Saturday, March 31, 2007

Aw shucks...or: Hunting oysters in the city!

A call a few minutes ago from my sister, who I reckon is preparing paella for dinner as I type this...and yes, I will be joyously and gratefully partaking...that led to a discussion of where to get fresh oysters here in Portland put to mind a suggestion for all you PDX oyster aficionados who may be wondering where to get the freshest, briniest mouthwatering mollusks. I always go to one of two places. First, I always check Newman's Fish Company (503.227.2700) in Citymarket at 735 NW 21st Avenue. In the last year they have installed circulating water tanks so you know they care about the quality. They also usually have at least 4-6 different varieties available, plus clams and mussels if ya need 'em. Last weekend we picked up some tiny, creamylicious Kumamotos and twelve superb Fanny Bays. My second choice is the venerable Dan and Louis Oyster Bar, which has been around Portland seemingly forever. While their food also tends to taste like it has been around forever, it is a great source for fresh oysters, either to go or washed down with a drink in their cozy bar. Both Newman's and D&L are about the same price, usually $12-$15 a dozen give or take. A fresh oyster always reminds me of tasting the sea, and not in a spitting out mouthfuls of saltwater way, but in a "oh my god, I think I am tasting the freshest thing I possibly can" way.

So now that you know where, the only question is how. The guys at Newman's will be happy to tell you. It is so much easier than you'd think, and I promise if you're even marginally nimble with your digits, you won't stab yourself with proper precaution. My tool of choice is the OXO Good Grips Shucker. Not too scarily pointy, and works better than any other opener I've tried.

Lastly, but certainly not leastly (?) is what to drink. Many people consider Champagne a great match, and while I've done this numerous times, I have to say it isn't my favorite pairing. The oceany oyster tends to bring out steely flavor in the Champagne that i can live without. Give me a dry, racy Loire Valley sauvignon blanc, say a bottle of spectacular Sancerre, or the all-time French bistro classic, a super chilled bottle of minerally Muscadet, which are usually very reasonably priced and really are about the best thing you could drink with the o's. Lately I have also been pleasing my palate by pairing a dry, slightly peppery Gruner-Veltliner from Austria. w and I enjoyed this particularly pleasing combo with a couple of dozen delights we were wolfing down a few months ago on a trip to the magical Hog Island Oyster Company in the Ferry Building in San Francisco.
Shuck away'll be well rewarded!

Friday, March 30, 2007

Adventures in Alba

A quick hit on another stellar dining experience last night. w and I went to one of our favorite Italian feeding spots with our friends J&K, that always satisfying spot being Alba Osteria and Enoteca here in PDX. There are certain places you eat at where you can feel the love and passion for what is being prepared. You just now that the chef back in the kitchen really cares, and is not just sharing his food, but sharing an important piece of who he/she is. I always get that feeling at Alba, and once again owner/chef Kurt Spack's Piedmontese-inspired creations didn't disappoint. Kurt has a serious Alba jones going, and I always look forward to his current edible inspirations. We started with an ever appropriate bottle of Prosecco, which always sets the mood. We moved into two different antipasti, Jerusalem artichokes baked in bagna cauda and fried Willapa Bay oysters with a fresh celery root salad. Both did exactly what they should, which is whet our appetites for what is to come.
After ordering a bottle of 2005 Bruna Grimaldi Barbera d'Alba "Scassa", which is always a killer food wine, next up were two primi for sharing. I can't go to Alba without having Kurt's ethereal house-made fresh Tajarin pasta, and tonight it was served with a pork/beef ragu that was a savory compliment to the delicate tajarin. Molto bene! We also had his pillowy ricotta gnocchi that were wrapped in a silky pillowcase of leeks and cream that were light with a spot on texture.

To get ready for our entrées, we had the Alba wine guy Jeff pop the cork on a bottle of 2003 Paitin Nebbiolo "Ca Veja", which is Barbaresco level red for about half the price. In order, this is came rolling out of the kitchen:
Me- Pan roasted sweetbreads and grilled duck liver with a mustard sauce. good. As always the kitchen cooked their sweetbreads to a tender perfection. And the grilled duck liver was actually rather mild, which was very appreciated, and grilled to a just done texture with a nice char.
w- The special fresh fish, tonight a whole trout stuffed with mushrooms. Very good, maybe a smidge overdone, but nicely flavored.
J- A spectacular brine cured pork chop that was off the charts, and I'm sure any pig would gladly give up his leg if he knew it was going to treated with such respect.
K- She picked the roasted lamb loin chops with a lamb and olive crepinette. It came out perfectly medium-rare, and was a very generously sized portion. Wonderful stuff.

Since we'd come this far, it would have like surrendering to not have dessert. Luckily J&K have that same "don't quit 'til the job is done" attitude and were very willing to share a couple. One, a sensually soft panna cotta that almost melted away when it hit your tongue, and my favorite, a stunning lemon and honey tart. Jeff was very kind to comp us a bottle of Moscato d'Asti, and though not really needed at that point, was most appreciated and indulged in. This was a night of Piedmontese soul food and kudos to Kurt and staff for sharing the passion!

Final note: Alba is also a place where you know no matter what wine you order, and this is a really well chosen list of Piedmont reds and whites, you can be sure you are getting a great deal. Very reasonable markups that I can only wish other restaurants could take a clue from.

Three cheers for Three Cups!

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that my good friend David Relin's (that's David on the right above) book Three Cups of Tea was one of five finalists in the nonfiction category for the very prestigious Kiriyama Prize, which in their words: "was established in 1996 to recognize outstanding books about the Pacific Rim and South Asia that encourage greater mutual understanding of and among the peoples and nations of this vast and culturally diverse region."
Well, imagine how happy and proud I am to report that I received an email late last night from David sharing the good news that his book was chosen as the winner of the 2007 Kiriyama award. You can read more about the prize by clicking on the Kiriyama link above. Kudos again to David for sharing this amazing story, and again I encourage all of you to grab a copy of this most important work. It's out in paperback and you can go to the Three Cups website or your favorite bookstore to get your copy. Bravo!

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Mountain Escape

In case you've been checking and getting the same old posts here and are worried that maybe I'm fasting.....or even worse have decided I hate food and have become a vegan, don't fret. My plate has stayed quite full of all sorts of edible goodness, just not all of it worth sharing. A mediocre chicken enchilada recipe (btw- if any of you have a killer recipe for that dish, I would love to see it), plus an average pasta out of Food & Wine mag that while I was making I had misgivings about, but foolishly went ahead with it. Both w and I were most unimpressed with that pasta. It had a shallot/garlic sauce and was so bland you wonder if all the testers at F&W had colds and couldn't taste when this one came around. We had a fair amount of leftovers, so I sautéed up some pancetta to mix in with the leftovers to give it a little pork fat lift...should have dome that at the start...much better.

We also spent a couple days with friends at my favorite Mt. Hood retreat on the Zig Zag River. This is a great house, with a fabulously relaxing hot tub looking out over the river rushing by about 50 feet away. Much eating, drinking, and social intercourse were had. To pay our keep, w and I made dinner for everyone Saturday night. When cooking for a crowd, and in an unfamiliar kitchen, it's good to have a go to dish in the repertoire. Mine would be my Weber roasted chicken that always turns out perfectly and gets much praise from those who partake. I knew they had a Weber grill at the house, so we grabbed a couple of free range birds on the way out of town, some polenta, fingerling potatoes (because 2 dinner starches are better than one!), and some brussel sprouts and we were good to go. We arrived, and after unloading the car and a refreshing Negroni for cocktail hour, we started in. First up was shucking the 2 dozen fresh oysters (Kumamotos and Fanny Bay's) we brought....fantastic, especially with a perfect Tanqueray martini! Then as soon as we had the chickens doing their thing on the grill, we took a quick soak in the hot tub. What could be better than looking out on this view while dinner is roasting away....
While the chicken was finishing it's thing in the Weber, we threw the fingerlings in the oven after tossing them with olive oil and salt and pepper, whipped up the polenta and stirred some mascarpone into it to make sure it went over the top, and blanched the sprouts. Then we carved these two beauties and dug in.....
....mmm, so tender, the skin salty and perfectly crisp. Many bottles of wine were had, and after dinner there was a dessert-off that pitted Jill's Molten Chocolate Cake against Keith's Chocolate Soufflé. Talk about a can't lose bet. Awesome stuff and a decadent finish to a great night!

Weber Roasted Chicken
Time- about 90 minutes

Prepare the grill by filling the starter chimney to almost overflowing with briquettes (I'm a Kingsford guy). Lots of heat is the key here.


1 Free Range Chicken 5-6#

1 lemon

4 sprigs Rosemary
4 sprigs Fresh Thyme
4 sprigs Fresh Sage
Olive Oil

Fresh Ground Pepper

1-Rinse chicken inside and out and pat dry.
2-Mix together 1/2 teaspoon each salt and pepper and rub inside of chicken.
3-Stuff fresh herbs inside of chicken along with 1/2 lemon.

4-Drizzle olive oil lightly over outside of chicken and salt and pepper all over (breast side and back side).

5-Bank coals to the sides of the charcoal rack on grill. Set a foil pan in between coals to catch chicken drippings.
6-Put chicken on roasting rack and set on top grill, cover, open top and bottom vents all the way and walk away. Check back in 30 minutes (chicken won't be done, but you can't help yourself). After about an hour or so, check bird. It is done when you wiggle the leg and it is very loose and moves easily. Skin should be very crisp and browned.
7-When done, bring chicken inside, let rest for 10 minutes, then carve away and prepare for lavish praise from your guests.

*Note-if doing more than one chicken, just double the amounts of S&P and fresh herbs.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Heaven on Hawthorne

A lot of you know that I am a total honk for the amazing food put out at Castagna Café here in Portland. I go there more than any other place in town, and nobody in America takes care of my burger craving like the juicy morsels that come spinning off the grill there. And don't even get me started on the fries. Potato perfection! But all too often I feel I'm giving short shrift to the Café's big brother next door, Castagna.

This is the original, the inspiration for all the goodness at the café and for my money one of the two best restaurants in town. Actually one of the best restaurants I've eaten at anywhere. Owners Monique Siu and Kevin Gibson have created a casually elegant and comfortable dining oasis on SE Hawthorne Boulevard. I love the understated dining room, and the chairs are so comfy. So, to make up for past neglect, w and I went for dinner last Wednesday, and of course were knocked out by the food we had. w hadn't been, except for a time at a wine dinner a few months ago where the couple across from us who we didn't know ended up getting in a fight, with her crying and him acting like a control freak ass. Oh, the best part was it was her birthday. "Gee honey, Happy Birthday. Could you quit crying on your dessert, please?"

Okay, major digression, but an all time restaurant story. So, we show up, no tears on the horizon, and have our palates knocked out by the food and beverage. We started with a couple of glasses of Guy Charlemagne Champagne Blanc de Blancs which was sublime, and the perfect thing to have with our starters of a 1/2 dozen Malaspina Oysters, Wild Watercress Soup, and what they call the Trio, which is a revolving seasonal offering. That night it was roasted Chioggia beets, fried cardoon, and a feta & thyme salad. All so good. Then chef Kevin Gibson took liberties because he is well acquainted with my love of the cured pork product, and sent out a plate of Belgian endive and apple salad with slices of their house cured lomo. His lomo was off the hook, silky texture, rich flavor...better than the best prosciuotto you've ever had. Too good.

Then on to the entrées, where Kevin (aka The Handsome One) hit it on the screws with both our dishes. w had the Coq au Vin Jaune, which was chicken thighs braised with Vin Jaune and morels with Betty's Noodles. It was so nice, the earthy morels playing the perfect counterpoint to the rich sauce and the fork tender chicken. I had the leftovers yesterday for lunch, and it was maybe even better! I ordered the Sautéed Muscovy Duck breast, which was I think the most tender, perfectly cooked duck breast I've ever had, and as if it needed more richness, it was set in a small pool of sauce Cassis. It was served with Swiss chard and pommes Dauphin, little fried fingers of mashed potato. Needless to say, my plate was practically licked clean. For our drinking pleasure, I had pulled a bottle of 1997 Panaretta Chianti Classico out of the cellar. It was perfect, a classic Italian sangiovese drinking at it's absolute peak. Yum!

And yes, we had room for dessert. After much deliberation we chose a sensually creamy crème brulée served with a mini chocolate pot de crème, and also a crazy good tart-sweet Meyer lemon tart with huckleberry sauce. Somehow we managed to swill down a glass of Moscato d'Asti, which is always an acceptable way to finish. All in all, Kevin and his kitchen crew rocked us, and if you live here in PDX or planning a visit, put this on your list of must-go places!

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Cooking Wine: more bang, less bucks!

What would I rather do with that $40 bottle of Barolo, drink it or dump it into a pot so my Barolo Braised Beef tastes more "authentic"? I have to admit the last time I made this dish, I used a $15 nebbiolo, but just so you know, the next time I make it I'm reaching for the $5 Spanish red and saving the Barolo for the table.

All this new knowledge was brought about by a great article in today's NYT about the value of cooking with the best wine possible versus using something cheap, perhaps even Two Buck Chuck-ish. All of us passionate, amateur home cooks have always believed the rap that the better the wine, the better the dish. Well, it turns out we can keep more of our hard earned jack in our wallets because as this article by Julia Moskin seems to prove, the cheap juice works just fine. Maybe some of the best cooking news I've heard in a long time, and answers the question that I get asked all the time at VINO.

When you click on the link for the article, there are also three great recipes you can link to. You can bet your bellies I'll be trying them soon and reporting the results. Here's the recipe for Barolo Braised Beef that I got off rocked the dinnner table!


2 tablespoons olive oil

1 (3- to 3 1/2-lb) boneless beef chuck roast

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1/4 lb sliced pancetta, finely chopped

1 medium onion, finely chopped

1 medium carrot, finely chopped

2 celery ribs, finely chopped

4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

4 (4- to 6-inch) sprigs fresh thyme

2 (6- to 8-inch) sprigs fresh rosemary
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 cups Barolo or other full-bodied red (and if you read the NYT article, you can go all Mario Batali and use the cheap merlot- bb)

2 cups water

*Special equipment: a 4- to 5-qt heavy ovenproof pot with lid

Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 325°F.

Heat oil in pot over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking.
Meanwhile, pat meat dry and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Brown meat in hot oil on all sides, about 10 minutes total. (If bottom of pot begins to scorch, lower heat to moderate.) Transfer to a plate using a fork and tongs. Add pancetta to oil in pot and sauté over moderately high heat, stirring frequently, until browned and fat is rendered, about 3 minutes. Add onion, carrot, and celery and sauté, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are softened and golden brown, 10 to 12 minutes. Add garlic, thyme, and rosemary and sauté, stirring, until garlic begins to soften and turn golden, about 2 minutes. Stir in tomato paste and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Add wine and boil until liquid is reduced by about half, about 5 minutes. Add water and bring to a simmer, then return meat along with any juices accumulated on plate to pot. Cover pot with lid and transfer to oven. Braise until meat is very tender, 2 1/2 to 3 hours. Transfer meat to a cutting board. Skim fat from surface of sauce and discard along with herb stems. Boil sauce until reduced by about one third, about 5 minutes, then season with salt. Cut meat across the grain into 1/2-inch-thick slices and return to sauce.
*Cooks' note: Beef improves in flavor if made 3 days ahead. Cool completely in sauce, uncovered, then chill in sauce, covered. Reheat, covered, in a preheated 350°F oven until hot, 25 to 30 minutes, then slice meat. (I made it same day and it tasted just fine, but next time I'll plan ahead and see if it does matter- bb)

*Accompaniment: creamy polenta

Tuesday, March 20, 2007


Kismet (noun): destiny;fate

Some things are just meant to be. While doing a bit of "research" for the wine shack, I happenend across this Parisian paradise, Chocolaterie Joséphine Vannier. Absolutely stunning looking chocolates that apparently are some of the best things one could hope to slide between ones lips while in France! The kismet part? Early May, w and I will be à Paris. The address of Josephine's oasis of cocoa bliss is 4, Rue Pas de la Mule. Our apartment we've rented in the Marais is conveniently located about four doors down. Kismet indeed!!

Monday, March 19, 2007

Carbonara Comfort!

It's always good to have a fall back position, especially when things are a little chaotic. Someplace you can go and know things are going to be okay. I'm going through that particular chaos known as moving right now, which while exciting is also a bit non-relaxing in that "what fucking box did I put that in?" or "where the hell is my chefs knife?" kind of way. Thankfully by the end of the day, when both w and I were totally starving, we had found all we needed to whip up one of our favorite things, Spaghetti alla Carbonara.
Talk about finding that good place. When doesn't this taste perfect besides never. So simple, and at the end of a day of schlepping and unpacking, blessedly easy. This is one reason, the main reason, I always keep portioned out pancetta in the freezer and a box of DeCecco dry spaghetti in the pantry. A little chopping, sautéing, boiling, and tossing and you're good to go. The following recipe is from the bible as written by Marcella Hazan, her indispensable Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking. It puts to shame any other carbonara recipe I've tried. The key is infusing the olive oil with the garlic and finishing the pancetta with the splash of wine, which perks up the whole dish. As Ella might have sung, this is so nice to come home to!

Spaghetti alla Carbonara
1/2 # pancetta (or if you must, regular bacon. Sadly, it won't be as good.)

4 garlic cloves

3 tablespoons olive oil

1/4 cup dry white wine

2 large eggs

3/4 cup grated parmagiano-reggiano cheese (Marcella calls for 1/2 cup parma and 1/2 cup pecorino-romano, which I hardly ever have and doesn't make a huge difference)
Fresh ground black pepper

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

1# spaghetti, preferably DeCecco dry pasta

1. Cut pancetta into 1/4" dice

2 Lightly mash garlic with knife blade, which will loosen the skin. Discard skin. Put garlic and olive oil into 10" sauté pan and turn on heat to medium high. Sautee until garlic turns medium gold, and remove and discard it.
3. Put diced pancetta into the pan, and cook until they crisp. ( I let mine get quite crispy, and a bit smoky, which I think adds depth of flavor). Add wine at this point and let bubble away for 2 1 or 2 minutes and turn off heat.

4. Break the 2 eggs into the serving bowl you'll be using for the pasta and lightly beat with a fork. Then add the cheese, a liberal grinding of pepper, and the chopped parsley. Mix thoroughly.

5 Add the cooked, drained spaghetti to the bowl and toss rapidly. While tossing, briefly reheat the pancetta and add to the bowl, toss thoroughly again and serve immediately.

6. Pop a bottle of good red wine (we had a 2004 Fattoria de Petroio Chianti, one of my current faves), and be prepared to eat more than you should, because you'll be back for seconds, or.....!

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Sunday Morning Sublime

What to reach for first on a Sunday morning? Front page? No, too literal. The Week in Review? Save that for Monday. Sports? Afternoon reading definitely. Ah, the book review...perfect, especially with DOR's tome Three Cups of Tea holding down it's top 15 paperback spot, all those other literary efforts that sound intriguing that I know I'll never get to. Add some perfectly scrambled eggs, a cup of steaming black coffee...let Sunday begin!

Sunday Scrambled Eggs
For 1...multiply for more (except olive oil)
2 free range, organic eggs
1 teaspoon milk (as binder)
2 tablespoons olive oil
Fine grating of parmagiano-reggiano

1- whisk eggs and milk lightly in bowl
2- add olive oil to nonstick 8" sauté pan, heat over medium high heat
3- add eggs, top with a pinch of salt and fresh ground pepper and scramble with spatula to preferred doneness (soft for me)
4- transfer to plate, grate cheese on top
5- enjoy with coffee and the Sunday NYT!

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Whetting the Appetite

There are several ways to whet one's appetite. For me, just thinking about my next meal, which all too often happens when I am sitting down with my current meal, gets the juices flowing. Reading cookbooks can be foreplay for all food slaves....especially ones with pictures! My monthly raft of food mags come with teasing regularity, their words causing me to to plan my next trip to the market. And of course we have this medium, that cursed/beloved time waster that Al Gore invented, that source of information and temptation, the pot of gold that Sergei Brin and the other guy at Google are mining for gold, which can only mean the intenet. From time to time I'll mention a few of my favorite food sites/blogs. These are all places I travel in my mind to when I need to escape and feed my food fantasies.

One of my long time favorites has been Leite's Culinaria. Edited by David Leite, this is kind of the Atlantic Monthly for food lovers, with well written essays by Leite or one of his posse of fellow food obsessed wordsmiths. There are always recipes that are begging to be tried, columns that are both funny and informative, product reviews, interviews ...basically hours of enjoyment to delve into. Plus you should absolutely sign up for his semi-regular emailings that always provide a welcome diversion, especially from work!

Bon appétit!!

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Justa right!

Mark another one off the list. You'd think by now I'd have eaten everywhere I wanted. Last night w and I went to a joint that has been out there on my list for about ten years, and for no reasonable reason, I had never shown up.
You know how sometimes you don't want anything too done. I don't need to drive some new car. I don't need a new McMansion to live in so all my friends can laugh at me. I don't need a new Armani suit to validate myself. Well, actually, scratch that one, because I really do want a new Armani suit. What I'm saying is I'm all about keeping it simple. Last night was the perfect example. w had mentioned going to Justa Pasta, a small noodle emporium here in Portland that I always hear good things about. After last nights experience, it was everything I'd heard and more. Justa Pasta started as a wholesaler of fresh pastas to various Portland restaurants. After a few years they opened their own kitchen as part of their business, and word of mouth has gotten them throngs of loyal fans. Hence my being remiss in not being one of them.

I love this kind of place. You walk in, grab a menu, check out the specials board, snag a very reasonably priced bottle of wine off the rack to your right, order at the register, and find your seat in the casual, comfortable dining room. That's it. Oh, and wait for your very good, simply prepared food to make it's your seat. We shared a very credible Caesar salad, a deliciously rich, earthy bowl of cream of mushroom soup, and two plates of very satisfying pasta. w had the bolognese on their perfectly done, flavorful tagliatelle, and I had butternut squash ravioli in a hazelnut/marsala sauce. The best part is all this goodness only set us back $57, which included a great bottle of 2001 Vino Nobile de Montepulciano ($29) from Corte Alla Flore. It reminded me of a place in NYC I went to and loved, a little, and I mean tiny, hole in the wall called called Pepe Rosso to Go. Although Justa is a bit more dressed up. The bottom line on both is that you were able to eat good, well executed Italian food and drink slurpy grape juice at more than reasonable prices. I've gotta think that's about all I could ask, right?!

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Braising the bird!

Last night w and I had our friend Kathleen over for dinner, and the meal was so good, and so easy to pull together that I just had to share the recipe. No photo op as I didn't even think about it, but this super chicken dish really rocked, especially served alongside bowl of creamy polenta and a crisp green salad with a mustard-balsamic vinaigrette.
I served a bottle of 2003 Chateau d'Oupia Minervois "Les Barons" with it because I had one at home that was calling my name. It was lusciously good in it's spicy blackberryness, but if you wanted to do white I could also see going in the direction of a great Sancerre from France or an Austrian Gruner-Veltliner. Or if you were fortunate enough to have a spare bottle of 2005 J. Christopher Sauvignon Blanc rolling around in the cellar, you could do a lot worse.

Zesty Braised Chicken with Lemon and Capers
Adapted from Food and Wine Magazine
4 servings

8 bone-in chicken thighs with skin (6 ounces each)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
All-purpose flour, for dusting
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
6 large peeled garlic cloves
1 1/2 cups Sauvignon Blanc
1 1/2 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
Six 1-inch strips of lemon zest
6 thyme sprigs
2 tablespoons capers, drained
1 bay leaf

1. Preheat the oven to 350°. Season the chicken with salt and pepper and dust with flour. In a large ovenproof skillet, melt the butter in the oil. Add the chicken, skin side down, and cook over high heat, turning once, until browned, 12 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a large plate and pour off all but 2 tablespoons of the fat.
2. Add the garlic to the skillet and cook over low heat until softened, about 5-7 minutes. Add the wine and boil over high heat until reduced by half, about 5 minutes. Add the stock, lemon zest, thyme, capers and bay leaf and bring to a boil. Return the chicken to the pan, skin side up. Transfer the skillet to the oven and braise for about 45 minutes, until the meat is tender.
3. Return the skillet to the stove and boil until the sauce is slightly reduced, about 5-8 minutes. Discard the thyme, bay leaf and lemon zest, if desired, before serving.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Happy Meal

I know when you see this a lot of you might go "Gee, how very 1970's of you", but dammit, pesto is one of those things that just makes me happy. It's partly the heady, aromatic basil, partly the pungent heat from the fresh garlic, partly the fruity-peppery olive oil, but mostly it just reminds me of warm summer evenings after days spent in the garden. A plate of pasta, a couple of grilled Italian sausages, a glass of vino rosso. On a chilly, wet Portland night, it is a welcome dose of warmth. Hello winter? Summer's on its way!

Adapted from the Dean & DeLuca Cookbook

1 cup firmly packed basil leaves
2 tablespoons pine nuts
3 tablespoons minced garlic
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4 teaspoons finely grated parmagiano-reggiano
Salt to taste

1.- Wash basil leaves and dry well. Place in food processor with pine nuts and garlic and process quickly to coarse, grainy mixture. With the motor running, add olive oil in steady stream. Remove pesto from bowl it should still be fairly grainy).
2.- Place pesto in a bowl, add the cheese and mix well. If it is too thick, add a bit more olive oil. Salt lightly to taste.
*note: If you make extra to freeze, don't add the cheese before freezing. Add the cheese after thawing out pesto. You can also substitute 2 teaspoons parmagiano and 2 teaspoons pecorino cheese to give it a slightly saltier flavor.

Le Pigeon Love!

Growing up isn't so bad after all. Back in the day, boy's night out meant a couple of half racks of beer, stale chips and clam dip that is just over its pull date, and a basketball game on TV. That was then, last night is now!

Boy's Night '07: A gathering of five food and wine loving friends at Le Pigeon. The mission: eat our way through the menu and put a dent in their wine list. Chance of Success: 100%!

So it was as we met at Rontoms bar a block away from our destination for a predinner cocktail and catching up. The big news to come out is that my friend Randy announced that he is signing a lease for a space to put in his long dreamt of gastro-pub out on SE Foster. Look for more on Cava in the months to come. Then it was a short walk up the street into the welcoming bustle that is Le Pigeon's tiny dining room. I always feel good when I walk in here. It's warmly comforting feel, cozily lit, and always has a nice buzz in the air. We settled into our chairs, grabbed the menus, and hit it. The four starters we shared were all excellent. Twice cooked sweetbreads (left) were soft and delectable. I'm no doctor, but is the thymus gland good for anything other than eating?; oysters on the half shell with a deliciously inventive riesling-apple gelee; a richly decadent parsnip and foie gras soup; and a grilled pigeon atop a Spanish macaroni salad. We washed these treats down with a bottle of '05 Taille aux Loupes Vouvray that was crisp, racy, and still young. I can imagine it blossoming in about 2-3 years. David spied a lovely looking 2001 Paul Prieur Sancerre. I love Sancerre, which with its crisp, racy acidity and bright, grassy freshness is usually about as good as sauv blanc gets, and this one didn't disappoint.

Then it was time to get serious, as the entrees were on the way. Everything on the menu was looking good, so hard decisions were in order. I chose the Strawberry Mountain Flatiron Steak (below), not so much because I was in a meat mood, but because it was served with Crab deviled eggs. I love the deviled egg. It reminds me of warm weather and childhood picnics. Add crab to the mix and what could I do? And leave it to chef Gabriel Rucker to up the ante by taking this already tempting treasure and then tossing the whole thing in the deep fryer....incredible!! Mom's eggs were never like this. The other thing calling to me off the menu was the Veal Blanquette, again not so much for the smooth, super-rich creaminess surrounding the meat, but for the fact that it came with a foie gras raviolo. Luckily, Jeff ordered it, so I got a bite. My mouth was swooning. We also sampled the Potato Crusted Sea Bass and the Pan roasted Duck Breast with blood pudding. Both were spectacular. More wine? Of course. Andrew made the wise choice of a peppery, full-bodied '04 Cairanne from Domaine Cros de Ronet. It was simply awesome, and was nearly Chateauneuf-like in it's intensity. Great red wine. Then I went the other direction with a bottle of 2005 Champs-Grilles Saint Amour, a cru Beaujolais that was a bright, luscious bottle of gamay goodness.

And if you think we were too full for dessert, you'd best think again. We piled into our already stretched tummies their signature one-of-a-kind bacon cornbread with maple syrup and ice cream that is so crazily wonderful, a perfect crème brulee (below) with a coffee pot de crème, and one other thing, something tart-like, that I'm losing track of right now. I think I still have a food hangover. All were really nice, remarkably not too heavy, and made better by the fact that we shared a bottle 2000 Pietri-Geraud Banyuls, which is a rare, grenache-based dessert wine from southwest France's Rousillon appellation. A perfectly fitting finale to a night of overindulgence. Again all I can do is feel fortunate that I am able to enjoy these things with an amazing group of friends...thanks guys! Beats the hell out of half racks of beer, doesn't it? Here's more evidence....Blanquette de Veau with that crazy foie gras raviolo; luscious Banyuls; and something tart-like!

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Pizza Madness!

This is yet another commentary tinged with a healthy bit of mixed emotion. First off, as you may have noticed, I love to eat. You all like to travel, like to drive your nice cars, like to read self-serving blogs like this. I LOVE to eat. It's very personal, this eating thing. Among us who live-to-eat as opposed to the vast, unimaginative eat-to-live crowd, pizza is a very personal thing. Here in Portland there really aren't too many places to get a good, authentic 'za groove going. Maybe only two. Some swear by Ken's Artisan Pizza, some are slavish devotees of Apizza Scholls. I count myself among the latter. Ken (of Ken's Pizza) is one of the nicest people in town, and a crazy talented baker (his walnut bread is insane!), but when it comes to pizza that has me drooling into my pillow as I dream about it, Apizza is the deal.
Interior of pizza heaven

This is where the mixed emotion part rolls in. At Apizza there is always a wait. I'm good with that, especially as w lives only a short three blocks away, so it's easy to wait at home with a glass of our favorite beverage, then check in. Then there is the pizza itself: Perfectly crisp, thin crust, lightly topped with a limited list of toppings. Here you have it their way or beat it. Which I'm also fine fact I really respect that kind of attitude. Especially when they are cool with doing 1/2 and 1/2 pizzas.
Last night we popped in and sat at the bar...very choice seats. We ordered a couple of refreshing malted beverages, and ordered their superb seasonal salad. Then the pizza arrived...tonight we were all over a 1/2 of their margherita with spicy capicollo sausage and a 1/2 of their awesome tartufo bianco, which is a basic cheese pie drizzled with white truffle oil.
Soooo good! Their pizzas are almost always steaming discs of edible perfection. The crust is perfectly chewy and yeasty, blackened spots on the bottom adding crunch and flavor, the toppings are first rate and their tomato sauce rocks. Everything is really, really good. But then.....mixed emotion time....
There are times when we've wanted to go and don't plan ahead and maybe show up about 8:30 or so, which should be fine because they are theoretically open until 9:30. But it has happened more than once when we've walked up and the sign says:"Closed- out of dough". This isn't an occasional happens quite frequently. Hey guys, I respect the attitude inside, worship at the altar that is your pizza oven, can't wait for rosé season to pop a few bottles with your pies, but for christ sake, you know you're going to be rocking every night. Make more dough!! I feel for the poor schleps who drive in from the 'burbs, arrive hungry at 8:45 and get shut out. Of course, when one lives in the 'burbs one should expect certain penalties. Taking into account their unfortunate choice of real estate, even those people should be able to get their pizza groove on if they arrive before the posted closing time.
Given that, I'm a slut for Apizza pizza, and I'll keep going back. I'll even take the occasional punch in the stomach when that fucking "out of dough" sign is on the door, 'cause the bottom line is their pies kick every other pizza to the curb. Damn my appetite!

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

"A Woman's Place...."

There was a great article recently in the NYT that was mainly about the lack of women in new, high-end restaurant kitchens where they are doing "new cuisine", which as far as I can tell is anything shot out of a whipped cream maker or cooked with methylcellulose...isn't that a sponge?...but it also talked in the opening about the difference between male and female chefs, which I think is stated perfectly.
This quote is from Ann Cooper, author of “ ‘A Woman’s Place Is in the Kitchen,’ ” a history of female chefs in America. “Tall food was a male invention; women weren’t doing much of it. Basically, women feed people.” Women don't drive many Corvettes either, do they? Can you say penis food?
Having been in the situation to hire both male and female chefs, give me the non-ego driven rants from a female chef any day. And in my experiences, they can drink and swear just as much as any guy, and when things are rocking the kitchen, isn't that what it's really all about?

Friday, March 02, 2007


I told you about the book Three Cups of Tea about a year ago in a VINO email when it was published. I know many of you have read it and understand why it is such an incredibly important book. I also know many of you haven't. With the release of the paperback version, it seems a good time to urge everyone again to grab a copy. Written by local Portland author (and my good friend/consigliere) David Relin, it tells the story of Greg Mortenson and his seemingly Quixotic quest to build schools for girls in the extremely male-dominated, remote, and ultra orthodox northern regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Besides being an exceptionally well written, page turning read that I promise you won't be able to put down, it more importantly shines a much needed light onto this greatly misunderstood area. By replacing guns with education (gee, much like what is needed in our "developed" country), Mortenson has been able to change perceptions and ideas that have been in place for centuries. Relin's telling of this grand adventure story, while not a political manifesto of any kind, also can't help but highlight how our failed foreign policies (and not just under the current administration) have alienated an entire region and peoples.

Besides being a New York Times bestseller in both it's hard and softcover incarnations (currently #10 on the NYT Paperback Bestseller list...kudos Mr. Relin!), Three Cups of Tea has received numerous book awards, including Time Magazine's "Asian Book of the Year", and the Pacific Northwest Booksellers "Book of the Year" Award, it has also just been selected as one of five nonfiction finalists for the prestigious International Kiriyama Prize, which recognizes "outstanding books that promote greater understanding of and among the nations of the Pacific Rim and of South Asia".

Whatever side of the political fence you are on, it's hard to overstate how important it is for everyone to read this book. You can buy it directly off the Three Cups of Tea website (where a portion of each purchase goes to Mortenson's foundation), or at Powell's, or Amazon. It doesn't matter where, it matters that you do!

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Media Darling!

That would be me this Sunday when I make my much anticipated radio debut on KXL 750 AM this Sunday from 5-6pm. I know what you're thinking; "Isn't KXL the home of all those obnoxious blowhards like Bill O'Reilly, Lars Larson, and that insane Savage dude?" Well, yeah it is....during the week. But on Sundays intelligent people like my man Dave Stone broadcast their radio shows, and Dave has asked me to come on and share some wine wisdom with his listeners. It should be fun, people will be calling in with their questions and I'll be making up what I hope are believable answers. We'll cover it all: wine & food matching; storage issues; cork dorks. It should be a blast, and you might want to tune in. Although I am a bit worried about talking to someone for an hour straight without dropping any f-bombs, but I hear they have a 7-second delay to take care of those occurrences. So forget that Lynn Rossetto Kasper and her questionable food advice and fake laugh on NPR...this is Sunday news you can use! All of you out of town Eat.Drink.Think.-ers can also get a podcast of the show by going to the KXL website at: . Dave's show address is: