A few weeks back, I heard the news that Baharat, a Levant-inspired Portland restaurant, was starting up regular dinner service again after an extended break. I did what any other reasonable person would: I e-mailed myself an invitation with a subject line that read, “Fattoush, ASAP.” Not long after, I got my chance and placed an order.

Baharat’s version of the classic Middle Eastern bread salad ($21) is among my favorites because of ratio tweaks that reject carb-heavy bulk in favor of lighter, greener components like peppery, variegated watercress and tangy, sumac-seasoned favas, as well as hearty protein in the form of grilled Caldwell Farm flank steak.

But my big surprise wasn’t the terrific fattoush. I already knew that would be great. What landed Baharat on my list of favorite things for this month was an impromptu order of traditional Southern-style hush puppies featuring freshly picked Maine crab and wild-foraged ramps folded into a batter of buttermilk and cornmeal ($17). According to chef/owner Clay Norris, the dish tethers itself to the Levant “through a little Aleppo chili, just to give it a Baharat twist.”

While that particular iteration of the appetizer has already disappeared from the menu along with this spring’s ramps, you still have a few days to score a serving of crab-enriched hush puppies. Now though, they’re fried up with quick-blanched local nettles inside and served with an emphatically more Middle Eastern preserved black-lime hot honey drizzled over their crisp cornmeal crusts ($17). What are you waiting for? An e-mailed invitation?

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Arkadia’s first release, a dry, sparkling wine made from Maine wild blueberries. Photo by Andrew Ross

Another of the pleasant surprises this season has brought is the first vintage of RAS “Arkadia” a dry, sparkling wine made from Maine wild blueberries (about $25 at Grippy Tannins, Cheese Shop of Portland and several other local retailers). Unfiltered and unfined, teetering on the brink of savory, yet heaving with saturated fruit and a whisper of warm spice, this fizzer would be equally at home in a picnic basket or at a backyard barbecue.

Just a word of caution: This is not a sweet wine. Naturally fermented from 2.5 pounds of organic Midcoast and Downeast berries per bottle, Arkadia might bring to mind a dry Lambrusco when you take your first sip. But keep going – at 8% ABV,  it’s more like what you’d expect if some mad oenophile figured out how to trim a sparkling Syrah down to vinho verde levels of alcohol.

RAS is a Maine-based winemaking collaboration among Rosemont Market alums Dan Roche, Joe Appel (formerly the wine writer for this paper) and Emily Smith. For the moment, Arkadia is their only product, but with a dandelion-and-wild-blueberry vermouth on the docket next, I predict cocktails in the forecast. According to RAS winemaker and marketing director Smith, “the vermouth is currently infusing and we’ll be bottling it in the next few weeks.” Maine wild blueberry Negronis should make landfall by mid-summer.

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Hokkaido Scallop Pringles Photo by Andrew Ross

Once upon a time, I was ashamed of my love of potato chips, especially around other food people. I got over it one evening in the mid-oughts, when I covered New York Magazine’s Taste of New York Festival and spotted dearly missed journalist Josh “Mr. Cutlets” Ozersky sharing a bag of Ruffles with chef Wylie Dufresne.

Since then, I’ve stopped worrying and learned to love the chip.

Good thing, because right now, an international savory snack revolution is percolating, primarily in Asia. In Shanghai several years ago, I (quite literally) began a lip-pringling love affair with Lay’s Numb and Spicy Hot Pot chips, supplementing the heat from Szechuan peppercorns with nibbles of their cucumber-flavored product. Then in Bangkok, I sampled salted-egg Lay’s alongside cilantro, red chile and coconut miang kum crisps, which reminded me of pico de gallo more than anything.

But my favorite by quite some distance is a new variety that I ordered and devoured in my living room in Maine. The Japanese outpost of the Pringles company has been producing limited-edition flavors in Japan for about a decade. Varieties magically engineered to taste like Osaka Takoyaki (spherical, pancake-like octopus balls topped with shaved bonito) and Brazilian churrasco skewers are not only snapped up lustily by locals, they have become prized by foreign consumers, too. I’m one of them.

I first read about Hokkaido Scallop Pringles one afternoon in February while researching a story about cooking with sakura flowers (Japanese cherry blossoms). I didn’t end up writing the story, but I did place an order for potato chips that day. About three weeks later, a half-dozen short, 1.9-ounce cans (each about a third of the size of a U.S. can) showed up at my doorstep.

I’ve enjoyed most of the limited-edition Japanese potato chips I have tasted, but I’ll confess: I was skeptical about these. Flavoring snacks with seafood can be an iffy proposition — a smidgen too much shellfish, and you’ve gone from bar snack to cat treat.

I shouldn’t have worried; these Pringles ($5.99/can from Napa Japan, or $7 from Sugoi Mart) were subtle. Pop the plastic lid, and what you smell is butter and sweet soy sauce, rather than scallop. But in the tasting, the aroma and flavor of grilled shellfish comes through along with a background rustle of char.

It’s almost too obvious to say they’d go well with a light, amber ale, but I prefer mine with something more bracing, like a glass of Languedoc white wine. The 2018 Camp Aucels Crécerellette, a tart, citrusy blend of Vermentino, Colombard and Picpoul Blanc grapes ($15/bottle at Maine & Loire) does the trick nicely. And if you’ve got any actual scallops hanging around, it’ll complement them just as beautifully.

Andrew Ross has written about food and dining in New York and the United Kingdom. He and his work have been featured on Martha Stewart Living Radio and in The New York Times. He is the recipient of four recent Critic’s Awards from the Maine Press Association. Contact him at: [email protected]
Twitter: @AndrewRossME


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