I started this year's MRW off with my favorite happy hour place, Timber on Exchange Street. Their regular menu is for those who bring a little more bacon home than me, but their four course restaurant week menu was nothing short of affordable, delicious, repeatable and perfect.
Somehow, I roped two good friends into joining me Tuesday night, the first night of MRW. We sat at the bar and were served happy hour cocktails and wine by the talented bartender, Mike. Congrats to him, as Mike won a cocktail contest through Woodfords Reserve bourbon whiskey recently with a version of my favorite cocktail.
Bourbon is my new favorite liquor and, to that end, I ordered a Bourbon Presbyterian, which contained bourbon, ginger syrup and ginger ale. Perfect for one of the last chilly winter days. I later ordered a glass of blush pink Rose to accompany my dinner:
First course-Lobster bisque with chive oil. First off, I don't love lobster but I could eat this every day for the rest of my life and die happy (but potentially of a heart attack as it was quite creamy). The texture was thick but smooth as it was puréed with some cut up chives on top for color and taste. I don't know why but it had a little zip to it as well which made it all the more desirable. The portion was small but there was nothing wrong with this as it was part of a four course meal and the taste was incredibly satisfying.
Second course-Mini pretzel bites. Four small bites topped with flaky salt and served with creamy maple-mustard dipping sauce. The sauce was so good that I saved it to dip a piece of steak or two into it. They were of sourdough base and a great little snack. Their large pretzel is on the happy hour and regular menu and is very good as well.
Third course-Garlic and herb marinated hanger steak with smashed Red Bliss potatoes, sautéed spinach and a red wine demi-glaze. The presentation was as visually pleasing as the taste combinations. To tell you the truth, I returned to eat this menu again a week later because of the steak. How often do you get to enjoy truly tender, perfectly cooked steak? I ordered my meat medium-rare and the outside was perfectly charred while the inside stayed very pink and faultless. The potatoes were creamy and the spinach, which tasted incredibly fresh, was cooked to perfection. The demi-glaze that didn't smother but complimented the entire plate tied it all together. There was no need for salt, pepper or any other altering ingredient as the entire dish was quite possibly the best steak I've eaten in Maine.
Fourth course-Bittersweet chocolate mousse with pear crème. This was the perfect ending to our meal. Imagine a giant shot glass filled with heavenly chocolate that's not too thick and not overwhelmingly chocolaty. Are you salivating yet? There were pieces of bittersweet chocolate dispersed within the mousse and they melted in your mouth. The pear crème was like a super-thick whipped cream and the pear flavor was subtle but fantastic. The portion, texture, taste and everything in between was something to be dreamt about.
Bonus-Pear martini. We were also given a taste of Timber's house pear martini, made with pear purée and Absolut pear vodka, lemon juice and simple syrup. I don't know if I could drink a whole one of these but I sure as hell would be willing to try!
A few nights later, I found myself alone at Rira's on Commercial. This place has a whole different vibe after 9pm on the weekends but for dinner, it's surprisingly inviting and elegant. I've only eaten in their upstairs restaurant twice before, once when my mom visited four years ago and once when a friend and I crashed a rehearsal dinner...No regrets. I remember both meals being good but I was unprepared for Rira's MRW menu. Of course, when in Ireland, I got a Guinness beer to go with my meal:
First course- Black and Tan Boxty. Savory potato pancake with braised beef inside, Harp cheddar sauce and Guinness BBQ sauce above and below. It was as beautiful as any dessert crêpe I've ever seen and the taste combinations and textures were swell as well. I essentially licked the plate clean...luckily I was alone so there was no one to judge my cheese-eating habits. Also luckily, this appetizer was such a hit that it will soon appear on the permanent menu!
Second course-Pub Meatloaf. Pork belly and ground beef, Nitro ketchup, fried brussels sprouts (best part, hands down), mashed potatoes and beef demi. Just go look at the photo below because I don't know if I have the words to appropriately describe this course but I'll try. Imagine local, Fryeburg, Maine mashed potatoes piped out in a circle, topped with a slice of friggin' yummy meatloaf, then another layer of potatoes, another slice of meatloaf, all topped with beef demi sauce. Oh, and then throw a whole bunch of fried brussels sprouts on top. The combination was substantial, decadent (as only meatloaf can be), mind-blowinly good. This was not my grandmother's meatloaf, which was served to me in a rectangular metal pan and whose recipe was written down as thus: ground beef, onions, ketchup. But, because it was reminiscent of my grandma, my favorite part of the meatloaf were the highly visible pieces of onion.
Third course-Trinity Pot. Bailey's chocolate mousse, Guinness chocolate sauce, Jamison whipped cream.
This was a very light chocolate mousse with heavy whipped cream in layers. After eating the boxty, meatloaf (literally ALL of it, no I'm not sorry), and one small slice of salty Irish Soda Bread with Kerrygold butter, I was quite full and could only manage a few spoonfuls. For its size, I would have needed two more people to help me with it, though I may have kept the Guinness chocolate sauce to myself after conning my charming waiter into bringing me more. I took the leftover mousse home and ate it another night. And lived happily ever after.
A couple nights after that, I conned a date into joining me at David's Restaurant in Monument Square. We sat at the counter over-looking the kitchen. There's only a few seats here as the counter also serves as dish storage, and warming platform for dishes waiting to go out. We didn't mind the multipurpose area as it was entertaining to watch the chefs work. Four years ago was the first time I came to David's. I had a strawberry mojito and sat in the same location. Two years ago, I came here during restaurant week and that dinner experience was what gave me the final push to start this blog. I believe I built this restaurant up in my head a bit but the dinner was still very good:
First course-Butternut squash-apple bisque with blue cheese crostini and maple bacon. The dish was VERY visually appealing with its orange color and white and black artistic topping. The texture was thick, hearty, and you really could taste the apples puréed alongside the squash. It was great tasting but much too filling considering I still had two courses to go, plus David's incredible garlic knots. I fully plan on going back to David's in the near future for happy hour drinks and the garlic knots alone. They are crispy on the bottom, soft on the inside and warm in my mouth. I wanted to eat them all and even went as far as to choose one last knot over the bulk of my dessert.
Second course-Grilled pork ribeye with white balsamic–apple relish, maple mashed sweet potatoes and braised spinach with bacon. This boneless pork cut was oh-so-tender and a surprisinly large portion. The apple relish texture was crunchy, ample and something to attempt at home. The mashed sweet potatoes were a great accompaniment but after all the orange bisque, it was a little redundant. But I definitely got my Vitamin C covered for the day! The garlic mashed potatoes on my companion's plate, however, were something to lust after. The spinach on my entree was potentially the best part, if only because it included bacon.
Third course-Brulée banana brownie. Two too large slabs of mediocre brownie with peanut butter in between them. The highlight of the plate was the ice cream with salt caramel sauce and the brulée bananas perched on top. I scraped as much sauce off the plate as possible, finished my very well-made mojito and called it a night, fuller than full.
Extras: Sesame asparagus and grilled "Portland" sirloin, ordered by my bar neighbor. The steak was thick and tender, the sauce was interesting and the potatoes were stellar. For $22, it was a pretty well-priced steak option. The asparagus was standard but could have used some salt.
Fast forward three days and move up to Yarmouth. Years ago, my job wasn't giving me the hours I needed to make rent. To remedy the situation, I took a job as a waitress in a brand new restaurant called Gather. I wouldn't work in just any place, I wanted to be in a restaurant that practiced sustainability and made dishes from local finds. Gather served me well as I served them for a few months until I was given more hours in the job I was actually good at/passionate about. Surprisingly, I've only eaten here once or twice since then. They make fresh, unsurpassable (though slightly too expensive for me still...) food with love and extra effort. I knew this spot would be one to hit during MRW, mainly because the words brussels sprouts and fried chicken were on the menu. I started with a Manhattan and added maple syrup (don't judge me) for fun. Some who know me realize my odd desire to mix ingredients that sound odd together. Earlier in the week, at a comedy show all about living in Portland, I chose to mix PBR and Maine Root Ginger Brew. The result was very palatable, but after an experiment, I found the ginger went better with Narragansett. Go figure.
First course-Fried brussels sprouts with soy, lime, and sesame seeds. I owe my love of brussels sprouts to Gather. The first time I ever tried them, they were sliced thin on on a Neapolitan-style pizza. It sounds odd but the result was great. This opened the door to trying fried brussels sprouts at places like Green Elephant, Boda and Pai Men. I haven't stopped eating as many brussels sprouts as I can get my hands on since. These were crispy and the juices emitted from from the sprouts was so good that I dipped Gather's house-made bread (something loved to snack on between running plates long ago) in it. Their olive oil with cracked salt and pepper to dip the bread in is such high quality that the taste reflects it.
Second course-Buttermilk fried chicken with hominy grits, braised greens and red eye gravy. MMMMMMMMmmmmm. The outside of the fried chicken was thick and wonderfully crunchy and consisted of cornmeal, buttermilk and other flavorful ingredients. The greens were crispy and a perfect texture to supplement my creamy grits, which were also pretty lumpy but in the best way. The red-eye gravy, made with coffee, was not too noticeable or strong. The dish as a whole is something I would be glad to eat over and over again.
Third course- Gather Gallette with blueberries and apples encompassed by house-made crust and topped with Maple's (made down the street in Yarmouth) vanilla gelato and house-made caramel sauce. This sauce was reminiscent of my great aunt's caramels and I was proud to run my finger along the plate until I ate the last drop of that light brown topping. The apples were Liberty species from Pine Tree Orchard in Sweden, which is run by Steven King's daughter. The chicken was from Common Wealth Poultry. I scraped the plate clean with my fork.......
Summary: I found some menu items that I would gladly order again which included Timber's steak and mousse, Rira's Boxty appetizer, David's mojito and garlic knots (free!!!!!!) and Gather's brussels sprouts and fried chicken. I regret nothing I ate in the last two weeks (maybe excluding David's brownie) but those were the highlights. If you can afford 'em, go get 'em!