Friday, May 31, 2013

Fuel Maine

Do you know where Buckfield, Maine is? Middle of nowhere, as in the nearest grocery store is a 30 min hike. But because we love our family and little nieces, our Maine vacation also included some quality uncle/aunty time. Lucky for us, Buckfield is only 1hr away from Portland (which meant we could go back and try Duckfat) and near the metropolis of Lewiston which surprisingly, has a few great hidden gems, including a Chef's Tasting Menu called "Feed Me". How could we not try it?!

After a beer stop at Baxter Brewing Co., we put our faith in Yelp to help us find another hidden gem for lunch. It lead us to a quirky little lunch spot called She Doesn't Like Guthrie's. Long name, tasty place, and certified "Green Restaurant" by Maine! To give our cholesterol a break, we went a healthier route. J got a bbq chicken sandwich while I tried a combo of sweet potato quesadilla and grilled kale salad with avocado, beans, and brown rice and side of really delicious and bright cilantro lime dressing. Everything tasted fresh, clean, and was healthy (I think). It was probably one of the few places where we got a healthy serving of veggies in. Fried fiddleheads count as a healthy vegetable too, right? 

We were obsessed with trying fiddleheads, a seasonal fern of sorts that we saw everywhere on the road stands. I've never seen these greens in New York and stopped by a quaint local stand to pick some up. The kind of stand that someone's neighbor set-up with a fisher price chalkboard; kind of sketchy but it's your local, friendly neighborhood supplier. J's bro is a great cook and prepared the fiddleheads two ways: tempura and sauteed in butter. Delicious! Funky looking but also tasted familiar, like a cross between a string bean and bok choy. 

It must have been fate, because fiddleheads made another appearance the next night when we went out for dinner. J's bro and sister in law had been raving about a restaurant in nearby Lewiston that does a chef's tasting menu. Basically, every dish is up to the chef and is a surprise four-course meal. You just tell him your dislikes, and your meal is at the mercy of his knife. Our inner foodies couldn't resist and off to Fuel we went. 

There's no holding back when it comes to the Feed Me Menu. We decided to be a bit more adventurous and the only exceptions we made were no eggplant for me and no mushrooms for J. It was only fitting that we were dining at the bar as Iron Chef America was playing on the flatscreen overlooking us. 

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Eventide Oyster Co.

After what was the best sushi meals we've ever eaten, it was hard to imagine what other delectable grubs Portland could enlighten us with. We're such fans of Chopped on the Food Network (Ted Allen is one of J's man crushes) that we made it an absolute point to stop by Duckfat after seeing owner Chef Rob Evans compete. The man is after all, a James Beard Award recipient and makes duck fat fried french fries. My cholesterol level jumped just typing about it. But a little misfortune led us to one of the best lobster rolls we've ever consumed.

Before gorging ourselves at lunch, we made pit stops by Shipyard Brewing Company (J wrote about our Maine brewery experiences here) and Two Fat Cats Bakery of Best Thing I Ever Ate fame of course for their drool-worthy whoopie pies. Unbeknownst to us, whoopie pies are a beloved Maine regional food. Whoopie pies for breakfast are perfectly acceptable in our books. Go with the original but a side of the raspberry whoopie pie (when available) is equally satisfying. The magic is in the frosting and it is airy and magical. We made a pitstop here last year and couldn't miss out on them again. We figured a long walk along the beautiful riverfront would burn off some of the morning's calories, enough to stuff our faces again. 

Lucky for us, all the best eateries including Benkay Sushi, Two Fat Cats, and Duckfat are located within one delicious radius along Commercial Street by the coastal riverfront. As we approached Duckfat, a little sign in front of the storefront delivered devastating news. The restaurant was still closed for renovations and we were leaving to visit J's brother that afternoon. Cue sad music. 

We must have looked really sad because a lovely young Portlander who was outside dining at the spot next to Duckfat chimed in and recommended Eventide Oyster Co. right down the street for some of the best oysters in town. Still off the high of the previous night's Bluepoint Oysters from Benkay, we decided to why not give it a shot. 

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Benkay Japanese Sushi Bar

I cannot begin to tell you how well we ate in Maine. Our vacation culinary adventures began in Portland, Maine. This coastal city is foodie bliss. We've written about our weekly sushi cravings and being right by the sea coast, we couldn't resist taking advantage of some of the best and freshest seafood in town. What I really wanted to try was Miyake, mainly because Alex Guarnashelli declared their mushroom miso soup The Best Thing I Ever Ate  and I remember seeing Andrew Zimmern making a Bizzare Foods stop, but being on a limited budget and because J hates mushrooms (one of these days he'll be a convert), we decided to go on a Yelp sushi search. 

Our findings led us to the best sushi meal we've ever had at Benkay Japanese Restaurant and Sushi Bar. We consider this our #1 all-time sushi spot now. Too bad it's now 4hrs away from Albany. We might very well consider a weekend trip just to eat this sushi again.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Breweries of Maine

I've been meaning to get around to this for a while, and hopefully once I get out of my current job and into something with somewhat human hours I can start writing relatively regularly again (just 2 more weeks).

Now, to be fair, before I met R my idea of a great dinner was putting frozen shrimp in a pot of ramen.  I was really proud of myself for that one, so inventive.  She's the one who taught me how to taste, who showed me what real cooking can be, and how much fun it can be.  I never grilled before I met her, now it's my favorite thing to listen to John Sterling call a Yankees game in the back, grill flaming away, beer in hand.  I use the beer to time my grilling, if you were wondering.

All that said, I really feel like R captured our culinary experiences in Maine beautifully, and I'm hoping she's planning another post to describe the lobster pound we basically maxed our credit cards at 3 days in a row (hint).  I don't feel there's a ton I can add about the food, so I'm going to talk about the beer instead.

Being a fan of craft brewing, I love living in the northeast.  R kind of humors me when we go on vacation, we always look up and visit at least one brewery near wherever we're staying even though she doesn't really drink.  Win-win for me, since at tastings I get to drink hers too if I like it.  Here, in order of visit, are the breweries in Maine we've visited and my thoughts on their brews:

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Pho 88

Sorry for the long hiatus! J & R just got back from a week-long vacation in Maine. We made a point of stopping by some of the best foodie spots in Portland and discovered some great gems along the way and can't wait to share them with you within the next few posts. We are still recovering and slowly detoxing with lots of veggies and salad since I'm pretty sure our cholesterol levels are up the roof. But let me tell you how helpful Yelp was on this year's trip! 

Armed with the trusty Yelp and Foodspotting phone apps, we found a great little Vietnamese place in Lowell, MA. No McDonald's rest area lunch stops for us! If you find yourself anywhere near this area, make a point to stop by Pho 88. I was craving my mom's Bun Bo Hue (a spicy vermicelli soup, with soft tendon, sliced shank, ground shrimp and pork) and was so surprised to find it on the menu that I had to have it and boy did it hit the spot. This version even came with black blood pudding, a little bit too adventurous/Andrew Zimmern Bizzare Food-esque, even for me. The broth was perfectly spicy and full of delightful aromas like lemongrass. It was just as good as mom's (just don't tell her that). 

I'm pretty sure I got J addicted to pho since we started dating. If you have yet to try Vietnamese food, start out with this noodle soup and you'll be hooked. I make an o.k. chicken pho at home (in the crock pot!) but for the beef pho, we usually go out to Van's Vietnamese Restaurant in Albany or Saigon Spring in Clifton Park for the real deal bowl of goodness. One hot steaming bowl of pho is sure to cure any illness. Pho 88's version was just as good, if not better than Albany's. To drink, J had a tra da chanh (limeade made with jasmine tea) and I had a a durian milkshake with tapioca bubbles. Durian! Yup, it's that's funky fruit that to some people smells vile, is banned in enclosed spaces in Asia, but that I find oh so delicious! 

I wish Vietnamese restaurants here in Albany had as much variety as Pho 88 in Mass. They have dishes like bun rieu (Shrimp and crab meat with vermicelli noodle in a special crab tomato soup) and bun mang vit (Duck leg and fried bamboo shoots with vermicelli noodles soup) that are quintessential Vietnamese dishes that I crave and can't get around these parts, unless I place a special
order with mom when she comes to visit. I can't even get a proper bahn mi sandwich (the real deal baguette made with rice flour and schmear of pate) and that makes me want to start up a food truck just so I can eat one. The best ones by the way, are the ones made in Montreal. The Canadian-French-Vietnamese folk make a mean baguette. But until our next road trip east, I'll settle for Albany pho. -R

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

What's Cooking?

Having a bad day? Stop by The Meat House and treat yourself to some of the best steak you'll ever have, if not THE BEST. Throw it on the grill and your inner carnivore will thank you for life. It's THAT good. We found a new found love for grilled steak thanks to The Meat House. The quality of the steaks are above and beyond that of your average supermarket's. The best steak is as simple as olive oil, salt, and pepper and that meat just melts in your mouth. *drool* In the past, we were always hesitant to spend a little extra on meat, but we've now seen the light at the end of tunnel and are addicted! As much as we love going out, sometimes treating ourselves to a good 'ole steak on the grill is just as good. 

The best steak sandwich we've ever made was with Meat House steak. The butcher gave us a sample of their house marinated steak tips and were hooked from that day forth. It was unbelievably tender, delicious, and flavorful. Add your steak tips to a grilled focaccia roll with a schmear of tangy goat cheese, pickled red onions (just soak slices of onions in some rice wine vinegar and sugar), and grilled shrimp and man will your belly be happy. This surf 'n turf sandwich is out of the world. Inspired by The Illium Cafe's own surf 'n turf sandwich (a combo of marinated sliced filet, grilled shrimp, blue cheese-garlic herb butter, roasted red peppers, and arugula on foccacia), our homemade version is just as kick-ass. Last night's version was made with a strip steak but we definitely recommend the marinated steak tips. The meat sweats have never been better. -R

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Hulk Smash

I get made fun of at work for drinking this glowing green smoothie but it's so delicious! Green smoothies are my way of getting the fruits and veggies in that my body needs in order to balance out all the sugar and bacon food groups that I consume. You can't even taste the spinach with all the fruit and juice blended in. Some people substitute or add kale, but I think spinach is the most neutral tasting green for smoothies. 

My go to green smoothie consists of a blend of a handful of fresh spinach, frozen mangoes, greek yogurt, and Trader Joe's Green Plant Juice, which contains broccoli, spinach, barley grass, chlorella, and spirulina. Looks like pond scum but you mostly taste the fruit in the juice which also contains apple, peach, pineapple, banana and mango. 

For good measure, I add a tablespoon of chia seeds, also  from Trader Joe's. Told you I had an obsession with TJ's. Apparently it's the same kind of chia seeds used for chia pets...cha cha cha chia! But a lil goes a long way; a single tablespoon gets you 6g of fiber, 3g of protein, and 2.9g of Omega-3 fatty acids. That to me sounds healthy and it adds a great texture to smoothies. Chia seeds makes your drink thicker too. When you soak chia seeds, they turn into a very space-age like gel.  Some other great add-ins for these green smoothies are bananas or blueberries. Any fruit really! Go ahead, try a green smoothie! Promise you won't turn into the Hulk. -R