My sister Lindsay just got a job across the country -- yes, she'll be living in California, and yes, I'm insanely jealous but also incredibly proud of her -- so my mom decided to plan a last-minute girls' trip to Portland, Maine, last week so my other sister (Martyann) and my mom and I could spend a little time with Lindsay before she headed off to the West Coast.
While we had planned to be in Portland in time for dinner on Thursday night, as they say, even the best-laid plans go awry, and my mom and sisters didn't end up getting to Boston until almost 8 p.m. to pick me up. I ordered a whole bunch of sandwiches from All Star Sandwich Bar, which we ate in the car along the way. We finally got to Portland around 10:30 p.m., found a room at the Marriott Residence Inn, dropped off our stuff, and went out to find dessert.
Martyann had heard of a place called Bar of Chocolate Cafe, so we went to look for it. We eventually found it on Wharf Street, a small cobblestone road. The inside of the cafe reminded me of a coffee shop, with brick walls and small, cozy tables.
After reviewing the cocktail menu, my mom ordered the espresso martini and I got a chocolate martini. The rim of my glass had been dipped in real chocolate (not chocolate syrup) and sugared. The drink was a little strong but not so much as to be unpleasant, and it definitely hit the spot.
Then we all took turns walking up to the counter to check out the cake selection. We went for a slice each of German chocolate cake, espresso cake, and the boca negra (similar to the espresso cake but made with bourbon).
I only tried a small sliver of the German chocolate cake, and it was incredibly moist. The other two cakes, though, were more like truffles, with rich chocolate oozing out of them in every bite. These were much more up my alley.
If you're a chocoholic looking for dessert in Portland, definitely stop by this little cafe.
The next morning I woke my mom up super early, and we ventured over to Standard Baking Co. to pick up some pastries for breakfast (more about those tomorrow). When we got back to the hotel, we woke my sisters, and then we all ate and got ready to explore Old Port.
We were just a bit ahead of schedule and not many stores were open yet, so we did a lot of walking around and then looped back to stop in the stores we wanted to check out once they opened. Having been there last winter, I knew I wanted to head to LeRoux Kitchen. LeRoux Kitchen has all sorts of kitchen stuff, like more salt and pepper shakers than you can imagine, bakeware, a huge selection of knives, and so much more.
There are even tons of olive oils and vinegars that you can taste and purchase if you like. I ended up getting a summer white peach vinegar that I'm hoping to use in some sort of salad with peaches and maybe grilled chicken.
The whole upstairs is filled with Le Creuset and kitchen appliances. I had to use every ounce of discipline I had not to pick up something in the new fennel color.
After we pulled ourselves away from LeRoux, we wandered farther down Commercial Street to a new-ish (opened in July 2010) spice shop that caught my eye. We originally walked by Vervacious before it opened, and as soon as I saw the sleek glass containers of spices and balsamics in the window, I planned the rest of our route so we would find ourselves back there once it opened up for the day.
Owner Heidi was actually there when we came in, and she let us try the spices and talked to us about how they could be used. I was especially intrigued by the tomato nibs and the tomato powder. Heidi convinced me to sample the tomato powder, and I ended up buying some to bring home. It tastes sort of like tomato paste with a little more depth. (I've already used it on burgers and in pasta. I think it would be great with fish as well.)
I loved the layout of the shop. It's very open, with spices, balsamics, mostardas, and mignonettes on rails along the walls.
And in spite of how expensive the spices may look in their glass jars, they range from about $6 to $8. The balsamics and cocoas, which are $12, seemed to be the most expensive offerings.
Along with the tomato powder, I also picked up some Za'atar, a plum balsamic mostarda, and an apricot mostarda. (I spent less than $30.) The mostardas are meant to complement cheeses, and I can't wait to open them up and set them out on a cheese platter with some crusty baguette slices.
Everything is made in small batches right in Maine, so it's great to support a local business. I will definitely be back. And I also saw on Vervacious' website that they have a store in Freeport now too. I usually go to Freeport every year, so I'm sure I will be checking out that store soon too.
After we left Vervacious, we wandered in and out of a few more stores, decided we were hungry, and went to Duckfat for lunch (more on that tomorrow). When we left Duckfat, we stopped at Dean's Sweets, where I picked up an lemon apricot chevre truffle. I had tried this truffle on a previous visit to Portland and was thrilled to have it again.
Right next to Dean's Sweets is one of the best cookbook stores, Rabelais.
We all stopped in there for a little while to admire the collection of cookbooks, and I again used all my willpower and left without buying anything.
The rest of the day involved a trip to Cape Elizabeth and dinner back in Old Port. It's too much to write in one post, so look forward to more throughout the week!
Do you ever go to Portland? If so, what are your favorite shops and restaurants there?