Phoenix Best Bites

Portland Phoenix restaurant critic Erik Neilson has looked back over 2018 and assembled an article on his Best Bites of the past year.

The close of another year always brings along with it a period of reflection. As important as it is to pause and meditate on the more serious events of 2018 — both personal and societal — a little focus on the light and joyous never hurts to add balance and perspective to life as a whole. For me, that means taking a look back at some of the eats that brought me happiness this year, even in the darkest of moments.

Portland Cocktail Culture

The Boston Globe has published an article on Portland’s Emerging Craft Cocktail Culture which it declares “is as refreshing as its food scene”.

In the last decade, plenty of ink’s been spilled about the seemingly never-ending waves of gutsy new restaurants in Portland, Maine. And who can even count how many maps of the city’s terrific breweries have been shared? But somehow, the emerging craft cocktail scene here has gone almost unrecognized — and that may be simply because it’s populated with spots that are quietly cool and creative like Meiklejohn’s, rather than louder, more conspicuous bacchanals.

The article highlights: The Bearded Lady, Blyth and Burrows, Hunt & Alpine, Vena’s Fizz House, Woodford F&B, East Ender and The Honey Paw.

Bloomberg Best Dishes: Mr. Tuna

Kate Krader from Bloomberg included the Chutoro Hand Roll from Mr. Tuna in her list of the Best Restaurant Dishes of 2018.

Forget lobster and oysters. The local bluefin tuna belly that Jordan Rubin gets in late summer and the fall is the seafood standout in Portland, Maine. In mid-2017, Rubin bought a hot dog cart and started making hand rolls and sushi burritos on the downtown streets. His operation quickly grew into a mini food truck empire that now includes a space in the Portland Public Market. The hand roll’s nori wrapper is notably crisp because Rubin keeps it warmed in an electric toaster before wrapping it around tangy rice and fatty, melt-in-your-mouth chopped fish mixed with sea salt, scallions, and potent fresh wasabi sauce.

Best Beer Bars: Tomaso’s

Hop Culture has included Tomaso’s on their list of the Best Beer Bars of 2018.

I love that Tomaso’s stocks a handful of uber-fresh, local, craft cans and draft beers at all times (check their IG). However, this place is mostly a local spot for tall boys and wings. They also have a beer + shot menu, which always gets me. So yeah, you probably won’t find proper glassware, but you’ll always find a great time. 

Reviews: Pizzarino, Cong tu Bot, Isa, Mami

The Maine Sunday Telegram has reviewed Pizzarino,

Pizzarino, the sister business of Portland’s Paciarino, aims to do just a few dishes and do them well. It succeeds with its wholemeal-crust pizzas, especially when they’re topped with prosciutto or a quadruple-whammy of imported Italian cheeses…But elsewhere, Pizzarino cuts too many corners with its heavy reliance on pre-bought, packaged ingredients imported largely from Italy. There are sticky, under-flavored gnocchi; rubbery mushrooms and metallic-tasting black olives; and most egregious, an entire range of refrigerated and frozen desserts that come ready-to-serve – no added work required. There’s room on the Portland dining scene for a great Milanese restaurant. Here’s hoping Pizzarino ditches the ready-made food and puts in the work to become just that.

the Portland Phoenix has reviewed Mami

Whether or not co-owners Austin Miller and Hana Tamaki realized they would fill a mostly unexplored niche in the Portland dining scene back when their first okonomiyaki came off the truck in 2015 is unclear. Stop into their brick-and-mortar to warm up for a bit on a snowy winter evening, though, and you’ll be hard-pressed to argue that they haven’t.

The Bollard has reviewed Cong Tu Bot, and

On cold, prematurely dark evenings, I suggest the Cà Ri Chay ($16). It’s a velvety coconut curry with subtle spice and long, wide rice noodles perfect for slurping, topped with a few marinated and caramelized mushrooms. Next, cut the richness with the Goi Cai Bap ($8), a salad of cabbage, carrot and onion, soaking in a sweet, vinegary dressing and topped with crunchy fried onions, finely diced bird’s eye chilies, and a tangle of cilantro. Careful with that salad, though. Those little red chilies pack a punch (a bird’s eye chili is ranked about twenty times hotter than a jalapeno on the Scoville heat scale).

Peter Peter Portland Eater has reviewed Isa.

Isa has a number of qualities that make it special. They’re incredibly consistent with the food and drink, the menu has plenty on it for all tastes, and the warm, casual atmosphere is brilliantly comfortable. You can be sure when you go, you’ll find a good meal, but most of the time it will be much better than that, often even great. Head to Isa if you haven’t been and definitely consider making it one of your regular stops, because it’s really that good.

Reviews: Root Wild, Maine Oyster Co, A & C Grocery, Sapporo

The Blueberry Files has reviewed Root Wild,

My friend G. and I tried several 2 oz. samples of the different flavors, and I was really pleased by them all. The hopped tasted a bit more beer-like than UFF’s version does, and the fruit flavors are bright and pleasantly balanced. I was impressed by how thoroughly the added flavors came through.

Portland Magazine has reviewed Maine Oyster Co.,

Styled on a tray of ice, the oysters are easy to identify, served clockwise in the order they appear on the menu. Accompanying mignonettes are subtle enough not to mask the nuances of this delicacy. Reading flavor descriptions of oysters posted at the bar is helpful, especially if you’re only looking to try one or two. We can testify that The Wolfe’s Neck, for example, is “briny, with a smooth, milky finish,” though we didn’t notice the “sugar or watermelon” in the Chebeague Island. We did encounter a saltier kiss from the sea than the more subdued Birch Island, however, which boasts a firm texture. If we had to pick a favorite, it might be the toothsome Blackstone Point from Damariscotta or the Nonesuch Pearl from Scarborough, with its superb balance of brine and sweetness.

the Portland Phoenix has reviewed Root Wild and A & C Grocery, and

A&C’s egg sandwich, served with either ham or tomato on a soft English muffin, is world class, the eggs folded omelet-style over gooey cheese. A three-cheese grilled sandwich — pressed thin, funky and chewy with dark crust — pairs nicely with fizzy light kombucha. The cheeseburger is expertly done with sharp pickle and a tangy sauce. The Italian suffers from a bit too much soft roll.

Press Herald has reviewed Sapporo.

Back at the office, I used the chopsticks my server at Sapporo had kindly packed for me (along with a fork and a spoon) to pull up the buckwheat noodles and big chunks of white chicken meat. The noodles were squishier than I like, and I wished I’d ordered the firmer ramen instead, but the broth was exactly what I was after: flavorful but also clean tasting. The opposite of muffaletta really.

Also, The Maine Sunday Telegram has reviewed No Coward Soul In Bath.

Bar Review of Elda

The Press Herald has published a bar review of Elda.

One of the best food and beverage experiences I’ve ever had anywhere in the world, and I used to live in the gastronomic capital of France.

Reviews: Independent Ice, Cheese Shop, AC Lounge

The Maine Sunday Telegram has reviewed Independent Ice Co.,

But its newest tenant, The Independent Ice Company, has transformed it into a sophisticated and – believe it or not – cozy whiskey bar with a surprisingly broad menu of casual dishes. Don’t skip the signature cocktails, all slightly tweaked versions of classics served with (naturally) their own specially formulated shape of ice. The rosemary sour is a zingy pleasure, and the Rufus Page Black Walnut Old Fashioned might well be my favorite autumn cocktail this year. While you’re sipping, order a pair of outsized, bacon-wrapped meatloaf sliders; a cone of Belgian-style, house-cut fries or even a kale-and-arugula salad. Yes, you read that right: a salad… on Wharf Street.

The Golden Dish has reviewed The Cheese Shop, and

The focus of the Cheese Shop is, of course, cheese curated from top European and local creameries as well as a fine selection of vinegars, olive oils, charcuterie, coffees, pastas and preserves.

Press Herald has reviewed AC Lounge.

The wine selection is impressive, offering 6-ounce or 9-ounce portions of one rose, five white, and six reds, all ranging from $8 to $10 for the smaller and $12 to $14 for larger pours. There’s also an $8 sparkling wine and a $7 sherry. In keeping with the hotel’s origins, nine of the options are from Spain. The 15 beer choices range from $5 to $8; I didn’t see any Spanish options, but there are lots of local ones. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that there are espresso martinis on tap. Burp.

Palace on the Eater 38

Palace Diner has been named to Eater’s 2018 list of America’s Most Essential Restaurants.

In 2014, Chad Conley and Greg Mitchell took over a decades-old, 15-seat restaurant housed in a Pollard train car built in 1927 and turned it into the ideal realization of a daytime Americana diner. Eating here haunts me: I can’t find better light, lemony, buttery pancakes, or a more precisely engineered egg sandwich, and theirs is the only tuna melt I ever hunger after.