Tuesday, March 30, 2010

finally some good thai taste

round four and our assignment was pom's thai taste. between the congress street location and the cottage road location in south portland, seth and i have been to pom's a least half a dozen times and its my feeling that its some of the best thai food in portland.
this past wednesday, after the bizarre snow cleared to a beautiful evening, we walked downtown to sample pom's again. it was about 6:30 and the restaurant was quite full. there were a few empty tables but they were still waiting to be bussed. as we waited by the door i could see there were two servers working the floor without a busser or hostess, and they were hustling. initially i was quite put off because one of the servers walked right by us on her way to bring a table food and didn't even acknowledge us. i was a waitress for years, and i in no way expected her to drop what she was doing to seat us, but i felt like she should have at least said 'i'll be right with you.' but within another minute she was seating us and apologizing for the wait and the rest of our service was great.
ordering at pom's can be a little intimidating as you are presented with three separate menus -- one of sushi, one for noodles, and one for thai. we knew we were going for thai, so that made things easy for us. and once you get into the thai menu its super descriptive and helpful. i've been eating thai for years but i didn't really know how choo chee varied from other curries until i read the descriptions of the many thai sauces.
i managed to steer seth away from the appetizer sampler and instead we started with the thai crab cakes and the deep fried pork dumplings. this was our second time ordering the crab cakes and they were delicious again. the cakes themselves are a mixture of maine crab meat and ground chicken and don't have the delicate texture i expect from crab cakes, but are quite toothsome (remember kevin's definition of toothsome on top chef?). though the menu mentions some pineapple sauce and ginger salad dressing, both times we have gotten these, they are served with this yummy pink creamy sauce and a sweet and sour sauce. i'm curious about the other sauces, but the two we got are great accompaniments.
the pork dumplings were kind of a disappointment. you can choose between steamed or deep fried, but i really wanted them pan fried. i love the way pan frying crisps up some of the skin but leaves other parts soft. deep frying the dumpling just made them tough. and both the filling and the ginger dipping sauce were bland.
for our entrees we got the yum nuer salad and the spicy crispy duck. we had ordered the duck before and it was amazing the first time so i was really excited to try it again. but i felt like we were sort of going out of our comfort zone ordering the salad as i usually order some sort of curry. when the salad arrived at the table i realized we had ordered it the first time we ate at pom's, along with the spicy crispy duck, so we were basically repeating a previous meal. it was great the first time and it was great again!
the yum nuer is salad of thinly slice of charcoal-broiled beef mixed with lemon grass, red pepper, red onion, cucumber, tomatoes, and scallions, tossed in spicy sour lime juice dressing on a bed of lettuce. it certainly is yum (sorry i couldn't help myself)! the beef itself was a bit overdone for my taste and pretty tough, but the fresh veggies with cilantro and mint and the spicy dressing totally made up for it. i would absolutely order it a third time.
the spicy crispy duck was all that i remembered it to be: half a crispy roasted duck topped with mushrooms, onions, red and green onions, and basil leaves in a spicy chili-garlic sauce. we had a dish very similar to this at viet bangkok and oh my god how pom's version blows that one out of the water. this is the way you serve crispy duck! the crispy crackling skin coated with sticky spicy and slightly sweet sauce ... i'm drooling just writing about it.
i love that pom's features local maine crab and shrimp on their menu. but i'm totally puzzeled as to why they have new zealand mussels. is there something i don't know about these mussels? is it just a species of mussels? are they really so amazing as to forgo local mussels in favor of importing them all the way from new zealand?
one thing i feel compelled to address is price as it was one of the things i bagged on sala thai for. in reality the price points at pom's and sala are pretty much the same, but i don't mind spending the extra money at pom's because the food is better. it doesn't even really strike me as pricey because the quality of the food is so great.
so this was yet another great meal at pom's and it reinforced my belief that this is one of the best thai restaurants in portland.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

north creek farm, a slice of heaven

back in decemeber i was reading downeast magazine and i came across this piece about this little place called north creek farm in phippsberg right on the way to popham state beach.
when the weather was forcasted to be absolutely amazing for seth's birthday on march 6th, i suggested we hit up north creek farm for lunch on the way out to a day at the beach. this little place it a total gem. a country store/gourmet market/cafe/farm/rose garden. every little nook and cranny is so adorable you want to plotz. even if the food sucked, it would be worth it just to check out this gorgeous piece of earth. but, in fact, the food is pretty great. we shared two paninni and a cup of tomato soup. the surfer sandwich had smoked turkey, spruce mountain wild blueberry chutney and gruyere, a combo i would never think of putting together but that works so amazingly. the smoked salmon paninno also had cream cheese and roasted red onions, an obvious but delicious combo. if you look really closely at the photo below you can actually see my tongue sticking out of my mouth i was enjoying my sandwich so much.
(i'm trying to add more photos to my blog but i tend to be very unhappy with my food photography. i blame my camera and the lighting in my kitchen at night. it has nothing to do with my photographic ability. as you can see from the photo above, with the right light i can produce great food porn ... i mean photos.)

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

KON asian bistro

round three and out to kon asian bistro with some of the other contributors to pad-thai-o-rama. i again wanted to just sample from their thai options, but seth already had his mind set on his entree and i had to have the mini beijing duck. yeah, we had already been here before and we know what we liked.
oh mini beijing duck! i dream of you often with your sweet plumy sauce and crispy fatty skin and your fresh cucumbers and scallions and your light fluffy rice flour bun. seth and i ate something very similar to this, called a peking mac, every time we went our favorite little dim sum place in new haven, connecticut (east melange too, sadly closed now). and then i had the pleasure of eating the real deal, peking duck, in hong kong at spring deer. it was pretty much indescribably amazing so i won't try to describe it. anyway, this little rendition of peking duck was almost as great and i toy with the idea of returning to kon and ordering two plates of these all for me.
i did manage to order a thai dish for my main course, thai red snapper -- fried fish in a sweet and sour sauce with fresh vegetables. it was good, but not great. the fish was fried perfectly, with a great flavorful crust that stood up to the syrupy sauce. the veggies were vibrant in color and still crisp and fresh tasting. but the sauce totally unexciting. i also somehow got it in my mind that it was going to be a whole fish, so i was a little disappointed when it arrived as a fillet. but it didn't say anywhere it was a whole fish.
to be honest, it would have been hard for any dish to stand up to seth's main course choice the szechuan crispy dried shredded beef. thin pieces of beef breaded and deep fried, the covered in a sweet, sticky sauce and tossed with sesame seeds and some green veggies. yum. if you are the kind of person who enjoy any rendition of a chinese dish with small bits of fried meat in sweet sauce, and i am that kind of person, you will enjoy this.
i can't really recommend that you go to kon asian bistro specifically for thai, but i will recommend you go there. all the food i tried there was at least good and some of it was exceptional.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

the salt exchange and MRW

last tuesday, for restaurant week seth and i decided to try the salt exchange. as we browsed through the menus on the maine restaurant week website, their menu appealed to us the most and i have pretty much been wanting to try it since it opened.
at 7pm on a tuesday the restaurant had a nice crowd but was not too busy. seth and i both really loved the space, with the painted brick walls and open duct work -- it is airy and elegant, while still retaining the charm of an old port warehouse. our server was attentive, well informed, friendly, and helpful.
in his classic pirate style, seth started with a winter rum punch with meyer's, bacardi, and captain morgan's rums mixed with pineapple and cranberry juice and an amaretto floater. as i have been suffering from repeated headaches from red wine (i know, i'm drinking cheap wine!) i decided to go with an alagash tripel.
the salt exchange is a small plates restaurant heavy on local seasonal foods. they elected to offer 3 savory courses for MRW, instead of the more traditional starter, main, and dessert courses most of the other restaurants offered.
for our first course we ordered the pork terrine and the cheese board. the pork terrine was, not surprisingly, very rustic and served with whole grain mustard, pickled shallots, and candied lemon peel (i think, having trouble remembering the exact details now). the terrine itself was ... porky, but not terribly flavorful in any other way. the extras on the plate were really nice accompaniments, especially the pickled shallots, whose briney tartness helped to balance the fattiness of the terrine.
the cheese board included two cheeses, honey, apples, baguette, and a few pomegranate seeds. i can't remember exactly what the cheeses were, but one was a grassy vermont cheese and the other was a earthy french cheese (descriptives from our waitress). the plate was lovely, the honey was amazing and floral, and the cheeses were fine, but we both really would have loved to have seen a couple of maine cheeses featured on the plate.
for our second course we ordered the pan seared scallops and the farm greens. the scallops were great: perfectly cooked, with chunks of bacon stuffed inside and served with baby purple potatoes and a broccoli puree.
the farm greens, on the other hand, was the weakest course of the meal. the greens themselves were beautifully tender, dressed lightly in a tasty sherry vinaigrette and served with a smear of briney olive tapanade (the only food seth will not eat are olives so i licked up all the tapande) and the most amazing duck proscuitto. i had never had duck proscuitto before so i was really excited to try it. it was cut so thin you could see through the fat marbling and it was salty and lusciously fatty in my mouth. so i know you are asking, you are raving about this salad, so what was wrong with this dish? the greens themselves were so over salted as to make them inedible. part of me thinks this may have been on purpose as there were these other salty elements on the dish, the chef wanted the salad to also have a nice saltiness. the other part of me thinks there was no communication behind the line and each of the three cooks (its an open kitchen) salted the greens personally. in any event, it was WAY too salty.
for our third course we chose the casco bay cioppino and the confit pork belly. seth was dying to try the cioppino packed with local fish and served with the requisite sourdough bread, and this dish really did deliver. growing up outside san francisco, i have had my fair share of cioppino and this was spot on with its tomato broth tasting of the sea with a great variety of shrimp, white fish, mussels, and crab. the pork belly was my favorite dish of the meal, after all it was pork belly confitted in pork AND duck fat! needless to say it was fatty and luscious and fall apart tender. served over one of the creamiest polenta i have ever had with root veggies on the side, which were just slightly aldente. a great complement to the softness of both the belly and the polenta.
we opted to spend a bit extra and share a slice of the flourless chocolate cake and a deliciously fruity (not yucky fruity like an apricot or blueberry ale) widmer bros. drifter pale ale. the cake was decadent and served with a petite cup of hot chocolate topped with a bruleed marshmallow (aka a toasted marshmallow).
overall it was a great meal and i will definitely be going back to the salt exchange. but due to its moderately high price point, it is one of the many restaurants in portland that needs to be reserved for a special treat, at least until i make that billion dollars. the restaurant week price for three courses was $30.01, which saved us about $5 per person. even if this MRW deal wasn't quite a steal, it did get us to try a new restaurant, and like i said, we will be going back.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

more confessions of obsessions

you probably guessed it from my post about my cat's favorite treat that i am a bit obsessed about my cat.  well even i did not understand the depth of my obsessions until i looked through all of the hundreds of photos of her that seth and i have taken.  what can i say, she's photogenic.  i knew we had to do something with all these photos.  and so cow's meow was born.  just wait till i have me so human babies!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

don't judge a book by its cover

so for round 2 of pad thai-o-rama it was off to viet bangkok cuisine at 249 saint john street.  this restaurant is very close to my home and i have gone by it many times on my way to enjoy a delicious vietnamese sandwich at kim's souvenir shop, but that's a discussion for another time.  anyway, based on the exterior, i have never thought it a restaurant i wanted to try.  in fact, i planned never to try it.  so when we got out assignment for the second round, i was far from enthused.  but i did my duty as food blogger and took on my assignment, albeit with a slightly closed mind.
i was surprisingly pleased once we walked into viet bangkok.  its a small clean restaurant with all the requisite kitschy south east asian decor.  there were no customers when we first walked in and we were greeted with a friendly hello by a woman i guessed is the owner.  just after we sat down, another table of three came in, but that was it for customers while we were there.  which led me to the realization that this food blogging challenge is not just fun, but we are helping to stimulate our local economy and hopefully getting some readers to also eat out.
viet bangkok's menu, you may guess from their name, is not strictly thai, but vietnamese and seemingly chinese too.  seth got very excited when he saw the long list of fruity tropical cocktails.  alas, they didn't have pineapple juice, so could not make nearly 1/3 of their cocktails.  we both settled for a singha, served iced cold.
per usual, i had to convince seth that neither one of us needed to start our meal with a heaping plate of fried food by ordering the sample appetizer plate.  but i did let him pick out our starter, and, per usual, he chose the crab rangoon.  i'm not a huge fan of crab rangoon for multiple reasons, most importantly because i don't think they ever taste like crab.  this version was really no crabbier than any other that i have eaten, but they were pretty tasty.  the fried wanton was crisp around the edges but sort of soft in the center and the cream cheese filling was flavorful without being overly sweet (another complaint of mine about rangoon).  the sweet and sour sauce was also especially good with the sweetness nicely balanced with salty fish sauce.
for our main courses we ordered the spicy duck from the house specials and the chu chee curry with shirmp from the thai curry section.  viet bangkok offers the choice of white or brown jasmine rice.  i know brown rice must not be traditional in thailand but i think its nuttiness goes so perfectly with the sweet and spicy sauces of thai cuisine.
the spicy duck description stated it was a dish of boneless roasted duck specially prepared with eggplants, mushrooms, bell peppers, onions, carrots, and scallions in a chili basil sauce.  no where did it mention that the duck with be small pieces of tempura battered meat, which was a little disappointing.  i love duck and i eat enough of it to know that if cooked properly, its skin will be plenty crispy and no tempura batter will be necessary.  the thick coating of batter detracted from that fabulous ducky flavor.  but even with the protein of this dish falling short, it was quite yum.  the chili basil sauce was fragrant and flavorful and the huge portion was overflowing with tons of perfectly cooked veggies.
the chu chee curry with shrimp came out about 5 minutes after the crispy duck, so i am glad we were sharing both and one of us didn't get left waiting while the other ate.  this was the biggest serving of curry i have ever seen.  food writing is full of hyperbole, but this is not one, the serving was huge.  in truth, there was a whole lot of curry, and sort of a normal amount of everything else.  this entire dish had 6 giant prawns, which tasted as though they were cooked separately with lemon grass on a grill.  they were huge and tasty.  on my initial bite, i was overwhelmed by a flavor i couldn't place, but which would best be described as tasting of plastic.  interestingly, after a few more bites this flavor didn't bother me so much, and i really enjoyed the dish. 
even though there were some weird elements in both our main courses and seth couldn't get his drink on because of the lack of pineapple juice, i enjoyed our meal at viet bangkok.  as our assignment is to try all the thai restaurants in portland, we stuck to their thai selections for this meal.  but i'm intrigued and i will defiantly be heading back to try out some of their vietnamese and chinese dishes.  it was also a really great value and we had enough leftover to both have large lunches the next day.  so take my advice and don't judge this restaurant by exterior.  you may get some surprises in your dishes, but overall i think it will be enjoyable.