Maine Restaurant Week kicked off yesterday with a breakfast cook-off. It will come to a close March 12 with a Spirit Quest.
No, that’s not some Native American pilgrimage, it’s a self-guided walking tour of downtown Portland restaurants that pairs cocktails created by bartenders with gourmet small bites from chefs. Last year, the first year for the event, sold out and as of last week, more than half of the tickets for this year’s event had been claimed.
“It’s like a little adventure,” said Gillian Britt of gBrittPR, co-founder of Maine Restaurant Week.
The $45 tour begins at 2 p.m. and winds from Commercial Street through the Old Port and up to the Congress Street Arts District.
Last year, not all ticket holders hit every spot, Britt said, noting that one group happily discovered the fire pits at Tiqa and stayed put.
All the Spirit Quest stops offer half-ounce pours of their cocktail (standard-sized cocktails are usually 3 to 5 ounces), which means you don’t have to worry about WWI (walking while intoxicated). Ticket holders will get a list of venues in advance.
Bartenders and chefs typically collaborate: At Solo Italiano, for example, the bar will serve a honey-based cocktail called Sogni d’oro (which means “Sweet Dreams”) made with grappa, chamomile honey and Galliano, which is a sweet herbal liqueur.
The cocktail will be paired with stracchino cheese-stuffed focaccia topped with prosciutto and – you guessed it – honey.
Timber’s bite will be a gravlax and sweet corn blini with cucumber “caviar,” Meyer lemon mascarpone, micro arugula and Maine sea salt. The cucumber martini cocktail will echo the cucumber in the bite.
At the Top of the East, at the top of the Westin Portland Harborview hotel, the whole team of bartenders worked on the cocktail, named The Alex Owens, after the main character in the 1983 movie “Flashdance.” It’s in keeping with the new menu at Top of the East, which has a 1980s theme, according to the restaurant manager.
The cocktail will be paired with barbecue pork buns served with pickled cabbage.
Don’t forget to wear your leg warmers.
THE ALEX OWENS
You can buy honey-flavored syrup and lavender water at a store that carries bar supplies, or make your own.
1 ounce Stroudwater gin
1 ounce Calvados
1/2 ounce lemon juice
1/2 ounce honey syrup
Dash lavender water
Mix first five ingredients on ice and shake.
Strain into a champagne flute and top off with the rosé Prosecco.
Garnish with the orange twist.