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.