Portland Winter Farmer's Market Nearly a Done Deal

At long last the city of Portland has gathered its disparate forces into granting its citizenry their much beloved Winter Farmer's Market. 

Trouble arose because the site that was  chosen--the enormous basement of the former Maine Irish Heritage Center  off State St.--was considered a nonuse by city zoning pundits, and new zoning language had to address the exsitence of a farmer's market in what is essentially  termed a  "community hall."

Why a farmer's market should be considered alien to a community hall is beyond reason; but as one knows, fighting city hall, especially our city hall, can be a trip to  the abyss.

The planning board has approved  the location of the farmer's market and  will go to the city council in December for final approval.  If all goes well, the winter market will debut on Janary 8.  

One assumes it will fly through, even if some of our lawmakers were concerned about parking issues.  Oh, please.  It's Saturday in the winter, hardly a big traffic day along the fringe of downtown Portland.

I was very disappointed indeed that Deering Oaks Park was devoid of the usual  vendors this past Saturday.  Usually I head up to the Brunswick Indoor Farmer's market anyway, which has over 30 vendors selling everything local from halvah to pastured pork.

But all is not lost until our local market is revived.  A friend from Peaks just reminded me that on Wednesdays the Cumberland Indoor Farmer's Market operates in a solar heated greenhouse at Sterling Lothrop nursery in Falmouth at their Route 1 location.  All's well.

If  this marketing stuff gets too confusing, you can also count on Rosemont Market to carry greens and various vegetables from local farmers all winter long. And don't forget our beloved Hannaford's or the venerable Whole Foods to have all the right stuff as opposed to other newer food venues in our fairy city.

Tasting Notes

I've been to a few restaurants lately that have been OK.  The most notable was Miyake--the original one on Spring Street, not the new outpost on State Street. 

I'm not a Japanese cuisine connoissuer by any means.   I don't like eating raw fish except ceviche on a hot summer's day, preferably with a view of the sea.  At this time of year I prefer heartier, more robust fare. 

Miyake, however,  is in its own very special class.  Their 5 course dinner is a triumph.  Everything from beautiful vegetables to swordfish to duck to lobster to sashimi and the like is fabulous.  Though I have to admit that to my uneducted  palate, everything sort of tastes the same--all delicious so I basically  have no complaints whatsoever. To me it's like eating multiple versions of the same basic preparatiion.

For those of you who crave Japanese cooking, it's probably essential that you go to Miyake.  It's like comparing Miyake to Bresca as you would cite the contrast between Bugaboo's to The Palm Steak House.

Speaking of Bugaboo's, which, I promise, I won't do too often, if ever again, we went last night because I felt like having a humongous steak, probably in protest to too much Thanksgiving turkey leftovers, which are gratefully all gone.

It was a quiet night at the joint but that was OK.  The lack of the usual dining throng was a godsend.

I didn't have the blooming onion or any other grossly prepared starter but instead chose the Bourbon Shrimp to begin my meal.  These were  quite tasty, like a Bobby Flay dish. The menu describes them as being marinated in pineapple juice, soy sauce and a dash of bourbon.  It's a pretty big serving, about 10 altogether on skewers for $7.99. They were good, almost so good I thought of asking for the recipe.

For my  main course steak selection, which includes a  green salad, I should have chosen the prime rib but didn't.  My friend did and thought it was just what he (thought) wanted.

Instead I ordered a new item on the menu called Kain's Cast Iron Skillet Steak, which the menu describes as a 24 hour spice rubbed  NY strip steak seared in a large steel skillet atop a bed of grilled onions with garlic butter and ax cut steak fries. (The vision itself of ax to potatoes made my joints twitch.)

The steak looked good, oozing and sizzling. After that it was all down hill, an avalanche of disappointment. 

The steak was tough.  Chewy?  You betcha. And any hint of an exotic rub vanished into thin air when I sampled  first fibrous morsel. 

The trouble with restaurants like Bugaboos is that everything is highly salted so that you end your evening parched, woozy and  puffy.

The service, however, was quite good, and our waiter was terrific.  Having worked there for 13 years, he knew his stuff.  In fact he said he remembered me, which I found surprising since I hadn't been there for at least 5 years. I used to come with a flamboyant friend and her husband and their neighbor--all from the Foreside and the last people you'd think would take the time to travel to South Portland.  My friend used to be a club singer and her husband was a whiz on Wall Street, and they fit in as easily as two turnips in a Bentley.  Sadly my friend's husband is no longer with us and his wife moved away. We haven't been back since.

The only real gripe that I had with my dinner--besides lack of flavor and quality-- is when I mentioned that there were no ax-cut fries with my steak. Our server (not our waiter) said it was a side dish.  When I pointed out that the menu description said "served with..." the response was that it was "the chef's suggestion.

The menu caption  stated "served with garlic butter and ax cut fries."

Our kind waiter brought out the fries  as a side dish at no charge. For a chain restaurant that relies on consistency, this was a bad error. 

Oh, well.  If I have any suggestion whatsoever it's don't go unless you want after a quick, cheap meal and stick to the prime rib.