March 6, 2013

Soup to Nuts: Maine food experts dish about their restaurant favorites

We asked chefs, food writers and bloggers to weigh in on their favorite dishes from the past year. Their answers enlighten and, in some cases, surprise.

By Meredith Goad mgoad@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

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Jeff Buerhaus, chef/owner of Walter’s in Portland, credits the pho from Saigon in Portland with healing his flu-ravaged staff. “Delicious, and got us back on our feet.”

John Patriquin/Staff Photographer

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Shannon Bard, chef/owner of Zapoteca Restaurante Y Tequileria in Portland, loves the fried oyster bun at Eventide Oyster Co. in Portland. “The taste combination was comforting and completely unexpected.”

Photo by Douglas Merriam

At the Black Birch in Kittery, I feasted on silky, creamy, buttery-rich chicken-liver mousse with a mulled wine gelee, cumin-roasted cauliflower with golden raisins, pistachio and caper vinaigrette, and a fall-off-the-bone pork shank with a parsnip puree, served with bacon and Brussels sprouts. Perfect winter food.

Shanna Horner O'Hea, chef-owner with Brian O'Hea, The Kennebunk Inn and Academe Brasserie: Brian and I think our most memorable meal in Maine is at The Dolphin Restaurant in Harpswell, consisting of their signature haddock chowder served with their warm wild Maine blueberry muffin. This meal signifies the beginning of the summer season for us, and we look forward to the beautiful drive on the Harpswell coast.

Norine Kotts, El Rayo, Portland: Kung Pao sweetbreads from Tao in Brunswick tender and spicy with just enough crunch from the cashews to keep the ultralight sweetbreads from floating off the plate.

Jason Loring, chef/owner, Nosh Kitchen Bar, Portland: My birthday last year at Hugo's, (chefs) Andrew (Taylor) and Mike (Wiley) sent out a 3-foot-long plate of charcuterie consisting of salumi, potted meats that they make in house, pork rinds, crazy pickled vegetables, dehydrated crab puffs and much more. And, of course, truffle cheese puffs. I can't wait to experience the new interpretation they envision for Hugo's after its facelift. I've been filled in on some of the details. And Portland will be very happy.

Lisa Kostopoulos, owner, The Good Table, Cape Elizabeth: Anneke Jans' (Kittery) farmer's cheesecake with blackberry sauce, like silk. Have tried to recreate, to no avail.

Jay Villani, owner, Sonny's and Local 188, Portland: The Tokyo abura-soba is pretty banging over at Pai Men. Can't get enough.

Shannon Tallman, Edible Obsessions food blogger and cheese buyer at Whole Foods Market, Portland: One of my favorite dishes this past year had to be the crispy frog legs Indochine from the Bresca lunch menu. While the name "crispy" would have implied that they were fried, which is the presentation that I'm accustomed to, it was a surprising pleasure that they were not. They were seared and then coated in a deeply rich sweet chile and garlic sauce. The legs were fat and succulent, and I had absolutely no qualms with sitting in the middle of Bresca and picking them up with my hands and eating them like I would a chicken wing. And, yes, I licked my fingers clean just to get every last drop of that chile sauce.

David Turin, chef/owner, David's and David's Opus Ten, Portland: Guy's "Feed Me" menu at Bar Lola (Portland) with the wine pairings was excellent and very ambitious when I went three weeks ago. I liked everything. Too many dishes to pick just one to rave about, so go there and try it. (Guy Hernandez) could be the best chef in Portland, and he is so humble and easygoing. I don't think I know anyone I would like to see have a really big career other than him.

Harding Lee Smith, chef/owner, The Front Room, The Corner Room and The Grill Room, Portland: The most memorable meal for me in 2012 was without doubt lobsters at Abel's on Somes Sound on Mount Desert Island. There is no better setting. My wife Darcy and black lab Dewey and I enjoyed a lazy afternoon grazing on lobsters cooked outside over a wood fire by a weather-beaten old man who had been cooking lobsters there for 50 years. We sailed up the sound, grabbed a mooring and took a dinghy ashore. Sitting there amongst the pine trees nestled in by the water was truly soothing and something that everyone should experience a least once. What a day!

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