p-diningdish-012809 Learning to speak Italian, and other restaurant news

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There’s a distinct Italian flavor to Portland’s expanding restaurant scene.
Paciarino is at 468 Fore St. (the former Akari space) next to the Portland Harbor Hotel. It was opened earlier this month by Fabiana de Savino and Enrico Barbiero, originally from Milan, Italy, and features fresh pasta.
The Portland City Council last month approved another Italian restaurant, Luna Rossa, to open at 188 Middle St., which used to be The Pavilion. No word on what else might be going into the large, subdivided space.
And at the top of Exchange Street in the former Salt Institute space, Chef Harding Smith is reportedly getting ready to open his third “Room” – this time concentrating on Italian food. It will be called the Corner Room, following Smith’s other two restaurants, the Front Room on Munjoy Hill and the Grill Room on Exchange Street.
Hugo’s at 88 Middle St. is offering a three-course tasting menu for – $25? The special, dubbed the Cabin Fever menu, is available Tuesday through Thursday.
Port City Music Hall, at 504 Congress St., is open. The new music venue and bar received a 30-day liquor license while it works out some issues with the state regarding allowance of 18- to 20-year-olds.
Gritty McDuff’s in Portland and Freeport will be serving a new winter menu beginning Feb. 1. Menu items include meatloaf, chicken pot pie and seafood cakes. Prices will run between $5.99 and $12.99.
Heading north from Portland, Ben & Jerry’s in Freeport is offering “Yes Pecan” ice cream to ring in leadership changes in Washington, D.C. The ice cream shop is teaming up with Common Cause, with some proceeds from the sale of the new flavor going to the Common Cause Education Fund. Ben & Jerry’s is next to the L.L. Bean flagship store.
Freeport’s own vodka maker, Cold River Vodka, was named to the Wine Enthusiast’s “Top 50 Spirits” list as the top-rated vodka on the list. The vodka is made from Maine potatoes.
In Falmouth, Johnny Robinson of Finch’s has turned the Route 1 space into Johnny’s Bistro & Bar. It is, according to the owner, “more modern, less formal, more relaxed, more open.” Johnny’s is at 204 Route 1.
And on the other side of town, Bernie’s Place is taking over the space next door in the West Falmouth Plaza and turning it into a pizza, beer and ice cream place.

In South Portland, Melissa Coriarty, formerly a sous chef at Hugo’s, has opened Verbena at 103 Ocean St. in the old Magnolia Cafe spot. Verbena opened Jan. 3 and serves breakfast, lunch and dinner along with offering catering and retail wine.
Two restaurants in Brunswick celebrated milestones this year. The Great Impasta at 42 Maine St. has been in business 25 years. Also, Bacari Bistro, 212 Maine St., celebrated its first anniversary Jan. 17.
Coming up in March, RestaurantWeekME is expected to feature more than a dozen restaurants offering prix fixe menus March 1 through March 10. Fore Street, The Front Room, Vignola and Back Bay Grill are among the restaurants participating. For more information, go to restaurantweekme.com