Old Port shuffle

Moving from the center to the outskirts
By BRIAN DUFF  |  September 5, 2007
inside_food_blacktie_090707
GRAB A QUICKIE: Prepared food at Black Tie.

Black Tie | 1 Union Wharf, Portland | Mon-Sat 8 am-6 pm | 207.761.6665
Micucci Wholesale Grocers | 45 India St, Portland | Mon-Fri 8 am-5:30 pm, Sat 8 am-5 pm | 207.775.1854
The national media would have you believe that a little game of bathroom-stall footsie is a threat to our civilization. But Idaho senator Larry Craig’s hobby is simply a new take on age-old amusements like the game maton (“curdled milk”) played by farmhands in the fields of 19th-century France.

Foucault thought it indicative of the decisive turn to modernity that “these inconsequential bucolic pleasures could become the object not only of collective intolerance, but judicial action.” But it is another game that threatens to ruin us: hacky-sack. Though it is supposed to be a game with no winners or losers, this is not strictly true. Hacky-sack pits its herky-jerking circle of jock-hippies against the rest of us, and sadly, they are winning. Seeing them gathered there in Post Office Park, simulating casual antiestablishmentarianism in the most established — the most hackneyed — of ways, one understands how right Foucault was about the futility of resistance to modern power.

It makes you weary of life, even tempted to starve it away, which may explain the retreat of two of the neighborhood’s favorite food spots to the farther reaches of the Old Port. Black Tie has moved to Commercial Street, and Stephen Lanzalotta closed his beloved Sophia’s to become the in-house baker at Micucci on India.

The transition to the new and more spacious location has not been seamless for Black Tie. It behooves an upscale prepared-food place to be small, to avoid a cafeteria feeling, which is now exacerbated by the glass-doored refrigerators that line two walls. It does not help that Black Tie’s entrées have veered toward the banal. The only main courses available the other day were a poached salmon, perfectly fine but hardly interesting, and a baked chicken breast with an unremarkable stuffing that satisfied in the good-enough way of holiday food.

Side dishes looked and tasted more interesting. Root vegetables made a pleasing jumble of colors and textures, and the pickled beets — mostly sweet with a hint of vinegar — were great. A panini was too bready, but its nice thick slices of slightly bitter eggplant were not overcooked, but not tough either. Black Tie has also begun to carry beer and wine, and, most importantly, some fresh produce.

Lanzalotta’s move to Micucci has gone more smoothly. It makes sense: Micucci is an old-fashioned family-run Italian grocery and Lanzalotta is a master of Italian techniques so traditional that to uncover their origins would require a Foucauldian genealogy of bread. Even that dour philosopher would warm up to the fragrant loaves of Scala that Micucci puts out every afternoon — with its slightly sweet, moist, and chewy interior accented by a thick, dark, crackling crust spotted with sesame and coarse salt. Semolina helps give that crust its complex flavor, and more semolina appears in the torta di limone, where it carries a deep lemony flavor and avoids the cloying moist sweetness that mars many dessert cakes. A sweeter citrus was conveyed by the flakey, airy Girelle, spotted with sugary almond.

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