Foraging is the act of searching and gathering of food sources and provisions. This three-part story is not about me foraging in the traditional way of wandering in the woods and fields of Maine searching out edible ingredients. I will leave that adventure to others and will enjoy their endeavors in other ways. This is a continuing story about searching out good food sources and quality ingredients whether you are eating in a restaurant or creating a wonderful dinner at home. I will be focusing on Portland, Maine, thought of as one of the best foodie cities in the U.S. There is one common thread in all three parts and that is mushrooms.
The first story takes us to Monjoy Hill in Portland, Maine. This east end section of the city was first settled in the 1600′s. The area is easy to find…just look for the Portland Observatory. The seven story octagonal building shaped like a light house is hard to miss. Built in 1807, this National Historic Landmark is the last surviving maritime signal tower in the U.S. From its observation deck, you have a wonderful view of Portland harbor.
Today Monjoy Hill is a residential neighborhood of colorful homes.
The homes are mixed in with shops and galleries, bakeries and small markets. You will find everything from thrift shops to the studio of textile designer Angela Adams. Independently owned coffee houses and restaurants can also be found in this Portland hot spot. One of several restaurants in the area is The Blue Spoon, a causal restaurant serving lunch, dinner and Sunday brunch.
The Blue Spoon is very small with about ten tables, a small bar and several little tables under umbrellas on the sidewalk. Chef and owner David Iovino has a menu that changes with the seasons. The dinner menu changes weekly using what is fresh from local farms in the area.
My husband and I went to the restaurant for lunch and had a great meal. We started with two appetizers, and both were very good. First, we chose the meze plate that consisted of olives, feta and honey, pickled vegetables, charcuterie, marinated beets, sliced apples, flat bread and warm pistachios. Nice little nibbles to share.
Our second appetizer was a wonderful fritter of ricotta, prosciutto, and smoked mozzarella, with a black olive mayo sauce. Light and delicious.
Next came the main course and that was a hard decision. My husband debated between their wonderful BLT and the Bistro Burger. In the end, the burger won out as it had been named one of the top ten burgers in the northeast by the Boston Globe. The burger is made from Wee Bit Farm grass fed Scottish Highland cattle. The ground sirloin is mixed with caramelized onions, red wine, and herbs. It is cooked and then presented on a freshly baked bun with a warm potato salad.
As for me, it was a much easier decision. I love wild mushrooms and decided on the risotto with foraged and harvested mushrooms, wilted spinach, blue cheese and parmesan.
This was a delicious risotto and the point of this story. The restaurant gets many of its mushrooms from Rick Tibbetts, who is a professional forager. Rick is well-known as one of the most knowledgeable foragers of mushrooms in New England.
After such a wonderful meal, I always wonder if I will have room for dessert. Yes, I always ask for the dessert menu but many times I skip it because it seems ordinary and not worth the calories. But this was not the case at the Blue Spoon. The restaurant is well-known for its coconut flan. How can you resist a cool, sweet flan with a lovely caramel sauce oozing down its side. Topped with soft whipped cream, I knew I had to taste it…two forks of course.
I was very happy with lunch at The Blue Spoon and can see why it is so popular with the locals. If you happen to be in Portland sometime and want to enjoy a meal made with locally sourced ingredients, do try The Blue Spoon. As small as the restaurant is, I think calling for a reservation is a good idea.
Do you want to know what the second part of the trilogy is…you must wait for a little while. But I will give you a hint…markets!