Tessa O’Brien’s colorful mural on the back wall of Chaval, overlooking the Portland restaurant’s patio, is so eye-catching I wouldn’t be surprised to see bees hovering around it this summer.

After all, the showy wildflower patch the artist has painted in vivid hues is modeled after a bouquet of flowers she bought recently at Broadturn Farm in Scarborough. So not only are they local flowers, they’re in season – at least for now.

O’Brien said she was trying to fulfill Chaval co-owner Ilma Lopez’s request for “something that’s exciting and joyful and beautiful and something that livens up the space.”

O’Brien and her husband, Will Sears, have painted lots of signs and murals for local bars and restaurants through their business, Better Letter Hand Painted Designs. They are also co-founders of the Portland Mural Initiative, which pairs artists with wall-painting opportunities around the state. Better Letter (which includes painter Ryan Adams and project manager Rachel Adams) is responsible for restaurant-related artwork you’ve seen all over Portland – the hand-lettered windows at Eventide Oyster Co., Duckfat, East Ender, and Rose Foods. (They created that great-looking mirror with gold lettering inside the deli.) They also painted the mural at Lolita and the garage door with the floating boat logo at the Rising Tide Brewing Co.

At Chaval, in addition to the patio mural, O’Brien painted the soft grey flowers in the dining room – a more subtle look so the flowers wouldn’t overwhelm the space – and a colorful mural of vines, greenery and flowers that flows down into the private dining room in the basement. O’Brien said she and Lopez “got on the floral theme” and then decided “we just wanted to make it feel lush.”

O’Brien, along with painter Bee Marcellino and Baxter Koziol, started the patio mural June 25, and they were hoping to finish over the weekend. The mural was part of an overall facelift for the patio area, according to co-owner Damian Sansonetti, who is married to Lopez.

The patio was expanded, the bricks relaid, a banquette installed, and lighting will be added. “It’s more spacious. It’s more inviting,” he said.

The painting should be done by the time you are reading this, so stop by and have a look while you’re sipping one of the restaurant’s signature Spanish G&T’s.


Dinosaurs aren’t known for their picky palates. But do you think a T-Rex would happily scarf down a mango-habanero-chicken pizza covered in pineapple salsa without a second thought? And which pizza would the vicious velociraptor prefer: jalapeño, bacon and ricotta? Or buffalo cauliflower, scallion and blue cheese?

There now, I’ve given you something to debate while you’re sharing an Otto’s pizza and calming your nerves after a terrifying screening of “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.” The new Otto pizzeria at 779 Portland Road, Route 1, Saco – Otto’s seventh Maine location – is next door to the Cinemagic and Imax theaters, and will open Thursday with a new menu that’s being rolled out at all the restaurants. The menu features a half-dozen new pizzas, including some spicier choices like the pies named above. A Greek salad and a chicken cobb salad have also been added.

The Munjoy Hill location will be selling a new deep dish, Detroit-style pizza.

There’s even something for the Brontosaurus, the dinosaur with the tiny brain that ate a plant-based diet: vegan cheese can now be ordered for any of the pizzas.

As for the restaurant itself, it will have a full-service dining room with 80 seats, a quick-serve slice counter, a full bar, a take-out counter and outdoor patio seating. Delivery is available.


Talk to any Maine chef about the labor shortage in restaurants, and you’ll get an earful.

Now Sunday River Resort in Newry is partnering with the Maine Department of Labor to develop a culinary apprenticeship at the resort. It won’t solve the nagging problem overnight, but could take a small – OK, tiny – bite out of it. The new program will give 10 apprentices on-the-job culinary training at Sunday River, supplemented by classroom instruction at Central Maine Community College in Auburn and Southern Maine Community College in South Portland. After the apprentices have graduated from the program, they’ll be hired by the resort.

The labor department’s Maine Apprenticeship Program helps employers set up training programs designed to meet their specific needs and pays up to half the cost of classroom instruction.

Will it work? Let’s see what happens the first time they ask an apprentice to work on Thanksgiving.


Long Grain, the popular Asian restaurant in Camden, has moved to a bigger space around the corner. Its new address is 20 Washington St., and the new location includes a new Asian market that will be open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. The restaurant, owned by chef Ravin Nakjaroen and his wife, manager Paula Palakawong, spent eight years on Elm Street in a tiny space that served food with big flavor. The hours are unchanged: Lunch will be served 11:30 a.m. to 2:45 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, and dinner from 4:30 p.m. to 9 p.m.


A little weirdness to end today’s column: I heard a rumor that Brian Hill, the former chef/owner of the beloved Francine bistro in Camden, was back in Maine and working at the Harraseeket Inn in Freeport.

Hill had to close Francine after 15 years because he could no longer cover his employees’ paychecks, and he left town owing people money. He moved to California to start over and be closer to his 5-year-old daughter, whom he missed terribly. The last time I spoke with him, he made it clear his life was now there, and Maine was in the rearview mirror.

I sent him a message about the Freeport rumors last week, and in the wee hours of the following morning, my phone started pinging. Hill found it all very amusing, calling it “such a bizarre rumor.” He says he has no idea how or why the rumor got started, but added that a friend has been keeping him “updated on people who’ve spotted me in Freeport.” Hmmm, maybe there’s a Brian Hill dopplegänger out there? For the record, Hill says he’s got a good job working as a chef in Beverly Hills.

Curious, I contacted Troy Mains, the executive chef at the Harrasseeket Inn, to see if he’d heard the rumors. He had, and called them “weird.”

“I love Brian and wish he was working for me,” the chef said.

Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: MeredithGoad

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