Monday, April 22, 2013

Maine Monday: Con i bambini

Pesto maccheroni at Paciarino
Didn't make it to Italy last week for spring break? Non fa niente (it doesn't matter), we've got plenty of places around Portland to make you feel like you've crossed the ocean, without the eight hour flight. 

On a weekly basis Little C&G asks us when we're going back to Italy. Unfortunately not anytime soon, but when he starts to get teary-eyed, we know it's time for a night out at Paciarino. The food at this lovely cozy restaurant is authentically rustic Italian. The owners moved to Portland a few years ago from Milan and make all their own pastas and sauces fresh daily, just like they did in Italy.

The menu is small, but everything is absolutely delicious, and they will happily do half portions of pasta for the kiddos. It's a super kid friendly place, but still nice enough for a grown ups night out. We always start out with a salame e pecorino plate, which keeps the little C&Gs occupied while we sit back with a glass of vino and pretend we're back on the shores of Lago di Como.

Venice, Italy but it could be Vignola, Maine
Vignola/Cinque Terre is another favorite, with it's own farm a little up the coast providing the freshest seasonal ingredients. It's a collared shirt affair when we bring the little C&Gs, and it's always their top pick in Portland for a "fancy" night out. Chef Lee Skawinski regularly travels to Italy and his menu is truly Italian with a local Maine twist.

Lots of fresh seafood shows up on the menu, but the little C&Gs are not fish lovers. Instead they'll stick with the delicious thin crust pizzas or ask for one of the pastas with some olive oil and cheese. The menu changes with the seasons, and Big C&G is always happy when he finds pasta bolognese listed. He gives it two thumbs up and says it reminds him of his favorite meal in Venice.

Chef Harding Lee Smith has many restaurants in Portland but The Corner Room offers his Italian-inspired menu. If you're lucky enough to snag the bar seats overlooking the kitchen, your kiddos will be completely entertained by the prepping of the cheese and charcuterie plates, along with the pizzas going in and out of the oven.

It's a bustling noisy place, so the youngsters can go unnoticed by the diners in their finery on their way to a show at Merrill Auditorium. The Corner Room isn't fancy, and I prefer Little C&G not be wearing a collared shirt while he's dribbling olive oil from the focaccia down his front.

Micucci's Grocery store on India Street is where you'll find an extensive selection of imported pastas, cheeses, wines, olive oils, and anything else you miss from your Italian vacation. The little C&Gs love to go here and pick out a box or two of interesting pasta shapes to cook at home. After you've picked up some Italian necessities, don't forget to end your adventure with a scoop or two of gelato from Gelato Fiasco or Gorgeous Gelato. Or maybe one from each?

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