Monday, October 15, 2012

Why Yes, I Would Like Fries With That

I hate to kill you, but you taste so good!

           There are few restaurants where I will wait extended time periods for a table. If you can call it a chain restaurant, it most likely does not fall into that category. I have occasionally, under extreme duress, been made to wait in excess of an hour for seats at places like the Cheesecake Factory. I assure you, it’s ugly. My gentle soul becomes anxious for the transformation over which I have very little control, when the Low Blood Sugar Dinosaur People Eater Monster Bitch takes over my body. As a result of the nerves related to this possible scene, I begin to tremble and fidget incessantly. I pace if there is nowhere to sit. I glare at rude children and try and scare them into running back to their negligent guardians. Given the severity of my food patience disorder, it might surprise you that there is somewhere out there I deem worthy of an almost two-hour drive for a single meal.
            I don’t have to make this trek on my own. Last week I regaled you with praise for Canadians. Elizabeth is not Canadian, though I believe some of her ancestors are. She fills many roles in my life: friend, sister, she was once my babysitter, and occasionally we even joke about being common law spouses. I did help her put up her Christmas lights the last two years. And more recently, I helped her paint her living room. I sat on the couch and made sure she didn’t fall off the ladder (watched TV and looked at her magazines) while she was washing the walls in a lovely shade of light green. That’s how married people help each other, isn’t it? As sister friends we have similar tastes and habits, so Beth also is willing to make this two-hour drive for lunch.
             Friday was one of the first real autumnal days we’ve had here. It began with some rain, but luckily dried out into a chilly, crunchy, brisk sunny joy. I have been worried, as of late, that my body might mildew if the rain were to continue with such vigor. We parked the car in the parking lot of Whole Foods. Portland ME is a delightful little seaside town with plenty of sidewalks. The walk, though not enough to make up for the calorie intake to come, was a nice little jaunt. The anticipation of flavor made the ten minutes feel endless. As we approached the awning of our destination, we saw people waiting outside and our hearts sunk a bit. Duckfat used to be seat yourself but has become pretty popular through the years and now has a wait during the lunch hours. We arrived at about 2pm and thankfully only had to wait about ten more minutes for table space, which we did on the bench on the sidewalk, mouths already watering, tummies rumbling.
            Duckfat is a tiny restaurant. The walls are lined with counters and bar stools. At hand level, magnetic poetry abounds to occupy your mind so it doesn’t explode all over itself while it contemplates the feast ahead. There are a couple of tables that are seated community style. This treasure serves panini, poutine, soups, milkshakes, in house sodas, and Belgian fries. None of this may sound impressive. Let me assist you. Those Belgian fries, the piece de resistance, are fried in duckfat. They are the most delicious fries that have ever had the pleasure of gracing the inside of my mouth.
            Beth and I decided to split a sandwich and a large fries. I opted for a mint-lime soda to drink, refreshing effervescence served in a mason jar with a straw. They had a seasonal apple cider rosemary soda on the specials menu that I wish I had tried. An Oven Roasted Turkey sandwich may sound simpleton, and it could be. This one was served on perfectly pressed, toasty bread. As I lifted the slightly greasy flavor tablet to the mouth and inserted, my teeth got to crunch down into the meat of this sandwich. It was not dry and itchy. It was not soggy. It was crisp on the outside with a touch of loftiness left in the middle. Past the bread were tarragon pickles. Truer to their original cucumber form, these seasoned green slices had piquant juice where a cucumber might have had a crunch full of water. Again, there was no sog. It was just a hint of flavor and soft, silky texture to contrast the melted, gooey, yellow cheddar cheese. There was turkey on this sandwich too. I’m not a huge meat-eater so I was rather nonplused by that part, but I must say it did melt in my mouth and I can’t remember having to do much chewing of it, allowing me to focus on the chewing of the bread and the cheese and the savoring of the bacon jam. Oh, did I forget to mention the bacon jam? Oh, dear, sweet, bacon jam, where have you been all my life? The perfect mixture of sugared gel with salty, crumbled pork bits. I would say that this bacon jam would be worth quitting vegetarianism for, even if only temporarily. It was generously spread across the bottom layer of toast. This sandwich supposedly also had pea shoots on it, but I did not notice those. Really though, no love lost. That was an excellent Panini.
            The real reason for the visit, of course, was the duckfat fries. There are a variety of dipping sauces to choose from. I always fall back on the truffle ketchup. They used to have a curry mayo, but no longer. We also got a sweet & spicy mustard mayo. The culinary equivalent of the crown jewels arrived served in a parchment cone. A hefty helping of rust colored, fried in canard lard, Maine grown potatoes. None of this thin nonsense like you find at many fast food establishments. These fries have girth. Skinny fries just don’t taste as good. You forget that they were once potato. Not so with a duckfat fry. You pick up a duckfat fry and your fingers can feel the specks of salt and seasoning kissing the outside of the stick. This restaurant has mastered the art of crisp. The outsides of these little snacks are not burnt, or too crunchy, yet they have that excellent surface tension of something slightly desiccated. It is accentuated by the fact that when you bite into the fry your tongue feels not only the soft fluffy flesh of potato, but tastes the richness, almost smokiness, of the duckfat essence that has seeped in through its pores.
            Half a block up is Two Fat Cats Bakery. Dessert. Pies, cookies, and cupcakes. They also make whoopee pies, but I don’t like those. This bakery makes the best vanilla cupcake with vanilla buttercream frosting on the east coast. I’m sorry, Magnolia cupcakes are gross. My biggest complaint about most commercial bakeries is that they do not understand how to make a moist and spongy cake that doesn’t taste like it's saturated with granulated sugar. Cake is not supposed to be that sweet. Frosting is supposed to be the sweet part. I am an excellent baker. I would not lie to you in matters so near and dear. Two Fat Cats’ cupcakes taste the closest to the ones I would make in my kitchen as I’ve found in a commercial bakery. The cake has that bounce to it, so when you take a bite it puffs back up. The batter isn’t over beaten, making it airy and tender in its cooked state instead of heavy and dense. And their buttercream frosting is excellent. When piped on with the star tip, the corners dry out while the inside stays wet. And again, they use restraint in their sweetening process, allowing you to experience the butter and sugar in harmony. You find yourself wishing you had a spatula covered in it that you could lick ‘til the cows came home.  Naturally, I had both a chocolate chip cookie and a cupcake for dessert. Beth proposed that if we lived in Portland we would have to take up running marathons or we would probably get very fat. I think she’s right except for one thing. I would not take up marathon running. Running is not fun for me. I would rather just be fat. Fat girls are pretty too. 

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