Monday, January 30, 2012

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

 image from thenovicefork.blogspot.com

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!).

video 

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)

(image from lvrunningscene.com)

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.

                                                              (image from shaysgrillpub.com)


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 rivalriesportland.com)


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 thebollard.com)

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!