On the Road: Frasca Food and Wine (Boulder, CO)

18 May 2010

Frasca Food and Wine in Boulder, Colorado is one of those restaurants about which I have a difficult time being objective.  I have dined there twice over the past year and have had two fantastic meals.  I hesitate to say they were perfect, but both meals hit the spot; they were just what I was looking for during both of my visits and couldn’t have been better.

According to its website, the food at Frasca is inspired by the cuisine of the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region of Italy.  Located in the far northeast corner of the country, it is bordered by Austria, Slovenia and the Adriatic sea.  Due to its proximity to neighboring countries, this Italian cuisine also reflects international influences.  The food is marked by fresh ingredients and “creative” spice and herb blends.

But let’s not get hung up on website descriptions.  We are talking about simple preparations of seasonal ingredients; preparations that underscore the true flavors of each component of the dish.  What seems like a straightforward concept is no doubt difficult in execution.  When dishes are composed of only a few elements, each one must be of top quality and properly prepared, or the whole dish will fail.  However, when prepared properly everything comes together, creating a dish that exceeds the sum of its parts. Read the rest of this entry »


Willard Scoops

16 May 2010

It’s warming up.  Thoughts turn to ice cream.

Last year Willard Scoops was a welcome addition to the ice cream choices in So. Portland and Cape Elizabeth.  Located across from Scratch and serving Mt. Desert Island ice cream, it provided a great option when one grew tired of Beale’s (which has never been a favorite of mine) or didn’t want to drive all the way into Cape for the Kettle Cove dairy bar.

New for 2010, Willard Scoops now makes its own homemade ice cream, which no doubt raises the bar for gourmet ice cream in the Portland area.  Particularly given its proximity to Scratch, this is ice cream worth driving over the bridge for.  Grab a mid-afternoon ice cream to tide you over until dinner, then head across the street to pick up some baked goods to go with dinner.  Or take your cone down to Willard Beach a few blocks away and enjoy it with your feet in the sand.  (So long as you don’t finish it first).

I particularly like how some of the ice creams at Willard Scoops use salt to good effect, such as in the chocolate sea salt ice cream and the salt caramel and salt caramel nut ice creams.  The salt provides a nice foil to the chocolate and caramel ice creams and is a must for anyone who enjoys salty sweet contrasts.

The mint chip, which uses fresh mint and avoids the overly-sweet and artificial mint flavor (and color) of many versions, is also fantastic.  This is serious ice cream, creamy and rich, with the perfect texture.  It avoids the trap of being too thick, dense or “chewy” (which is a problem that sometimes plagues “gourmet” ice cream).  In addition to the usual stand-by flavors, Willard Scoops plans to offer a rotating menu of over 20 ice creams from among 60 flavors.  It looks like Portland may be on its way to having its own Christina’s-style ice cream shop featuring gourmet ice cream with interesting and unique flavors.

On the Road: Commis (Oakland, CA)

13 May 2010

Recently, I’ve had the pleasure of dining at a few fantastic restaurants outside of Portland, Maine.  Although I don’t travel too often, when I do one of my focuses, of course, is on food.  This will be the first in a series of three posts where I will report on two meals from outside of Portland, before reporting on one of our city’s own nationally-recognized restaurants.  Based on my completely unscientific (and way limited) method, we’ll see how Portland stacks up.

Up first is Commis, Chef James Syhabout’s new restaurant (opened last fall) in Oakland, California.  Chef Syhabout has spent time at El Bulli in Spain, The Fat Duck in England, and served as the Chef de Cuisine at Manresa in Los Gatos, California.  Commis is the first restaurant that this 30-year old chef has owned and it’s quite unlike anyplace at which I have dined.

The focus here is entirely on the food, with stark and minimalist decor.  White walls with no artwork, black tile floor, and simple modern decor: all attention is drawn to the large stainless open kitchen and six-seat dining bar in the center of this 30-something seat restaurant.  Some might feel that the restaurant feels cold, but I liked it: no distractions, we’re here to eat. Read the rest of this entry »

Happy Derby Day

1 May 2010

DiPietrio’s Market, So. Portland.

Bazkari Catering at the Public Market House

22 Apr 2010

I’m really digging the Public Market House expansion.  With the opening of the second floor, it’s becoming a great place to grab a quick lunch from a variety of interesting and creative food vendors.  Most recently, Bazkari Catering started selling lunch on Wednesdays (Monument Square farmer’s market day) from Spartan Grill’s old spot on the first floor.

Bazkari operates a daily lunch-delivery service in Portland and So. Portland and features Spanish food prepared by Ana O’Connell, who has lived in Andalusia and the Basque region of Spain.  Each day it offers a different dish which can be delivered to your workplace in the morning; ready to heat and eat for lunch.  From 11:30 until 1:30 on Wednesdays, you’ll find several of these dishes offered, along with traditional Spanish deserts and sandwiches.

I’ve tried the “very special rice,” which I would generally describe as a Spanish fried rice (though much less oily than you’re usual Chinese style fried rice).  It is subtly flavored and features abundant pieces of Serrano ham, chicken, shrimp and egg omelette.  Since the rice is mildly spiced, you really notice the flavors of the individual proteins, particularly the ham and egg.  Still, I found myself wishing the rice had a bit more flavor.  Other entrees include pollo al jerez (sherry chicken; which was on the menu Wednesday) along with Spanish shepard’s pie and stuffed piquillo peppers with bechamel sauce (available by delivery and hopefully on future Wednesdays at the Public Market). Read the rest of this entry »

First Bites: Kamasouptra

12 Apr 2010

Kamasouptra, the latest addition to the second floor of the Public Market House officially opens on April 13.  After a ‘soft-opening’ on Sunday it has been serving a variety of soups and gearing up for its Grand Opening on Tuesday.  Based on a few soup samples and my bowl of chili, the restaurant is a great option for a quick, hearty, and satisfying lunch.

Although it’s never a good idea to review a restaurant based on its first couple of days, the folks at Kamasouptra have been cooking and selling these soups for the last ten months (via delivery and at restaurants such as Novare Res and Bard Coffee).  Thus, there’s no doubt that they know their soup and have these recipes down cold.  The only question is how it will incorporate the promised seafood options into the repertoire of vegetarian and vegan soups.

The vegetarian chili features kidney and black beans, red bell and poblano peppers, onions, and tomatoes in a medium-thick vegetable stock redolent of cumin and ground chili pepper.  It’s a good, hearty chili without the fattiness or oiliness you often find in meat-based versions.  The spices lend a subtle heat which pleasantly grows as you work your way through the dish; warming comfort food in a bowl. Read the rest of this entry »

Otto Pizza / Enzo Wine Bar

11 Apr 2010

Earlier this month, Otto (576 Congress) expanded into the space next door, last occupied by Good Earth Furniture.  Previously, Otto was almost exclusively a take-out shop, with only a few seats in the window and a small table outside during the warm months.  Now, you can enjoy Otto’s pizza fresh out of the oven at Enzo Wine Bar next door.

Enzo is a small space, with three tables, a few seats in the window, and eight seats at the bar.  Although only open a few weeks, the restaurant already has the warm, welcoming feel of a place that has been in business for years.  This feeling is accentuated by the dark-stained wood bar, tables, and wine bottle shelves behind the bar.  The subway tile and green painted tin tiles lighten things up and bring some color to the room.  Adding to the comfortable, casual decor, the specialty pizza menu is hand painted in blue on the subway tile just inside the entrance.  (A few additional Enzo-only pizzas are listed on the laminated menus, including wild mushroom and herb; eggs, bacon, and asparagus; and one with short ribs).

Although promoted as a wine bar, don’t go to Enzo looking for a long, creative wine list.  Instead, the restaurant features several different Italian reds and whites along with three beers (Rogue Dead Guy Ale, Moretti Lager, and Gritty’s Vacationland Ale).  But, you’re not here to sample exotic wines or the the latest craft brew, you’re here to eat the best pizza in Portland. Read the rest of this entry »