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On To Two O One O

December 31, 2009 — 5 Comments

Most of my friends, colleagues, and acquaintances found 2009 a harder year than years past. The global economic downturn and its residual effects of course weighed heavily on all of us—some more directly than others. For me, 2009 really wasn’t bad, and I’m going into 2010 with some good momentum.

The Could’ve-Been-Better

2009 was a bad year for the Nayar dogs. Both Sadie and Lakshmi passed away, and their absence is palpable. I can say without hesitation that Lakshmi’s death was the low point of the year for me.

Viewports

Other than at work and in regards to PS3 game trophies, I was spectacularly unproductive this year. In woodworking, I tried a lot of new things (like turning) and have honed some essential skills over the last year, but in service of nothing productive (sans more shop furniture). I’ll endeavor for more tangible results in 2010 and already have a list of pieces I hope to build in the first half of the year (and yes, dear, your side tables are on it smile). I’m also empty-handed when it comes to etherfarm developments–I had grand plans for this site this year, but at the end of a day staring at screens and talking with people who stare at screens, after Ray goes to bed I find I’d much rather be at my lathe or at my bench in the woodshop than in front of HTML, CSS and PHP.

Bit-O-Hole

Sadly, though, I more often ended up with a videogame controller or mouse in my hands rather than a tool. This I lament, even though there were some amazing games in 2009, some of which I even found inspiring.

The Good

My work travel was less than 50% of my 2008 corporate globetrotting. That didn’t necessarily translate to more time at home; I spent almost all of my vacation days in Illinois. Which, for a variety of reasons, is a splendid place to be.

Lush

I might be one of the few people I know who likes their job. I took on a new role at work this year, and it’s full of new and interesting challenges. For the first time in a long, long time, I feel that when I’m engaged with what I’m doing, I can end just about every day having learned or done something new or having found new ways to apply the one or two things I actually do know.

I spent a lot of time with friends this year–old and new, near and far. Last year, my tolerance for West Coast Flakiness achieved a critical mass and I more or less went into seclusion. This year, a few of my friendships in the Bay Area seemed to take root and it somehow worked out that I had more quality time with friends in other locales. It perhaps goes without saying that I ate a lot of good food with some of these good people in 2009.

And to counter all that good food, I managed to swim at least 3 times a week all year this year (with just a few exceptions due to travel). This wasn’t really a goal (it’s an unintended accomplishment) but I’m ending 2009 feeling much more healthy than I have in years past. Which is nice, because despite my relatively low number of years on this planet, I’ve felt physically old and decrepit since my back surgery in 2003.

We transformed the front and back yards from worthless patches of horrible, clumpy grass to wonderful outdoor rooms. I admire them every time I leave and arrive home and probably will until we leave this place.

Before: Front Yard
From Garage Door
Back Porch

And of course, there’s Ray. I go on and on about him, and I’ve found that those who meet him tend to go on and on about him as well. It’ll suffice to say that in the last 365 days, he’s gone from toddler to little boy, and I find joy and poetry in almost everything he says and does.

Obviously, in balance, I really can’t complain about 2009—to do so would be absurd. It has left me exhausted in a good way, like being “just full enough” after a great meal. And I’m optimistic about 2010 for a variety of reasons, but Nara has the biggest one in development:

If all goes well, Ray’s little sister will arrive in early June. And if that’s not a reason to look forward to 2010, I don’t know what is.

Anyone who knows me knows that I love food. I enjoy cooking food, I enjoy reading about food, I enjoy discussing food with others, and I of course enjoy eating food. I subscribe to a rag called ”The Art of Eating” and at one point seriously considered becoming a chef.

Hi. My name is Narayan, and I’m a foodie.

I just got back from my first official “Food Bender”; a ritual I will repeat annually from now until circumstances dictate otherwise. Contrary to what you might believe, Food Bender 2009 was not, in fact, a convention for vegetable origami. It was a weekend in which friends and I traveled to a destination simply to eat. Some guys go to Vegas to gamble and whore. Some guys go to L.A. or N.Y.C. to party all night. We went to Portland, Maine—my old stomping grounds and in my opinion, one of the best foodie meccas in the country—to shove some particularly tasty food down our gullets.

Casco Bay Sunrise

A phenomenally successful weekend all around—the food was absurdly delicious, no one injured themselves (much) while eating, and it perhaps goes without saying that the company was beyond compare. Due to some scheduling oversights, some restaurants I really wanted to try were closed on Sunday and Monday evenings (details in the notes). As a result, there are some repeat venues in the list, but I’m a firm believer that if you find something good, stick with it, so that wasn’t a bad thing. Also, I stayed in Portland a little before and a little after my friends “from away” left so I could spend time with local friends; some meals here were part of that extended stay. And I’m leaving names out to protect the guilty.

You’ll find the roster of vanquished delectables below. Note: I’m only listing dishes from which I partook significantly; the best way to order is for the table, of course. Every once in a while someone would order a rogue salad, side dish or gasp entree; these are not listed here. So believe it or not, more food was consumed than evinced in this list.

Lunch, 01 May

Duckfat

  • Belgian Fries, fried in duckfat & served in a cone with Thai Chili Mayo
  • cucumber gazpacho
  • wild green salad with goat cheese, pecan, and cranberry
  • Cinnamon sugar Beignets

Dinner, 01 May

Five Fifty-Five

  • chipotle-spiked sweet potato soup with “fire house” pork and lime-sour cream drizzle
  • Butter lettuce and Goat Cheese Salad
  • 555 Hangar Steak with wild mushroom foccacia bread pudding
  • artisinal cheese tasting plate
  • housemade glazed donuts with some kind of wonderful gelato

Brunch, 02 May

Bintliff’s American Cafe

  • Maine Lobster Benedict: Hand picked fresh Maine lobster on an English muffin with two poached eggs & homemade hollandaise
  • Bistro Steak Benedict: Petite beef filets on an English muffin, topped with two poached eggs & asparagus pesto cream sauce. Garnished with Parmesan cheese
  • Side of North Country Smokehouse Apple wood Smoked Bacon

Lunch, 02 May

Gilbert’s

  • Fried Oysters
  • Corn Chowdah
  • Cookies & Cream Ice Cream @ Beal’s Ice Cream

Dinner, 02 May

Fore Street

  • Wood oven roasted wild Maine mussels in garlic almond butter.
  • Wood grilled mulard foie gras with endive citrus marmalade and toasted brioche.
  • Maine farm Russian boar chop, boar crépinette and confit shoulder, shiitakes, and turnip greens.
  • Fore Street’s Dry rubbed pork loin with Morse’s sauerkraut and pickling spices
  • Three cuts of Maine island lamb: Grilled chop, turnspit roasted leg and smoked shoulder with Carolina gold rice and rapini.
  • Table sides: roasted cauliflower with herb aïoli; fiddleheads with heritage hog cracklings
  • Three artisan cheeses: York Hill farm soft ripened chèvre roll with ash, Hahn’s End City of Ships; Cobb Hill Ascutney Mountain
  • Lemon pound cake in rhubarb soup with sweetened whipped cultured cream and pistachio praline
  • Shoofly pie with chocolate drizzle, caramelized bananas, and cream cheese ice cream
  • Handmade chocolates: spicy smoked paprika dark chocolate truffles, toffee candy dark chocolate bark, spiced espresso ganache dark chocolate bon-bons, candied peanut dark chocolate bark.

Brunch, 03 May

Five Fifty-Five

  • “Toad in a Hole”: Fresh baked brioche, exotic mushroom ragu, fontina cheese, truffle oil.

Lunch, 03 May

Red’s Eats, Wiscasset

  • Lobster Roll
  • Fresh Crabmeat Roll

Dinner, 03 May

Street and Co.

  • Frisee salad with house cured duck bacon, gruyere, and Dijon vinaigrette
  • Mussels Provencal with garlic, white wine and butter
  • Prosciutto Americano with fava beans
  • grilled halibut with smoked, mashed potatoes; broiled sole topped with crabmeat
  • Maine blueberry pie with vanilla ice cream
  • panna cotta with blueberry compote

Dinner, 04 May

Fore Street

  • Kale and roasted shiitake salad: Pakchoi, Hokurei Turnips, apple bacon, dijon cider vinaigrette
  • Wood oven roasted sardines with shaved fennel and harissa aïoli
  • Whole farmed european sea bass with cornbread stuffing and sweet pepper fish broth

Lunch, 05 May

Walter’s Cafe

  • Clam chowder with sweet peppers
  • Blackened Salmon BLT : Cajun spiced salmon fillets on Tonys focaccia roll with apple wood bacon, butter lettuce and tomato with a blood orange chive remoulade and French fries
  • Tres Leches cake

Notes

  • Fore Street is my favorite restaurant in the country bar none —and I’ve eaten at a lot of restaurants. There are fancier restaurants, sure, and there are undoubtedly restaurants that serve more creative or even more delicious food. But I haven’t yet found a better mix of decor, ambiance, and gastronomy than Fore Street. I’ve been there maybe eight, nine times, and only once have I not had the pork loin (either for myself or via coaxing someone else to order it so I could snag a few bites). They were out on that occasion. It could be said that this whole trip was really just a fancy ploy to have a meal (or two) at Fore Street. And there would be a little truth in that statement.
  • Favorite: this is a toss up between the foie gras and the boar from the 02 May dinner. The lamb from that same dinner is a close runner up; I’ve never had lamb which tasted that clean (for lack of a better word)—not gamey at all. Honorable mentions: the 555 hangar steak, the chipotle-spiked sweet potato soup, and the grilled halibut.
  • Least favorite: the butter lettuce salad at Five Fifty-Five was definitely a palate cleanser, but it was bland enough that water might have been a better choice. And the tres leches cake at Walters: I’ve had better tres leches cake from Safeway. And the Beal’s ice cream: ten years after I’ve left Maine, I still don’t get it. I love that it’s locally made, but it probably wouldn’t hurt to import a little flavor “from away”.
  • Do-overs: If I had to do it again, I’d probably come a little earlier in the week so I could go to Bresca and Hugo’s,which both seem exquisite. I probably wouldn’t have gone to Walter’s, but that lunch wasn’t about the food and Walter’s was convenient.
  • sick fact that will make some of you hate me: I actually lost 2 pounds on the whole trip. WTF?
  • Next up: Food bender 2010 will take place a bit more westward. Potential venues: Portland, Oregon; Vancouver, British Columbia; Albuquerque, New Mexico; Las Vegas, Nevada.