Thursday, March 1, 2012

Hooray For Maine Restaurant Week!

This is what I look like during Maine Restaurant Week.
(image from

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.