Monday April 08, 2013 | 01:00 AM

With new restaurants cropping up everywhere, most of which I’ve visited, I felt like the acrid cynic who needed a break to return to my reliable tried and true haunts.

This all began the day after Easter and what I discovered was that a lot of places were very quiet post-holiday. 

Monday is a historically slow night  anyway for restaurants, but that night almost every place seemed tinged with quiet.

When I walked into Caiola’s,  I was dumbstruck by the uncharacteristically empty room with only a few diners there.

I pulled up at the bar and ordered a drink and thought I would leave to look elsewhere for a livelier setting. But I decided to stay and investigate a first course that intrigued me.  Called "pealafal,"  it was a take on falafel--that Middle Eastern croquette made with chickpeas and flavored with cardamom, coriander and cumin.  

At Caiola's this version of falafel made with peas was a great first course

These, however, were based on peas and thus the play on words.  They were served with a bracing sweet little side of pickled shredded snow peas and a red cabbage relish. It was a great dish, and I hope Chef Abby Harmon keeps it on the menu 

I soon realized that I might as well make this into an evening of grazing at a few places.Boda was going to be my next stop until I remembered that they’re closed on Mondays. I drove around, first to Five Fifty-Five, where I peeked in the window to see a restaurant as quiet as Caiola’s.  On to Petite Jacqueline where it was fairly busy ,but I had been there a few days ago. Then I headed to  Eventide,  the prince of tides of small-plate seafood titillations.

They were busy and as bustling as a hothouse—an easy accomplishment for such a small space with limited seating.  I left and decided that once I figured out where to have my main course I’d finish at Fore Street for dessert .

I went back to Longfellow Square, miraculously found a parking space and  breezed into Pai Men Miyake where it was fairly crowded but with space at the bar. 

Herewith unfolds the rest of the  evening's meal and some great dishes that I had as the week progressed in our  great food city. 

The nikuman pan fried pork buns at Pai Men Miyake are served with eel sauce, so called because this teriyaki and scallion sauce is typically served with eel; they were fantastic 

No matter the day or night, Pai Men Miyake  draws an intense crowd

 At Fore Street, this floating island hit the right notes on which to end an interesting few hours of  nibble-dining

As the week progressed it became a great grab-bag of meals at lunch and dinner.

At Besca for lunch during midweek I had  Chef Krista Kern's fanciful take on grilled cheese sandwich and soup: the sandwich was gruyere grilled on brioche bread and topped with a cherry mostarda and accompanied by  butternut squash soup that was intense--this was not your ordinary soup and sandwich meal and you must try Bresca at lunch if you haven't been before to experience one of the best lunch spots in Portland

With all the accolades recently on  Schulte and Herr, which hit Portland's food scene in the fall of 2011, I went there for dinner on Friday night  not having been in a long time; I was one of the first critics to write about it way back then and it's still as good if not better than before--but you must try the smoked salmon salad (shown here) before digging into classic sauerbraten and dumplings, schnitzel or those incredibly light potato pancakes 

This is no joke but I just had to  have a hamburger and fries as I was walking by Five Guys Burger so I stopped in for lunch;  the place is more grim than I remember and the burger smothered with all the toppings is palatable but it's really not a special burger at all--but the fries are great

The relatively new Otto Dining, in the heart of the panhandler alley of Congress Street and home to the city's enigmatic Arts District, offers an interesting atmosphere in which to have some pretty good pizza; the room is rustic by design with comfortable tables but most everyone sits at the bar for pizza and Otto beer

Winding up the food week at Otto for lunch on Saturday we enjoyed a special pizza of caramelized onions, fontina and cauliflower, a pepperoni  slice and the margherita (shown here)--all were excellent










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John Golden has written about food, dining and lifestyle subjects for Downeast magazine, the Boston Globe, Cottages and Gardens magazine, Gourmet magazine, Cuisine magazine, the New York Times and the New York Post.

In his highly opinionated blog, John reports on his experiences dining out all over Maine and his visits with food personalities, farmers and farmers’ markets throughout the state.

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