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Thursday, July 18, 2019

At Portland’s Drifters Wife, Believe the Hype

Located on the burgeoning Washington Avenue neighborhood in Portland, Drifters Wife has had a loyal following since its debut in 2016, two years prior to Bon Appetit Magazine naming it one of the country’s top 10 new restaurants. But now it’s so popular that food writer Alex Hall noted in yesterday’s Boston Globe “that in July, you’ve got a better shot at getting your kid into Harvard on a full scholarship than walking in and nabbing a table at Beard Award-decorated favorites like Fore Street or Drifters Wife.” You can reserve a table 30 days in advance, which is exactly what we did for a dinner this past Saturday, when we knew we were spending a night in Portland after our visit to Acadia National Park with friends. Those friends are from Laguna Beach, California, home to one of the best farmers markets on the West Coast. So they’re accustomed to getting a vast assortment of fresh vegetables year round. Maine, of course, has a much shorter growing season, but what Drifters Wife finds locally was more than enough to blow us all away. The choice of appetizers and entrees are limited, 4 or 5 appetizers and 3 entrees. But all were exceptional, from starters of grilled shishito peppers and a zesty arugula salad to entrees of a whole black bass and a tender chunk of hake with a clam sauce. Wash it down with one of their natural wines or a bottle of Peeper from Maine Beer Co. Then finish off the memorable meal with a dish of milk pudding topped with pistachio chunks called Malabi. Sublime. 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 07/18/19 at 06:00 AM
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Wednesday, April 17, 2019

A Memorable Tapas Crawl in Madrid

We met Marcy Forman, co-owner of Valesa Cultural Services, one of our preferred ground operators for clients headed to Spain, at the lobby of our hotel, Gran Hotel Inglés. Marcy has lived in Madrid for over 20 years and one of her favorite things to do is bring friends on an authentic Madrid tapas crawl. We started at Casa Toni, known for its crispy lamb tripe, an older specialty that’s hard to find in town these days. After downing the tender meat, we strolled around the corner to my favorite stop of the night, Casa del Abuelo, known for their tasty garlic shrimp. The dish comes out sizzling with a hefty chunk of bread, and is best paired with a short glass of sweet wine. Then it was off to La Campana, known for its fried calamari served in a large bun, bocadillo style. Next stop, the splashy Mercado de San Miguel, Madrid’s main public market, serving everything your heart desires, from acorn-fed Iberian ham to razor clams to fried croquettes, all washed down with sangria or cerveza. Our final stop was Chocolateria San Gines, in operation since 1894 and known for only one item, fresh out of the oven churros. Order a half-dozen, thin or fat, and it’s served with a steaming hot coffee cup of chocolate that many customers drink after dipping the churros. Sublime! We had so much fun with Marcy that we took our daughter, Melanie, on the exact same tour the next night. 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 04/17/19 at 06:00 AM
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Thursday, February 21, 2019

Tastings Menus to Try in Bangkok

We were hungry as soon as we arrived at our room at the Anantara Siam in Bangkok after our flight from Hong Kong. We scouted out the choices and found that there was a Michelin-starred restaurant called Paste within easy walking distance. It was early Sunday afternoon and we were hoping we could grab one of their tables. Initially, the hostess said no, but as we were leaving, she said they had a cancellation. It turned out to be one of the most memorable meals of the trip, a 7-course tasting menu created by Bee Satongun, who was called the finest female chef in Asia. Each dish was prepared like a work of art on the plate and was the proper size for sharing. But it was the unusual spices that excited the palate. Favorite appetizers included roasted duck, nutmeg, and sawtooth coriander on rice crackers, and tapioca pudding of smoked trout, toasted peanuts, Thai mustard leaf, and wild sesame. Then came a hot and sour soup of crisp pork leg, roast tomatoes and fried garlic in a smoky chicken broth before the sublime entrees arrived. Laos Duck Curry was a highlight. The next dish was equally tasty but I had no idea what it was. Here's what it said on the menu: "Southern Thai-Muslim origin. Kimmedai, saffron, in-house made curry powder and nutmeg. Fried off in ghee, served with pickles and cured catfish eggs." Say what? It's actually a type of fish. 

The last night in town, friends had recommended Issaya Siamese Club to celebrate Lisa's birthday. Set in a Colonial-style plantation house, you dine in separate rooms on couches, like being in a relative's house. We were sitting in front of an RCA television, circa 1960s. Once again we ordered the Tasting Menu and, while it wasn't nearly as innovative as Paste, it still was very tasty. We started with mojitos in tall chilled glasses and dined on a palm salad before diving into entrees like a full lamb shank, tender off the bone, served in a tangy curry sauce. We were told to order the "Broken Bucket" for dessert and that's what I'll remember years to come. A woman arrived with dry ice to create an abstract concoction of goodness, replete with smoke, white chocolate, and coconut sorbet. What a festive way to end our trip! 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 02/21/19 at 06:00 AM
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Monday, February 18, 2019

Hong Kong Dining

Yes, the dim sum (One Dim Sum, Tin Ho Wan) and bao (Little Bao) lived up to expectations. But it was the other international fare that far surpassed anything I anticipated. The hummus, babaganoush, tabbouleh, and shawarma at Maison Libanaise was the best I've had outside the Middle East. The Nepalese food at Manakamana in the Kowloon Night Market was so authentic I was sitting next to monks from Kathmandu. Even the French bistro, Bouchon, popular with Aussie expat workers dining in the outdoor garden during lunch, served a tasty steak frites and tender barramundi wrapped in rice paper. But my favorite restaurant in Hong Kong was Yardbird in the Sheung Wan neighborhood. Old school R&B from Donnie Hathaway to Luther Vandross was thumping as we walked into the crowded bar on a Friday night and ordered innovative cocktails. We waited an hour to snag one of the coveted tables and once the food arrived, it was definitely worth the wait. Their specialty is yakitori, where different parts of the chicken arrive on small kebabs. All were juicy, but the neck, inner thigh, and meatball selections were out of this world. Also order the KFC, spicy Korean fried cauliflower. 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 02/18/19 at 06:00 AM
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Thursday, December 20, 2018

Enjoy Fondue on the Rooftop Bar of Yotel Boston

Celebrate Winter Solstice by dining on fondue in the Seaport at Yotel Boston's rooftop Sky Lounge. It's supposed to hit a balmy 60 degrees in Boston tomorrow, but even if it does get a bit nippy, you'll be under overhead heaters and sharing big thick blankets. The Quattro Formaggio Cheese Fondue combines Gruyere, Blue, Swiss, and Cheddar Cheeses with cherry brandy, white wine, and secret spices. Order a cocktail and then watch the sun set…at 4 pm. 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 12/20/18 at 06:00 AM
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Friday, November 30, 2018

Dining in Bloomington, Indiana

After my visit to Kentucky Bourbon Country, I drove 3 hours from Lexington to Bloomington, Indiana for the Dad's Sorority Weekend with my daughter, Melanie, at Indiana University. First stop was Mother Bear's, the classic pizza joint in town that I've been visiting regularly since Mel's first visit to campus. That night, Mel and her friends brought me to a new Mexican restaurant on North College Avenue called Social Cantina, which features a great taco selection, washed down with potent margaritas. The place was hopping and it's a great space, with a long bar serving a vast selection of tequilas. The same owner also has plans to open a nearby barbecue and bourbon joint called Smoke Works. We always end our weekend at Mel's favorite brunch spot, Uptown Café, for omelets, fresh baked bread, and good coffee. There's usually a wait on Sundays but the line moves fast and it's worth the wait. 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 11/30/18 at 06:00 AM
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Thursday, November 29, 2018

Dinner at Honeywood in Lexington

On our last night in Kentucky Bourbon Country, we started with Old Fashioned's (made with Buffalo Trace bourbon) at Middle Fork in the Lexington Distillery District. Then it was on to an upscale section of town to have dinner at the recommended Honeywood. We started with Tokyo Spice Chicken, wings with a nice jalapeno bite, and their signature dish, sweet potato beignets. Then moved on to tender grouper and a dish of pork roast. Afterwards, we wandered over to one of the best ice cream joints in town, Crank & Boom, for a dish of blackberry and buttermilk ice cream. Across the way, we stumbled into a cozy bar, Whiskey Bear, and met the owner Daniel, who has assembled an impressive roster of top-shelf bourbon and whiskey. A great place for a nightcap or to watch a sporting event on the large-screen TVs when in Lexington. 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 11/29/18 at 06:00 AM
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Wednesday, November 28, 2018

A Stop at the Stave on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail

We left our tour of the Wild Turkey distillery and drove on backcountry roads past the rolling hills of bluegrass and horse farms of rural Kentucky to reach The Stave, a new stylish roadhouse restaurant and bar recommended to me by a friend in nearby Lexington. The owner, Rebecca, has designed many restaurants in the region. One step inside the cozy interior and it's hard not be charmed by both the look and the folks working here. The Stave made its debut in September just down the road from the Woodford Reserve distillery, a National Historic Landmark, and the impressive circa-1887 Castle & Key distillery that just reopened this year making vodka, gin, and eventually bourbon. Rebecca has hired a skilled chef at the helm, Jon Sanning. Start with warm black-eyed pea fritters with tangy sweet onion relish and cucumber salad, or the deviled eggs dusted with paprika and served on pickled greens. Then get ready for their version of the Louisville Hot Brown, this time served on corn bread instead of the typical white bread. Delicious! Wash it all down with sweet ice tea or an impressive roster of bourbons to sample. A fun stop for authentic Kentucky cooking in bourbon country. 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 11/28/18 at 06:00 AM
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Tuesday, October 23, 2018

A Stop in Naples for Pizza and Caravaggio

On the way down to Amalfi Coast, we stopped for an afternoon in Naples to wait for our friends to arrive at the train station. We left our bags in Left Luggage and walked straight to the pizza joint Elizabeth Gilbert went gaga over in "Eat, Pray, Love," L'antica Pizzeria da Michele Forcella. There's close to 1000 pizza places in Naples, often referred to as the birthplace of pizza, and Michele Forcella make's everyone's Top 10 list, from the Guardian to Yelp. We took a number, waited about 30 minutes with a mix of locals and travelers and then were squeezed into a long table in the last room. You have only two choices, margherita, with a fresh dollop of mozzarella or marinara, tomato sauce only with oregano and garlic. We ordered one of each (Gilbert ordered the double mozzarella in her book) and waited as the pizza come out of the wood-fired oven at breakneck speed. Each of the thin-crust pizzas, which come whole, not sliced, were delicious. But if I went back I'd go with Gilbert's order. The cheese was so fresh, it made each bite sublime. 

We had a couple hours to kill so we wandered the bustling streets of the city, walking past university students at a college before coming upon a handful of restaurants all with the artist Caravaggio in their names. I turned to Lisa and said there must be something by Caravaggio somewhere around here. Lisa went online and quickly realized that we were standing directly in front of a church, Pio Monte della Misericordia, that was home to one his seminal works, The Seven Works of Mercy (1607). We bought tickets and then went inside to see this impressive painting, one of his largest works. Caravaggio arrived in Naples in 1606, after fleeing Rome when he killed a man in a brawl. Luigi Carafa-Colonna, a nobleman who was a member of this congregation, protected the artist after he fled from Rome and then commissioned Caravaggio to execute what would be one of his great masterpieces. The painting depicts the seven works of corporal mercy to which the activities of Pio Monte were dedicated: give drink to the thirsty, bury the dead, house pilgrims, clothe the naked, visit the imprisoned, feed the hungry and comfort the sick. In Rome and Florence, we would see Caravaggio's best works with crowds of other admirers. Here in Naples, we had the place to ourselves. 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 10/23/18 at 06:00 AM
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Monday, September 03, 2018

Maine Week-Portland Deserves the Foodie Acclaim

It's no surprise that Portland was recently recognized by Bon Appetit magazine as the Restaurant City of the Year. Lisa and I have been heading up to Portland for memorable meals since the James Beard-award winning Fore Street opened over two decades ago. Another long-time love is Duckfat, always our first stop for those heavenly fries, innovative salads and grilled panini sandwiches, all washed down with an extra-thick milkshakes or Maine craft brew. Duckfat was once again our first stop in town last week, before checking in at the brand new AC Hotel Portland Downtown on the waterfront, a short stroll from the restaurant . Our 24 hours of gluttony continued with IPAs on the picnic tables at Rising Tide, dumplings at Bao Bao, and the best bagel and lox I had all year (including a stop at my old stomping grounds, Manhattan's Upper West Side at Barney Greengrass) at the deli, Rose Foods. Thankfully, we were headed the next day to Maine's North Woods to paddle and hike off all those luscious calories. 

 Photo by Jake Jermanok

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 09/03/18 at 06:00 AM
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about us
photo of Steve Jermanok
Longtime Boston Globe travel writer, Steve Jermanok, dishes out his favorite travel locales and provides topical travel information that comes across his desk. is an Austin-Lehman Adventure's Top 125 Best Travel Blog Semi-Finalist

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