Monthly Archives: May 2018

New Portland bar with presidential theme opens on June 1st

Owner Ryan Deskins doesn’t expect to sell a lot of the Trump cocktail. Served in a beautiful gold martini glass (which you can keep) full of hot air with an elaborate orange twist garnish, the price of $2,500 is probably a bit steep for most customers, especially for a drink that “will leave you feeling regretful and unsatisfied, with hints of existential horror.”

Those visiting Sagamore Hill in Downtown/West End and not thrilled about laughter at 45s expense might be more inclined to order “The Blue Dress” or any other of the presidential-themed cocktails being offered when they open on June 1st. There won’t be any meals served, but Deskins promises a variety of bar snacks holding to the theme, including peanuts, pretzels, and jelly beans. Food trucks will also be present starting June 10th.

Opening in what was once the lobby of a luxury hotel, with an outdoor patio for up to 40 patrons in addition to the 60 seats inside, the bar pays tribute to the summer home of Teddy Roosevelt and the elegant details reflect that. Those details include 3,000 pounds of curved walnut ribs above the bar mimicking a boat hull, in reference to Roosevelt’s time as Assistant Secretary of the Navy.

The bar has been a year and a half in the making, so June can’t come soon enough, but Deskins says they might even open early and potential visitors will know they’re open “when the pictures in the windows come down”. In addition to specialty cocktails, patrons can expect 30 or so beers (draft, cans, and bottles, with many locals), about 20 wines, and a stong selection of bourbon and rye, including some rarities.

Hours will be 4-1 Mon-Fri and 12-1 on the weekend. Though all the design and construction isn’t quite complete yet, it’s getting very close. Sagamore Hill looks to be a fun place to grab a drink whether you’re with friends, on a date, or headed to or from dinner. It’s theme and beautiful detail will make it inviting and comfortable. The patio will be a great option in the warmer months. Take a swing by in June and let me know what you think.

150 Park St.
sagamorehillmaine.com

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Popular locale continues legacy of precise flavors, quality ingredients

Some friends accompanied us (or did we accompany them?) to Back Bay Grill, one of Portland’s perennial favories and a legend of the Portland restaurant scene. Opened in the 1980’s and with the same owner since 2002, BBG is known for it’s typically excellent food, outstanding and knowledgeable service, and – to be honest – its relatively high prices (though its fans would argue that they’re not without merit).

We had an 8:30 reservation – well past our usual bed-time – and were seated immediately upon arrival. After our counterpart was assured that whatever she ordered would be prepared without the use of ingredients that would trigger her life-threatening allergies, she suggested we order a bottle of white Sancerre for the table and we did just that.

Sipping on the barely fruity, acidic wine which I found to be peculiarly smooth, we placed our orders and were treated to an orange goat cheese morsel compliments of the chef. The cheese was a typically mild goat with a little orange flavor; I suppose it was exactly what you’d expect of something called orange goat cheese.

The apps came out quickly enough. I had ordered the Roasted Red Pepper Soup – spiced hazelnut, fine herbs, chive oil. Mrs. Portlandeater went with the BBG Caesar – butter lettuce, thyme croutons, parmesan, garlic dressing. Our friends both ordered the Truffled Beef Tartare – farm fresh egg yolk, white anchovies, cornichon, olive oil crackers.

I’m a big fan of roasted red peppers (rrp) and was curious about how a soup that featured them might interact with my taste buds. A spoonful of the red liquid presented a powerful rrp flavor with just the right amount of herbs. There was also a nice bit of garlic in the mix. I really enjoyed the peppers maintaining the central focus of the soup while only being lightly altered with other flavors.

Everyone was clearly taken by their starters, and the phrase “this is the best tartare in town” was heard at least once in the process of consuming them. While I didn’t try the raw beef starter, it’s presentation was quite attractive with a yolk on top of the cylindrical pile of beef and surrounded in clockwise order by crackers, cornichons, and anchovies.

With the apps but a distant memory, we prepared for our main courses by getting refills on the wine (still the same bottle). I had ordered Chicken Breast – white bean, parmesan broth, sage, local roasted radish which was a menu change in place of sausage stuffed chicken leg. There were duos of Cast Iron Seared Local Scallops – local mushroom risotto, shaved radicchio and pickled orange pepper salad, lemon vinaigrette – for the ladies. He had Grilled Lemon and Rosemary Brined Hampshire Pork Chop – potato, honey bourbon carrots, charred scallion chimichurri.

My chicken was tender, perfectly seasoned, and very well concocted overall. I don’t remember ever having roasted radish, but the root veggie and bean with broth added a nice, mild addition with the chicken as the clear standout on the plate. Those other flavors hardly detracted from the bird, which they seem to have a particular skill in preparing based on multiple experiences eating it there.

Our table unanimously praised the food, enjoying it all and finishing most. From the presentation to flavors (and the company, of course), the meal was excellent. We finished with a compliment of chocolates and a macerated raspberry (allergen-free), passing on a dessert from the menu since we were quite full.

Back Bay Grill has maintained exactly what they are known for – high level service, quality food, and a great experience. They always use exceptional ingredients, but their dishes really hit the mark with each bite, focusing on exactly what they should, taking a main ingredient and making sure that all the other parts of the item add to it, while still maintaining the primary intent. You can taste each piece, and you’ll never forget what you ordered.

Our meal came to about $300 for four after tip. As I mentioned at the start, BBG meals don’t come cheap, but they do a great job of earning your money. They’ve got both the art and the science of culinary excellence down and are always there to impress. Take someone there if you want to make them happy, because that’s really what BBG does best.

65 Portland St.
207-772-8833

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Remarkable Biddeford eatery succeeds with quality in every detail

The interior is one of the nicest I’ve seen in recent memory. The brick walls…modern, rustic, Brooklynesque, alluring globes of light overhead. Nothing avant-garde, just warm, inviting beauty. First the dining room with a trio of seats at a bar looking into the kitchen (no one was sitting there) and an incredible wet bar in a room off to the side – two tables parallel to it – that give the feeling a day could pass rather quickly if you were sitting there.

Elda made an impression from the second I walked in. From appearance alone, few restaurants could compete with it. But I was curious about the follow up and, seated at a centrally located table, started to get a feel for their menu. The drink list had many bottles of vino and also a fair selection of beer, glasses of wine, and signature cocktails on the opposite side.

Eventually, I chose Ashes & Pears – milagro blanco, mezcal, spiced pear, lime, habenero – as my drink to start. Mrs. Portlandeater kept it light with a soda and lime. The food menu was small and the current date at the top suggested it changed daily. There were four courses with three or four options each. We could either order off the menu per usual or for a flat price of $42, could choose one of every course.

Menus, like food, are subjective in their appeal, but theirs – at face value, anyway – had much to be excited about. More than half the menu was seafood based and everything had a creative, artistic feel to it. My wife and I both decided that the four course meal was the best deal for us and would provide the most opportunity to try a variety of items.

My drink had only a hint of mezcal smoke and the habenero was light too. The pear was more present and made up the bulk of the flavor. It was a mild, smooth cocktail and fit the chill music and the atmosphere all too well. My wife’s soda/lime came with a metal straw, which I found to be a touch of class. Shortly after receiving the drinks, we were presented some sourdough bread with butter and sea salt and a cute wooden butter knife.

We had received a shitake and oyster mushroom broth around the time our drinks arrived and it had finally cooled enough to sip. If you could imagine liquid mushrooms, that was exactly how it tasted. Brilliant, strong flavor and slightly herbed, it was a perfect food liquid and a tasty start to a meal, along with the uncannily delicious sourdough which was some of the best bread I’d ever had.

Her first course was a Black Cod doughnut with preserved lemon, mine Mussels roasted in juniper branches with pickles and toast. The toast was served with seasame aioli on top. The five mussels in a pot on the juniper were accompanied by a small set of wooden tongs. The pickles and toast were on a separate plate. I plucked the meat from the mollusk and placed it on the toast with a few pickles.

With a hint of citrus and lemon, the mussel toast went down beautifully. I love the bivalve and found the concoction tasty, if a bit adventurous. The juniper and pickle pairing was a little out of the ordinary, but that definitely put me in the mood for more of the same. I hoped it was a bit of foreshadowing for the rest of the meal to come.

Warm Crab with egg yolk and carrots was the second course for both of us. With a little pile of both the crab and carrots, the dish was mostly covered in what the person delivering the dish called soft-serve egg. The frothy yolk, shaved carrot, and lumps of crab sat in a salty broth pool and presented a pleasant combination of ingredients. The crab was insanely fresh and sweet and the carrot added some solid texture.

After the crab was finished, it was on to main courses. I had ordered the Roasted Chicken with fennel and dandelion and she the Buttermilk Fried Skate with spinach and yogurt. My plate had a fair portion of shaved fennel and a small hill of dandelion. A light covering of herbs and greens sat on top. Her fish came encrusted in batter with a small bowl of greens and what appeared to be a yogurt-based sauce akin to tzatziki.

It didn’t take long for me to realize how beautifully prepared my chicken was. Two pieces of thigh meat were salty seasoned and had the crispiest skin imaginable. The flavor was excellent, the meat was tender, and the non-chicken parts threw in a nice compliment which always kept the focus on the fowl. Avoiding the bones in her dish which were like organ pipes laid down sided by side, I tried the fish which was mild even with the sauce. I enjoyed the delicate flavors and the crunchy outside.

As our final course, I went with New England cheeses with seasonal garnishes and she ordered the Warm Rhubarb and yogurt cake. I actually started with two bites of hers. I find rhubarb to be utterly delicious with just a hint of sweetness, but the rhubarb topping on the sponge cake didn’t even have a hint. It was all tart. Fortunately, I figured out that I was doing it wrong and grabbed a piece with some of the yogurt filling. That made a world of difference and turned the cake into a little bit of magic.

I moved to my cheeses which were accompanied by orange marmalade (with a small wooden serving spoon), pickled apples, and buckwheat crackers. The cheeses – one soft, one hard, and one blue – weren’t my personal favorites, but on the crackers and with some pickled apple and occassionally a dab of marm, they made pretty decent, little open-faced sandwiches. The apples were new to me, but added a mild, sweet tang to each bite.

In the end, our meal came to $102 before tip. Ordering the four courses was the perfect choice and saved us $21 off regular prices. I thought that to be a great deal and also liked that the service was very good, eveen though I hardly ever noticed our server was around. None of the dishes we had were particularly large, but after four each, we were plenty full and that was good reason to be happy as we left. But Elda definitely has a lot more than that going for it.

Elda has a truly inviting, comfortable atmosphere. The food and drink is crafted in a way that makes it more exciting than even most of what I’ve seen a few exits north on I-95 recently. And there’s certainly a touch – maybe more – of genius in the way its presented too. From the little wooden utensils and metal straw, to their incredible bread, they make an impression with every detail. Elda gave us a stunning meal that will bring me back, even if it’s out of the way. And I’ll be sending people to Biddeford now when they need a “good place to go eat”.

140 Main St, Biddeford
207-494-8365

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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?

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