Thursday, July 28, 2011

Island Creek Oyster Bar and the Beauty of a Biscuit

The biscuit at the Island Creek Oyster Bar was perfect. Browned and crispy on the exterior. The inside was warm, moist and tender as only a baker who knows how to properly fold in the butter can create. But what had me unable to stop devouring it was the molten honey that oozed down the top. One bite and I realized there was another flavor that I couldn't place. Anise? Ginger? Finally, the waitress revealed the unexpected taste: rosemary. Brilliant.
My oysters were fantastic, too; don't get me wrong. I find it so compelling that 6 oysters can taste so completely different. My oyster vocabulary is too limited to be able to distinguish each in words. But I can say this: the Misty Point from Pope's Bay, Virginia tasted of pure ocean. The Blue Pool from Lillywaup, Washington was buttery, creamy. The Umami from Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island had a totally different texture: less plump, longer.
As much as I try, I don't really enjoy mussels. I tried them here, though, sitting within a lemongrass, chili and and lime broth. They were fine, but I am still not compelled to order them again.
However, we loved the Steamed Duxbury Littlenecks. I typically have steamers, and a few bites are more than enough. However, these steamed littlenecks, having soaked up the salty, smokiness of lardons and Pilsner were fabulous.
The servers were kind enough to offer us a bite of their silky house cured Idaho red trout. I adored the combination with a tart orange to offset the rich nature of the fish. My dining companion, though, passed, preferring the fish on its own merits.

Having enjoyed baked beans at the Maine Diner and Chancey Creek, I tried them here, too. These were more simplistic, tasting of brown sugar, rather than deep molasses. Ultimately, they just weren't as special as, say, that biscuit.

I was smitten with the drink menu as well, hard pressed to choose between a drink with homemade Rhubarb vermouth, another with my favorite Aperol. I loved my final choice: the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club made with Berkshire Rub, fresh lime, bitter orange and homemade falernum-a fabulous sugar syrup with cloves and allspice.

So will I be back? For the food perhaps. The atmosphere, full of beautiful people, isn't quite my style. And, truth be told, I prefer the warm, comfortable atmosphere of Lineage where I can still get Island Creek Oysters. But for those biscuits...maybe!

Island Creek Oyster Bar, 500 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston

Sunday, July 24, 2011

A Perfect Picnic: Salads from the Good Table at 2 Lights State Park

Returning to Two Lights State Park in Cape Elizabeth, Maine reaffirmed the awe-inspiring beauty of this place. Although an earlier visit was full of light and sun, this time bright flowers and the grey sky added drama to the rocky coast line. Children peered into tidepools and people scurried on the rocks to stare at the waves. Even with a few people, this place is still a place to think, to draw, to write or to explore. We were content, having picked up delicious salads at the nearby Good Table. My memory of the Good Table is of their spectacular cinnamon buns. They were out of those, and I had already reveled in my croissant from Standard Bakery. So, my mom and I were thrilled to open our takeout containers and discover freshly grilled chicken on top of beautiful greens. I had the chef salad, and so my chicken shared the salad with bacon, an egg, and blue cheese. On the side, a warm and thick pita-type flatbread. We ate, staring at the view, silenced by the shore. After we drove a bit further down Two Lights Road, hoping to see the actually "Two Lights." Instead we came upon a future visit: The Lobster Shack restaurant which may have the ultimate in views as it, too, is directly on the ocean.

Two Lights State Park, Cape Elizabeth, Maine
The Lobster Shack, Cape Elizabeth, Maine
The Good Table, Cape Elizabeth, Maine

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Strolling the Promenade and Other Portland Joys

My mother and I had enjoyed our meal at Fore Street. We had been delighted by the art and context of the Ogunquit Museum of Art. And now was my chance to show her some of my Portland Favorites. Standard Bakery came through with their insane chocolate croissants that had my mother covered in buttery crumbs.
They also had French macarons in flavors like yuzu, green tea, black sesame and cherry. Arabica Coffee gave us time to sit and a luscious cappuccino. We meandered into Company C whose rugs are as much art as functional with multi-textured and multi-colored designs.Two Fat Cats offered rhubarb-blueberry in addition to their perfect multi-berry pies, while I bought my sons tender cupcakes. We discovered the Eastern Promenade, a long walking path that borders old Railroad tracks and Casco Bay, perfect to get exercise after so many good meals. And we enjoyed the light and creativity of the Portland Museum of Art. And then, finally, finally, the sun emerged allowing us to picnic and enjoy the glory of Two Lights Beach.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

A Seasonal Return to 51 Lincoln in Newton

I have fond memories of the meal I ate at 51 Lincoln two years ago.  And as this summer rolled around and I began to get emails about their new rooftop garden and their BBQ specials, I realized it merited a return. Chef and Owner Jeffrey Fournier kindly offered my friend Ilene and I a chance to check out his July menu. Or more specifically, his July 13th menu as the dishes change daily. 
I am a huge fan of Bar Chef Ben Brenner's creations and was just as pleased tonight. He somehow intuited my love of Aperol and mixed up it up with fresh grapefruit juice and Citadel gin.  Ilene's Scarlet Martini was a bit sweeter but with a bite: Svedka Clementine, Luxardo Triplum, Blood Orange juice and lime.

The bread are made in-house and reflect the playfulness and ambition of the restaurant. The basket included focaccia, corn bread, and a wonderful ciabbata with onion-like nigella seeds. We dipped into the homemade tomato-chili jam and hummus.

For the month of July, 51 Lincoln is switching it up with BBQ. Each week they focus on another state and, best of all, is the price: 3 courses for $35.  We enjoyed the foods of North Carolina, and thus, one of our first appetizers was a plateful of fried green pickled tomatoes.  We then enjoyed a cup of soupy, smokey, tender BBQ shrimp.
One of the cornerstone dishes of the restaurant is their pan-seared watermelon steak. Ironically, Ilene and I were ambivalent about the butter-braised fruit.  But we couldn't get enough of its partner: chickpeas cooked with tomatoes and topped with thinly sliced radishes and French feta.

I was shocked that my favorite dish of the night was a Caesar salad.  I am not a huge fan of dressing and Caesar salad can be so pedestrian, gloppy, salty. Not here. Instead, what arrived were wide pieces of Romaine, topped with silky, tender white anchovies.  This was heavenly eaten with a bite of the homemade crouton and the richness of Fiore di Nonna's Burrata. I will easily go back for this.  The incredible Fiore Di Nonna cheese accompanied the next dish.  A tempura fried shrimp sat next to homemade mozzarella. The cheese was brightened with an ancho chili rub and emerald dots of basil oil.  Thai purple and green basil, picked from the restaurant's roof top garden, were wonderful with the soft cheese. But the best part of the dish? A fabulous champagne reduction that was the result of reducing the alcohol with star anise until it was both syrupy and just acidic enough.

The BBQ meal continued with pulled pork sitting atop collard greens and accompanied by a mustard sauce and fresh cole slaw. The meat was flavorful and falling apart tender and was amped up with the mustard sauce.  Our other main? Perfectly cooked Atlantic Salmon that was as sweet and succulent as I have had. In the center was one beautiful squash blossom filled with fresh ricotta and sitting on two saucers of fried yucca.

We were treated to a trio of seasonal desserts.  Fresh strawberries were piled on a tender biscuit and were topped with wonderful basil whipped cream.  A Fig Newton Highlands played off of the traditional. Here were two Fresh mission figs, topped with ricotta and sitting boldly on butter cookies. My favorite element was the base: a puree of figs and late Harvest Riesling.

My favorite dessert, though, was the pecan pie. Rarely have I had a pie that doesn't taste monotone of sticky sweetness. But here, fresh crunchy pecans were the focus, while the base tasted of caramel, rather than being overwhelmed by sugar.

51 Lincoln was bustling on a summer night.  It is a great alternative for festive food without heading into Boston and fighting for parking.  I will return for the bar menu. I am not sure it can get better than than housemade Charcuterie, a plate of Wasik's cheese and Brenner's cocktails.  That being said, 51 Lincoln also offers lunch (and includes that Caesar salad!).  There isn't a kid's menu, per se, but it does offer a chance to amp up a child's palate. For example, my three year old would be thrilled to eat up a grilled cheese made with Tellegio, a burger with aged cheddar or rigatoni with homemade bolognese. My pickier 5 year old, though, would be happy with pasta mixed with Parmesan and butter.  You can also sample the 3 course BBQ meal here as well.

51 Lincoln, 51 Lincoln Street, Newton, MA

Monday, July 18, 2011

Lobster and Wine in the Not-So-Rough Chauncey Creek, Kittery, Maine

Eating at Chauncey Creek Lobster Pier means following a few directions. First, make sure you can find it. Second, make sure you head to the correct cash register to order. Have your money ready at your table because, for some odd reason, you have to pay AFTER you get your food. And bring any fanciful appetizers, desserts and drinks with you as you are encouraged to create a picnic spread. Got it? If so, then be prepared to enjoy lobster in a lovely setting. Nestled on Chauncey Creek in Kittery Point, Maine, while not "lobster in the rough", it is pretty basic. Picnic tables sit under a covering. Food arrives on paper plates. And your choices are quite traditional: lobster, mussels, clams. Last October I had the best lobster of my life here, as the molting lobsters were as sweet and tender as could be. This time service was a bit more haggard. But the lobster was still solid. While other people arrived with coolers full of extra dishes (hummos seemed to be the most popular), we kept it simple, bringing water and a pie from Two Fat Cats back in Portland. We tried the clam chowder but it was too thick, floury and full of potatoes to merit the calories. Okay, and I'd also skip the baked beans, which were fine, but not nearly as stellar as those from the Maine Diner. But really, the lobster was good. Kids were content to run around while they waited for food, and parents were happy to have a break on the coast of Maine.

Chauncey Creek Lobster Pier, Kittery Point, Maine

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Better than a Tourist Trap: The Maine Diner, Wells, Maine

Unlike some people, accolades from the Food Network turns me AWAY from a restaurant or recipe. So, perhaps, that is what took me so long to try the Maine Diner. Yet as my mom and I headed from the Ogunquit Museum of American Art to Portland, hunger struck us both. And, there was the obvious: the Maine Diner standing smartly right on Route One in Wells, Maine. We didn't eat a lot, but what we ate was, well, fantastic. No joke.
We each got a lobster roll. My mother's came as promised: full of huge chunks of fresh lobster meat with just enough mayonnaise to add taste. I was enthralled with my "Dale Arnold." What arrived was warm chunks of fresh lobster meat placed in a grilled hot dog roll with melted butter. One bite and I was in heaven. The sweet meet was enveloped in the squishy bread. It was so good that I barely needed the butter.I also enjoyed their homemade baked beans. Made the traditional way, they consisted of little navy beans with the delightful combination of deep molasses and bacon. Unlike most people, we passed on dessert, but I suspect we will be back.

Maine Diner, Route 1, Wells, Maine, 207-646-4441

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Beauty of the Ogunquit Museum of American Art

In Michael Pollan's A Place of My Own, he spends a good bit of time addressing both frames and windows. And one of his central points is that the right window allows you to view things as never before. When I took my mother to the Ogunquit Museum of American Art, I knew I would see lovely works of art in the museum. And we did. (No photographs allowed, so you will just have to check out their website or the museum instead!)
But what we didn't anticipate was the beauty of their outdoor sculpture gardens. In grey weather the early summer flowers popped in shades of fuchsia and chartreuse. Roses exploded over puddles and artwork lay around the corners. What enchanted us the most, though, was what lay right through the doors of the museum. At one end full windows opened up to a spectacular framed view of the Atlantic, crashing down on the granite rocks of Maine. And, better still, the rain halted long enough for us to go outside and to watch the natural art unfold.

The Ogunquit Museum of American Art,
543 Shore Road, Ogunquit, Maine

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Rediscovering the New England Aquarium and the Greenway

Summers mean lazy mornings. Summers mean afternoons at the lake. And Summer Wednesdays mean "Stay Home Day with Mommy!" On our first Wednesday we headed to Artisani Park and had a great lunch at Foundry on Elm in Somerville. Next, a return to the utter joy of Davis Farmland. It is so clean, so well run and presents two pleasures in one: a petting zoo and a sprinkler park. This Wednesday we trotted off to Boston. Eighteen dollars later we had parked right on the Harborwalk under Rowe's Wharf. (Make sure you get a coupon at the Aquarium.) We checked out the airplanes, the excitement of window washers (my kids don't get this thrill everyday!), tourists on Segways and boats. We hadn't been to the New England Aquarium in over a year. The secret on this hot day? Getting there at 9:30 a.m., before the crowds swarmed in. We started at the new "Touch Tank" where my sons were enthralled with feeling the slimy and elegant sting-rays and slithery tiny sharks. My three year old may have stayed there all day...though he was equally enamoured with the penguins. I preferred the outdoor, and also relatively new, Marine Mammal Center where we watched Northern Fur Seals clap and spin. After an hour indoors, checking out the feeding of sea turtles and holding starfish, we stepped right over to the Greenway. In the future we hope to take a Harbor Tour over to the Boston Harbor Islands. But for today my sons were grinning deliriously as they spun around on the Carousel. We had planned on trying out the Sprinkler park, but instead met my brother for lunch. It was too hot to spend time meandering through the North End. Instead, we had a mediocre lunch at Barking Crab, but my kids loved the atmosphere, right up against the Harbor and involving a trip over a bridge.

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Art of the Carrot at Fore Street, Portland, Maine

I don't do cooked carrots. Or so I thought. They are too mushy, too sweet, too one-dimensional. But at Fore Street in Portland, Maine I gobbled them up like chocolate chips. We spotted them on the adjacent table, a mini-abstract expressionist piece in a little Staub iron dish. I wanted to admire them as much as eat them. The miniature carrots, grown locally, were cooked perfectly with a firm bite beneath the soft exterior. The orange carrots were topped with a magenta beat and vinegar puree that added a whole other level to the vegetable and the beauty to the dish.
Beyond the carrots, I was surprised overall by how much my mother and I loved Fore Street. Ironically, all the accolades and TV spots had created, I suspected, unrealistic expectations on my part. But I wanted to give my mother, newly retired from over 30 years of teaching, a treat. And I knew Fore Street, with its wood grilled specialities would be a treat. And it was; at the end of the meal she declared it one of the best she had ever had! And, unlike me, she isn't one for extolling food.
The atmosphere is boisterous, rustic, homey. Our waitress was lovely and helpful without being overly so. The kitchen, in the center of the restaurant gives both an open view of the wood burning oven and stove, as well as a visual into the pace of the restaurant. On the edge, a mini produce market allowed staff to take what they needed to create meals. The daily menu, too, is created with the most local and seasonal of goods.We began, as we hoped, with bread from the adjacent Standard Baking Company. The pain francese was chewy and flavorful, the perfect platform for slathering sweet, creamy butter from Vermont Butter and Cheese.
My mother began with the mixed organic Maine salad greens .Topped with brilliant orange flowers, they were as fresh as could be and were delicious with the aged cider vinaigrette.
I took my typical path, opting for two appetizers instead of a main dish. My first dish, wood oven roasted sardines were large enough for a meal themselves. The trio arrived, meaty and succulent, topped with a creamy Hollandaise-like sauce. I enjoyed nibbling the juicy meat and crisp skin. The fresh sardines bore more resemblance to fresh bluefish than the canned specimen beloved by my grandmother. My favorite part of the dish, however, was the Madeira braised bacon and kale that leaned against the fish. I adore kale and saute it frequently in olive oil. But in this oven-roasted dish, the kale charred becoming crispy and smoky.
For my mother's main, she took a tip from Jasper White who proclaimed June the season of wild Pacific salmon. Hers arrived sitting alongside "wild rice with sweet peppers, almonds and leeks." One bite and we were both clamouring for more. The carefully julienned leeks had melted gracefully into the tiny diced peppers. The crunchy almonds and earthy rice added another dimension. My mother quickly identified both finely chopped capers and olives as adding salinity to the dish. The salmon, cooked in the wood oven, was so moist. The fennel herb sauce, draped over bites of fish made the dish even more unforgettable.
I chose an indulgent treat as my second dish: wood grilled Hudson Valley fois gras. It was the perfect choice and the perfect size-just enough buttery lush goodness to spread on bread. The deep purple plum basil sauce was tart enough to pucker and fresh enough to drizzle over and again on the fois gras.

We struggled to choose among the wonderful sounding desserts, but again chose something we spotted on another table. My mother's dish was listed as a dark chocolate torte. What arrived was the most fabulous of lush and creamy chocolate mousse. Made with El Rey chocolate, the fruity and bittersweet cream sat on top of a small puddle of dark chocolate sauce. Alongside, crumbled graham crackers. Then, the best contrast: mint ice cream made with the freshest of herbs.
I was underwhelmed initially by my chocolate crepes. The crepes themselves were cold and devoid of flavor. However, the dish took off with the bitter almond cream that was sandwiched between the crepes. What I reached for most, though, was their homemade apricot marmalade, sour and flavorful. I avoided the chocolate lavender honey ice cream which tasted of too many flavors gone astray. But as we dipped our spoons again and again into my mother's chocolate torte none of it seemed to matter.

We left Fore Street content and eager to return.

Fore Street, 299 Fore Street, Portland Maine