Leftovers: Time to lean is time to clean

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Routine housekeeping for this column is long overdue. 

Most of the dust bunnies are caused by people who don’t understand why I’m “afraid” to print their emailed questions, comments, and criticisms. Even those who have been high-fiving me for ages are looking for public response, and as much as I value relationships with all readers, it doesn’t work that way. There’s a newspaper publishing protocol that needs to happen which is above and beyond my pay grade.  

Natalie LaddIf you want something printed for all to see, letters to the editor are encouraged, but you have to be willing to share your contact information. Typically, just your name and town of residence will make it into print, but editors are bound by their job description to ensure columnists don’t write glowing reviews about themselves and their brilliance. (I do that verbally daily so even though there’s no reason to believe I’d falsify, they still need to authenticate exactly what comes in if it’s going to go out.) 

Instead, I hear my mother’s voice reminding me that I was raised properly and everyone deserves a personal response, no matter how short, evasive, or sincere. The emails aren’t abundant, so I do answer but have learned to ignore the nasty people. For most in that bully category, the last word is everything so I’m not replying with a first word. 

The second order of business is to understand that like you, I have grown and evolved over the years. A few of you have repeatedly asked for behind-the-scenes, spilling of the restaurant tea that I was so delighted to share. I’m no longer in the front-of-the-house fox holes, but I still have my sources and have seen some things that would curdle the cream in the oolong. 

For example, who knew one of our favorite darlings of a restaurant, long exalted by national magazines, food critics, and discriminating locals, would insist their 20-plus-year-career bartenders start using measuring jiggers? Who knew their old fashioneds, mojitos, mint juleps (during Kentucky Derby season, of course), caipirinhas, and smashes, are now muddled with something that looks like a plastic adult toy instead of the traditional 8-inch wooden or bamboo muddler that has graced their bar since the doors opened?

It isn’t that anything is wrong with a plastic or stainless steel muddler with rubber prongs to extract flavors from herbs and fruit; it’s just different. And I know this because I’m still paying attention, for all of you, even if it is from a different angle.

For the record, the offensive-looking muddler is named “Bad Ass Muddler,” and is considered state-of-the-art because each end is shaped slightly differently so as not to “bruise” the fruit, herbs, and flowers being pulverized. Is it over the top or libationary genius? One veteran bartender thinks it is a bit of both but stops hard when it comes to using the shiny new jigger, which only slows him down from his otherwise precision pouring. 

The third order of housekeeping is to offer a condensed version of my annual disdain for Maine Restaurant Week. Granted, the concept of MRW always has the best of intentions. It gets people to try new places or gives the restaurants a chance for a second or third impression. It allows chefs to be creative with food and labor costs, presentation, and new techniques.

But it often stops short when people don’t want dessert or frizzled leeks, with no substitutions allowed. It starts to feel more like a restricted early bird special than a true showcase of talent and creativity. 

This year, I’ve noticed fewer participants but more flexibility in pricing structure and courses. Still, my ongoing beef with MRW is when the house lists something that’s already on the menu (lazy even if they do want to promote a favorite), but offers a smaller portion because the diner is also getting a salad and that aforementioned dessert. 

Contrary to all that, I’ll conclude my 2022 condensed disdain with a checkmark in the yay column because the past few years have been hell. They deserve our support with or without the 12 days that make up Maine Restaurant Week. 

Lastly, I’d like to thank everyone who joined me in solidarity by boycotting Tito’s from Texas and “Russian-style” vodkas, in the name of justice for women and the LGBTQIA+ community in the south, and peace in Ukraine.

Belvedere vodka, from Poland, was by far the most recommended replacement. One reader pointed out it was marketed as the world’s first super-premium vodka, while another stated it is a divine sipping spirit not to be mixed, while yet another shared it is the official vodka of James Bond. I would challenge anyone to shake it up with 007.

Hopefully, this clears away some of the dirty dishes. Please keep writing to me or our editor, Marian McCue. Keep your eyes open for new things in favorite places, lift your guilt-free glass to those in need, and as always, enjoy your meal.

Natalie Ladd is an award-winning columnist, freelance writer, and Portland restaurant veteran. She loves Boston sports, California cabernets, and has never sampled a cheese she didn’t like. Reach her at [email protected].