Tuesday, May 29, 2007


In case you were wondering, our Dog Mountain trek did not go unrewarded last Sunday. Being a firm believer in the reward system, especially when I am the recipient of said reward, we had planned a post-death march stop at Om Seafood here in PDX.

Long Life Noodles

Unlike where you and yours may live, especially you NYC and SF eaters, it is really hard to get good, really good, Chinese food here in Portland (in fact, if you have fave spots where you live, let others know by leaving a comment!). But the last time the Chan family was here, w's dad Boris gave Om a hard won thumbs up, which coming from him is kind of like three stars from the NYT's Bruni. In any event, by the time we got there we were both famished, and I was ready to eat the menu....not the paper but everything on it! Of course, when I saw there were 181 different menu options, I did think better of that plan. Not that we brought shame to ourselves in the quantity deaprtment. So with a skeptical "You think you're going to eat all that?" look from our waitress, we jumped into the fray.

Assorted Seafood and Tofu in Hot Clay Pot

Steamed Striped Bass

We started with a bowl of Crab Meat w/ Fish Maw Soup (#9), followed quickly (which is one of the joys of coming to a place like this really hungry. The food comes flying!) by w's new obsession Long Life Noodles (#170), the Assorted Seafood and Tofu in Hot Clay Pot (#84), and the Steamed Striped Bass (#37). Everything was nicely done. The fish was perfectly cooked, the noodles had nice flavor and chew, and the hot pot was excellent. This fed our post-hike hunger like nothing else, and we made our way through almost everything (just enough for leftover lunch yesterday!). Oh, and all this deliciousness, with two Heine's and tip included came in at a ridiculous $52. Crazy!

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Walk on the Wild Side

It seemed so harmless in the planning stage. A nice hike on a cool Sunday afternoon in late May in the scenic Columbia Gorge. Sure, I'd heard Dog Mountain was somewhat of a toughie, and maybe w had mentioned the 3000' elevation gain in 3 miles. What do I know about 3000'....just another stroll in the bosom of Mother Nature, right?

On the way, masking the pain!

Wow, what I came to find out was that 'ol Ma Nature is a tough old bitch, and this was an ass-kicker of a hike. And that's before the 40+ mile an hour winds that made this seem more November than May up top. But I've gotta say the views were spectacular, the spring flowers cloaking the hillsides were astonishingly beautiful, and if you can get up there in the next couple of weeks while the flowers are in bloom, you're in for a huge treat. Plenty of water, a couple of sandos, some energy bars, and you'll be set. Besides, it'll only hurt for a little while!

The payoff on top, and SO worth it...wow!

Plus, there's always cool refreshment at Walking Man Brewpub in Stevenson or Edgefield in Troutdale on the way home!

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Food Fetishism 101....aka Tampopo!

I cannot believe it took me this long to see Tampopo, a classic Japanese film by Juzo Itami made in 1985 that has to be on every food fetishists list. Believe me, if you think you're obsessed by food, you have nothing on the characters populating this tale. Think of a Sergio Leone spaghetti western, but instead of guns, shootouts, and Clint Eastwood sneers, substitute noodles, clattering bowls, and Tsutomu Yamazaki as Goro barking orders to Nobuko Miyamoto who plays Tampopo. Throw in a food-as-foreplay obsessed gangster type (you won't believe the egg yolk scene...classic!), and a young Ken Watanabe as Goro's sidekick. While I'm not big on watching movies while eating dinner, I'll make an exception for Tampopo, because if you don't have something (or someone?!) to nibble on during this, you'll be racing out to the nearest pho joint halfway through!

Friday, May 25, 2007

Rocket Launch

Even though they've only been open 3 weeks, you know it's coming. With a great vibe to go along with a great view, once word gets out Rocket is sure to become the next place-to-be-seen in the PDX food arena. Keeping the coming crowds in mind, w and I made our way to this fourth floor aerie to see what the building buzz is about. Stepping off the elevator, especially on a sunny early evening, the light filled dining room is very welcoming. Great design & décor, very mid-century modern-ish. You can see straight through to their fabulous outdoor deck which has to be the best viewing spot for drinking and eating in the city.

The scene out on the deck

We tucked right in to a prosecco for w and a Tanqueray martini for me while perusing the menu. Chef Leather Storrs, whose Noble Rot started the whole wine bar craze here and brought small plate dining to the forefront of our local dining scene, has put together an imaginative, seasonal menu. We started with a butter lettuce salad with fennel and an olive tapenade, dressed lightly with an orange and cauliflower dressing, which was very good...crisp, light, a nice balance to the whole mix. We also had to try the crisp dumplings with mixed mushrooms, kind of like fried gnocchi on top of a mushroom sauté. This was good, fun to eat, but we thought a bit pricey at $15. I mean, how much do little balls of dough run, even when you factor in the mushrooms?

Our butter lettuce salad with the dumpling/mushrooms on the right

I had brought a bottle of wine from the home archives, a perfectly delicious 1998 Terrabianca "Scassino" Chianti Classico, so we had the waiter pop the cork. I also of course had to see what other wines were on offer. The list has some interesting choices, but I've gotta say the markups are bit high. It's hard to find any bargains here. The cheapest bottles of red are two at $35 per. With the plethora of great, complex wines out there at more than reasonable wholesale prices, it would be so easy to throw a couple of under $30 reds and whites on the list. You can offer value to your customers, and still make your markup. I never understand why most places don't get that equation: less expensive wine list=sell more wine.

My braised pork shoulder, with the onion rings sneaking around up top

Okay, so we're moving on to our entrées, and I kind of like the order one main and pick two sides from their list thing they have going. It's a great idea, and they have some interesting options. w had the seared duck breast with a rhubarb sauce and sides of garlic spinach & onion rings (lightly battered, not oily, kind of a cool side). I had the braised pork shoulder with sides of mashed potatoes & caramelized cauliflower. Both were good, our only complaints being the duck breast a bit overcooked and the skin should have been crisper (that is why one sears it, after all), and on my cauliflower side the fish sauce they were caramelized with overpowered any taste of the vegetable. But like I said it was good, nothing that really grabbed us or got that "wow" reaction. It just didn't seem like anything you couldn't get at any number of other restaurants, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but with Leather's rep, the buzz surrounding the project, and the scene & view, we were expecting/hoping for more. We finished with a pistachio tart with strawberries. The crust was perfect, a light hint of pistachio in the custard, fresh strawberries artfully scattered about. This was most satisfying.

The pistachio/strawberry tart

So we decided that for us, our bottom line is this is a beautiful, but comfortably casual restaurant, that seems like a great place for drinks at the bar or out on the deck, munching a burger I haven't tried, but sure looked good at the table next to us. Rocket seems worth further exploration, we just hope the food at some point satisfies like the view.

The Rocket menu. Click on image to enlarge.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Keeping the body beautiful!

It's a continuing battle. Everything I like to eat seems to be conspiring against my admittedly half-assed attempts to keep my body in some semblance of shape. Cured pork products? Check. Pasta? Check. Burgers & fries? Check. And if I started to believe food "scientists" that all those calories in my favorite bottles of wine and pints of beer were really "empty calories" then I'd have to just give up, so I choose to believe that they got their science degrees from some mail order university on a faraway Caribbean island. Ah, rationalization!

But luckily for me, w has much more control, and actually considers food that is good for us on occasion. Or maybe she knows that more of me isn't necessarily better. For example she noticed the following recipe on Helen Rennie's great food blog Beyond Salmon. w cooked up this awesome meal using salmon instead of the listed sable (what is sable? according to the fish monger at New Seasons, it's the same as black cod...anyone know any different?). That's one of the things we like about Helen's recipes...they always list alternatives to whatever fish she's using, which is useful since she's an east coaster and the fish choices are a sometimes different than for us left coasters. This had great flavor and complexity, and with a side of chard and rice, I felt perfectly fine about that half-bottle of rosé I washed it down with!!

Sable with Balsamic Orange Ginger Glaze
Fish substitutions: salmon, Chilean sea bass, halibut, steelhead trout, or pretty much any relatively thick fillets that are not too dense.

Serves 4

4 sable fillets without skin (6oz each)
2 Tbsp honey

1 tsp balsamic vinegar
2 tsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp orange juice
1 Tbsp orange zest
1 inch of ginger, peeled and minced
2 tsp oil
Salt and pepper

1. Preheat the broiler and wrap a broiler pan with foil.
2. Season sable generously with salt and pepper on all sides.

3. Combine honey, balsamic vinegar, soy sauce, orange juice, orange zest, ginger, and oil. Mix well and coat sable with this mixture. Sable should be only lightly coated, as too much of the glaze can burn under the broiler.
4. Broil sable 4 inches away from the flame just until browned, 3-5 minutes. Pour the rest of the glaze on top of sable and finish in the 425F oven until done. The total cooking time (broiling plus baking) should be about 8 minutes per inch of thickness. To test for doneness, separate the flakes in the thickest part and look inside. Sable is done when a trace of translucency remains in the center.
*Note: I did not forget to tell you to flip the fish. Cooking it only on one side allows for glaze to really caramelize on top.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Close-to-Home Brew!

As part of my ongoing appreciation of all things ingestible, I'd like to think I keep up on most of the pleasure points in our fair city of Portland. That's why I am almost ashamed to find I hadn't been to the Belmont Station Biercafé that opened the first week of April to serve all who love great brew, a mere eight blocks from our house! I'd seen it being readied for opening, seemingly forever. Then w mentioned she thought it was open for lunch. Immediately my radar started pinging, and not being one to shy away from a refreshing malted beverage, I stopped in at BSB on my way to Powell's last night for the Langewiesch reading.
I walked through the door, and it was like being a pilgrim visiting Beer Mecca. I took in the wonders of hundreds of bottled beers from all corners of this malty globe. I asked what they had on draft, and on one of their four rotating taps was my beloved Bear Republic "Racer X" IPA, which for all hopheads out there is like the Barry Bonds of beer, an IPA on steroids. I ordered this particular cup of salvation, and I sat at the bar, enjoying my pint, marveling that such goodness could be so close to home. Big bottles of beer, small bottles of beer, six packs, kegs, pints, along with all the beer accessories the besotted ale lover could want...towels, tees, openers, glasses. Instead of toys, this is a Beers"R"Us for adults! Partly owned by Don Younger of Horse Brass Pub fame, this is yet another touchstone in the legend that is Portland Beervana!

Nukes and Noshes

w and I had an interesting doubleheader last night. The first half kind of made us lose our appetite, the second half cranked it back up....
We went over to Powell's Books early last evening for a reading by William Langewiesche from his new book The Atomic Bazaar. We had heard his NPR interview on the radio last week (read the interview online here), and I have the book on hold at the library so I was very interested to hear him in person. Formerly with The Atlantic Monthly, now with Vanity Fair, Langewiesche delivered a riveting account of coming growth of the nuclear club which he feels is sure to include small, third world countries, as well as the paths these nations- not to mention other non-state affiliated groups (aka terrorists)- can take to get their hands on the technology and material needed to accomplish their goals. He also feels its a fait accompli that Iran and many others will have nuclear capabilities in the coming years. He is of the opinion that the chances of a weapon falling into the hands of terrorists groups, despite the dire, panic-causing warnings issued by the government, while possible, are quite slim. This is mainly owing to the fact that any use of such a weapon by any terrorist group would within hours be traced back to the government which originally supplied such a weapon, and the repercussions would not be pleasant. All in all a very fascinating, enlightening discussion, and I can't wait to get my hands on the book.
After feeding our brains with all that information, our stomachs were demanding equal time. Not to mention after Langewiesche's talk a drink sounded damn good. Since we were in the neighborhood, I wanted to visit Clyde Common, the new restaurant off the lobby of the Ace Hotel run by Castagna Café alumnus Nate Tilden and his partner Matt Piacentini. Nate is one of the nicest people going in the local food scene, this place has been in the works for a long time, lots of money has been spent, and I'm happy to report that based on our experience, it was time and money well spent.
First off the space is extremely welcoming, a big, open floor plan with a kitchen that juts out into the dining room, the bar off to the right, and big, solid, wood communal tables covering the rest of the floor. Both w and I thought the immediate hit, that first "vibe" you feel when you walk into a space , was very good. Their menus are printed out on old office paper, and it is thankfully a small, very well thought out selection of comestibles. We started with drinks, of course, and I was thrilled with a near perfect negroni. You'd be amazed at how many bars fuck up this most basic of cocktails.

The amazing asparagus with a soft boiled, caul fat wrapped egg...wow!

For starters we ordered a Serrano ham croquettes; a salad of confit lamb sweetbreads with bitter greens; and asparagus with a caul fat wrapped egg. The croquettes were creamy and crisp at the same time, the salad was savory, the richness of the lamb sweetbreads nicely set off by the bitter greens and light vinaigrette. The star was the asparagus and this crazy soft boiled egg that after boiling is wrapped in caul fat (a fine fat netting from the lining of a cows stomach, and no it is NOT disgusting, so no wrinkling of those noses!), then quickly sautéed to crisp it a bit, the whole thing set on top of the hot asparagus, which is doused with an olive oil/garlic concoction. So original and REALLY good...not to be missed when you go!
We ordered a bottle of rosé off their by the glass list, and they served it in small tumblers that we both thought was a charming presentation. For entrees w had the seared shrimp, with bacon, ramps, and oyster mushrooms off their starter menu. Nicely prepared, but could've used a few more mushrooms in the mix 9she counted three small pieces). I had the roast red band rock fish with preserved lemon, olive salsa, and lentils (not the chickpeas listed on the menu). This was a delicious combination of flavors, the fish moist and flaky, the lentils and other ingredients making each bite so satisfying, with all these flavor sensations zinging around my mouth. Nice one! And of course we saved room for the panna cotta, that being one of w's favorite sweet things. The CC version was good, properly creamy and sensual, with a few strawberry halves scattered on the plate.
One nice ambient feature is that as the sun sets and it starts to get dark, the street lights outside come on, and their light through the floor to ceiling windows almost feels like the outside environment is being drawn into the space, giving it this almost open connection to what's happening on the street. In this neighborhood, that can be a good or bad thing depending who or what is out on that street, but all in all a very cool effect. Nate also took us on a tour of the soon-to-be-opened mezzanine, which be loungey kind of space, with couches and a few two-tops scattered around.
I really liked what they have going on here. Exceptionally comfortable, friendly, attentive service, and with ex-Gotham Tavern alum Jason Barwikowski running the kitchen, the food looks to be rock solid. My only other minor quibble is that I would like to see a couple more red and white wines on the list in the $25-$30 range. The selection is nice, though, and this adjustment would only serve to make it even more user friendly.
Taking everything into account, this is absolutely a place I could see making regular visits to. Check it out & say hi to Nate for me!

The Clyde menu...click on the image to enlarge.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Czech it out!

They keep asking: "Have you had it yet?" or "So, have you been down to Tabor yet?"
Over and over, same thing. The inquisitioners, Monique and The Handsome One from Castagna Restaurant here in PDX have been on my ass, so today at lunch I was popping through downtown and was a block away from the Tabor food cart (left) in that oasis of mobil food purveyors between SW Oak and SW Stark on 5th Avenue. I was very excited...my first Schnitzelwich from this purveyor of all things Czechish. It was, as they say in Prague, "Lahodny!" I'll just say delicious.
A breaded & fried pork cutlet (they also have chicken for the timid) on a perfectly chewy ciabatta roll, slathered with paprika spread, grilled onions, horseradish, & crisp, fresh lettuce. At six bucks, this was a bellyful and I loved it! They also have a cartload of other Czech dila that I'm already making plans to try.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

'queing it, Spanish style!

Pressure. It either brings out your best, or it makes you crumble like a 2-day old donut. Last night at my sister's house, she had it going like she didn't have a care in the world, seemingly oblivious to the fact that she was hosting (along with her sous chef, husband, and tender of the Weber kettle Dave) 11 food fanatics and a photo shoot of her paella for a soon to appear article on the great local food blog Culinate. In attendance, besides your humble reporter and his partner in crime w, was the editor of Culinate, Kim Carslon and her husband and chief webhead James Berry. Also salivating at the prospects were good food friends Jeff and Kathryn, plus the owners of up and coming PDX food mecca Foster and Dobbs, Luan Schooler and Tim Wilson.

Oh look, dahlings, it's our cook!

The paella happily simmering away

w and I arrived, several bottles of rosé in hand, to find things simmering along nicely. They had already popped a couple bottles of pink stuff, the mise was done, and the cooking tool was fired up. See, this paella that my most creative sister was cooking up was being cooked on Dave's near collectors vintage 25-year old Weber kettle. Talk about patina. Anyway, we were snacking away, the chatter was flowing, of course mostly food related, the rosé going down like koolaid for adults. Then sis Kathleen swung into action, laying down the pan on the Weber grill, throwing in a few choice ingredients including Paul Bertolli's smok-a-licious chorizo from Fra' Mani, and in about 25-30 minutes, we were plate deep in some serious Spanish goodness. Steaming hot, a thin layer of the elusive socarrat adding a crusty layer of complexity.

The finished product right before it mysteriously disappeared.....into our bellies!!!

Her good friend and pro-photog Steve Bloch was snapping away pic after pic (sorry, you have to put up with my usual half-ass efforts!) as we gathered around the table and tucked in to this most satisfying of rice creations. A few more bottles of wine were emptied, well deserved praise was issued, our tummies were getting stuffed, but there's always room for dessert, right? We finished the night with Kathleen's signature rhubarb crisp, and Kim and James brought these CRAZY homemade ice cream sandwiches. Creamy, rich vanilla ice cream tucked between two homemade oatmeal cookies. Off the hook!

My new definition of happiness: Homemade Ice Cream Sandwiches!

Once again driving home with that happy glow, thanking the gods of food for all that is good!

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Turning up the "Heat"

For the food obsessed among you who might be looking for that perfect summer vacation read to stuff in your bag, then Heat by Bill Buford is the choice! I just got done with it last week, and LOVED it. Buford writes of being a kitchen slave in Mario Batali's NYC restaurant Babbo, where he worked his way through virtually every position in this most "professional" of restaurant kitchens. Professional if you ignore the rants, raves, and irrational emotional torture that happens when Batali or any number of coworkers vent, which they seem to at any moments notice. Buford also spends time trying make perfect pasta in Italy, and working with a half-crazed Tuscan butcher in the village of Panzano, where he finds himself becoming almost as obsessed as the characters who populate this tale. The book keeps coming at you, giving great insight into what happens in a real restaurant kitchen, the things the public never sees. He doesn't pull any punches, calling out Batali's sometimes boorish behavior, chronicling his prodigious drinking capacity, and sending praise to this most idiosyncratic of chefs.

Perhaps my favorite passage, and something anyone who hasn't worked in a restaurant should read, because folks, this is SO true :
"Around midnight, the kitchen was something of a demilitarized zone, meant to be closed but still serving food, owing to the insistence of the maitre d', John Mainieri, who sometimes accepted late seatings and was openly loathed by members of the kitchen staff as a result. In theory, it is possible to argue your way into a restaurant just as the kitchen is closing. But I urge you, the next time you find yourself trying to persuade the maitre d' to accommodate you, to recognize that members of the kitchen know you're there. They are waiting for your order, huddled around the ticker tape machine, counting the seconds, and heaping imprecations on your head because you cannot make up your mind. They are specualting- will it be something light, a single course perhaps? ("That's what I'd order." someone says, and everyone loudly agrees.) Will I be able to drain the pasta machine? Will the grill guy be able to turn off the burners? Or will the diners- and late ones are simply referred to as "those fuckers" - be so clueless as to order a five-course tasting menu? It happens, and the response of the kitchen- a bellowing roar of disgust - is so loud veeryone in the restuarnt must hear it. By now the kitchen is different. At eleven, beer is allowed, and for nearly an hour the cooks have been drinking. The senior figures have disappeared. No one is in charge. The people remaining are tired and dirty. The floors are greasy and wet. The pasta machine is so thick and crud-filled that the water has turned purple and is starting to foam. Do you need more details? Let me rephrase the question: Do you think, if your meal is the last order received by the kitchen, that it has been cooked with love?"

God, so fucking true. This book comes at you with one insight after another. Buford tells a great story and whets your appetite at the same time. Grab a copy, and get hungry!

Friday, May 18, 2007

A fashionably satisfying evening!

Last night another reason why I love my life. My friend Jake runs the marketing for Portland retail fashion icon Mario's. In our humble burg, if you want Armani, you go to Mario's. Prada, Zegna, Dolce & Gabbana? Ditto. So I get a call from Jake talking about his plans for their fall catalog. Jake is a big wine fan, and he wants to go with a wine theme this issue, so I hooked him up with two of our local wine icons, John Paul from Cameron Winery and David O'Reilly from Owen Roe.

Bright and brilliant Oregon Box Crab Salad with arugula and grapefruit!

We met for dinner and conversation at Castagna, as you know one of my favorite places to get my grub on. Owner/chef Kevin Gibson put together an incredible seven course tasting menu (corner left) to go with some crazy bottles of wine John and David brought. It was a fantastic evening listening to David and John talk about their experiences, philosophy, their commitment to sustainable, organic, non-manipulative winemaking practices. Oh, and the food rocked, and the wines were off the hook.

John Paul, larger than life!

Highlights for me? For wine all seven bottles opened were stunning. Among John's offerings was a superb bottle of his 2001 "Clos Electrique" Blanc, a dead ringer for a great white burgundy, and still so young, filled with character. Simply awesome. Among the Owen Roe offerings, David's '06 "DuBrul" Riesling, '05 "Kilmore" Pinot and a staggering '04 "Slide Mountain" Cab Franc blew us away. And of course Kevin's food was spot on. Not a weak moment from the lighter than air gougeres to the sensual semi-freddo. My palate was rocked by the box crab salad, his house cured meats (the lardo was insane!), and perfectly pillowy agnolotti that both John and I agreed were the equal to anything we've eaten in Italy. Then his savory, earthy squab breast with English peas and morels with John's '05 "Dundee Hills" Pinot and David's '05 "Kilmore" was one of those perfect wine and food moments that almost makes me weep. The lamb chop and pistachio-praline semi-freddo were equally incredible.

Agnolotti with spinach, speck, and parmesan in a heavenly broth!

A wildly satisfying night, and a huge reminder that I am so fortunate to be able to have these experiences. Wow!

* * * * * *
Add Castagna: If you've been putting off experiencing the sublime pleasure of eating in Castagna's dining room, through June 21st parties of four can save $20 off their tab (parties of more will save $5 off each diner's entrée). Just grab one of the postcards off the front table when you walk in and save $5 per person. This is a great offer, and a wonderful chance to take advantage of Kevin and Monique's classic seasonal cooking from the area's best local food purveyors! Call 503.231.7373 for reservations.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

"You call this work?"...pt.2

As if all the work I put in for the previous post wasn't enough, yesterday three friends from my favorite drinks rag, Imbibe Magazine, stopped by the wine shack to taste a batch of Oregon Pinot Noir Rosés for an article coming out in their June issue and to get some input from yours truly. Always happy to help enable the public's consumption and education, and being a lover of all things pink and grapey, I was more than ready. We popped the corks on eight bottles from various local producers, and dove in. Unfortunately, we should've jumped right out, because with one or two exceptions, these were major disappointments.....
My idea of a perfect rosé is one that is dry, crisp, fresh on the nose, light to medium bodied with a snappy finish. You know, pretty much what you get from 90% of Euro rosés, which are my standard bearers. In my experience feeding these to my customers, this is what the public seems to prefer as well. After tasting these local atrocities yesterday, I've gotta wonder what these Oregon wine dudes are thinking. It wasn't just me, either. The Imbibe people pretty much agreed. Especially when I pulled out two '06 French versions so they could see how it should be done. The French bottles blew the Oregon juice away, leaving them seeming simple, one dimensional, and flabby. A couple of the Oregon bottles were near undrinkable. The '06 Maysara was sweet, cloying, lacking acid and any presence. The 2006 Sokol Blosser was undrinkable, having this awful wet wood, smelly sock aroma and flavor that as the wine warmed up only got worse. Kate from Imbibe told me they're pimping it hard at New Seasons, a local grocery chain. All I can say is they must have been cut a helluva deal. Two words: Buyer Beware! Three more: Save your money! This was awful. The one that I will actually consider carrying is the '06 Elk Cove, which actually had that dry, crisp, refreshing character I look for. The '06 Ponzi Rosado is also marginally acceptable. The others were forgettable, and frankly a waste of glass. Plus their prices were almost uniformly $3-$6 more per bottle than what a delicious Euro rosé would cost...yikes!
Oh, the big winner? The little Frenchie rosé from Provence, the 2006 Domaine Sorin "Terra Amata" (above), a steal at $10.95. Perfect right out of the bottle, and even as it sat in the glass didn't lose a bit of its bright, charming flavors. Memo to Oregon rosé producers: Before you start working on your '07 pinks, PLEASE open a few bottles of French, Spanish, or Italian rosés. If not for yourselves, then for your victims...err, customers, who you hope will buy this stuff!

"You call this work?"...pt.1

Occasionally in the wine biz, a person gets invited to what they call trade tastings, where a wholesaler will lay out a bunch of their wines for retail and restaurant people to sample. This one took place at Nostrana, and was put on by the PDX distributor Casa Bruno. I know, I know. I can hear you already...."THAT is what you do for work? Gee, tasting about a hundred wines in an afternoon while snacking on some great chow sounds SOOO tough!" Well, just let me say that when you go to one of these trade tastings, not all of the wines are that good. Okay, at this tasting, most of the wines were pretty spot on. But don't forget about the hardships: palate fatigue, having to spit into a little bucket without splashing on yourself or others, deciding if the 2000 or 2001 Brunello di Montalcino is the better wine, not to mention how to juggle a plate of apps, a tasting sheet and pen, and a glass of wine. The things I do for my craft........
An unending row of grapey goodness!

David Autrey of Westrey Wine Company (on the right, standing next to Doug Tunnell of Brick House
Vineyard) trying to feign interest in yet another inane question.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Praise be to Burgers!

Can there be better news for those of us who worship at the altar of a great burger and fries? Especially when the supreme creators of the Burger, those Gods of Grilled Ground Beef at Castagna Café have just let me know they are going to be opening for lunch starting June 12th! Let the angels rejoice, because more chances to eat their divine burgers and heavenly fries are to be celebrated. Owners Kevin and Monique are also working on some specialty sandwiches with house roasted meats and a few other variations from their regular café menu. Lunch service is going to be starting June 12th, and will be served Tuesday through Saturday. The hours are tentatively planned to run from 11:30-2:30. I'll have more details as they become available.

Southern Hospitality!

And what could possibly be more hospitable to me than good food? Especially when I'm not cooking it? Okay, maybe free food, but for what we had the other night, I was more than happy to fork over the required tariff.

Saturday night w and I headed to north Portland (and don't give your needy, wannabe NoPo acronym. Leave that to needy, wannabe New Yorkers) to meet our friends Jeff and Kathyrn to pay a visit to Roux. I've been there a few times before, and I have to admit the last time didn't knock me out. There's a new chef in the kitchen, though, and based on what we consumed, the whole place seems reinvigorated. This was a seriously good meal, withy just one slip that they happily corrected. We had a pretty fair share of the menu, and there was the constant sound of "oh" and "wow" heard at our table. Here's the quick rundown.....

Jeff, w, and I started with their perfectly refreshing French 75 cocktail, a gin concoction that they do better than any other I've tried. After slurping down a dozen oysters on the half shell, our starters of the "Croque Monsieur" salad (spinach, smoked ham hock, gruyere, & a creole mustard vinaigrette) and a creamy, decadent crawfish pie (think chicken pot pie-ish, only really sexy!) were outstanding. We moved on, and happily through, our entrees which were a crab crusted roast trout; pan roasted rabbit; red jambalaya; and a grilled flat iron steak for me with three sides of collard greens, mashers, and beets & turnips (my steak came out medium-well instead of the ordered medium-rare, and they immediately brought out a new one without any fuss..very nice. Plus, because of the wait for the new steak, they even brought out a new plate of sides!). Again, it was all excellent, with that southern comfort food thing enveloping us in happiness. We managed to make our way through three desserts, and they even sent out a fourth on the house! Stuffed as we were, how could we refuse?! Not to be redundant, but big smiles were going around as these were also fabulous. More detail? Okay: Beignets, Rhubarb Crostata, Almond Cake, and the Shortbread Cookie Plate. My stomach is stretching out just thinking about it!

Great job by the kitchen jocks at Roux, and it seems that now is a great time to be checking it out, as the kitchen is rocking the food!

Friday, May 11, 2007

Spring is calling!

It's automatic: Springtime...sun comes out in PDX...warmth...no rain...grill is calling...find piece of animal to cook.........................

But sometimes you need too ignore the siren song, because one of the other signs of spring is fresh, young asparagus that is seemingly calling to you from every stall of the farmer's market, just begging to be cooked in any number of ways. Last night w and I had a very satisfying Asparagus Risotto based on a Mario Batali recipe. Risotto is one of those things that to me always tastes, and feels, so good. The Italian equivalent...along with creamy polenta...of mashed potatoes. Total comfort food. Here's yet one more way to take advantage of spring.....
Asparagus Risotto
Adapted from Mario Batali
Time: 45 minutes
1 pound asparagus, peeled, trimmed and cut into one-inch-long pieces, tips reserved (I didn't peel the asparagus and it worked just fine. If you're more patient than me, have at it!- bb)
4 to 6 cups chicken or vegetable stock

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

3 tablespoons butter

1/3 medium red onion, diced

1 1/2 cups Arborio rice

1/2 cup dry white wine

Salt to taste

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese plus extra for sprinkling.

1. Bring a pot of water to a boil. Add half the asparagus stalks and cook until quite soft, at least 5 minutes. Rinse quickly under cold water. Put cooked asparagus in a blender or food processor and add just enough water to allow machine to puree until smooth; set aside.

2. Put stock in a medium saucepan over low heat. Put oil and 1 tablespoon butter in a large, deep nonstick skillet over medium heat. When it is hot, add onion, stirring occasionally until it softens, 3 to 5 minutes.

3. Add rice and cook, stirring occasionally, until it is glossy, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add white wine, stir, and let liquid bubble away. Add a large pinch of salt. Add warmed stock, 1/2 cup or so at a time, stirring occasionally. Each time stock has just about evaporated, add more.

4. After about 15 minutes, add remaining asparagus pieces and tips, continuing to add stock when necessary. In 5 minutes, begin tasting rice. You want it to be tender but with a bit of crunch; it could take as long as 30 minutes total to reach this stage. When it does, stir in 1/2 cup asparagus puree. Remove skillet from heat, add remaining butter and stir briskly. Add Parmesan and stir briskly, then taste and adjust seasoning. Risotto should be slightly soupy. Serve immediately.
Yield: 3 to 4 servings.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Wanna cook? Don't call the C.I.A!

I've often thought about this, especially having owned a restaurant in a former life. That is, what is the point of culinary schools? Other than as a means for the people who run them to make huge amounts of money off of future line cooks who are going to be making $10 a hour...if they're lucky...cooking at some country club. We'd have temps come in from our local cooking school when we were in a pinch, and they were without fail worse than our regular cooks who had learned everything they knew by cooking, not by opening text books or having some guy with a ridiculous hat lecturing them.

That thought came to mind because of an article in yesterday's New York Times that should be required reading for anyone who thinks they're going to be the next big Food network star. The bottom line is you're going to be spending tens of thousands of dollars in the hopes that you'll be that one in several thousand who actually gets to own their own restaurant at some point in the distant future. Forget about food TV, you'll probably be making a couple bucks more an hour than the guy washing dishes about ten feet away from you in a hot, sweaty kitchen in Des Moines.

I have never met a really great cook who learned how to be that at a culinary school. You can't teach passion. You can't teach taste. Either you have it or you don't. I like to cook, but I would never fool myself into believing that I have that something extra that separates us wannabes from the professional cooks. No school is going to teach me what comes naturally to a lot of my restaurant pals who just "get it".

The article is a great cautionary tale, and if you know someone who's thinking of taking the plunge off that culinary cliff, pass it on!

Monday, May 07, 2007

Outside insight!

You can bet that as soon as the sun comes out and it's even halfway warm, sun starved Portlanders are going to be flocking outside to eat. I was meeting mom today for a little lunch and vacation photo sharing opp, and we ended up stopping by Meriwether's up at 2601 NW Vaughn. This has been on my list to try for weeks, ever since I had heard that former Gotham Tavern chef Tommy Habetz had taken over the reins in the kitchen. As we were driving by today on our way to another destination, I noticed the open sign out, so within moments of pulling a quick u-turn in the middle of the street, we were walking in the door. The hostess informed us that their patio was open, so even though I'd like to think I'm not like everyone else, when it comes to eating outside on a beautiful spring afternoon I’ll do the lemming thing too.
The bottom line: this is one of the nicest, if not the nicest, outdoor dining spots in the city. Some tables are completely in the open, and they also have a covered area with a fountain in he middle that burbles just enough to drown out other diners. Very Euro feeling, and an especially nice transition home after w and I spent the last two weeks having much the same experience in Italy and France. Also, the ceiling of the covered area has a line of heaters attached on two sides, so I'm guessing even when it gets a little chilly out, you can still be pretty comfy.

The menu has lots of tempting choices, but having a craving for all things good and American, I had to go with the char-grilled burger while mom had the roast chicken salad sando. I also added on their escarole hearts Caesar salad, and we each felt the need to relax with a glass of vino. The Caesar, even though the greens were a tad limp, was quite good, lightly dressed in a piquant dressing with crunchy foccacia croutons and shaved Parmagiano.

Our sandwiches arrived, and both were wonderful. Mom's chicken salad had a tarragon dressing and was mounded high between sliced foccacia with apple wood smoked bacon and avocado, with a small arugula salad on the side of the plate. She loved it, and there was enough to it that she took half home. Now I'm kind of...okay, extremely...particular about my burgers. For me, the Castagna Café burger remains at the pinnacle of local offerings. Having said that, this Meriwether's hunk of beef was delicious, and something I'd order anytime. Cooked perfectly medium rare as ordered, the meat was juicy, really nice "beefiness" to the flavor without that disturbing fattiness that you get when restaurants try to foist off inferior beef on you. But with a guy like like Habetz in control, and with his rep for getting the best local ingredients, I had a feeling that this hunk of cow would be about as good as it could be. It was topped with apple wood bacon and fried onions, and I added cheddar because I can. A pile of fries came on the side, good but to me could have been crispier and less limp.

Mom's chix salad sandwich

My super delish burger & fries

All in all, though, this was a first class burger and a top quality lunch in a really nice setting. The outside was packed and the servers were super friendly, even those who weren’t waiting on our table! I would absolutely put this on your list, especially if you're looking for a little al fresco experience, and I can’t wait to try the dinner menu 'cause I hear Habetz has a way with all things porcine!

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Last Supper...Last Thoughts

After this two weeks of sampling the best of regional Italian and French cuisine, what else are we going to do on our last night in Paris but go to what is regarded as the best cuisine of it’s kind in the city. Yes, for our last culinary fling, we went to La Coloniale (161 Rue de Picpus, 12th Arr.), which is said to make Cambodian food like no other place. Cambodian food, you ask? Hey, after eating too rich food and adding to the body counts of I don’t know how many fattened geese these past few days, we needed a change. w picked this wonderful little spot. Unfortunately, the lighting was a bit dim and in this tiny restaurant, I didn’t want to use the flash, but rest assured this is worth putting on your itinerary.

It’s like walking into your somewhat eccentric aunt’s tchotzke filled home, and I immediately was charmed. Here’s a peek....

The dining room of La Coloniale

The madam who own this place runs around the tiny main room, singing along with whatever happens to laying on her sound system, to no one in particular. I thought it was charming, while w did a bit of eye rolling . It has the while feeling of a place that is a bit out of tune with the times, but somehow manages to put out quite satisfying food at very reasonable prices. We had a starter of a deep fried chicken beignet, which was extremely delicious, striped of chicken breast laid atop a slice of baguette, lightly breaded and deep fried, and served with a dipping sauce. We both loved it! Also a plate of mild sliced sausages with a spicy dipping sauce that worked very well. For main courses, w had one of their whole fish selections, I had a classic Cambodian pork creation, and we shared a bowl of pho-like soup that was excellent.

A most fun night, and for us the fitting and satisfying end to our fabulous 13 days of eating!

Waking up this morning to pack and get ready to leave, we are both more than ready for our Portland home and the comforts therein...our own familiar bed, cooking at home which I am really missing, the farmer’s markets which will be in full swing, and most of all Chopper, who’s furry presence has been much missed. It has been a great trip, one of the best ever. The sights, the food, the people. It makes me appreciate so many things, especially the abundance we enjoy in the NW and most of all that I am so fortunate to have the opportunity to have these experiences....I’m constantly amazed and thankful.

Au revoir!

Canal Cuisine

One last lunch a Paris, and it turned out quite well. We took a stroll along the Canal St. Martin, which is really quite scenic, in the middle of a Parisian neighborhood. That is if you ignore the homeless encampments along parts of the waters edge. Apparently, there is now a homeless uprising here, I assume because with most other segments of French society rioting, striking, or protesting against one affront or another, those who are sans foyer were feeling left out. So now you see these tent communities along some very nice stretches of Paris real estate, like the Canal St. Martin and on the banks of the Seine. Apparently in Paris, in the midst of this country of entitlement, just because one has lost the means of shelter doesn't mean one should lack the proper address.

A view up the Canal St. Martin

So we strolled along, ignoring the occasional exhortations shouted at us from the tents to join their cause, and soon found our way to the delightful Bar L’Atmosphere (49 Rue Lucien-Sampaix, 10th Arr.). They had an intriguing menu board, windows opened to the warming afternoon sun, and a waitress with a perfect sense of sass. I ordered their croque monsieur, because I couldn’t let this whole vacation slip by without a taste of this French classic. It was deliciously crisp, juicy ham and oozing cheese inside with lightly browned gruyere melting on the outside, and crisp green salad alongside. w ordered the plat du juor, a really finely done duck leg that would have done any number of tonier establishments proud, and was quite astonishing to find here. The duck meat was tender, falling off the bone, perfectly roasted and seasoned. Okay, maybe the carrots were a tad overdone, and the chips a smidge less crisp than we would have liked, but overall more than satisfactory. We both had a glass of blushingly cool rosé, and enjoyed yet another perfect Parisain moment!

One half of the perfect café lunch.

The other half!

Friday, May 04, 2007

Second chances

I am all about second chances, and luckily so are our friends Monique and The Handsome One, who agreed to another dinner with us after I led them inadvertently astray at Tuesday nights fiasco at Juan et Juanita. We made plans to meet last night at what is a classic Paris boite, Bistro Paul Bert. The idea to come here was actually put into my head after checking out a story in the NYT a bout 10 days ago regarding Mark Bittman's experiences searching out the best examples of that most standard of bistro dishes, steak frites. Bistro Paul Bert was among his five favorites, and was also mentioned in the quirky, sassy, and quite useful eat/shop guides published in PDX. So reservations were made, the scars of Tuesday scrubbed away, and off we went.

We decided to rendezvous with our dining companions at BPB, so w and I left a bit early to check out what is supposed to be one of Paris' best cocktail bars, China Club, where according to one description we read, "they take their martinis very seriously." If you read my post about the martini article in the NYT a couple of days ago, you know for me that kind of commentary is like telling Bush and Cheney there's another dictator with boatloads of oil needing his ass kicked...we are both so there! And so we were (w and I, not W and C), grabbing seats at the long wooden bar and tucking into a couple of delicious libations. Okay, I had a Negroni, not a martini, because after seeing the national drink of the Republic of Bruce on the menu, I had to see how those Frenchies treated it. And you know, they treated it, and by extension me, with all the respect it deserved. So much so that I had two! We paid our tab and feeling much better about myself, dinner prospects, hell, even W and C, we walked the short distance to BPB.

The menu at Bistro Paul Bert

This place is so cool. Small, tucked inside an old, old building. A cozy dining room, tables snug together. Ancient ads and pictures adorning the walls, comfy chairs and that kind of yellowy light that makes you feel all warm and gooey inside. Le menu is presented tableside, written on a blackboard. We all chose the nights 32 euro entrée/plat/dessert selection. We made our decisions, ordered a very substandard bottle of Anjou blanc, which after a couple of sips was replaced by a MUCH more acceptable bottle of '99 Champagne, and enjoyed what for me was one of the most enjoyable meals of the trip.

Fizzy fun!

Our entrees (first courses) were superb, white asparagus for w and Monique, thick stalks of tender, delicious spring garden produce. The Handsome One had the chopped raw duck, which was exceptional, and I had macou carpaccio, macou being some kind of fish none of us had ever heard of, but it tasted like something I'd like to get to know better!

White apsargus, in all it's springy glory!

The Handsome One and I, very much in the moment!

The conversation was flowing in that way it does when you're around people who are on the same wave length, in this case meaning food obsessed omnivores, and we were more than ready for the main courses to arrive. A bottle of Burgundy was rustled up, and plates were hitting the table. Monique and I both ordered that steak frites, and it was everything Bittman had said it was. An expertly cooked, chewy but not too, very juicy and flavorful piece of cow with a pile of perfectly done, salty good hand cut fries. We were both loving it. The Handsome One had the pigeon, again delightful, and maybe something the guys at Portland's Le Pigeon could take a lesson from. The only marginally weak moment was w's monkfish, which was somewhat bland and oddly seasoned. Not bad, but we all were kind of indifferent about it.

Not to worry though, because there's always dessert to look forward to (I love these prix fixe dinners!). Monique had the fresh fraises with cream, The Handsome One ordered the cheese platter which was incredible. There were perhaps seven or eight different selections, and the server left the whole board of cheese on the table and you could take however much your stomach could handle. Which at this point wasn't much, but the ones chosen were delicious. w had the meringue with fresh strawberries, and it was outstanding. I ordered the Paris-Brest, which as Monique explained to me is a classic French dessert, two pieces of buttery pastry with, in this case, a nutty, thick, stupidly sexy custard slathered between them. This is among the most decadent things I've ever put in my mouth, and while I've never had sex with a piece of food from a restaurant, I was almost blushing at the thoughts going through my head...whew!

w's strawberry meringue... very yummy!

My indecently delicious Paris-Brest

We wandered out into the night, sated, stuffed, sleepy, thankful for the Paris metro system that whisked us all quickly home and to bed!