Saturday, February 27, 2016

And The Winner Is...

For many a year, I've woefully missed the annual Sea Dog Incredible Breakfast Cook-Off, the flagship event kicking off Restaurant Week here in Portland. Typically, I enviously listen to the local news anchor gush about the mouth-watering offerings as I hustle to get ready for work, wishing I'd remembered, once again, to take time off to attend the event. This year, however, I was actually prepared, and purchased the Sea Dog Breakfast Competition tickets online three weeks in advance! Oh, and to fully enjoy the experience, I even asked for the morning off. Yay, me!

Tickets to the event cost $20 with all proceeds to support the Preble Street Resource Center. The price tag - to sample the culinary wares of 11 of the best Maine chefs around - is a bargain, and the opportunity to help out those less fortunate is the cherry on top. The event this year ran from 7am to 9am on Friday, 2/26/16.

I'd heard that the line out the door to Sea Dog restaurant forms waaayyyy before 7am, so my companion and I arrived around 7:45am. There were no tables to be had, but we found ourselves a cozy little corner to hole up in, and soon the indulgence commenced.

We started at Vignola Cinque Terre with a Patate Ripiene - pork sausage and egg custard stuffed into a bite-sized potato. Delicious! The custard was creamy (albeit a bit cold) and the pork just the right combo of salt and spice. A perfect and encouraging start.

Next, we sampled TIQA's Glazed Loukamades. Also a bite-sized portion, these tiny, crunchy donuts were topped with a "coffee-braised beef and pickled candy apple". A bit difficult to eat, in that the construction fell apart quickly, but the meaty flavor melded well with the crispy donut and the sweet/tart zip of the candy apple. In my humble opinion, two slices of the candy apple would have added a perfect balance to the dish.

We continued to make our way through the offerings: the Liege Waffle from Saltwater Grill, two variations of Ojos Grandes from Sonny's, Prime Rib Hash from Sea Dog, Sweet Potato Corned Beef hash with Quail Egg from Chef Jeff Landry, Corned Beef Hash from Bayside American Cafe and Maine Stuffed Potatoes with egg/sausage/gouda/cheddar from the Brunswick Hotel & Tavern. Congdon's Donuts from Wells, Maine, was also in attendance, serving up fresh donuts and whoopie pies to satisfy the sweet tooth.

And then there were the stars of the show: the mini Maine Lobster Tacos from Sebasco Harbor Resort and the "Pigs in a Blanket" blintzes from Eve's at the Garden (Portland Harbor Hotel).

Now, I love lobster. I pretty much love it any way it's prepared, and this mini lobster taco did not disappoint. Served on coaster-sized flour tortillas, the chef prepared these to order, piling an egg-and-chorizo-scramble topped with cheese, lobster and cilantro (finished with a splash of hollandaise) onto each delicate tortilla. The creamy eggs and the kick from the chorizo complemented the juicy, briny flavor of the lobster beautifully - it was like brilliant sunshine bursting inside my mouth! Oh yes, I thought, this is number one.

But then came the blintz. I honestly was not expecting much from what sounded like a basic crepe stuffed with bacon and cheese, and since this was the last tasting of the morning, and my stomach was pretty full, I figured one bite would do.

Was. I. Ever. Wrong.

Imagine this: a tender, delicate crepe, its insides stuffed with a gloriously cheesy, bacony, maple-pecan sabayon (sabayon is a cooked mixture of eggs, sugar and wine), and topped with crunchy "cocoa cracklings". The artful melding of sweet-and-salty, combined with the creamy ricotta texture and the crunch of the cocoa elevated this dish to outstanding. One bite? Nope. I ate almost the whole thing.

My votes: Blintz, #1, Lobster Taco, #2. My companion agreed with the top two, just in reverse order, and ultimately, her votes mirrored those of the rest of the crowd. The champion of the Sea Dog Breakfast Competition was indeed the Lobster Taco from Sebasco Harbor Resort, with the "Pigs in a Blanket" Blintz from Eve's coming in at second place. The Liege Waffle, a lovely sweet confection topped with Moxie-chocolate syrup (The Saltwater Grill) came in third.

We left sated and warm on a chilly winter's day, thrilled with the experience and committing to attend again next year. Trust me when I say this event is well worth taking the morning off. The only issue: no doggie bags for the HungryGals!

Sea Dog Brewing Company
125 Western Ave
South Portland, ME 04106

Sunday, January 6, 2013

The Corner Room

The Corner Room, located appropriately on the corner of Exchange and Federal Streets, had often been recommended to me as yet another of Harding Lee Smith's fabulous restaurants (think The Front Room and The Grill Room). It took me a while to get there - particularly because of the deplorable parking conditions in the Upper Exchange area - but I finally found my way to The Corner Room back in November 2012.

It was worth the wait.

And I have been back twice since.

The first thing you notice upon entering The Corner Room is the fresh aroma of baking bread - that's because they bake their own right there on the premises in large ovens tucked in the back. Who doesn't love the scent of freshly-baked bread? A very positive first impression.

My companion (the two-legged one) and I started with the Antipasti Platter ($18). We quickly discovered that this serving was far too much food for two people, even as an appetizer. The wooden platter arrived piled with various meats and cheeses, olives, roasted peppers, shaved garlic and eggplant-pine nut tepanade. The waitress also brought along the restaurant's signature foccaccia bread served with a side of olive oil. The bread paired beautifully with the savory offerings of the Antipasti Platter. Seriously, a cup of soup, side of bread and the Antipasti would be more than enough for a meal.

However, we couldn't stop there. My companion ordered the eggplant parm sandwich ($8) sans the bread since she'd already stuffed herself with the foccaccia. And as sucker for anything made with egg - the perfect food- how could I pass up the Dopo pizza ($15), complete with a farm-fresh egg plopped right in the center of the pie?

The eggplant was thinly sliced and coated with a crisp, not-too-heavy breading and came cloaked in a tangy tomato sauce. Very tasty, according to my companion, but the portion was quite generous. The Corner Room doesn't believe in skimping!

The Dopo pizza, draped in marinara sauce, pancetta and cheese, arrived piping hot, the two over-easy eggs (not one but two!) serving as the centerpiece of the pie. Of course, I couldn't resist diving right in for the egg-covered slices - and they did not disappoint. The balance between the bright, zippy marinara and the calming protein of the egg was mouth-wateringly perfect. Once again, the Dopo pizza was a large portion, guessing at least a 14 inch although I didn't ask. After all, what did it matter?

It had eggs.

Total lunch bill was about $40 bucks without tip. A little pricier than what we usually pay for lunch, but we took home plenty of leftovers four our furry assistants waiting patiently in the car. Two thumbs and two paws up.

The Corner Room
110 Exchange St.
Portland, ME
(207)  879-4747

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Red Robin

I don't typically gush over chain restaurants. Sure, I like Longhorn and I've been known to scarf down a few dishes of Carmelita's Chicken over at Romano's Macaroni Grill, but for the most part I love the thrill of discovering the creative fare of our local restaurants here in Portland. There's nothing like the heart and soul found in a hometown eatery, especially when local produce and meats dominate the menu. Yet, every once in a while, a chain comes along that blows me away.

The Red Robin, recently opened by the super Wal Mart and the Texas Roadhouse in Scarborough is just such a place. My introduction to Red Robin first occurred in Arizona on a trip to see the family. I'd heard of Red Robin before but only knew it as yet another in the endless multitudes of chain burger joints that dot the country (Krystal, White Castle, Burger King, MacDonald's, Wendy's, need I say more?). Frankly, I wasn't expecting much.

Boy, was I wrong! I ordererd the Chophouse burger, sans the onion straws (not a big fan of french fried onion rings on top of any sandwich), cole slaw and mac 'n' cheese on the side. The burger came with horseradish-sauteed mushrooms, melted swiss cheese and Red Robin's signature steak sauce on a soft onion and herb bulky roll.

WOW!! I couldn't believe my mouth (eyes, whatever)! The Chophouse burger truly did blow me away. The tangy steak sauce intermingled with the savory mushrooms and oozing swiss, complementing the perfectly-cooked medium-rare burger. The mac 'n' cheese, rich and creamy and cheesy, was made with spiral pasta. The cole slaw tasted fresh and crunchy and sparkled with flavor.

Reasonable, too - the total bill for a family of seven was about $75 bucks.

I instantly became a Red Robin fan. And I lamented the sad fact that we had no Red Robin's in Maine. Imagine my surprise when, upon my return, I discovered that a Red Robin had just opened in Scarborough! First I danced with glee, then decided I had to give it the acid test: would this Red Robin be as good as the Arizona Red Robin? Would there be consistency? Would I again be blown away?

The answer was a resounding yes.

I even signed up for Red Robin rewards.

Red Robin serves more than just burgers: there are salads, ribs, chicken sandwiches and a kiddie menu. The RR in Scarborough boasts a full bar serving local beers (a total plus!) and has an entire menu devoted to both adult and kid beverages alike.

Go. Eat. Enjoy. Do not be ashamed.

Red Robin
800 Gallery Boulevard, Scarborough, ME 04074
(207) 885-0288

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Back Bay Grill - Portland Maine

Once a year, my significant other and I journey to Portland's very own Back Bay Grill to indulge in an extraordinary culinary experience. We've been doing this for the last six years and have yet to be disappointed. Interestingly, whenever I mention BBG and how wonderful it is, most people respond with something like "Oh yeah, I know where that is but I've never been." So - what better course of action to take than to extol the Back Bay Grill's many sumptuous offerings through the Hungrygals blog?
The menu at the BBG changes frequently, and there are often seasonal specials offered. No matter what you choose, however, you won't be disappointed.

The night we visited, we were treated to a fantastic bottle of Albarino wine called Deusa Nai from Spain. Fabulous - fruity yet dry and light. We are not normally wine drinkers but when we indulge it is usually with an Albarino.

For an appetizer, we ordered the freshly-made house pasta - al dente fettucine noodles dressed in a basil, black-truffle cream sauce. Out. Of. This. World.

My entree was the Duck Two Ways - sliced breast and confit, served with a side of farro (a barley-like grain). The duck, both the breast and the little square of confit, was moist and tender, without a trace of that gamey, fatty taste you get at other establishments. Delicious. The farro, a grain I'd never tried before, was chewy, slightly crunchy with a nutty flavor. Very good, and a nice change from the usual rice and potato.

My companion chose the filet mignon, which came with a savory butter sauce and mushroom reduction and gnocchi for a starch. The chef came through by cooking the filet a perfect medium rare. The butter sauce added a rich extravagance to the meat and the mushroom-wine gravy was light and delectable. The gnocchi were tasty bites of potatoey-pasta, soft and chewy and yet not gummy.

The total bill, including wine, appetizer, entrees, taxes and tip came to $140.00. A little pricey, yes, but definitely worth the trip. Especially if you treat yourself to BBG just once per year.

Back Bay Grill
65 Portland Street
Portland, ME
(207) 772-8833 Dinner only.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Ruski's Tavern

As a West End resident of over twenty years, I've certainly enjoyed the food and drink served up at Ruski's neighborhood pub more than once. Okay, maybe several hundreds of times, ahem. Located at the intersection of Clark and Danforth Streets, Ruski's boasts a long history of providing sustenance and entertainment to Portland's West End. The pub is well-known for low prices, generous portions and signature burgers and calzones.

While serving up a broad array of pub fare, including pizza, wings, sandwiches and salads (and the best thing ever - breakfast ALL DAY!), Ruski's also offers daily specials.

On a recent visit, I found myself inexplicably drawn to one of the specials - Lobster Eggs Benedict (go figure, two of my fave foods) - served with grilled home fries for a paltry $11.95. Other specials included Haddock and Lobster chowder, Jalapeno Poppers and a Lobster Roll. The owner must have gotten a good run on lobster that week. My less adventurous companion ordered off the regular menu and got the Fried Chicken dinner ($9.99).

The Lobster Eggs Benny was out of this world. Two perfectly poached eggs, draped in a buttery hollandaise sauce, lay nestled atop an English muffin (two halves, to be exact). A generous portion of knuckle and claw meat was sandwiched in between the eggs and the muffin. Typically not a fan of hollandaise - I usually find it too rich and heavy - Ruski's took care not to drown the dish in the sauce. This allowed the freshness of the lobster to shine through, its flavor intermingling beautifully with the creamy egg and crispy muffin. An eleven on a scale of one to ten! The home fries were standard - piping hot, bite-sized chunks of potato served on the side.

The Fried (deep fried) Chicken dinner was accompanied by mashed potatoes and gravy and a side of cole slaw. As a side note - Ruski's makes some of the finest cole slaw around. Simple, sweet and fresh, without being overdressed. The chicken pieces (breast, thigh, drum and wing) were moist and tender on the inside and satisfyingly crunchy on the outside. The mashed potatoes, which my dining buddy drenched in gravy, were toothsome and hearty. Ah, comfort food.

Ruski's, with its full bar and homey atmosphere, is a neighborhood hangout that has something for everyone, even the kiddos (hot dogs, chicken fingers and grilled cheese served here). While the four-legged Hungrygals aren't allowed inside the bar, they've been always been content in knowing Ruski's is worth the wait. Lobster doggie-bag, anyone??

Ruski's Tavern
(207) 774-7604
212 Danforth Street, Portland, ME

Friday, May 11, 2012

Yosaku Restaurant

While I love Japanese food, I just can't stomach sushi. There. I said it. You will never see a review for raw fish in this blog. Now, don't get me wrong; I have nothing against sushi or sashimi at all. It's just that I grew up watching my grandmother elbow-deep in fish guts and slimy scales from cleaning my grandfather's catch, and those memories somehow invade my brain whenever the implausible thought of trying sushi crosses my mind.

Got that off my chest.

Yosaku, a Japanese restuarant and sushi bar located at the corner of Fore and Pleasant in Portland, offers a varied menu for all palates: bento lunch boxes, teppan grill, soups, tempura and of course the aforementioned sushi.

The day Hungrygals visited, we began with an order of the shrimp shumai - little round shrimp dumplings, steamed and served in a bamboo basket (see photo). Served with a side of ginger-soy dipping sauce, the shumai are little pieces of heaven. Shrimpy and softly firm, they melt in your mouth. A steal at $5.50.

For an entree, I ordered the Niku soup, a huge bowl of udon noodles and shredded beef served in a savory broth with a shaker of spice mix on the side. WOW! The noodles were cooked perfectly, al dente, and the meaty, tangy broth was robust with flavor. Perfect.

The other Hungrygal dined on the Scallops Teppan Grill. Over half a dozen seared scallops were served with rice, pickles and an abundance of grilled veggies. The scallops hinted of a light
teriyaki-ish sauce, and the vegetables (broccoli, asparagus, onion, mushroom) were crisp and tasty.

Yosaku's service is attentive, quick, friendly and accommodating. We felt welcome there. Sadly, that's not the case with all restaurants.

The soup could have served two people easily, so the canine Hungrygals made out like bandits. They even scored a couple of scallops and some rice. Yeah. Definitely two paws up.

Total bill for drinks (diet Pepsi), appetizer and two entrees: $28 before tip. Best Japanese deal in town! Definitely check out Yosaku for fresh, tasty food that won't leave you hungry.

Yosaku Japanese Restaurant
1 Danforth Street.
Portland, ME
(207) 780-0880

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Norm's Bar & Grill

On the day of this review, we were in the mood for comfort food, but since it was sunny and springlike, we didn't necessary want anything heavy like beef stew or mounds of pasta. Had to find someplace that would offered a decent variety to choose from to help make up our minds, so we settled on Norm's Bar & Grill.

Norm's is located on Congress Street, almost directly across from the Post Office, so at times parking can be a challenge. We lucked out, though, and got a spot almost right in front of the restaurant.


Since we were early, we had our pick of tables and chose a booth near the window for people-watching. The waitress came over and got our drink order right away (always a plus). We also asked her for something that wasn't on the menu: a portabello mushroom appetizer, grilled and dressed in balsamic vinegar. It's a treat that Norm's used to serve years ago but is no longer available...unless you ask, because the kitchen was more than happy to accommodate us (see photo). A yummy start.

My hungrygals companion ordered the meat pie (lamb and beef combo) and I got the grilled Rachel, which is basically a Reuben made with turkey instead of corned beef.

The meat pie looked more like a calzone than a pie. Guess we were expecting something more like a chicken pot pie or something, but despite being a bit hard to eat - it looks like something you can eat with your hands but really a knife and fork worked best - the ground beef and lamb mixture was very good. Warm, juicy and seasoned well, it was served atop a salad with a side of rice.

The Rachel was delicious. Norm's uses REAL sliced turkey, the kind you get at Thanksgiving, not the uber-processed, sodium-bomb type from the deli. The sandwhich, served on rye, was stacked high with saurkraut and moist, tender turkey. A sucker for cabbage of all kinds, I asked for a side of cole slaw too, which was crispy and sweet.

The meat pie took a bit long to cook, but the waitress warned us of that up front. Our bill came to $34 without tip. The four-legged hungrygals missed out on the portabello (mushrooms are on the do-not-feed-your-dog list) but they did enjoy the leftover beef/lamb from the pie and turkey from the Rachel.
Two thumbs and two paws up for Norm's!

Norm's Bar and Grill
(207) 828-9944
617 Congress St, Portland, ME 04101