Monday, November 14, 2011

Schulte & Herr - Simply Fantastic Fare

Ever since Schulte & Herr opened at the end of August, it's been hard to ignore as it's piled up the rave reviews from bloggers and diners in the Portland area. My co-worker (another crazed foodie) and I read the reviews together and salivated. After drooling over the latest review given by The Golden Dish, I just couldn't take the German inspired food visions dancing through my head - I vowed to try brunch that Sunday.

I arrived at Schulte & Herr that Sunday around 11:00 am with the husband, the two kids, and the mother-in-law in tow. We were quickly seated at a table for four and given an extra chair. Apparently we had arrived just in the nick of time, because for the rest of our time there, at least two people would be up against the wall waiting patiently for an available seat. The small, but inviting dining area stayed comfortably full, with locals filtering in and out, some with kids, some in jeans, some in their Sunday best. The atmosphere was so relaxed that no one seemed out of place.

The menu was small, but offered an overwhelming amount of choices for our crew. Everything looked so amazing it was just impossible to choose. Finally , we agreed to try a variety of offerings and share among the table. My daughter got the German Breakfast plate, my son settled on the Belgian waffle, my husband- the Bratwurst, and though I still regret not trying the potato pancakes with lox, I ordered the Sunday roast, and my mother-in-law followed suit.

When the food arrived, the presentation was just lovely.

German Breakfast plate featuring meats and cheeses

Homemade bread basket w/ German Breakfast

Bratwurst with sauerkraut and potato salad

Side of potatoes

Belgian waffle with spiced plum syrup on side

Sunday Roast with acorn squash

All of us eagerly samples each other's plates, and it was hard to say which dish came out on top. The beef roast was so tender it fell apart, and the potato dumplings were soft and delicious. The Belgian waffle was crisp with a soft center, everything a perfect waffle should be. The sauerkraut and Bratwurst was amazing slathered in mustard. We all had to hold back from demolishing my daughter's scrumptious plate of meat and cheeses.
Even though we all cleaned our plates to the last crumb, it was impossible to resist ordering a piece of apple strudel. We ordered two pieces between the five of us, and devoured them with gusto. The pastry was perfectly flaky, and the filling was not over sweet. Our server told us the use of Granny Smith apples kept that in check.

As this fantastic little place garners more and more attention, I know it will become harder and harder to find a seat for Sunday morning brunch. But I also know, I'll be there again, fighting it out for a seat with everyone else who has discovered just how great Shulte & Herr truly is.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Veranda Noodle Bar - Big Bowl of Yum

I first discovered Veranda Noodle Bar purely by accident one afternoon with my husband. Since that deliciously fateful day, we've been back several times, and have always been thrilled with the quality of the food and the outstanding service.

Located on 14 Veranda Street in Portland, ME, Veranda Noodle Bar is tucked out of the way next to a Beal's Ice Cream, and across the street from Veranda Thai (owned by the same family). It doesn't invest in flashy advertising, and it's hard to spot from the main road. But, if you do happen to stumble upon this gem, you won't be disappointed. Each time we've been in, the restaurant has been comfortably full of local regulars who order their favorites confidently, spending little time having to contemplate the menu.

Our obsession began with Pho-fuh. More commonly known as Pho or Pha, this traditional Vietnamese noodle soup is incredibly seductive. Within the beautiful, giant, bowl you find delicious Pho broth full of rice noodles, thinly sliced beef and small homemade meatballs. A plate next to your Pho lies heaped with sprouts and fragrant herbs for you to add according to your personal tastes. Hoison sauce and Siracha add the finishing touch. You will not find a better Pho in the Portland area in my opinion, and I challenge you to try to get to the bottom of an extra large bowl - I've never been able to to it, no matter how starving I've been when I began it.

On this particular visit however, we decided to change it up. Instead of the Pho, we both opted for the Mi Vit Tiem, which is another soup that contains roasted duck thigh and yellow noodles. We also split an Appetizer Sampler and the Grilled Sliced Pork & Egg Roll Vermicelli.

I will admit - I'm fully addicted to the Appetizer Sampler, and have been for some time. While I can switch out the Pho, I can't let go of this sampler plate. This particular offering samples all of the Veranda Noodle Bar's most phenomenal appetizers - chicken and beef teriyaki, chicken wing, pork sugarcane, shrimp sugarcane, crab rangoon and egg roll, served with peanut sauce and their sweet and sour sauce.
The star of this plate is by far the pork and shrimp sugarcanes. These feature a tender, juicy, well seasoned "meatball" that is placed on a piece of sugarcane and grilled. Try it. You'll never look back.

Quickly following our appetizers, we were served our soup. The duck soup is accompanied by a plate of sprouts, jalapenos, and fragrant herbs much like the Pho

I'm ashamed to admit it, but the duck soup rivaled the space in my heart firmly reserved for the Pho. The roast duck was tender and not greasy, and the broth was a layering of flavors just as impressive. I dolled up my bowl and dove in with pleasure

The Grilled Sliced Pork & Egg Roll Vermicelli that followed was just excessive. No one could eat the amount of food we ordered. However, I knew from experience, this would all be delicious the next day as lunch. The Grilled Sliced Pork & Egg Roll Vermicelli is just not to missed, no matter what else is on the table. The first time we went to the Veranda Noodle Bar all around us we heard people ordering the "V8", which is this dish's number on the menu. Once I tried it I knew why it had such overwhelming popularity. The cool Vermicelli noodles and cucumber blend perfectly with the grilled pork and crispy slices of egg roll. You top it off with their signature sweet and sour sauce and magic!
So, as the cool weather rolls in, so ushers in more visits to the Veranda Noodle Bar. Nothing hit the spot better than a bowl of their soups on a chilly day.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Mead Making- The First Parts

My husband and I have enjoyed home brewed mead for a long time, and have often admired the brewing skills that have been cultivated  by some of our friends. My passion for this honey based libation finally spilled over into an ambition to try brewing a batch of our own mead at home.

After a lot of research and looking over various recipes, we settled on a method that seemed the easiest for a first time go. I downloaded an e-book at The Joy of Mead called The Easy Guide to Making Mead Sucessfully. The hubby and I read over the pages very carefully, decided this was something we could do, and set about gathering up the ingredients.

Since mead is a honey based beverage, I decided I needed to get a hold of the best honey possible. To do this, I ventured out to the madhouse that is the Saturday Portland Farmer's Market in Deering Oaks Park. Wading through the masses, I finally found Tom's near the end of the row. I have purchasesd Tom's honey at the farmer's market before and new it was high quiality, raw, and best of all, local. I bought the largest jar they offered, holding about 7 cups of wildflower honey.

Next stop was Maine Brewing Supply to get a few of the more technical pieces we needed. The gentleman behind the counter was fantastic and helped me gather up gallon jugs, airlocks, wine yeast, sanitizer and siphon hose. I was really pleased with how affordable these items were. I will definetely be visiting this shop for our future brewing adventures.

With the addition of an orange, some raisins and distilled water from the grocery store, we were ready to roll. My husband manned the pot as he warmed up the honey and water, and I got the wine yeast started.
The wine yeast was suspisiously slow, not nearly as active as bread yeast, so I fretted over it. When the honey mixture was cool enough and in the jug with the fruit, I tipped the small bowl of sluggish yeast down the funnel with extreme misgivings. We capped the jug off with an airlock, and according to the directions, if we did everything right, within a few hours we'd see bubbles in the airlock. If not, we had problems.

We put the jug in the basement in a safe dry and cool location and tried to stay away from it for a few hours. When the hubby finally went to check it, he raced back up the stairs to let me know there were bubbles, and things looked good. I guess the yeast was fine after all.

It's now been almost two weeks and the jug continues to show signs of happy, bubbly activity, and we are reassured that this batch should make it to full-fledged mead over the comming months. In a few more weeks we get to drain of the sludge and re-jug it to continue it's fermentation for another couple months. This is a very time consuming science project, but hopefully it will yeild tasty results.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Feasting With Friends

This summer really slipped right through my fingers. Only made it to the beach once. Don't think I got any kind of a tan to speak of. Quite sad.

The one thing I couldn't let pass me by however, is summer lobster. Maybe it's cheesy, maybe it's cliche, but ever since moving to Maine six years ago, I refuse to let a summer go by without totally gorging on lobster with good friends at least once.

Last year, a fantastic little seafood place called Nancy's popped up right down the road from us in downtown Westbrook. Recently while driving past I noticed they were advertising five lobsters for $25. This just seemed like a sign from above. So, while the kids were away for the weekend, the hubby and I decided to bring an impromptu feast up to our good friend's house, trading the joys of messing up their kitchen in exchange for some fantastic food.

Luckily I had made a trip into Portland the day before and picked up a fantastic sampling of foods from Mucucci's, my very favorite food shop in the entire world. Toting my bag of delicious goodies with me, I was able to put together a yummy sampling of meats, cheeses, bread, olive oil and fresh basil and cherry tomatoes from my modest container garden.

Everyone there did total justice to the spread by devouring every crumb in short order.

Next on the menu was steamers and corn on the cob. To me, these are an essential part of any lobster feast. The table was well stocked with bowls of melted butter, and rinse water for the steamers, which we had already cleaned out hours before with a diet of cornmeal.

The huge pile of halved corn cobs (from a local farm) disappeared quickly, and my husband gave tutorials to the uninitiated on how to de-beard and eat a steamer. Fantastic. With the addition of some Dark and Stormy's mixed up by the hubby, everyone was gorging contentedly.

After letting the first courses settle for a few, it was time for the main attraction- lobsters! Ten bright red, sumptuous, soft shell chixs graced out table that night. They were fresh and extremely feisty going into the pot, and several people agreed that they were the best lobsters they'd ever had. Say what you will about soft shells, but I'm a firm believer that they're sweeter and more flavorful than hard shells.

While indulging in our heavenly lobsters, the port came out. It was cheap, it had a horse on the label, and it went fantastic with with the lobster. Claws were cracked, tails devoured, and glasses were emptied.

Well stoked on port and great food, we pulled out Apples to Apples, and giggled and argued while my good friend served us not one, but TWO of her phenomenal homemade desserts. First came the strawberry shortcake featuring buttermilk biscuits, had whipped cream and strawberries with a touch of orange zest. And, just when we were sure we couldn't shove down another bite, she brought out her famous key lime pie, also topped with hand whipped cream, and fresh raspberries. I don't know how we did it, but we all ate that too.
Satisfied with this bacchanalian lobster feast I think I'm finally ready to let go of summer...

Monday, August 29, 2011

Aroma - 200 Gorham Rd., South Portland, Maine

When Aroma came to South Portland last year, it was their artistic sign that initially caught my eye. Bold, and creatively constructed using images of various spices, I couldn't tell just by driving past if it was a restaurant, or some kind of new kitchen store.

When I finally discovered that Aroma was in fact a new Indian restaurant, I was excited. I love Indian food, and in all the years I've been in the Portland area, had yet to find one to really cling to and call my own. Intrigued, I put it on my "must try" list, and filed it away. Then, as luck would have it, I received a gift certificate to Aroma from my generous sister, and eagerly anticipated finally being able to try it out. After reading several glowing reviews, and surveying the menu, we decided to give Aroma a try on a Sunday evening, which is their special Dosa night.

When we finally got into Aroma (a bit of tricky driving to locate the entrance is required) I was very surprised to discover how small the restaurant is inside. It claims seating for 44, but I'd hate to see that many bodies try to actually sit in there. Despite the size, Aroma is tastefully decorated, featuring dark reds and deep colored wood. Our server was a pleasant young lady who was very attentive without hovering.

After a long debate, Mr. X and I decided on cut Mirchi, cheese Dosa, onion Naan, goat Kurma, and lamb Biryani. We figured that would give us a healthy range of selections to get a good handle on Aroma's menu.

The cut Mirchi was the first dish we got to try, a battered dipped chili that is fried, sliced, and then fried again, and served with mint chutney and tamarind chutney. Now, when I see a dish that is double friend, I expect something incredibly crispy- not the case here. Not only was a serious crunch factor missing, but the chilies themselves weren't very flavorful. However, with enough delicious chutney, they were definitely edible.

Next came our cheese Dosa, which was recommended by our server. My husband and I were of two minds on this. I didn't particularly care for the Dosa - I think it was the type of cheese - but he loved it. I think this one came down to a matter of personal taste on this one. I will say that the Dosa was fresh, and huge and served with some fantastic sauces.

Then came our entrees along with our Naan. The Naan was phenomenal. Chock full of tender onions, the Naan was hot, soft and totally delicious. As a Naan fanatic, I can't eat at any Indian restaurant that can't produce a decent Naan. Aroma knocks it out of the park on the Naan frontier.

The lamb Biryani was perfectly seasoned, and the lamb was delicious. The rice was a tad bit dry, but overall the dish was really well put together was a great balance of spice.

The goat Kurma was, for me, the highlight of entire meal. My husband and I had never eaten goat before, and were both really eager to finally find a place that offered it - and we were not disappointed. The goat had obviously been perfectly prepared. The meat was tender, juicy and incredibly flavorful-  it reminded us both of a stronger flavored lamb. The Kurma was a perfect sauce, rich, creamy and a perfect complement to the goat. It was almost a shame to put it over  the rice that accompanied it and dilute the taste. Complete, goat studded, perfection.

As we were eating, we saw several other dishes that passed by that looked stunning, several of them still hissing and spitting as it contiued to cook in its serving dish, emitting fantastic smells. We saw some great looking tandoor offerings that we made note to try next time.

Overall, my first experience with Aroma didn't make me fall madly in love. The food was good, but didn't convince me that this was now my Indian restaurant. However, we will definitely go back and sample some of the other, fantastic looking dishes Aroma has to offer. Who knows, maybe I just haven't met the right Aroma dish yet that brings me that special love.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Ribollita- 41 Middle St., Portland Maine

For all of our special occasions, Mr. X and I eat at our very favorite restaurant, Ribollita (, located in the Old Port of Portland, Maine.

This small, intimate Italian restaurant is well known to locals, and those who have been lucky enough to discover it always go back. The dishes are all prepared using fresh, local ingredients, and diners can even view fresh, sumptuous, tomatoes perched on the kitchen window, just waiting to be cooked in an upcoming dish. The pasta is handmade, which is clear in he first bite of any dish that features pasta.

We were lucky enough to get a reservation for Valentine's Day, and enjoyed our meal with a house full of couples and friends dining together. Not one table stood empty in the two and a half hours that we spent enjoying our meal.

We arrived early for our reservation to be able to ensure we found parking (a daunting task in the Old Port) and took a seat by the door, where our server offered to bring us drinks off of their fantastic wine list. We chose the Jeio Prosecco, chilled to perfection, and sipped comfortably while we waited for our table. We also took the opportunity to order their most popular appetizer, the caramelized onion tart. It's important to note that if you want to sample this delicious treat, that it takes the kitchen 20 minutes to prepare it, as it's done to order. If you order it as soon as you arrive, you will not regret it.

Whenever we dine at Ribollita, the specials are always extraordinary, and at least one of us will order one. One this night we shared the special appetizer of oysters in lemon cello, and I had the special entree of scallops in Prosecco cream sauce over handmade Fettuccini. The rest of our meal consisted of a Caprese salad and a Tortellini En Brodo (tortellini in chicken broth) which we split, Veal Osso Bucco with Polenta entree for the Mr., and a dessert of their magnificent Tiramisu and a flourless chocolate torte with raspberry sauce, accompanied by espresso. We shared everything between us and enjoyed every bite.

The pacing of the meal was wonderful, and we passed over two hours without realizing it or feeling hurried by our waitress, who was wonderful. The feel was warm and intimate, and a great place to spend the evening. There wasn't a child in sight, and we spent a lovely adult evening in great company enjoying spectacular food.

So please, if you haven't discovered Ribollita yet, go there and plan to spend your evening sampling some of the most delicious food in Portland, Maine.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Kon Asian Bistro

A few months ago Kon Asian Bistro ( moved in down the road from us here in Westbrook, Maine. My husband and I perused the menu we received in the mail with interest, and listened to our friends who got to eat there before we did. We were dying to go, but, for many reasons, had to keep putting it on the back burner.

Finally, Mr. X and I got the opportunity to have a rare night out without the kids, and decided to indulge ourselves by visiting Kon. On a recent menu that was sent to us, we saw that Kon offers Hibachi entrees at 50% off and sushi at 25% off when you dine in on Monday and Tuesday nights. This just helped to justify our Monday night outing.

When we arrived at Kon, we were very impressed by the decor (I'm a sucker for fountains/ponds in the lobby). The hostess seemed a bit annoyed by our presence, and seated us in the main dining room. When I asked if we could be seated at a hibachi table instead, she seemed even more put out and told us there would be a small wait. We said we didn't mind. After only about ten minutes or so, out put out hostess seated us with a few other diners who had come in behind us.

Once the hostess left us, the service was wonderful. We decided to start off with a sampling from the sushi bar- a piece of king crab sashimi, a piece of octopus sashimi, and a house specialty roll, the American Dream. The sashimi was fresh, and delicious. The king crab and the octopus had no problem shining without the assistance of any additions besides the rice it rested on.

The American Dream roll deserves special attention. As a true connoisseur of excellent sushi, I can say with absolute conviction, that this is one of the finest sushi rolls it has ever been my pleasure to eat. This must be a new roll, or one exclusive to the Westbrook location, as it's not featured on the online menu, or the one that was sent to us. If you have the pleasure to try it however, please do. The roll features a flavorful, creamy, lobster salad, which rests on top of the roll which contains avacodo, and tempura shrimp, and is sprinkled with fish roe. The roll slices are perfectly sized so that you can fit them comfortably in your mouth in one bite, allowing you to enjoy the blend of flavors.

For our hibachi entrees, I ordered steak and scallops and Mr. X went for the swordfish. Hibachi meals include a tossed salad and a clear soup. When my salad arrived, I was very disappointed, which is hard to do with a side salad. Unfortunately the salad consisted mainly of iceberg lettuce, and that was mainly core. The salad had clearly been prepped and them refrigerated for some time with the dressing on it, leaving the dressing thick and clumpy, and the entire salad was colder than our hostess. The soup was much better, full of flavor for a simple broth, with fresh mushroom slices floating on the top.

Our hibachi chef was personable and entertaining, very typical of most hibachi chefs. My steak was cooked exactly as I specified (rare) and my scallops were tender and not over cooked. My husband's swordfish was fresh, flaky and full of flavor. Our rice was delicious, and our side of veggies were firm and tasty. The servings were very generous, making it almost impossible to finish off the plate after appetizers, salad, and soup. We did not go for dessert.

Overall, the meal was great, and the hibachi performance was fun. If you do decide to go on a Monday or Tuesday evening, be sure to go early or make reservations- the hibachi tables fill up fast! Also, even though we chose to leave the kids at home, there were several families there with kids, and they seemed to be having a great time. Maybe next time we'll bring the kids ourselves. Maybe.