March 4, 2010

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By MEREDITH GOAD Staff Writer

— By MEREDITH GOAD

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Jack Milton/Staff Photographer: Krista Kern Desjarlais, chef and owner of Bresca, Portland, preps French breakfast radishes Thursday, September 17, 2009, for a starter served with olive oil and goat butter. on the left is sous chef Courtney Loreg.

Jack Milton

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Staff Photo by Jill Brady, Wednesday, March 1, 2006: Whole Maine shrimp sizzle on the grill to be used as a garnish on shrimp risotto made by chef Rob Evans at Hugo's Restaurant in Portland.

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Staff Writer

At Evangeline, Erik Desjarlais has been taking a lot of calls from customers who fear they soon will be unable to get a reservation at his restaurant in Longfellow Square.

Desjarlais was one of several chefs who were featured in a long article about the Portland food scene in the dining section of The New York Times on Wednesday.

''They're saying, 'I really hope you're not jam-packed tonight because of the article,''' he said.

No, crowds of hungry diners have not appeared on Evangeline's doorstep overnight. But Desjarlais does expect an increase in reservations a few weeks down the road.

So does Harding Smith, who owns three restaurants in Portland. His breakfast sausage with Moroccan spices, served at The Front Room on Congress Street, was specifically mentioned by Times food writer Julia Moskin as a dish that raises the bar for casual American food.

''We haven't seen it yet, but I'll bet you that we'll see sausage sales go through the roof,'' Smith said.

In its October issue, Bon Appetit magazine named Portland the ''Foodiest Small Town in America.'' This second course of national attention was the talk of Twitter on Wednesday, and food bloggers buzzed about the bounce it would give Maine's restaurants, farms, farmers markets and other food-related businesses in the coming weeks and months.

By Thursday, the story about Portland had become the most e-mailed story on The New York Times' Web site, surpassing columns by Thomas Friedman and Maureen Dowd, and even Mary Travers' obituary.

Desjarlais, who has been cooking in Portland since 2002, said he's seen the food culture here ''expand and mature'' over the past seven years, and locals have become much more savvy about food and wine.

''If there wasn't already a momentum, I think we're going to see a greater push,'' Desjarlais said. ''I think it's going to attract a lot more press. We've had two James Beard winners, two Food and Wine best chefs. That in and of itself is amazing for such a small town.''

Portland restaurateurs said they were happy that The New York Times focused on some places that don't get as much national exposure as hot spots like Fore Street and Hugo's, whose chefs were named the best in the Northeast by the James Beard Foundation in 2004 and 2009, respectively.

''Some of the restaurants that are sort of under the radar, that we as locals and people who like food know are great, might get a little more attention,'' Smith said.

One of those is the 158 Pickett St. Cafe in South Portland, where chef and owner Josh Potocki's bagels are legendary among locals.

''I guess (the writer's) sister lives on Munjoy Hill, so she's been eating around here for a while,'' Potocki said Thursday. ''She just called me and interviewed me over the phone. She said she had been in here a bunch of times.''

Moskin's article singled out Potocki's ''simple but brilliant chili-garlic cream cheese and handmade bagels.''

Potocki made three dozen extra bagels Thursday in anticipation of a rush. He still sold out of some items on his menu by 2 p.m., which is unprecedented for him. He said he was seeing a lot of new customers from other suburbs, such as Falmouth and Cumberland.

''It's been pretty major,'' Potocki said. ''I didn't really know what to expect, to tell you the truth.''

Fabiana de Savino, who moved to Portland with her husband, Enrico Bariero, from Milan last year, said they were getting lots of congratulations from regular customers at Paciarino, their 11-table restaurant on Fore Street, which also was mentioned in the Times article. She said people have been calling for reservations into October.

Krista Kern Desjarlais, the chef and owner of Bresca on Middle Street, who is married to Erik Desjarlais, said her place is booked through the weekend.

That's not too unusual, because the restaurant is small and Kern has gotten attention from national media such as The Boston Globe, ''but on a Wednesday night, we can be a little bit lighter at this time of year, and we were full.''

She hopes that's a sign of things to come for Portland's restaurants.

''We'll have a stronger fall, I hope,'' she said. ''Last year, with everything that happened -- the elections, the economy -- I know most people had a soft fall, or softer than they would have liked.''

Samantha Hoyt Lindgren, one of the owners of Rabelais, a food-centric bookstore on Middle Street, said she was getting ''all sorts of interesting phone calls'' after being mentioned in the Times piece.

''People are calling from far away, asking us interesting questions, many of them about books but many about food,'' she said.

Hoyt Lindgren had a long conversation with a man from Connecticut who loves Ina Garten cookbooks and wanted her suggestions for similar books. She told him about ''Pure Simple Cooking'' by British author Diana Henry.

''I got to tell him all about all of the interesting British cookbooks and British chefs who are doing all of this local, seasonal, sustainable stuff that Portland's doing so well right now,'' Hoyt Lindgren said.

The New York Times article couldn't have come at a better time for Barbara Whitten, president of the Greater Portland Convention and Visitors Bureau, who is organizing the second annual Harvest on the Harbor food festival in Portland Oct. 22-24.

The festival's aim is to make Maine a culinary destination, and tickets have already been sold to foodies from places such as Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Florida, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and even Montana.

''Every little bit helps, and all of this really does position Maine and get the word out,'' Whitten said. ''I used to say we're a well-kept secret, and now our cover's been blown. The secret's out.''

Staff Writer Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at:

mgoad@pressherald.com

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