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Girl and The Goat: Chicago

24 Dec

I am long, long overdue for posting about Chicago. I’ve been twice this year and keep trying to find time to post all 13 (!) of those posts.  Unfortunately (and fortunately), this was one heck of a year, so a full Chicago review won’t come out for a bit.  But I would be remiss if I didn’t post about our amazing dinner at Girl & The Goat on a very cold evening back in January.

We decided to go because we just love Top Chef and have no shame in trying every Top Chef restaurant we can find, especially when traveling.   Girl and the Goat is led by Top Chef’s only female winner (to date), Stephanie Izard. (I also kind of love her because she’s a fellow curly girl, and I feel like that bonds us in some way. I like to pretend that if we sat next to each other on a plane, we’d become great friends… a girl can dream, right?)

We couldn’t get a reservation last minute, so we walked in and crossed our fingers. Within 20 minutes, we had a table for 4.

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I thoroughly enjoyed this kind of creepy, kind of awesome mural on the wall.

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The restaurant is definitely industrial, with a full view of the kitchen.  We saw Stephanie Izard a few times throughout the meal, and she was very gracious when I went up to talk to her afterwards and thank her for an incredible meal.

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I really enjoyed the goat theme throughout.

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We started with a nice hunk of bread with some delicious spreads.

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This was a long time ago (almost a year!) so I apologize that we don’t have great memory for what we ate (besides the pig face… more on that later). And while I can’t remember all the details, what I do remember is being insanely impressed over the entire meal. And I remember thinking throughout the meal that this was an epic dining experience. One of those meals that you just know will be hard to find one better. To make it worse, we were in a really dark corner, so the pictures aren’t great. Basically, this review is not the best, but I couldn’t let this year pass without mentioning how much we truly loved Girl & the Goat.

We started with what we think was a cracklin’ salad.  I remember as soon as the meal started we all started “Mmmming” and we knew we were in for a great meal.

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I remember the waiter recommended we try this, and it was nothing I would have picked myself but we wound up really enjoying it.

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We also had a cauliflower side that everyone really loved.

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And the restaurant was SO accomodating to my allergy. One of the very few places we have been where they actually made separate versions of dishes we were sharing just so I could eat it. Here was my pepper-less cauliflower.

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The octopus dish was really incredible. A perfect blend of textures and flavors that really showed off the delicious octopus.

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The next few dishes are fuzzy, but I can say that we enjoyed every bite…

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And then, at the very end of the meal, the piece de resistance… the wood roasted pig face. This had peppers in it, but I tried a tiny bite anyway. And even though my tongue was itchy and starting to blister, I ate a full portion. It was that good. It was so delicious, so tender, and so packed with flavor that I didn’t care that my mouth was blistering.  It was 100% worth it.  And, as the last dish, this took an already amazing meal to a whole new level.  It was one of the best single dishes I have ever had in my life.  Very impressive.

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Girl & the Goat overall was incredibly good. Every dish added depth and excitement to the last, and each one alone could have been the best dish on a restaurant’s menu, but this restaurant had them all. And then when the pig face came out, all bets were off.  An incredible meal. One of the best of the year.

Total Nom Points: 8.5 out of 10

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Vincent’s at The Whitehall Inn: Camden, Maine

20 Nov

With food being a focus for us when selecting our wedding venue, one of the first venues I wanted to see was The Whitehall Inn. It’s a historic inn in Camden, Maine and a place I have driven by many times but had never visited.  

We toured the facility and, sadly, decided it wasn’t quite right for our wedding (it wasn’t quite big enough and didn’t have a view of the water).  But we sat down at Vincent’s for dinner, the restaurant inside the inn.

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The restaurant itself was quaint and well appointed.  If we were local to the area and weren’t looking for that “Maine view” and/or had about 30-50 less guests, this place would have been magical.  (Here is a slideshow if you want to see more pictures of the inn itself, which is just beautiful).

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There is a very nice courtyard outside where they do wedding ceremonies. Again, really quaint and pretty, but just a bit too small.

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But we were there for the food.  I had spoken to them earlier and the only special request I had was that if we were going to have the wedding there, I wanted to have pavlova.  The chef was very excited to make it, but the rest was up to us to order.

We started with these little chive biscuits. They were perfect.  Warm with a crisp outside and soft inside. 

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We then tried the crab dip with melted cheddar. This was very good with the cheddar just sharp enough to be flavorful without taking away from the great taste of the crab.

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Our waiter offered to take a picture of us, so here is a rare appearance by Mike and I on the blog:

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Mike got the Vincent’s Ribeye which was served with garlic butter, Holland peperonata & fingerling potatoes. It was cooked perfectly and had a nice char on it.

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I went with the Maryland Crab Cakes which is an authentic Baltimore recipe using backfin and jumbo lump crab meat, served with fingerling potatoes and green beans.  It is rare that I get to eat crab cakes, because they are almost always made with peppers (which I am allergic to). These, however, were scrumptious.  

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A great crisp on the outside and just barely held together with the right amount of binding.  Big, delicious pieces of crab.  One of my favorite crab cakes of all time.

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And then… it was time for the pavlova.  This was perfect.  A hard shell and barely soft inside.  Great flavor and perfect with the fruit and the fruit spreads that were around it.

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So good, in fact, that for a moment I considered cutting our guest list to be able to get married here.  But only for a moment.

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If I were staying in the Camden area, I would stay at the Whitehall Inn in a heartbeat.  The inn is so charming and beautiful, in a great town, and the food was really great. I’m pretty sure most stays there come with breakfast, and if our dinner was any indication, that would be a real treat!

Total Nom Points: 8 out of 10

Hugo’s: Portland, ME (AKA Birthday Dinner Take 2)

13 Nov

I was very fortunate to be able to spend my actual birthday weekend in Maine.  We were there to find a wedding venue (more on that at this blog) but we managed to squeeze in some really great meals.  On my actual birthday, we went to Hugo’s, one of the restaurants that put Portland, Maine on the map of foodie towns. Hugo’s is actually owned by the same people as Eventide, where we went the day before, and set the stage quite well for this meal (and happens to be right next door).

This restaurant is decorated very simply but elegantly, without being too fancy. 

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I especially enjoyed the single stem rose on the table with the pinch bowl for salt.

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We started with some signature cocktails, which were insanely good.  Mike got the PDT’s, which was a Bacon Bourbon Old Fashioned with bacon infused bourbon, maple, orange, and Fee Bros. old fashioned bitters. I got the Marmalade Sour which was with tequila, burnt orange, and lime.  Original and delicious.

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They placed these homemade biscuits with garlic and potato flour on the table and they just smelled great. It was served with hand churned butter and everything had perfect texture. 

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A delish bite.

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We went with the tasting menu and sprung for the wine pairings.

Our first course was pickle herring with mustard seed and potato crisp paired with a Spanish sparkling wine. I thought it was very fresh and not the mustard seeds were not overpowering (I’m not a mustard person and find that it distracts me from flavors usually).

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And the wine was perfect with it.

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Course two was fluke mousse medallions with cauliflower purée and quinoa arugula broth. This tasted very “green” and was served cold. It wasn’t so much mousse as it was pâté.  I really loved it, but Mike wasn’t a huge fan.  

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Course 3 was a lobster beet salad with orange purée, baby kale, and pecorino. The dish was light and flavorful. The acid of the vinaigrette cut the greenness of the beets and the wine went exceptionally well. There was a bit of a lemon candy flavor that complimented everything very well.

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Course 4 was grilled yellow fin tuna from Massachusetts.  It was delicious tuna tartar with maitkai mushroom purée, hajji, and chili oil… As the server went to put this down in front of me, he immediately noticed the chili oil in mine and took it back to the kitchen.  It was very quickly replaced. This dish was pretty damn awesome.  The waitress told us that she was actually a bit excited that the kitchen screwed mine up so she could try it.  And the wine pairing? Perfection. 

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Our last savory course was a duo of chicken. The red wine that was paired with this was absolutely awesome.  We found that the souvied dark meat was much better than the breast. The sauce reminded us of kasha and was very nice with it.

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For dessert, we were served a moscato which was an absolutely great glass of wine.

Out came a lime sorbet with watermelon gele, mint melon balls, and prosciutto.  It was a very good palette cleanser and everything went incredibly well together.

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By this time, we had been drinking enough that I forgot to take a picture of the corn gelato with tomato sweet jam basil and popcorn. We think… the notes got blurry here as well.

This was served with DuPont cider.  The best way I could think to describe it was that it tasted like hay… in a REALLY good way. The sweet corn gelato was absolutely awesome. I also really liked the corn cake and tomato but Mike thought it tasted like home made corn pops (he didn’t mention whether this was a good thing or a bad thing).  When I got a little bite of everything together it was absolute bliss.  I actually wrote down that it was one of my favorite bites… ever.   

We then had some little treats, but we were just too stuffed (okay… and drunk) to write it down or remember what it was. Whoops. Note how blurry the picture is as well.  Whoops x2.

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I absolutely LOVED our meal at Hugo’s. I was incredibly impressed and felt this could rival many meals we have had in the past in NYC.  It also made us realize that we enjoyed this meal (especially some of the innovative touches) even more than Jean George’s. I highly, highly recommend a visit if you’re in Portland, Maine.

Total Nom Points: 8.5 out of 10

Eventide in Portland, Maine

8 Nov

Right before embarking on our whirlwind tour of venues in Maine, we spent a night in Portland, Maine with a new friend, the photographer and husband of the editor for Eater Maine (whose last name happens to be the same as mine, though surprisingly, no relation). 

He recommended we visit a favorite of Eater Maine, Eventide Oyster Co.  Eventide  is the sister restaurant of Maine staple, Hugo’s (where we ate for my birthday the day after, more on that later!)

They specialize in, you guessed it, oysters.

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They have many varieties and part of the bar itself is made up of the oysters on ice, with a shucker going to town behind the bar.

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They also have a great selection of local brews, and we were finally able to try Oxbow.  This quickly became one of our favorite beers and we drank a lot of it on this road trip!

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We went with half a dozen Winter Points and half a dozen Basket Island oysters (both local to Maine).  These were fantastic, though I really loved the Winter Points.

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We then tried the Eventide Lobster Roll and the Fried Oyster Bun.

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They were served in more of a steamed bun (like a Chinese pork bun consistency) and everything was flavored so insanely well.  This was not your classic lobster roll, but it was nice to have a new spin on an old classic.  Mike and I weren’t very hungry, so we split both of them, but boy oh boy did I regret not having my own.  They were so damn good.  

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And even the bathrooms stayed on theme.

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I was really impressed by Eventide.  They are doing new things with good food and everyone there is excited to be doing what they are doing.  The vibe is great and the food far surpasses expectations.  I can’t wait to go back.

Total Nom Points: 8.5 out of 10

Maine Cubed: Portland- Duckfat

17 Jul

Sadly, all good things must come to an end, and so it was that we found ourselves back in Portland for lunch on our voyage back to the airport. We were racing to an appointment to do a tasting and tour at Allagash Brewery but decided we had just enough time to squeeze in a stop at Duckfat, a sandwich shop (specializing in fries and panini) that had been recommended to me by a few different people.

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The restaurant is small with a number of high top tables and bars around the kitchen to sit.

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It has a quirky personality with tiny pictures in the window that looks into the kitchen.

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And notice the magnetic poetry on the wall in the background of the below picture.

We ordered the fries with the truffle ketchup and boy oh boy were these good.  Perfectly crisp (thanks to the duck fat, I’m sure) and why I haven’t run into about a million versions of truffle ketchup to date, I do not know… but it was delightful.

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We kept an eye on time and quickly realized it was not on our side, so the waitress packed up our sandwiches to go.  We wound up gobbling them down in the car.

Mike got the pork belly with carrot, radish, pickled onion, cilantro & thai chili mayo. I took a mayo-less nibble and it was quite nice.

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I got the duck confit with caramelized miso mayo, bok choy & sweet onion. This was sensational. The duck was so tender and seasoned just right, and that caramelized miso mayo and onion added a perfect compliment of sweetness.

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Overall, I really enjoyed Duckfat. It’s unlike any sandwich shop I’ve ever been to and we really enjoyed it. I just recommend leaving yourself more than a few minutes to eat there!

Total Nom Points: 7 out of 10

I was sad to leave Maine (as I always am) but I’m excited to say that we’ll probably be going back next month to explore wedding venues!

Maine Cubed: Boothbay Harbor- Mine Oyster

12 Jul

After our lovely whale watch and an incredible visit to Pemaquid Point (where we got engaged!), we decided to celebrate at The World is Mine Oyster, which received a write-up in the brand new Eater Maine. It was a Monday night and pre-season, but the sign said there was live music and we loves ourselves some oysters!

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We were celebrating, so we ordered 2 of every oyster they had (they were out of many, unfortunately).

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We made our way around the delicious tray and wound up especially liking the Glidden Point oysters (which came in 3 sizes!) from the Damariscotta River. And they weren’t lying about the “Jumbo” size! Check out these beauties.

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We were still a little hungry, so we got a basket of fried shrimp. We were expecting big shrimp, but these tiny morsels were fantastic. 

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They came with waffle fries, which Mike created quite the amazing concoction with fried shrimp on top of the waffle fries with some tarter and cocktail sauces.

Genius.

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Mine Oyster was a nice stop and a good celebration with all those oysters.  The menu is heavy on fried seafood, but everything we had was very good. It’s tough to judge a place based on raw food and fried shrimp, but I would say it’s a good choice if you’re in the area, but not necessarily a destination to pursue if you’re not close.

Maine Cubed: Boothbay Harbor- Dockside Grill

10 Jul

Our trip to Maine concluded with a visit to Boothbay Harbor, a town on a peninsula about an hour from Portland.  I heard it was beautiful, but a bit too crazy during peak season, so I was happy to be there when it was just before the high time.  We decided to take a Whale Watch on Cap’n Fish’s. We looked it up on our GPS and wound up at the hotel instead of the actual whale watch, but luckily they also sold tickets. We asked them for a recommendation on where to have breakfast, and they sent us to a property behind the hotel on the dock called Dockside Grill.

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A sign on the door sited apologies that they were closing early, about an hour later than the current time. We got in and realized that this meant they were out of a lot of items on the menu.  But we’re not picky!

The inside was a very casual diner atmosphere, almost greasy spoon-like.

Mike got the Meat and Cheese omelette and said it was “an omelette.”

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They were out of everything I wanted but I wound up getting a lobster omelette (that came with cheese that I believe was swiss) and some pepper-less potatoes.

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I actually really enjoyed mine. Only in Maine do you pull up to a random diner and get an entire hunk of claw in an omelette. Mine was a wee bit watery, and if not for the lobster quality itself it would have been a pretty average omelette, but you can’t resist this.

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Overall, it was a fine breakfast, but if I hadn’t taken pictures of it, I probably wouldn’t have even remembered we ate there.

Total Nom Points: 5.5 out of 10

Total Nom Points: 5.5 out of 10

As a sidenote, we had over 15 sightings of whales on the Whale Watch later that day, as well as a seal sighting and just an incredibly wonderful time.

Maine Cubed: Wiscasset- Red’s Eats

5 Jul

There are few places in Maine as “famous” as Red’s Eats.  It is a small stand on Rt. 1 in Wiscasset that serves lobster rolls known far and wide. I have seen lines that are over an hour long.

We were looking for lunch on our way up the highway and noticed that the line was only half a block long (very good by Red’s standards). So we found some parking and hopped on.

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Their lobster roll is known for having an entire lobster’s worth of meat inside and made the “authentic” Maine way with lobs of meat on a toasted hotdog bun. It comes with butter or mayo on the side to dip in.  The “authentic” lobster roll is a point of contention, with some people saying it needs 1 leaf of lettuce and/or some mayo mixed in, but Red’s is really all about the meat.

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You step up to a window and suddenly notice that there are about a million people inside this little shack

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We ordered the fried clams along with our lobster roll.

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The clams were quite delicious. Juicy and flavorful with a decent crisp on the fry. Some were a little soggy, but overall it was a good dish of food.

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And then the lobster roll. You can even see the bun under there through all the lobster meat! And you will notice that there is a tail on either side.  Very good on the lobster meat, but I just always prefer a steamed lobster I crack myself to a roll.

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I’m glad we stopped at Red’s, but I can’t say I’m itching to go back. I can’t say it was the best lobster roll I’ve ever had, but it was very good.

Maine Cubed: Lincolnville- Cellardoor Winery

3 Jul

We stumbled on Cellardoor Winery by accident on our trip 2 years ago and really enjoyed it. Upon posting about returning to Maine on the NYCNomNom Facebook page (Are you a fan? You should be!), one of Mike’s (AKA Mr. Nom Nom) friends mentioned that she had recently moved up there and was working at this very winery.  Small world!

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Since we visited 2 years ago, they have started producing their own wines and have expanded their tasting room and added a few facilities.  But the original beautiful structure remains.

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As do my favorite stools.

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We decided to do 2 separate tastings since they had a special going on for Father’s Day to do a wine and chocolate tasting. We started with the general tasting and enjoyed some wines off their list.  We especially liked the Serendipity, which is a dessert wine made with Maple Syrup, and Triology, a really nice red.

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They have a little market space in the middle, where we picked up some artichoke pesto (which was sensational on pasta when we got home).

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They have some great looking (and tasting) cheeses.

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The new room features some local art.

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And a large tasting bar.

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And tasting room.

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With a nice kitchen setup to offer grub.

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Their chocolate pairing partner for the day was Sweet Marguerites.  We tried a number of delectable bites with delectable wine. We tried their malted bacon chocolate, which was superb.

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Green Tea and Ginger. Good flavor and went well with the wine.

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Force Noir. A very well balanced dark chocolate.

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And Fleur del Sel caramels that came with big pieces of macadamia nut. Another awesome bite.

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We really enjoyed our entire experience at Cellardoor, and it’s a great place to stop if you’re in the area (Midcoast Maine: Lincolnville). They also are one of the very few wineries that offer free tastings, which made me more inclined to try more, and therefore buy more.

Maine Cubed: The NYCNomNom Guide to Eating Steamers and Lobster

3 Jul

Eating Lobster and Steamers is an art form, but an easily mastered art form. I have been eating this fantastic meal since I was a kid, and I have taught many a friend how to get the most out of their meal. So without further ado, here is the NYCNomNom Guide to Eating Steamers and Lobster.

Step 1:

Go to Maine.


(this is the spot we got engaged: Pemaquid Point Lighthouse)

Step 2:

Find yourself a lobster “shack” in the middle of nowhere, preferably on a beautiful body of water.  Waterman’s Beach Lobster in Spruce Head is a fine choice. (I also like Young’s Lobster Pound in Belfast and Beal’s Lobster Pier in Southwest Harbor, but there are plenty of options all along the coast)

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Step 3:

Choose lobster and steamers from the menu.  A 1 1/4 pound lobster and 1/2 pound of steamers is usually the perfect amount for 1 person. The typical “dinner” comes with some form of potato chips and butter, and depending on your location, a piece of corn or a roll. (Steamers are another name for Steamed Clams)

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Step 4:

Choose a picnic table and soak up the sea breeze while you wait. (Tip: Bring a jacket. Even in mid-summer, being on the water in Maine is a chilly enterprise).

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Step 4:

View your clams, but not for long, that sea breeze will cool them off quickly.

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Step 5:

Choose your clam and remove it from the shell (sometimes it requires a little tug to remove it from the “foot,” which is the bit of clam left in the shell when you yank it out).

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Step 6:

Identify the “sock” which is the uglier portion of the clam (yes it’s all ugly, but the sock is the ugliest) on the stem-like portion of the clam and remove it.  It will roll off the tip of the clam (it is impossible to avoid this sounding like a condom reference, so just accept that you are taking an ugly condom off a clam and move on).

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Step 7:

Hold clam by the stem-like portion and dip it into the briny water (if supplied). This helps remove any sand that may be remaining on the clam.

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Step 8:

Continue your stem holding and dip it in the melted butter then shove the whole thing in your mouth and chew. Yes, they are an acquired taste.  A taste worth acquiring. Keep eating.

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Step 9:

Turn sites to lobster. Break off the smaller legs on the underside of the lobster and suck lobster meat out like they are straws. Also remove meat from the claws (shoulders up) and the tail (twist it off the rest of the body).  You can eat everything except the body and head (and advanced lobster folks know that there are even some hidden pockets of meat in there!) If you have trouble getting into anything, use the nut cracker and poky stick to achieve lobster greatness.

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Bonus Step:

Once you have mastered the art of removing your lobster from its shell, challenge yourself to lobster greatness by trying to remove the claws of the lobster in full.

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Super Secret Bonus Step:

Do not tell anyone I told you this. I will deny that I do this to my grave so keep your lobster eating trap shut. But there is nothing quite like ending your lobster meal by dipping your potato chips in the now lobster infused butter.  Thank me later.

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And in the end, you will be a mess. You will be sticky (they usually provide you wet naps) possibly sliced up from sharp pieces of shell (you will heal) and thinking to yourself that you have never worked so hard for a meal that someone else prepared. It is worth it.

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I hope you have enjoyed your tutorial.  Now have you booked your trip to Maine yet?