Monday November 11, 2013 | 07:20 AM

From a credible hamburger at Linda Bean’s Maine Kitchen to a sensational lobster creation at Empire Chinese, it’s been an interesting week of some fine dishes at Portland area restaurants.

These very good eats happened at all hours of the day and night at some of our more highly regarded restaurants to the proverbial diners (no drive-ins) and dives. 

Linda Bean’s Maine Kitchen and Topside Tavern.  I had lunch here  after some serious shopping in Freeport.  I didn’t want a big meal and Simpson’s burger  listed on the restaurant’s huge menu sounded just right.  It was described as being a burger from an old spot called Simpson's, which was on a back road to Portland from Freeport (pre Route 1?)  It’s a 6-ounce patty with a delicious house-made relish, mayo and sautéed onions.  It had great char and good beef flavor (Pineland Farms).  For $6 it was a bargain.

Linda Bean's Maine Kitchen, the Simpson's burger with homemade relish and hand-cut potato chips

Empire Chinese.  This dim sum house is not all about dumplings and has some terrific Cantonese entrees on the menu like this reconstructed lobster dish called Lobster Longevity Noodles Tequila Sauce.  It’s sweet, spicy and rich with lots of lobster meat that you dig out of the shell and wrap around delicious wide noodles.  .

Empire's lobster longevity noodles in tequilla sauce

Becky’s Diner.  There’s more to this iconic  joint besides breakfast.  One of their desserts that I’ve been curious about is lemon lush, an apt name for a dish that is so earnestly sweet it’s an instant weight-gainer.  I tried it after a light lunch, and it was everything a great dessert should be.  It’s made with a shortbread cookie base layered with lemon pudding and cream cheese with whipped cream folded in.  

Becky's lemon lush

Caiola’s.  Since this neighborhood haunt opened in the West End it has been one of my favorite restaurants in Portland.  Chef Abby Harmon devises a menu of highly creative dishes that are robust and delicious.  Her rendition of meatloaf is a winner.  It’s made with ground beef and pork and bathed in a rich brown sauce.  With it is a big rasher of candied maple bacon, terrific mashed potatoes and a cold pea salad.  This is the perfect meatloaf dinner. 


 Caiola's meatloaf

Sonny’s.  I often drop in for a quick lunch for any of their soups of the day.  The chicken and orzo soup I had recently was very good-- rich with the chicken, pasta,spices, and vegetables.  At $5 for a bowl and served with their terrific bread and olive oil, it’s a great cheap meal.

Sonny's chicken and orzo soup
Boda.  Late night at the bar I enjoyed a terrific dinner of steamed vegetables with Nam Prik, a smoky eggplant sauce, followed by Yaowarat Duck--slices of duck bathed in a five-spice honey sauce, pickled ginger, Chinese greens and Jasmine rice. 

Boda's duck with 5-spice honey

Nosh.  I had lunch here last Friday and noticed that there were a lot more blackboard specials than usual, many of which were tempting sounding like curried beef with cherry peppers and Brussels sprouts on a hoagie.  I went for the Tuna tostada, though--a crispy corn tortilla layered with raw seared tuna, spicy black bean spread, tomatoes, chipotle salsa, avocado, queso and cilantro.  It was a brilliantly devised tostada. 

Nosh's seared raw tuna  tostada

Petite Jacqueline.  I’m not sure whether this rendition of pot au feu was under the direction of the bistro’s new chef, Frederic Elliot, but it was an admirable dinner entree of boiled beef, marrow, carrots and potato in a rich beef broth.  It’s the perfect cold-weather dish.

Petite Jacqueline's  pot au feu

Piccolo.  Certainly one of the best dishes of the week was this starter course of brined sardine fillets. Tasting a bit like pickled herring but more intense, this dish is typical of southern Italian cooking, in which this very fine restaurant specializes.

Piccolo's brined sardines with saffron


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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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