A BAD START The Flight That Wasn’t
Ok, so it has been a very long time since we have really traveled, I mean the kind of travel that involves a plane not just a quick train ride to Philly. We were scheduled to leave at 9:05 pm on Thursday; Jerry rearranged his work schedule so we could get the NJ transit to Newark Airport. Well you know what they say about the best laid plans. The flight was cancelled, and I will not even go into the customer service nightmare I had to deal with that. Long and short of it was our flight was rescheduled to 7:30 am, meaning we had to get up at 3:30 am. The Car Service That Wasn’t
The original plan was to take the subway to Penn Station get on the NJ transit to the Airport, usually quick, inexpensive and painless. Not so this morning. The subways were not on regular schedule yet given the hour in the morning, so there was no way to get to Penn station in time to get the train. Next option, car service. I booked a car via Carmel (DO NOT
EVER USE THIS SERVICE), the car was supposed to be there in 6 minutes, I in fact saw the car at the end of our street, picking up someone else. No new car was assigned to us. First call to Carmel, answered by rude dispatcher who apparently didn’t like the fact I was questioning their abilities, and put me back on hold. Second dispatcher, was a bigger asshole. In the meantime a cab shows up saying he is the car service, which he was not, because I had prepaid and he had no record. So back to the phone for unhelpful dispatcher number three who said I was marked as a no show, not sure how we could not show up for a car that never came. Was transferred to customer service (not). A voice message telling me to go to the website to make my complaint is not customer service. $60 gone, and still no way to airport. (Don’t worry I will get my money back). Final option, a cab to the airport, $120 later (including tip) we get to the airport. Happy to report no further travel issues occurred. ARRIVED AT LAST
There were no
further delays or stresses and we boarded our plane on time. Given our recent health incidents (which I will not go into) I splurged and put us in first class, which didn’t’ really cost much more than economy once you factor in the baggage fees etc. The flight was uneventful (the only kind I like) a bit of turbulence just outside of Portland, but nothing a cocktail couldn’t handle. Yes I had a screw driver at 8 am, it’s on vacation and I hate flying. Jerry tried to get a bit of sleep but pretty hard to do on a less than 60 minute flight.
We arrived at the Portland International Jetport, small airport, got our bags and where off to the hotel. The hotel is a Hilton Garden Inn right on the water front. We couldn’t check in yet but we stored our bags and went to get breakfast. I do want to say, that the Hilton wins the customer service award for this trip. Not only did they not charge us for the night we were supposed to be here but weren’t they were nothing short of friendly and extremely helpful. Breakfast
We walked along the waterfront looking for the Porthole Fountain. The guy at the front desk recommended it but did not give the best directions so we overshot it by about 20 blocks, thankfully they are not New York blocks, but more like Portland Oregon blocks. We did find it after a few minutes. It wasn’t on the main street but on one of the wharfs. It is a huge place, the service was very good. I want to apologize now, as you know I include pictures of all our meals in this blog, but it has been two years since we have traveled and I am out of practice, so the breakfast pictures were forgotten. I can say the food was good and I recommend it for some decent inexpensive food. Portions a little small but overall a good experience. I had a lobster benedicts (what else I am in Maine) and Jerry had a breakfast sandwich. The lobster benny was very good, lobster cooked perfectly and a good portion. My only criticism was that there could have been at least three times as much hollandaise sauce. Sightseeing
The rest of the day was devoted
to sightseeing. Since our trip to Berlin, we have decided that the city bus tour is a good idea. This way you get an overall view of where things are and what you want to go back to. It is also a great first day event if you have been traveling overnight or in our case just started off bad. It gives you a chance to relax and not have to walk around a lot. We purchased a combo ticket of a city trolley tour and Casco Bay Light House Cruise.
The City Trolley Tour
Most of these types of tours while a good introduction to the city and history; tend to be a bit cheesy. This was no exception. The tour guide was very knowledgeable but 90 minutes of bad jokes can get a little old. The interesting thing was that the guide was not a native Mainer, but in fact a retired NYC cab driver. At first I thought this could be the most dangerous trolley ride ever, but he apparently forgot all about how one drives in New York. Here in Portland, they actually give the pedestrian the right of way,
unlike NYC where it seems to be on the point bases to see if you can make them run.
I would highly recommend the tour, especially if you did not drive here. It takes you to places that are just too far to walk to and most importantly takes you to the Portland Head Lighthouse, one of the oldest lighthouses in the country. The views of the park and lighthouse grounds are worth the bad jokes on the trolley. The tour also helped us get oriented to where other things we would be seeing were located. The entire tour takes about 1 ¾ hour, with a 30 minute stop at the lighthouse. We drove through several rich neighborhoods with beautiful houses; we picked out a few for our summer home (more on the summer home later).
After the trolley we were able to check in to our room. On the walk back to the hotel, we stopped at the liquor store next door to purchase some wine for the room. Prices were a bit high, but it is in the heart of the tourist district. We checked in to our room, a nice harbor view and
king bed. After we unpacked we headed back to the wharf to board our lighthouse cruise. Before boarding I stopped at a food cart and purchased my first lobster roll. While you can certainly get a lobster roll at home, at twice the price, it is never as good as one from lobster just out of the water. It was very well cooked, melted I my mouth, and a huge helping of lobster. For those of you back west that may not know what a lobster roll is it is basically lobster, a little may or melted butter or both, on a hot dog bun and I love them. Again, no picture and I do apologize. It won’t be the only lobster roll on this trip so I am sure to post a picture at some point. Jerry, true to form had a slice of pizza.
We boarded the boat and began our 90 minute (not three hour tour) of Casco Bay and some of the lighthouses in the area. It was a beautiful (sorry for switching tenses, but this post is after the fact not same day) day sunny, light breeze
and about 78, with very low humidity. Jerry always enjoys being out on the water as do I. The tour was very relaxing an allowed us to see Portland from the water. We went as far south as the Portland Head Lighthouse, then out in to the Atlantic on the back side of several islands. One island of note was Cushing Island; this is a private island of the very wealthy. You can only gain access by private invitation and most of the land has been in the family for generations. I doubt that our summer home will be here, unless we are somehow related to one of the families out there.
The most populated and only full time island is Peaks Island. This is the only island that a car ferry goes to and that people live full time. The remaining islands are uninhabited or summer time only. Peak Island is pretty developed so go crowded for our summer home, any of the others would probably do.
It was a gorgeous day to be out on the water, just a slight breeze and plenty of sun. Enough sun that my face got a little red.
I highly recommend this as an activity, you get to be out of the water, see the lighthouses from the sea and some occasional wild life. There is also a bar on board if you would like a beer or cocktail. Wine Thirty
As is our tradition it was time for wine-thirty once we returned to land. We normally find a nice café or wine bar and enjoy people watching, but this trip we opted to enjoy wine-thirty in the comfort of our room and enjoy our spectacular view. While I began to write this blog, Jerry went to get some snacks. When he returned we enjoyed our wine, watched the ferry from Nova Scotia dock and relaxed. It has been a long day, but dinner was yet to come. Dinner at Five Fifty-five
Portland is quite the foodie town; it has the reputation for being the biggest yet smallest foodie city. It has more restaurants per capita than any other city in the US other than San Francisco. What this means is that there is a lot to choose from. There were three that were on my list from pre trip
research: Five Fifty-five, Fore and Hugo’s. We managed to get reservations for 2 out of the three. Fore apparently is next to impossible to get into without several weeks notice.
It was about a mile walk from our hotel to the restaurant. It was a pretty easy walk with only a slight incline. The evening was pleasant, however, the humidity had moved in a bit. When arrived we checked in and waited about 5 minutes to be seated. Earlier that day they had called to confirm our reservations and inquire about any food allergies. We were seated in the center of the restaurant, typically not my favorite location, but this had ample place between tables. The best seat in the house would have been on the second floor looking directly into the kitchen, we love to watch them cook.
The menu was a very nice sampling of local produce, meats, and seafood. Almost everything on the menu was local except the Nova Scotia Halibut (just happened to be what my entrée would end up being. There were two different tasting menus the signature tasting the chef’s tasting. The difference being that the signature tasting was 5
course from which you got to pick of the menu, one plate from each section, while the chef’s tasting was determined by the chef and could be anything, not necessarily on the menu. While we often go this route, given the seafood element and that I am allergic to clams, we don’t like oysters, beats, kale etc. (and yes this place was hung up on beats and kale) we opted with the signature tasting with wine pairing. I cannot begin to tell you the wines, as my memory is not that good and there was nothing written to keep as a reference. I will say that some were very good others didn’t exactly pair with the food and others, well let’s say they could have skipped. I blame this on the management not the server. It is far too much to except your servers to not only know the menu inside and out but to also be experts and pairing wine. They simply should have had a Sommelier to do the paring part, so given that our server did a fairly decent job.
So let’s get down to it. This is what we had:
I had the Asparagus Salad, green goddess dressing both white and green asparagus, with something called a guanicale hollandaise, (it was green but I don’t know what it was) and mixed greens. Critique: Tasting and a good start, it was fresh, the asparagus blanched perfectly and not overly seasoned.
Jerry has the Peekytoe Crab Salad, braised artichokes, arugula, soy bean humus and a herbed vinaigrette. Critique: Crab was flavorless but nice texture and fresh, but that just seems to be east coast crab and the fact that we are spoiled by our west coast Dungeness crab. The herbed vinaigrette was the best part.
Decent start, but not OH WOW.
Jerry had a baked sole with Maine beans (not green beans but the beans they make B&M baked beans from). Critique: While the sole was nicely prepared with a light crispy sear and perfectly cooked. The beans were good but under seasoned. Overall the dish lacked cohesiveness and was not well plated, plate far too big for the dish.
I had the Pineland Farm’s Beef Tartare, horseradish cream, quail egg and caper dressing. Critique: It was well presented but again under seasoned and if you say there is horseradish, then I anticipate a bite, this was the most lack luster horseradish I have ever tasted.
I had the Nova Scotia Halibut and added some Maine Lobster it was served with summer squash. Critique: The lobster was perfect, poached in butter out of the shell and melted in your mouth, the way it should. The Halibut was slightly over cooked so a bit dry had no sauce and no seasoning. Just to clarify, if I put salt on something, trust me it was really under seasoned as I am the anti salt king.
Jerry had a Hanger Steak served with polenta, breakfast radishes, Oyster Mushrooms, fried spinach leaves and charred broccoli. Critique: Perfectly cooked and well seasoned. That is the best we can say about that dish, the polenta was basic, no real flavor and yes under seasoned. The dish again while using fresh organic ingredients, just didn’t make since as an entrée, nothing really tied it together. Can I say sauce, sauce and it is always about the sauce of some type.
The Cheese Plate
Jerry had a three month aged Manchego and I had a Vermont Baley Hazen Blue. The blue was excellent and we both agreed it might rival the Rouge River Blue from Oregon. The Manchego was simply to young and lacked depth. The dish was well plated with lots of little extras. I think at this point the dishes were lacking inspiration which is why I likely stopped taking pictures.
Vacations and special occasions are the rare times that we actually indulge in dessert. We just don’t have much of a sweat tooth. So when we do it really needs to not only be good, but impressive. Unfortunately we were disappointed.
I had a strawberry rhubarb cheesecake. Being a native Oregonian, strawberries and rhubarb are my favorite combination. Critique: Overall, I am not sure why they bothered. There were two almost invisible pieces of rhubarb and the strawberries had no flavor. Yes, I realize that I am 100%!s(MISSING)poiled as I grew up in the land of the beast strawberries in the world. Nothing and I mean nothing comes close to an Oregon Hood Strawberry. The cheesecake itself was good, but come on a 1 inch square, let’s gets real.
Jerry had two profiteroles, one a spicy chocolate and the other whiskey pecan. Critique: After a meal of under seasoned food, they finally decided to use some, however, the spicy chocolate had so much spice it over powered the chocolate. The Whiskey Pecan was ok.
Overall I would give the place a B+. I understand that they were trying very hard to not cover the natural flavors of the local and fresh food. However, properly seasoned food only enhances that flavor and would not cover it up. They just tried to be too creative and ended up missing the mark by not presenting well thought out and cohesive dishes. Nothing tasted bad and it was an overall enjoyable evening, but for the price, it was not worth the money. The services was very good, the interiors were stunning but the food just not what it was made out to be. Finally, a comment on portion size. Yes it was a tasting menu so smaller plates are completely acceptable, however the entrée was really half the size it should have been. I got more lobster on my lobster roll early in the day then I did with dinner and paid the same price. Wrap-up
This is the point where I typically summarize the day; give a recap of the food and my overall impressions. For this series, I will not be doing the food recap, as I plan on being a bit more detailed, as you can see from above, about the meals. I will continue with my overall impressions. Portland is very much like Portland, Oregon, smaller yes, but the attitude and feel is very similar. The people here are genuinely friendly, they say hello as you walk bay, will actually stop to have a conversation and go out of their way to be helpful. Not that New Yorker’s aren’t friendly, but we do tend to get a bad rap. But let’s face it when you live in a city of 8 million plus people and the constant stress of the city, it can be hard to remember to be polite and smile. We are very much enjoying our time so far. It was a long day and we should sleep very well (we did sleep very well). Saturday on the 4th
is a heavy walking day, my poor feet.
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