at each other with a knowing glance. We were in deep that night and our discussion was a mere formality. We knew something sweet was very necessary.

The dessert decision was a simple choice for both of us as she picked the Butterscotch Pudding – maple whip, barley malt crumble – and a coffee. I followed it up with Butternut Squash Cheesecake – cranberries, pumpkin seeds. We didn’t know what to expect but we were anxious to find out what was about to come our way. Soon, a bowl and a plate full of sweet goodness sat before us. We readied our spoons and made our way to the dessert delight zone.

My first bite of the round cheesecake produced an “Oh, this is weird…this is delicious, oh wow.” As the flavors blended, I got the magnificently loud cheesey and subdued squash flavors and alongside it the toppings of seeds, frozen berries, and crumble. It was a little texture of heaven too with the soft, gooey cheese and crunchies on top – a fantastic way of presenting one of my faves. A taste of the pudding added another high note to the night. The creamy, intense pudding was given a turbo boost by the maple and malt. A little whipped cream sealed the deal. The pudding was clearly made by a witch as I knew no human could create such a stellar treat.

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With faces full of finishing touches, we took our last bites, swiped our napkins past our mouths, and were ready to call it quits. It was quite a meal. From the magical waterfront placement, to the delicious food, it was an enjoyable and fun experience. The one soft spot were my clams. I think the addition of fries or even an increased price for more clams would have been better, but I felt they were light as they came. I’m interested to know your thoughts on the matter.

In the end, our total was $115 before tip – about the same as the other higher end restaurants in the area. I definitely recommend the new seafood eatery if you want a nice meal in a prime Portland spot. Go ahead and check it out for yourself and tell ’em Peterpeterportlandeater sent you. Oh, and if you need it, their phone number for reservations is (207) 805-0444. Just make sure that if you do go to Scales you save room for dessert, because their grand finale is really, really grand and it definitely won’t weigh you down.

Stay hungry.

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Saltwater Grille – Sailing the Seas of SoPo

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My wife and I went to Saltwater Grille with our immediate familes after we got married but hadn’t been there since, so we made reservations to the waterfront location with the hopes that it was as good as we remembered even though there was no special event to celebrate. That last visit seemed like eons ago, so for all we knew, it could have been a totally different experience. Our return came on the very last day of Restaurant Week and gave us a chance to try a prix fixe meal at a reduced price. Due to poor planning, however, we had a big lunch and didn’t arrive as hungry as we might have liked. Nonetheless, we made the short trip there to see what they were serving up in the present day.

A minute or two after we walked in the door, we were seated in a location that, had the sun still been out, would have given us spectacular water views. Unfortunately, it was dark, but I was still happy knowing the water was near. A waiter stopped by to deliver bread, let us know that we could order from either menu, and said he’d be back momentarily to get our drink orders. He also told us that they were out of one item from both menus and, to my dismay, the restaurant week item was one I wanted to order. I immediately placed that menu aside and focused on the drink and everyday food menus. I also snagged a piece of bread which was soft, chewy, and had a taste of fennel and other flavors.

When the waiter came back to our table, we had our drink choices ready to go. First, my wife ordered a Moshua Sauvignon Blanc. I was feeling a bit tropical in anticipation of spring weather so I decided to try the Lime in the Coconut – Captain Morgan White Rum, pineapple juice, coconut cream, lime. It was a little outside my normal realm of drink orders, but I was feeling the unusually warm weather we were already having in late winter and thought that drink might speed up the sprint to sunshine and flowers even more.

The menu featured an assortment of starters, pizzettas, entrees, and seafood plates. Because I wasn’t too hungry, I considered ordering only an entree or a small starter and a pizza. Seafood entrees looked appealing; Penne Carbonara or Broiled Haddock sounded good. Then I reviewed the pizza options; The Clam Bake, Loring Lobster, and Steak and Cheese all made me feel positive vibes. Before I made a final decision, I looked to see if there were any starters in which I was interested. I hadn’t had chowder in quite a while and saw the Haddock and Clam chowder at the top of the menu. I decided to go with that. To accompany it, I went with the Loring Lobster Pizzetta – Maine lobster, house marinara, fresh mozzarella, grilled corn salsa, basil, asiago. Mrs. Portlandeater went with the “Marguarita” – house marinara, grape tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, fresh basil, parmesan.

Upon the waiters return we got our drinks and ordered our meals. I tried my cocktail. What a magical creation! It wasn’t the first time I had that drink or similar ones at other locales, but it was undoubtedly one of the best. Each individual flavor stood out and the combination of them all was great. It wasn’t overly sweet, but instead blended the fruit sugars and citrus together very well. It was a refreshing cocktail that certainly set aside my remaining end-of-winter blues. My wife sipped her wine and we awaited our foodstuffs.

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Before long, I got my cup of chowder and was excited to try it. After accepting some fresh, cracked pepper – are there people who eat chowder without pepper? – I dug into the creamy, flour-thickened-soup. It was hearty with plenty of the clam and haddock. The flavor was great and seafood-y, but I immediately recognized a bacon blast which I was not used to. It was a nice twist, but unexpected. I continued to spoon my way through the cup until the I reached the bottom, running into sizable hunks of haddock and bacon along the way.

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With chowda finished, I had a chance to take in more of my excellent drink. About a sip and a half into it, the pizzas landed on our table. I immediately saw that mine was doused in large amounts of cheese. There were no shortage of other toppings either as they were liberally spread throughout the doughy saucer. The only issue I had was transferring a slice to my plate without all of the top falling off. I was only somewhat successful, but success is what you want it to be and I was determined to achieve full pizzariffic gratification. I quickly replaced my fallen pie pieces before placing some of it into my pizzetta hole.

It took about three bites of pie to get beyond the crust since I was eating it in reverse by starting with the outside. I got into the heat of battle with a piece that contained all the good stuff. The slightly acidic marinara, sweet corn salsa, and mildly pungent basil accompanied the loads of cheese and a hunk of lobster. It was an interesting flavor combination to say the least, but I appreciated the uniqueness of it. The pizza had quite a bit of lobster, but it was somewhat minimized by all the other parts. For me, it wasn’t a big deal; if I wanted more pronounced lobster, I would have simply ordered their lobster dinner. I was happy with it and noted that the corn appeared to have been manually scraped off a cob. My wife seemed to be enjoying her pizza, but I noticed her slowing down after only a single slice.

Despite not showing up to Saltwater Grille as hungry as usual, I managed to finish all but one slice of my pizza. She couldn’t match that and took about half of hers home. We were tapping out. Unfortunately, I didn’t sample quite as much as I would have liked to, but what I did eat was very good. The fully-topped pizza and bacon-touched chowder were fun takes on common items and my drink was truly superb. Our modest ordering only set us back about 60 bucks before tax and tip, so the meal didn’t put a major dent in my wallet either. Next time I’ll be sure to save room for more and I’ll definitely be there when it’s warm enough to sit on the deck and watch the ripples in the water. Go to Saltwater Grille to enjoy the food and drinks, to take in the water views, and even for a slight change of scenery if you always go out in Portland. But do go, because there are plenty of reasons why I think they’ll be able to put some wind in your sails.

Stay hungry.

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David’s – A True Portland O.G.

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David’s restaurant has been around Portland for what seems like forever and is one of the original entrants into what has become a nationally recognized food mecca. I previously reviewed David’s Opus Ten, but had been wanting for quite a while to try the restaurant that started the line of what are now four Maine eateries owned by Chef David Turin. When I saw their glorious Restaurant Week menu, I knew it was a done deal as they had the most interesting and inspired options I was able to find for the winter week when the state’s food lovers flock to restaurants en masse.

We arrived on time for our reservation and were promptly seated. On her initial visit, the waitress confirmed that we could order from either the restaurant week or the standard menu. Because I was so intrigued by what I had seen on the former, I was leaning toward that but quickly took a gander at the drink list on the latter while listening to The Beatles play in the background. I let it be known to my wife that I wasn’t particularly taken by any cocktails either on or off the menu and needed help with my selection. When the waitress returned, I asked about the rotating drafts and as I felt my thoughts come together, I ordered a Peak Organic IPA.

Prior to receiving my beer, we received a basket of parmesan and garlic bread/knots/swirls. I immediately threw one into my mouth. They were crusty on the outside with a soft center and plenty of garlic and cheese sprinkle. I ate them with the quickness and admired their full garlic scent. Shortly after a couple of those disappeared, my beer came out. It looked like an IPA, smelled like an IPA, and acted like a duck. It was what I would consider very middle-of-the-road – not excessively hoppy, heavy, or dark, but with enough hops, weight, and color to clearly provide a firm IPA presence and satisfy the typical IPA drinker. It wasn’t a fringe offering, just a solid piece of beer in an organic cloak of flavor. My wife stuck with her water which she indicated was a pretty strong play in the Portland water market.

After some browsing, it was time to make final decisions and I was clear about what I wanted. The restaurant week menu required all courses be ordered at the same time which was not a problem. I went with the Chicken-apple-maple Sausage – house-made patties with applejack cream and green apple salad – for the first course. My second course was Meatloaf – crispy cumin onions, porcini mushroom jus, garlic mashed potato with glazed carrots, and my grand finale landed on Brulée Banana Brownie – peanut butter, chocolate brownie, vanilla ice cream, salt caramel sauce. My more attractive counterpart started with Butternut Squash-apple Bisque – blue cheese crostini, maple-bacon brulée – sans bacon, followed it with Herb Roasted Hake & Peeky Toe Crab – Herbed parmesan risotto, braised spinach and lobster sherry cream, and ordered the same dessert as me in the hopes that I would eat most of hers too.

It took only about a quarter of a beer for our preliminary courses to come out. My sausage was presented as two patties wading in the cream with a small salad of greens and a few apple sticks. The sausage itself had a soft texture and understated fruit touch. A swipe through the cream enhanced it, adding a stronger, sweet, creamy finish. The salad was a perfect accompaniment with just enough apple to add to the taste and a light vinaigrette throughout to add some acid. My wife and I finished our our starters and waited for more of the good stuff.

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The meatloaf arrived at an appropriate interval and I was shocked, but certainly pleased, at it’s heft. The pork and beef mixture was distributed in a significant hunk. It was wrapped in the bacon and had garlic mashed in the basement with mushroom gravy and crisp onions on top. Next to it were the carrots. My wife’s plate consisted of risotto, spinach, and the hake between cream on bottom and a crab covering. We marveled at the portion sizes of both meals and prepared our taste buds for flight.

My hand convinced my fork to dig into the loaf. I took a sizable bite and savored the flavor. The moderately dense chunk had just the right amount of filler with layers of salty, seasoned, and hearty meat. The bacon added that beautiful, smokey touch, and the mushroom jus was an extraordinary ending with a full, potent taste that added a lot in small amounts. I got some onions on my next try and they were crunchy and added a nice spice. I took a scoop of the potatoes next and they had the right amount of garlic and excellent texture. The side carrots were cooked and crunchy like some of my friends in college. A little errant jus slid onto some of the bright orange veggie coins and it was an excellent match as the mushroom and carrot mishmash was quite the delight. While I didn’t try my wife’s food, she finished her meal, so I assumed it was worthy of similar accolades to mine.

Once I took the last bite of my meaty concoction, I started to realize I was getting pretty full, but we still had dessert to consume and I’d be damned if I wouldn’t eat a dessert that had peanut butter as part of it. The finisher came out in due time and I laid my eyes upon it with a loving stare that said “have your way with me”. There were two chocolate brownies with peanut butter sandwiched between them. Banana slices were relaxing on top. In a little bowl on the side was the ice cream. Caramel adorned the bananas, ice cream, and also the bottom of the plate. A poof of powdered sugar finished the fun.

Before I ate my sweet sugared sunshine, I stared at it to prepare myself mentally and then dove in like a scuba diver looking for sunken treasure. Brownie and peanut butter made it into my face. It was good, but needed a chocolate chiller to reduce the intense sweetness. I nabbed just a bit of the ice cream and took another bite, this time adding the bananas into the mix. It was perfect. The caramel-hardened ‘naner added an easy, sweet crunch, the ice cream relaxed the chocolate, and the peanut butter…well, there isn’t much better than peanut butter. It was delicious enough to take to the finish line. My wife had a few bites of hers and saw that it was missing the peanut butter, but she didn’t care. We had a minor spat as I couldn’t believe she was willing to go without one of the greatest foods on the planet. “You’re eating it without peanut butter? I hardly even know you anymore!”, I yelled at her.

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Eventually, after I calmed down about my wife’s dessert apathy, we agreed that it was time to move on.  The special meals were $35 each and my beer was $7 for a total tab of $77 before tax and tip. It was certainly well worth the price of admission for the large portions of delicious food. I’ve had similar meatloaf dinners at other restaurants and the David’s version was the best I’ve eaten. For those not able to get there before Restaurant Week ends, their regular menu looked awesome too with plenty of seafood, beef, pizza, or whatever floats your kayak. I’ll be back before long to try some more and you should probably pay them a visit too, because in the Portland food scene, David’s is a goliath.

Stay hungry.

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