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Turning Toward Panna Cotta September 16, 2009

Posted by indigobunting in Uncategorized.

Last week, when I got to Portland, I opened the launch issue of maine., which was supplied in the hotel room. In it I found a photo of two of my favorite chefs, a married couple. One is chef at Evangeline; the other is chef at Bresca. I love both places rather desperately. But when people ask me to name my “favorite” restaurant in Portland (nearly an impossibility), I waver between Bresca and Back Bay Grill.

The maine. article noted that the two chefs would be embarking on a new adventure. “Starting in October, the chefs will take the seats and tables out of Bresca, reset the dining room, and, for 12 diners paying $120 each, prepare a 12-course themed dinner.” They would be calling this venture 12 Seats.

That’s what it said.

I was mostly devastated at the thought of losing Bresca, the place where I without fail order the honeycomb-and-pecorino appetizer (bresca being the Catalan word for honeycomb [yes, Lali?]), the shaved brussels sprouts salad (with walnuts and pecorino and parm), and my favorite dessert in the entire world, bar none: the buttermilk panna cotta.

It’s not that I don’t love the idea of 12 Seats. I do love it. Truth be told, I’ve only gone to Evangeline on prix fixe night so that the chef can serve me whatever he wants. He, like his wife, is a culinary god. I’m convinced.

But at $240/couple at 12 Seats, well, it won’t happen very often for me, I’m afraid. (I’m dreaming of once.)

Tim and I only had a couple of nights this trip, and we had already made reservations at Back Bay Grill. It had been many months since we’d eaten there, and we’d just been to Bresca in July. I don’t know that we’ve ever splurged and gone to both Back Bay Grill and Bresca on the same trip, but suddenly, it was looking like this was our last chance to get to Bresca.

So, the evening after a stupendous (as always) meal at Back Bay, complete with a lovely visit with Adrian the sommelier, we found ourselves walking by Bresca just to see if we could get in.

We just could. If we sat down now. Because although Bresca was about to become 12 Seats, the restaurant in its entirety seats fewer than 20.

Early on, we asked the waitress about the impending change. And that’s when we were told that 12 Seats was in fact a Sunday-night-only thing. “A lot of people have been confused about that,” she declared.

This information would have been a nice addition to the article. I was a bit miffed at the omission.

I then had to subdue my guilt about eating there that night. I certainly would have gone lower end if I hadn’t thought I was off to the Last Supper. Luckily, I managed to wash most of that guilt down with a nice fiano di avellino.

And every yummy bite ultimately led, of course, to the ordering of my favorite dessert in the entire world (truly—this is not hyperbole): Bresca’s buttermilk panna cotta. A perfect panna cotta swimming in a passion fruit broth, topped with fresh fruit and a scoop of white-pepper sorbet on the side. Its beauty has brought to tears to my eyes. In fact, if that panna cotta were to be served by itself, without those heavenly additions, it alone would be enough to make me believe in purity and goodness. It is physical evidence of those things.

Imagine my surprise when I was electronically flipping through the New York Times this morning and discovered an article about Portland restaurants and, as part of the accompanying slide show, a photo of my beloved:

buttermilk panna cotta

Oh, happiness.

Thinking of this happiness makes me think of Louise—not just because she lives in Portland, but because she’s been reminding me to be happy. On Monday, she posted (on Facebook) a photo of her red-fresh haul of yard-picked raspberries with the caption “Do not postpone joy.” That same afternoon, Dana posted “News flash! Procrastinating is so much more fun than working!” Add to these philosophical jabs the recent news that a dearly loved member of the community had died quite suddenly, then imagine me looking out my office window that afternoon. The sun was still shining. I reconsidered an invitation, shut down the computer, and went to the river. Sioux and I sat in the shallows in lawn chairs, our faces to the sun, our feet in the water. We just talked, soaking in the end of summer.

Do not postpone joy. That’s a tough thing to live. I mean, if I lost my job because I was out not-postponing-joy all the time, joy could come to a rather screeching halt. It’s complicated.

But I know it’s too easy to let the balance slip away from joy’s favor.

Good friends. Good food. Fruit in season. Playing outside, in the streams or the streets.

It sounds simple enough.

Who would like to meet me for panna cotta to discuss this further?


1. margaret - September 18, 2009

“ooo, ooo, ooo!” (she said in her best Curly imitation) “me!”

2. helen - September 18, 2009

I do. I DO.

3. helen - September 18, 2009

I think I meant I would. I WOULD.

4. Mali - September 18, 2009

That is a cruel temptation, that last sentence of yours.

I confess that for a moment I thought you had to sit down NOW at Bresca, the same evening you’d eaten at Back Bay, and I was about to bow to your devotion to good food … and to not postponing joy. But some joy is best postponed, enjoyed on an empty stomach perhaps, as long as it is never cancelled.

5. bettyslocombe - September 19, 2009

(a) me.
(b) I’m not aware of you postponing joy : such is your endless charm
(c) It is hard to reconcile all this sybaritic gorging with the microwaving the leftover coffee thing………

6. Lonerhino - September 20, 2009

Hey It’s Bar guy. Hi ! I have forgot(en) my my space face thing (Password). Any way we’re kind of pissed that the Flatlandres are digging us. YIKES it will be scary (sp),is By the way I am working at a cool Portnlad hotel now, Mybe a deal. Neaver could be the HiltonGarden but … my honey and I taveled south to the Black Point Inn @ Prouts Neck on Wed. kind of a pre B’day what ever. And wow oh Evangelin’s those New York fools will leave us to dig the Back Bay love.

Pleae excuse B’day drinks and it si almost morning well it is in facr morning. I still love youuuuu Mark

7. LisaS - September 20, 2009

Panna Cotta. fresh fruit. a chance to see New England. would it only be so. alas, I must postpone that joy a bit longer …

8. Craig (Maito Sewa Yoleme) - September 21, 2009

Betty, it’s SO not difficult to reconcile those conflicting Indigo Bunting traits once you meet her. She moans loudly over sumptuous food, but she’s pragmatic and frugal: not in the Scrooge sense, but the waste-not-want-not sense. Coffee’s made (frugal with time) and perfectly fine for a wake-up cup (not a fine meal made for friends). But she’ll also fully appreciate the nuances of different coffee varietals–we’ve enjoyed coffee tastings together.

9. indigobunting - September 21, 2009

OK, you guys, how’s November suit for a panna cotta date?

Mali, I can see the potential confusion. And good point.

Betty: I was going to reply to you in much the fashion that Craig took on. I am horrified over the wasting of food, of food going bad before it is eaten. And, of course, I’m a bit lazy. That comes into play on the coffee front.

Lonerhino: Ah, tipping and typing! I haven’t gotten a drunken I-love-you-man in awhile! Yeah, that NYT article is going to make things even crazier in Portland, eh? You been to Grace yet? Happy birthday!

10. margaret - September 21, 2009

That would be “tippling” and typing no? Whichever – I loved it, too – especially the “space face” conflation that says it all!

Would this November panna cotta be in Portland ? 😦

11. indigobunting - September 21, 2009

Margaret: This is what happens when editors rush through blog comments to get back to jobs in which they are paid to actually SEE typos.

And, well, sure, we need to all have the Mother of Panna Cottas together, right?

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