When it comes to food, forget that other Portland. Oregon may have luscious marionberries and king crab, but they don’t have Maine’s blueberries, nor chefs so creative that they make wonderfully imaginative lobster dishes and then turn the empty shells into non-polluting golf balls for cruise ship practicing.
Portland, Maine, named “America’s Foodiest SmallTown” by Bon Appetit Magazine, cemented that honor this past weekend with its fourth annual “Harvest on the Harbor” From Thursday through Saturday, in and around the stunning Ocean Gateway Terminal Building overlooking (practiclly IN) Casco Bay, thousands of hungry guests took culinary themed tours, tasted, dined and voted in chef competitions until, sated and impressed, everyone agreed with Coastal Living Magazine that this event is “one of the top ten seafood and wine festivals in North America.”
Bookended with two grazing events in which people sampled hundreds of culinary dishes, the Friday noon function,called “Maine Lobster Chef of the Year Competition,” was a sit-down affair for 200, featuring three chefs demonstrating how they cooked their different dishes as diners tasted each one, and asking all those in the room to vote on a winner.
That turned out to be Thomas Reagan, a personal chef from Kennebunk, whose Slow Poached Lobster Tail Nipponese involves cooking the lobster in a lemon butter sauce and serving it with a delicate rice cake and orange miso coleslaw dressing. As a testament to the finesse of “Chef Tommy’s” touch, he suggested to those who might be cooking this dish at home, that “you add five grains of kosher salkt to it; just five” Along with the samples of three entrees were three different tastes of wine from USA Wine West: two Big Claw White wines from Central Coast, California, and a Big Claw Syrah Rose from Paso Robles, California.
Friday night’s dinner event, with 200 more guests, called “Top of the Crop: Maine’s Best Farm to Table Chef,” highlighted the festival’s commitment to locally grown and responsibly harvested foods. All five courses, including dessert, made use of fresh pumpkin, ready for harvesting in this last week of October. From the creamy pumpkin soup with confit of goat and goat milk/black pepper ricotta to the cider braised pork rib to pumpkin confit with guinea hen galantine and local eel porcine with a tama miso sauce, to 48-hour braised pork belly and pumpkin gnocchi to the pumpkin shaped whoopee pie with Maine maple cream cheese filling, the wonderful food was accompanied by chardonnay, Monti al Mare, chenin blanc and Barbera from Cellardoor Winery.
Judged by a panel that included food writers and celebrity chef Mark Tarbell, owner of Tarbell’s Restaurant in Phoenix, Arizona, the winner was Joshua Mather of Joshua’s Restaurant in Wells. Mather’s dish included cider braised country style pork rib, mashed potatoes, balsamic roasted beets, maple roasted carrots and squash, cranberry chutney and candied pumpkin seed. The chef grew up on a farm and all the ingredients of the winning dish were grown on the farm that he now owns and uses for his restaurant.
The final two events on Saturday, the last day of the festival, included samplings of scores of dishes, wines, cooking demonstrations, signings by cookbook authors and live musical entertainment, the latter which also occurred at the previous events. About 1200 people attended each of the two samplings. Strolling through the Marketplace at the Oceanside Pavilion along the harbor, guest David Herring, Jr., of South Portland, said he was impressed by the smooth flow of so many people all tasting and sampling, without too many waiting lines. “The layout worked really well,” he noted, adding that his favorite dish was a lobster stew with crostini, from Cook’s Lobster House Restaurant on Bailey Island.
HOTELS — AUTHOR’S CHOICE
If you decide to come to this delicious event in the future, the best place to stay is at the Residence Inn Marriott across the street from the Ocean Gateway Pavilion and an easy walk to downtown Portland as well. We chose the hotel’s fifth floor Deluxe Studio suite, with floor-to-ceiling wraparound-the-corner windows overlooking Casco Bay, a spectacular setting. Among other amenities, such as heated indoor swimming pool and cardio fitness room, is a complimentary, hot, full breakfast buffet
Portland is just over two hours’ drive from Boston.