It’s hard to stop eating at this spectacular Japanese restaurant

It had been too long since I’d eaten at Izakaya Minato on Washington Ave., but after just naming them restaurant of the year for 2017, I didn’t want to waste any more time before I went back. The masters of Japanese cuisine serve a variety of items, but what makes them particularly interesting to me is that they’re not totally focused on sushi, though they do have some of that available too.

We got there early on a Friday and I was thinking they might be busy even just after opening for the night. I was incorrect, and when we took our seats at the bar, we were actually the only customers in the front room of the place. The bartender quickly approached us and provided menus, at some point also firing off a few specials. We scoped out the available drinks.

Though I’m not a huge fan of gin, I decided to go with the Plum Vesper 2.0 – spicy plum sake, gin, vodka, ume boshi. Something about plums caught my attention and I figured the uniqueness of a plum drink might be fun. My wife went with a glass of the Scaia Rosato. Once the bartender started concocting those, we discussed what we might want to eat.

Our drinks came and we were ready to order the beginnings of our food. Having arrived so early, we decided to take it slowly, going with only a couple of items at a time. We started with Garlic Edamame – fried soybeans and garlic. I threw in one of the specials, Smelt Kara Age – deep fried smelts in potato starch and served with a spicy sauce and yuzu salt.

My drink looked relatively basic except that it had a toothpick bridge with the ume boshi (Japanese plum) impaled on it. I gave it a try and was immediately impressed. The drink was a little different than anything I remember having, but it was extraordinary. The botanicals of the gin were in play, but slightly muted, rather than the harsh full frontal assult on the senses that I often dislike. The drink was strong, slightly sweet, and pleasant in every way.

The first two food items came out one after the other, first edamame and then smelts. The soybeans were as good as I could imagine them ever being, which is to say they were incredible. The fried pods combined with the glut of garlic and salt tossed into them, transformed the traditional Japanese offering, making them something truly spectacular.

I had four smelts on my plate and they won me over similarly to the edemame. Fried until totally crisp, the fish was great as it was, but with a dip of the sauce, it became a spicy, flavorful app that I enjoyed immensely. Once my swimmers were gone, we ordered the Tuna Poke – sliced tuna mixed with avocado, garlic, tobiko and sesame oil – for her and the Mochi Bacon – grilled bacon-wrapped mochi, served with sweet soy – for me.

She insisted the tuna was great and ordered another glass of wine as I was preparing to try my mochi. I always find the rice paste to have great texture and brilliantly take on the flavors with which it’s paired. This one was much chewier than any other I’d had. However, the bacon and sauce added just the right amount of flavor and fat to make it a sucess despite leaving my jaw a little tired after each bite.

Next, we went with the JFC – Japanese fried chicken, boneless thigh meat and Kimchi Cha-han – kimchi fried rice as our last two pieces of the meal. The JFC was once again on another level as the super-crispy, sensationally seasoned chicken left few words able to exit my mouth. The fried rice wasn’t far behind with its own stellar flavors taking everyday fried rice to the next level. Slightly spicy and salty, it was close to perfection.

All our food was finished and we passed on dessert, though I thought twice about ordering some even though I was no longer hungry. Our meal came to $67 – close to half of which was alcohol – plus tax and tip. Izakaya Minato knocked it out of the park again. They create stunning dishes that always leave me in food-borne ecstasy, reinventing some basic Japanese to make it exponentially better, while also creating their own bold recipes that excite anyone looking for something uniquely delicious.

If you have any inclination at all to see what Izakaya Minato is all about, I highly recommend you head there without delay. They offer an incredible value, food that stands on its own merits, and an fun, enjoyable atmosphere. Their dishes are almost all made to share and everything they serve is very good, if not straight up great. While you’re there, you’ll keep asking “what’ll we have next?” When you leave, you’ll only be asking yourself how soon you can make it back.

Izakaya Minato 54 Washington Ave., 207-613-9939

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New Maine Mall eatery adds fine food option to the area

“Holy cow, this place is big.” I walked into the massive, new Tuscan Table at the Maine Mall (in its own building), amazed by its gargantuan size. With decorative lighting, a huge oval bar that encompassed much of the first floor, and a sizable upper level, it felt a little like walking into a casino or resort grand entrance. Wy wife – we drove there separately – texted me the directions “left upon entering and up the stairs.” I followed them and found her.

She had already ordered a drink when I sat, so I looked at the list of libations, hoping to try something new. The cocktails didn’t excite me, but I was pleased to find a beer from a local brewery I had yet to try, which rarely happens these days. I went with The Thirsty Botanist IPA from Boothbay Craft Brewery. The waitress said that was her favorite – don’t they all say that? My wife had ordered a rose; it’s her new thing.

The food menu consisted of a wide selection of mostly typical Italian restaurant fare with a hint of Maine flair. It started with raw and chilled seafood while meats, cheese, and antipasti followed. On the reverse were salads, pasta, pizza, and entrees. I was impressed with the selection. Each section had plenty of options and many appeared quite interesting and, I assumed, delicious.

Because I was having some difficulty picking an app, I went with what I considered a sure thing, deciding to order one meat ($3 each; seven options) and one cheese ($5 each; seven options). After a couple questions about ones with which I wasn’t familiar, I went with Prosciutto di Parma and Foglie di Noce. My wife ordered Cavolfiore – roasted cauliflower, romaine lettuce, anchovy lemon dressing, garlic croutons, grana padano.

For entrees, I decided on the Maine Haddock – oven roasted leek, Maine potato, artichoke, basil and shallot sauce, garlic croutons. Even though I’m not a huge fan of artichokes, I figured they probably weren’t a major player in the dish, though I didn’t bother asking. She chose the Chicken Parmigiano – crispy chicken marinated in basil buttermilk, cherry tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, spaghetti pomodoro.

My beer turned out to be a winner. A really excellent brew with plenty of hop and a fairly prevalent boquet of citrus, I highly recommend it. Our apps came quickly which was good; service had been a bit on the slow side until that point. Mine looked awesome and had a particularly large serving of cheese which was great because I occassionally feel somewhat shortchanged on cheese plates.

Upon inspection, I was a little perplexed by what I had in front of me. The meats and cheeses both came with crackers and crostini provided in a separate pail. However, the meat was supposed to be accompanied by giardiniera, house mustard, walnut grape jam, and the cheese with sultana mostarda, Maine honey, spiced nuts. I was missing walnut grape jam, sultant mostarda, and honey. I’m not sure it mattered much, but it was confusing since the menu indicated that’s what I was getting.

Despite my missing pieces, I forged ahead, not particularly concerned with what I didn’t have. The main parts were both excellent – the foglie de noce reminded me of manchego – and the house mustard was truly superb. It went perfectly on my little crostini sandwich and I couldn’t get enough except that it had a moderate heat which prevented it from being eaten in massive portions. The nuts and giardiniera were also both delicious.

As I ate my starter, I ran into two issues. One was that the house made crackers were long, slender, and somewhat brittle. They weren’t made to have toppings piled on. Other than a dip in the mustard, they couldn’t handle anything else added to them. A shorter, wider cracker would have been more conducive to my plight. Because of that, I ran out of crostini and crackers too soon and was left to pile the rest on top of the bread service we had remaining.

After I finished my food, I tried a bite of her cauliflower salad. It was fine, but I prefer my roasted veggies warm and was happy with what I ordered. She eradicated the rest of the veggies and we soon were in receipt of the entrees. Hers looked slightly larger than mine, though I surmised that after our apps, we would both have enough for us to leave without going hungry. We started to dig in.

On the bottom of my dish was the cream sauce, in which my fish swam. The artichoke, taters, and croutons were also paddling in it. I took a bite of the haddock. It was on the well done side which was totally fine with me, but I think others might have wanted it pulled from the oven a minute or two sooner. The cream sauce was tasty, though a tad weak. I pushed the few artichoke pieces aside, but enjoyed the potatoes and crunchy croutons and thought they added nicely to the plate.

Many bites into my food, I was sold on the haddock plate as quite good, though lacking the umph to be great. I did finish it and tried my wife’s chicken when I was done. I hadn’t noticed that it was on the bone which surprised me. Still, my two bites were very pleasant. It was definitely crispy – as the menu had promised – and nicely seasoned. Though I didn’t have enough to confirm, I might have liked that more than my own meal.

She couldn’t finish all her food and neither of us were able to eat dessert. We called it quits and left, our meal coming to just over $90 with tax and tip. Tuscan Table adds a solid option to dining near the mall. They have a few items they can work on, but they are minor. Our service started off a little on the slow side, and then picked up to the point that the waitress came by a bunch of times to make sure we were all set. Ideally, that could be smoothed out some.

In addition to the service, the meat and cheese plate – which I felt was both really delicious and a very fair value -needs a couple of – I’ll call them logistical – improvements. And my haddock was good, but not the great, flavorful piece of art I’d look for in a perfect world. Still, Tuscan Table is off to a good start in their first weeks. In fact, good enough that my wife went back with a friend the very next night. I think it’s reasonable that you check it out at least once and see what you think.

Tuscan Table, 390 Gorham Road, South Portland, 207-536-0240

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​Peter Peter Portland Eater’s Eating Portland, ME Awards 2017

Ask not what you can do for your country. Ask what’s for lunch.” -Orson Welles

Oh Portland…how I love you. With your ocean waters, golden summer sun, and crowds of admiring tourists brought here by air, land, and sea. Your winters are a little on the rough side and seem to last forever, but fortunately, you’ve got plenty of food to keep us entertained and add that layer of warmth to our bodies when the sun isn’t doing it for us.

Of course, that food is what we’re here to celebrate. It’s been a busy year for Portland – with many restaurant openings and closings, as usual – but it’s also been a busy year for me going to many newcomers on the scene, and also revisiting some favorites to keep up with what they were doing too. Part of that included significant time blogging for the Bangor Daily News, and of course, recently returning full-time to this, my own personal blog.

This year, I’ve had the opportunity to try more food, eat more special dinners, and meet more people in the restaurant world than I ever have and I’ve been lucky to do it in the greatest food city imaginable. When you’re involved with food in Portland, it’s truly special. So, thanks to all the restaurant owners, chefs and other employees, food media, PR, and everyone who makes Portland eating so great for me all the others who are here looking for a spectacular food and drink experience.

In this article, I’m recognizing the best restaurants I visited from either blog I wrote for, whether or not I’ve reviewed them before. There may be repeat winners as they deserve to be celebrated too. The criteria are overall quality of experience with a focus on food, atmosphere, and service with strong consideration given to value and how well they stand out in their genre. Congrats to everyone and thanks for making 2017 my most delicious year yet. 

It should be noted that a lot of the restaurants below are new as of 2017. There are some true standouts that opened over the course of the year and they have earned some good words and recognition. Opening a restaurant is no easy task, especially where there are already many great ones, but it’s even more difficult to make a lasting impression on customers and that’s what many of these have done. Here we go.

Restaurant of the Year – Izakaya Minato, 54 Washington Ave.​izakaya-minato-turning-japanese-in-maine/

Having eaten at so many restaurants this year, some really excellent ones regrettably didn’t make this article at all and many of the ones mentioned below could certainly take this spot. In other words, choosing my favorite restaurant of the year was no simple task. However, taking into account all the criteria above, Izakaya Minato deserves this accolade and then some. 

Highlighted by Garlic Edamame, Kimchi Fried Rice, and Japanese Fried Chicken – which my wife deemed a food “you have to eat before you die”, my meal was an absolute barnburner. One after the other, I tried foods that either made me reconsider my thoughts on flavor combinations or simply knocked me upside the head with beautifully concocted, elegant tastes.

When I walked in, I was excited to go to a Japanese restaurant where sushi wasn’t the main focus. On my way out, I was left wanting to go back as soon as possible. Izakaya Minato makes food that is stunning, interesting, and exciting. That, and they hit all the marks for service, atmosphere, and – at $40 for my wife and I combined – are on the list of best values around.

If you want a meal that will knock your socks off, impress friends, or make you feel special, Izakaya Minato is the place to go. It’s difficult to go wrong there. Their JFC is among the best foods in all of Portland, so that alone is worth the visit. But you’d honestly be missing out if you didn’t have a more thourough sampling of their menu. It’s just that damn good.

Honorable Mention – Street and Co., 33 Wharf St.

Street and Co. does non-fried seafood just about as good as anyone anywhere. My Grilled Lobster on Linguine was a masterpiece of the senses. It looked beautiful, smelled of mountains of garlic, and was everything something that sounds that good should be. There was also lots of it on my plate, so there was no chance of me going home hungry. Plus, the scallop meals in front of my tablemates were just as good.

It’s pretty clear why Street and Co. is a perennial favorite in town. Their food is excellent and they’re getting their wares from nearby, enabling them to serve some of the freshest, tastiest sea creatures imaginable. Whether you’re a local or a tourist, there isn’t any good reason not to go there on occasion and treat yourself to an incredible meal you’ll remember for a long time to come.

Best Ethnic Food – Baharat, 91 Anderson St.

Middle Eastern restaurant Baharat made a name for themselves when they were only a food truck (under a different name), but their more accessible brick and mortar store has been exactly what I hoped it would be and then some. From their mezze/apps, to Kebabs of chicken and lamb, and the massive Shawarmageddon – an “everything” sandwich, the food is sometimes simple and occassionally more complex, but always delicious.

In case the food isn’t enough, they are another in a line of new restaurants around Portland that are taking cocktails to another level. What’s even more exciting is that many of these places – like Baharat – aren’t the types of venues in which you might expect that. I recommend a few different libations, but you’re guaranteed to love A Rad Mirage which is made with Lebanese yogurt, honey, and mint. I assure you, like some others there, it’s a drink you’ll want to go back for again and again.

Honorable Mention – Lazzari, 618 Congress St.​this-pizza-is-worth-1000-words

It’s probably safe to say that pizza has transcended ethnicity to a large extent, but one of the things that makes Lazzari so great is that they make a serious – and incredibly sucessful – attempt to keep the Italian food theme throughout the rest of their menu. From the incredible Panzanella I had in July to the Italian street food known as Suppli, they throw a wrench into the traditional pizzaria and take it to a different, well-thought-out place.

I can’t stop talking about Lazzari before I mention their drinks too. They have some of the best drinks in town and if you haven’t sampled them, it’s probably time to do that. I haven’t had a cocktail there yet that I didn’t find absolutely stunning. They’re original, preposterously delicious, and the perfect compliment to the simple, yet exquisite pizza.

Best New Restaurant – Little Giant, 211 Danforth St.​pictures-from-the-wild-game-dinner-at-little-giant/

Little Giant certainly got my attention this year. The beautiful eatery, opened as Andrew and Briana Volk’s follow-up to their very popular Portland Hunt and Alpine Club, is a change of pace in that it focuses on full service meals, rather than only drinks and snack. While LG has their own thing going on, they continue on a Volk tradition of artfully created foods and drink with bold flavors served in a relaxing atmosphere.

As my most reviewed restaurant this year, I can say that multiple visits in a short period of time are not only okay, but encouraged. Graze on the amazing cheese ball, biscuits, and a small oyster taco while drinking creations with names like Knife Fight and Born To Run. Then move on to the house burger, skirt steak, or a very potent mushroom pasta. Whatever you eat or drink, you simply can’t go wrong.

Honorable Mention – Blyth & Burrows, 26 Exchange St.​what-to-expect-when-the-new-bar-with-a-secret-door-opens-tomorrow/​unique-bar-lives-up-to-hype-seven-months-after-opening/

There aren’t many places with a theme and atmosphere as cool as Blythe & Burrows, but add to that to the secret door leading to a totally different bar downstairs and you’ve got the makings of a place that can potentially amuse patrons for hours. They only serve small plates, so don’t go looking for an entree, but you can be sure that the food and drinks deliver and ordering enough plates to fill you up and call it dinner seems totally appropriate.

My first post-opening day visit just recently made me a total believer in what they’re doing. All the food was high-quality and the drinks hit the mark too. My wife thought the Poke Bao was one of the best things she’d eaten all year and my Korean Short Rib Bao also was very pleasing. If you’re an oyster lover, they’ve got a great selection of those too, including a charbroiled option if you like those babies cooked.

Best Upscale Restaurant – Emilitsa, 547 Congress St.

What can be said about Emilitsa that hasn’t already been said by Portland as a whole? If you want upscale food and drink, it’s hard to find a better place to go. From the first bite to the last, and every single one in between, they serve Greek cuisine that is absolutely magical. They also put an exclamation point on customer service and have every last detail down to a science. I particularly appreciate the offer to take jackets immediately upon being led to your table.

Like many restaurants in Portland, Emilitsa’s menu changes frequently based on the season and to keep it interesting, but regardless of what else they’ve got available, I highly recommend the spreads to start. Frankly, anything you order after that is all but guaranteed to be an absolute winner. I think if you go, you’ll wholeheartedly agree.

Honorable Mention – Bolster, Snow, and Co., 747 Congress St.​historic-location-fine-drinks-and-bold-flavors-define-new-eatery/

Bolster Snow invited me to check them out shortly after they opened and I feel lucky they did. With only about a month under their belt, they came through in a big way. Starting with a top notch drink – Honey Buck – and moving on to apps and snacks, our meal got off to a really great start and continued right through the completion of our entree. It was unfortunate that we didn’t have room left for dessert, because an “eclair” with cranberry was right up my alley. 

The restaurant serves weekend brunch and is open for dinner Wed-Sun in the winter. They receive a fair amount of nightly traffic for drinks and rightly so, because their libations are proper and the lounge areas very inviting. However, their food makes staying for a full meal after a cocktail or two a very reasonable proposition. They’re just getting started, but I think Bolster Snow is going to be making Portlanders happy for a long time to come.

Best Eats on the Cheap – Cong Tu Bot, 57 Washington Ave.

Despite what many are saying about the Portland food scene, there are still a number of eateries that are both tasty and inexpensive. Vietnamese eatery Cong Tu Bot is one of those. With their small menu of often spicy food and their “throw a restaurant into an empty garage” appearance, they have created a little eatery that reminds me of the big city. It’s sparsely appointed restaurants like that – the interior is nice enough, though plain – that I often associate with having top notch food.

Portland is small and filled with foodies always looking for the next big thing, so it’s not likely Cong Tu Bot will be the place only you know about and get to introduce to everyone for the first time. That’s good though, because they deserve to be more than that. My only warning is to take them seriously when they say their food is spicy, because unlike many others in this area, they actually mean it.

Honorable Mention – Big Fin Poke, 855 Main St, Westbrook, ME 04092 (with a second location in South Portland)

Big Fin Poke isn’t the type of place I normally review. The counter service and create-your-own style food doesn’t always offer quite the excitement of table service with the chef’s best creations. However, they introduced Maine to poke – Hawaiian style sushi – this year, and in doing so, have made a name for themselves, because not only is it inexpensive and really good, it turns out it’s quite fun to order.

Whether you decide on one of the house creations or start yours from scratch, you can be sure that Big Fin has sometthing to satisfy whatever your tastes are at the moment. Start with a rice bowl, a wrap, or a salad and then add raw fish, cooked beef and chicken, and even tofu. Then pile on any number of interesting additions. It’s even better than it sounds and if their new, second location in SoPo is any indication, a lot of locals agree.

Best Appetizer – 33 Elmwood, 33 Elmwood Ave, Westbrook, ME 04092

What makes 33 Elmwood in Westbrook so fun is that they have games, but what a first-time visitor might not expect is that they also have solid food and drinks. When I went with a group nearly a year ago now and shortly after they opened, their bowling alleys weren’t ready, but the rest of the place was in full swing. We had a meal and then played some bocce. 

But the very good reason why 33 Elmwood makes this list is because of their Fried Deviled Eggs. Made with sriracha, dijon, and chive, the chicken seed was crunchy, tangy, and delicious. As someone who loves deviled eggs in pretty much any form, this preparation took a favorite of mine culinary delight to a whole new level. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that they have lots of other great food too.

Honorable Mention – Liquid Riot, 250 Commercial St.​liquid-riot-beer-spirits-and-food-all-made-right-there/

Have you ever had the Duck “Nachos” at Liquid Riot? Well, neither had I until I finally got there this year and I can’t believe what I was missing. Made from what might seem like a strange combination of ingredients – house potato chips, duck confit, apple butter, blue cheese fondue – the dish was amazing with lots of brilliant flavors wrapped into one insanely delicious package.

Like all the eateries on this list, Liquid Riot offers lots of good options for tasty sustenance, but the duck nachos are an absolute “must have”. I suppose any item with the word “nacho” in it is worth a shot, however these are a little out of the box which makes them special and more than worthy of a try. Of course, the specialty there is the booze made in house, and that all just so happens to go perfectly with nachos of any kind.

Best Place to Grab a Drink/Beer/Wine and Chill Out – Mash Tun, 29 Wharf St.

Mash Tun is quickly becoming one of my very favorite spots in Portland and with good reason. They take no frills greatness to a whole new level. With an excellent beer list and a tiny menu on which everything is both really basic and utterly awesome, Mash Tun makes not only a good place to hang out and drink beer on a whim, but also a pretty excellent location to sooth that growling stomach.

If their beer and food doesn’t convince you to visit, their prices are a drop in the bucket too, so you’ll leave feeling like you made a good decision for your family’s long term financial heath. I can’t get enough of Mash Tun and I feel like they might be the perfect place to take up residence every year during the cold weather until they save me enough money to buy an actual winter home in the tropics.

Honorable Mention – BRGR Bar, 11 Brown St.

I went to BRGR Bar alone the first week they were opened while my wife was traveling. I ate plenty, but I couldn’t get rid of the feeling that it would also be a great place to just sit for a while and enjoy some suds. Sure, the fact that burger is in the name of the joint will likely drive you to order some sort of food, but there seemed to be plenty of people who were content just having a beer or adult milkshake while I was there.

I’ve suggested to a fair number of friends that they go and if I’m taking their word for it, BRGR Bar is impressing everyone who walks in the door. For those who don’t love beef, fear not because there are lots of different options including poultry, fish, and both vegetarian and vegan options. Plus, with fries, tots, apps, and salads, you’ve got a wide range of non-burger choices. I recommend trying the Vietnamese fries, but where you go from there is anybody’s guess.
There are best of the best restaurants I visited in Portland in 2017. I wish I could have recognized more, since the margin of victory in almost every category was nearly negligible this year. Regardless, Portland restaurants continue to be the best in the game. Look forward to lots more food talk this coming year and maybe some new and exciting things from me too. I think 2018 is going to be incredible. See you then!

Stay hungry.

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​If you want Thai, this restaurant never fails to impress

There are a handful of restaurants in Portland that I go to at least semi-regularly. Boda on Congress St. is one of those. They have a strong history of producing top quality food and drinks and in 2012 – only two years after opening – were nominated for a James Beard award. That nomination and their consistency keep them on the forefront of places I recommend going to eat in this area.

We went back to the Thai restaurant early on a Saturday evening. The place was mostly full, but we were able to snag one of the last available tables. We sat and began to look at the menus. I was particularly interested in the specials because I was looking to possibly try something new and they always have a handful of seasonal food and drink items available. 

There were a fair number of classic and seasonal cocktails that looked interesting. I also noticed the house infusions including a tempting Dry-Hopped Maker’s Mark bourbon. In the end, I wasn’t feeling a drink, so that Maker’s would have to wait until my next visit. Mrs. Portlandeater did order a cocktail, the My Tie – Queequeg Spiced Rum, Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur, Dry Curacao, pineapple juice, lime juice, house grenadine, soda, mint and cherry.

My wife’s drink came out, red and garnished with mint. She was pleased with it and we moved on to ordering food. I was all in on the Thai Sticky Rice Ball with soy sauce, pepper, scallion, and garlic. I also went with the Chicken Woon Sen Pad Thai – Stir-fried glass noodles with shallots, chopped tofu, salted daikon, bean sprouts, and Chinese chive wrapped in a thin Thai egg omelet and served with raw bean sprouts, lime, ground peanuts, and chili flakes.

She considered a few different items from the grill, salad, and entree sections of the menu. The final order ended up as Chicken Breast Skewers – grilled with seasoning soy sauce, served with sweet chili sauce – and an Apple Salad – apples, shrimp, roasted coconut, and roasted peanuts in a sweet sour dressing. Boda’s skewers are always truly delicious. I might have been a bit jealous.

The rice ball came out before all else. The grilled mass of pale carbohydrate was covered in scallions. My initial bite brought me back to my first ever visit there when it was the very first food I ordered. It hadn’t changed a bit. Soy, garlic, and pepper, with just a slight char from the grill transformed the rice into an otherworldly concoction like turning a tricycle into a rocket-fueled Harley.

Shortly after we devoured the rice, the rest of the food came out. My wife’s salad and skewer were as I remembered them. I vaguely remembered mine food from when my wife had ordered it previously. I’d seen it and had a few bites, but I’d never ordered it for myself. The idea that the meal was legitimately an omelet fascinated me, so I was more than ready to have a go at it.

I had one bite and it was great, but noticed the sides and thought the lime, peanuts, and chilis might add something to it, so I sprinkled them on top of my all-encompassing egg capsule. My next bite was a thrill-ride through a Thai theme park of taste. Of course the sweet pad thai noodle and veggie mix was delicious with its sauce, but the additional crunch, citrus, and spice took it to new heights. It was flavor on top of flavor and it was outstanding. 

With only a single item as my main course – the omelet – I wondered if it would be enough food for me. It turns out the omelet had some heft to it. It was alot bigger than it appeared on the plate. When I was about three quarters finished, I was getting quite full, but powered all the way through it, unable to turn away from something with such a brilliant flavor palette. 

When all was said and done, we had empty plates and full bellies. We passed up dessert and checked out. Our total came to about $43 plus tax and tip. Our meal was great as always. It’s no surprise that Boda – consistently positively reviewed and endlessly popular in Portland – continues to plug away with stellar food and beverage. They know well what they’re doing.

Boda creates Thai food that transcends typical takeout and makes the customer feel like they’re dining finely, but in a very casual, relaxed atmosphere at a moderate price. It’s one of the first places I bring guests when I have someone visiting. If you haven’t been there, you should probably go. If you have, I assure you, it’s worth returning and even bringing other people along with you to enjoy the experience. They haven’t changed a bit and that’s exactly what keeps me going back.

Stay hungry.

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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​This pizza is worth 1000 words

With lots of pizza places in and around Portland, it’s difficult for a young pizza purveyor to stand out. There are a few go-to locations that I use on a regular basis if I’m ordering takeout. However, sitting down at an actual pizzeria tends to make me think a little harder about where I want to go. Enter Lazzari on Congress St. earlier this year.

I headed back there for a repeat visit this week to see what the eatery had in store, knowing that parts of the menu had been updated for the season and that I would get a look at some different items than when I was last there. We took a couple seats at the bar and I was struck – again – by how large the place was. We started to look over the menus. 

The drink list appeared quite familiar and I remembered many of the cocktails. My wife quickly decided on the Triple Berry Lemonade – Triple Berry Anaheim pepper vodka, blueberry puree, lemon juice. That was what I had ordered on my previous visit, so I knew it was a strong choice. This time, I wanted the Strawberry Basil Marguarita – strawberry basil tequila, Combier Original, lime juice, strawberry puree, salt rim, served up. I ordered without the salt.

Our drinks came out looking gorgeous and I enjoyed mine immediately. It had lots of berry, enough basil, and the right amount of citrus. The fresh, mildly sweet and tart flavors were like a great dessert, and once again, I had a drink I wanted to consume in seconds. Instead, I focused on discovering the right items to feed my internal emptiness while saving my libation to drink over time. 

In my search for an appetizer, I happened upon the specials menu and saw the Suppli – fried tomato and mozzarella rice croquettes – generally considered to be Italian street food. I ordered that and also put in a request for the Sausage and Onion Pizza –  sausage, grilled onions, mozzarella, tomato, ricotta, and rosemary. Mrs. Portlandeater went with her usual Margherita – tomato, mozzarella, and basil.

As we consumed our wonderful drinks, the elves in the kitchen worked to create the food, delivering the croquette within a few minutes. The bullet-shaped rice and cheese suitcase came out in a bowl on top of a pool of grated cheese. I cut into it right away and forked it toward my mouth, noticing some cheese strings running from the bite I cut to the remaining larger piece like a tin can telephone line.

My suppli was awesome. The hard, crunchy outer shell was perfect and the flavors were tight. If I had one criticism, it would have been that it could have used just a little more cheese. I’m reaching a bit though, because it was brilliant overall. My wife and I enjoyed it greatly and took our time savoring it while we waited for the pizzas.

When the pies came, we procured slices without delay. I was pleased with the amount of toppings. I enjoyed the primary items, but I also liked how the drops of ricotta enhanced the pie. It added something a little more and felt like extra cheese in addition to the mozzarella, I suppose because it was. The crust, as always, was thin and left room to taste every part of the saucy saucer. Thick crust has its place for sure, but it’s not here.

I’d had the Margherita before, but the beauty of it was the simplicity. Simple flavors made from high quality ingredients, the marguarita isn’t so much my style in that it is relatively boring as pizza goes. Still, I was happy to try it and found it a fine example of the old classic. If you like tomato, basil, and mozz like my wife does, this one was a winner – no nonsense and all the key flavors were present in ample portions.

After a few slices each, we decided to take our remaining pie home. The bill came to $67 including tip and we had a fair amount to eat the next day. Lazzari is doing a lot right, and I have yet to find any fault with them. Their pizza – and other food – is all excellent. The service and staff are friendly. And here’s something…I think they might have some of the best drinks in town. I’ve had three and all were some of the most memorable I’ve had this year. 

Lazarri isn’t redefining pizza, it’s just taking it and making it to exacting standards. They’re also making sure that all the side notes – non-pizza food, drinks, and staff – are killing it too. Whether you’re starting your night there, ending it, or it’s your entire evening, there’s no doubt a visit to Lazzari will make you happy. It seems to be what they do. And they’re doing it well.

Stay hungry.

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​Unique bar lives up to hype seven months after opening 

In June, I had the pleasure of going to Blyth and Burrows on Exchange St. just before it opened to the public a few days later. The hype of the bar blew through Portland last spring like a tornado. As details emerged, locals were intrigued by its well-thought-out historical theme and especially by its secret door leading to a different bar downstairs. 

I waited a while to head back to the popular locale, wanting to get through the initial excitement of its presence in the Old Port and giving it a little time to normalize. Still, I couldn’t forget about the insane amount of buzz it had generated over the summer. Because that ballyhoo was so crazy, there was a part of me that actually expected to be disappointed when I returned. It was too much to live up to, I figured. 

One concern I’d had – that it would be overcrowded and impossible to navigate – was put to rest immediately. Yes, it was busy, but not to the point of overcrowding. We took seats at the bar on the upper level and were promptly given menus and some water. The menus were mostly new from when they had opened, so I took careful inventory of what was now available, looking for a beer or cocktail to get the night started.

After asking about the rotating taps and taking more time than we should have to choose a libation, we made our decisions. I went with Agave Navidad – sage infused tequila, Blackstrap Rum, mezcal, roasted pineapple, lime, orange citrate. She decided to get Zuzu’s Petals – Stroudwater Vodka, Genepy, Cappelletti, cranberry,  rosemary, lemon, bubbles.

The food menu was small and focused on small plates, but there were several that caught my attention. I wasn’t interested in raw items, but that left both hot and cold dishes from which to pick. Before we could finalize our decisions, the bartender slid the drinks over. My cocktail was fruity with a permeating, but not overwhelming, mezcal smoke that I enjoyed. She found her drink’s flavors odd and quite tart. I agreed, but mostly liked it.

We sipped away and made our final choices on food. I ordered the Charbroiled Oysters – Old Bay, breadcrumbs, butter – and Korean Short Rib Bao – napa cabbage, jalapeno, kimchi. She went for Poke Bao – green onion, sriracha, jalapeno, tuna, sesame seed – and Goat Cheese and Honey – herbed chevre, maple pecans, local wildflower honey, crostini.

Before the plates we ordered came out, we each received a complementary bite from the chef and shortly thereafter, both of our Bao orders made their appearance. We each had three soft, doughy buns that looked like perfectly shaped tacos made of clouds. Hers was darker, mine light. I took a bite and loved it. There was a moderate spice, though nothing painful. A light sweetness rounded out the delicate, tender meat. It was a great start.

As I took my second bite, Mrs. Portlandeater nearly fell off her seat. She repeated the the words “oh my god, this is so good” about five times while eating her first bao. She was mesmerized by the spicy tuna in the bun, eating it while also showering it with praise. She followed up her initial thoughts by letting me know she would need to eat them again in a few weeks, and added that it might have been the best thing she’d eaten all year.

Once the buns were nearly done, the rest of our order came out. I went for the goat cheese, smearing it on one of the crostini. It was a little thin for spreading and broke in two as I attempted it, but I persevered, creating a duo of smaller open-faced sandwiches out of it. Crunchy, sweet, and cheesy, it was an excellent snack with lots of flavor which was only aided by the addition of pomegranate seeds and a little roe.

With cheese done, I dug for an oyster. I had been offered a off-menu version, but took the more traditional ones. Upon consuming the first shucked shellfish, I was happy with the choice. They were mildly seasoned, but as is often the case with seafood, I enjoyed savoring its natural flavor. I consumed all four of my bivalves, relishing the straightforward manner of preparation immensely.

My oysters were eventually gone, but I was still a little hungry. She decided to order a Prosecco, so I went back to the food. I quickly picked out the Mushroom Pate – North Spore Mushrooms, seasonal pickles, crostini. It didn’t take long before it came out with a large log of the pate itself, honey, housemade mustard, and a pickled cauliflower. 

Not wanting to break my bread again, I was careful about putting a pat of pate on it. I took a bite and felt it was tasty, but relatively weak. Wanting to jazz it up a bit, I threw on some mustard. The second bite was amazing, assisted by one of the best mustards I’d had in recent memory. A little honey made it even better as the mushroom honey mustard spread created a combination of flavors that made my mouth happy.

Our food and drinks were eventually finished and we were ready to call it quits. Our bill came to about $91 before tip. All of our items were between $7 and $14.  That was also the range of food prices on the menu as a whole aside from oysters at $15 per half dozen. We paid and made our way out, drifting into the cold, Maine night.

Blyth and Burrows turned my expectations upside down. I expected little and got everything. The drinks were solid, the food even better and the atmosphere as good as any around. The establishment is comfortable, looks really sharp, and feels like a place one could happily hang out in for hours. My two hopes are that next time I go I’ll spend some time in The Broken Dram downstairs and that at some point my wife will stop telling me how great her bao was. 

Stay hungry.

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​Pictures from the Wild Game Dinner at Little Giant

On Tuesday, November 28, Little Giant held a Wild Game Dinner and I was lucky enough to be invited to try it. The six-course dinner had beverage pairings included with each course and were offered a starter cocktail of cognac with sherry, lemon, and fresh nutmeg which was a great entry into the night. Here now are some pictures from that amazing meal.

Wild Maine Belon Oyster – boar chicharron, fresno chili, raw honey vinegar paired with Mas Peyre “Le Demon de Midi” Rancio Sec

This was actually the first raw oyster I’d ever eaten in my life. I know, I know…

After the oyster was down the hatch, we drank a little beer from the shell.

Rabbit Liver Pate – cranberry relish, hazelnuts, mustard paired with Orion’s Bow – pasubio, apricot, lemon, pineapple

This was served on local sourdough. And the drink was utterly delicious. 

Venison Loin – smoked turnip puree, pickled blueberries, crispy leeks paired with Henriques & Henriques 2000 Boal Single Harvest

I haven’t had that much venison in my life, but this was the best one by far – not even remotely gamey, extremely tender, and so flavorful. It was a total hit at the table.

Duck Ham – beets, orange, spiced pistachios, tarragon yogurt paired with Patience Reward – old tom gin, cocchi, dolin rouge, lemon

The duck was solid, but so were the beets which were a definite key to this plate.

Cassoulet – smoked boar, quail confit, rabbit sausage paired with Arnaud de Villeneuve Tresmontaine “Tabacal” Rancio

This stew was meaty and all parts were really tasty. I honestly can’t decide which part was my favorite.

Indian Pudding – candy cap mushroom ice cream, pepita brittle paired with Unreachable Horizon – dolin rouge, smith + cross rum, coffee

Dessert was amazing. And that coffee in the drink was Allen’s Coffee Brandy. Welcome to Maine!

Little Giant is always great, but this meal was really fun. If they ever offer something like this again, I highly recommend it!

Stay hungry.

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Feel free to email me at 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