I don't usually write about new restaurants. Mostly I limit myself to wine. However, without exciting restaurants to expose people to my wines I'd just be sitting alone drinking in my grimy warehouse! Restaurants that push the limits and give people new experiences are the best avenue for the good citizens of Portland Maine to experience my crazy, passionate, and authentic wines. I get excited whenever a new restaurant opens and right now Portland is savoring the openings of a slew of new establishments. I got to eat at most of them last week and wanted to share some of my impressions.
Last Friday night was the opening of Piccolo.
Damien and his wife Ilma opened Piccolo at 111 Middle St, where Bresca used to be. Damien's parents are from southern Italy and in our meetings prior to the Piccolo's opening all he talked about were his memories of the food he grew up with. Nothing about the construction or the business; just the sausages his grandfather cured in their basement, braising techniques, roasting pigs, and ideas he'd come up with while cooking at high end restaurants in NY. His passion and personal connection to the cuisine he was planning to cook was obvious. So I made reservations for opening night.
Erin and I made a good go at the menu and had the Ricotta, Cavolfiore, Sarde, Zucca, Porcellino, and Patrimonio. The food was excellent; we'll have to go back soon and try more of the menu. The Ricotta in particular was memorable and served on a dry cracker-like traditional Sardinian bread drizzled with fresh olive oil from Abruzzo. The dish sounds simple and there are only three ingredients, but the result was an unusual combination of textures and flavors; and delicious. That set the tone. The Cavolfiore was really hearty and satisfying with the anchovies in a supporting role giving the cauliflower an added dimension. The Sarde was super traditional using Mediterranean anchovies, but Damien said he'd soon be getting local herring for it and it would be even better and fresher.
Above are our main courses. The Patrimonio sausages with polenta is on the left and that's my Porcellino on the right. They were both killer. The sausages were richer and juicier than any other sausage I've ever had! It would have been hard not to snatch them from Erin, but I had the tender milk fed pig in front of me to keep me occupied.
The view of the bar. The layout hasn't changed much from Bresca. Piccolo has been all redecorated and feels different, but if you ate at Bresca it will look and feel familiar. For desert I had an affogato: house made ice cream with Matt's espresso poured over it. Great ice cream and great coffee to be sure, but what made it special was that Ilma has a huge tank of liquid nitrogen in the back that she uses to really freeze the ice cream: not a hard freeze, but so cold that it will float, still frozen, in the hot espresso. It was awesome!
I'm really excited about Piccolo, not just because it's southern Italian cuisine is a new addition to Portland and different from the northern and Tuscan Italian we already have. Damien and Ilma both seem to be technically talented chefs; however, what made the food memorable to me is that it tasted like they were really passionate about it and excited to finally be able to share it with people. That's what I love about food and wine: the connections, emotions, history, and culture that's bound up in it.