Friday, July 31, 2015

My Second Favorite Market

We hit this last time, and it obliterates anything in the US. The only better market I can recall is the one in Barcelona, and that has to do mainly with churros, chocolate, and several hundred tons of pork products.

Not that this isn't the case here. The west end is dedicated to flowers and herbs, the center a massive homage to all things vegetable, picked that morning and making a strong case for never setting foot in a grocery store ever again, and an east end dedicated to crêpes, fromage, foie, and saucissons. Not to be missed is the meat-on-a-stick vendor, who is right where he was nine years ago, but has innovated and now offers seven different sausages on one skewer for your dining pleasure. That and a crêpe and you'll be good to go for the next few hours. (Remember how Karen left me to my own devices while she went shopping? I ate 19 oysters before she showed up and helped me out. I'm approaching seven dozen in the past week. C'est magnifique.)

One other note: I'm uncertain if this is a new thing, but cidre de glacé (ice cider) is everywhere. If you're familiar with ice wine, you know the process: wait until the temperature drops to -8C, then harvest and immediately press the fruit for a sugar-rich juice that yeast loves to gorge on. The result is a low-alcohol (10%) digestif that's like drinking a caramel apple. I've not seen it in the states, but I have a plan to fix that.

Cathedral as Mullet

It's all formality and conformity up front, but it's brutal in the back. We missed Notre Dame de Montreal last time, but ducked inside during one of the city's epic downpours. So you got your Death Jesus, your Mary Queen of Heaven, your banner-bearing lamb-Jesus, a lighting design meant to evoke both sunrise and sunset, your gold-plated rococo apostles, and on and on. But back behind the original alter, there's a 60s era chapel with blond wood paneling and dear lord who got the commission to create a giant, brutalist monolith replete with starving peasants, suffering children, and the queen of heaven having a really bad hair day?

Personally, I prefer the Latin American version of Catholic iconography as it favors demons and chupacabras and all three Jesuses (man-boy-lamb) in the same frieze, something that's not kosher in the European tradition. 

When the aliens finally arrive they are going to be so confused...

Thursday, July 30, 2015

One more art post

From the David Altmejd a giant owl pellet, but with wolves and crystals...

Yes, more art please

So incredibly happy with such amazing contemporary art in Montreal! The Contemporary Art Museum had an amazing solo show of work by David Altmejd in their vast and stunning galleries and DHC Foundation featured a great show of work by Yinka Shonibare in their two separate spaces. But the endless Arsenal was a true highlight, with some extraordinary large-scale sculptures and installations by artists from Canada and beyond.

Montreal heat wave

We arrived in Montreal just in time for a heat wave, which essentially means sweltering heat and 70% humidity punctuated by periods of torrential downpours. Thankfully our air b&b has a balcony, from which we could escape the heat and get a great view of the weekly fireworks show.

Best Man Couch Ever

First, for those among this blog's four readers who don't know what a man couch is, it's that plush, leather piece of furniture in women's boutiques that exists to relieve man ass during the 2-3 hour period your wife/girlfriend/sister/sister's cute friend will spend shopping in this store alone. It is usually accompanied by books on tying your own fishing lures or the proper attire for riding along on a fox hunt outside Nottingham, and it is highly prized by those who get laid, or plan to, or once did but still believe. 

But I challenge you, dear reader, to imagine a man couch with oysters and libations. Even better, it's across the street which means not having to answer questions like, "What do you think?"

Side note: forget about "Does this make me look fat?" (Nothing could make you look fat) and "Do you like this?" (It really complements your eyes/hair/nail polish/sparkling personality). It's the open-ended questions expressing doubt and uncertainty that must be avoided like a plague-ridden Africanized bee colony adjacent to a field of unexploded land mines. What was I talking about?

Today's special is a dozen Beau Soleils for C$18, which is about $14 in money that doesn't look like it was printed by Milton-Bradley. And that's awesome considering Karen's not back yet. I could inhabit this particular man couch indefinitely.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Veal

I signed up for this trip expecting mainly lobster and foie. Truth is, I didn't eat that much of the former (despite all the photos, I ordered it twice; the rest was Karen). What surprised me was my renewed love of oysters and the ubiquity of veal.

Pictured is the latest: bee wax poached sweetbreads. Not that I'm keeping score, but I am. Of the six remarkable meals we've had:

Eventide: oysters
Grace: oysters and foie
Primo: oysters and veal heart tartare
Légende: oysters and foie
Laurie Raphael: veal tenderloin tartare
Laloux: foie and veal sweetbreads
(Many other oysters gave it up for the cause along the way; they make for a delightful afternoon snack.)

I count at least five dozen oysters and the heart, loin, and thymus glands of a baby cow--or, more accurately, three different baby cows. Am I a bad person? Is evil still evil if it's delicious? My understanding is they were happy, frolicking little calves until I ate them. Doesn't that count for something? And what of the humble oyster? No one puts their likeness on a protest sign. Of course, scaling up an image of an oyster to 36x48 would be pretty gross, and wouldn't win your cause any support. Is the cute and cuddly held in higher esteem than something that looks like a snot?

Anyway, I've been sleeping really well.

Navigation Offline

The symptoms seemed severe: anxiety, confusion, disorientation, paranoia. Strangers approaching our vehicle were regarded with contempt or suspicion. Even the streets seemed to be conspiring, always going the wrong way...if they were even there at all. The parking meters were not to be trusted either, or even consulted.

My navagatrix went offline after leaving the comfort of the US Cellular Data Sector. Distances and directions evaporated, and no longer was there a soothing voice advising a right turn in 400 meters.

Fortunately I navigate terra incognito like a pacific salmon in heat navigates the cool, refreshing waters of Cascadia, so once Karen agreed to relax and look out the window, all became right in the world.

Stuffed animals at the Musee de Beaux Arts

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Quebec City is crafty

Our visit to the City was timed perfectly with the annual Québécois craft-a-thon, featuring more than 100 artists affiliated with the regional guild. Silver, glass, wood, and clay galore. Thankfully, a first aid tent was provided for those unfortunate folks who may have been stricken by a craft attack. The craftaganza was not Michael's favorite, but he did find entertainment in the Quebecoise regional food tent, where he was able to taste all things foie, cider, and maple.

Les Passages Insolites

Quebec City commissioned 12 artists to create temporary public pieces in an attempt to encourage community members to see their city in a new way. We encountered several in our own exploration of the city.

Euro Disney

With its cobblestone streets and historic buildings, Quebec City is adorable. Its old city is also a UNESCO world heritage site. But the area is also reminiscent of Disneyland--swarms of oblivious tourists, a castle, and even costumed performers.

I Miss These

I'm not sure why the west coast lacks a diner culture; they're cheap and delicious, and once you pick your diner, that's your seat at the counter, those are your friends, and your waitress knows your order. And they've got homemade pies and those thin little diner burgers, but I almost always go for the ham, egg, and cheese on white. Order that in California and you'll get ham and eggs with toast and hash browns. Put it in a sandwich, people! That's where the magic with the cheese happens. Oh, and a large diet coke, please. Breakfast of champions.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Not Lobster

Sundays and Thursdays are oyster nights at Primo in Rockland. You should go; they're a buck each. I had a dozen. Karen got these insanely good warm dates stuffed with gorgonzola and anointed with honey and brandy. There was a pizza involved, and the best steak tartare I've ever had (the secret is in the thoughtful application of anchovies and veal heart).

It's the old farmhouse setting, however, and its weird cast that make it unique. The staff is wonderfully attentive, serving up drinks while you wait on a table (25 minutes at 7pm on a Sunday in Rockland), and one dude checks every five minutes to make sure your name is still Moon (really, he kept asking "Are you Moon?"). Once seated, it only takes a minute to realize that the table to one side is occupied by obnoxiously drunk sorority girls who haven't seen each other in 25 years ("Grand Marnier! Woot Woot") and the table to the other hosts a family who just wanted a quiet evening and keeps trying to stare them down over your tartare and holy crap did you just see that guy eat three dozen oysters?

Reservations recommended.

In Maine, everyone is a potter

As we drove around Maine, it appeared that every town on the coast was dotted with pottery studios. On Deer Island alone, there are hundreds. Which of course leads me to question, did the potters come to Maine, or did Maine make the potters? Regardless of their origin, resources have emerged for these artists, including Haystack Mountain School of Crafts, which hosts exhibitions and artists in two-week residencies. It's a stunning building, beautifully integrated into the rustic and remote landscape.

It's All Homemade

The entire state of Maine. Lobster traps, campaign signs, cranberry wine, ice cream, the lawn, and warnings about slow chickens.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Getting our lighthouse on

Permaquid Cove rates high on the Maine-o-meter, with its remote location, cute white lighthouse, and rocky shoreline. Our first lighthouse on our last day in Maine

Food, without the sea

So excited to eat something other than seafood! The lovely hamlet of Belfast offers Chase's, a farmstand and veggie restaurant that provides a welcome respite from the nonstop lobster-fest that is Maine.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Of Popovers and Panoramas

We left Stonington early this morning in search of Karen's coffee. Though the farmhouse up the road left a thermos and a request for $1.75, it didn't satisfy. Fortunately, 45 minutes north in Ellsworth, The Maine Grind proffered the Brain Gravy. Karen also had a scone. I ordered a hot chocolate and a croissant. This will be important in a bit. Stay with me.

Forty-five minutes later we reached the outskirts of Acadia National Park and tooled around a bit looking at mega-yachts and the cleverly concealed estate entrances of the hyper-rich before finally entering the park. First stop? The Jordan Pond House Restaurant, where Karen had heard amazing rumors of their popovers and tea. So that's what we got. The order includes two straight-from-the-oven popovers, choice of tea, butter and jam. Karen devoured hers; having just consumed a croissant I yielded mine after a few bites. She ate that, too. Then the popover girl came back to inquire if we would like our second. I demurred. Karen had her third, then declared, "I'm ready to climb the mountain in our car."

Our car, by the way, is the new Chevy Spasm, which has less power than my 40-year-old BMW. This tells you everything you need to know about the universe.

Anyway, the park is stunning, as you can see. A Maine version of Vietnam. Nice little ecology museum, a Native People's exhibit...I was about to ask a ranger which of the park's animals were the most delicious before Karen stepped in.

More lobster rolls for lunch, a trip to the aforementioned ice cream studio, the misadventure at the winery, and we're on our way back to Stonington.

Early night. Not much going on here.

Did someone mention ice cream?

They love it here. Every town has at least one roadside shack selling it. But Mount Desert Island Ice Cream in Bar Harbor is very special, with a seemingly endless list of obscurely delicious and seasonal flavors. We had salted caramel, cereal milk, and fig. Note satisfied customer in lower shot.

Nom Nom Nom

Karen's turning pink and sprouting antennas. By tomorrow she'll probably need to start wearing rubber bands around her claws.

Meanwhile, there's only two things we've discovered Maine's not so great at: coffee and wine. The first has no effect on me, but being located as we are on the end of Deer Isle, the morning is a race up 15 to find anyone with an espresso machine. Not such a worry in actual towns, but we're in a spot with the population and sophistication of Gilligan's Island.

The wine is amusing. One winemaker imports his fruit from Italy, Germany, and California, and the results are questionable at best. The Pinot, apparently, is fermented with wood chips. Moreover, they freely admit that the vines out front are for decoration only. Nothing like sourcing locally. cream! It is everywhere, and it is delightful.

Friday, July 24, 2015

I Forgot to Mention Lunch

At the end of a long and winding road lies the Five Islands Lobster Pound.

2 lobster rolls: $32
Fried clam bellies: $18
1 bottle Lobster Brand Muscadet: $12
Double scoop of hand churned mocha mudslide ice cream: $4
Happy K-Ron: priceless

Scientific Breakthroughs

Turns out, Maine is almost so impossibly Maine-like, it's hard to describe. Thus, the invention of a new instrument to measure the Maine-ness. K-Ron came up with it first: the Maine-o-meter (pronounced MANE-o-ME-ter). After subsequent refinement, I'm proud to announce the Maineometer (MAY-ne-AH-meh-ter). Both are patent-pending.

Stonington, four hours north of Portland, broke both devices with its piers, working fleet, singular main road (you've reached Stonington when the road stops at the ocean), scenic islands, calm waters, beach-shingle houses, and people so friendly they re-open their businesses when they find out you just got into town, then pour you a glass of California Pinot and share their photos from last winter's successive blizzards.

That's all to say, we need to stop at a cute little independent hardware store tomorrow to fix our Maine Meters.


A giant outlet mall made to look like a real town...

A Whole New Look

Karen as brewer. I think she looks like Bono.

Everyone is a brewer

Out in an industrial section of Portland, we found a collection of breweries, including Allagash, where we took a tour. One of the largest craft breweries in Maine, Allagash maintains a spirit of experimentation that fuels some crazy beer innovations. Every staff member is encouraged to brew, to seek advice from colleagues, and to come up with crazy concoctions that are ultimately vetted by a team who puts some of them into production. While I can't say that I loved all the beers we tasted on the tour, I appreciated the willingness to try, and to fail (one of the beers was a test run for which they were soliciting tasting room feedback).

Tripping on LSG

Behold Eartha, the world's largest spinning globe (LSG). Conveniently located right off the highway in Yarmouth, she provides a monumental entry to the DeLorme mapping corporation's headquarters. The map store adjacent, not so impressive.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

It Ain't Communion

There's this other restaurant in Portland, Grace, that's rather unique. Situated in the husk of an episcopal church, it's away from the noise and crowds and parking dilemmas of the wharf, and they've made great use of the space, at least to a point: shades, curtains, and other edifices make their best attempt at partitioning the cavern into somewhat more intimate apartments. But they look contrived. The overall layout, however, works, with a spacious bar in the nave, and casual seating in the wings. Upstairs houses the serious tables, and the choir room holds their wine storage. So they've got most of it right.

The same goes for the menu. Good oyster selection, and fresh. The foie terrine wasn't actually a terrine, and was overly complex, but the garnishes--raw honeycomb, micro blackberries, dried on-the-vine concords, and marconas made sense. The entrée, blackened flour cavatelli with braised rabbit, peas, ricotta and micro greens worked, yet somehow fell short. Whoever is cooking the rabbit should go on doing so, as it would quickly become America's next white meat. The blackened flour pasta, while interesting, lost it after the first few bites, exhibiting a too-developed charcoal sensibility.

Service was good but, like everything else, green. No help on the wine (we got a bottle of Bourgogne Chardonnay). I'd check it out a few years.

If any publication out there is looking for a food reviewer, give a call. Have seasoned palette, will travel.

Elusive and delicious

Like the Big Foot and Loch Ness (both featured prominently in the aforementioned International Cryptology Museum), the sfogliatella is a thing of rare beauty. Found here in Portland in an old-school Italian market!

Be very afraid...

Adventures in kombucha

The promise of unique ciders lured us to urban farm fermentory, where we sampled a range of fermented liquids, including the one they lovingly refer to as "the booch." My experience with the beverage has been somewhat limited, primarily from bottled health drinks from Whole Foods. Except for the time I got up close and personal with a kombucha mother being stored in a friend's refrigerator, where it sat like a large liver its own juices festering in a Ziplock. The kombucha mother has also proved to be a helpful teaching analogy when you are looking to explain how one thing can be the foundation for many--like with aliens. Our tasting adventure was less than successful, Michael admitted that he needed to wash some of the hippy out of his mouth.

International Cryptozoology Museum

The museum claims that is is the result of "five decades of field research, travel, and dedication to gathering representative materials, native art, footcasts, hair samples, and other cryptozoological items." It is an obsessive and inspired collection of art, artifact and kitsch in two very cramped and non-air conditioned rooms. Highlights include Bigfoot! My favorites: a massive stuffed Bigfoot and a bad Bigfoot art tribute wall.

A Tale of Two Portlands

Ironically inked hipsters? Check. Intermittent rain showers? Check. Foodie scene? Check. Hawthorne district? Check. Lesbian-filled Subaru Outbacks? Double-check.

PDX has about three times the population not counting suburbs, but ME has infinitely more lobster. Both have drivers that would be be considered challenged if they weren't so polite. ME is older, of course, but PDX still has a few districts like Old Town that offer the same brick sidewalks as Old Port. And nearly the same name.

It is eerily similar to my old home town, a staycation with more lobster.

I just can't stop talking about lobster.