Ordinarily there is no reason to leave our small village of Mount Vernon. We have our world-class Post Office Café, a wonderful library, and lots of private and public land for recreation. As for shopping, if the Mount Vernon Country Store doesn’t have it, you don’t need it. But once in a while Linda and I start hankering for a trip to the big city of Portland, about an hour and a half south. Such a hankering struck us one Saturday morning in October. With nothing on the schedule, Portland seemed just the ticket. And the ticket was the easiest thing to procure. We enjoy two small professional theaters: Portland Stage and Lewiston’s Public Theater. Portland Stage was offering its first play of the 2010/2011 season, The 39 Steps. And it only took me a dozen steps – from the kitchen where we made our decision to the advertising flyer on the desk in my home office - to reserve our tickets by phone at 207-774-0465. They don’t offer on-line reservations. We even got aisle seats. There are no bad seats at Portland Stage, but we do like the aisle. The play was riotous. The four marvelous actors played 150 parts. That’s right: 150 parts. I am certain its hard to imagine if you’ve never seen this play based on a John Buchan novel and adapted by Patrick Barlow from an Alfred Hitchcock movie. We laughed out loud, a lot. Linda found it, “fascinating, witty, and just plain fun.” Agreed. You can check out the line-up of high quality productions coming up in the next few months at www.portlandstage.org. We’ll certainly be going again. With all the wonderful restaurants in Portland, I thought a restaurant reservation would be the easy part. After an hour of studying websites, I had a list of six restaurants of interest. Fourt were fully booked. At one I had to leave a phone message. But finally, I obtained an on-line reservation at the sixth restaurant, for 5:30 pm, a half hour earlier than we’d hoped. I do appreciate restaurants that offer on-line reservations, and use Open Table quite often (www.opentable.com). And then a miracle occurred. Caiola’s Restaurant, a small West End place I’ve wanted to try for years, returned a message I’d left by phone. They had a table for us at 6:00 pm. It was easy to cancel the Open Table reservation at the other restaurant. So Caiola’s it was. The restaurant didn’t disappoint, as you will see in Linda’s account of our meal.
Dinner out at Caiola’s was a real treat. We both love to eat, but I love to cook. I could appreciate the creativity of dishes on that night’s menu. The appetizer that caught our eye was the Mushrooms stuffed with caramelized onions. It was served drizzled in a cream sauce (delicious!), and accompanied by a mixed greens salad. George and I both agreed that it was a fabulous dish. We often order an appetizer to split. As of late, we’ve had a string of disappointing appetizers. This stuffed mushroom dish was off the charts. My entrée was the Wild Mushroom Risotto. I am a big fan of risotto after visiting Italy. This one did not disappoint. They used chanterelles mixed with porcini, and the porcini gave it a rich meaty flavor. Rarely do I have room for dessert when I go out to eat, but the panna cotta was too tempting. When the waiter brought it out he asked if I’d ever had it before. When I said no, he replied “Get ready to be spoiled.” This panna cotta was so light that it made a perfect end to the meal. Raspberries, and a raspberry drizzle accented the pure vanilla flavor. The waiter was right … I am spoiled! I doubt that I’ll ever find a panna cotta that will outshine that one. That’s the dish that will call me back to Caiola’s.
Partners Lisa Vaccaro and Chef Abby Harmon opened Caiola’s (pronounced cay –o-la’s) Restaurant in 2005. Lisa’s great grandfather, Augustino Caiola of Napoli, inspired the name. You’ll find them at www.caiolas.com or telephone 207-772-1110. Hours are Tuesday – Thursday 5:30 pm to 9:30 pm and Friday and Saturday 5:30 pm to 10:00 pm. The bar opens a half hour earlier than the restaurant. My entree was house made cannelloni with ricotta, sweet peppers and spinach in a tomato sauce with parmesan. If you think that sounds yummy, you’d be right! My only suggestion is this. Unless it’s a hot night, don’t sit at the “air conditioned table.” It’s right in front of a very cold stream of air. We were initially seated there, but the hostess quickly moved us when we told her we were freezing! The staff was very friendly; the food was fabulous; we’re already anxious to return.