Seasonal Bites in Portland and Beyond
Get into the holiday spirit by tucking into a festive dish from these Maine restaurants.
With the end of the year coming up fast, holiday season stress is inevitable: frantically shopping for last-minute gifts, attending parties, trying to nail that recipe you only bring out once a year—the list goes on. If you’re feeling like you need to take a night off, why not treat yourself and your loved ones to a meal out? It’s no secret that Maine is a foodie destination acknowledged in publications around the world, and now’s the time to take advantage of that before your New Year’s resolution to “cook at home more” kicks in. These seasonally inspired dishes are sure to lift your spirits and get you in the mood for festive celebrations.
Craving something sweet? Head over to Biddeford to sink your teeth into Jackrabbit Cafe’s wienerbrød, a sweet Danish pastry with cranberry jam and cookie butter cream topped with cranberries, or the Lussekatter, an enriched Swedish bun with saffron served during the holidays to honor St. Lucia! Directly translating to “Lucia cats,” the pastry gets the name from its signature swirl reminiscent of a cat’s tail, and comes topped with a simple syrup glaze, pearl sugar, and golden raisins.
Warm up your appetite with a trip to small-plates haven Central Provisions! Currently on the globally-inspired menu is a Thai mushroom salad, which features a mixture of miatake, king trumpet, and oyster mushrooms on top of a coconut squash red curry made from Musquee de Provence pumpkins from Stonecipher farm in Bowdoinham. Still hungry? You can never go wrong with an order of the carrots smoked with cinnamon, star anise, and local hay, and then tossed in butter and plated on a chevre made from goat’s milk from Flying Goat Farm in Windham. Topped with local honey and crumbled pistachio, the savory-sweet combination of flavors will put holiday stress out of your mind—at least for a little while.
Trying to get ahead and make your New Year’s Eve plans more than a week in advance? Purchase your tickets for Pacifico’s special Año Nuevo dinner! This four course meal will include an amuse-bouche of nigiri balls (fresh tuna served over rice balls and topped with aji amarillo mayonnaise and nori), a choritos a la chalaca appetizer (inspired by a Peruvian dish made with mussels), a posta negra main course (a traditional Colombian dish that features a sweet dark sauce made with panela and sugar cane, and a yuca foam made from the root of the cassava plant), and an assortment of desserts. Take a load off after the holidays and ring in the new year with an evening on the town!
Nothing keeps the winter chill at bay like a steaming cup of chowder! Put some heat back into your bones by ordering a bowl of Magnus on Water’s monkfish chowder, a twist on the New England classic with garlic, onions, celery, fennel, potato, cream, steamed Bangs Island mussels, little neck clams, and the piece de resistance, pan-roasted monkfish. With a salad of freshly shaved fennel, dill, parsley, lemon, and olive oil on the side to balance the richness of the soup, by the end of the meal you’ll feel refreshed and ready to brave the holiday crowds once more.
Made from roasted red peppers and shredded sharp cheddar, the pimento cheese at Smalls is just the pick-me-up you need to get you over the finish line this holiday season. Order it from the restaurant and enjoy it on the spot with ritz crackers, or purchase it from the restaurant’s market to take with you as an appetizer at your holiday party.
Panettone is a December tradition at Primo in Rockland, with deep roots in Chef Melissa Kelly’s Italian-American family. Over the course of three days, the Primo pastry chef painstakingly candies citrus peels, proofs the dough, bakes the bread, and then festively wraps dozens of these delicious confections for your holiday table. Made with eggs and honey from the restaurant’s farm, Panettone can be the base for your French toast or bread pudding, fried into donuts, or simply slathered with local butter. Kelly toasts slices to accompany the seared Foie Gras at the restaurant. Available to ship or pick up at the restaurant.
Looking to keep it casual on New Year’s Eve, but still want a little pomp and circumstance? Stop by Crispy Gai for a meal of chicken nuggets, caviar, and champagne from 5 to 10 p.m. No reservations will be taken that night, so be prepared for first-come, first-served.
For all the seafood fanatics out there, you know that uni (sea urchin) season is tantalizingly short! Take advantage by ordering an uni spoon from Izakaya Minato, which comes with a house-made ponzu and is topped with a raw quail egg yolk, scallions, and a dusting of shichimi. Chase it down with an order of buta no kakuni, a hearty dish of fatty pork belly simmered in a sake, soy sauce, and sugar braise and served with a spicy brown karashi mustard.
Newly added to Leeward’s menu, the spiced butternut squash tart is made with a chocolate cookie crust, ganache, and poached cranberries—the perfect mixture of festive flavors to get you in the mood for some caroling.
Newly opened Full Turn in Portland is diving into seasonal flavors right off the bat! Take a break from holiday shopping to order the beet reuben, a vegetarian twist on a lunch-time favorite. The sandwich is made on marble rye with pastrami seasoned beets, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese, and house Russian and is served with a house half sour pickle on the side.
If you prefer to eat in on New Year’s Eve, you can’t go wrong with a pre-order of Mr. Tuna’s NYE Party Box, ready for pickup on the afternoon of December 31! This assortment of sushi, fish, and sides comes in a bento-style box, and looks so good you won’t be able to resist pulling out your iPhone to snap a pic before you dig in. Maki platters are also available, in addition to vegan and gluten-free options. Each order comes with a bottle of sake, perfect for toasting with while you watch the ball drop from the comfort of your couch!
Lean into an Italian holiday tradition by ordering the salt cod mantecato from Wayside Tavern! Originating from Venice, this fish recipe is traditionally eaten on Christmas Eve. Soaked in water for two to three days to remove excess salt, the fish is then cooked in milk with garlic and bay leaves. Once cooked, it goes through a mixer with cooked potato and olive oil to make a whipped spread served with an olive tapenade and house-made bread.
’Tis the season for hearty dishes and warm cocktails! Treat your sweetheart to a holiday date night at Judy Gibson in South Portland with a chai hot toddy and a roasted Denver steak, served with stewed white beans, pumpkin seeds, and buttercup squash. Bon appetit!
Want to go all out on New Year’s Eve? Be sure to stop by The Honey Paw for a dim sum-themed extravaganza! Dig into a sea of festive small bites like caviar with a scallion pancake, pork or mushroom bao buns, and lobster sui mai with flying fish roe. Larger dishes include wok veg with oyster sauce, longevity noodle in mushroom and parmesan brodo, and char sui monkfish. Don’t forget sweet treats like citrus sesame balls, egg custard bao bun, and black tea soft serve.
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