I’m back from my weekend in Portland Maine. Claudia and I managed to really get the most out of the weekend, taking panel discussions from the New England Political Science Association conference and hitting the streets to unpack the details of why there wasn’t (and isn’t) more protest of the war in Iraq and how inappropriate and depressing it is to hear political science professors talk about legislative subcommittees such as Education and Health and Human Services as “women’s interest committees” in a presentation on women’s role in legislature. !
okay back to the topic at hand… Portland, ME. The first thing I would like to note about Portland is that this town has a beautiful combination of historic preservation, and well thought out modern urban development. We stuck to the historic port area for the most part, since that is where we were staying, and walking around the neighborhood was a great way to work off the many gluttonous meals we enjoyed. That brings me to note #2 regarding Portland: totally walkable! Even outside the historic district, this city is a pedestrian’s dream! The blocks are short, the streets are well lit, the “yield to pedestrians” law is strictly enforced, there are people all over the place, and plenty of beautiful parks and buildings to enjoy while walking from one spot to another.
While in Maine, Claudia and I adventured south of Portland to Old Orchard Beach, and to Fort Williams Park, where the Portland Head Light (pictured at the top of this blog) is located. Other than that we stuck to the neighborhood….
For breakfast we hit up the Porthole, which sits on Portland’s Custom House pier. The outdoor porch, where we enjoyed the glorious spring morning on the waterfront, provided top notch views of the bay and the lobster boats (NOT VEG). Claudia and I both enjoyed omelets for breakfast – fuel for the day.
Mine had tomatoes, caramelized onions, and feta cheese. Claudia’s had tomatoes, peppers, and some other kind of cheese – cheddar maybe? Although the loveliness of the overall breakfast experience was not soured (speaking for myself, at least), we both noted that instead of chopping our tomatoes, the chef simply sliced them and tried to fold them in… not particularly successful. The tomatoes were not incorporated into the omelet and had that kind of watery quality that sliced tomatoes do…. not exactly what you want on the inside of your omelet.
In addition to Vignola (which, I’ll be honest, I would have gladly gone to a third time in three nights), we also ventured out of the historic district to a neighborhood called Munjoy Hill. Munjoy Hill was mostly residential, and quite quiet – adjacent to the neighborhood is the Eastern Promenade, an Olmstead Brothers-designed public park that encompasses the (you guessed it) eastern end of the peninsula that is Portland. The park features trails, fields, gardens, ball courts, playgrounds, a boat launch, a beach, and multi-directional views of the bay, the islands, and neighboring areas (a tour guide told us that its possible to see Mount Washington on a clear day). That said, our destination was not the park.
I had a hot tip on a great restaurant specializing in local produce. Although I heard that the grass-fed beef burgers were all the rage, I was more interested in the promise of vegetarian entrees and local specialty items.
The Blue Spoon is a small neighborhood restaurant on Congress Street in Munjoy Hill. With only 10 or so tables, we were thrilled to get a table for two on a Saturday night. The menu was small, but interesting, featuring a wide variety of dishes ranging from real “meat and potatoes” type dishes to delicate and exotic seafood offerings, and interesting vegetarian offerings to boot. The categories spanned “snacks,” “appetizers,” “salads,” “entrees,” and “accompaniments.” I don’t know if that is what they were really named, but suffice it to say that one could pick and choose from the offerings and enjoy a varied and satisfying dinner. We did!
We started with a “snack” of feta with honey and herbs. The combination of the slightly sour and tart cheese with the delicious honey and pungent herbs was really outstanding. Friends: expect to see this at a dinner party near you soon.
This was our appetizer – an asparagus and gruyere gouda tart. I think it was gruyere. In any event, if anyone from the Blue Spoon staff stumbles upon this blog: please make this tart about 8X larger and serve it as a flatbread pizza. If the salad at Vignola was the best salad I’ve ever had, this was the best combination of dough, cheese, and a vegetable I ever had. The cheese was perfectly creamy and nutty, the asparagus cooked to a perfect al-dente, and the crust was thin and crisp. Gosh I wish I had one now.
Finally, both Claudia and I enjoyed the pan-fried potato gnocchi with ramps in a butter sage sauce, with parmesan cheese. I don’t think I really need to say anything more, but this dish was as good as it sounded. I don’t particularly care for wilted greens, but the flavor of the ramps was very nice – oniony and garlicky without being overpowering.
All said, I enjoyed my trip, and would definitely take advantage of future opportunities to eat and walk my way through Portland. There are a few more pictures up on my Flickr page (link in the bar on the right) for fellow travel-lovers.