Monthly Archives: March 2018

Pictures of what to expect on Tiqa’s new menu

I was invited to Tiqa for some complementary selections from their new menu. With new chef Gaetano Ascione at the helm of the Pan-Mediterranean restaurant, Tiqa plans only slight changes at first, eventually hoping to come up with a more permanant base menu and then focus on nightly and seasonal specials. These nightly specials are intended to keep the food exciting and interesting no matter how often you pay them a visit.

We started the night with a Prosecco followed by a couple hor d’oeuvres. First was Lamb and Beef Meatballs with za’atar. These were pretty much as you’d expect – tender, moist, and well seasoned. I love za’atar, with it’s well-placed, multifaceted flavors.

Next, we tried Salmon Mousse. Oddly, besides the fish flavor, this very much reminded me of creton (the French pork spread) due to its texture and seasoning. While not always my favorite fish, it was pretty good.

With a pour of red wine, we sat to get started on the meal. We were given a plate of “Surf and Turf” – carpaccio beef, sea urchin, garlic confit, herbed salt. While this took me well out of my ccomfort zone, the beef was ultra tender and the garlic confit incredibly tasty. They were best eaten with urcin and confit rolled into the circular beef and dragged through the salt.

Jerusalem Artichoke Soup made with chickpeas was next. The flavor was mild and moderately salty and the texture slightly gelatinous.

The next piece of the meal was Three Beet Salad – ricotta salata, saffron peach, honey and cidar vinegar dressing. As a lover of beets, this one was excellent. Bites of golden, red, and chioggia were all included. The squares of ricotta were a stellar addition and the dressing was perfect.

After the beets was Ricotta Gnocchi with parmesean crust and simple tomato sauce. We started by using the back of our spoon to break the crust. I was blown away by the gnocchi which had perfect texture and great flavor and the parmesan crust was a decadent housing. Cheese is usually a winner. Crispy cheese is always a winner.

Our final savory course was Berkshire Pork Belly from Snake River Farm (Idaho) – rosted, then grilled and soaked in Maine maple syrup with onion marmalade with pinenuts, raisin, and pear. This was one of the best preparations of pork I’d had in a while – sweet and tender with tons of flavor. The onion marm was a true hit at the table with everyone commenting on its uniqueness.

Our dessert was “Caprese” – mozzarella (actually gelato), tomato (tomato marmalade), and basil (actually mint). It was a delicious finish and the marmalade was particularly stunning.

We finished the meal with pistachio and rose candies and a little chit chat. If the food we had is any indication – and it is, this incarnation of the menu looks to be a winner. Tiqa has consistently put out solid food since it opened, but a new menu and specials will keep it fresh and fun. Note that while these are the types of foods you can expect, some or all will be offered as variations of what was presented here.

Tiqa 327 Commercial St.
207-808-8840

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Veteran diner makes good with classic food in unique setting

On the Sunday morning after St. Patrick’s Day we were looking for a place to grab some brunch. I suggested Miss Portland Diner on Marginal Way and my wife was on board. When we arrived there was quite a line, and though we were told the wait was only 15 minutes, we decided to take the offer of grabbing seats at the bar, which is located in the renovated diner car portion of the restaurant.

Asked to sit at the far end, we complied. The area was lightly decorated with green holiday paraphernalia. My wife quickly ordered a coffee and we peeked at the menus. I also glanced at the specials which the waitress brought to me upon request. At the top of them was the Irish Breakfast – hashbrowns, bangers, 2 eggs, roasted tomatoes, baked beans, grilled biscuit. I wanted to order Irish, but I just wasn’t sold on that one.

I was feeling eggs, though I did have slight hankering for pancakes or French toast. She chose a three egg Omelet with spinach and tomato, which came with homefries and choice of toast – she picked a grilled English muffin. I decided to follow suit and skip the sweeter offerings. I just had to figure out what version of eggs I actually wanted.

There were a number of signature omelets on the menu. Western, Greek, and Thai all sounded excellent, but since it was the day after St. Patrick’s, I was inclined to go with the Shamrock Omelet – signature corned beef hash, grilled onions, and cheddar. It also came with the homefries and I too went with the grilled English as my choice of toast. I guess I was ordering Irish after all.

It definitely took longer than I was hoping it would – likely because they were so busy – but we finally got our food. Our plates looked exactly the same with non-descript omelets, amply buttered English muffin, and a pile of potatoes. They were definitely consistent, at least visually. I quickly squeezed a little ketchup into my plate and got to work.

The potatoes were the first order of business. The first couple I tried – outliers on the plate – were a bit on the cool side. Fortunately, I had a couple more and they were warmer. I liked the taters a lot. They were nicely seasoned and had some garlic to them. While not quite as crispy as I would have cooked them myself, they definitely made up for that with excellent flavor. I used ketchup on some, but they were great without it too.

Not quite ready to try my omelet, I went for the English muffin. That was crispy and thoroughly grilled. It was a bit drippy with butter, but I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t really good. I threw a little strawberry jam on it and reveled in my sweet, greasy, bread with intense crunch in every bite. It’s probably true that an English muffin doesn’t sound exciting, but I ate the whole damn thing before getting to the eggs because it was so good.

When I dug into the omelet I took a sizable bite and made sure to get all parts of it at once. I was impressed with the light, fluffy egg, but more so with the hash. The hearty, salty, shredded beef was prominent without much filler in the mix. It was an impressive concoction. As grilled onions and cheddar do, they added even more great flavor. It was a little different than my regular favorites, but a delicious change of pace.

Our omelets were quite full and took a little while to get through, but in due time, we finished them. The tab was $22 plus tip. Miss Portland served us good, quality eats. They don’t do fancy – typical diner stuff for breakfast, lunch, and dinner (3 days), but it’s well prepared, flavorful, and they offer a few mildly inventive options. And they are housed in a historical diner car which gives them a really neat look and feel. Give Miss P. a shot and I think you’ll find your hunger happily satiated.

Miss Portland Diner 140 Marginal Way
207-210-6673

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Choices and atmosphere strong points for new lobster store

There are plenty of places to get a lobster roll in the Portland area. It’s the food for which this food city – and all of Maine, really – is most known. If you were to take a survey of where to get the best one, you’d probably get 100 different answers with plenty of people suggesting it’s somewhere else along the coast. Everyone seems to have their favorites, but I think it’s important to try them all. That’s what took me to the recently opened (December) Highroller Lobster Co. on Exchange St.

I wandered into the restaurant alone on a Sunday night. The red and white diner theme stood out, as did the upbeat music. An attentive hostess/cashier greeted me and indicated that the bar was full service and everywhere else was order-at-the-counter and seat yourself. There was an easily readable menu board right behind her. I glanced at it, thinking I wanted a lobster roll, but curious what else they offered.

Burgers, dogs, BLT, and bisque were available as were a crab roll, lobster grilled cheese, cheese crisp taco, and lobster tail on a stick. The selection made me giddy. I wanted them all, but ended up keeping it simple with the Lobster Roll – brioche bun, romaine lettuce, fresh claw and knuckle, choice of sauce and threw in a cup of High Fries – shoestring fries, house seasoning, choice of two sauces. I ordered the roll warm and went with jalapeno mayo on it and red pepper mayo and curried ketchup for the fries.

Double-fisting with order #10 flag in one hand and a cup of water in the other, I found a table and made myself comfortable. The speakers overhead had covers with the HR logo. Talking Heads played with Pixies and The Modern Lovers wedged in between. The music was at the perfect volume – conversation was still possible, but it was loud enough to hear clearly and nod your head to. The place had a good vibe.

The food didn’t take long to come out. The roll was large with a toasted, buttered bun and a little lettuce on the bottom. A squiggle of the mayo rested on top. The fries were hardly darker than if they had been raw which wasn’t a great sign. My two fry sauces sat in little paper cups. I tried the spud sticks first. They were indeed undercooked, though the curried ketchup was quite good with them. I liked the red pepper mayo too, but for me, it was a little weak to go with fries.

My lobster roll was asking for it when I took my first bite. I was immediately given to the thought that it was boring. The mayo wasn’t strong and since it was jalapeno, I sort of expected a bit of a punch from it. I quickly changed my mind however, as I focused on the crisp roll and its buttery flavor. More importantly, I could really taste the fresh lobster specifically because the mayo wasn’t too strong.

Technically speaking, it wasn’t a lobster roll for a true purist with the jalapeno mayo on it, but I found myself thinking that it was only a half step off from that. There was plenty of lobster here and it was the centerpiece. The mayo barely distracted from it. Sure, I could have had drawn butter or lobster ghee instead of the mayo, but for me, the butter on the roll was ample. I tasted it in every bite and the mayo just added a little something more. Just a little.

With the $17 roll and $3 fries, my meal was only $20 plus tax. Lobster rolls aren’t cheap, but their price is fair. The fries left a lot to be desired, but only because they needed to be cooked much longer. Fortunately, that is an easily fixable mistake (unfortunately, undercooked fries are all too common in these parts), and otherwise, they were fine.

Maybe I’m a little too used to more butter or mayo with my lobster, but I think Highroller Lobster Co. has reminded me – someone who praises the natural flavor of lobster – just how good the actual flavor of lobster really is. I’m ready to go back and try more and next time I’ll most certainly be checking out the lime mayo on something. Maybe it’ll be a Crab Roll or the Lobster Grilled Cheese. Or better yet, lobster tail on a stick. Fried Lobby Pop anyone?

The Highroller Lobster Co. 104 Exchange St.
207-536-1623

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All the food at this spectacular eatery is fit for a king

I hadn’t been to Central Provisions in quite a while, so I went back with Mrs. Portlandeater, arriving early to get in line since they don’t take reservations. Instead of waiting out front, we decided to go in downstairs where there is a bar accessed by going around the back. We were carded to get in – clearly because we look so young – and joined the already-well-formed line to go upstairs for dinner. Luckily, prime seats at the bar opened up before the line moved and we were able to snag them.

We went for drinks first. I took the Kentucky Witch – bourbon, sweet vermouth, dry vermouth, liquore strega, amaro averna, aphrodite bitters – and she the Cava Brut Rose. My libation was a slightly herbal manhattan, nothing crazy, but a pleasantly strong whiskey cocktail. I sipped it as I looked for some food to get started down the road to satiating my hunger.

With so many small plates to choose from, it was a chore to narrow it down to one or two starters. I skipped past raw items and foie gras, focusing on standard hot and cold foods. She knew quickly that she wanted the Maine Crab Salad – brown butter pancake, miso, mentaiko. I took my time, but finally picked the Bread and Butter – sourdough from Standard Baking Co., caramelized onion, marsala, reisling sabayon, trout roe – and Bread and Butter Pickles – dill, garlic, vidalia onion.

My two bread and butters came out quickly – pickles first and then actual bread. The thinly-sliced cukes were mild, flavorful and somewhat addictive. I got both the dill and garlic as I ate them and the sweet onions added a great touch. The bread came three pieces with a pile of sabayon in the middle and a smear of caramelized onion spread. I preferred the onion, but adding both spreads to the fresh bread worked quite well and the smattering of roe was a suitable topper to it all.

When the crab salad arrived, my wife decided to share it, so after she smoothed it on the pancake, I took a slice. I initially thought its $18 price tag to be too much, but changed my tune after the first bite. The rich, buttery pancake and gently sweet, salty crab mix was simply incredible, nearly beyond words. This is how good it was: there was some orange in the salad that I didn’t particularly love and it was still one of the absolute best things I’ve eaten in a long time.

I could hardly get enough of the oft overlooked crustacean with crazy-right flavor, but it couldn’t last forever. As we ran out of that, we ordered some more, keeping it simple at first with CP Frites – korean chili spice, ketchup and garlic aioli. Then we added Fried Cauliflower – ras el hanout, chickpeas, feta, herbs – and Burgundy Escargot – porcini cream, wild mushrooms, sourdough. My wife ordered another glass of wine.

The frites – can we just call them fries? – were served in a carnival cup with a picture of fries on the outside. I’m tempted to say that’s how I knew they were awesome, but really it was because I ate them. There are a few ways to make fries great, but the korean chili took these to a place I thought might not be possible. The slightly spicy sticks were brilliant and trancended carnival food. The only issue was that they were petite, so dipping in the sauces wasn’t easy, but we made it work.

Our cauliflower was crispy and full of just the right notes. Filled with herbs and spices and well played with the crisp chickpeas and cheese, the cauli provided winning taste and texture. The escargot was accompanied by sourdough squares and mushrooms all sitting in cream. The snails were a bit earthy, but aided by the wine and shrooms, were as flavorful as you might imagine. A high quality dish, the snails had all the making of French fine dining in a small plate.

As we finished our food, I realized I was still hungry and needed dessert. None of the actual desserts interested me, so I decided to get a Chop Salad – bacon, iceberg, pickles, ranch dressing. It seemed like a fine finale and didn’t take long to come out, since there wasn’t any actual cooking involved. The bowl of lettuce and ranch was topped with candied bacon which seemed appropriate.

A chop salad doesn’t sound that exciting, but this one was immediately extraordinary. The beautifully concocted ranch and sweet bacon added outlandish flavor that caused the dish to be about as tasty as I could imagine. The creamy dressing and bacon were perfectly proportioned without being overdone and those two overriding themes layered pure deliciousness over the fresh veggies. I ate it all and was finally ready to call it a night.

After seven small plates and three drinks, our meal came to $137 including tax and tip. I’ve been to Central Provisions a few times since they opened now, trying both lunch and dinner and eating upstairs and down and I can definitively say that they stand among the best restaurants in Portland. The crowd they draw night after night is enough to know they’re doing what makes customers happy. No they’re not cheap, but when I’m there, I quickly go from “this is a little expensive” to “take my money, please”. Yes, it’s that good.

Here’s specifically why Central Provisions absolutely nails it. First, their food parings are spot on. But, the biggest reason is that they have seasoning down to an absolute science, possibly better than anywhere I’ve ever eaten. I can’t imagine fries more perfectly appointed or a crab salad that better combines its tastes. And those are just the start; everything else they serve follows suit. Go early, go often, go downstairs. Go give them your money. It’s well worth it.

Central Provision 414 Fore St.
207-805-1085

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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 and follow @portlandeater on Twitter. You can also find over 50 articles archived at pppe.bangordailynews.com.