Thursday, March 1, 2012

Hooray For Maine Restaurant Week!

This is what I look like during Maine Restaurant Week.
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Oh, goody, goody gumdrops!!!! Though I've been (rightfully) accused of being a Cynical Cyndi on more than one occasion, at this moment I'm pretty much beside myself with glee. I'm so happy I can't stop humming "Break My Stride." Why the sudden glass half full attitude? Well, I've been waiting months for today's precious three little words.

No, no, not those three little words! These ones: Maine Restaurant Week.

If you aren't familiar with Maine Restaurant Week, let me enlighten you: restaurant week is basically a celebration of the culinary awesomeness of a given city/town/state. It's also better than Christmas. Restaurant weeks originated in New York in the early '90s. Maine, always a little late to the party, caught wind of these celebrations in 2009. This is excellent news for all us Mainahs because during the glorious week, participating restaurants offer carefully selected three-course meals at an affordable* fixed price. That's right, all you broke food lovers can actually go out to eat and maybe even pay for your date's meal, too. (Ha, I know. Crazy talk!)


This year's participating restaurant lineup is seriously excitement-worthy. I'm particularly pumped to try some new places, as well as hit up the restaurants I don't often frequent on account of my depressing bank account. It's time to branch out. And Maine Restaurant week is the PERFECT time to pop my new restaurant cherry. I won't list all the amazing places participating because MRW's website already hooked you up with a full rundown, but I will mention some of my personal Portland highlights.

Bonobo Wood Fire Pizza
46 Pine Street
Portland, Me

image from vinetgrub.wordpresscom

How Much: $20

Why I'm Excited: I've never eaten at Bonobo, which is silly because it's located very close to my apartment and I have a mild addiction to pizza. Like many Portlanders, my current dealer has been OTTO. The drug they feed me: mashed potato, bacon, and scallion pizza, a slice clearly amazing for my taste buds, but not so much for my waistline. Since I'm not crazy or self-loathing enough to give up pizza cold turkey,  I've been looking for a nonbacon-covered alternative to satisfy my cravings. I have yet to find one, but after reading plenty of lovely things about this place, I'm hoping Bonobo will be the methadone to my bacon. If not, at least they have creme brulee on the menu this week.

Their MRW menu

El Rayo Cantina
85-101 York Street
Portland, ME

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How much: $30

Why I'm Excited: Like every Portlander, I've frequented El Rayo Taqueria several times for my cheap Mexican food fix. I've even argued with my brother over the pronunciation* as we dined on their delicious, calorie-stuffed burritos. Recently, El Rayo decided to class it up with a slightly more expensive version, complete with an extended menu (word on the street is they have burgers--be still my heart!). Since its January open, everyone's been giving El Rayo Cantina rave reviews. called El Rayo's second culinary effort "Mexican comfort food."

Mexican. Comfort. Food. Marinate on that for a moment.

... add to the equation the coconut cream pie they're offering for dessert and El Rayo may need to take out a restraining order against me because I'm pretty sure I'll never leave of my own accord.

*My brother prefers the "correct" Spanish pronunciation--"el rye-o"; I prefer the uneducated Maine pronunciation where rayo sounds like a ray of light plus the last name of this Grey's Anatomy actress.

Their MRW menu

Five Fifty Five
555 Congress Street
Portland, ME

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How much: $40

Why I'm Excited: While I realize this is an obvious Portland choice, I absolutely do not care. My life pretty much peaked a few months ago when I had their lobster truffle oil mac n' cheese. To my complete delight, I see that they have a truffle mac on the MRW pre-fixed menu, so say what you will haters, to Five Fifty Five I will go. Also, I'm always broke and I'm single,* so typically the only chance I have of eating at this restaurant is if my parents are feeling generous. Maybe $40 has some broke kids running in the other direction (I'm looking at you ramen eaters), but I will sacrifice some of the finer things in life (beer) in order to pick up my own tab at Five Fifty Five and spend less than $50.

*For the record, I do get asked out, occasionally (usually by weirdos, but still, I get asked out, OK?!). My life isn't sad. However, I don't trust a man that brings me to Five Fifty Five on the first date. What exactly does he expect I give in return? Good luck getting that after I've destroyed a mountain of lobster mac n' cheese...

Their MRW menu

83 Exchange Street
Portland, ME

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How much: $30

Why I'm Excited: I've only eaten here once. It was when Sonny's first opened their doors, over two years ago. It was for lunch, and I was broke so naturally I ordered the cheapest thing on the menu. Though the burrito was good, I don't recall any religious experiences. However, I understand they were still tweaking their menu and working through new restaurant kinks. I've often been to Sonny's since for drinks only, and have always enjoyed myself (sometimes too much). I hear the food is delicious, which doesn't surprise me as it's the culinary endeavor of Local 188's Jay Villani. That being said, I am determined to try again--but this time, I intend on going during my favorite week of the year. 

Sidenote: They have a lamb pot pie on their menu. Surely any place with lamb pot pie on the menu means business.

Their MRW menu

The Grill Room
84 Exchange Street
Portland, ME

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How much: $30

Why I'm Excited: Of Harding Lee Smith's three Rooms, I've been to The Front Room most often. You may have heard: they have bacon wrapped meatloaf. I know, it's not even fair. But, as we previously noted, I need to move away from bacon. So Grill Room, give me all the steak you got, stat! What? Steak's not a healthy alternative to bacon? Oh...

I went to The Grill Room once for my roommate Kelley's birthday. Her parents generously picked up the tab and for one perfect night, I was able to enjoy a real steak. That beautiful moment came and went, and since then, I have not seen nor tasted a steak so tender, delicious, and wholly out of my price range. It was like spending the most incredible evening with the perfect man--funny, smart, handsome, likes Buffy the Vampire Slayer---only to never see him again, save for the occasional drunk Facebook stalking. So imagine my excitement to discover that for only $30 I can once again experience the Grill Room's mouth-watering NY sirloin. Meatgasm. Ew, that's horrible sounding--but I'm sticking to it.

Their MRW menu 

While there's a ton of other restaurants I'm out of my skull excited about, I can't make this blog post go forever. I'm feeling faint as I've been fasting in preparation for the coming week. I'm taking it really seriously, too, this whole fasting thing; I've only had like five or six meals today, so as you can imagine I'm pretty lightheaded.

If I don't fall into a deep food-induced coma in the next few days, I'll be sure to post about my Maine Restaurant Week experiences. I can only hope you get out there, too. Think of Maine Restaurant Week as a gift. It's a chance to ask out that person you've had a crush on for months. To take your parents out to dinner, and actually pick up the tab. To support local business and refine your culinary know, all that good stuff. Whatever your reasons for dining this week, godspeed and good luck.

Until next time, enjoy the next ten days. I know I will.

Oh, above all else, don't be a dick--remember to tip.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

A Guide For Your First Bonnaroo

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Back in 2006, when I was a brand new high school graduate with zero common sense and a whole lot of attitude, a bunch of my friends and I packed into an 11-person van with my crazy relatives and set out on what would become one of the coolest family traditions in the history of family traditions: Bonnaroo.

I hate to hippie out on you, but that first year at the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival was seriously a magical experience. I won't get into details, but just imagine seeing Radiohead, Tom Petty, Phil Lesh, Beck, Cat Power, Bonnie Raitt, Elvis Costello, Bright Eyes, and Buddy Guy (just to name a few), all within four days of each other. You'd use Drew Barrymore nonesense words like magical to describe the experience, too.

After this first incredible year, my family, friends, and I came to the obvious conclusion that we must return annually to the magical world of Bonnaroo. And return we did. From 2006 to 2009, we gathered our camping gear every June and headed for Tennessee with visions of nonstop concerts dancing in our heads.

Sadly, 2009 haulted the tradition. I have Cystic Fibrosis, a genetic lung disease, and had come down with a rather nasty sinus infection a few weeks before my Bonnaroo departure. Not one to be slowed down by the bully that is my disease (I'm blessed to have been quite healthy in my 23 years), I consulted my family and we decided we'd go through with our annual festival, despite my sinuses. This would have been fine, had we not arrived to Bonnaroo during a tornado warning. While luckily, no twisters ripped through the campsite to swallow us whole, it did rain like a bastard. And this torrential downpour was no friend to our camping situation. Enter soggy tents, and my eventual pneumonia.

Clearly, I recovered (I'm here writing this blog post, aren't I?) and by mid-July, I was back on my feet ready to be my regular, weird self. Though sadly, it seemed my Bonnaroo days were over.

Last week, I was perusing the internet while at work (I post events for a local music/film magazine and creepin' on Facebook is literally part of my job description), and I saw the release of Bonnaroo's 2012 lineup. Radiohead! Red Hot Chili Peppers! The Avett Brothers! Feist! The Shins! Dear God, THE BEACH BOYS?! After dislodging the bite of OTTO pizza I had choked on in a moment of sheer excitement, I decided I would become the Brett Favre of Bonnaroo: I just can't stay retired.

So, my sister and I got our tickets for 2012,* and we've already recruited some first timers to come with us (that's what she said?). As this will be my fifth year, making me something of a Bonnaroo veteran (God, I'm important), I've compiled a guide for the Bonnaroo newb. I hope you find these tips helpful.

*Apparently, we were some of the lucky ones as the Bonnaroo site encountered server issues Saturday, leaving several Bonnaroo hopefuls unable to purchase their tickets. I love Bonnaroo, but this wasn't surprising to hear. They are notorious for not having their shit together. Goddamn hippies.

Save Some Dollah Bills

Between ticket prices, travel costs, food expenses, and vendors, you're going to spend some money at this festival. While that may deter some folks, think about Bonnaroo as your vacation. It's four days (or longer if you drive from far away) and you're going to want to enjoy yourself. Sadly, in this day and age, that often means you need some money. If you show up with only $50, enjoying yourself can become difficult. No matter how well-prepared you are, you're probably going to want to buy some swag while you're there. Whether it's due to delicious vendor food, a silly memorabilia T-shirt, or some overpriced beer, your bank account will not remain static. And that's a promise.

To save yourself from buyer's remorse, or negative bank accounts, save up. Festival tickets went on sale this past Saturday, Februray 18th. If you commit to going early enough, you can financially plan accordingly. You've essentially got three and a half months to stuff your piggy bank. Get to it.

Travel Arrangements

I know that music festivals have a carefree vibe, but when it comes to your travel arrangements, I don't suggest flying by the seat of your pants. It may be tempting to say absurd things like "I think I'll just hitchhike," or "bum a ride," but I urge you to not be an idiot. Hitchhiking is illegal and bumming a ride sounds like you're not going to pay for anything, which is incredibly false.

If you're flying, lock that up ahead of time, son. Maybe not this instant, but don't wait until five days before the festival to book your flight. You will be very sad if you wait for an unreasonably priced flight, are unable to afford said outrageous flight, and must forfeit your Bonnaroo ticket to a depressingly low bidder.

If you decide you want to drive, make sure your car works.  A no-brainer, right? Maybe, but I can guarantee that several naive music fans have hopped in their 1982 mufflerless junkers and hoped for the best on their way to the festival. Don't do that--it will be awful if your car breaks down 10 hours from Manchester. And if you get stuck in the south, no one wants to help a kid on their way to a goddamn hippie festival. Make sure your car can handle the trip before you embark.

Another tip: don't travel alone. Like Ringo, you'll get by with a little help from your friends. Driving by yourself is dangerous. Plus, it won't be nearly as fun of a roadtrip without some foolish friends for company. (Did you guys see Crossroads with Britney Spears? Yeah, don't worry, it won't be anything like that.) Also, if like me you live far away from Tennessee, it's going to be a long drive--the drive from Maine is 20 hours. So sharing the wheel will probably be nice. I don't drive, but at least this is what I've been told. Also, like on any roadtrip, it's smart to plan ahead, financially. Figure out your estimated cost of gas, and split that ish up among your friends. Friends that pay together, stay together. (That's the motto for college Greek Life, at least.)

For those more financially-secure Bonnarooians (you lucky bastards), an RV is an excellent way to go. My family splurged for one in '08 and it ruled.  Keep in mind that you will typically need someone over the age of 25 to drive any rental vehicle.

Be Patient

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The line to drive into Bonnaroo is Hell on Earth. It's long. It's crowded. You will have to pee the entire time. Prepare yourself. If your air conditioner is broken, you will be sweaty. If you bought a bunch of beer and didn't get coolers, you will drink skunked beer. If your vehicle's radio doesn't work, you will listen to your tone deaf travel buddies. But despite these atrocities, try to keep your cool. One year, we were stuck in line traffic for at least six hours. The police who "guide" you into the festival are sneaky and like to send you roundabout ways. Just accept these facts, and above all else, remember: you're going to Bonnaroo! So turn that frown upside down.

Bring A Good Tent

A good tent is crucial to your enjoyable Bonnaroo experience. This is a rain or shine festival, and as you read above, I sadly succumbed to one year's crappy weather. Make sure you have a sturdy tent that won't turn into a Slip n' Slide if it starts to rain. If it's already raining when you arrive, don't set up. Wait. Stay in your car. It won't be a comfortable night, but it will be way better than sleeping in a soggy, mildewing tent for the next four days. Pneumonia blows--I wouldn't recommend it.

Don't Count On Sleeping In

Concerts at Bonnaroo go until three, sometimes four in the morning. You may not stay out late every night, but chances are you won't be in bed by any reasonable hour. As a result, you're going to be pretty tired in the morning. Since shows don't start up again until around noon, you may think you're going to get some quality snoozing during the late hours of the morning. Think again, kid. You're in Tennessee. In the summer. It's going to be close to 100 degrees some days, and the sun is out early. Your tent is going to be even hotter. By 7am, you'll be be one sweaty mess. Your dilemma is tough; missing sweet nighttime shows is hardly an option, but getting rundown and sick from lack of sleep doesn't exactly sound like a party either. 

My advice: prepare your body for its early wake-up time. And then, take advantage of one of my favorite pastimes--napping! It will cool down later in the evening (hopefully!). Find a time you can spare 30 minutes, or an hour, and sleep in your bathing suit/in your underwear/completely naked in the tent. Battery operated fans are amazing for optimal nap enjoyment.

Stock Up On Groceries

Normally, I wouldn't endorse WalMart. That being said--I always stop there on my way to Bonnaroo. It's cheap and it has everything. While there's plenty of delicious food provided by the many Bonnaroo vendors, if you like your bank account displaying positive numbers, I recommend buying a ton of groceries. Make a list. Bring multiple coolers. You will want one for beer (always overestimate!), one for water/Gatorade (again, overestimate!), and one for perishable goods. I recommend buying cold cuts for easy, on-the-go lunches, as well as grillable meats. Which of course means you will need a grill. Not only will your Bonnaroo experience be that much more delicious with a grill, but you will be one popular cat at your campsite. Grills make friends. Trust me.

I know that sometimes when it's super hot you don't feel much like eating. But when you don't eat, you get weak. And when you're weak in 100 degree heat, bad things can occur. So, what do you do? Bring some jerky. For those of you (mostly girls) turning up your noses at the thought of this snack, hush ya mouths. While it may look like dog food, jerky is downright delicious, and you know it. And no, I'm not talking about Slim Jims. I mean real jerky. Plus, it's lightweight, and serves as a great source of protein and carbs. Nom nom nom.

Oh, and be sure to get toilet paper. Lots of it! With 100,000 Bonnarooians running about, those Porta Potties get pretty nasty come the third day. Add the general grossness of those bad boys to the unfortunate situation of no TP, and you've got the saddest festival goer on Earth. 

Hydrate! Hydrate! Hydrate!

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As previously noted, it's going to be HOT at Bonnaroo. The risk of dehydration is high. Though I was forced to go on a Bonnaroo hiatus after my 2009 pneumonia incident, I also had a pretty big scare in 2007 when I suffered from heat stroke. I passed out and woke up in the medical tent, hooked up to an IV. I was shocked, as I'd been drinking tons of water the entire weekend. However, while water is clearly a great thing to have, when it's that hot you need to replenish your body's electrolytes. Buy Gatorade. If you want a less sugary option, Gatorade's flavored water, Propel, is good. It has some sweetener, but not nearly as much as Gatorade. And though it doesn't replenish quite as many electrolytes (Propel replenishes 190 milligrams per 20 ounces; Gatorade replished 275 milligrams per 20 ounces), it does the trick.

It's also worth mentioning that you aren't allowed to bring any outside food or drink into the actual Bonnaroo gate, where the concerts are located. You can only keep your grocieries outside of the stage area at the campsites. This poses a problem to the broke Bonnaroo kid because water/Gatorade/beer inside the gates will cost you an arm and a leg.

Solution: a camelback.

From my past experience, these are allowed everywhere at the festival. I am unsure why, but I won't question it. So fill up that sucker with some hydrating goodness and get to it, you super saver, you!

I do realize you won't only be drinking Gatorade the entire time. If you're going to booze, I'd steer clear from day drinking. That's honestly the fastest way to dehydrate yourself. Take a cue from Kenny Chesney and good ole Uncle Kracker, and wait for when the sun goes down.

Buddy Up

While most of the people you encounter at Bonnaroo are going to be pretty friendly, this is a festival with almost 100,000 people. It's awesome to make new friends, but there's bound to be a creepshow or two that slips through the cracks. This isn't to scare you, but you ought to be prepared. Remember: stranger danger is real!

One great way to avoid any bad situations is to buddy up. Don't go to a show by yourself. Don't go off with strangers alone. Don't take candy from that old man that looks like a wizard (he's real and you will meet this gentleman and he will offer you something from his cloak). Male or female, it's always safer in groups. You want to live to see the next Bonnaroo so just be smart.

Creepy strangers aside, if you don't heed my Gatorade advice and do wind up dehydrated, being alone is very dangerous! So grab a pal, share some hydrating bevs, and enjoy the festival together. You'll have more fun that way, I promise. I missed The White Stripes because I was a dehydrated fool who thought I could hack it alone. Lesson learned.

 Map Out Your Itinerary (but don't freak out when it changes!)

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As it gets closer to the actual festival, the day-by-day schedule is released, and the good people at Bonnaroo let you customize your itinerary on their website. I did this every year I went and it was super helpful. If you don't attempt some sense of organization, you're bound to miss a ton of incredible shows and you will be bummed. I missed The Avett Brothers in 2008 and Al Green in 2009 and still haven't forgiven myself. However, it's worth noting that no matter how carefully you plan, unforseen things are going to happen and your schedule will alter. You will miss a few shows. You will fall asleep under a tree. Your friend will convince you to go to Shakedown Street instead of checking out that band your roommate recommended. You can't go to everything. It's impossible. So for the Type A festival attendee, I suggest you take a breath and just roll with it.

Don't Be A Dick 

I mean that in the nicest way possible. In case you can't tell by this post, I love Bonnaroo. However, there are some things about my past experiences that piss me off. First off, I can't stand the jerks who litter. Take some personal responsibility, man. Plus, what kind of hippie are you? You're supposed to care about the environment!

Second, don't bring glass bottles. They ask you not to, and there's a very good reason for this request: glass cuts people, genius. Though the Bonnaroo staff does a pretty thorough check upon arrival, the occasional butthead still gets in with glass bottles. This is the pits because the type of people who disobey the very few Bonnaroo rules are typically not the type of people to responibly dispose of their forbidden glass. As a result, my feet get cut to crap and the Bonnaroo staff has to clean up the bloody remaining shards. So just don't do it, please.

While smoking isn't forbidden at Bonnaroo, it's a really douchey thing to do. As a music lover with a lung disease, I find it unfair and annoying that I have to essentially inhale all of your nasty, carcinogenic smoke because you have a filthy habit and we both happen to like music. I'm not stupid. I know smoking is going to happen. But before you light up at the actual stage, consider the people around you. The concerts are often very tightly packed and it's hard to escape the secondhand smoke. I don't make you bite my nails when you're standing next to me at Radiohead, don't make me smoke your cigarette. Sidenote: it's 2012, what on EARTH are you still doing buying cigarettes?!

Above all else...HAVE FUN!

Bonnaroo is amazing. You're going to love it. Wear lots of sunscreen, invest in a hat, get used to smelling fairly awful, make sure you get approved time off from your boss for June 7th-June 10th, and be prepared for the time of your life. I couldn't be more excited to return and I hope (and know) you're gonna have a fantastic time!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Some Valentines From Me To You

Yesterday, I ran over to CVS on my lunchbreak in search of rolled oats (I made no-bake peanut-butter cookies last night, nom nom nom), and on my quest, I noticed a funny phenomena: large groups of grown men, sweating, pacing, and basically falling over each other in the Valentine's Day card aisle. Oh, you last-minute boyfriends, will you ever learn?

The only card I'll be receiving for this year's holiday is most likely whichever silly jibjab card my mom decides to create and spam my inbox with. This is OK. I'll be spending Valentine's Day with a bunch of like-minded single friends eating 2-for-1 pizzas and listening to bad love songs on the jukebox at the most romantic spot in Portland: Howie's Pub. No, it's not depressing. It's awesome. Despite my single status, curiosity got the best of me while in CVS and I had to check out some of the cards these men were all but throwing fists over. What I saw was beyond lame. And I thought to myself: I could make better cards than these.

So I did.

The ones I created are sometimes corny, mostly inappropriate, and always stupid. Here you are...Happy Valentine's Day!

For the caffeinated (and corny) Valentine:

 I Like You A Latte.

For the animal lover:

 My life would stink without you.

For the person who puts up with your crap:

Valentine's Day would be crappy without you.

For the card-carrying member of the NRA:

Valentine, you are a barrel of fun.

For the morbid Valentine:
I really dig you.

For the overheated Valentine:

Life's the pits without you. 

For Jennifer Love-Hewitt:

I'm hooked on you.

For the hip Valentine:

 I'll always love you, even if you go mainstream.

For the person with really crappy taste in '80s rock (or Katie Deshaies):

I would do (almost) anything for love.

For Bill:
I'm a sucker for you.

For the film buff:

I want to ______ your Face/Off.


Here's to hoping I'm not "gone in sixty seconds" this Valentine's Day ; )

For the fraudulent Valentine:
 You stole my heart.

For the wordy Valentine:

Make a move already.

For him (from him):

I can't BEAR to be without you.

For the fruit lover:

I'm bananas for you.

Friday, February 10, 2012

A Thrifty Valentine's Day in Portland, ME

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Whether your girlfriend says she "doesn't care" about Valentine's Day or not, you should probably do something for the occasion. I know. It's a fake holiday. It's totally commercialized. You shouldn't be told by chocolate companies and Hallmark which day of the year to express your love for somebody.Yada Yada. This doesn't change the fact that if you listen to your girlfriend's half-hearted attempts to convince you she "doesn't care," you will most likely be met with a very icy, disappointed (and less than willing to put out) woman come February 14th. Sorry, I didn't make the rules. I just live in this world and try my best to survive like the rest of you.

So, what's a dude to do?* If you're young and still paying off those pesky student loans, spending money on a holiday you don't really believe in is probably the last thing you want to do. Well, lucky for you, I've got some ideas for the thrifty romantic.

*This post doesn't apply to dudes only. Or just heterosexual couples. This is an equal opportunity blog. Love is love. And pissed off significant others are very real, regardless of gender or sexual orientation. Essentially, this "advice" is for anyone in a relationship with someone more romantic than themselves. It's time to bring your "A" game gents, ladies, whoever you are. I'm also concentrating on younger couples--we still play games. I don't know why this happens but young people are idiots and don't often like to tell each other what they really want.

Let's start with dinner. If you do decide you want to drop some dollah bills and plan on taking your special someone out for a fancy meal on Valentine's Day, don't be a bonehead: make reservations now! As it's less than one week away from V-Day, some Portland restaurants might already be booked. Call ahead. You will be embarrassed if you tell your honey she's about to be treated to a four course meal at Five Fifty Five and end up barely able to get a grease-stained seat at Five Guys. Don't know where to go? Here's a helpful rundown of some Portland-area restaurants doing V-Day dinner specials.

Extra points for making heart-shaped foods! Actually, that's kind of lame...
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If you're reading this blog, you are probably broke so you're not going to be taking anyone out to dinner. That's fine. Cook dinner instead. What's your special lady's (or guy's) favorite meal? Start there. Get on punchfork and find a recipe that looks doable. If you're not a great cook, practice! You've got a few days. Even if you totally screw the whole thing up, most people would be very touched that you a) remembered their favorite meal and b) tried to cook it. Brownie points galore, which means you're probably going to get laid.* Worse case scenario: you burn it to char. Guess what? OTTO Pizza delivers. Problem solved.

*Apologies to the members of my family who read this. I don't even know what that means. I just heard it in a movie once.

Now, if you want to actually leave your apartment, there's some cool stuff going on in Portland that won't permemantly destroy your credit history.

For the beer-loving Valentine, Novare Res Bier Cafe is the place to be. From February 10th-February 14th, they are hosting a Valentine's Choco Pairing. 8 handcrafted beers paired with 8 handcrafted chocolates courtesy of Sweet Marguerites. Chocolate is always sexy (have you seen Chocolat with Johnny Depp!??!)--add some alcohol, and who knows what might happen. While the financially-challenged wooer may get anxiety about beer prices at Novare Res, it's not that bad. Plus, Bud Lite really doesn't go well with handcrafted chocolate. Just suck it up and spend a little extra. Hint: don't get drunk! You'll spend less and your chances of remaining smooth are way higher.

Since Valentine's Day is on a Tuesday this year, a lot of celebration events are actually going down over the weekend.

If your girlfriend/boyfriend isn't the most romantic of honeydips, that's OK. Tonight, Geno's is hosting an Anti-Valentine's Day Prom. Dust off that tux/old prom dress and get ready to relive high school. No, actually, it's going to be much cooler than high school, because there's (legal) alcohol and you don't have a curfew. It's only $5 if you dress up ($7 if you're lame and don't), so your bank account is safe. Also, When Particles Collide, Yes We Kin, A Severe Joy, and Pretty & Nice are all playing this show. Four bands for $5? Bargain city.

Is your honey a Mad Man fan? Well, then you should probably head to Bayside Bowl this Saturday for their 60s-era themed MadLove Valentine's Day event. Dressing up like Don Draper is basically guaranteed sexy times. It's only $5 to get in, and there's going to be sweet music from the '50s and '60s all night, so if your Valentine likes to dance you can spin her around the dance floor like a boss.

Want to be really romantic? Check out Petite Jacqueline's French Movie Night this Sunday, February 12th. I just blogged about this the other week because it's freakin' awesome. The movie itself is free (this week they're screening French romance classic A Man and A Woman), and you don't necessarily have to buy your date dinner. Make dinner at home then go for the movie and dessert ($5-7). Boom--finance problems solved and you still look like quite the romantic baller.

I get it: french cinema isn't for everyone. If subtitles stress you out, maybe try hitting up Boda across the street, instead. This self-dubbed "very Thai" kitchen features 1/2 price deals on their late night menu Sundays after 9. Their food is delicious, and you're still keepin' it pretty classy (while on a budget) by taking your date to a tapas bar.

Looking for things to do on the actual holiday? Once again Bayside Bowl is a good place to start. Their country night Too Broke To Be This Drunk features Valentine's Duets. The cover for this honky tonk love fest is once again, only $5. I realize country's not for everyone (though Too Broke is a hell of a lotta fun), so I'm also going to tell you that Cover to Cover is back at the Big Easy! To kick off their second season, they have the marvelous jazz poet Lazy Zen covering Erykah Badu's Baduizm. If a little R&B/neo-soul doesn't get you in the mood, I don't know what will on Valentine's Day.

Really, Valentine's Day is about being together--not grand gestures or ridiculous amounts of spending. You don't need to name a star after her (God, don't do that). You don't need to propose...that's corny, and if you do, I hope she says no on the grounds of your crappy imagination. Just show them that you're glad to be their main squeeze. Whether you guys like to go to concerts, movies, restaurants, whatever--just do something together. It'll be nice. If you actually like this person, which I hope you do as you're in a relationship with them, you'll probably even have fun.

If you aren't seeing anyone special this V-Day, please don't be a Debbie Downer about it. What's the big deal? Valentine's Day is supposed to be about appreciating the people you love. Just because you're not getting any doesn't mean you have to overdose on junk food and cry while you listen to Adele's "Someone Like You" (What? I've never done that...). Call your parents, your grandparents, your sister, your best friend, whoever you love, and tell them you love them. Be happy you're lucky enough to have such wonderful people in your life, and then move on to February 15th.

 "No, I don't hate Bradley Cooper for being erroneously voted People's Sexiest Man Alive. Why do you say that?"

Another excellent "single" Valentine's Day option: Ryan Gosling movies are On Demand all month long, so really, how bad can being alone really be? I know--just when you think Time Warner Cable is the antichrist, they go and do something saintly like this. So, open a bottle of red, treat yourself to your favorite chocolates, and enjoy endless hours of Gosling. That sounds better than pretty much any other V-Day alternative, single or not. Oh, and whatever you do, don't do this.

Until next time, may your Valentine's Day be filled with yummy food, tasty beers, skinny ties, maybe some sexy times, and above all else, Ryan Gosling.

Monday, January 30, 2012

French Movie Night Series at Petite Jacqueline: The Perfect Sunday Night Out

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Ok, so those who know me may giggle to read my very excited post about something as fancy-sounding as a French movie night at a French bistro. But let me tell you, you don't need to be a fancy girl to attend Petite Jacqueline's french movie night. A pseudo tomboy,* I don't cook (unless boiling pasta counts?), I barely clean, I can't walk in heels, I drink too much cheap beer, I eat way too much pizza, and I have a hard time getting through the day without uttering words that might make a grown man blush. Not fancy in the least. However, I attended this "fancy-sounding" event last night and I still can't stop smiling. Pure loveliness.

*I don't dress like a boy. I don't play sports. But I am basically just too lazy to be feminine in a traditional sense. 

Sundays have unofficially become "date night" for me and my roommate Kelley. Both busy girls with full time jobs, Sunday seems to be our only mutual free night to hang out. Upon hearing about the French movie series a few weeks ago, Kelley and I both wanted to check it out. They screen a different movie every Sunday, and you sit at lovely little bistro tables, sipping on French wines and eating delightful dishes the whole film through. Despite our desire to go, we'd sadly let Saturday night's antics get the best of us, and instead wound up on our couches the past two Sundays, doomed to bumdom. This week, Kelley decided to be proactive and made us reservations at Petite Jacqueline. Today's permasmile is proof that this was a fantastic move.

We grabbed dinner elsewhere,* then headed to Petite Jacqueline around 7:30. The movies start at 8 but the hostess had recommended we come a little early so we could place our orders before it began. I'd never been inside the bistro before, and upon walking in, immediately liked it. The lighting was low, but not too low, the french artwork was a nice touch, and the music wasn't too loud. When we arrived they had just set up the movie screen with three rows of candlelit tables. It looked very--you guess it---fancy. I'd show you a picture, but for the first time in maybe two years, I left my iPhone at home. Rats!

*I had to use up a Groupon at Amigo's....not my favorite Portland Mexican spot, in case you were wondering. Unless you have a Groupon, too, I'd stick to drinks

Kelley and I took our seats and the server came over to grab our beverage order. (Note: the servers all wear striped shirts. I saw this over the summer and thought it was kind of cheesy, I've since changed my mind. I think it is rather charming upon a second look.) We brilliantly ordered a half carafe each of their house rose, causing the server to politely ask us if we wouldn't rather split a whole carafe. Smart girls. We did split the whole carafe and the rose was delicious. We also placed our orders for dessert (I got the crème brûlée, $6 and Kel ordered pot de crème au chocolat, $7). Still full from our Mexican feast, the server arranged it so our treats would come about half an hour into the movie.

While the more casual diner (or moviegoer) might think this all sounds a little too much for them, it's not. I did not wear my fancy girl disguise. Quite the contrary: I donned my typical oversized L.L. Bean flannel. No one seemed to care or notice. The servers are knowledgeable but not pretentious. They don't expect you to speak French. We asked a few times how to say different things, still failed to say them correctly, and unless one slipped past me, no eye rolls from our server.

The movie of the night was Julie and Julia. Though I adore Meryl Streep (I have half a brain and a heart, don't I?), I had missed this one back in 2009. As previously mentioned, I'm not the most feminine of girls. As a result, I tend to skip over movies that look too "chick flicky." Yes, yes, I sometimes suffer from a slight case of Cool Girl Disease and claim to hate all chick flicks. Confession: I've probably seen Never Been Kissed more than any other self-respecting woman on the planet, and last week I spent two nights alone on my couch surfing "romantic comedies" on Netflix. So yeah, I'm mostly full of shit. Anyway, Kel had seen Julie and Julia and assured me I'd like it.

Like it I did! It really isn't a chick flick at all--it's just a plain ole feel good movie. Maybe I got carried away by the atmosphere Petite Jacqueline so expertly crafted--or maybe I'd had too much rose, but I definitely teared up several times throughout the movie (in a happy way!). Of course Meryl delighted and impressed throughout and Stanley Tucci was consistently wonderful as her douting husband. I also enoyed Amy Adams' story--most likely because it's about the rise of one aspiring writer's blog. Regardless of the reasons, I couldn't stop smiling the entire film through. The film choice really blended perfectly to the entire feel of Petite Jacqueline's Movie Night. The bistro even pairs their food specials to match the film's theme; last night's menu featured boeuf bourguignon (a Julia Child staple) and upside-down martinis (Amy Adams' character's signature drink). I didn't order either, but they both looked delicious.

When our desserts came, I was fully engrossed in watching Julie try (and often fail) several Julia Child recipes. I was ready for my crème brûlée . And what a crème brûlée it was! First of all, it was huge. For a girl with a sweet tooth as strong as mine, this was beyond exciting. But not as exciting as the party my tastebuds were treated to. If you're a crème brûlée  fan, order this!  If you aren't, Petite Jacqueline's may convert you. For a nontraditional gal, I like to keep things surprisingly simple when it comes to this dessert. Vanilla bean was perfect. I realize their menu is subject to change and I would willingly try any other type of crème brûlée these folks whip up, but I have a feeling I'll be craving their vanilla bean recipe from here on out. Thanks Petite Jacqueline for providing me with yet another unhealthy vice.

Since I loved my wine and dessert so much, I think next time I'll get dinner. They have a three course Prix Fixe for $30. Despite being constantly broke, this seems very reasonable given the quality and the service. Or maybe I'll just ask my mom to come with me next time so she'll foot the bill. Just kiddin' Ma...but seriously, if you want to go...

And while this event may be the perfect mother-daughter outing or girls night out, date nights shouldn't be ruled out. I did notice everyone at last night's screening was in fact female--it could have something to do with this particular evening's movie choice or maybe just the idea of attending a French Movie Night on Sunday sounds unmanly* to certain image-concerned men. Either way, Petite Jacqueline's movie night is a perfect reason to get out of the house Sunday night. In fact, given the excellent experience I had, I'm going to make it a new Sunday tradition. I strongly recommend you do, too. Though don't bring too many people--there are only so many seats available and I'm going to be pissed if you take mine.

*If that's a real concern dudes, you guys are idiots! Just try telling me treating a girl to French cuisine and a film at a classy bistro isn't a completely pimp move?! Yeah, that's what I thought.

If you are smart and actually take my advice, make sure to make a reservation. We only got in because someone else had cancelled. Below I've provided the schedule (and menu specials) for the remainder of the series. And if you're not stuffing your face with wings and watching the TV as grown men in tights grunt and tackle each other at the Super Bowl, maybe I'll see you at Petite Jacqueline next Sunday. Bon Appétit!

February 5th- La Vie En Rose
Featuring coq au vin.

February 12th- A Man and a Woman
Featuring oysters and champagne.

February 19th- Ratatouille*
Featuring ratatouille.

Monday, January 9, 2012

How To: make a night of it in Bath, ME

I love Portland as much as the bicylce-riding, PBR-swigging hipster we've all come to know and hate on our walks down Congress Street. But, sometimes you just need to get the hell out of dodge. However, if you're broke as sin, getting "the hell out" can become tricky. Boston and NYC are almost instantly ruled out on account of being too expensive for your average broke Portlander. So should you just bite the bullet and head to The Downtown Lounge* for the fifth night in a row? Well, that's one option. But here's another solution I've found helpful when the itch to leave "the big city" starts to flare but bank accounts aren't quite measuring up to the task of spending: go to other towns in Maine.

*nothing against DTL--I love that place!

Wait...there are are other towns in Maine aside from Portland? And, they are, like, civilized? Yes, believe me, I was as shocked as you. Well, no, I wasn't, but I get where you're coming from. Portlanders, myself included, have a way of getting trapped in the bubble of our pretty little seaside city--however, it wouldn't be the worst thing on earth to check out some more of the state. And not just to hunt/fish/camp/pretend your outdoorsy. Believe it or not, culture doesn't cease to exist north of Portland. And Maine is significantly cheaper than other weekend getaways. This post focuses on one awesome non-Portland destination in particular: Bath, ME.

My friend Cam lives up in Bath, and after so many weekends of the Old Port scene and Congress Street bars, a few of us decided to pack our weekend bags and make the 45 minute drive to the City of Ships. I had only ever known Bath in passing, on my way to what I'd previously considered more desirable locations (Boothbay, Camden); however, I will not overlook it again.

Cam's been up that way a few years and was an excellent host. Knowing my affinity for wings and mac n' cheese, he took us to Beale Street Barbeque for dinner. Beale Street had been a long love of mine since childhood. I used to go to the old South Portland location often. Sadly, they no longer reside on the other side of the Casco Bay Bridge, but thank heavens for me (and BBQ fans across Maine), there's still one in Bath.

Cam (and his girlfriend, my lovely rooommate Kelley) were raving about the buffalo wings. As Kel is a bit of a buffalo wings connoisseur, and I'm never one to turn down buffalo anything, I ordered them. Boy, am I glad I did.  They were amazing. I know everyone's freaking out over Gritty's wings since they were named here as the fourth best in the country, but I strongly suggest Beale Street not be ruled out. They were cooked perfectly: not stringy and dry, but tender and cooked through. Also, the sauce was just right. Evenly coated and most importantly, no drippy messes. Well, maybe that's not true. When you eat like me, a mess is a hard thing to avoid, but at least the sauce wasn't dripping down my arms, so that's a plus. While there is no 50 cent wing special at Beal Street like at my beloved Samuel's, I still spent less than $20 with food AND drink. Total score.

After dinner, we decided to head out on our Bath pub crawl. Our first stop: J.R. Maxwell. Well, actually we were in their basement bar, The Boatbuilder's Pub. This place definitely gave off a "regulars only" vibe so if you're from out of town, be ready for some possible stare downs. Luckily, I didn't have to get all Road House Swayze on these regulars, because Cam seemed to know pretty much everyone there, easing the tension. And though the bartender still kind of of ignored the rest of us, we were all eventually served our drinks. I ordered the "double" gin and tonic. It seemed like the norm here and I reallly didn't feel like being the sweet bitch from Portland who only ordered a single. Word to the wise: their double felt more like triple so make sure you eat first (preferably at Beal Street!).


While we enjoyed our doubles, we played Big Buck Hunter, which, as evidenced by the video above, was hilarious. Though it was not my first time playing, it reminded me that more bars in Portland should probably get this game. There's nothing I like more than embarrassing myself in front of my drunken peers, so why not give me a fake gun and let me miss animated prey point-blank.

Once we tired of Buck Hunter, we moved on to The Black Barnacle. We didn't stay here for long, but they had a decent selection of beers on tap and a knowledgeable bartender, who let us try a couple of different samples before we decided what met our drinking needs. The beers weren't expensive so that's always a positive thing for me and my ever-dwindling bank account. The crowd appeared to be a bit older than us*, but this was nice. It seemed like a good place to grab a drink after work. They also feature live music most nights, so another thumbs up from me.

*us being 20s, crowd being 30s and up

(Pictured above: Maggie at Byrnes Irish Pub)

When we finished our drink at the Black Barnacle, we set sail for Byrnes Irish Pub. This was my favorite part of the night (aside from stuffing wings in my face). While there is a quite the array of authentic ones scattered throughout Portland, I never seem to tire of a good Irish pub. Once again, everyone knew Cam. But this time, despite never seeing us before, the bartender (and general manager) Maggie, was very friendly and the service was great. I ordered a Guinness, and as I anticipated it might be (with a name like Byrnes), it was a lovely pour. Maggie chatted with us throughout the night, giving that old "tell me your problems" bartender vibe which seems to have gotten lost these days. So, naturally, I told her my life story--sorry Maggie!

Not only was the service great, but the astmosphere was perfect for an Irish pub. It's the kind of place where even the Irish cops stop by at the end of their shift, still in uniform, to grab a Guinness. I'm not making that up. This happened while I was there. I even winked at this particular cop because we had ordered the same beverage. He didn't wink back.

While I recovered from the rejection, I took in the general atmosphere of Byrnes. The walls are covered in silly, alcohol-related Irish sayings and photos (as evidenced below) and they have a countdown to St. Patrick's Day located in the back of the pub. Even the bathrooms cracked me up; in the men's bathroom you can find a poster of the urinals of Dublin. Please ignore the fact that I used the men's bathroom in an Irish pub (imagine all the poor aim...), and just accept that this place is cool. Bath is somewhat notorious for its Irish heritage; they host a HUGE city-wide St. Paddy's Day celebration every March. If you haven't got any plans yet for March 17th, I'd suggest taking the trip to Bath. Be sure to stop in at Byrnes while your'e at it. Something tells me it's going to be pretty wild.

My friends and I enjoyed Byrnes so much that we closed the place out. We were also the first ones there in the morning for breakfast. There was a different bartender working the day shift, and she was just as cool. She instantly made fun of our friend for ordering regular coffee, rather than an Irish one. So naturally, I liked her right off the bat. Not one for morning drinking, I did muster up the strength for a Bloody Mary, which was delicious. I'm also not a huge going-out-to-breakfast girl, unless it's at Uncle Andy's Diner. I ordered the mac n' cheese, instead. It was good--a little more mild than I usually like but very homestyle and very cheesy, so kind of perfect for soaking up the previous night's Guinness.

Aside from cops ignoring my advances, I had a great time. While I've never been to Ireland, Byrnes felt authentic. Maybe it's because it's where the locals seem to congregate. Or maybe it's the laid-back, "Guinness will fix your problems" attitude. It could be the fact they host an Irish sing-a-long every Sunday, which is beyond awesome. I'm not sure. But whatever the reason, I like it. 

After 24 hours in Bath, I had to get back to Portland for a concert. As a result, I only got to spend one night in this little city. It was short, but very sweet. I fell in love with some buffalo wings, shot and missed animated deer, didn't spent too much money, and when I returned to Portland, I felt like I'd been on a mini-vacation. All in one night! I'll be back for sure and I suggest next time you're feeling Portland-ed out, you venture up, as well. If you actually heed my advice, say hi to Maggie for me.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Portland's Best: Happy Hour (Part I)

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While this past weekend's partying (and yesterday's headache) perhaps has more than a few of you ready to swear off alcohol for good this time, I've centered my first 2012 blog post around Happy Hours in Portland, Maine. Don't vomit. Just read.

I am a big fan of the Happy Hour. After work, I don't always want to go home to my empty cabinets and beerless fridge. Happy hour is a lovely alternative--if I attend said happy hour, I don't have to slave away boiling water for ramen noodles for the umpteenth night in a row. My lack of culinary skills and my love for local beers always has me on the lookout for the "ultimate" Portland Happy Hour. And though I'm sure I've missed a million good ones, I've compiled a list of some favorite spots for cheap drinks and eats.

Shay's Grill Pub in Monument Square has one of the best happy hours in town because of their food deals, as well as drink specials. Stop in to Shay's after a grueling Monday at the office and not only do they have $1.50 PBRs (don't roll your eyes; I am neither a hipster nor a lover of shitty beer--just broke), but you can pair that cheap swill with a $4 quesadilla. Wednesday nights their pub meals (usually priced between $13-15) are only $9.99, plus Bud Lites are on special for $2.50. And while the two beers I've mentioned are less than ideal for the beer snobs we cultivate here in Portland, Shay's Friday happy hour caters to those with a more refined palate: $3 local drafts. Boom.

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If you're not at Shay's on Monday night, you ought to check out The East Ender. It's located, as you may have guessed, in the east end, and it's got quite the happy hour hook up. They have pretty sweet deals every day; from 4pm-7pm they offer $2.50 Geary's Pale drafts, $3.50 Margaritas, and $3.50 House wine. But Monday night is the time to go because from 5pm to midnight, all drafts are only $3 and Hoegarden bottles are just $2. Holy smokes! 'Til midnight! Happy hours that end at 6pm make me sad because they exclude people with  regular workday jobs. Not all of us have the luxury of (or the liver for) day-drinking availability. Thank goodness The East Ender recognizes this.

A Tip: Last time I went, I scarfed down one of their signature (bacon topped) burgers as I sipped on $2 Hoegardens. I suggest you do the same. 

                                                         (image from my now broken $50 digital camera)

Rivalries Sports Pub and Grill had to make the list. For those that know me, this may seem funny, as my dad and stepmom are notorious Riv's regulars. And while I tease them for their sometimes less than adventurous dining choices, this place is actually a pretty cool sports bar. With the Celtics back in full swing, Rivalries is the perfect place to post up for your basketball fix. Their happy hour is awesome because it's actually not a happy hour; it's a happy day. Though the food specials only go til 7pm (which is still pretty neat), the drink specials run all day long. Yup. All day.

My advice: go on a Tuesday when it's 2-for-1 wings and $1 off Shipyard Drafts. The Sweet Chili Buffalo sauce alone is worth the trip. Though word to the wise: they are a bit on the saucy side so eat with caution--I once flung their sauce in my eye and borderline went blind. Also, not the best meal to eat on first dates, unless of course, you hate second dates.

                                                          (image from

Back over in the East End, is The Snug. The cool tables here are reason enough to go (it's like you've got your own private room!), but they also have drink specials every day from 5pm to 7pm. Once again, I'm a big fan of this 7pm situation, as it means I have a chance of getting there on time after work. All their drink specials are just $3, featuring both local microbrews, as well as imported delights. Otto's is right next door so if you want cheap pizza to go with your cheap drinks, you're in luck. Also, any bar that does this when someone robs them, pretty much rules.

                                                                     (image from

Last, but not least, I have to mention Pai Men. Since opening in August 2010, this Japanese noodle bar has grown into so much more than noodles. Recently, they have really upped the ante with their Happy Hour--they've got two! This is a practice that's seen more in larger cities, but not so much in Portland. 7 days a week, Pai Men features drink specials from 4pm-5:30, and again from 9:30pm to midnight. I love the idea of a later happy hour--for those who work long hours, or for those who like to venture out a little later in the evening. Plus, they're across from One Longfellow Square, so it's perfect for after a show. Last time I was in, I enjoyed a $3 gin and tonic, and the lovely bartender/server Brooke graciously served my friend Matt his $2.50 hot sake. Yum yum.

                                                                 (image from my dated iPhone)

Honorable mentions:

Samuel's Bar and Grill has half-priced drafts every day from 2pm-6pm, and various kickass deals on any given night from 4-close. Oh, and as I've previously freaked out about on this very blog, they have 50 cent wings Wednesday and Thursday.

Andy's Old Port Pub has live music EVERY day and Mon-Fri $2.50 Shipyard Export drafts.

Howie's Pub, located out on Washington Ave, is one of my favorite "dive bars." The atmosphere is low-key, and the beer is always cheap. Monday nights, a seemingly hot time for awesome specials, is 2-for-1 pizza and $2 PBR drafts.

If none of these places tickle your fancy, then I'll punch you. No, wait. I mean, if you find yourself wanting more than just a list of my personal favorites, click here for a rundown of other great drink specials in this lovely little city. Cheers!