Archive for the ‘MARTINI’ Category

Much like my radio job, I don’t mind doing requests! So thanks for asking for a re-post of this one. It’s a great cocktail to make when entertaining guests for the holidaze!
At first, it seemed almost silly to try to make one…but the classic James Bond martini has always fascinated me. I’m not talking about the clichéd Sean Connery “vodka martini, shaken, not stirred.”  I’m talking about the real James Bond martini, which appeared in Ian Fleming’s first 007 novel “Casino Royale” and only appeared in the most recent “Casino Royale” motion picture starring Daniel Craig.
Bondtini
To quote the novel:
‘A dry martini,’ he said. ‘One. In a deep champagne goblet.’ ‘Oui, monsieur.’ ‘Just a moment. Three measures of Gordon’s (gin), one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet.  Shake it very well until it’s ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon peel. Got it?’ ‘Certainly, monsieur.’ The barman seemed pleasant with the idea. ‘Gosh that’s certainly a drink,’ said Leiter. 
Bond laughed. ‘When I’m … er … concentrating.’ he explained, ‘I never have more than one drink before dinner. But I do like that one to be large and very strong and very cold and very well-made. I hate small portions of anything, particularly when they taste bad. This drink’s my own invention. I’m going to patent it when I can think of a good name.’ 
He watched carefully as the deep glass became frosted with the pale golden drink, slightly aerated by the bruising of the shaker. He reached for it and took a long sip. 
‘Excellent,’ he said to the barman, ‘but if you can get a vodka made with grain instead of potatoes, you will find it still better.’ 
Bond named this drink the Vesper martini, after the character Vesper Lynd, portrayed by Ursula Andress in the 1967 adaptation, and Eva Green in the 2006 adaptation of “Casino Royale.”
My version of this classic drink remains true to the original, though I’ve changed brands due to personal preference. In the novel, Bond just asks for “vodka.” (Of course, this was back in the 1950’s when we didn’t have hundreds of brands to choose from!) My choice for best-bang-for-the-buck grain vodka is Tito’s. Made from corn, it has just enough of an edge, which is what this drink needs.
Bond asks for Gordon’s gin. I’m partial to Hendrick’s for this application. Again, in the 50’s, what good British agent wouldn’t drink Gordon’s?
And the original Kina Lillet had its formula changed in the 1980’s to keep up with the times by reducing the quinine, which made it bitter. The French aperitif wine, Lillet, is today’s version: a blend of wine grapes, oranges, orange peels and quinine. Lillet is not a vermouth, though you’ll find it in the vermouth section of your favorite liquor store. Some aficionados claim the martini is just not the same without the original Kina Lillet formulation, but I find that the drink works just fine for me.
ingredients again
So…measurements true to Bond:
3 oz. Hendrick’s gin
1 oz. Tito’s vodka
1/2 oz. Lillet
I prefer combining these over ice in a cocktail shaker, and I stir, not shake. I strain it into a chilled martini glass and I’m happy with the lemon peel…but happier with three olives instead.
Cheers!
Bondtini2
A side note: the correct pronunciation of Lillet is Lih-LAY. Grammatically in French, the double-l would make it sound like Lih-YAY. So to keep that from happening, they spelled it Lilet for a while until the French were used to the correct pronunciation, then they went back to Lillet on the bottle.

My 12-year-old daughter’s at the age where she’s fascinated by the world of music. Working in radio, I’m lucky that I’m able to offer her some great experiences. Thanks to my boss, Rob, the man with all the connections, she got to meet her favorite band, AJR. She went backstage and met the guys from Imagine Dragons. She received a hand-written birthday greeting from Brendan Urie of Panic! at the Disco.

I saw my first concert at the age of 17. It was Three Dog Night and T.Rex at the Nassau Coliseum on Long Island. My daughter has already seen more concerts than I did in my teens.

As touristy as they are (and as mediocre as the food is), Hard Rock Cafes and their walls full of pictures, guitars, photos and other memorabilia, offer a glimpse into the world of music that fascinates my daughter. Once she visited her first Hard Rock, the world’s largest at Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida, she was hooked. If we were traveling anywhere near a Hard Rock Cafe, we had to go.

The Hard Rock at Universal was followed by New York City, Washington DC, the Cayman Islands, Paris, and Reykjavik. Yet we never made to the one in Boston, closest to our home in Rhode Island. It was time to go.

Hard Rock Cafe, Boston.

 

Our stay in Boston began with lunch at the Hard Rock Cafe, near Fanuel Hall. Nothing particularly amazing about the venue, but we could now scratch it off the list.

I clearly don’t know what the hell I’m doing.

 

Because our main point of going to Boston was to visit the New England Aquarium, I chose to get a room at the Marriott Long Wharf Hotel, located right on the water and literally a few steps from the aquarium. The area around Long Wharf includes many restaurant and shopping choices.

The Marriott Long Wharf is a huge hotel, and I was surprised at just how clean the property was, despite the vast numbers of people who were moving through the lobby and hallways. Our room was clean and technologically up-to-date: everything you’d want in a hotel room. Beds were comfortable, towels were plentiful.

The only complaint I had about our hotel is one that I have with most of the Marriotts and Westins that I’ve been to recently. They’ve decided to make the move away from old-fashioned room service with carts, real plates and silverware, and decent food. Now they all offer what amounts to take-out service. You get a bag full of cardboard boxes that contain your meals….paper napkins…plastic utensils…and crappy food. I highly doubt all of this gets recycled. So in a world where we’re supposed to be thinking about how not to overload our landfills, these guys came up with the idea to make everything disposable. Really dumb. Goes without saying that we didn’t eat at the hotel.

No carts. No fuss. No thanks.

 

The New England Aquarium is a great place to take the family and see penguins up close. We arrived at feeding time, and it was fun to watch them eat; some of them fussy, some of them devouring their offerings of fish. The center of the building is a spiral, and inside the spiral is a huge 4-story aquarium. So as you slowly walk up the spiral, you get a constantly changing view of the aquarium and the thousands of fish and other sea life (manta rays, tortoises, sea horses, jellyfish, starfish, eels, seals, and lots more that thrive there. Again, you might be lucky to catch them at feeding time, when workers in scuba gear swim down to the different groups of fish and make sure they get fed.

One note: buy your tickets online before you go. The outdoor line for last-minute ticket buyers was huge, and we visited on a bone-chilling winter’s day. Those people standing in line were very unhappy. We just walked right in with our online printed tickets.

 

The Red Lantern in Boston.

 

We don’t have many great Asian restaurant choices in Rhode Island, so when we go to Boston, it’s almost always on our list. This time, we decided to skip Chinatown and go to a restaurant that was as much about the atmosphere as it was about the food: The Red Lantern. Great music, cool lighting, awesome design, very good food and a huge cocktail menu. My daughter had miso soup and a massive delicious bowl of beef lo mein. I shoved a few large chopstick-fulls into my mouth “for blogging purposes.” Really good. I started with a plate of boneless ribs, sweet and sticky. My main dish was a huge spicy tuna toro maki roll: a tempura fried roll with avocado, cucumber, chili soy and toro tuna, slightly torched. Over the top. The Red Lantern has a beautiful bar, and my original mai-tai was well-made, though very sweet.

Dessert selections weren’t what we wanted…and we needed a breather…so we Ubered over to Newbury Street, where we found a wonderful gelato shop: Amorino. It’s an Italian chain, and they know how to do gelato!

I suppose if I wasn’t hanging out with my daughter, I’d take this opportunity to go to a bar for one last cocktail, but instead, we just went back to the hotel and focused on the next day, thinking we’d hit the indoor pool. Turns out it wasn’t a great idea, because the pool last the Marriott Long Wharf was really small and full of screaming little kids. Plan B: find a really great Sunday brunch.

Mooo, in Boston.

 

Mooo is a steak restaurant inside the beautiful XV Beacon Hotel, on historic Beacon Street. As I was searching for brunch possibilities, I saw the tempting list of freshly-baked treats on their menu, very different from those offered elsewhere, and I knew this was where we needed to go. We were not disappointed!

Ordering the cinnamon buns was a no-brainer. The moment they say on the menu that you “need to give it a little extra time,” you know it’s going to be worth the wait! as we slowly pulled apart the gooey rolls, shoving them into mouth, I moaned like Patton Oswalt in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty: “Cinnnabonnnn……” (Though it was way better than any Cinnabon I ever head!)

The incredible cinnamon buns at Mooo.

 

My daughter knew almost instantly that she was going to have the chocolate chip pancakes…with a side of bacon, of course. I was contemplating the lobster eggs Benedict (I’m a huge fan of bennies), but then I said to myself: “Wait…this is a steak restaurant. They have half-a-dozen steak and eggs offerings on the menu. Have a steak, for crying out loud!” My inner voice served me well.

I had a choice of 2 ribeyes: either a 12-oz. American corn-fed ribeye, or a 14-oz. pastured, grass-fed Australian ribeye. I’m a grass-fed guy, so the larger Australian ribeye (which was also less expensive) was a no-brainer. It was cooked to a perfect medium-rare, and was one of the best steaks I’ve had in a very long time. A couple of eggs and a side of perfectly cooked potatoes made for an ideal meal.

Brunch is served!

 

Mooo was such a great choice for brunch that I will keep it in mind for dinner on a return trip to Boston.

 

We returned to our hotel after brunch, simply to pack up and head home. A nice 24-hour getaway with wonderful food and a fun time with my daughter. I know my daughter and I will be back in June to see a Billie Eilish concert at the Rockland Trust Bank Pavilion, so we’ll have more opportunities to hit a couple of restaurants, this time in the Seaport District, which, sadly, is being overrun by so much new construction that you can’t even see the water anymore. It’s sad because Boston’s traffic has just been rated the worst in the country, and this will only add to a crumbling infrastructure that is already overloaded.

 

 

 

I love my onions! Raw, sautéed, caramelized, yellow, Spanish, Bermuda, Vidalia, Texas Sweets, scallion, pearl, Crimini, Walla Walla…they can do no wrong. In fact, my wife and daughter gave me the Lithuanian nickname: “Ponas Svogūnas.” (“Mr. Onion.”) I answer to it proudly.

I also love my vodka martinis! So if I’m going to buy a top shelf vodka like Stoli Elit or Belvedere, I’m not going to ruin it with cheap vermouth, especially that nasty stuff they use to brine supermarket cocktail onions that come in a jar that’s been sitting on the shelf for about 10 years.

My first attempt at homemade cocktail onions was not a success. I bought pearl onions and did what the package instructions said: I dropped them in boiling water for a couple of minutes, then moved them to ice water to let them cool. Then a gentle squeeze on one end of the onion would make it pop right out of its skin. Easy, right?

 

 

Well, it didn’t work out that way. For one thing, the onions got soft…not what I wanted. I had to cut one end of the bulb with a knife. And even then, when I squeezed the onion, the part that popped out was about half the size of the original onion…there was a lot of waste.

 

 

After brining, they tasted OK, but they never had that crisp bite I wanted. They were mushy. I realized that boiling was not the way to go.

 

A lot of waste.

I knew there had to be a better way. Then I discovered already peeled pearl onions at Whole Foods. I have to be honest…I won’t use any other onions now. They’re big, plump, and exactly what I want.

 

Sure, these are much larger than the onions you find in a jar. But tell me how that’s a problem!

 

Once that time-saving ingredient was in my possession, I took my own pickled asparagus recipe (https://livethelive.com/2018/05/16/pickled-asparagus-the-new-season-has-begun-4/) and used it with onions. Awesome results!

 

 

 

1 lb. pearl onions, peeled
1 cup white vinegar
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1 1/2  cups water
3/4 cup sugar (I like turbinado cane sugar)
10 peppercorns
1 teaspoon salt (per quart-sized Mason jar)
2 cloves garlic

 

Combine the white vinegar, apple cider vinegar, water, sugar, and peppercorns in a medium-sized saucepan. Bring it to a boil, making sure the sugar dissolves completely.

In a quart-sized Mason jar, add the teaspoon of salt and garlic cloves.

 

Pour a little of the hot vinegar liquid in the jar to dissolve the salt. Add the onions to the jar, then fill the jar to the top with the vinegar liquid.

Cover the jar tightly and turn it upside-down a couple of times to mix everything together.

 

Let the jar cool to room temperature, then move it to the fridge. You can use the onions as soon as the craving hits you, but they taste better if you give them a few days.

 

 

 

At first, it seemed almost silly to try to make one…but the classic James Bond martini has always fascinated me. I’m not talking about the clichéd Sean Connery “vodka martini, shaken, not stirred.”  I’m talking about the real James Bond martini, which appeared in Ian Fleming’s first 007 novel “Casino Royale” and only appeared in the most recent “Casino Royale” motion picture starring Daniel Craig.
Bondtini
To quote the novel:
‘A dry martini,’ he said. ‘One. In a deep champagne goblet.’ ‘Oui, monsieur.’ ‘Just a moment. Three measures of Gordon’s (gin), one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet.  Shake it very well until it’s ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon peel. Got it?’ ‘Certainly, monsieur.’ The barman seemed pleasant with the idea. ‘Gosh that’s certainly a drink,’ said Leiter. 
Bond laughed. ‘When I’m … er … concentrating.’ he explained, ‘I never have more than one drink before dinner. But I do like that one to be large and very strong and very cold and very well-made. I hate small portions of anything, particularly when they taste bad. This drink’s my own invention. I’m going to patent it when I can think of a good name.’ 
He watched carefully as the deep glass became frosted with the pale golden drink, slightly aerated by the bruising of the shaker. He reached for it and took a long sip. 
‘Excellent,’ he said to the barman, ‘but if you can get a vodka made with grain instead of potatoes, you will find it still better.’ 
Bond named this drink the Vesper martini, after the character Vesper Lynd, portrayed by Ursula Andress in the 1967 adaptation, and Eva Green in the 2006 adaptation of “Casino Royale.”
My version of this classic drink remains true to the original, though I’ve changed brands due to personal preference. In the novel, Bond just asks for “vodka.” (Of course, this was back in the 1950’s when we didn’t have 100 brands to choose from!) My choice for best-bang-for-the-buck grain vodka is Tito’s: it has just enough of an edge, which is what this drink needs.
Bond asks for Gordon’s gin. I’m partial to Hendrick’s for this application. Again, in the 50’s, what good British agent wouldn’t drink Gordon’s?
And the original Kina Lillet had its formula changed in the 1980’s to keep up with the times by reducing the quinine, which made it bitter. The French aperitif wine, Lillet, is today’s version: a blend of wine grapes, oranges, orange peels and quinine. Lillet is not a vermouth, though you’ll find it in the vermouth section of your favorite liquor store. Some aficionados claim the martini is just not the same without the original Kina Lillet formulation, but I find that the drink works just fine for me.
ingredients again
So…measurements true to Bond:
3 oz. Hendrick’s gin
1 oz. Tito’s vodka
1/2 oz. Lillet
I prefer combining these over ice in a cocktail shaker, and I stir, not shake. I strain it into a chilled martini glass and I skip the lemon peel. I prefer three olives instead…and stuffed with garlic, if my wife is away on a business trip!
Cheers!
Bondtini2
A side note: the correct pronunciation of Lillet is Lih-LAY. Grammatically in French, the double-l would make it sound like Lih-YAY. So to keep that from happening, they spelled it Lilet for a while until the French were used to the correct pronunciation, then they went back to Lillet on the bottle.

For me, no dining experience is complete without a great cocktail. If all they’ve got to offer is a martini straight-up with olives, I’ll drink it alright–but I’ll be disappointed there’s nothing more.

Coppa is a wonderful small enoteca in Boston’s South End, featuring small plates by award-winning chefs Ken Oringer and Jamie Bissonette. (They’re also the 2 creative forces behind Toro in Boston and NYC.)

The food was incredible, and this drink, called “Hey, Neon,” was inspired. The glass was rimmed with dehydrated and finely chopped kalamata olives. I tried to recreate that at home, and couldn’t get the texture or the size right. And I could never get it to stick to the glass, either! Ultimately, I simply skewered a few kalamatas and placed them on the glass!

The original “Hey Neon” at Coppa.

 

 

“HEY NEON”

1 1/2 oz. Aalborg aquavit
3/4 oz. Punt e Mes
1/2 oz. Cynar
1/2 oz. Green Chartreuse

Add ice to a cocktail shaker and then add the ingredients. Stir well, until very cold. Strain into a martini glass. Add the skewer of kalamata olives.

 

Aalborg is a brand of aquavit (or akvavit), a clear alcohol similar to vodka but usually infused with other flavors, mainly caraway or dill, popular in Scandinavia.

Punt e Mes is a sweet vermouth, the so-called “little brother” of the granddaddy of all sweet vermouths: Carpano Antica Formula.

Cynar is an Italian bitter and digestif made from herbs, plants and artichokes. Strong in flavor, but delicious!

Chartruese is a French liqueur made by Carthusian monks since 1737, using a recipe that dates back to 1605. It contains 130 herbs and plants. It’s also one of the few liqueurs that ages in the bottle, changing over time. Green Chartreuse is 110 proof, and naturally colored from the maceration of its ingredients. Yellow Chartreuse, at 80 proof, is a milder and sweeter version.

My version of the “Hey Neon.”

 

 

Every major city in the United states has a Capital Grille, and it’s a great place to grab a solid dinner if you’re traveling. Although the Capital Grille in my town of Providence, RI has recently moved from its original location, we can still boast that we had the very first one in the USA.

They don’t do crazy-fancy drinks at the Capital Grille. They keep a very well-stocked bar with high-end booze and make solid cocktails. But there is one signature drink you can find there, and that’s the Stoli Doli. A Stoli Doli is simply Stoli vodka that has been infused with fresh pineapple. If you sit at the bar at the Capital Grille, you won’t be able to miss the very large jar of freshly-cut pineapple pieces swimming in vodka. They literally pour it “from the tap,” and serve it straight up, like a martini, or on the rocks. It’s delicious, and I’ve certainly had my share of them over time.

I decided to make my own at home one day, to serve to my friends at an upcoming party. But to my disappointment, I didn’t have any Stoli vodka in the house. I found a bottle of Stoli Vanil, the vanilla-flavored vodka, and it was a real game-changer! I used that instead of regular Stoli and I came up with a sweeter, smoother drink that is legendary among my friends to this day. I called it…

VELVET ELVIS

2 pineapples, peeled, cored, and sliced
1.75ml Stoli Vanil

Find a gallon-sized glass jar with a lid. Peel, core and slice the pineapples and drop the pieces in the jar. Pour the vodka in, mix well, and seal the jar. Keep it at room temperature for a week, giving it a gentle shake every day.

After one week, strain it, squeezing the pineapple pieces to get every bit of liquid out. Keep the Velvet Elvis refrigerated. Serve over ice.

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For me, fine spirits are the best gift for the holidays. You can go with some aged rums…sipping tequilas…or classic cognacs. And then there’s the whole list of liqueurs…sweets for the end of the meal or a key ingredient in a flavorful cocktail. Here’s my list of favorite bottles…

Kelt XO Cognac: What makes this cognac special is that it leaves the Cognac region of France in barrels and gets loaded onto ships that travel the world for months at a time. The barrels of cognac mellow, as they slowly rock back and forth in the ship’s hold out in the open seas, much like they did hundreds of years ago before we loaded pallets of product onto cargo planes. The ships then return to Cognac, where the spirit is unloaded and bottled. The result is an exceptionally smooth cognac that is still my favorite to date. What’s really cool is that each bottle has a summary of what ship it was on and where it traveled. The VSOP is great, but the XO is outstanding. They say it makes a difference if the ships go around the world clockwise or counterclockwise! …I haven’t noticed.
Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva Rum: If you’ve got a friend that likes sipping rum, this takes it to a whole new level. Made in Venezuela, it has a sweetness that you won’t want to mix…on the rocks is perfect. I have turned more friends on to this rum in the last couple of years than any other spirit I’ve discovered. Thanks to Jeff and Geremie, owners of Fluke Wine, Bar & Kitchen in Newport, Rhode Island, for giving me my first sip of this wonderful rum years ago.

Jose Cuervo Reserva de la Familia tequila: I am not a fan of Jose Cuervo tequila in general. If all you want is a reposado or anejo, there are so many other better ones out there: Don Julio, Don Eduardo, Corazon, and Sauza Tres Generaciones just to name a few. And for silver, nothing beats Patron. But this top-of-the-line Cuervo is excellent, and you pay the price for the designer box as well as the tequila. Worth every penny.

 

St. Germaine: A sweet liqueur crafted from hand-picked Elderflowers that grow in the Alps, and featured in an excellent house drink called The Elixir at Cooke and Brown Public House in Providence, Rhode Island. It features Irish whisky, St. Germain, honey, lemon and bitters.

 

Bols Genever: First made in Holland in 1575, this is the stuff the British fell in love with, tried to copy, and then shortened the name of their resulting product and called it “gin.” But it’s better than gin. Many a great cocktail starts with this key ingredient. One of my favorites is a take on the classic Negroni: Combine 1.5 oz. Bols Genever, 1 oz. Gran Classico, and .5 oz. Punt e Mes. Serve in a rocks glass with a nice, big ice cube.

Coole Swan: This is the magical ingredient in my own espresso martini. (See my blog for the recipe: https://livethelive.com/2017/11/19/my-espresso-martini-2/) Imagine a Bailey’s that tastes like melted vanilla ice cream, and you have an idea of the flavor of this terrific cream liqueur. You will never drink another espresso martini as long as you live!

 

Rumchata: Horchata is a very popular drink in Hispanic countries. It comes from many ingredient combinations, but one of the most popular is rice, vanilla and cinammon. Imagine a liquid version of rice pudding. So if you add rum to it…you get a liqueur unlike anything you’ve had before. Very tasty.

 

Castries: This creamy liqueur takes its name from the capital city of the island of St. Lucia….and it surprises me that it took this long for someone to come up with a peanut flavored liqueur. Sure, there are other nut liqueurs: almond liqueurs, like real Amaretto (not Disaronno, which is made from peach or apricot pits)…and hazel nut liqueurs like Frangelico. But this one is very different. It’s creamy, not clear, and quite delicious.
Sortilege: This liqueur made from Canadian whisky and maple syrup is the definition of liquid dessert. It’s hard to describe how good this stuff is. All I can say is: once you open it, it will vanish very quickly. I haven’t poured it on pancakes yet, but some hungover morning I will!
Cheers!

Years ago, I gave my self an important research project: Create your own version of the perfect espresso martini.

It took painstaking research, which required drinking many espresso martinis in many a bar on my travels.

My favorite version came from a bartender working at Knave, the lobby bar at the at Le Parker Meridien Hotel in New York City. It featured Coole Swan, an Irish cream liqueur I had never tried-or heard of-before. The bartender was nice enough to write down the recipe for me, but I guess I had a little too much to drink…because I lost it! So it was up to me to use those brain cells I didn’t fry and come up with my own combination.

A lot of mixing late into the night, and I came up with what I consider to be my perfect espresso martini. As the marines say: “There are many like it, but this one is mine.”

 

Alz Espresso martini

My espresso martini

 

 

3 oz. good quality vodka, like Belvedere
3 oz. freshly brewed espresso
1.5 oz. Kahlua
1.5 oz. Coole Swan

 

Chill your martini glasses. Pour all the ingredients into a large shaker with ice. Shake vigorously. Strain into chilled glasses.

This recipe makes 2 martinis. Let me tell ya…this tasted as good the first time as it did several martinis later! I’ve found that using a high-end vodka really does make a difference in the quality and taste of the martini…as does brewing your espresso just before assembling the drink.

I’ve known Plum Pt. Bistro owner Ralph Conte for about 20 years now. Back in the day, Ralph owned Raphael Bar Risto in Providence. At that time, it was not only the best restaurant in town, but The Tunnel Bar at Raphael’s was also the hottest singles bar in town.

My buddy, Charles, and I would spend every Friday and Saturday night there, from dinner until closing, chatting with the ladies, sipping cocktails, and enjoying incredible food. As much as that kind of lifestyle can take its toll on your health, so can running a restaurant like that. And after a number of years, Ralph decided to close the doors on our beloved restaurant.

I was heartbroken, not only because it was a favorite hang out of mine, but it was also where I met my wife!

Fast forward a half a dozen years later.

Restaurants are in Ralph’s blood, so it was no surprise that he opened a smaller, family-run establishment, this time far away from the noise of Providence. Plum Pt. Bistro in Saunderstown became an instant hit with the locals and there’s rarely any empty seat in the house no matter what day you go.

Plum Pt. Bistro is smaller and more manageable than the old Raphael’s, and Ralph has his family to help him. His wife, Alyssa, daughter Zoe, and son Raphael, all work at the restaurant. The result is a comfortable atmosphere that makes you feel like you’re home. Ralph’s skills with Mediterranean flavors has not diminished in the least.

Although I love many of the standards that are on their menu, I always look to the blackboard first for the night’s specials. On a recent trip, there was fresh locally caught striped bass, tuna, and black bass. The tuna tartare was sensational. The whole fried black bass, served in a lemon butter caper sauce, with fresh seasonal vegetables and potatoes on the side, was the best whole fish I’ve had in many years. My daughter devoured the fried zucchini blossoms stuffed with ricotta cheese, sitting on a bed of beautiful marinara sauce. And her favorite regular dish on the menu is the potato gnocchi with pesto. My wife had the lettuce wraps, which were surprisingly fresh and tasty, dipping them in the Asian-style peanut sauce on the side. And a beet salad was raised to the next level by adding a perfectly cooked marinated steak to it.

My whole fried black bass, before I devoured it.

 

Plum Pt. Bistro has great bartenders that will make you your favorite cocktail, or create a new favorite for you. My buddy, Skip, from the Raphael days, still works for Ralph behind the bar. And they have a decent wine selection, too. Reservations are highly recommended. You need to call them since they don’t offer reservations online.

Plum Pt. Bistro is on the mainland of Rhode Island, right at the end of the Jamestown Bridge…just a stone’s throw from Wickford. Absolutely worth the trip if you’re spending any time in Newport. Cross the bridges and get some amazing food! Hey…I live on the other side of the state and it’s worth the trip for me!

 

I love me my onions! Raw, sautéed, caramelized, yellow, Spanish, Bermuda, Vidalia, Texas Sweets, scallion, pearl, Crimini, Walla Walla…they can do no wrong. In fact, my wife and daughter gave me the Lithuanian nickname: “Ponas Svogūnas.” (“Mr. Onion.”) I answer to it proudly.

I also love me my vodka martinis! So if I’m going to buy a top shelf vodka like Stoli Elit or Belvedere, I’m not going to ruin it with cheap vermouth, especially that nasty stuff they use to brine cocktail onions that come in a jar that’s been sitting on the liquor store shelf for about 10 years.

I looked at several do-it-yourself cocktail onion recipes, but I wasn’t inspired to try any of them until I found a package of already peeled pearl onions at Whole Foods one day. I have to be honest…I just won’t make them if I have to peel them.

 

Sure, these are much larger than the onions you find in a jar. But tell me how that’s a problem!

 

Once that time-saving ingredient was in my possession, I took my own recipe to make pickled asparagus and decided to try that with the onions. Awesome results!

 

 

 

1 lb. pearl onions, peeled
1 cup white vinegar
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1 1/2  cups water
3/4 cup sugar (I like turbinado cane sugar)
10 peppercorns
1 teaspoon salt (per quart-sized Mason jar)
2 cloves garlic

 

 

Combine the white vinegar, apple cider vinegar, water, sugar, and peppercorns in a medium-sized saucepan. Bring to a boil, making sure the sugar dissolves completely.

In a quart-sized Mason jar, add the teaspoon of salt and garlic cloves.

 

Pour a little of the hot vinegar liquid in the jar to dissolve the salt. Add the onions to the jar, then fill the jar to the top with the vinegar liquid.

Cover the jar tightly and turn it upside-down a couple of times to mix everything together.

 

Let the jar cool to room temperature, then move it to the fridge. You can eat the onions as soon as the craving hits you, but they taste better if you give them a few days.

 

 

 

Despite working in a pretty decent food town (Providence, Rhode Island), and despite being just an hour away from another decent food town (Boston, Massachusetts), when we want to go to a place where we park our car once and can easily walk to dozens of great eateries and bars, where each place is more creative than the next, and where genuine friendliness and enthusiasm for what they’re doing shows in every dish, the answer is Portland, Maine.

My wife and I visit Portland at least once a year and it’s amazing to see how many new restaurants have opened since our last visit. Every time we think we’ve crossed a few off our list, a half-dozen new ones show up! Last year, we hit 10 restaurants in 48 hours. This last visit, it was a mere 6 restaurants in 48 hours. I guess we’re getting older…!

solo2

Our weekend started on a Friday afternoon with a quick bite at Solo Italiano, near the water on Commercial Street. We really enjoyed a light-as-air Carpaccio di Tonno: thinly sliced yellow fin tuna with stracciatella cream, herb oil, and crispy onions. And after we were told that the chef at Solo won the World Pesto Championship, we had to have the Mandilli di Seta al Vero Pesto Genovese: house made silk handkerchief pasta in a traditional Genovese basil pesto…amazing! Solo has some great house cocktails to choose from, too. Definitely worth a return visit.

The bar at Solo.

The bar at Solo.

Our Friday evening dinner was at Hugo’s. Originally owned by chef Rob Evans, a three-time Food Network “Chopped” champion, Rob sold it a few years ago and now runs Duckfat, a small sandwich shop famous for its Belgian-style fries that are fried in duck fat. (Though it gets write-ups all the time, my experience at Duckfat was disappointing.)

hugosign

 

The folks that own the nationally acclaimed Eventide Oyster Bar now own Hugo’s (it’s next door) as well as The Honey Paw (next door on the other side.) For us, every visit to Portland must include this amazing restaurant trifecta on Middle Street, that, in fact, have connecting kitchens.

The connecting kitchens at Hugo's, Eventide, and the Honey Paw.

The connecting kitchens at Hugo’s, Eventide, and The Honey Paw.

 

Hugo’s is fine dining at its creative best. Though we hadn’t been there in over a year, Brian, a manager and our wine guru, immediately remembered us and greeted us with a hug, showing us to our seats and treating us to a glass of bubbly. He guided us through the wine list and offered us a bottles that were simply out of this world. Though we’ve done the tasting menu in the past, we decided to go a la carte when a beautiful fried whole black bass, with roasted mushrooms, cabbage and hoisin vinaigrette, was calling our name. After a few wonderful appetizers that included peekytoe crab, reblochon (a local cheese), and lamb tartare, we were ready for the black bass. Even our server, Patrick, was impressed with how well we devoured that fish right down to the bone.

Fried black bass at Hugo's.

Fried black bass at Hugo’s.

 

Polishing off that amazing black bass!

Polishing off that amazing black bass!

 

Paul, the bartender at Hugo's.

Paul, the bartender at Hugo’s.

 

Dinner at Hugo’s wouldn’t be complete without a discussion about bourbons with bartender, Paul, and he let me sample a couple of special bottles he had behind the bar. A great way to end a wonderful dining experience on our first night in Portland.

Bourbon tastings.

Bourbon tastings.

 

The next day, Saturday, our food adventures began with lunch. Don’t get me wrong: there are some great breakfast choices in Portland, like the Porthole (featured on Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives”) and Becky’s Diner. But when you’re in town to feast, you bypass the bacon and eggs.

Lunch was at Eventide, which shows up on every “best oyster bar” list, and the reason is simple: a nice selection of fresh oysters, a great bar, and creative side dishes that change all the time.

Oysters at Eventide.

 

The Eventide brown butter lobster roll is elevated to new heights when it’s placed on an Asian-style steamed bun. Blackboard specials change every week, and always include what’s right off the boat: from fried squid to pickled lox. If you’re less adventurous, you can’t go wrong with the buttermilk fried chicken bun, the house pastrami bun or their impressive fish sandwich.

Pickled lox (left) and the lobster bun (right.)

 

If you go to Eventide during peak hours, you can expect a wait. The place isn’t huge and it’s wildly popular. Give them your name, tuck yourself into a corner with a drink, and wait, knowing that it will all be worth it!

Real women in Maine shuck oysters!

 

We skip the usual cocktail sauce when at Eventide. Our favorite accoutrements are the pickled red onion ice (great for an oyster shooter!) and the chilera ice.

Before…and after.

 

After our leisurely lunch, it was time to walk off a few calories. Heading down Fore Street, we tucked into several art galleries and shops, slowly making our way across the center of town to the newly redesigned Portland Art Museum. By the time we stepped out of the museum, it was time for more food. Just a few blocks, and we arrived at Boda.

 

Labeling themselves as a “Very Thai” kitchen and bar, Boda delivers. Though we only had a few apps, like the apple and shrimp salad and a plate of authentic pad thai, it earned two thumbs up. A plate of fried quail…not so much.

The bar at Boda offers the standards (like my Chopin martini) and some interesting Asian herb-infused cocktails. Definitely worth a return visit, especially when Boda is open until 12:45AM, serving tasty skewers for the bar crowd.

A short stop at our hotel, and it was time for our Saturday dinner. We headed to what many claim is the best sushi restaurant in Portland: Miyake. We soon discovered that the label “best sushi restaurant in Portland” didn’t necessarily set the standard very high.

 

Though we found a beautiful bottle of sake on the menu that we’ve had before, the food was a disappointment. Having had a few great sushi experiences in my life, I wanted this place to be among them. But after trying 2 different 4-course menus that featured tastings of salmon, tuna, uni, duck, and even Miyake’s own farm-raised mangalitsa pork–a rare heritage breed–which, though fatty, was very dry…it’s safe to say that we won’t be returning to Portland, Maine for its sushi.

The sake, at least, was amazing.

In a town with many creative restaurants, this one didn’t cut it. Some locals told us that Miyake used to be better when they were in a smaller space. The move to a larger space meant a beautiful room, but the food suffered.

Our weekend ended with Sunday brunch. If we wanted a more typical Sunday brunch, we would’ve gone to Five Fifty-Five, where we’ve enjoyed dishes like lobster eggs Benedict in the past. But when we heard that The Honey Paw was now serving brunch, there was no question where we needed to go!

 

My kind of Sunday brunch: Asian fried ribs, pork and fried oyster pot stickers, a bowl of beef shank pho, and a breakfast sandwich with house made scrapple and egg on a kimchi croissant.

Beef shank pho.

 

The Honey Paw breakfast sandwich.

 

My wife took advantage of a full bar with creative cocktails. Unfortunately, I had a 3-hour drive home behind the wheel, so I had to refrain from the alcohol.

The bar at The Honey Paw.

While we dined at The Honey Paw, I ran next door to Eventide and ordered 2 of their buttermilk fried chicken sandwiches to go. Our 10-year-old daughter was not happy that we went to Portland without her this time, and we knew that bringing her favorite sandwiches home would help ease the blow.

 

We’ll be back to Portland this summer. Already counting the days. For other great places to dine in this town, use my search engine under “Portland.” And feel free to drop me a line with any questions about where to stay, eat, visit, etc…

Cheers!