Saturday, August 30, 2008

Things I love....another in an unending series of edible pleasures.

Just another quick sharing moment and something I really need to learn how to do at home, a lovely, silky, sensuous slice of seared foie gras on top of a peach-sauterne purée with toast points. Wow! Another delectable bit of food decadence, this one from Castagna Café. Rumor has it it'll be on their starter menu for a couple of more weeks. Now you know where to find me!!

Friday, August 29, 2008

Wings, man!

For all fortunate Portland eaters, if you are driving through the Sellwood neighborhood today or tomorrow and feeling a bit peckish, then my pal Kevin at the Garden State food cart on the corner of SE 13th Avenue and SE Lexington has just dropped off a sampling of his weekend special, which are some awesome fried chicken wings with a lemon aioli. A perfect snack to nibble while you wait for that meatball hero. I just wolfed mine down....delicious! As always, I share because I care!!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Carnitas and huevos and chilaquiles, oh my!!

Get set for the biggest, most important Portland restaurant opening of the year this Thursday on upper SE Hawthorne Boulevard, as the long awaited, much anticipated Por Que No Taqueria “Dos” opens. Okay, maybe it’s not the biggest opening. And probably the importance is more personal that universal, but when I can stroll down the street to 4635 SE Hawthorne and get my share of the best carnitas tacos on the planet, then I’m so in. And that Sunday brunch with plates of huevos and chilquiles (pic below right) is a mere four minute walk from our front door (yeah, I timed it!). No more driving to north Portland to PQN "uno" to get our fix….life is so freaking good sometimes!!!

w and I were walking the Chops around the ‘hood Sunday morning and stopped by PQN and were checking out the backyard, peering in the window. Owner Bryan Steelman and his wife Claire were inside and they asked if we wanted to come in and take a look around. Just the fact that they were there alone, getting it ready together was very cool. They are so involved with their spaces, infusing so much personal, positive energy and you can feel their excitement. The space is awesome, much bigger than their N. Mississippi shoebox, but with that same incredible vibe. Their eyes were just sparkling as they showed us around, bragged about their big new walk-in cooler, the new kitchen, the big wall benches that were recycled from an old Masonic temple . I mentioned to Bryan that isn't it cool when your vision turns out even better than you thought, and he said it's so amazing that sometimes he feels the hair on his arms standing up he's so excited! Big roll up garage door-style windows really open up the space to the street. Plus they have a fantastic backyard that promises to be one the most fun places to hang in the city. I can’t wait and am totally down with what Bryan and Claire have accomplished. These two run their restaurants the right way, support their employees and their neighborhoods. All you need to know to know about the PQN ethic can be fond by clicking on the website link above and then clicking the "mythology" tab. It says it all.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

A Wine Spectator "Award of Excellence" for your wine list without having to open that pesky restaurant?

I was tipped off to this awesome story by food dude at Portland Food and Drink. What we all suspected about the Wine Spectator is apparently true. At least when it comes to doling out their Award of Excellence to various restaurants for their supposedly "superior" wine lists. Turns out if you want to win one of the coveted prizes to impress your friends, it doesn't cost near what you thought. In fact, YOU DON'T EVEN HAVE TO OPEN A RESTAURANT!! With their rubber stamp firmly in hand, the arbiters of wine taste at the Speculator gave one of these awards to a bogus restaurant that writer Robin Goldstein invented in his head, complete with fake website, menu, and wine lists. The upshot is that his regular wine list was a normal selection of quality offerings, while his "Reserve" list was a listing of wines the Spectator themselves had panned in previous reviews, including (and borrowing this from PFandD):

BRUNELLO DI MONTALCINO “LA CASA” 1982 (Toscana) Tenuta Caparzo 200,00 €
Wine Spectator rating: 67 points. “…Smells barnyardy and tastes decayed. Not what you’d hope for…”

CABERNET SAUVIGNON “I FOSSARETTI” 1995 (Piemonte) Poderi Bertelli 120,00 €
Wine Spectator rating: 58 points. “Something wrong here. Of four samples provided, two were dark in color, but tasted metallic and odd…”

SASSICAIA 1976 (Toscana) Tenuta San Guido 250,00 €
Wine Spectator rating: 65 points. “…Even Sassicaia could not apparently escape the wet weather of this memorably bad vintage in Tuscany. It lacks harmony, having oxidized…”

Read the whole unbelievable...or really believable story here. Well done Robin!

Postscript: you can read Wine Spectator editor Thomas Matthews rather lame mea culpa here. Matthews passing off the whole episode as an "act of malicious duplicity" is the worst kind of victim mentality.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Your next dinner party: part 3- Time for dessert!

So, are you still hungry? Everyone pleasure centers are probably screaming for mercy, but this is America you guys. More is better, right? Two superlative inducing courses down, one super seasonal dessert left. Plus you did put that bottle of Moscato d'Asti in the fridge to chill didn't you? Good, I knew you would.
So how to finish to make sure that everyone has a meal they'll never forget (as if the memory of that lamb isn't burned permanently into their cerebellums)? Especially when bellies may be busting around the table. Maybe taking it down a notch with something light and fresh is the deal. Well, assuming you have access to the bushels of fresh peaches flooding markets everywhere this time of year, and are grabbing the last of the seasons fresh blueberries, then you are good to go with maybe the easiest (you can even make this while everyone is digesting all that lamb), best dessert you'll have this summer, and I guarantee you'll pull it out again and again. At the market last week found the most incredible, luscious white peaches that were perfect for this. The peaches and blueberries, lightly coated with the balsamic glaze, just burst in your mouth with bright, sweet flavor. This was another epicurious find that with a glass of that most addictive of Italian dessert wines, Moscato d'Asti from Italy's Piedmont region, is almost too good. And in case your already thinking "More wine? OMG!" then moscato is the perfect choice. Lightly fizzy, low in alcohol (usually just 5%), with a delicate sweet, spicy, floral character, if you haven't ever tried one, YOU MUST! If you have, then I know you're already nodding your heads in agreement. As far as producers of this magical elixir to look for, I've had almost all of them, and there usually isn't a huge difference. It seems, remarkably, that they're all good!

So there it is. The perfect dinner party, in order and ready to. The only question: whose lucky enough to be on your invite list?!
* * * * * *
Balsamic Blueberries and Peaches
adapted from epicurious

3 tablespoons sugar, or to taste

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

3 cups blueberries (about 1 lb)

1 lb peaches or nectarines, sliced

1/2 teaspoon black pepper (optional)

Boil 3 tablespoons sugar with vinegar, and 1 cup blueberries in a 1- to 1 1/2-quart heavy saucepan, stirring, 1 minute. Remove from heat.
Combine remaining 2 cups blueberries with peach slices in a large bowl. Toss with hot blueberry syrup and black pepper, then add sugar to taste. Let stand, tossing occasionally, 30 minutes.
*Cooks note: Vary sugar depending how sweet and ripe your fruit is.
Makes 4 servings.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Your next dinner party: part 2- entrée and side

So now that you've had the perfect start with the guacamole and padron peppers from yesterday's post, the edge is off the hunger and a little groove is setting in from the pre-dinner beverages, it's time to really kick it in and get the love going with this awesome, über-seasonal roasted corn potato salad and a kick ass grilled leg of lamb. Both of these are, as everything should be when you're entertaining, really easy, low stress mains that will get raves at the table.

The roasted corn potato salad is something I discovered last year on epicurious and I absolutely loved it. Grilling the corn really caramelizes the sugars and intensifies the flavors. With all the corn flooding farmer's markets, even if you don't make this salad it is a great way to cook fresh corn for regular off the cob eating. In the salad there's this residual smokiness to the kernels that with the grilled red peppers really sets your tastebuds buzzing. And of course, the addition of bacon doesn't hurt either...mmmm, cured pork products!

And when isn't a grilled butterflied leg of lamb a good idea? Unless you're a cute fuzzy little lamb running around on three legs of course. But for those of us on top of the food chain it's the perfect dinner party dish. This is a recipe I got off of epicurious that I've done three or four times and it always kills. This time for whatever reason was the best yet. The rub/marinade (picture above left) is fantastic. Pungent with garlic, fresh herbs, pepper, salt. I think it was the extra time I gave it in the marinade, and the fact that it got this nice crust from the super hot charcoal fire. Whatever it was, it turned out perfectly medium-rare and was so, I'm salivating all over again thinking about it! Oh, and while the meat is resting, don't forget to squeeze some lemon juice on it like I almost did. Also,unless you're a fan of extra work or unduly proud of your knife skills, have your butcher do the boning of the leg. For something this good, I had to open the Chateauneuf du Pape you might have read about a couple of days ago. It worked so well, but you could also do practically any full-bodied red like a good cab or zin. A nice full Italian Barbera is also one of my favorite things to drink with anything off the 'que. Whatever you open, just make sure there's plenty, because this dinner is all about food and wine enjoyment!
* * * * * * * * *
Potato and Roasted Corn Salad
makes 8 servings.

3 ears fresh corn, unhusked
2 large red bell peppers
1-1/2 pounds 1 1/2- to 2-inch-diameter unpeeled red-skinned potatoes, quartered
4 thick bacon slices, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons Sherry wine vinegar
1/3 cup crumbled blue cheese (optional)
1 cup chopped green onions
3 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano

1.Prepare barbecue (high heat). Grill corn until husks are blackened on all sides, turning occasionally, about 15 minutes. Cool 15 minutes. Remove husks and silk. Cut kernels from cobs.
2.Cut 1/2 inch from top and bottom of each pepper. Quarter each pepper lengthwise. Trim ribs and seeds from peppers. Flatten pieces, breaking slightly, if necessary. Place peppers on grill, skin side down. Grill without turning until skins are blackened and blistered, about 10 minutes. Cool 10 minutes. Peel peppers; cut into 1/2-inch squares.
3.Cook potatoes in large pot of boiling salted water until tender, about 12 minutes. Drain; let cool 5 minutes in strainer. Transfer to large bowl.
4.Sauté bacon in medium skillet over medium heat until crisp. Using slotted spoon, transfer bacon to paper towels.
5.Whisk oil and vinegar in small bowl to blend. Season dressing with salt and pepper. Drizzle 1/4 cup dressing over potatoes; toss to coat. Add corn, bell peppers, bacon, onions, oregano, and 3 tablespoons additional dressing (you can also add the blue cheese at this point. We left it out because the salad was tasting so fresh without it, and it made it a little lighter- BB); toss to coat. Season salad with salt and pepper. Add remaining dressing by tablespoonfuls to moisten, if desired. Serve warm or at room temperature.
- - - - - - -

Grilled Butterflied Leg of Lamb with lemon, herbs, and garlic
from epicurious/Gourmet

from Gourmet: "This recipe can be prepared in 45 minutes or less but requires additional sitting time. Butterflied leg of lamb can sometimes get a little unwieldy. To secure loose flaps of meat, run 2 long metal skewers lengthwise and 2 skewers crosswise through the lamb, bunching the meat together. Securing the lamb this way will also help it cook more evenly."

Serves 8.

For herb rub
8 garlic cloves
3 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme leaves
2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary leaves
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon coarse salt
3 tablespoons olive oil Paste

a 7- to 8-pound leg of lamb, trimmed of all fat, boned, and butterflied by butcher (4 to 4 3/4 pounds boneless)
1 lemon

Make herb rub:
Finely chop garlic and in a small bowl stir together with remaining herb-rub ingredients.

Put lamb in a large dish and with tip of a sharp small knife held at a 45-degree angle cut 1/2-inch-deep slits all over lamb, rubbing herb mixture into slits and all over lamb. Marinate lamb at room temperature 1 hour (I did three hours-bb). Prepare grill. Lightly pat lamb dry. On a lightly oiled rack set 5 to 6 inches over glowing coals grill lamb about 10 minutes on each side, or until an instant-read thermometer horizontally inserted into thickest part of meat registers 125°F for medium-rare. (Alternatively, roast lamb in a roasting pan in middle of a 425°F oven about 25 minutes, or until an instant-read thermometer horizontally inserted into meat registers 125°F for medium-rare.) Transfer lamb to a cutting board. Halve and seed lemon. Squeeze juice over lamb and let stand, loosely covered with foil, 15 minutes. Cut lamb into slices and serve with any juices that have accumulated on cutting board.

Garden State Saturday Dinner!

In what may be a first for Portland's blossoming food cart culture, Kevin Sandri at the Garden State cart up on the corner from the wine shack (corner of SE 13th Av & SE Lexington St in Sellwood) will be hosting his first al fresco Italian dinner this Saturday from 6-8pm. It will be a five course "home" cooked chicken dinner (click on the menu at left to enlarge) with both poultry and fresh produce from Mike and Jill Paine's Gaining Ground Farm. Kevin will have tables set up around the cart, and you can show up anytime to get some of what promises to be an awesome event and another reason why Portland is becoming the west coast capitol of independent, organic dining. The cost is a more than reasonable $45 per couple. It is a BYOB event for those who would like a little vino to wash down all this goodness (and due to OLCC rules you also have to bring your own glasses or cups or whatever). Plus the weather looks to be perfect for this alfresco fun. Call Kevin at 503.705.5273 with any questions.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Your next dinner party: part 1- Appetizers

You might want to get your guest lists together for dinner this weekend, because by Friday you'll have a kick ass dinner party to thrown down that will garner you much love and appreciation. How do I know? Because I did this just last Sunday, and it was an absolute home run!

Apps, entrée, salad, dessert, and boatloads of wine. All the ingredients for a successful soirée, don't you think? There wasn't really a theme for the dinner. Just things I like and wanted to share. I can say everything worked together fantastically. Today I'll start with the appetizers which I've mentioned before in previous posts over the last couple of years, but since I have hundreds more readers, they both bear repeating because the are both so freakishly good and way easy.
First up is the best, easiest guacamole you will ever have! No shit, it really is that good. I've pulled this out several times over the past year or so, and every time people do the classic one bite, eyes go wide, then the "Oh, that's really good" comment always follows up without fail. The recipe is from Saveur Magazine. The one thing I think is indispensable here is a good mortar and pestle (here's the one i have. a serious piece of equipment that i LOVE!) to grind the initial onion, cilantro, jalapeno, and salt together which makes the paste that is the flavor base and is the key to the depth of flavor here. Also leaving the avocado in chunks is really a nice textural thing, so their innate creaminess and flavor really makes its full impact. Scooped out with my new favorite tortilla chips,, the Kettle Chips Blue Corn Tortilla Chips (I wonder if they'll send me a coupon for a free bag for mentioning them?!), these will disappear instantly!

Also on the table were my summer snack addiction I discovered last year at the Portland Farmer's Market. These little Pimientos de Padron are simply too good. It's spicy, salty food crack. I just spotted them at Viridian Farms booth last week, and my heart instantly started beating faster, my hands got sweaty, my eyes got a little wild, and I'm sure I looked like some meth addict when I handed them my money with shaking hands, scurrying off with my three little boxes. That first bite before dinner, when I hadn't had them for a year, was sublime. Use the stems for a little handle, and eat away. I don't know if you have these wherever you are, but if you don't they are worth seeing if you can have them shipped. The more addicts I have around me the better I feel about my "problem"!

The best things about both of these is you can make them last minute (in fact you want to plate the peppers hot right out of the sauté pan when your guests are there) in less than 20 minutes. We washed these down with a bottle of my favorite prosecco rosé and a couple of crisply delicious bottles of white.
* * * * * *

The World's Greatest Guacamole
adapted from Saveur Magazine

3 medium hass avocados (firmly ripe)
3 tablespoons finely chopped onions
2 tablespoons packed chopped cilantro
4 tablespoons chopped tomatoes
1 tablespoon chopped jalapeno
1 teaspoon salt

1-In large mortar and pestle or molcajete, grind salt, one tablespoon onion, one tablespoon cilantro, and jalapeno into a paste.
2-Half avocados, carefully remove pit, and score each half four times both directions being careful not to cut through peel. Then scoop out meat from each half into mortar and carefully fold into paste, keeping avocado as intact as possible.
3-Fold in remaining ingredients, mix well, season with more salt of necessary, and serve!
- - - - - - - -
Sautéed Pimientos de Padron

1 dozen, more or less, pimientos de padron
olive oil
coarse sea salt (available at most markets. I get mine at Trader Joe's- BB)

Pour olive oil to barely coat bottom of nonstick sauté pan, then add a smidge more. Heat oil over medium-high heat until it shimmers. Add peppers, toss some sea salt on top, and sauté until brown and white marks appear, about four or five minutes. Serve immediately, using the stems as convenient little handles.
Cooks not: the coarse sea salt is essential. It's worth huntng down!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Tequila terroir??

Feeling smug when you pull out that bottle of "premium" José Cuervo Gold tequila like you're giving your friends the "good stuff". Guess again. That particular tequila is what is referred to as mixto, a bastardized mix of 51% agave tequila and 49% other additives like sugar or neutral spirits. If you respect your friends...and yourself for that matter...check out this remarkably revealing tequila primer from Jason Wilson of the Washington Post so you can confidently talk tequila terroir with your friends, while having a tasting of blanco and reposado tequilas (and be able to explain the difference!). And by the way, in tequilas home state of Jalisco, Wilson learned after a particularly disheartening visit to the Cuervo factory that "no one in the state of Jalisco drinks margaritas."


Cellar report: 1998 Roger Sabon Chateauneuf du Pape "Les Olivets"

This is what I'm talking about! I mean, what's the point of having all that bottled grape-juice-for-adults in the basement if you don't pull something up that knocks not only your socks off, but those lucky friends who get to share? Such was the case last night when we had friends over for a perfectly grilled leg of lamb, crusty outside with a rosemary, garlic, thyme and olive oil marinade (in fact, check back for the next three days and I'll lay out a whole dinner party that will absolutely rock your dinner tables!). It had finally cooled off enough outside to get my head around some red wine, I was in a Rhone-ish mood and I knew we needed something intense, but not so over the top that it kills the lamb. The lamb was a pretty straightforward preparation, so a little subtlety and finesse within the intensity was the ticket. I'd had this bottle of 1998 Roger Sabon Chateauneuf du Pape resting comfortably downstairs for years, and I always loves me some Rhone Valley goodness, so the time seemed right.

I'll start at the end of the bottle, because as happens so often, just when you get to the last drops is when the wine is showing its best. Although up to that moment it was tasting pretty fucking amazing. I ideally should have decanted it about 30-45 minutes ahead of time. A blend of 80% grenache, 10% syrah, and 10% cinsault off of 65+ year old vines, this was a classic. Great, still youthful color when poured, aromas of cherry, earth, meat, stones, spring blossoms, and spice rolled out of the glass. Once again I am just amazed at how many different flavors and sensations that a few little grapes can give. On the palate it was full, with all those aromas echoed and intensified. Really rich and ripe, with still young tannins carrying this super complete red on through to a delicious, lingering finish. Awesome, crazy juice. And then over the next 45 minutes it just got better....and better...and better. I love my friends, but it was all I could do not to grab the decanter, dump the rest in my glass and yell "It's all mine, dammit!!" But sharing is caring, there was much lamby meatiness to get through, and besides we had plenty of other social lubricant on hand, so a crass display of self-absorption would be a bit unseemly, don't ya think? A great bottle, and the 1998 Chateauneufs seem to be just coming into their own right now, and this gem could easily have another 5-10 years in it. Sadly it was my last bottle of Sabon (sigh)...............

The Sabon cellars (photo from

Monday, August 18, 2008

Trip Planning: Seattle

Thanks to my sis for forwarding this link from NYT columnist Mark Bittman's blog (always an entertaining and appetite inspiring read) that somehow I missed. I get up there a couple of times a year, and it's always good to have the insight. In case you have any Seattle travel plans, knowledge is not only power, it is a full and happy tummy!

photo from New York Times

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Ginned up!

Not only is Portland the home to the greatest number of craft breweries in the world, but to metaphorically put the olive in the martini, we lucky denizens of this thirst ridden city are also fortunate enough to have a growing number of craft distillers whose vodkas, gins, whiskies, and other intoxicants are gaining nation-wide recognition. Stephen McCarthy and his legendary Clear Creek Distillery started the boom years ago. Now labels like Medoyeff, Aviation, New Deal, Ransom, and others are putting smiles on faces in bars across the country. We even have our own and the nation's first craft distillers guild. Being somewhat of a gin freak, when word of a new bottling of this most botanical of beverages comes my way, I have this uncontrollable urge to visit my nearest liquor store (which I always get a probably unhealthy pleasure out of going to in a grownup kid-in-an-adult-candy-store way. Even after all these years there is still a kind of illicit thrill to viewing those shelves of demon alcohol!) in search of my next martini mixer.

My latest find is the newly released gin from Integrity Sprits called 12 Bridges. As they say on their very nicely put together website, 12 Bridges is "aptly named for the number of bridges in our city, and for the 12 botanicals in its recipe". It ran a little over $25 an attractively packaged bottle, and it was with great anticipation I took it home to mix that first gin-and-tonic on a sweltering evening. I (along with my co-palate in pleasure w) first took a sniff and a sip straight up to get a feel for it. Definite floral, citrus, cucumber notes were very apparent, along with the usual juniper botanicals, on the nose and in the mouth. I know, it's kind of dorky to sniff your gin, but what can I say, I'm obsessed. Mixed with the tonic really brought out the cucumber flavors. It reminded me a lot of Hendrick's Gin with those same kinds of sensations. Like Hendrick's, I'm sure it would make a killer gimlet. Tonight I'll try a 12 Bridges martini, because I would hate to skimp on my research. I'm not sure about national distribution, but if you see it, it is definitely worthy of ice and tonic. Cheers!!

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Zucchini invasion? Fight back!

In case your garden patch is running over with the unexpected bounty of too many zucchini (And who could possibly be surprised by too many zucchini. Haven't you heard the horror stories of plants run amok? I have to say I've never planted them because when I can buy something for about a dime or so at the markets, I'd rather let others do the work.) may I offer on more way to use them that is all too easy and all to delicious. My friends, one word: grilling! Two more: Asian marinade! w came up with this fab marinade that is way too easy. No long recipe needed here. Mix together three parts rice wine vinegar, one part olive oil, and 3/4 part soy sauce. Slice zucchs in 1/4 inch strips, baste with marinade on both sides, grill for a few minutes over medium hot coals (I did mine after roasting a chicken. While the chicken was resting I threw the zucchini on). Grill, turning and basting regularly to desired doneness. I like 'em still a bit crunchy, not soggy. It's a great veg side with a nice bite from the marinade. And they are even rather attractive, don't you think?!

Friday, August 15, 2008

My internet video shame....

For some people it's internet porn. Web gambling is huge. Others get hooked on youtube. We all have our online addictions. My personal internet shame is watching this awesome Dolly pasta maker cut fusilli. And no, watching a pasta machine cut spirals of pasta isn't lame, it's, really! If you read my post a couple of days ago, you know I'm a kitchen gadget whore. Even so at $2700 a pop for the Dolly, I'll have to settle for the video......

Beauty taken away

If you can read this article from the NY Times yesterday, then watch the video below and not feel a lump in your throat, you're a stronger person than me. The back story is that 26-year-old Liu Yan, reputed to be the finest Chinese classical dancer, was rehearsing for a solo dance to be done during the opening ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics. There was a problem with a piece of equipment, she ended up falling down a shaft and breaking her back, leaving her paralyzed. A tragically ironic accident, made all the more poignant by her comment at the end of the very well reported article: “ 'I hope one day I can just stand up like a normal person,' she said wiping away tears."
The video is a beautiful dance piece (the music is from the wonderful Wong Kar-Wai movie "In the Mood For Love"), and watching her legs move with such incredible grace and precision you can only imagine how she must be feeling to have these tools she used to so eloquently express emotion taken away.

Israel taking on the Fatherland???

Hot on the heels of the news that Chris Israel is leaving his executive chef position at 23Hoyt, and right after Portland Food and Drink czar Food Dude's comment that he has heard Chris wants to open a German restauarnt, is this "clue" in this morning's local fishwrap The Oregonian. Oregonian food diva Karen Brooks did her own writeup of Israel's imminent departure, but that's not what caught my eye. What you may have missed is the not-so-accidental placement of the story next to an ad for Portland's iconic German restaurant Der Rheinlander. Coincidence? I think not! Stay tuned.........

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Beating the heat: Shrimp-Zucchini-Cherry Tomato Pasta

When it comes to food, I'm what you might call a carb-whore. Bread, pizza, especially pasta....all good! It's 96* out as I type this and on a day like this I don't even want to stand next to a grill to take the heat outside. But I would want something fast, easy, light, and most of all delicious. This super seasonal pasta is just that. I know some people lose their appetite when it gets hot. Sadly, I'm not one of them. I could have the devil jabbing my ass with his pitchfork in hell and I'd still be eyeing the never ending pasta bowl. Oh wait, that sounds like Olive Garden, doesn't it? Hell....Olive, same thing I guess. Anyway, the point being that this bowl of happiness is just the ticket to put down on your dinner table when it's to effing hot outside. You would also be wise to throw a bottle or two of Italian white in the fridge. Maybe a refreshing Tocai-Friulano or a crisp Vermentino. Just make sure it's all stainless fermented so that nasty oak taste doesn't get in the way of your edible enjoyment!
*** *** ***
Shrimp-Zucchini-Cherry Tomato Pasta
serves 3 or 4

2 tablespoons butter (or olive oil if you must)
16-20 medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
4 or 5 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 teaspoon chili flakes (or to taste)
2 medium zucchini or other summer squash, cut into 1/4" slices
1 or 2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
1 pound dry pasta, fusilli or penne rigate
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Bring water to boil in large pasta pot. Add small handful of salt, then pasta. Cook to desired doneness. Meanwhile, melt butter (or put olive oil) in large (12") sauté pan over medium high heat. When butter melts, add garlic and chili flakes and stir for 30-45 seconds. Add shrimp and cook about 1-2 minutes per side, until done. Put shrimp into bowl and set aside. In same pan add one tablespoon butter. When melted add zucchini and sauté until slightly softened, but still firm, about four minutes. Add shrimp back to pan, stir in tomatoes and chopped basil. Drain cooked pasta and add to sauté pan. Mix together carefully to combine. Serve immediately with grated parmigiano and generous helping of white wine!

23Hoyt update: The ever revolving door....

Wouldn't you know it. Just when I pimp Chris Israel and 23Hoyt in yesterday's post, I get a press release this morning saying he is leaving to pursue other opportunities. He is going to be replaced at 23Hoyt by former Olea chef Aaron Barnett. Hopefully the quality will remain high at 23, because that meal I had really nailed it. Wait and see I guess.

In the meantime, in today's post on Portland Food and Drink, according to PFD czar Food Dude: "I read somewhere that Chris wanted to open a German restaurant. Please Chris, do it. I'll be the first one in the door."

Now FD, you know I dig your act and your ever informative takes, but I can only say "A German restaurant??! I don't care how good a German restaurant is, and I might even try it, but I (and I assume most Portlanders) only need so much schnitzel, and it ain't much. Chris, I know it's a challenge, and you may even be passionate about it, but dude, please, I'm begging you, back away from the sauerbraten. Aim higher. That sounds like the classic 'how do you take big pile of money and turn it into a little pile of money' "

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

23Hoyt: A first visit (and OMG the desserts!).

For various reasons, I had never been to 23Hoyt here in Portland. Chief among them I am more than happy with my eastside choices of appetite satisfaction and I had heard uneven reports about the food and service. So the other night I was made an offer I couldn't refuse, which was to dine on their dime to get a fresh perspective. I made it clear to my enabler that this would be reported...good or bad...and they were up for it. I had been wanting to go, given the reputation of Chef Chris Israel, who has proven himself repeatedly to be one of the most talented chefs in town. Granted, I hear he's only in the kitchen maybe a couple of days a week, but one would have to assume that his staff has some chops. Of course I assume that a lot and have been disappointed, so it was with a tinch of skepticism that w and I ventured forth.

So we arrive, hungry and thirsty (as always!) and have a quick drink at the bar to get our heads straight. The whole restaurant is open and airy, with a mezzanine above the lower bar/eating area. With floor to ceiling windows, it's a great corner space on NW 23rd Avenue (or as some put it, "trendy-third"). They're going for that hip, urban feel with downtempo music pulsing in the background. I have to admit to not being a huge fan of that kind of music being the soundtrack to my dinner, but I think it makes the B&T crowd feel like they're really all hip and cool. Once at the table, we started out with a 1/2 bottle of Sancerre and two starters: the corn soup ($8) with pesto and cherry tomatoes, and the eggplant gnocchi ($10) with spicy tomato sauce. The soup was outstanding, the sweet, fresh corn coming through strong, with the drizzle of pesto providing that fresh zip. The eggplant gnocchi also really worked. Light, fluffy, with plenty of eggplant flavor and a bright tomato sauce whose acid balanced the rich gnocchi and had just enough spice to get your palates attention.

We followed that with my favorite course of the night (not counting dessert), a plate of their ahi tartare with avocado, preserved lemon, and charmoula. This was one of those dishes I could see dropping in for just to satisfy a craving with a glass of white wine. My one concern/suggestion is that they should tone down the cumin in it. It was just teetering on the edge of overpowering the whole dish. Do that and this would be one of those perfect plates of food.

When it came time to pick entrées, w opted for their grilled sea scallops ($15) with fennel, roasted red peppers, and anchoîde (a sauce of figs, walnuts, orange, garlic, anise and olive oil). She loved the sauce around the scallops, but would have preferred the scallops to have a little more of that crusty sear on the outside, which is what always plays against the tender inside. Again, a little more attention to detail would really elevate what was still a nicely composed and flavorful plate. I had the roasted Alaskan halibut $30) with green beans, roasted potatoes and sauce gribiche (tarragon, chives, parsley, capers, cornichons, chopped egg, and olive oil). For a lighter choice off their menu, I thought this was delicious. The halibut was perfectly cooked, tender and super moist. The gribiche was one of the best I've had and was an excellent compliment to the fish. Loved the potatoes (could have had more of the spud, but I'm a potato whore so for most people there would have been plenty). And the green beans were perfect. Just right cooked, tender yet with some tooth, none of that squeak that drives you crazy when you bite into most green beans. Quite simply a great bean! We washed all that down with a decent but unexciting 2005 Ecard Bourgogne. One quick word about their wine list. In these days where there are abundant choices of outstanding red wines wholesaling for $10 to $15, to only find two red wines under $40 on any list is inexcusable, especially in Portland. I get making your markup, but you're also cutting off a big portion of your customers who would love to indulge in a second bottle. My friend Mark Accuardi who owns Gino's here in PDX and has one of the best priced wine lists in town said it perfectly one day: "I just want everyone to be able to afford to drink a great bottle of wine with our food". He also knows it's highly likely they'll order another. It's my philosophy at VINO, and it totally translates to the food biz. Why more people don't get that is beyond me.

Sorry, a little off topic there, but I had to get it off my chest. So then of course there was dessert to ponder. We picked two ($8 each): a bittersweet chocolate pot de crème and the warm blueberry crisp with walnut streusel and vanilla ice cream. Um, just let me say: "Oh my fucking god these were good!" Two of the best desserts I've had together ever. The pot de crème was as deliciously decadent as you could ask for. Bittersweet chocolate has rarely been so well treated, and this absolutely took this dessert standard to a new level. The blueberry crisp was simply the best crisp I've had. You know how in most blueberry crisps the berries tend to mush out and get all soft and squishy? Remarkably, somehow almost every berry here was softly intact, and released that sweet-tart burst with each bite. Berries at their peak of ripeness, a nice crunchy crust on top, a bite of ice cream....awesome stuff! I don't know who's doing pastry here, but they rocked it. It's worth the trip to 23rd just to have this after dinner treat.

So, the bottom line here is that we both thought dinner was very good. All the plates were well presented, the eating with your eyes standard fully upheld. Our server Dana was excellent, although in a space this big it is always nice to have a few more bodies around. Not an every day place at these prices (our dinner would have been $171, with wine, before tip), but for a special splurge well worth it. I hope that they do this good a job for everyone. Even though our dinner was comped, we did order right off the regular menu, and I would hope...because they should...that they would take this much care with every plate out of the kitchen for every customer.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

When Chefs Cook

I love Michael Ruhlman's writing. I've read a few of his books, and check in on his blog regularly. This entry from a couple of weeks ago is enough to get any cook/eater/food voyeur's appetite (and envy) going!

photo from Ruhlman's blog

Monday, August 11, 2008

DOC: we're all in this (one room) together!

What I like best about DOC Portland's new Micah Camden-owned Killingsworth Street outpost (along with Beast and Yakuza Lounge): it's the first time I've never entered a restaurant through the kitchen, at left) to get to my seat in the dining room (right). But that is exactly what you do when you walk through the front door in this tiny jewel-box space, and it's a pretty cool, and unique, experience. DOC refers to the Italian wine appellations, which is the focus of Camden's menu and floor manager Austin Bridges well put together wine list.

I was invited to a multi-course media dinner there recently, where they get to show off their stuff and hope we all rave about it to others. Yeah it's free, but for myself and hopefully others there, it doesn't mean some built in obligation to say good things because, well, it's free. It also doesn't mean you're going to have the same experience. In the good ways, I hope you do. On the dish that missed, hopefully not.

Overall it was a really well done meal. It started with an anitpasta of purslane, torpedo onions, beef and bing cherry sugo. Very fresh and original, and paired perfectly with, and a first for me, a merlot based prosecco that was delicious. Next up was a gnocchi (left) with beets, corn, and chives. Not only delicious, but this was really pretty to look at, the gnocchi colored by the beets, perfectly pillowy and light. Excellent with the brilliantly fresh and crisp 2007 Branko Tocai Friulano.

Then came my favorite plate, a brilliantly executed piece of albacore (right) with paper thin slices of lardo laid across it, softly melting into the fish. All on top of a peach and padron pepper purée. Tuna and pork fat together. Of's like the ultimate surf and turf. Really, really good!

Then came the dish that just didn't quite click for me. A shared platter of slow cooked hen-of-the-woods mushrooms (good) with grilled Italian artichokes (not so good) and sliced cherry tomatoes (underripe with green stem ends, surprisingly since they are everywhere...and the markets). The stewed mushrooms with caramelized onions worked, but the artichokes were tough and hard to eat (and yes, I've had them nay times and know how to work my way though them). Also the tomatoes weren't near sweet enough, and the whole dish was a mish mash of contrasting flavors.

Luckily, our two finishing courses made up for it, as the kitchen rolled out a cheese plate, always an underappreciated thing at the end of a meal, as well as perfectly prepared cannoli with blueberries. This is the way to send people out, and the cannoli echoed the whole vibe of DOC. It was very comfortable, the servers were spot on, you get a chance to interact with the kitchen since you're literally all in one not-so-big room which adds to its homey..and yet in a way edgy...concept. There's a lot of promise at DOC, and I would definitely go back to see how things develop.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Dowd on Obama-envy

Not to turn this into a non-food blog (I promise the food news will return tomorrow), but I just read this brilliant op-ed from Maureen Dowd that was in yesterdays NY Times. I don't always get with her snarky, "how could you possibly not agree with me" rants, but this one is so spot on regarding McCain's Obama-envy. It begins....

"Not since Iago and Othello obsessed on the comely Cassio, not since Richard of Gloucester killed his two nephews, not since Nixon and Johnson glowered at the glittering J.F.K., has there been such an unseemly outpouring of boy envy."

And goes on from there, taking down Bill Clinton and Jesse Jackson along the way. Great stuff Mo-D!

The K2 Climbing Tragedy

I have to admit to being riveted by the tragic story of the climbers who were lost on K2 over the weekend. In case you missed it, K2 is the woeld's second highest peak, about 1,500 miles west and north from Everest. It is considered much more difficult to summit than Everest due to the difficulty of the routes to the top. This past weekend part of an icy overhang (in the pic above the overhang is shown just below and right of the summit) broke off, killing four climbers, cutting ropes and stranding several other climbers above 26,000 feet, an area known as the "dead zone" because of the lack of oxygen. Climbers say that every minute you spend above this zone without oxygen, you are basically dying. A total of 11 climbers ended up being killed in this event, and one climber whose semi-frostbitten feet and hands wouldn't, by some lucky twist of fate, allow him to attempt the summit and forced him to turn back, Nick Rice (with K2 behind him in picture at left), has an incredible blog that details his expedition and gives a day by day account of the tragedy from someone who was right there. I just came across Rice's blog yesterday, and it is fascinating, harrowing reading. To cut to the chase, begin at post 56 and read on from there. This is an incredible story, and much like Krakauer's Into Thin Air, you know a book will be forthcoming.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

The great outdoors!

How could I have not known about Elliot Glacier Pub? I've driven by and through Parkdale, a pretty darn cute little town many times on my way to hike or explore in the Mt. Hood/Hood River Valley area. But somehow this incredible slice of beervana about 15 or so miles south of Hood River totally escaped me. I read a mention of it recently somewhere, and since w and I were heading up towards Tamawanas Falls for a little leg stretching activity, this seemed the perfect reward. Okay, maybe we jumped the gun on the reward part because we actually hit the pub before our hike. Perfect! The pub is housed in an old building on the main street that runs through Parkdale. You walk into a narrow dining room with a mezzanine above it, order food on the right (in our case a kick ass plate of cheesy good chicken verde nachos), and your beer at the bar on the left. They not only brew all their own...really delicious...beers on premise, but they also make all the food from scratch. But the big payoff comes when you take your refreshing adult malted beverages and walk out the back door to their beer garden where you come face to face with the north face of Mt. Hood looming above you, seemingly within touching distance. This has got to be the best pub view in the state. Awesome!

Here I am in soaking in all sorts of ambiance. Ah, life is good, no?

We got our refreshment on, then hit the road for the hike, which if you're looking for a fairly easy, yet highly rewarding, walk through the woods, this little 4 mile jaunt is the deal. The trail climbs gently along the east fork of the Hood River to beautiful Tamawanas Falls (below). And if you're feeling the need for your own reward after all this "work", then you know where to go! Absolutely put this on your list of Portland day trip activities before the rainy weather sets back in. It is totally worth it!