It took me 14 years of living in New England, but I finally made it to Portland. The word all over Boston was that this city had an impressive food and drink scene. I'd heard restaurants named over and over again by friends within the hospitality industry. Now, people who live in Boston traditionally fall into two categories: those who head up to Maine, and those who go down to the Cape. We fall into the latter group, and it's almost impossible to get us to take any trips from April through November. Which only gives us the winter months to get away. Towards the end of last year, I told Eric I couldn't take it any longer. We had to go.
During our time in Portland, we stayed at the Press Hotel, a charming property centrally located within walking distance to many great restaurants, bars, and shops. Our first stop was at Eventide, a seafood-extravaganza that made this pescatarian very happy. From there we got drinks at the Portland Hunt & Alpine Club and Blyth and Burrows, which are just a few blocks away from each other (and only a couple minutes from where we stayed). Dinner was even more convenient: at Union Restaurant, on the ground level of the Press. After dinner, we walked briskly through the 19-degree air to the other side of town for some drinks at Bearded Lady's Jewel Box, a bar so charming I wish I could've bottled it up and taken the whole vibe home. The night ended around the corner at Chaval, a Spanish-themed restaurant and bar. Too full to get more than some tapas, we ordered the boquerones and a cocktail and were perfectly content. That was just our first night. The rest of the weekend was spent doing more of the same: trying bites at different spots, meeting chefs, bartenders and distillers along the way. By the end, we felt like we were a part of the community (which shows just how warm and welcoming everyone is). There will undoubtedly be a return trip, and I don't expect it'll take us as long to get back up.
Activities like our trip to Portland are what get us through the winter months. I'm always trying to plan things for the weekends. Shows to see, restaurants to check out, friends to brunch with. It's the only way we can deal with the snow and cold. Another thing that helps me forget about the dreary weather is festive cocktails. These usually involves lots of lime and herbs (typically, mint). I know some folks (including my wonderful husband) who have major issues with cilantro, but I can't get enough of it in drinks. The fragrant citrus notes pair beautifully with the botanicals of a dry gin. A little heat (and a slight tingly/numbing effect) is provided from the Sichuan peppercorn syrup, but the creamy coconut milk keeps it mellow.
Gin Coconut Cooler
Yield: 1 drink
Tools: cocktail shaker, muddler, cocktail strainer
Glassware: Rocks glass
1 oz Sichuan peppercorn simple syrup (see recipe below)
1.25 oz lime juice
6-8 cilantro leaves, plus more for garnish
2 oz gin
.5 oz green chartreuse
1 oz full-fat coconut milk
Add lime juice, cilantro, and simple syrup to cocktail shaker. Muddle cilantro. Add gin, green chartreuse, and coconut milk, along with 3-4 ice cubes, and shake for 15 seconds. Strain into a rocks glass. Fill glass to the top with crushed ice. Garnish with cilantro.
Sichuan Peppercorn Simple Syrup
Yield: 1 cup
Tools: saucepan, strainer
3 tablespoons Sichuan peppercorns, crushed
1 cup water
1 cup granulated sugar
In a small pot, bring water to a boil. Add Sichuan peppercorns to the pot, turn off heat, and cover with a lid. Let steep for 30 minutes. Strain Sichuan peppercorns from the pot, reserving liquid. Put the liquid back in the pan, along with the sugar. Set over medium-high heat. Whisk until sugar has dissolved. Take off heat. Let the syrup cool completely before using. Store in a container in the refrigerator for up to a month.