Donn the Beachcomber’s Mai Tai

For last night’s cocktail hour, I wanted to finally bust open the bottle of falernum I’d give A. for Christmas (I bought it for him so he could make rum swizzles, but we’ve yet to make any). Looking for a creative tiki cocktail using falernum and other ingredients I already had in my home bar, I came across Don the Beachcomber’s recipe for a mai tai. (Side note: I really wanted a cocktail recipe generator, and I just found a great one in Cocktail Builder.) 
Falernum is a simple syrup flavored with almonds, citrus, and spices like ginger, clove, and allspice (you can make your own) and is used in drinks like the zombie and the aforementioned rum swizzle. 
Now, we’re quite happy with our Trader Vic’s mai tai, but Don’s version appealed to me with the warm spicy notes of the falernum and the tart grapefruit juice. I think next time I’ll up the falernum, as the drink was pretty tart and not much of the syrupy sweetness came through. 
Don the Beachcomber’s Mai Tai
Adapted from Post Prohibition
1 oz gold rum
1 1/2 oz Myers’s Plantation rum
1 oz grapefruit juice
3/4 oz lime juice
1/2 oz Cointreau
1/4 oz falernum 
6 drops Pernod or Herbsaint (I used Maine-made Tree Spirits absinthe)
Dash of Angostura bitters
Shake well with crushed ice. Pour unstrained into a rocks glass. Garnish with mint sprigs.
Recipe by Don the Beachcomber circa 1933.
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Mast Landing Brewing and Black Dinah Chocolatiers, Westbrook

Since I received a record player for Christmas, I’ve been really into daytrips out of Portland to hunt for records (combined with some good food, natch). So far we’ve been up to Vinylhaven Records and Vinyl Junky in Brunswick and down to Music Plus in Biddeford — unfortunately, he was closed that day, but that didn’t stop us from filling up at the nearby Palace Diner and having a drink at Round Turn Distilling. We’ll just have to come back when neighboring Custom Deluxe is open for dinner.  
My most recent trip out of town to Westbrook though, had nothing to do with record hunting (although maybe I missed a good music shop out there??), but rather beer and chocolate. A nice consolation prize. 
First, we headed to the newly opened Mast Landing Brewing Company on Main St. to meet some friends for happy hour. Like the other locals filling the brewery, our friends are so excited to have a brewery in their neighborhood. Mast Landing opened last weekend and on tap was their Seavey Island Blonde Ale, Tell Tale Pale Ale, and Mainstay IPA. (Before you ask, yes, Mast Landing is in Freeport, where the owners are from and got their start in homebrewing.)
The brewery itself is in a huge warehouse – one of the owners told me they were lucky to find a space that would allow them to scale up as they grow. When you enter, you walk past the brewing space into the tasting room, where there’s plenty of room and tables made from recycled pallets. 
Between the two of us, A. and I ordered the pale ale and the IPA. I got a small glass of the IPA, thinking I’d go back for a small pale ale, but ended up sticking with the IPA on my second round. The pale ale was sweeter, with a candy flavor from the hops, and the IPA had a nice bitterness. 
Mast Landing is open Friday from 3-8pm and Saturday from 12-8pm. The location can be kind of hard to find – it’s behind Profenno’s Bar & Grill, so turn as if into their parking lot and drive through the back of it. Once you come around the building, you’ll see a big warehouse with the brewery’s sign. 
Nearly across the street is the new home of Black Dinah Chocolatiers, with a small retail shop for their beautiful chocolates in front of a large facility for making, packing, and shipping their chocolate. I stopped in for a tour and a taste from chocolate makers Kate Shaffer and Caitlin Powell. They’re providing the chocolate for the Portland Spirits Society‘s whiskey and chocolate pairing next week. 
Black Dinah is new to Southern Maine, but they’ve been making chocolate for seven years on Isle au Haut. They use all fresh ingredients in their flavorings and as many local ingredients as they can source (aside from the chocolate and the sugar, of course). Many of their truffles are decorated with sweet, brightly colored patterns that are so satisfying to bite through. 
I tried a maple caramel covered in dark chocolate and topped with smoked sea salt and a Peruvian dark chocolate vanilla truffle that were both amazing. I won’t spoil the pairings for the event by saying too much more about what I tried, but if you haven’t had Black Dinah’s chocolate, do yourself the favor of seeking some out. The retail shop is open in Westbrook Monday through Saturday, 9am to 5pm. Their chocolate is also sold at LeRoux Kitchen, Browne Trading, and Lisa Marie’s Made in Maine (on Exchange St.). 
As is apparently the theme in Westbrook, Black Dinah is also a little hard to find – the address is Main St. but the entrance is off a side street, which also leads conveniently to a public parking lot. (The side street doesn’t appear to have a name, but it’s right next to Bridge St.) 
As Portland fills up and space continues to become more expensive, don’t be surprised to see more and more business opening that make the trip to Westbrook worthwhile. 
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Smoky Scotch Tasting at The Brunswick Hotel & Tavern

I’ve always been intrigued by The Brunswick Hotel & Tavern‘s spirit tastings, but I’d never been able to make it to one. So when I was invited to their smoky Scotch tasting, I lept at the chance – maybe before the reality of the topic set in. 
You see, I’m not a huge Scotch fan. In fact, since starting the Portland Spirits Society, the one Scotch I’ve found I like is one that’s distinctly un-Scotch-like (Edradour 10 year). OK, that’s not entirely true, since it is Scotch and therefore by definition Scotch-like, but it’s on the sweeter and less smoky end of the spectrum. More American whiskey-like. I didn’t quite realize that the event was not just Scotches but smoky ones until I was seated in the cozy tavern staring down six samples of bonfire-scented booze. 
The event was led by Michael Meirs, a personable guy who reps liquor and also gives private tastings like this one. He began by introducing the ritual of tasting Scotch, from a visual inspection to a swirl to a sniff to a taste, and describing what you might encounter and what it might mean. 
I learned that Scotch is aged in ex-Bourbon and sherry barrels and that the color of the final product can help you tell which and therefore what to expect (i.e. yellow shades = aged in rum and reddish-brown hues mean aged in sherry casks). 
We began our tasting ritual with the Johnnie Walker Double Black ($39.99 for 750 mL at Maine liquor stores), a blend of 40 different whiskies, including the one we’d taste next, the Caol Ila. We observed the color, took a good sniff (neat trick: to prepare your nose, hold the whiskey to your chin and smell, then your lips and smell, then your nose and smell) and then finally tasted the stuff. 
Our guide didn’t present us with any tasting notes, saying that they limit people by guiding them to flavors, so I don’t have a lot myself either. The JW Double Black was definitely smoky, leaving the lingering flavor of cigarettes in my mouth (like I said, I’m not a Scotch fan!). It paired nicely with the bison chili, with its big, bold flavors. The chef popped out to explain each course – in general, he said he went with big flavors to stand up to the smoky whiskies, and also worked the spirit into a lot of the dishes themselves. 
Next we tried one of the component parts of the Johnnie Walker, Caol Ila 12 (Maine Spirits doesn’t show the 12, but lists the 18 at $79.99). The distillery is the biggest on the Island of Islay, because it’s the body of Johnnie Walker, but many aren’t familiar with Caol Ila. It’s a single malt (meaning it’s from one distillery, rather than a blended whisky). I liked this one – it was much sweeter and not as smoky, or at least the finish wasn’t as long as the JW. The pairing was fantastic – scallop ceviche with speck ham, nice and light, but smoky to complement the whisky. 
Next was our guide’s favorite, Ardbeg 10 year ($49.99). He described this whisky as a “peat monster,” which made me nervous. A sniff revealed the unpleasant smoky odor of plastic Band-aids. Very nervous. Sure enough: very peaty, but pleasantly fruity and floral as well. The pairing, Ardbeg-marinated grilled figs with crushed pecans and local honey, really helped to temper the smokiness. 
Fortunately, the smokiness flavor seemed to top out with the Ardbeg – I was genuinely afraid that the whiskies were going to get smokier from here on out. The Talisker Storm ($64.99) was up next, from the Isle of Skye, which is the most remote distillery in Scotland, but the most visited. Due to the differing terroir of the peat on the island, this whisky is less smoky, but more intense. 
The Talisker Storm is also aged in rejuvenated Bourbon barrels, or ones that have the char shaved off and then are recharred. The Bourbon flavor really comes through as an intense pepperiness. I very much enjoyed this one, as I felt like it bridged the gap between Scotch and Bourbon. It also paired well with a spicy Andouille sausage with a Dijon mustard cream sauce and pickled red onions. If I had to pick a favorite pairing, this one would be it. 
Up next was another Ardbeg, this one called Uigeadail ($79.99), named after a nearby lake (I even learned how to pronounce it!), paired with baked beans with espresso and proscuitto. This whisky is a blend of ones aged in Bourbon and sherry casks. We may or may not have cheated on this one and peeked on some tasting notes on our phones – where I learned we could expect espresso and caramel flavors, but also that this was a cask strength whisky. Meaning it was over 100 proof, and so I didn’t taste much past the burning from the strong alcohol. 
We ended with the Lagavulin 16 ($79.99) year, which is the the longest aged flagship whisky in the industry. Our guide Mike said he thought I’d like the Lagavulin the best, being a Bourbon drinker, so I was looking forward to this one. It’s aged in sherry casks, so it has lots of spice and dark fruit notes, and it paired perfectly well with the warm molasses cookie and cherry compote. 
I’m obviously a sucker for booze tastings, but this event was well run – the speaker was personable, providing a nice mix of information about the distilleries and about Scotch in general, and the food was excellently paired with the drinks. That the chef is a Scotch enthusiast certainly helped. I came away from the event not necessarily a Scotch lover myself, but definitely more educated about the experience and open to learning more about the smoky spirit. 
Check out the Brunswick Hotel & Tavern‘s next spirits tasting (they’re offered periodically, although one is not scheduled now) or check them out during Maine Restaurant Week for lunch or dinner, March 1st-12th. 
I attended this event for free as a guest of the PR firm that represents the hotel, however, the words and opinions expressed in this post are mine.
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First Look at Drifter’s Wife Wine Bar

Drifter’s Wife, a bar in the front of the wine shop Maine & Loire, opened last night, just in time for us to huddle up in the cozy space as a Nor’easter passed through. Maine & Loire sells a selection of natural wine, which the owners define as wine “farmed without chemicals, harvested by hand, made with native yeasts, and minimal interventions.” The owners, Peter and Orenda, have always been very helpful picking out wine in their shop, but their new wine bar lets you try new-to-you wines. It’s also a lovely place to hang out and spend time with friends. 
If you visited the shop before the addition of the bar, then you know it was a large warehouse-esque space with racking along the walls. No frills. Now the space is divided in half, with a small bar near the front and a few booths and cafe-style tables surrounding it. A metal partition separates the tables from an aisle that leads back to the wine shop. It’s a nice transition of the space. 
The wine menu offers several whites and reds by the glass and a larger bottle list. I chose a sparkling wine ($10), while Original Roomie A. went with a muscadet. In a place like Drifter’s Wife, you don’t have to worry about sweet, garbage-y wine; while muscadet can be very sweet, this one was pleasantly dry with warm spice notes. 
There’s a small menu of snacks like chicken liver, a cheese plate, and a plate of winter radishes. We sampled some warm olives, the “egg” or deviled eggs topped with bottarga and sitting on a smear of mayonnaise, and raw Maine shrimp with fried heads, topped with horseradish. Both were a delicious and light accompaniment to the wine.  
Stop by the Drifter’s Wife at 63 Washington Avenue for a glass of natural wine after 4PM, every day except Sundays (the wine shop is open 7 days a week). 
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First Look at Rhum Food + Grog

The long-awaited opening of the tiki bar Rhum is finally here. Hallelujah! While we’ve had a mild winter so far, it’s still a much needed oasis that will help to mediate your seasonal affective disorder. 
Rhum is located under Arabica Coffee on Spring St. next to Styxx (technically 4 Free St. for your Uber driver). The lounge is set back off the street a bit and has a black front, so it could be easy to miss. Once you’re inside, it’s pretty dark (there’s no windows), which creates a cozy and mysterious vibe. That, combined with some strong rum drinks, means you could lose many hours in here. 
I’ve already been twice, and each time I had to get the painkiller (shown above, right). It’s delicious and goes down way too easy. The tiki drink menu includes classics like the mai tai, fogcutter, rum runner, and junglebird, all served in ceramic skull mugs (made by a local Portland artist) and decked out with fruit and sparkling garnish. 
The long narrow space is filled with a U-shaped bar, adorned with grass. Along one wall is high, communal tables and along the other, a winding banquette with club chairs and small tables creating cozy nooks to gather. 
The kitchen is Frank Anderson and Rebecca Ambrosi, chefs who have run a local supper club, as well as one in L.A., with help from Fred Eliot, formerly of Petite Jacqueline. I tried the pupu platter (market price – $18 that night) to sample a few things at once: crab rangoon, edamame, prawn crackers, housemade jerky, chicken liver patê with tamarind chutney, and short riblets. It came in a vintage rotating wooden tray with a festive sterno in the middle. I loved everything on the sampler and heard raves about other menu items like the hiramasa poké and the kaya toast (with coconut jam and a soft-boiled egg). 
Head over to Rhum as soon as you can for some strong drinks and some updated Polynesian fare – it’s open 7 days a week at 4p.m. (kitchen opens at 5). It’s what Portland has been missing – a lounge full of escapism with an air of mystery. It’s the perfect place to sip on some rum until beach weather returns. 
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Friday Food Round-Up: Lunch at Tandem, the Honey Paw, Palace Diner

I’ve been pretty good at sticking to my post-holiday budget while managing to have some stellar eats around town too. Trying to save money is not the most joy-inspiring while it’s happening, but I’m starting to feel some of the payoff of this newfound (and surely short-lived) self discipline. 
I’ve found that dining out at lunchtime is a great way for me to feel like I’m not depriving myself of Portland’s wonderful food scene – lunch entrees are typically cheaper, plus there’s (usually) no alcohol involved. 
I enjoyed The Honey Paw‘s beef rendang – savory, rich comfort food on a cold day, but Original Roomie A’s Vietnamese chicken noodle soup (fermented rice noodles, smoked chicken, meatballs, aromatic broth, kale, jalapeno, herbs) was the clear winner. 
Sometimes I don’t bring lunch to work, betting that I’ll think of an exciting lunch idea before noon. After rejecting all the ho-hum deli sandwiches near my office, I thought of Tandem Coffee‘s selections. I was up and out the door only a half second after thinking about their veggie banh mi. 
This, though, is the egg and pickle sandwich – pickled beets, sliced hard-boiled eggs, herbs, and creamy feta spread on their house-baked foccacia. Super messy. Despite its vegetable components, probably not very healthy. Super satisfying. 
I made a riff on Tandem’s addictive sesame seed banana bread using the recipe from El Rey (a coffee shop in New York). I’d probably drop the tahini next time – am I the only one to find it super bitter? 
I’ve said it before: a weekday Palace Diner visit is the way to go. Especially in January, there’s hardly anyone in there midmorning. On a recent visit, if you squinted, it could have been conceived of as lunchtime, so I ordered the cheeseburger. I’ve always wanted it, but have only ever been there early in the morning (another strategy for grabbing a seat without a wait), and I’ve yet to eat a hamburger at 9am. 
The burger is eyes-roll-back-in-your-head perfect. Eating at the Palace Diner kind of makes me angry, because if they can manage to make something as simple as the french fry so tasty, what’s up with all the other mediocre versions?? Like, do better, everyone else! 
Also, I got a side of french toast (obviously).
I have splurged a few times for dinner lately – once to catch up with an old friend at Yosaku. His choice – I usually gravitate to Benkay, because of its proximity to my apartment. 
A. and I ordered this beautiful plate of rolls and sashimi: rainbow and gorilla (tempura shrimp with eel and avocado outside) rolls and prawn, scallop, amberjack, and golden snapper sashimi. Plus many Kirin beers, of course. 
Before Christmas, when I was used to spending money, I went to check out Moxy in Portsmouth, and spent way more money on a delicious dinner than I had any business parting with. I loved everything I had – and the tapas menu was right up my alley. I loved getting to try a variety of dishes and sharing with my friend. 
The short rib “marmalade” came on sliced bread with bleu cheese and pickled red onions; we also loved the johnnycake community – juicy pulled pork served with thin cornmeal cakes, butter lettuce, barbecue sauce, sweet pickles, and fried onions. Delicious little savory packets that you get to make up yourself – fun too! 
As a parting shot, these beautiful beet pickled deviled eggs from Vena’s Fizz House deserve some love. I could have made a serious dent in these by myself if I’d allowed it. 
Lastly, grab a copy of Jan/Feb’s ZEST magazine (free at the Rosemont on the Hill if you’re in the neighborhood). I wrote a story on Maine coffee roasters (Tandem, Coffee By Design, Bard/Wicked Joe, and Rooster Brothers) that travel to the country of their coffee’s origin to research which beans are the best for their customers. 
My friend Claire also wrote a great article about the changing preferences of women’s taste in alcohol. She included the Portland Spirits Society, which was nice! 
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First Look at Woodford F&B

Woodford F&B opened last night at the intersection of Forest Ave. and Woodford St., otherwise known as, you guessed it, Woodfords Corner. The cozy restaurant is in a large white building with a funky roofline that also houses a laundromat and a tanning salon. The space used to be home to Portland institution Valle’s Steakhouse back in the day, but most recently was a mortgage company. 
On the restaurant’s opening night, there was a growing crowd; clearly everyone is excited to have a worthy food destination in the neighborhood. The space has been restored with a large bar and diner-like banquette and booth seating separated from the bar area by a half wall. The architecture, light fixtures, and tiling give the place a retro feel, and the menu is full of classics like deviled eggs, steak frites, and clam chowder. 
I joined Professor A. for dinner; we sat at a table with banquette seating and shared some wine. The wine selections are available by the glass, in a half carafe, or a bottle making for affordable sharing. There’s also a selection of draft and bottle beers, as well as classic and original cocktails. A. had been in earlier this week for the friends and family dinner, so he had scoped out the menu and had some recommendations. 
To start, we ordered the roasted oysters which are served on the half shell, with leeks, bechamel sauce, and breadcrumbs (4 for $11). They were fantastic – rich and meaty with a mild, savory onion flavor.  
I ordered the moules frites ($12) and A. went with the burger ($16). I was tempted by the steak frites and, to be honest, the plat du jour, which was a baked stuffed lobster – not usually an item that grabs my attention, but the celeriac and whipped potatoes accompaniments sounded decadent. 
My mussels were great – the broth was everything you want it to be: savory, garlicky, and accompanied by plenty of starchy things with which to sop it up. A. reported his burger was good too. 
For dessert, we shared a spiced ginger cake, surrounded by caramel and topped with freshly whipped cream. It was nice in that it wasn’t too sweet and came with soft slices of pears. 
Those who live in the surrounding neighborhood are sure to be thrilled with this comfortable restaurant that boasts good food, cocktails, and a family-friendly atmosphere. And those of us who are stuck in our peninsula bubbles will want to shake up the routine by heading out Forest Ave. to check out Woodford F&B. 
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