Posts Tagged ‘restaurants’

It’s mind-blowing how many new and exciting restaurants keep popping up in Portland, Maine, and even more interestingly, how they’re all thriving! With a great arts scene, historic New England waterfront, and a young crowd eager to spend their money, Portland is just exploding.

I work in Providence, Rhode Island, a city whose food scene has had a lot of attention in the last few years in a variety of national magazines. But really creative restaurants here are hard to find, perhaps five in the entire city. In Portland, you’ll find five on one block!

Portland is big enough to be a destination, and small enough that you can park your car once and walk everywhere you want to go all day and into the night.

Oysters at Eventide.

Oysters at Eventide.

Three of the best restaurants in town just happen to be owned by the same three guys: Andrew Taylor, Arlin Smith and Mike Wiley. They called their company AMA LLC, though now I think they go by the name Big Tree Hospitality. All three restaurants are located right next door to each other on Middle Street: Hugo’s, Eventide, and The Honey Paw. If you go nowhere else in Portland, hit this one block. If you’re just passing through for lunch, it’s right off 295. Just take the Franklin Street exit.

The block. From left to right: The Honey Paw, Eventide, and Hugo's. And if you stay at the Hampton Inn, like we did, you walk less than a block!

The block. From left to right: The Honey Paw, Eventide, and Hugo’s. And if you stay at the Hampton Inn, like we did, you walk less than a block!

 

The bar at Eventide.

The bar at Eventide.

Our love of Portland started years ago with Eventide, an oyster bar serving the freshest and most creative small seafood plates in the city: a killer brown butter lobster roll, tuna crudo that rivals the best sushi anywhere, blackboard special plates like char tartare, and a dozen oyster choices served with inventive accouterments, our favorite being the pickled red onion ice. Our non-seafood-eating daughter loved the buttermilk fried chicken bun and Eventide burger. And probably the most ignored-but-shouldn’t-be entry on the menu is the fish sandwich: best you ever had or I’ll eat it for you. They use pieces of fresh-caught hake, a fish that’s somewhat unknown unless you’re a local. A full bar and a surprisingly friendly staff, despite the fact they’re jamming all day long.

The amazing fish sandwich at Eventide.

The amazing fish sandwich at Eventide.

Hugo’s made Portland a food destination thanks to its previous chef/owner, Rob Evans, who sold it in 2012 to concentrate on his newer joint: Duckfat. The three guys: Taylor, Smith, and Wiley, worked there before it closed down and they grabbed the opportunity to take over, bringing a cutting-edge American menu served over a series of exciting tasting courses. Whether you’re a carnivore, vegetarian or seafood lover, you’ll find some wonderful choices here. Our night featured raw and cooked beef selections, lamb bolognese, ankimo (monkfish liver) and unusual veggie plates like sunchokes and smoked parsnips.

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Paul, the bartender, is a mixologist of the finest kind. My wife sipped on a Jasmine Fizz before we plunged into the eclectic and inspired wine list chosen by Big Tree Hospitality’s wine director, Brian Flewelling, who happened to be our server that night.

My wife enjoyed a sip of my Pappy's as well.

My wife enjoyed a sip of my Pappy’s as well.

 

And it didn’t hurt that they had three kinds of Pappy Van Winkle bourbon on their shelves…something I haven’t seen anywhere else. (These are the bottles that go for over $1500 on line.) Needless to say, Paul the bartender and I bonded over a taste of the 20-year-old Pappy.

A bourbon conversation between my newest best friend, Paul and myself.

A bourbon conversation between my newest best friend, Paul, and myself.

The third and newest restaurant in the group is The Honey Paw, featuring an eclectic Asian menu. The intense flavors come from all over Asia, and we wondered how these young chefs could be so knowledgeable. We found out that the company flies its employees to countries like Singapore and Malaysia on a regular basis to give them the experience they need to create and serve this amazing food. I swear, I wanna work for these guys! I haven’t seen any company anywhere treat its employees with such respect, and all of that trickles down to how they treat the food, the community, and their customers.

The Honey Paw's mind-blowing albacore tuna sashimi.

Beautiful plates at The Honey Paw.

Like their other two restaurants, The Honey Paw sources most of its ingredients from local farms. So when we ordered a plate of coppa, it was housemade from rare mulefoot hogs raised in Maine, topped with pickled husk cherries.

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I’m a huge fan of whole-fried fish, but very few restaurants take on that challenge. Even many of my favorite New York Chinese restaurants no longer feature that on the menu. The whole fried black bass I had at The Honey Paw is something I will have every time I return.

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We did leave the block, eventually! Though not big on atmosphere, Sur Lie was another restaurant in the long list of new establishments in the city featuring small plates full of exciting flavors.

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We enjoyed tapas like a plate of “Surryano” ham, the West Virginia version of Spanish Serrano…fried milk-braised cauliflower…Hiramasa (Yellowtail Amberjack) crudo…carrot agnolotti (pasta)…and a nicely cooked hanger steak. Good food, good service, and a nice selection of Greek wine.

We walked a lot in Portland. Loads of small shops, art galleries, and stores with collectibles. We hit a couple of comic book stores with our daughter, who’s in that phase…art galleries that enticed my wife, the artist…and an unusual shop with rare, collectible barware in the storefront and an actual bar in the back to do some serious sipping: a place called Vena’s Fizz House.

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One of the more interesting products they sell at Vena’s was a variety of infusion kits: dried fruits and spices just waiting for vodka or tequila to bring their flavors to life…

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Sometimes we did jump in the car to get to the other side of town. Portland boasts one of the largest–and coolest–Whole Foods stores ever. The selection is fantastic, and they sell wine and local spirits in a special section that comes with its own wine expert to help you make the right choices!

A short hop down the road from Whole Foods is a line of distilleries and breweries on Fox Street just waiting for thirsty customers. We stopped in to Maine Craft Distilling for a tasting of their creations.

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Here’s the thing that tells you you’re in Maine: we arrived at Maine Craft Distilling, and they told us they were sold out of just about every spirit because of the holidays. But they still poured us free tastings of all their booze! That would not happen anywhere else. Their logic was: if you like it, you won’t forget it and you’ll buy it the next time around. Friendly and informative, and their blueberry spirit called Blueshine, is worth a trip back.

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Back along the waterfront, on Commercial Street, we tucked into the Flatbread Company, a wildly popular pizza joint that now has 15 locations in Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and even Hawaii. Great pizza (with gluten-free options), salads, and an awesome view of the water.

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Watching these talented chefs work the oven is better than television. I could watch all night!

Watching these talented chefs work the oven is better than television. I could watch all night!

A must-stop at least once on any Portland trip is the classic Porthole. Featured on “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,” they open for breakfast and rock all through the night. I dropped in for some breakfast to go on New Year’s morning, watching those at the bar chug down their Bloody Marys: a little hair of the dog after a long partying night.

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Perhaps my biggest disappointment of the trip (and mainly because it has received so much hype from magazines and friends) was The Portland Hunt and Alpine Club. I was told not to go here for the food, so we passed on that. But while my wife and daughter spent some time in the shops nearby, I decided to go in and check the place out for a cocktail.

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The bartender was friendly enough, and when I asked for a Manhattan with his choice of bourbon (he used Baker’s), he made it with flair and it tasted good. But it was also something I could make at home just as easily. I don’t know…maybe I needed to order something else. Maybe I should give the place a try in the light of a summer day and not a cold winter’s night. It just seemed kind of dumpy and not at all what I was expecting: uncomfortable metal benches at the bar, a stuffiness in the air like the vents in the kitchen weren’t working. I need to come back and give these guys another chance.

 

For more on Portland, Maine, check out my blog from July of 2013. A lot has changed in a year and a half, but there’s still some good info there. http://wp.me/p1c1Nl-g3

 

 

My friend, Lee, recently bought a second home in Kennebunk, and it was all the excuse I needed to head up there and check out the town I visited with my parents during my childhood. My trip was less about the Lithuanian Franciscan monastery my parents would make a point to visit, and more about hitting every bar and restaurant we could in a 24-hour period.

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I arrived at lunch time and we went straight to David’s KPT, one of three restaurants owned by chef David Turin, who owns two others in nearby Portland. I ate at the original David’s in Portland a few years ago and was not impressed, so it took a little coaxing to get me to come here. David’s KPT menu is simple, basic seafood, and for a restaurant on the water with great views, that’s about all you need. Nothing particularly creative here, just the basics, like fresh oysters and a rather bland lobster salad. Its key location also makes it a tourist trap and so they jack the prices up, so some oysters go for $3.50 each! I don’t even pay that in New York City.

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After lunch, we took a ride along the beautiful rugged Maine coast, passing the Bush family compound and the line of cars parked on the road with people taking snaps of the house for their scrapbooks. We stopped In Cape Porpoise, still a part of Kennebunkport, at a funky joint called The Ramp.

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On the water, The Ramp is crowded and noisy, with all kinds of old posters and souvenirs on the walls and ceiling, ranging from a NYC World Trade Center subway station sign to a “Vote for Marcos” campaign poster from the Philippines. We had to put our names on a list just to sit at the bar. But that was OK…we had a cocktail while waiting. By the time we finished our drinks and were ready to leave, our turn came up at the bar, so we handed our space off to the next person in line and moved on.

Our lovely server at The Ramp. Notice photos of former Presidents behind her.

Our lovely server at The Ramp. Notice photos of former Presidents behind her.

Back on the road, we drove into town, found a rare parking space on the street, and walked over to Tia’s Topside,with their signature giant lobster claws in the front yard.

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The menu was no great shakes, and it was clear the dude working the bar already had his fill of tourists for the season. No eye contact, just a “What do you guys want to drink?” That was a thumbs down in our book.

Walking back to the car, we popped into Ports of Italy for a pop. Looking at the plates of the people next to me at the bar, it seemed like we stumbled into a local version of the Olive Garden. The website makes everything we saw look much better. But we passed on the food. Generic drinks.

Clearly, the amount of drinks we had, and were still going to have, was going to be an issue, and Lee, being the driver, was behaving to avoid any trouble with the law. Police are everywhere in Kennebunk, and they are notorious for pulling you over for even the slightest infraction. So we headed back to the condo to park the car and wait for the taxi we hired for the night to take us to dinner and beyond.

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The culinary focus of the trip (I made reservations two months earlier) was Earth at Hidden Pond, a Ken Oringer restaurant in the center of a luxury resort just a short drive out of the center of town, hidden in the woods, surrounded by ridiculously expensive cabins.

Outdoor seating, great atmosphere at night when they light the torches and the fires.

Outdoor seating, great atmosphere at night when they light the torches and the fires.

Oringer is a crazy-talented chef, a Food Network “Iron Chef America” winner with a half-dozen respected restaurants to his name: Toro in Boston (personal favorite) and NYC, Clio in Boston, Coppa (excellent!) in Boston, and Uni in Boston. I was very glad to see that Earth lived up to my expectations.

The well-stocked bar at Earth.

The well-stocked bar at Earth.

Our evening got off to a slow start. It was a Saturday night, yet the main bartenders were nowhere to be found. (We heard that one was out due to a leg injury.) The woman that served us was great to talk to, but she clearly did not have a grasp on the crafting of the more complicated cocktails that Earth was known for. Our first drinks were good, but she literally had to read the recipes off a card to make them. And when I asked for Antica Formula in my Manhattan, she didn’t know what that was.

Enter Josh, a young, energetic bar assistant, who saw this as an opportunity to show off his mixology skills. He jumped right in and offered us a cocktails he created, and we welcomed his refreshing enthusiasm. I can’t even remember the ingredients list he had for each cocktail, but we thoroughly enjoyed them, and he custom-crafted them if we didn’t like a particular ingredient.

Small plates: meatballs, chicken wings with sesame and squid ink, shishito peppers.

Snacks: meatballs, chicken wings with sesame and squid ink, shishito peppers.

We started with a few apps, or snacks as they called them. The meatballs were good, average meatballs. The shishito peppers, roasted and salted, are a Ken Oringer signature dish, also served at his Toro restaurants. Usually 1 out of 10 are hot, but we had more than a few spicy bites on our plate. The chicken wings with squid ink were incredible: sweet, salty, briny. Probably the best wings I’ve ever had, and I’m dying to figure out how I can make them at home. I had a chance to talk to executive chef Justin Walker, and after he explained the process in detail, it was obvious it wouldn’t be easy!

A luxurious plate of seared foie gras followed. Couldn’t have been more perfect.

But after the foie, we had a dilemma: We made plans to have the taxi pick us up from the restaurant at 8:30, giving us 2 1/2 hours to eat dinner. It was after 8 already, and we had to focus on leaving, despite the fact that we didn’t have an entree yet. Our bartender suggested perhaps a dessert, and we decided to order a second plate of chicken wings to end our meal!

I was bummed that we didn’t give ourselves enough time to have a complete dinner. I suppose that meant we were having a good time and not just shoving food down our pie holes. It’s also my excuse to come back to Earth to “do things right” the next time!

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Our last stop was back in town at Old Vines, a wine bar that also serves great food. Though we were seated quickly at the bar and got our first drinks, it seemed like forever before we could get the attention of our female bartender who was far more interested in the other females at the bar than us two old guys. Hey, I understand that, but we wanted to order some food. It was only when the owner showed up that we were asked what we’d like to eat and by then we were told the kitchen may be closed. Fortunately, we ordered two cold dishes, so they were easy to prepare: beef carpaccio and a burata salad. Both were excellent.

A cab ride home, and it was time to pass out.

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The next morning, breakfast was back in Cape Porpoise at The Wayfarer, a local favorite for years. Always crowded, we managed to find a couple of seats at the bar. Crowded because the menu offers breakfast favorites with their own twist: a scramble of the day, housemade sausage, and interesting takes on standards, like lobster and pork belly eggs Benedict.

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The creativity of this dish was excellent, the execution not so much. Hey, I love pork fat, but the pork belly wasn’t cooked enough so it was rubbery and the lobster meat was cold–should’ve been warmed through before putting it on top of the eggs.

That’s OK…lots of good coffee and smiling faces were a welcome sight the morning after a big night of drinking!

The ride back to Rhode Island was a bit rough with a hangover. Next time, it’ll be 48 hours in Kennebunkport and I’ll make sure I get some rest!

 

It’s always a challenge when you’re on a diet. I’m going no alcohol and low-carb to lose some weight. (Down 6 lbs. in 5 days so far.) My wife needs to include gluten-free food in her diet, though she can have a few carbs. Fish is a great source of protein, and we love it sauteed in a little butter and olive oil with Paul Prudhomme’s Seafood Magic seasoning on it. But let’s face it, that gets old after a while, and we all know there’s nothing tastier than fried fish.

Rather than using a heavy beer batter like I used to do (damn good and easy to do:http://wp.me/p1c1Nl-en), I came up with a very light gluten-free-flour-based seasoning that gave the fresh-caught local fish we bought incredible flavor and crunch without a carb overload and without gluten. Damn good, and I have to say, you’d never know the difference.

There are many gluten-free flours out there now, and all you need to do is substitute them cup-for-cup in any recipe you have. I’ve tried Bob’s Red Mill (OK), King Arthur (better), and Pamela’s (very good–what I used for this recipe.) I’ve just ordered the latest: Cup 4 Cup, created by chefs that include the famous Thomas Keller, which we tasted at Mario Batali’s Del Posto restaurant in New York City recently. They have about 12 different pasta dishes on their menu, and each one has a gluten-free option using the Cup 4 Cup flour. They were fantastic!

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1 cup flour (all-purpose or gluten-free)

2 teaspoons salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

1 tablespoon dried parsley

1 teaspoon oregano

1 teaspoon granulated onion

1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic

1 teaspoon paprika

2 eggs

fresh locally caught fish fillets of your choice (I used fluke and ocean perch)

Organic GMO-free canola oil or avocado oil for frying

 

In a flat bowl you will use to dredge the fish fillets, combine the flour, salt and pepper, parsley, oregano, granulated onion and garlic, and paprika.

In a separate flat bowl, scramble the 2 eggs.

Pour about 1/2″ of the oil in a pan and heat to medium-high heat.

Dip the fish fillets first in the eggs, coating well. Then dredge in the flour mixture, pressing down on both sides, so the flour mixture really sticks to the fish. Then shake the fillet lightly to remove the excess flour and gently lay the fillet in the hot oil. Fry until golden.

We made a quick and delicious tartare sauce using mayonnaise, dill pickle relish and Maille sauterne mustard.

 

Mugaritz, San Sebastian, Spain

Mugaritz, San Sebastian, Spain

Mugaritz is one of the top restaurants in the world: ranked #3 or #6, depending on who you ask. And I’m just a guy with a blog. But on a recent trip to San Sebastian, Spain, my family and I had a chance to dine there.

The main kitchen from outside.

The main kitchen from outside.

The dishes that acclaimed chef Andoni Luis Aduriz created were some of the most original we’ve ever enjoyed. There was a flow to our experience…a reason why one dish followed another. It was like a concert, with Aduriz at the helm as director and composer.

Mugaritz has about twenty tables. And one seating. You are there for the night. Well over twenty courses, small bites to be sure, but all intense and rich with flavors and textures that complimented each other.

The kitchen at Mugaritz.

The main kitchen at Mugaritz.

Every table got a private tour of the kitchen. And though we didn’t meet chef Aduriz, we did get to talk with his second in command: chef Ramon Perise.

Mugaritz, as Perise explained it, has three kitchens: a lower level for preparation…a middle kitchen on the main floor for cooking all the food, plating it and making it look beautiful…and then an upstairs kitchen, the laboratory, where they come up with their newest creations.

Hangin' with Ramon Perise.

Hangin’ with Ramon Perise.

With our kitchen tour, we saw the chefs setting up rows of small iron bowls on wooden stands: individual mortar and pestles for each person in the dining room. It was going to be a dish that was served to everyone at the same time, no matter where they were in the course of their meal. So when we finished our kitchen tour, we sat down, and the mortar and pestles were brought out.

Inside the iron bowl were some wet and dry ingredients: what looked like corn nuggets, a colorful cube of gelatin and other ingredients. We were instructed to grind up what was in our bowls with our personal pestle. The entire restaurant was filled with a ringing sound, like church bells going off somewhere in the distance. For a few precious minutes, every patron shared this special perfectly choreographed event as we ground up the contents of our bowls. They called it the “linking dish.”

Then, one by one, the grinding stopped. The iron bowls continued to ring for a few seconds until the sounds faded away into silence, replaced by the low murmur of conversation. And we all went back to our meals.

The linking dish.

The linking dish.

Our sommelier, Guillermo Cruz, was a bright, knowledgeable and enthusiastic young man that offered us thrill rides in a glass, including a much-needed digestivo half-way through the meal so that we could continue our dining experience!

A grappa-like Fillaboa digestif from Gallicia that was made from the local Albarino grapes. Helpful in making room for more food!

A grappa-like Fillaboa digestif from Gallicia that was made from the local Albarino grapes. Helpful in making room for more food!

As chef Perise said to us (paraphrasing): “When you leave this place…and weeks afterwards…you’re not going to remember the food. But you’re going to remember the emotions you had and the feelings you had when you were here. And that’s what we’re working for.”

Shaved ice cream with cheese: one of many desserts.

Shaved frozen apple with cheese: one of many desserts.

Could there have been too many dishes? Is there such a thing as too much of a good thing? Is less really more?

These burning questions can only be answered with another visit to Mugaritz. I hope it’s sometime soon!

 

 

 

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Restaurante Botin, in the great old city of Madrid, Spain, is a must-visit. At first, I thought it might be more of a tourist trap. But this establishment, which holds the Guinness Book of world records for oldest restaurant (it opened in 1725), has some fantastic dishes that you just can’t get anywhere else.

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The suckling pig at Botin is world-famous. If you’re a vegetarian, you’ll probably be freaked out to see the row of little pigs on plates, waiting to be placed in the almost-300-year-old wood burning oven. These suckling pigs were only 20-something days old when they became dinner, and the slow-roasted flavor of this pork is like nothing you’ve ever had before. The roasted baby lamb, a gamier lamb than most Americans are used to, thanks to its grass-fed upbringing, was also exquisite.

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imageCroquettes are big in Spain, as popular with the kids as nuggets are here in the states. And the croquettes at Botin, breaded and fried to a perfect crisp on the outside, with an oozy, creamy cheesy center, are addictive.

The servers, handling three levels of dining rooms, are fast and efficient, but also have time for a sense of humor.

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Just around the corner from the Plaza de Mayor, the city’s best people-watching location, Botin is my kind of attraction: a food museum where they still create many dishes like they did hundreds of years ago. In fact, the famous artist Goya was a dishwasher here in his youth, back in 1765.

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Walk around the restaurant, and check out the different rooms that have been renovated over time…and the ones that have been there all these years. It’s a fascinating trip through history.

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We were in Madrid at the end of August, 2014…still vacation time for most of the city, so our restaurant choices were somewhat limited. The concierge at the Westin Palace Hotel, where we stayed for 3 nights in Madrid, suggested Ten Con Ten. We were told that despite this being the place where all the so-called “beautiful people” hang out, it is a legitimate foodie destination.

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We arrived: my wife, my 7-year-old daughter and I…and immediately were the center of attention as we were clearly the only people who ever even considered bringing a child into this place. We were spoiling the vibe of the party. (We’ve taken our daughter to fine restaurants all over the world and never had a problem. She’s better behaved than most of the adults in the room.)

We sat down at our table, were greeted gruffly in Spanish by our server, a young woman who clearly disliked us from the start, and were asked if we wanted a drink before ordering dinner. I had vodka on the rocks, served promptly. My wife ordered cava, a sparkling wine, and it was forgotten. However, that didn’t stop 3 separate managers from coming to our table and asking what we wanted to eat…all in a span of 4 minutes, before I even had the chance to take a second sip of my drink. When my wife commented that she’d like to enjoy her drink first (which still hadn’t arrived), they left in a huff.

A lovely elderly couple from Denver, at the table next to us, told us that they were completely rushed through their dinner and plates were removed from under them before they even had a chance to finish…like a scene from a bad Chinese restaurant. They complained loudly as they paid their bill, in part I think, to set the stage for us to at least enjoy our dinner at a more leisurely pace. I wish I knew how to get in touch with them to thank them for that!

When a fourth manager asked for our order, that’s when we politely said we were hoping to have the table for the night. He rushed off to confer with the reservations chick with the clipboard, and he finally agreed with a sigh that it would be alright. When we told him we had eaten at 2 of the top 10 restaurants in the world, Arzak and Mugaritz in San Sebastián just a few days earlier, I think he finally understood that we were there for the food and not all the posturing.

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All this was so unlike any dining experience we had in Spain, that it really caught us off guard. But once we established that we were staying and taking our time–kid and all–they relented and started serving us with a different attitude. In fact, the manager that was assigned to us (our grumpy server now relegated to simply clearing our plates) was great, and soon we were able to establish a fun and friendly dialogue with him that really made the evening special.

We wanted to try many dishes, but obviously couldn’t eat them all. Our new manager friend specially ordered smaller portions for us. When we couldn’t decide which plates to choose from, we let him do it, much to his delight. A white wine we ordered was not available at the proper temperature, so he chose another for us–excellent. Our bottle of red came from a private stock that wasn’t even on the menu–again, his choice.

And when our daughter a hand wrote a small thank-you card to the staff for a wonderful meal, you could’ve knocked them over with a feather. The staffers literally made a receiving line toward the door as we left, shaking our hands and thanking us for dining with them…our manager friend being the very last to say goodbye.

The food was excellent and seasonal. The menu changes all the time. We had toro tuna tataki, pasta with a morel sauce (featuring a touch of foie!), pasta with a sea urchin sauce, veal scallopine, what they call “yellow” fish (it commonly is caught alongside tuna), oxtail hamburgers, and more…and wonderful desserts.

Dining in Spain starts at 8PM for the most part, and it was clear in the beginning of our night (we had an 8:30 reservation) that they planned on turning that table over a lot. Our manager friend told us that, despite the fact that the restaurant was already full, the party “really” only started at midnight! So rushing people in and out was the way to make some serious coin for these folks. And he said it got even worse once the vacation season was over and everyone was back to work in Madrid!

The secret to enjoying Ten Con Ten is to stake your claim: don’t let them push you around. Make it clear that a rushed meal is not acceptable. The staff may grumble at first, but eventually let you have your way. And then… it can be a great experience.

I recently spent a long weekend in P-Town with my wife and daughter…my wife enjoying an art conference while my daughter and I enjoyed the sunshine. We’d meet at the end of the day for dinner, and share our stories.

P-Town has a bit of a reputation…and I was told by some friends that after sundown, we should bring our 7-year-old daughter indoors if we wanted to avoid her asking a lot of uncomfortable questions. Well, there were no red leather chaps, no circus freaks. I’m sure that there are certain weekends that may be a bit less family friendly than others, but generally speaking, today’s Provincetown is not the same as the town I visited back when I lived on Cape Cod in the 80’s.

Families walk the main street, Commercial Street, late into the night. Shops, restaurants and galleries cater to all tourists and lifestyles. And why not? A small waterfront town like this relies on its very short summer season to make its money. Why turn people and their wallets away?

There are many restaurant choices in Provincetown, and if you’re looking for top-notch big city fine dining, you won’t find it here. However, there are many good restaurants with creative dishes. And there’s incredibly fresh simply presented seafood that is a staple in New England: clams, oysters, cod, halibut, tuna, and scallops.

 

VICTOR’S

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Victors is a fun place. They serve tapas, and they make it very easy to share by dividing each plate beautifully and simply. The ingredients are fresh and the ideas are pretty good. Sometimes, though, they just don’t hit the mark. The fish taco with halibut was delicious. Duck sliders, however, were too salty. The Caesar salad came out in large, individual pieces of Romain lettuce, sprinkled with the Caesar ingredients on them. An interesting presentation, and again, easy to share. But not exactly what you want in a Caesar salad. Raw tuna Napoleons were good. The bar knows its cocktails and they serve them strong. Service is excellent. Basically, Victor’s is a perfect example of any Provincetown restaurant: good but not great. In a seasonal town, it is hard to maintain quality to the highest standards. But it’s a fun place to go to.

 

MEWS BAR & CAFE

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When a bar boasts 300 vodkas from around the world, I need to check it out. And that I did! I always start with my signature Stoli Elit and then work my way from there. I asked for and received a written list of all the vodkas in stock and being Lithuanian, I was happy to see there was a Lithuanian vodka on the list. I challenged them to present the bottle to me, and it appeared within seconds! Naturally I had to have a drink with it. The bar staff was swamped but always courteous and service was excellent. The bar itself is old and funky and really a lot of fun. I will come back someday for the food, but this time it was all about the martinis. One cool feature was that the olives for my martini were on a skewer that hung on the outside of the glass, and not in the drink. Sort of like truck nuts for a martini. Funky and fun.

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MAC’S PROVINCETOWN

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Mac’s does not have a great view of the water. It’s on a rather busy street that offers no scenery whatsoever. But what they lack in views, they make up for in fresh fish and delicious sushi! Everything we had was spectacular: the mini baked hand grenades (rice, shrimp, scallop, dynamite sauce and eel sauce) should not be missed. The sashimi–we had fresh halibut–was superb.

Sushi at Mac's, including the Hand Grenades in the black dish

Sushi at Mac’s, including the Hand Grenades in the black dish

The broiled yellowtail collar, what they call “Hamachi Kama” in the big city, was the best I’ve ever had. We were there for lunch, so no big drinking going on. But a peek inside showed a beautiful, clean (new) space that could get hoppin’ on any given evening around the raw bar. And next door is their own seafood shop…probably the cleanest I’ve ever seen, selling impeccably fresh fish.

Broiled yellowtail collar

Broiled yellowtail collar

 

 RED INN

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The biggest disappointment on our trip.

After my wife had a pretty good trout dinner at the Red Inn several nights before, we decided we would try again for a Friday night dinner. The place was crowded and it seemed that the wait staff was overwhelmed. Everything on the menu sounded good but all of it tasted like it had been cooked two days earlier and then just reheated before service. The bacon wrapped fried oysters that came with my Caesar salad were greasy, rubbery and cool. The avocado foam on my wife’s beet salad could’ve been anything… it had no flavor at all. The slow braised pork shank special lacked seasoning and it sat on top of a rather flavorless pile of grits. It seemed that the best dish on our table that night was the Kobe beef sliders our daughter had ordered. (And was it really Kobe? I think not, since it can only come from Japan and it’s really expensive. I’m guessing it was Wagyu, the American version of Kobe. Mislabeled menu.)

 

EDWIGE

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Our best dining experience of the weekend.

The soup of the day was an unlikely and fantastic mushroom and lobster soup. We thought the lobster would be lost with the intensity of the mushroom stock, but it was a delicious balance of flavors…really addictive! The tuna tartare was equally excellent. A main course bowl of seafood in a coconut sauce again showed a delicate hand by the chef and was delicious. And a flank steak was moist and tender, despite it being cooked beyond medium when I asked for medium-rare, set on top of a mound of irresistible wasabi mashed potatoes.

Infused vodkas that later infused me.

Infused vodkas that later infused me.

Cocktails are serious…and there’s a choice of house-infused vodkas at the bar: pineapple, ginger, cranberry, pepper. A bit of an issue with the wine list…but it’s an issue with every wine list we’ve seen in every restaurant we’ve been to in P-Town. Looks like one distributor has all the rights to wine in this town, so the lists are the same from place to place. Kinda sucks.

THE PROVINCETOWN INN

The view of town outside our room

The view of town outside our room

 

This is an old resort that has taken a beating over the years. The rooms aren’t fancy, but they are clean. And you absolutely cannot beat the location and the views: right at the end of Commercial Street and right on the water! Considering this is a town where you don’t come to stay indoors a lot, the rooms are perfectly fine. We stayed in the Captains Suite A, which had a full kitchen, and though we didn’t cook meals here, it was nice to hard boil an egg in the morning and keep our snacks in a full-sized refrigerator. They have a private beach (nothing fancy) and a swimming pool (very nice.)

 

 SURF CLUB RESTAURANT AND BAR

One look at the place and you know this is no fancy dining establishment. But the cocktails are strong and the food is fresh. It’s right on MacMillan wharf, so you can grab a bite, like we did, right after your whale watch trip. Great kids’ menu. I had the broiled seafood platter and it was a fresh as it could be.

 

DOLPHIN WHALE WATCH

whale LTL

A fleet of beautifully maintained boats with professional crews and expert naturalists to narrate your trip. Indoor areas with snacks as well as plenty of seats out in the sunshine, and great views from anywhere on the boat. I’m sure the boats get crowded in season, but we went before the season really kicked in and had a great time. We saw 12 humpback whales over the course of 3 hours…some very close to the boat! There are other whale watch companies out of the Cape, but this is the one to go with. Highly recommended. http://www.whalewatch.com

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RACE POINT BEACH, HERRING COVE BEACH

Huge expanses of sand. Beautiful dunes. You can spot whales out in the distance.Two great beaches that shouldn’t be missed. In season, they do charge a $15 parking fee.

ptown1LTL

M.C.Spiedo is a new Italian restaurant in the Renaissance Hotel by the Boston waterfront. It’s a massive, over-the-top (as in a bit gaudy) establishment that features rustic food from Italy’s historic past, dating back to the Renaissance period of the 1400’s. You’ll find no tomato dishes here: tomatoes were introduced into Italy in the 1500’s. What you will find are rustic, flavorful spit-roasted meats, pastas with rich sauces, and robust flavors.

MCSpiedo

This is a huge departure for chefs Mark Gaier and Clark Frasier, who come from acclaimed Maine restaurants Arrows (which just celebrated its 25th anniversary)and MC Perkins Cove in Ogunquit. (They just announced that they are selling Arrows for $1.2 million.)

What’s in the name? The M.C. is from Marc and Clark, and Spiedo means a spit or skewer in Italian. Considering this is still a new restaurant, I was surprised that the two chefs were nowhere to be found on a recent Saturday night. Nonetheless, the staff seems to be knowledgeable, and our server, Daniel ,was eager to guide us through the many menu choices.

The Leonardo's Notebook Salad

The Leonardo’s Notebook Salad

Leonardo’s Notebook Salad, with garlic, fennel, lettuces and herbs was delightfully fresh and thoroughly enjoyable. The house made burrata: fantastic…just not enough of it. The duck rillette was good, but unseasoned. However, the accompanying house made mustard and pickles remedied that. The Grand Tortellini and Meat Torta, a mile-high meat pie featuring more meat than you can imagine, is a must. It sells out every night. The spit-roasted pig with sausage and shelling bean macaroni would have been delicious had it not been for a VERY heavy amount of salt…so much that I had to mention it to our server, who promptly whisked it away, tasted it, agreed with us, consulted management, and returned with an apology and did not charge us for the dish.

Grand Tortellini and Meat Torta

Grand Tortellini and Meat Torta

Thankfully, there are 2 parts of M.C.Spiedo that don’t stick to the rules of only serving ingredients from Italy’s Renaissance period: the bar, where you can find many wonderful house specialty cocktails as well as a wine list with only Italian wines…and the kids menu, which is a welcome surprise to find in this kind of restaurant. My daughter loved the meatballs and the grilled cheese.

Duck rillette with house made pickles, mustard, and Fiore Sardo cheese

Duck rillette with house made pickles, mustard, and Fiore Sardo cheese

There are a few kinks to work out, but that’s to be expected from a new restaurant. And they’ve got to lighten up on the SALT. But I can see myself coming back to M.C. Spiedo for another enjoyable dining experience.

MC4

Join me on Saturday, March 29th for “The Rescue,” now in its 7th year. Great drinks, tasty food bites and auctions all to help the Providence Animal Rescue League. The VIP Reception features a bourbon tasting this year. And the food bites are provided by some of the best restaurants in Rhode Island.

 

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PARL does great work, and they need your help. All the details of the event are here:

http://www.parl.org/news-events/rescue