Wednesday, February 28, 2007

"Mom, about those Picasso's...."

Just in case you happen to walk into your house today and see the above paintings adorning your walls and your husband/wife says, "Honey, you won't believe what I picked up on eBay today!", you might be a little suspicious. These two pieces by Picasso were just stolen last night from the left bank home of his granddaughter in Paris. Supposedly worth $66 million or more, they were taken off the walls of her house while she and her mother slept. I'm thinking that if I have tens of millions of dollars worth of art on my walls (which of course, never mind) I'm having three large dogs barking, flashing lights, trumpets blaring, and a 6'7" guy named Miloslav firing a semi-autimatic weapon if anyone gets within ten feet of them. But then that would be such mauvais gout, n'est pas?

The Source!

This is new to me. After years spent walking out of New Seasons (which I still love shopping at) with my hands heavier with two bags of groceries but my wallet lighter by about $65, I have found the source. It gives heading east a whole new meaning. I have recently discovered the joys of shopping at two of PDX's great culinary secrets. The real goods at supremely inexpensive prices can be found at two of Portland's best Asian markets: Fubonn Supermarket (2850 SE 82nd Ave.) and ABC Seafood Market (6509 SE Powell Blvd.). Here you'll find some things you'll have to work at to use, i.e.:

But I am enthralled with the possibilities walking the aisles of Fubonn and dreaming....or drooling. We've been buying wonderfully fresh whole trout here lately. Oh, and at $2.68 per pound vs. $4.98 at Seasons. One of the reasons you get such fresh fish at these markets is the incredible turnover. And if you think that carp on the right isn't calling to me you'd be wrong....
I was reading on some food site recently that pork belly is a big new ingredient, and based on what I'm eating our local boites I'd have to agree. But at the same time I was thinking "Sure, if I had a wholesale meat account, I'm sure I could grab a slab, but where's a poor schlub like me going to get a pound or two?" Well, if you look about two feet to the left to the left of these pork shanks, you'll find all you want....
Mmmmm, pork products! In case various unusual animal parts don't grab you, the packaging will....
And for fresh Dungeness crab, you won't do any better than heading to ABC Seafood on SE Powell. We were turned on to this crustacean paradise by our pals Kevin and Monique of Castagna Restaurant. Sure fresh crab is slightly more work...if boiling a big pot of water can be called work...but the flavor is far superior to the pre-cooked store bought crabs. It is so much sweeter and fresher. Plus at $3.49/#, it doesn't get much cheaper. And they really don't put up a's the lobsters that are the bad asses who will try and rip your finger off on the way into the pot. The crabs just kind of Caspar Milquetoast into the boil. And don't listen to anyone who says use that Old Bay garbage. Per Kevin, and we heartily agree, all you need is saltwater....period! And for you Uwajimaya fans who swear by their fish, a few weeks ago when w and I were in line at ABC. I poked w and whispered "Look on top of that stool" which was right behind the counter. Sitting there was a check for about $3,000......from Uwajimaya. The source, get it?!

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The Lost Weekend

Sorry for the lack of posting. I've been too busy digesting. I don't know if I'm the luckiest SOB around, or just have this always hungry/thirsty look on my face that compels people to offer me incredible food and beverage, but instead of thinking too deeply about it, I just sit back and let the goodness flow.
This last weekends debauchery started Saturday night after yet another grueling day enabling peoples alcohol consumption at the wine shack. As soon as the work day ended, I set up for a private dinner/tasting that my friends Paul and Karen organized for a group of their friends. The wines were all Italian, presented by Tom Kelly of Small Vineyards, a company who goes to Italy to seek out tiny, artisinal Italian winemaking families to export into the U.S. The wines were great, with especially amazing bottles of 2001 Poderi Elia "Serracapelli" Barbaresco and 2001 Tre Donne Barolo. Pair those and more bottles of vino rosso with a six course dinner of Piedmontese small plates and you have a pretty tasty Monforte d'Alba trattoria right here in Sellwood.
The food was all made by Paul and Karen or their coterie of culinary cohorts. Especially impressive to me was the homemade salumi made by Paul and his friend Uel. Hung to cure in Uel's home wine cellar these were really well made treats that Armando Batali would be proud of.
So why stop there? Why not get up the next morning to make our way to our friend's J&K who were having a southern brunch featuring a gigantic Virginia ham that K brought home on the plane in her suitcase! Talk about dedication!! And there's nothing like walking into someone's house and having an icy Bloody Mary thrust in your hands....Sunday morning refreshment par excellence! Plus a pitcher of blood orange juice for mimosas from fruit they hand squeezed. The blood orange juice was incredible, and the most beautiful shade of red. And what else could be better with the most attractive piece of porcine goodness that J lovingly sliced by hand than some cheesy grits, wonderfully fluffy homemade biscuits, wilted mustard greens, and a stunning crab soufflé. Oh, and an oozingly rich chess pie. Even writing it down two days later, I am absolutely salivating. Great food, great conversation that went on for hours.....did I mention how fortunate I am? Here's some pics of the proceedings....

clockwise from top left: J at the carving station with K in the background; le menu; the spread; a plate of deliciousness

So last night, to make up for our overindulgence and to eat "lighter", w and I made broiled trout (the trout was from Fubon market...more on that tomorrow) with a bacon and golden raisin relish and a roast fingerling potato and arugula salad. Both were superb recipes from this months Gourmet magazine, and we especially loved the salad which satisfied w's love of arugula and my fetish for roasted fingerling potatoes. Check back in the next couple of days and I'll have links to both recipes up. By the way, this month's Gourmet has a slew of delicious looking recipes that I'll be delving into. It just gets better and better, doesn't it?!

Friday, February 23, 2007

The Comfort Zone

Dinner at Three Doors Down last night is the perfect answer to the question, "You keep going back to the same places, don't you?" The affirmative answer is obvious to me, because it's when you really get to know a place and the people who work there that you enter the comfort zone.
Yesterday my consigliere DOR and I grabbed two comfortable seats at the bar of 3DD and settled in for what we both knew would be a most satisfying experience. Three Doors has a great warm feel. Most of the servers have been there for years, which always adds to the familiarity. And then there's the food. To say that Chef Dave Marth's food satisfies would be a gross understatement. If you saw Dave on the street, he of the large frame, permanent stubble, and rabid Yankee fandom, he seems more like a guy you'd be throwing beers back at the bar with than a guy who has an incredibly deft, delicate touch in the kitchen. So many things on his menus define comfort food with an Italian bent, and I can't get enough.
Anyway, we settled in at he bar, me with my new favorite thing, a cool refreshing Hendricks Gimlet, wrought with great expertise by bartender/enabler Matt. We had a couple of appetizers, including some briny good Totten Inlet oysters and their crazily good version of a grilled cheese. Picture two slices of white bread filled with fresh mozzarella, grilled and resting on the plate in a bath of lemon butter sauce and you get the idea. Insane! The 1/2 bottle of 2005 Domaine Neveu Sancerre "Vielles Vignes" was the perfect compliment to both. Sancerre is something DOR and I both have great love and respect for. If there is a better expression of sauvignon blanc, it hasn't made it's way past my palate.
For entrees, DOR chose the roast chicken which was awesome. 3DD being the only place I eat roast chicken outside of my own kitchen because Dave rocks with the bird. I was left with no choice but to have their pasta special, because Matt said those magic words I long to hear when he described it: "braised pork belly Bolognese with ground pork mixed in on rigatoni and......." and I pretty much didn't hear anything else as the pig had my head. This was fucking spectacular pasta, so rich, so filled with porcine goodness that it had me wolfing it down. I somewhat resentfully offered to let DOR try some. Luckily he took a small bite...sorry DOR, you know how petty I am when it comes to food! We started in on a bottle of '99 Feudo di San Gregorio Taurasi, a great single vineyard red from Sicily made from the aglianico grape, that I brought with me, which I was loving but DOR was so-so on. Being the one to only want for my friends happiness, I gave DOR the wine list and he picked the 2003 Limerick Lane "Collins Vineyard" Zinfandel, a choice greeted with much eye rolling by Roger and Matt. I used to love zinfandel, but lately have gone all Italian and Frenchie in my wine drinking. But I've gotta say this was delicious. Super-rich, a surprising restraint on the oak, spicy raspberry fruit, delicious finish. Pretty much the perfect bottle of zin.
By this time, we were feeling it. Dave came out of the kitchen and we had some baseball talk, and Matt insisted on comping us a small taste of their house made limoncello, which was sublime. Again, welcome to the comfort zone!

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Hungry? Before you answer.....

What will you put in your mouth? I'd like to think I'm pretty open-minded in the pursuit of gustatory greatness. I'll go the distance on most things. I've had brains, kidneys, liver, thymus gland (aka sweetbreads). I've always thought if I was in a foreign country getting my grub (literally and figuratively) on, I'd eat pretty much anything the natives would. Handful of fried insects? Sure...I hear it's like popcorn. Taking that into account, I've got nothing on Eddie Lin and his fellow food adventurers at Deep End Dining. Check out the video from their February 20th blogpost about the "Hot Pot of Doom". How far will they go? How about the usual brains & kidneys...then layer on some pork throat, rooster testicles, and........well, you've gotta see it to believe it. Kudos guys...Tony Bourdain would be impressed!


Another night that reminds me of how fortunate I am to be able to enjoy the things I do...or in this case eat. It was Date Night last night, and since w had never been to Alberta Oyster Bar & Grill (2926 NE Alberta St.,503.284.9600), that was her pick. Turned out pretty well too. Much better than the two photos. But hey, it was pretty dark in there, and it seems rude to be flashing pictures and blinding my fellow diners just so I can stick some half assed food shots on here, so that's what ya get. Anyway, the point is the food was rocking. We started out our evening at Siam Society with a couple of their specialty cocktails. SS is a quasi-thai bar and restaurant built inside an old PGE sub-station. Even though these words wouldn't normally go together, it has this elegantly industrial feel. My caipirinha was perfect. I love that smoky cachaça flavor. w had their lycheetini, good but a bit sweet for our tastes.
Then off up the street to AOBG for more indulgence. I always like walking into the cozy interior here. Yeah, it's dark, but not too, and has a very comfortable vibe. So what else are you going to hit first there but some fresh shucked oysters? They usually have around ten different choices. We picked the Fanny Bays and the Cortes Island. They were both excellent, with the Cortes' getting the slight nod with their more assertive, briny flavor. The only quibble I have is the price. At $15 per 1/2 dozen they are about $3-$5 more than anywhere else. I washed mine down with an ever satisfying Tanqueray martini, while w had the excellent '05 Patricia Green Sauv Blanc. Both worked it in their own way. We followed with a baby arugula salad with toasted walnuts and blue cheese. Very good, balanced, fresh. And if you think I could resist something called Foie Gras French Toast, you would sadly mistaken. Foie Gras French Toast. I just like saying that. This was a perfectly decadent piece of the fattened goose that was so good!

We had the waiter pop the cork on the 2001 Gozzolino "Il Sciorio" Barbera d'Asti I brought along. I absolutely adore this wine, and it is one of the finest $20 bottles of wine you can buy. Killer juice...earthy, rich, ripe, and perfect with so many different foods. In this case perfect with our two entrees (pictured..sort of...above). Mine was a duck breast on top of a bed of greens with little squares of potato gnocchi, while w scored big with their monkfish and oxtail plate. Kind of a gourmet version of surf and turf. Very nicely done. We were stuffed and wisely decided to skip dessert after all that goodness. All in all this was a great dinner without one missed note. Really impressive and will have me coming back any chance I get!

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Feed your mind, and your stomach will follow!

Much as I'm enthralled with my own writing, I do appreciate what others have to say. Especially when it come to things edible. That's why my Wednesday morning ritual is to look first thing at the New York Times website and immediately click over to the the Dining and Wine page. This is the best food page going of any U.S. paper, and always has something worthwhile to whet my appetite. Take this morning. What else do I want on my mind at 9am besides steaming pots of meaty, porky spaghetti sauce? How about nothing! There's a great article (with recipes) by Kim Severson about her search for her Italian grandmother's (that's grandma's pic above) spaghetti sauce recipe. I could practically smell the simmering sauce as I read the story. Memo to family and friends: it will be coming soon to a stockpot on my stove!
There's always something interesting going on the Wednesday, cocktails, NYC restaurant news, wine, travel....everything the food obsessed among us could want. Plus it beats the hell out of thinking about work!
If you're not clued in, lemme help you out: The NYT website is free to access, all you have to do is register with your email. You can opt out of any emailings/offerings...I've been doing this for years and have gotten, oh, I don't know, zero spam...and it's web pages and ease of use makes our local paper The Oregonian's website look like an elementary school project. But then again the NYT makes our local fishwrap look like junior high journalism. Get's free, it's fun, it'll feed your mind and stomach. Is there anything better than that?!

Monday, February 19, 2007

Fear of Food, Pt. 1
Prepare to have your illusions shattered. Remember several years ago how everyone said that monosodium glutamate (or msg) is bad for you? That it will make you sick, give you headaches, or worse?? I haven't bought into that argument for years, ever since I read Jeffrey Steingarten's myth-busting book It Must Have Been Something I Ate, which for you food fetishists and food-fearists should be on your must-read list. For years Steingarten was the food editor at Vogue Magazine, and his book is an informative, often hilarious, ever informative republishing of his many essays. Think you're lactose intolerant? He's thinking you're not (and you do realize there is virtually no lactose in butter and yogurt, right?). Even roasting the perfect chicken is covered in one of my favorite pieces.
One of his most memorable essays, written in 1999, was entitled “Why Doesn’t Everybody in China Have a Headache?”, regarding the seeming immunity of the Chinese to the flavoring agent msg, where it is a regular addition to many of their everyday foods while in the west it seems to inspire widspread panic. And now comes an Op-Ed piece in Sunday's New York Times by Fuchsia Dunlop on the same topic. She wrote it because: "Today the Chinese Year of the Pig begins, and Americans across the country will venture to their local Chinatowns for a festive meal." And since people born in the Year of the Pig have a natural intellectual curiosity (yours truly included) it seems a particularly appropriate time to visit the subject. It's a great piece.
Read it, believe it, because really, aren't there are SO many better things to be afraid of?

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Salut Camilo e Gaspari!

It's the little differences that make all the difference. Of course I can relate this statement to my love and endless and healthy(?) fascination with cocktails. I write this as I sit at home having the national cocktail of Federal Republic of Bruce, an absolutely perfect Negroni. The Negroni, an oh so satisfying drink, traditionally a blend of gin, Campari (invented by Gaspari Campari in the early 1800s), and sweet vermouth in equal amounts, is an old school classic. It is named after Camilo Negroni who lived in early 1900s Florence and always ordered this particular libation.
My particular love affair with Camilo's concoction began years ago, and has never waned, through the highs of enjoying them at a sunny outdoor café table on the Giudecca Canal in Venice (for $2.00!!) to the lows of waking up after perhaps one too many with the unfortunate feeling of an elephant tap dancing on my head.
But I found out how big a little difference can be after a San Francisco afternoon a few years ago spent on a hunt for the perfect Negroni. It was in the bar at Bix, a wonderfully atmospheric place and perhaps my favorite Bay area haunt for martinis and other cocktails , that I learned the secret. I think this was stop number three on the search, and one sip in my eyes went wide and I turned to the bartender and said "You did something different here, didn't you?" I remember his satisfied little smile as he said that he indeed had his own minor variation on the classic one-to-one-to-one proportions. For so simple a recipe, you'd be amazed at how many bartenders screw it up, or riff on this, and completely lose sight of what is a drink that, as an old drinking companion succinctly said, "Made correctly is the perfectly balanced cocktail." So what was that little difference that made the perfect cocktail into something that was touched by the hand of God? He keeps the usual proportions of one part gin and one part Campari, but instead of one part sweet vermouth, he used 1/2 sweet and 1/2 dry vermouth. The dry vermouth gives it this slight acid bite that balances out the richness of the Campari and gin.
And if the Negroni is the National Cocktail of this Republic in my mind, then Tanqueray gin is the National Beverage. I say that as a prelude to advise you to use a somewhat more neutral gin...I prefer Gordon's...because the assertive flavor of Tanqueray tends to overpower the other elements. So easy, so good, and so important to my happiness. Mille grazie Camilo!

The Perfect Perfect Negroni
1 part gin, preferably Gordon's
1 part Campari
1/2 part sweet vermouth
1/2 part dry vermouth
Shake with ice, strain into a chilled martini glass, and garnish with a lemon twist.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Warm Comfort
Seeing as how every time I try to eat solid food, I end up biting down on my soon to be root-canalled tooth, which leads to extreme discomfort, i.e. f-bombs being littered about the immediate surroundings, it seemed like the perfect evening for a warming bowl of easy-to-eat-with-minimal-masticating soup. I just found this deliciously satisfying version on the hunger inducing Leite's Culinaria website. Smoked ham hock and split pea soup....just what the doctor, or in this case dentist, ordered. I grabbed some smoked ham hocks from New Seasons along with the other fixin's, headed home, and the results were just what I wanted. I didn't add the ham hock meat back in as the recipe suggested, and it was the right call as the soup had plenty of smoky, meaty flavor since the hocks cooked in the soup for an hour. If you want the more traditional creamy style, just throw your hand blender in and spin it. This is the perfect dish on a cold, wet late winter evening, and is exceedingly easy to put together.

Monday, February 12, 2007

A Day Well Spent!
So here's the story. Tonight is my sister's birthday dinner with eight friends that will be prepared by yours truly. So I thought why not share the day's prep, shopping, and eating experience with all of you, because who likes to work alone, right? Eight guests are expected in just under 12 hours. Time to rock!
The menu tonight is all Spanish, all the time. Here it is...and before you comment and say "That's not how you pronounce that, idiot", I know. I don't speak Spanish and relied on the shaky translating software at Send them your snarky emails!

Manchego con goma del membrillo
Aceitunas del Basque
Piquillo con Atun
Tortilla Espanola
Camarones ajo
Guisado de Cordero y chorizo
Arroz con leche y pasas

I've never cooked an entire meal devoted to Spain, with tapas, entrada, and postre all being new to the repertoire. I did much of the shopping yesterday (I'm not completely masochistic!) so today can be devoted to prep, cooking, an of course cleaning (ugh) the pad. Plus a couple of other errands non-related to dinner that need to be done on my day off. Oh, and did I mention I think I developed an acute need for a root canal yesterday? My tooth has been throbbing since I woke up this morning. What time do you think I can start drinking to numb the pain and still function? Hm, best not too think about that. Thank god for ibuprofen.
Okay, enough prelim...I'll check in throughout the day.....
Back at the Mississippi pad. Stops this morning at Pacific Seafood, Cost Plus, and one of my wine distributors for more libations. Yum...dinner party in the trunk of a car!:

Unloaded everything, now time to fire up the vacuum. It's good to have friends over for dinner every now and then if for no other reason than the clean up the chaos. There seems to be an abundance of Chopper hair on the floor. If only he had opposable thumbs he could be of so much help. Curse you evolution!!

Maybe I'm getting better at this. I'm amazed to have a few minutes for an update. Plans are coming along very well as the following photos will attest. The lamb leg was a beautiful piece of young flesh straight from the New Seasons meat counter.

And when you combine lamb, chorizo, lots of garlic, and other goodies, you know something great is about to happen!

This gives me a couple of minutes to also hype something I've been meaning to mention for weeks, and that is Michael Pollan's book The Omnivore's Dilemma. If you have even a passing interest in food and what you put on your plate, you HAVE to read this. Named one of the 10 best Books for 2006 by the NY Times, it isn't a radical manifesto that harangues you over and over until you throw away all your processed food. Instead, Pollan presents well thought out arguments that looks at both sides of the issue as to why we should care what we eat, and how it affects not only us but everything around us. It has changed the way I shop for food...and yes I still can't wait for my next veal chop or meltingly luscious slice of foie gras...and also has changed the way I think about how the food gets into our stores and ultimately our bodies. Very readable, interesting, and very important.
Okay, off the book pimping and back into the kitchen. See you later!

11:55 a.m.....the next morning
So, how did it all turn out? Well, other than my inability ot chew through my dinner, it was a huge success. The compay was oustanding. Seven other like-minded sould who understand how importat all this is. Great bottles of wine. Thanks to DOR for the amazing bottle of '03 Val Llach Priorat, and an unctuously rich dessert sherry from Alvear (his 2004 Pedro Ximénes de Añada that was a great capper with the Arroz con leche), all rich caramel, toffee, and honey flavors...yum! Oh, and the food worked out pretty well if I can be a bit immodest. Here's the tapas, without the brilliant steamed clams our friends J&K brought over.
Clockwise from the top is the Tortilla Espanola, Camarones Ajo, Basque Olives, and Piquillo con Atun, and Manchego. A fabulous beginning!

Then to table with the incredibly flavorful lamb, chorizo, and white bean stew from the Dean & DeLuca Cookbook. I've used this book over and over and it's recipes are money. It's one of my favorite go-to books when I want to make something that I know will work. I don't have a pic of the entrée, but it had the approval of the table. I was too busy trying not to wince from my damn tooth to really get into it, so I got some solace from the satisfied smiles around me. Some sliced ciabatta from Pearl Bakery to sop up the juices and maybe one too many bottles of vino tinto and we were set. A great way to celebrate my sis's b-day and spend time with a few of my favorite people. About as good as it gets! case you're wondering...8:15 tomorrow morning...root canal...arghhhhh!

Friday, February 09, 2007

A walk in the Park!
Just let me say that while I like my job, sometimes I really like my job. Take last night for instance. Andreas Wickhoff (right), who represents several different Austrian wine estates, who not incidentally are among the very top tier of Austrian wine producers, was in town last night. His local wine distributor here in Portland, Triage Imports, held a dinner for four of their accounts, yours truly included, so Andreas could inform about his latest and greatest. I get invited to several wine dinners each year, and go to maybe, well, none of them. But then my friend at Triage, Whitney, mentioned Austrian wines, then in the same breath uttered those words I love to hear: "Oh, and it's at Park Kitchen", and I was in! There is nothing that gets me salivating like thinking about the culinary wonders that owner/chef Scott Dolich might be kicking loose from his kitchen.
We settled on his tasting menu, which I've dome a couple of times in the past, and have been blown away by. It was really amazing before, offering a taste of the full range of his menu, plus some things he whips up on the spot out of his fertile imagination. Last night it was simply off the hook. I'm talking crazy amounts of insanely good food that kept coming and coming. Plus when it is paired with the incredible whites and reds Andreas brought along, this was an evening that maybe I'll never experience again. How much food? How about six different appetizers, three different salads (large), five separate entrées (I'll be dreaming about the pork belly) brought out on family style platters, four desserts. Throw in eight different wines to taste and you get why it was all I could do to stagger out of there, very full belly leading the way. I managed to make it home, fell into bed, pulled the comforter over my head and blissfully slipped into a wonderful food coma.
Like I said, sometimes I really like my job. Somehow I think the guy manning the Slurpee machine at 7-11 doesn't get these benefits.
Here's some visual proof. Clockwise top to bottom: Awesome razor clam salad; mmmm, pork belly; crazy sole fillet medallions wrapped around a sole mousse on top of sauteed spinach with cauliflower; apple dumpling; and their classic vanilla panna cotta with your correspondent hungrily awaiting his share.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Rock of Ages!
I've always been a huge music fan. From getting high with my friends and rocking our air guitars to Led Zeppelin back in high school to my current infatuation with iTunes (which caused me to have to buy a new computer for "work" after my old computers memory was filled with several thousand songs). But the devil of the ease of iTunes is that it encourages less full album listening, and more single cuts. Although I think a fair criticism is that there are a lot fewer records out there that deserve your full attention for 13 or 14 songs. That's why the latest album from the Red Hot Chili Peppers, "Stadium Arcadium", which came out mid-last year was such an amazing revelation. Not just one or two songs worthy of a listen, but a full double cd, 27 songs, with hardly a weak moment. First off, who does double albums that are worth a shit anymore? These old school rockers can tear it up one moment ("Readymade" or "So Much I") , funk it up the next ("Hump de Bump"), and slow it down with a beautifully lyrical performance ("Snow (Hey Oh)" ) right after that. Smart lyrics, super tight playing. I'm hooked. The more I listen to it, the more I'm convinced this absolutely belongs on the list of "greatest of all time" record releases. If you're serious, you've gotta have it.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Our Kitchen is my kind of kitchen!
Why I don't go to Nuestra Cocina (2135 SE Division/ 503-232-2135) more often is a question I don't have any rational answer for. Could it be that I don't need more impeccably prepared Mexican "peasant" food in my diet? No, that can't be it, because I could chow on this goodness every day. Could it be that I've had more than my share of margaritas in my time and their refreshingly delightful "traditional" margarita might be the one that pushes me over the edge? Possibly yes to the "more than my share" part, but decidedly no to the second question. And does my love of all things porcine extend to their astounding chicharrones, fresh fried pork rinds topped with an abundantly spicy tomatillo salsa?
After my experience the other night, a loudly stated hell yes!
Is it possible my craving for their addictive sopes, little corn meal cups filled with chorizo and sprinkled with queso fresco, is becoming an issue? Possibly.

And could it be that the lovely plate of grilled opah sitting lightly on a bed of spinach and surrounded by fresh manila clams I had at the same meal, which is one of the best plates of fish I've had in town, ever, be the thing that finally gets me out of my routine and firmly plants the wondrous creations of chef/owner Benjamin Gonzalez on my list of regular stops when I want something that just tastes good? Absolutely.
Bottom line is that this is the best Mexican food in town, possibly in the northwest, and a coveted seat at the counter is the way to go if you want to see a kitchen that rocks food like nowhere else. The line at times is somewhat daunting, especially with a group of four or more, but it is so worth the wait. Their website says Nuestra Cocina roughly translates into "our kitchen". Maybe that's why I feel so at home here.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Lessons learned!
Last night was the final act in this past months ongoing drama, that if I had to give it a title would probably be "New Food: Is it Good Food?" Based on a whole month of making new dinners at home (okay, full disclosure, we fell back on some old reliables maybe twice when we were feeling really lazy), I have to without hesitation say "hell yes!" All those lonely cookbooks that hadn't been handled since they left the bookstore and were languishing on the shelf finally got their bindings cracked. Last nights delicious ending was a recipe we grabbed out of our local fishwrap The Oregonian. Fresh sea scallops wrapped in prosciuotto di Parma sautéed in a sage infused olive oil with fried sage leaves and sautéed apples on the side. Really good and pretty light. With some of my beloved roasted fingerlings and brussels sprouts it was working.

All in all the month was a pretty cool learning experience. The things we liked most and will find their way into our regular repertoire were the fish dishes. I've been a mostly meat/pasta/chicken cook, and playing with fish was really fun. Plus it ups the kitchen confidence level when the new chow you're cranking out actually tastes good with a couple of "wow" moments thrown in. I think it will be an annual event with us, and I'd highly encourage you to do the same. It's not that tough, and ya just might learn a thing or two!
Will drive for food!
We're hungry with no motivation to cook anything at home, it's cold out, and we're craving FLAVOR for not many dollars. Luckily for us the perfect answer lies within a few minutes drive, and we jump into the car for a quick drive over to Chaba Thai (5810 NE Sandy Blvd.), which for my money is making the best Thai food in the city. The last couple of times in we have been so happy, satisfied, and left without having our wallets fleeced. Pretty much everything I could ask.
We took a quick look at the menu, and I promptly zeroed in on the Golden Bags, which we a special appetizer of deep-fried wonton wrappers around chicken, shrimp, and crab with a couple of dipping sauces. So lovely to look at and delicious to eat! And unlike so many apps you order around town where it seems they've made enough for maybe one very small person, this was an incredibly generous portion for a mere $7.50.

For the main events, the menu listed a whole sea bass on the specials page that "the chef highly recommends and you will love". I'm not too easy a sell, but if you're going to put that shit out there, then I'm in. We also opted for their Pad Thai with shrimp, one of the best versions around. The sea bass turned out to be fabulous...moist, succulent, topped with fresh lemon grass, peppers, and set on a bed of spinach with a light plum sauce. This was really fucking awesome. The lemon grass really gave it this nice zip, it had just enough heat, and I know it'll be one of those dishes I'll end up!!