Wednesday, December 11, 2013
From New York to Portland, Maine, and points in between, this was a good week for dining diversity. I discovered a charming but authentic Chinese outpost for Sichuan cooking in Midtown Manhattan and finally made it to the Waverly Inn, the uber bold-face hangout in the West Village.
Even my trip back to Maine on Amtrak with a meal at my seat wasn't half bad. But I returned to some very good eats right here: from bagels to Thai delectables to incredible cupcakes. Here's a look.
No one really expects to eat well at any of Vanity Fair honcho Graydon Carter's various eateries in New York (the Monkey Bar, the Beatrice Inn, el al), but the food at the celebrity-packed Waverly Inn isn't half bad, and this organic Amish chicken with a sweet mustardy glaze set over a squash puree was delicious.
Carter's banquette is the one on the right and if you're at the next one over then you're a de facto insider.
Cafe China pops up on a nondescript, somewhat seedy 37th Street between Fifth and Madison. Yet once inside it's vaguely Shanghai Circa 1930s, serving high-style refined Sichuan dishes like tea-smoked duck, baby lamb with cumin and don don noodles from the able hand of Chef Lu Ziqiang, a Sichuan native whose gentle touch tempers the hot stuff and allows the flavors of the ingredients to shine.
The crispy whole tilapia in a sweet sour sauce was our favorite dish but so too was the baby black lamb with fermented tofu and sweet red peppers. The dim sum selection was an interesting mix of dishes like the scallion pancakes and crystal shrimp dumplings.
On the 10:03 Amtrak Acela from Penn Station to Boston's South Station, lunch is served to first class passengers somewhere between New Haven and Providence. Here the shrimp over polenta cakes was pretty decent, but the pudding served for dessert was a concoction of great mystery.
Back in Portland, the bar hops at Boda, attracting a great diversity of diners who clamor for the terrific Thai food ; in fact, for me Boda is all I need for my Thai food fix.
Kanom Krok quail eggs with scallion and soy sauce is a brilliant dish and one of my favorite starters at Boda.
Another compelling small plate is Ma-Hor, fresh pineapple topped with ground pork, shrimp, onion and peanut.
Eating light at Caiola's is not always possible from Chef Abby Harmon's big-dish menu. So I often order two appetizers instead. Here was a great starter of sesame beef that was beautifully done in the Oriental style.
My lunch at Eventide was a lobster roll and a perfect cup of clam chowder; together it's a pricey repast at $30, but everything is so good, even the biscuit.
A perfectly made vodka gimlet at Outliers Eatery, followed by dinner at the bar, is a great way to start at this newly popular hipster haunt where good food meets and greets great energy.
For my main course I ordered the house-made pappardelle. It was a bit toothy but uiltimately very satisfying adorned by a velvety tomato and lobster sauce and a grilled lobster claw.
Outliers' panna cotta is one of the creamiest and richest of the genre, and the black raspberries served with it here were a great touch.
If you haven't been to Union Bagel yet, go because their traditional New York style bagels are the real deal. In the morning I picked up a toasted everything bagel with chive cream cheese. It had the correct Brooklyn-bake-oven texture of crispy on the outside and soft within.
The newest place in Portland is the Urban Farmstand at Aurora, the highly regarded gourmet hangout in the West End. At the farmstand ( created by Scarborough's Broadturn Farm ) tucked into a corner of the store there are fresh cut flowers, organic berries and vegetables.
And for the most dazzling and delicious vanilla cupcakes these are a must-have at Aurora , topped with a swirl of blackberry cream and decorative fondant.Tweet
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.