Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The problem with Maine cuisine

As I approach the 6 month anniversary of our arrival to Maine I find myself at a loss and need the help of my fellow Mainers, native and non-native alike. What has troubled me all this time is the lack of eateries with decent food! Now before the hate mail spews forth let me explain. Both my husband, Paul, and I are cursed with a shellfish allergy and so can't appreciate a good seafood restaurant without it ending with a trip to the emergency room. So it goes without saying that in a state where the main staple seems to center around lobstah, many restaurants whose praises are constantly being sung to me are almost completely off limits. It seems to me however, that in the focus for the ultimate seafood meal something very important has been left off the menu of many eating establishments in the state... FLAVOR!!!

We discovered this problem during our first days visiting Maine. Our first meal was courtesy of The Wok Inn on Forest Avenue in Portland. First the food was fantastic (and yes I know this contradicts the purpose of this post but wait I'm getting to that). I decided to be brave and try the #4 combination dinner with coconut curry chicken and found the curry flavor not at all overpowering or incredibly hot as some places have been known to do. What I did find very strange was the meal was accompanied by a cup of applesauce. I figured ok, that's nice, they give you dessert with your meal. I soon discovered since moving here that the cup of dessert is actually what passes in Maine as DUCK SAUCE!!! It wasn't isolated to just one or two chinese food restaurants but EVERYONE does this here! So be forewarned, if you come to Maine and wish to have chinese food, AVOID THE DUCK SAUCE!!! Why, someone please tell me WHY in HELL would you want to include applesauce with fried noodles or steamed rice or any kind of chicken? This is just wrong on SO many levels and is ONLY done here so far as I can tell! I've lived on and have visited the West Coast, Mid-Atlantic states and most of the Eastern seaboard and have NEVER EVER come across this and for one very good reason, APPLESAUCE IN CHINESE FOOD IS JUST PLAIN WRONG!!!! It's a downright evil thing to do to such a scrumptious cuisine and there should be warning labels printed for the unsuspecting visitor who's about to partake! I've since sucked it up and bought a jar of duck sauce so when the nice man at the counter asks me if I'd like sauce with my meal, I simply cringe silently and shake my head.

Now, I was born and raised in the NY metro area, land of disco fries, bagels, black and white cookies, pretzel rolls, and REAL pizza (sorry Chicago, deep dish is all well and good but it does nothing for me) but most important of all a land filled with Italians fresh off the boat from Sicily which also means REAL Italian food! So when I go to an Italian restaurant (ahem cough cough The Corsican in Freeport) I DON'T expect to get a pizza that comes out of a box and goes in the microwave! Ellios makes a better pizza than this! But then I should've known when I saw constant mentions on their menu of other Italian dishes being made with their special "pizza sauce". Really? You make all your dishes with the same sauce you throw on pizza? I envisioned this giant plastic vat in the back with a big ladle sticking out:-/ Since that one visit I've seen commercials and local tourist guides on tv and in the paper advertising the Corsican's food and have noticed that while their seafood dishes are raved about, talk of their pizza and pasta dishes are noticeably absent. So, since I can't actually try these out I'll advise if you do decide to visit the Corsican, steer clear of anything resembling Italian food and apparently you'll have a better experience.

One thing I've noticed that has deeply saddened me is when I walk down a street that boasts a pizzeria, you can see said pizzeria but you can't smell it. Native New Yorkers and Jersians (Jerseyites?) can attest that when there's a pizzeria open for business you KNOW it. You can drive down the street and catch a whiff of greasy, cheesy goodness so incredible you'll cause a major pileup just to find out where it's coming from (or is that just me)! So far I'll walk past a pizzeria, stand inside a pizzeria, stand outside the door of a pizzeria, stand in front of the counter as a freshly made pizza is being pulled from the oven and not even catch the slightest hint of a whiff. Perhaps this is because if you don't have any flavor you can't possibly have any scent! It seems the phenomenon of flat tasting crust, watery tomato sauce and rubbery cheese is statewide. Oh yeah, and spicing the HELL out of things don't make up for lack of flavor either! Like if they make it hot enough all your taste buds will die and you won't notice the difference... is THAT what happened to you poor people? It kills me when places that boast a real Italian heritage are cranking out this kind of food. Now there's a Mexico, Maine and a Lebanon, Maine. Could it be that there's an Italy, Maine where these people are coming from?

Ok, so enough bitching. I'll tell you the few places I HAVE found to be an enjoyable dining experience thus far. Hands down, my favorite place to eat is Little Tokyo in Brunswick. The ambiance is cozy and charming, the staff is very friendly and attentive, the food is just incredible and the owner will beam as he gladly informs you of the freshness and authenticity of his ingredients and the dishes they're used for. They also have a very interesting cocktail and dessert menu which I've yet to try but hope to very shortly.

For breakfast, I highly suggest Isabella's Sticky Buns Cafe in Freeport. They make an excellent Eggs Benedict and hubby loves the pancakes and bacon. Of course while you're in Freeport you HAVE to try what is so far my favorite staple of Maine cuisine, the Whoopie Pie! A Whoopie Pie basically resembles a very large Oreo Cakester but with real cream inside. They come in multiple flavors and you'll find them in nearly every store or shop in Maine but in my opinion any Whoopie Pie you decide to buy, try and take home must come from the Isamax Snacks Bakery located just around the corner from the town hall. Of course if you can't make it to Freeport or Maine itself, they have a website called Wicked Whoopies and prices do include shipping.

Anyway, that's my latest rant and rave. I know Mainers won't appreciate my criticisms and so I put the question to all residents past and present native and non, where are the great epicurean delights of your area? Who has the food to die for? Which establishments are your favorite (and again, they can't be solely focused on seafood)? And finally, can someone tell me what in the HELL is Moxie soda and what does it taste like? I've seen it, I've heard of it but until I can find it sold in individual bottles or cans, I won't be trying it any time soon.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Greetings and salutations!

First, I hope everyone had a happy holiday season and hope you all got to where you needed to safely.

My name is Miranda and I am a Culinary chick! International cuisine and the various methods of cooking and preparing food amongst the various cultures that grace this great planet of ours has always fascinated me. I found myself glued to Food Network when it was in its infancy and finally last year I enrolled in Culinary school in the hopes of someday becoming a chef and opening up my own little piece of epicurean heaven.

With the economy (and personal finances) being what they are my dream is slow going. I'm not just a culinary student but a military wife as well and when the US government dictated it was time to pick up and move to a new station, my quest for a degree quickly became a race for a certificate which I managed to obtain just weeks before transfer. Now as I hunt for a decent school to finish my degree I'm finding the job market to be less than hospitable to a non-Mainer living in the boonies with enough schooling for at line cook position at a wage places around here seem only to happy to offer only to the very experienced chefs (who sadly it appears are actually taking the much reduced paying positions). So I plan to make my way slowly, stealthily into the field searching for volunteer work, food prep temp jobs with catering companies until I can at least finish my degree.

In the meantime I plan my attack. I develop and tweak recipes for friends, family and neighbors for items that hope to find their place on my future menu and to raise money for my future endeavor I've resurrected an old craft business of mine I've recently dubbed Culinarychiq Concepts. Currently I make faux food soy wax candles that look and smell like pies, hot chocolate and coffee and whoopie pies. I intend to extend this line to other food items over the course of the next year as well as add a line of food themed dammit dolls (for those who don't know what a dammit doll is, I'll explain later on when I'm ready to launch them in a few weeks:) I'm also considering several other little projects that will be a pure delight to all you foodies out there who love anything and everything epicurean!

And so be sure to check out my page on etsy: and check back here often for updates on my quest and of course new items added to the store:) I'm also currently searching for fairs and festivals in Maine this spring and summer who are looking for craft vendors so give me a heads up if you know any!

Wishing you and yours a safe and happy new year! Chow (ciao) for now!