Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Proving once again that it's not what you know, it's who you know, I am giving my deepest thanks to my good friend Jake and his lovely wife Sarah for whisking Wendy and me and two other couples away from this wretched Portland heat over the weekend and sharing his families mountain cabin on Penland Lake in eastern Oregon. Not that I don't like sweating in my sweltering Portland bed while I'm trying to forget how freaking hot it is, but there is no better way to beat the heat than spending a weekend with friends eating, drinking, hiking, swimming in a mountain lake and just generally lazing about. w and I left after work Saturday afternoon and made the four hour trek, driving through the beautiful Columbia Gorge, past the farm and wheat fields around Heppner, then into the Blue Mountains, delighting in feeling the temperature drop as we wound our way up to the lake with visions of refreshing adult beverages dancing in our heads. Arriving at the cabin, the first order of business was making cool and fizzy Tanqueray and tonics, not only the perfect summer cocktail, but perhaps the ultimate vacation beverage. Jake had already been cooking all day, getting his famous lasagna ready, and the smell of Marcella's Bolognese sauce had permeated throughout the cabin. If you're asking "Who's Marcella?", then do yourself a favor and grab a copy of Marcella Hazan's Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking....you'll thank me later! Jake and Sarah , having much food credibility, had also been busy making fresh pasta and a wickedly rich béchamel to layer in the lasagna. What a scene to walk into!! Here's Jake busy assembling so that we might eat better:
Not a bad kitchen view, huh? Well, the lasagna was off the hook, incredibly rich and satisfying and washed down by a few bottles of vino rosso, among them the lipsmacking 2003 Zenato Valpolicella Ripassa and the head banging 2005 Owen Roe Abbot's Table....what a way to go!
After a game of Apples to Apples (an amazingly fun group game), it was off to bed full, happy, sleepy and ready for more!

w and I woke up remarkably early the next morning, sneaking out of the house while everyone else was sleeping to embark on an ass-kicker of a hike up Little Bald Mountain. A five mile round trip through some beautiful high forest with an elevation gain from 4300' to 5300', this was just the thing to sweat out the previous night's indulgences. Chopper, w's trooper of an Aussie shepherd, kept the pace, and we were all out of breath by the summit. Here's a shot looking back at Penland Lake way-y-y-y below us (that little speck in the middle of the picture...again click on the pic to enlarge).
After a quick trip back down the mountain, we spent the afternoon swimming, eating, talking, and drinking rosé. Unfortunately w and the other couples who were there had to leave late Sunday afternoon, but with more eating and drinking ahead, Jake, Sarah and I bravely soldiered on. I for one had to get busy because it was my turn for edible payback, and the kitchen was calling. There are few things more satisfying in my personal food world than a roast chicken on the Weber, so that was a must. Along with the perfect fowl, I made up a batch of farmer's market risotto with summer squash, fresh corn cut off the cob, wild mushrooms, and fresh chopped basil...all in all comfort food defined! Another very restful night's sleep, some quick cleanup in the morning, then a conversation and music filled drive back to "reality" with J&S, with wonderful memories firmly etched in my food memory bank!!

Thursday, July 20, 2006

7/20/2006 4:30pm
Yeah, this 90+ degree weather is a bit harsh, but there is as always a silver lining. Because nothing puts the chill on an evening like some great rosé wine, especially when it's paired with some killer chow. Luckily my pals Monique and The Handsome One who have Castagna restaurant over on SE Hawthorne understand the simplicity of this equation and have instituted a series of rosé dinners over the next few weeks, featuring different rosés from various Euro wine regions, and pairing foods from these areas to match the pale pink deliciousness filling our glasses with refreshment and our heads with thoughts of a Mediterranean nature. Last night was the kickoff dinner, focusing on Spain. And it was, as expected from one of the two best restaurants in Portland, outstanding. Three courses paired with one white and two rosados.
I was joined at table by my friend and confidant DOR, plus my sister Kathleen sporting her newly broken toe, bro-in-law Dave, and nephew Brendan. I got there a bit early and was treated to my favorite cocktail, a beautifully balanced negroni, by Monique who wanted to try out this fancy-schmancy new sweet vermouth she stocked their bar with. Quite good, but then again when your drinking future is in the hands of the queen of cocktails and one of the nicest bartenders ever, the lovely Suzanne, then how bad can anything be?!
Here's a peek at the menu of the night's delights.....
If you can't see the above, click on the image to enlarge it!

We settled in, and were treated to a first course of four different tapas plates, all supremely delicious and taking my mind and stomach right back to Spain. Everything was so simple, yet so satisfying, exactly the way truly good food should be.
DOR showing off some way too good Mejillones con Azafran

We moved on through a few glasses of chilled grape juice, onto our stunning lamb chop entrée with an exceptionally intense romesco sauce that had us swooning...crazy good!!
the lovely Kathleen and her even more lovely lamb chops and romesco ...yummmm!

DOR doing his best "oh my fucking god this lamb is so good" expression!

We were having so much fun, enjoying Monique's hospitality and The Handsome One's stellar edible creations, plus the waitstaff at Castagna and their adjoining café are probably the nicest in town (right up there with the crew at Three Doors Down...btw: the other best restaurant in PDX!). Later on Dawn, DOR's vivacious wife, joined us, and then my friend Wendy put in an appearance just in time to help finish the last glass of Mesoneros de Castilla Rosado. A most fulfilling night, with good friends, family, and of course awesome food. Talk about your holy trinities!!

Saturday, July 08, 2006

A quick shout out to those who love their sangiovese's dark, rich, complex, and delicious. I went to Gino's (8051 SE 13th, 503.233.4613) just down the street from VINO with Melissa after last night's rocking tasting of northeast Italian red wines to grab a bite to eat and have some refreshing beverage. Eric was in fine form behind the bar, offering his usual blend of helpful advice and withering commentary. After a pint each of hoppy goodness in the form of Walking Man Brewing's IPA, I ordered the lamb on fried polenta because Eric strongly recommended it as the deal. It was delicious, but the best thing was the 1999 Felsina Chianti Classico Reserva off of their wine list at the ridiculous price of $40 a pop. This was awesome Chianti. It can't get much better than this guys. A couple years of bottle age have smoothed out those rough edges, making this pure pleasure and the perfect food partner. And they don't have much left, so get in there and grab your share while you can. You'll love it! Oh, memo to Washington winemaker guy who thinks his sangioveses are worth $30+ per bottle: how dare you when the new and crazy good 2001 Felsina CCR that kicks your overripe, over-oaked bottles to the curb can be had for less than thirty bucks per.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Well, managed to come back with all ten fingers intact from Suzanne and David's wedding/fireworks extravaganza, and not too much other physical damage from all the indulgences! The wedding took place at The Lazy Bastard Ranch which is about 12 miles northeast of Astoria in Washington. Great spot. A guy who had a restaurant on Vashon Island sold that place, bought the ranch to do some sustainable farming and pasture fed cattle growing (or whatever they call it). It was a great ceremony, very relaxed, full of joy and informality but very touching, and Suzanne and David couldn't have been happier. I can't remember if I've ever cried at a wedding before, but this one got me! Of course, being restaurant people (they're both bartenders at Castagna), the food was off the hook. Nate from Castagna was in charge of the edibles, and he was rocking it. The beverages were flowing in abundance, the crowd was so fun, and Suzanne's fireworks show was the perfect finale.
To Suzanne and David...here's to long lives and lots of love together!!

Here's a few pictures of the festivities....
Nate feeling it beforehand!
David overseeing the action....
Monique and the Handsome One awaiting the arrival of the bride....
....and here she is, arriving in style!
Suzanne and mama alighting....
Doing the deed
Isn't he cute? And delicious, too!!

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

What do I love more than giving dinner parties, besides nothing?? Last night, another happy collision of great friends and great food at the pad. I've always loved the whole process. The planning, the shopping, the set up. Even the cleaning before hand...I mean if I didn't have dinner parties, how much motivation would I have to clean this mess?! So it was with much anticipation I looked forward to tonight's soiree. Shopped at the Hollywood farmer's market Saturday...which I love (more next week on that subject)... to grab a few things. Fresh cut peonies at crazy cheap prices, favas in all their prep-demanding goodness, and a 5# bag of fingerling potatoes from the angels of the earth at Rossi Farms, which ironically I didn't get to last night....warning to anyone coming over in the next ten days: get ready to have your solanaceae feed bag on!
The table awaits!

Before I share my menu, one very fortunate disclaimer: I will almost always let my friends bring something over when they offer. Because not only am I blessed with there most amazingly talented, creative, interesting group of dining companions I could ever hope for, and I love them dearly, but they also share my healthy obsession with all things food related and are fucking incredibly talented cooks. So not only are all dinner invitations eagerly accepted, but dinner party donations are most welcome! They thoroughly get that whole "live to eat" versus "eat to live" attitude....I'm guessing you know which side we fall on. Okay, enough of that, here's the menu:

* Appetizers provided by J&K, delicious cantaloupe wrapped in Prosciutto di Parma resting on and surrounded by a garden of nasturtiums, and then M shows up with a fabulous plate of pork short ribs and crispy chicken from one of her favorite Chinese restaurants. Memo to the handsome one: you still owe me deviled eggs!!

The main course, waiting for the application of heat

* Main course of two roast chickens off the Weber, a fava bean/pancetta risotto, and roasted asparagus off the 'que.
* A quick cheese course of something I was recently introduced to by a friend, which consists of the sensually decadent flavors of truffle honey (mind-blowing stuff!) smeared on a small piece of artisan bread, and topped with St. Agur blue cheese from France by way of Pastaworks on Hawthorne. The cheese is one of the best blues I've ever had, and the earthy/sweet truffle honey and the moldy, soft blue cheese together are like eating sex...crazy!!
The wines we had for the above were various rosés and whites, of which the 2004 J. Christopher "Croft Vineyard" Sauvignon Blanc was once again just insanely intense and confirms my opinion that Jay Somers is making the best sauv blancs in America, and some of the best anywhere...no shit!! Also had a bottle of '95 Caprili Brunello di Montalcino Riserva and a 1997 Panaretta Chianti Classico (did I mention my friends hollow legs....very odd we all share that trait!!).
Some of last night's libations: Giving their all so that I might sleep better

* Dessert of fresh strawberries to dip in various bowls of flavor enhancers provided by my über-talented sister, served with glasses of refreshingly low alcohol, slightly sweet, and ticklingly bubbly moscato d'asti, one of my favorite things in the wine world.
All in all most satisfying. The wine and conversation flowed all night, hugs and kisses were exchanged at the end, I even managed to clean everything up and wash all the dishes before tumbling into a very contented slumber. Sweet dreams indeed!!

And now today...off to Suzanne and David's wedding in Astoria, where there is promised great food, beverage, and a cart of illegal fireworks. Ah, once again the scary and exciting confluence of alcohol and gunpowder. Hopefully will be back with all my fingers to let you know how it turns out tomorrow!!!

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Now that I'm finally not quite as bitter and resentful over the fact I'm not still on vacation, it seems time to get back to reporting, 'cause my appetite certainly hasn't gone on holiday.

This may be one of the best Sunday mornings I could hope for. A little coffee and the Sunday NYT while lazing about the pad, thinking about tomorrow's dinner party. Then, after much procrastinating, a 4 mile run about 11am...where did all that heat come from?...which of course only led to today's dilemma. What the hell am I going to have for lunch? Long past any appetite quenching effects from that cup of yogurt that was my "breakfast", the blood sugar is plummeting. Luckily, in my 'hood, my Sunday standby has incorporated some awesome breakfast treats. por que no, which has been rocking my taco loving world for some time (check out their carnitas tacos....off the hook!), has in the last few weeks bumped up the breakfast offerings on Saturday/Sunday.
Fresh out of the shower, I head down the street, check out the specials board in this tiny joint, and know I have to have the chiliquillas, which can be roughly translated as crazy good Mexican hash. Now there are a ton of mediocre versions of this dish out there, but Bryan and the guys at pqn have it down cold! Tortilla chips with chopped tomato, onion, chili spice, cilantro, sour cream, a couple of perfectly cooked over easy eggs, probably one or two more things tossed into the deliciousness just for good measure. This is the deal!! So stupidly satisfying. Sitting outside at a shady cafe table, reading the NYT magazine, wolfing down this amazing plate of food. Do I even need to say "life is so fucking good?" And the day is just beginning!!