First, Paciarino on Fore Street. This is a Milanese Italian restaurant that makes its pasta fresh daily, has a beautiful rustic atmosphere, and a fantastic little shop with lots of bruschettas and sauces and kitchen supplies. I've been there for dinner and thought it was lovely, if a little to traditional for my tastes. The thing is, I'm an Italian woman. I can make Italian food at home, and I'm very good at it, so if I'm going to go out I want a little adventure. There is a whole lot of pomodoro sauce, that's all I'm saying.
Paciarino was part of a write up in the New York Times on Portland restaurants, for lo, we are a known foodie paradise. I just have to assume that reviewer didn't go there for lunch.
I went to lunch there yesterday. I walked in, only to be stopped at the counter by a waitress who showed me a blackboard and insisted I order while still standing there in my winter coat with my heavy briefcase over one shoulder. The place was empty, there was no reason to put me on the spot and make me stand there while she showed me dry pasta shapes. The menu only had five choices, four of which were a tomato-based sauce over plain pasta or cheese ravioli. The fifth was pesto ravioli with a butter sage sauce that unfortunately I know from experience I do not like--too much butter in anything is not at all to my taste, and drizzling butter on pasta is just kind of like ruining a nice lace tablecloth by coloring on it in yellow crayon to me. If you like butter sauces, I'm sure it's excellent, but I wasn't going near it. There was once small side salad available.
So I ordered tagliatelle bolognese, which I never do because I can and do make a killer bolognese sauce at home, but since she wouldn't seat me til I ordered, I was a bit flustered and taken aback. And it was the only thing with meat in it. I like to actually sit down and relax if I go to not-a-pizza-bar, and there was no relaxing here.
I asked for bread. The waitress brought me five small pieces the size of my thumb and a dollop of the same sauce my pasta would come in. Though the bread was fresh and truly delicious, there was so little of it I almost laughed. Then the pasta came.
I think it's easy to rest on the fresh pasta thing--fresh pasta is undoubtedly better than freeze dried and if you're making it every day I understand if that's your selling point. But you gotta dress it in something nice or it's just dough. In general, I think Paciarino could do with some experimentation, but seriously, how do you make bolognese disappointing? Well, don't use much meat, no salt, and don't even offer me parmesan of my own because it comes with the powedered stuff already on it (this is a high end restaurant with a cheaper lunch menu, but I still don't expect the powder, or at least I'd prefer my own shaker).
The very Ragu-like flavor was not exactly what I was hoping for. There was realtively little pasta on the plate and I left--fourteen minutes after entering--still hungry and feeling very strange about the whole thing, so markedly different from my pleasant dinner date there. I can honestly say I have never had such a poor, awkward lunch experience. It is the only Portland restaurant I've been to so far that I wouldn't call excellent.
On the other hand, Seaport Yarn is the best thing ever (and they have a store in NYC, guys, so check it out there! They also sell online.) and I might move in there. (See, long stringy things! It's a theme!)
We walked in last week and babymonkey said: "This is like Cat's own yarn store." And it's true. They carry a lot of funky, sparkly art yarn which I love, in addition to all the usual suspects. They have a nice selection of Blue Heron metallic DK, which is my favorite yarn ever and if family or friends are reading this and wonder what to get me for gifts--any color of that yarn rules my school. I discovered Seaport because I was looking for Blue Heron online and realized the store I was browsing was actually in Portland. It has a mildly terrible location--but perfect for us, as it's right next to the ferry.
They also carry a whole mess of locally-cast pewter buttons that are just beautiful--and since I make a lot of things that need buttons, I'm always frustrated by how few LYSs carry any interesting ones. And if all that wasn't enough, the wonderful woman who runs it said casually that if we just called in she'd put our yarn order on the ferry for us.
Yarn. Sparkly yarn. Delivered to our island. My total store loyalty was won. And since Portland hosts a phenomenal seven yarn stores in the downtown area, that's saying something.
The yarns are all beautifully organized and easy to browse, there are three rooms, one full of pattern books and fun fur type yarns, the main room with the rest, and the back room, where they have a nascent knitting group on Thursday nights from 5-8. The store stays open til 8 as well on Thursdays, which is awesome for 9-to-5ers.
We really would like to take over this group, as right now it's only the owner, one other woman, and us. It's perfectly situated for our issues with the ferry and we love it. I don't know many local knitters, but I'm putting this out there (chang3002 , I know you have to know a few knittaz!) in hopes that some local or semi-local folks will join us in building up a group full of young(ish), awesome folks! Anyone? Bueller?
They also have free wifi (what? what yarn store does this?) so you can bring non-knitters and we can all chill. If we can get even one new person to next week's group through this post, I'll bring homemade cookies. I'll even teach you to knit, if you're local and don't know how.
This has been your brief tour of the Other Portland. Come visit!