Ishi Ishi, a new ramen shop, is planned for Washington Avenue in late fall. Photo courtesy of Matthew De Fio

The first time Matthew De Fio ordered a bowl of ramen at Ramen Tatsu-Ya in Austin, Texas, he waited a little too long to dig in, and the chef picked up the bowl and threw it away.

“Don’t ever ask for a bowl of ramen if you’re not going to eat it right away,” the chef told him, explaining that the flavor changes as the bowl cools. Vegetables get soggy.

“It’s just not the way ramen is supposed to be eaten,” De Fio said. “Everything is supposed to be fresh, and it just kind of ruins the whole meal.”

So when De Fio and business partner Andrew Doolittle open their ramen shop at 93 Washington Ave. later this fall, the space will include a locker where customers must store their cell phones until they’re finished eating. With the phones locked up, diners won’t be tempted to wait until after they take a picture to enjoy their soup. Why not just ask people to put away their phones? De Fio acknowledges that’s an option, “but you know how people are,” he said, laughing.

De Fio and Doolittle plan to open a 9-seat ramen shop called Ishi Ishi (“determination” or “intention” in Japanese) in the Black Box space formerly occupied by The Cheese Shop of Portland, which has moved into a bigger space in the building next door. Black boxes are refurbished shipping containers where entrepreneurs often try out business concepts before expanding. De Fio and Doolittle are shooting for a late fall-early December opening.

Ishi Ishi will offer three types of ramen – chicken broth, tonkatsu pork and mazemen (brothless and vegetarian) – as well as a “pack your own” rice bowl option. De Fio plans to have gluten-free noodles and to-go ramen, where he will supply ingredients for customers to cook and assemble at home. (Again, he doesn’t want the ramen to sit too long before eating.) The restaurant will be BYOB.

De Fio, 30, a 2009 culinary school grad, worked at Ramen Tatsu-Ya in Austin for a couple of years. In Maine, he has worked at Trattoria Athena and Enoteca Athena in Brunswick and at Hugo’s, Scales, Tipo and both Duckfats in Portland. Doolittle, 32, is co-owner of Pot & Pan Kitchen in Portland, which makes CBD and THC edibles. (Another item destined for the Ishi Ishi menu? CBD ramen.)

If the shop does well, the partners may invest in more tiny ramen shops rather than open a larger brick-and-mortar restaurant, De Fio said. “There’s definitely a need for ramen” in Portland, he said. (Portland lost one, Ramen Suzukiya on Munjoy Hill, last year which closed after the owner died.)

Find the restaurant on Instagram @ishi_ishi_ramen

JP’s Bistro moving to Falmouth

JP’s Bistro, a welcoming neighborhood spot in Portland for 10 years, is moving to Falmouth. Gordon Chibroski/Staff file photo

JP’s Bistro, the cozy neighborhood eatery at 496 Woodford St., is moving to Falmouth after a decade in the Rosemont neighborhood of Portland.

Chef/owner John Paul Gagnon says he’ll be closing his namesake Portland restaurant on Oct. 12 and hopes to re-open the first week of November at 204 U.S. Route 1 in Falmouth, the former location of Hugs Italian Restaurant. Gagnon says the new space will have more room,  more and better equipment, and – he hopes –  more customers; the Portland JP’s can seat 42, plus an extra 14 in summer on the patio. The Falmouth location seats 70.

Gagnon said his entire staff will move with him to Falmouth.

Popular Saco restaurant abruptly closes

The owners of Skippers Seafood & Rotisserie in Saco announced Monday that the restaurant at 27 Elm St. would close Tuesday.

“After 40+ years in the restaurant business, and over 21 years at this location, we have decided to retire,” the couple wrote. “We did not reach this decision easily, but the many challenges of owning a small business, and advancing years have brought us to this conclusion.”

Skippers, which a local resident tells us was always crowded, served big portions of fried and baked seafood, and bowls of haddock, clam and corn chowders. In addition to lobster rolls, the restaurant sold a large selection of simple sandwiches and wraps, all for under $10. A rotisserie half chicken dinner with a roll and two sides cost just $9.95.

The owners of Skippers, who could not be reached for comment Tuesday, concluded their Facebook post by asking that anyone interested in leasing the restaurant or property contact them through the Skippers Facebook page or by emailing [email protected]

Maine chef retains his stars

Ryan McCaskey, owner of the two Michelin-starred Acadia restaurants, in Chicago and its sister restaurant, Acadia House Provisions, in Stonington, Maine. Photo courtesy of Acadia

Chef Ryan McCaskey, who over the summer operated a new restaurant in Stonington, learned last week that Acadia, his Maine-inspired fine dining restaurant in Chicago, has retained its two Michelin stars.

“It’s an honor to have retained our Michelin rating for 2020!” McCaskey wrote (with lots of exclamation points) on Facebook. “Now, finishing up our 8th year, we will continue to push and strive for excellence! Our work is far from done and our pursuit to be the best we can be continues! Thank you to our patrons who keep us open. And our staff who work tirelessly everyday. This is ours!”

McCaskey opened Acadia House Provisions, a casual sister restaurant to Acadia, in Stonington on July 1.

Culinary historian coming to Portland

Culinary historian Michael Twitty will talk about “identity cooking” at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 27 at the University of Southern Maine in Portland.

Twitty’s talk, “Kosher/Soul,” will explore what it’s like to be black and Jewish, and how those cultural and spiritual values are expressed on the plate. In 2018, Twitty’s book, “The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African American Culinary History in the Old South,” was named Book of the Year by the James Beard Foundation.

He recently penned a piece for Afroculinaria, “Dear Disgruntled White Plantation Visitors, Sit Down,” about his experience working as an interpreter at historic plantations in the South.

Twitty will appear in the Abramson Center in Hannaford Hall, 88 Bedford St. Tickets cost $12, or $10 for members of the Jewish Community Alliance. Students with a valid ID get in free.

Fools for dessert

Brown butter panna cotta with pineapple, jasmine, rice crack, rum, yuzu and lime at Gross Confection Bar in Portland, a desserts-only restaurant and bar. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Maybe it’s our love of whoopie pies and Needhams. Maybe it’s the fact that a chef recently opened an all-dessert restaurant in Portland‘s Old Port, or the inevitability of a line at Red’s Dairy Freeze in South Portland every summer. Whatever the reason, it appears that residents of Portland and South Portland have a major sweet tooth. The two cities, stuck together like two gummy bears in 90-degree heat, have made a list of the “Top Ten U.S. Cities for Desserts.”

The data company Infogroup – the same company that examined our ice cream-eating habits in July – ranked the Portland-South Portland Metropolitan Statistical Area (the geographical area designated and used by the U.S. Census Bureau) No. 6 in the country when it comes to the number of dessert businesses per capita. Ocean City, New Jersey, was No. 1. We were sandwiched between Salisbury, Maryland (No. 5) and Providence-Warwick, Rhode Island (No. 7). Portland-South Portland was one of only two cities to appear on both the dessert list and the earlier ice cream list. The other was Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk, Connecticut, which was No. 9 on the dessert list.

If you need an excuse to indulge at one of our local dessert shops, Oct. 14 is National Dessert Day.

New product goes swimmingly

“My Fish Dish,” a retail line of convenience meals from Portland-based Bristol Seafood, was recently named one of the top 25 most innovative seafood products in North America by SeafoodSource, an online news source for the seafood industry.

The frozen dishes pair high-quality seafood with seasonings, sauces, compound butters and marinades. Selections include Blackened & Smoked Butter Wild Scallops ($8.99) and Lemon & Herb Butter Wild Cod ($5.99). They’re being sold in Maine at Hannaford.

Is it too early to talk Halloween?

If your kids are so excited about the spookiest holiday of the year that they just can’t wait four more weeks, let them put on their costumes and bring them to “Truck or Treat” Sunday at the Congdon’s After Dark food truck park in Wells. (Adults and pets are encouraged to come in costume as well.) The park, located in Congdon’s Family Restaurant’s parking lot at 1090 Post Road, is holding its Halloween celebration early because it closes for the season on Oct. 13.

The event will run from 4 to 8 p.m. and includes costume contests, Halloween treats and, of course, lots of food trucks serving Mexican and Greek food, burgers and barbecue, gourmet fries and grilled stuff, and desserts. Treats will be handed out at the trucks and at the beer garden to those wearing costumes. For more adult fun, check out the Halloween cocktails at the beer garden.

Tips for stocking up

Once again, CandyStore.com has rated the top 10 best Halloween candies by state. These local preferences are based on their online sales, so take it with a grain of candy corn. (Yes, they surveyed 30,000 customers, but when’s the last time you went online to buy candy that’s easily available at the corner drug store?)

In Maine, we apparently like sour flavors because the top three Halloween candy preferences are (drum roll, please) … Sour Patch Kids in first place, followed by Starburst and M&Ms. To show what outliers we are, in America overall the favorite candy is Skittles, followed by Reese’s Cups and M&Ms. Nationally, Starburst came in fifth and Sour Patch kids came in ninth.

CandyStore.com also listed the top 10 worst Halloween candies in America, based on their surveys as well as lists from online websites. Most are favorites from baby boomers’ childhoods; looking at the list made me feel both nostalgic and old. No. 10, for example was Bit-O-Honey, which I loved when I was a kid. And remember those wax cola bottles that you bit the lid off of so you could drink what was basically sugar water? Those clock in at No. 4, just after peanut butter kisses in orange and black wrappers. Those weird, orangey circus peanuts are No. 2. Topping the list – I object! – is candy corn. There is just something about those little, colorful kernels …

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