COMING TO PORTLAND? Vegetarian thalis
As I mentioned last week, the Portland food scene in 2013 saw several food trends generate enthusiasm only to fizzle out. So in anticipating 2014 perhaps its best to commit to re-appreciating what is familiar and reliable. The newest thing intrigues us, but it so often goes wrong. Those new health-care exchanges have caused trouble for some, but the expansion of trusty old Medicaid is super smooth and helping millions (though not here in Maine). It often goes the same way with restaurants.
But there is middle ground. The Portland restaurant scene’s most anticipated new restaurant has been promoting itself for so long that it already feels like it has been around forever. Vinland promises to be the nation’s first restaurant to serve only local and organic food. And it promises much more. In its voluminous self-descriptions Vinland has pledged to respect indigenous culture and honor the dead animals it butchers. It expresses solidarity with revolutionaries like Che Guevara and overweight poor people everywhere.
Vinland promises lessons in nutrition, morality, economics, and beauty. In a short Kickstarter video that will save future documentarians the trouble of searching for clips depicting every food cliché of our era, Vinland promises to partner only with “ethical small farmers.” Examining farmers for ethics is going the extra mile. With today’s frequently changing menus you could even feature Kantian farmers one week and Utilitarian the next.
But you know, Vinland also sounds pretty good. Be ambitious. Write a lot. What’s wrong with it? Somewhere in all those words they make a fine case that localism is more than a food trend and something worth exploring deeply. It could be a great pleasure to encounter the best of what is nearby. In the film The Five Obstructions the filmmaker Jørgen Leth rediscovers his greatness when forced to work within strict limits. Perhaps the strict rules Vinland has set for itself will lead to something unique and memorable.
Something unique and memorable but also comfortably familiar can be expected at the new restaurant from Portland’s reigning great philosopher/writer/chef — Stephen Lanzalotta, formerly of Sophia’s and the bakery at Micucci. His new restaurant will be named for his legendary slab pizza — and promises to bring four other pizzas, appetizers, and a beer garden to the corner of the old Portland Market building that used to house Scales. I can’t wait.
Another welcome development this year will be familiar to anyone who has made the trek to Brunswick to sample the terrific Chinese-leaning pan-Asian restaurant Tao Yuan. The talented young chef Cara Stadler will open a dumpling restaurant on Portland’s Spring Street. She is making do without a manifesto thus far. Meanwhile Miyake is still expected to return to its original location right next door — this time as an izakaya spot for drinking and Japanese snacks.
On the east side of Portland the biggest change will be a shuffle between Hilltop Coffee and Bar Lola nearby. The coffee shop is moving in where the restaurant was (meaning all the great light through those windows won’t go wasted during the day) and Lola owners Stella and Guy Hernandez will develop a new restaurant where the café currently sits.