Published Date Written by Natalie LaddAs a restaurant person with a need-to-know mentality bordering on nosy, this is the perfect time of year to get out and about in our town and see what's really going on. Time to check out who's getting busy, who's offering specials, where the best of the new places are, who's played employee-musical-chairs, and to talk to members of the Greater Portland Restaurant Grapevine sharing get the skinny.
Skinny is sort of what I need to come by as I've been living large the past few weeks by dipping lobster in a bit too much butter, and justifying delicious, pale pink, ice-shard laden Cosmos worth 14 precious Weight Watcher's points, which is more than half of my daily allotment. It can be done once or twice a week, but it can't be done when I do two of them twice a week, and I've started blaming the whole thing on my poor math skills and the inability to tell four fluid ounces from twelve. I also look lovingly, yet accusingly at my BFF.
It seems as if forever since Little Ms. Talbot's and I have been able to get out by 4:30 for a genuinely happy hour, and remain MIA until after her two youngest are in bed. She's always at a committee meeting, a kid's sporting event, an extended family obligation or busy with a social schedule criss-crossing many groups of acquaintances and friends. I'm usually working one of two jobs, wondering what planet New Guy is on, trying to figure out how long Bad Dog can wait before I have to go home and walk her, and if I need to be the director on location during one of Carlyladd's, "Really Mom, nobody will be drinking and everyone will be gone by 12:30," backyard bonfires.
So, out we went this past Sunday and I look at these mini-adventures as research/business mixed with pleasure, while my BFF feels like she's out on furlough. Mindset aside, what really struck me on our three-stop outing is how many brand new faces are working in old familiar haunts. I found this a bit disconcerting and struck up a conversation with a bartender who has landed a killer full time job in a well known, upscale Old Port hot spot that features a great cheese list, accompanied by an overpriced yet well designed and crafted extensive cocktail and wine list. The overpriced drinks don't really bother me because the food is interesting, of high quality, more than fairly priced. The place teeter-totters between urban-sheik comfortable and hipster-pretentious, but it's one of my overall favorites and I was fascinated, but not surprised when I learned my new bartender's story.
At 28 years old, she has just moved from outside New York City to Portland and had applied for jobs via Craigslist and word-of-mouth from her sister, who is a longtime Portland resident. My interest was greatly piqued as I know a few people, well ingrained in the Portland restaurant community with years of fine dining and wine service experience who applied for the same position. She went on to say how fortunate she was as her experience with cheese was limited and there was so much to learn about the wine.
Wine is a lifelong education, but it plays a huge role at this establishment and I would think extensive knowledge would be a non-negotiable. Others from out of town had been hired as well, and even though she was being sincerely modest, our full-time bartender had never heard of the place before she got an interview.
Make no mistake, this was a lovely and personable individual without a bit of snoot, who shook that tasty Cosmo with enough skill to make us want to split a second one (OK, now I'm up to twenty-one points in one fell swoop). It just had me pondering my vastly experienced friends, with a built-in following of year-round locals, who never even got a phone call. Is the strategy to staff with new and unknown people From Away, to make the place mysterious and Continental? Is it to establish a fresh start with no baggage, no matter how light, carried by even the most professional and seasoned residents? Is this the mildly indignant (justified and rational or not) feeling I hear people speak of when they say their jobs are being taken away by outsiders?
None of this bothers me enough to say I won't go back, but I did think about the situation long and hard as we happily dodged raindrops at the Portland Lobster Company, and headed home to completely overdo it with wings and $1.50 Miller Lites at Samuel's. The faces at both of these places were familiar, and so was the stuffed, full feeling I had waking when up the next morning.
I'm going to keep my eye on my new bartender friend, along with my old ones and I wish her the best. I'm also going to watch my points and plan my next BFF escape with care. Hopefully, it will still be summer in Portland, with subtle changes, things staying the same, and pale pink Cosmos clearly in sight.
The Down Low: Many of us remember Marc Doiron of Street and Co. lemoncello fame. I literally bumped into him in front of Amigos and he is currently employed as an Advanced Certified Sommelier at a great looking place called Stella! in New Orleans. John Myers, currently of The Rooms has told me impressive things about The Museum of the American Cocktail, also located in New Orleans, so perhaps a road trip is in order. All DD's local, or From Away are encouraged to apply.