Monthly Archives: April 2018

Italian restaurant comforts but the bill leaves me with questions

It had been a few years since I was last at JP’s Bistro. The busy Woodford St. neighborhood restaurant lives in my memory as having had an insanely long wait for food. I gave it a bit of a pass at that time however, since I assumed they were having an off night and because the waiter back then was relatively attentive during our time there, even while we were sitting hungry without anything to eat. I figured I should go back to give it another try and maybe update my thoughts.

This time, we made reservations for 4 o’clock on a Saturday – right when they opened – because it was all they had available. That was fine. We just wanted to grab some food and spend the night in after a long week. I was fairly certain that our early slot would enable us to avoid pretty much any wait at all that could arise as a result of them being really packed.

We got there and were seated promptly. I took a picture of the specials board – which is larger than the permanent menu – and sat down. It’s actually a necessity to take a pic, because unless you are seated with a view of it, there’s no good way to look at or remember it. I don’t have any problem that and I understand what they are doing, but maybe a print out might be helpful for some.

My wife ordered a drink first – Sables d’Azur Rose – and when that arrived, I requested a draught Hidden Cove Summer Ale. Once we had our libations, she ordered the Small Caesar Salad – homemade dressing served with romaine lettuce garlic croutons and shaved parmesan, sans anchovies. I asked questions about the specials which included items like Chicken Sorrentina, Pork Chop Theresa, and Haddock Casco Bay, eventually deciding to start with Short Rib Ravioli – four pan seared jumbo cheese ravioli topped with braised short rib jus and gorgonzola cheese.

Mrs. Portlandeater went with the main course of Parmesan Crusted Haddock – pan sauteed and served over a bed of sauteed spinach, grape tomatoes and garlic. I found a few of the specials to sound quite appetizing and decided on the Scallop Andrew – topped with crab and crumbs with mushrooms and tomatoes in a wine and butter sauce. We both chose garlic mash over rice pilaf and were told the meals also came with vegetable medly.

Since it wasn’t busy, our apps came out quickly as anticipated right as we finished eating complimentary bread with delicious garlic butter. My starter looked exactly in line with it’s description. If anything struck me about it, it was the generous portion of short rib and gorgonzola on top. Being a newcomer to the world of blue cheese, I was mildly concerned that it might be too much for me, but I was still ready to dig in and try it.

A sip of the jus was a little strong with the blue, but I moved to cut one of the ravioli in half and took that with the rib and cheese all together on my fork. I was impressed. The dual cheese and relatively thick short rib combined with the dough to create excellent textures and flavors. This was a hearty appetizer with plenty of meat and eating it all together was where the gorgonzola had the opportunity to shine. My wife noted that her salad was standard fare, though up to par.

Our remaining food also came out without delay. I liked the look of the meals – colorful with plenty on the plate. Though my scallops were difficult to see since they were covered in crumbs, it seemed like there were enough there. A bite of one on the edge of the plate confirmed a delicious, fresh offering if still a little hot on the mouth. The crumbs and sauce were tasty compliments to the tender scallop.

As I delved further into my plate, I was pleased with the combination of flavors. The mushrooms and tomatoes were dispersed in the perfect proportions, not overpowering the scallops and the crab was so good as a second seafood flavor. It was an item that had all the right ingredients to combine into an well put together dish. The potatoes and vegetables were sound sides.

I finished my food, though my wife couldn’t quite eat all of hers. We both were pleased with the meal and I only half seriously suggested ordering the Chocolate Peanut Butter Cake. That cake, though it was exactly my style, would have put both of us over the edge of any reasonable fullness. We decided to call it an end to the meal and head out on our way.

Upon receipt of the bill, I noticed a “TW MW Surcharge” of 2% right below the tax line which brought the total to about $86 before tip. A quick search of the internet indicated that some restaurants in other cities – I couldn’t find anything about it in Portland – were using a surcharge by that name, but in varying amounts, to account for the increase in minimum wage.

The additional $1.56 charge was hardly a shock price-wise, but prices should be increased by raising the cost of items on the menu, maybe with a note about wage increases on the menu or reciept if it’s important to the restaurant to make that known. If they must absolutely increase the price with a separate surcharge, it should be clearly stated in some very visible location that all prices are 2% higher than the listed cost so the customer is aware prior to ordering.

Will most people care about a 2% surcharge? Maybe not, but I think surprising people with a cost different that what is clearly printed on the menu will bother some because it feels deceptive even if that is not the intention. JP’s Bistro serves excellent Italian comfort food including all the staples and a fair number of more unusual, but delicious options. However, I think they should reconsider how they charge. The prices are not out of bounds, but should be perfectly clear up front.

JP’s Bistro 496 Woodford St.
207-899-4224

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New burger bar not perfect but surpasses expectations

Black Cow opened recently in the location that was formerly home to Sonny`s. With the same owners and a completely different theme, they’ve gone from Latin flair to simple burgers and fries, housemade soda, shakes, and cocktails. We made time to pay them a visit for a Saturday lunch. While I didn’t prep for the affair by checking out their menu online, I had heard through the food grapevine that it wouldn’t be a great hangout for a vegetarian.

There was a cashier at the front and seats could be taken at any open table or the bar after ordering. While my wife parked, I took a look at the menu above the register and then peered at a paper menu which was easier to read and described the food in more detail. When she arrived, we hopped into the line and made our final choices.

I decided to stick with the basics for my first visit, ordering a Peanut Butter Shake and Cheeseburger Sandwich – beef patty, American cheese, iceberg, pickles, mustard, onion, c.t. mayonnaise (c.t. is caramelized tomato). Then I added a regular-sized Potato Fries and Pickles. Yes, they really do call the cheeseburger a cheeseburger sandwich and the fries potato fries. She ordered the Fried Chicken Sandwich – chicken patty, iceberg, onion, pickle, American cheese, honey mustard.

We sat at the bar where my wife requested a Citizen Cider and I sipped water. My shake came out before all else in a tall, slender glass. I was excited to try it, but felt a little disappointment at my first sip. It wasn’t terrible, but it sat half way between a vanilla shake and a peanut butter shake. I definitely needed more peanut butter flavor. Nonetheless, I steadily slurped it until the rest of the food arrived.

Our entire food order showed up on one tray just before I started wondering what was taking so long. As I began to divvy up the goods, I realized it all had to stay on that same tray which necessitated that I position it between us. It wasn’t a big deal, but since there weren’t any plates, it would have been better if we each had our own tray so we could each have had the food directly in front of us. Maybe next time I’ll think to ask for that.

My burger wasn’t exactly big, but at only 6 bucks, the price was right. I tried a bite and was quite impressed. I was immediately pleased with the quality of the meat. It was tasty and cooked to about medium – I assume that’s their regular. While everyone enjoys different toppings on their beef, I was quite happy with the standard offerings, particularly liking their take on mayo, which to me brought the whole concept together.

If I was pleased with the burger, I was super-pleased with the fries. Were they incredibly well seasoned or overly special in some way? No, but what they did right – which is both so easy and seems so impossible for almost everyone – is they cooked them long enough that they were all very crispy. That’s probably my most frequent food complaint and they absolutely nailed them like I hadn’t had in a while.

The house-made dill pickles were also quite tasty – thinly sliced and potent. There were a few on my burger, but it was nice to have a little cup of them to pick at throughout my meal. My wife didn’t have any complaints about her sandwich, mentioning that it was plenty delicious. We finished everything we had, even considering their dessert options – tin roof sundae and banana split – before deciding against it.

Lunch came to an easy $35 plus tax and tip, $14 of which were the shake and cider. Even though I really didn’t expect much from a burger joint, I think Black Cow is a winner. Their menu is no frills, but what they offer is very good (and they do have a grilled cheese for vegetarians). If you’re really hungry, get a second patty on your burger for an extra two bucks. I left not quite satiated, but next time I’ll know better than to go with a single.

Black Cow will be a Portland institution soon. They’re sure to make people happy by keeping things simple and smart. They also have online ordering available which I’ll be using in the near future when I just want to take a couple burgers home. They can definitely spruce up the peanut butter shake, but they hit the nail on the head with the fries and the burgers are solid. Cheeseburger, cheeseburger sandwhich…fries, potato fries…call them what you will, just make sure you try them soon. You’ll be happy you did.

Black Cow 83 Exchange St.
207-772-7774

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Easter brunch slightly off at excellent eatery

After leaving town for a short getaway from the snow, Mrs. Portlandeater and I returned to cold weather and decided to celebrate Easter with one last hoorah of caloric indulgence – brunch. We had noon reservations Five Fifty-Five. The restaurant, named after it’s location at 555 Congress St. is probably best known for its dinners which offer a number of noteworthy options including a Grilled Caesar and Truffled Lobster “Mac and Cheese”.

I’d never eaten brunch there, but based on my experience with their evening service, I expected more of the same high-quality experience. The menu had a nice mix of breakfast and lunch items, and though I was primarily interested in the former, I noted the latter to include options with lamb, fish, and fowl. I didn’t suspect a single breakfast plate would kill my by-that-point-in-the-day accumulated hunger, so I first did some searching for a small plate with which to start as she ordered a Coffee.

In my attempt to skip anything sweet like the Pastry Basket or Hot Cross Buns, my wife and I settled on sharing the Cheese plate – crostini, fruit compote, candied nut brittle, honey – choosing both the beemster x-o gouda and manchego as our cheeses. As her main course, she went for French Toast – Maine blueberries, cinnamon whipped cream, maple syrup – and I opted for the Sunday Morning Breakfast – cheddar and chive scramble, hard-wood smoked bacon, house made sausage, home-fries, toast.

Our cheese plate came on a board with the items indicated on the menu, the honey drizzled underneath. The compote was apricot which I though to be good because I’m a fan of the peach-like fruit. It seemed as though the plate might have been a little short on crostini based on the amount of cheese we had, but I figured I’d make the ten pieces work by adding more topping to each one.

The cheese was a strong chioce and I found the brittle particularly tasty because it wasn’t too sweet. It also had a slightly charred flavor which pleased the mouth. We consumed crostini after cheese-topped crostini until it was all gone and then waited for our main courses. Unfortunately, despite the restaurant being only moderately busy, that wait turned out to be pretty long.

It felt like an eternity, but it was actually about 30 minutes from when we finished our cheese until the time we received the rest of our food. My wife’s whipped cream was on the side as she had requested. My meal wasn’t notable in appearance other than the sausage which was about the circumference of a 50 cent piece and the thickness of my toast.

My first bites of scramble were quite good. I enjoyed the cheese and chive combo. I didn’t find the toast and home fries particularly noteworthy, but the potatoes did go well with the ketchup and hot sauce I had requested. The bacon and sausage were tasty, but the sausage was a little small which really became apparent once I cut into it and realized it might only have about four bites to it. I tried a bite of my wife’s French toast and liked the blueberry and cinnamon whipped cream additions to it.

We finished our food and paid the $44 tab. The meal was fine, but either the wait lowered my enthusiasm or I’m just too used to their dinner which I really love, because it didn’t quite live up to my expectations. However, the prices were relatively standard for the city, so to be fair, I did get what I paid for. The biggest issue was definitely the delay in receiving our food. That needs some work, especially considering the modest crowd when I was there. Maybe I’ll stick to dinner when I go back.

Five Fifty-Five 555 Congress St.
207-761-0555

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Hungry for more? Get notified whenever Peterpeterportlandeater releases a new blog entry by clicking the “follow” button on the right side of this page after entering your email address directly above it. Seriously, do it. What are you waiting for?

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.