Saturday, May 30, 2009

Cellar Report: 2001 Owen Roe "DuBrul Vineyard" Syrah

There's almost no one I hold in higher regard in our local wine scene than David O'Reilly, partner/winemaker for Owen Roe wines here in Oregon. His are almost always impeccably made bottles of grape juice. I think in the nine years I've been selling his wine the wines that have only been average or less could be counted on one hand. That takes in scores of wines. His wines are also fairly polarizing. Big fruit extraction, higher alcohol contents and the accompanying richness tend to turn off old world wine purists. But like them or not, there is no denying his passion, his integrity, and his commitment to excellence, both in the vineyard and the winery.

So with that as a background, I was extremely anxious to try the bottle of a wine I took to share with my pals at our dinner at Laurelhurst Market the other night, a 2001 Owen Roe "DuBrul Vineyard" Syrah. The bottle had been lurking in my basement for several years, coming so close to being opened several times. Last Wednesday its time had come. DuBrul Vineyard is one of Washington's finest vineyard sites, and David has made some stellar reds from those grapes. The question with some of these bigger styled "new world" wines is how will they age? Will the fruit stand up to the higher alcohol contents? Is there enough acidity to hold it together? Last year I had a similarly styled 2000 Sineann Merlot that was absolute garbage...totally fallen apart. Which is really fucking frustrating after holding on to it for so long. So when I took the first sniff of the '01 OR Syrah, I knew immediately I should have opened it a year or two earlier. It still had some great aromatics...blackberry, pepper, hints of meatiness....but the vibrancy, the richness, the bounce the fruit had when it was first bottled had almost disappeared. I was hoping the aroma and flavor would fill out as it sat open, but it didn't. It reminded me of someone just entering dementia. They're still aware and show signs of life, but the lights are starting to dim. It was nice, but it should have been so much more. If you're holding some of these wines, then it seems after five years or so it's kind of a crap shoot. In other words: start drinking! All I know is my corkscrew is coming out. No slam at all on David. His wines are still to me among the best made American wines. So I guess in this instance I would have to side with the old world purists on this one (full disclosure: I am definitely a Euro wine lover), as there's a lot to be said for balance, acidity, and restraint. And maybe there is also a lesson for all of you who are shelling out your ego-driven dollars for all those high scoring, high alcohol domestic reds. Just sayin'..........

Don't forget to loom both ways....

A bit of edge-of-your-seat mindless entertainment that I was turned on to by a twitter post from @NancyRomm, featuring those crazy drivin' eastern Euros......

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Quick Bites PDX: Laurelhurst Market

A good sign a restaurant knows its meat: You walk in the front entrance and are immediately greeted by their cooler which is filled with their housemade charcuterie, patés, and trays filled with their more European cuts of beef. I don't remember The Ringside or El gaucho ever showing off their pieces of beef before they cook them. Walking into the front door at Laurelhurst Market on 32nd and East Burnside last night and having that experience only served to heighten my expectations. Thankfully, the meat mavens running LM lived up to almost all of them. Seeing as how they hail from the Viande/Simpatica meat mecca, it comes as no surprise. I went with two other carnivorous types, and we ate our way through a fair amount of the menu. It all only served to make me look forward to a return trip..

Walking into LM, which was built out of the gutted remains of an old convenience store of the same name, you turn left at the meat cooler to enter the light filled dining room. The tables are spread around the room, with the bar curiously hidden behind a half wall on the far side. I only say curiously because they are taking their cocktails seriously at LM, hiring Evan Zimmerman, one of the cities best bartenders. I love watching the action at the bar, and it's odd to see it cut off from the rest of the room. On this warm spring evening they had a few tables arrayed out front, and he big roll up door was wide open, adding to the airy feel of the room. The three of us were seated by the hostess at a table in the middle of the room, and that was where the only glitch of the night occurred. Being the thirsty sorts, we were anxious to explore our beverage options. But for 15 minutes servers kept walking past us, doing that "glancing at the table but not enough for us to engage" thing. Apparently there was some confusion as to whose table it was, to which I can only respond it shouldn't take 15 minutes to figure out. In any event, soon after we had cocktails...a superb sidecar for me and a negroni for my friend AWB which could have used a lemon twist..and wine on the table while we checked out the menu. And there is plenty of temptation on the LM menu.

We started out with their pork rillettes with pickled rhubarb and grilled bread; the house-cured salt cod fritters with aioli (left); the steak tartare (below right); and the Mozzarella, housemade and served with asparagus, bitter greens, and balsamic. All were really delicious. I especially was impressed with the lightness of the salt cod fritters and the dish I can't believe isn't on more menus, the steak tartare. The LM version, mixed with vodka, chives, shallot, and an egg yolk, was chopped and chilled perfectly. This is something I became obsessed with in Italy, and to know I can have it any time within minutes of my house is good news indeed! The rillettes was also moist, tender, succulent under the layer of pork fat, and the mozzarella was exceptionally balanced. The richness of the cheese and dressing played off perfectly against the bitter greens.

For an in between course (and no I can't explain why we needed an "in between course", we just did. I mean, why do certain people "need" fourth meal? Besides the fact that they have no self control or self worth? I mean the fourth meal people, not us.) we shared a bowl of their version of the classic Belgian dish moules frites. They offer it in three different styles. We opted for the seemingly more classic Dijon Crème Fraiche broth, which was excellent. Te mussels were small to medium sized, just as they should be, and the frites were wonderful. Seasoned with salt and herb, they were crispy outside, pillowy inside, plenty of potatoey flavor, and even sitting in the broth they held together. Nicely done.

Then it was on to our reason for being here. The cool thing about the LM menu is they offer cuts you usually don't see at most steak houses, which seem to stick to the filet-rib eye-New York formula. Here my Steak frites was a beautifully charred piece of hangar steak, tantalizingly medium-rare, in a marchand du vin sauce with more of those addictive frites. DOR had the bavette steak with romesco (left), also medium-rare, again with that perfect char and a pungent romesco which may be the ultimate sauce with everything grilled. AWB had the Smoked Tri-tip (below), which had the usual tri-tip chew, but not too much, with a striking smokiness and a silky béarnaise sauce. All three were absolutely stellar and perfectly cooked. Again, obviously guys who know how to handle meat, and are meticulous about what comes out of the kitchen and don't mind educating the public to other options beyond the normal. The salads come as extras, in a small and large size. We shared a fresh Arugula with lardons topped with two poached eggs in the large format which was easily enough for four.
We finished off with a lavender crème brulée and a dark, rich chocolate cake of some usual I didn't grab the dessert menu in the haze of an evenings end. The brulée was outstanding, one of the best I've had in a long time. Plus the wine list is varied with something for every taste, and well priced. All in all an impressive showing for a kitchen that has only been cooking for about a week. It wasn't that busy when we were there so it'll be interesting to see if they can keep it firing as smoothly when the line is jammed. I hope so, because it is such a nice "steak house" option that gets you away from the over-priced and uninspired chains.
Laurelhurst Market on Urbanspoon
##### ##### #####
one year ago today @ E.D.T.: Italian ideals at Scopa in Healdsburg, Ca.!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Summer soup: Vichyssoise

A beautiful warm spring night with bocce on the lawn, numerous bottles of rosé, bubbles, and white wine, and a fabulous dinner prepared by our friends N&R, with DOR and his fabulous wife along for the fun....this is yet another reason why my head spins at how fortunate I am (it couldn't have been all that wine, right?). When we were invited over, I of course felt the need to contribute. I mean coning over to food-loving friends empty handed is just not done, even though they are both incredible cooks. BTW- the chicken dish we had was unbelievable. The sauce almost brought me to tears. Oh, and N's morel mushroom toasts (pic at right) were also worth weeping over! I'll share with you as soon as I pry the recipes away from them. So when N said surprise us, I took my cue from the seeming Frenchiness of the night. The warm evening, bocce, French rosés and vin blancs, an awesome platter of grilled veggies a la R w/ romesco (pic at left) seemed made for the vichyssoise recipe I had just read in the must-have-in-every-cooking-library "Roast Chicken and Other Stories" by the Brit author Simon Hopkinson. His vichyssoise, which is a very high-falutin' sounding name for simple potato-leek soup with cream that is served chilled, was fast, easy, and when blended thoroughly a silken bowl of goodness that elicited much praise. It's one of those classics that I had always wanted to make, and for outdoor dinner parties this summer, it's the perfect cool, palate pleasing jolt of France!
*** *** *** *** ***
from Simon Hopkinson

6 leeks, white parts only, trimmed and sliced
3 cups light chicken stock
2 russet potatoes, peeled and chopped
Salt and white pepper
1 cup heavy cream
Small bunch chives

Simmer the leeks in chicken stock, covered, for 20 minutes. Add the potatoes, salt, and pepper and cook, covered, for another 20 minutes. Blend in batches until smooth, then strain if needed through a fine mesh sieve, cool, and add the cream. Correct the seasoning and chill thoroughly. Serve in ice cold bowls and garnish with chives.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Simple Salmon

If we should learn anything from all the zeitgeist that is the "respect for food", especially in this season where everything fresh is available, from the produce starting to burst out of your farmer's market stalls to the spring salmon schooling at our NW fish mongers, it is that simple is better. Here in Portland we are incredibly fortunate to be able to buy fresh wild caught aren't buying farm raised anymore, are you??....for unbelievably low prices. The sockeye pictured above was $8.99 a pound at our local supermarket. If you think I'm going to disrespect a beautiful filet by mucking it up with spice rubs, heavy sauces, or anything else that interferes with the fresh, clean, fatty taste of wild salmon, you would be sadly mistaken. The only sauce that goes with my 'qued salmon is a bottle of Oregon Pinot Noir in my glass (yes, one of the ultimate food and wine matches). With less than 60 seconds of prep, you can savor one of the best things you'll pull off the grill all summer. Here's all you need to do: build your charcoal fire, medium hot heat. Pat the salmon dry, drizzle about a teaspoon of olive oil on it, spreading the oil around the whole piece. salt and pepper and you're done. Clean off your grill, place salmon meaty side down, grill for 2 or 3 minutes, watching for flare-ups. Carefully turn it over and grill another 2-3 minutes skin side down. When done (you can peek in between the meat sections with a paring knife; just like a steak you'll lose a ton of flavor and texture if you cook it well done) gently slide a spatula between the skin and meat. The filet should lift right off, leaving the skin behind. I threw some fresh spring asparagus that I tossed with olive oil, salt, and pepper on the grill. When that was done I squeezed a little lemon juice over the whole seasonal mess and ate and drank my way to happiness....ahh, spring!!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Eating Vancouver '09: The Battle of the Baos!

I've made no secret of my pining ways when it comes to missing the awesome Chinese food we had last fall on our trip to Shanghai and Hong Kong (hit the archive tab on the right for late October/early November 2008 for details). Holding an especially warm place in my hungry heart are the perfectly satisfying xiao long bao (Chinese soup dumplings) we had. Impossible to find in Portland, we hide high hopes on our Vancouver trip. We were tipped off to a couple of spots in the Richmond suburb on this local 'Couv blog that are reputed to know the way of the dumpling. So on our way out of town we made the stops at both for The Battle of the Baos.

Our first stop was Shanghai Wonderful, a fairly small spot in one of the innumerable strip malls that dot this suburban landscape. I had been anticipating this moment ever since we left Portland, so with breath held and hopes high we placed our order. w also added on an order of veggie hum bao (steamed veggie buns), because apparently the Chinese restaurants in Portland have also found these seemingly simple items to be the food equivalent of nano physics. Our two bamboo steamers were placed on the table alongside the requisite ginger-soy dipping sauce. Now the thing with xiao long bao is that the wrapper is everything. It should be tender, almost translucent, barely holding in the soup and meat within, yet sturdy enough to be picked up with chopsticks. So we gently picked up the steaming delicacies, dipped them, bit holes in the edge to suck out the soup without splattering ourselves (which is one of those learned skills)....and both our eyes went wide. THIS is what we had been missing. The wrapper was perfectly tender, a little bit of tooth, the soup broth rich, the ground pork mixture inside not too dense (although slightly too bulky we thought). I immediately wanted to order another half dozen, but w reminded me we had one more stop. I wanted to remind her we ate three dozen in Shanghai in one sitting, but that seemed best not mentioned. Besides we were both still slightly stuffed from the previous night's extravagance at Tojo's. Still, it's nice to know excellent xiao long bao are available without a trip to China. Of course there is that pesky 5-1/2 drive to contend with, but dinner at Vij's and lunch the next day at Shanghai Wonderful as motivation? Totally worth it! Oh, and the hum bao were also spot on (pic above right), the bun light and fluffy holding in the fresh, bright green chopped veggie/nut mix.

We left Shanghai Wonderful blissed out and hopped in the car for the maybe half mile ride to Chen's Shanghai Kitchen, the other bao stop. Where Shanghai Wonderful is clean, bright, and modern with a slightly upscale clientele (although still with cheap prices), Chen's Shanghai is a rundown strip mall, the formica topped tables jammed together, the customers more blue collar that buttoned up. Slightly more my comfort zone. Our bao were soon to arrive at the table, and while quite good, they didn't hit the bar of Shanghai Wonderful. The dipping sauce wasn't quite as flavorful, the skin slightly thicker and a little dry right at the peak. The broth was good and the meat actually slightly smaller, which we preferred. If you could transfer the Chen's ground pork filling into the SW wrapper, you'd have the perfect xiao long bao. Chen's was worth the visit, but for the better expression of bao-ness I absolutely recommend Shanghai Wonderful.
*** *** *** ***
To wrap up the Vancouver trip, here's a couple of other places we liked and are worthy of your stomach real estate....

For dim sum we hit Sun Sui Wah on Main Street, a short drive from our hotel. The classic large, brightly lit room that when we arrived not long after they opened wasn't that busy, but quickly filled up. The choices were plentiful (you order off their dim sum menus, not off of rolling carts) and for the most part everything was delicious. Here's some things we were particularly smitten with....
Steamed bbq pork buns
Delicious siu mai dumplings
The find of the day was their house special fresh mango "pancakes". The women at the next table were most inistent that we try them. Egg crepe wrapped around fresh mango and whipped cream. Yeah, they were that good! Not heavy at all or too sweet, very pretty to look at, better to eat! Something I'd love to make at home.

Also just kitty corner from our hotel, and recommended by my friend in malted beverages ChuckB, was the Railway Club downtown, a very cool old beer bar originally built in the early 1930s, where the selections are numerous and esoteric. A passion for craft beer clearly shows through here. They also have live music most nights, friendly beertenders, and a cozy feel. Check it out!
Then as I mentioned in the Vij's post, a great place to hang while you're waiting for your table at that temple of sub-continent sublimity is Bin 942 right down Granville Street. The sister restaurant of...and how original is this...Bin 941, they have excellent tapas (that's the goat cheese croquette and clams with chorizo above; both 5$ for a small plate) and VERY generous wine pours in a cozy-cool space. A good spot to try the local BC juice!

Lunch love!

From the fertile mind of Kevin Sandri and his Garden State food cart over in Sellwood, today's specials are some great Salt Cod Fritters and his new Hoagie Style sando. I snacked on the fritters and am going hoagie style as I type this, and both are fabulous. The aioli with thr fritters in a lighly marinated mushroom cxap is inspired, and the generous helping of meat on the hoagie hits all my ahppy spots! As with all things Garden State, you never know how long they'll be around so get 'em while you can.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Eating Vancouver '09: food insanity, pt.2-the Church of Vij's

We've all had Indian food. Probably fairly decent Indian food. It's one of w and my favorite cuisines. Complex flavors, pungent spices...even the vegetarian dishes are some of the best things I've eaten. Then there's Vij's in Vancouver, BC. I thought I had a pretty good handle on how good sublime sub-continent cooking could be. Turns out I'm not so well informed and I blame our dinner at Vij's for bursting that bubble. We'd read about Vij's and the incredible food rumored to be flowing out of the kitchen. We have the Vij's cookbook. Many of our friends who had been to the 'Couv were salivating as they told us we HAVE to go. So we went. We knew about the "get there at opening or you wait 1-1/2 hours" thing. We didn't and we waited (although a good part of that wait was spent in a very cool nearby wine bar, Bin 942). There are very few dinners worth waiting 90 minutes for, but I would wait for this again in a heartbeat. In fact, going to Vij's alone is almost worth an overnight trip from Portland. Crazy food, absurdly flavorful, awesome service. One thing we noticed as we looked around is that the whole staff is women. Kitchen, floor staff, host. Our server explained that when Vikram Vij opened the restaurant, he put his new wife Meeru in charge of the kitchen. In a confined space where bodies are constanly bumping into noe another, it wouldn't have worked to have men being in contact with women, so an all-woman kitchen staff evolved, and it seems to have carried over to the front. Now I don't know if this is the reason or not (it is according to our server), but the whole restaurant exudes this calm aura. There's no tension in the air, just seamless attention to detail. I've always said if I opened another restaurant I would absolutely hire a female chef. It's a rare male chef who doesn't let his testosterone-driven ego get in the way. This only reaffirms that observation.

Enough of that, it's time to focus on what's important. So here's the Vij's show-and-tell. May I suggest you lean away from your keyboards to keep from drooling all over your keys.....
Our first appetizer, Spicy Ground Cricket Paranta with tomato-onion chutney and celeriac salad. The flour for the flatbread is actually made partially from ground crickets! It was delicious, and the chutney was so flavorful, and they gave us a little bowl of whole fried crickets (pic at top left) which we sprinkled on top. They were delicious, witha salty crunch. Here's a pic of the way to get your insect on (take that Bourdain!):
next up....
This was a pungent, incredibly spiced Jackfruit in a black cardamom and cumin masala. The jackfruit had pineapple-like texture, and the sweet fruit and spiciness were, of course, perfect together.
Our server highly recommended we order this app, BC Spot Prawns (fresh off the boat that morning she said) with spinach and mung sprouts in a coconut and lemon curry. She was correct. The shrimp was so bright and fresh, and a lemon infused curry is obviously something I need to experiment with!
w ordered the Marinated and Grilled Sablefish with grilled zucchini in a mango reduction. Read that again and you'll know all you need to know about how amazingly delicious this was: "grilled fish in mango reduction". Of course when you have a mastery of Indian spices and know just what to add, it helps. A beautifully cooked piece of fish, moist and tender, dredged through the sauce it absolutely pops in your mouth!
My pick was their Wine Marinated Lamb Popsicles (what do you think of that dds? The Greek's don't have a monopoly on lamb "popsicles"!) in a fenugreek cream curry on turmeric spinach potatoes. This was simply stunning (although w said the same thing about her sablefish, and it was). The lamb was a wonderful, juicy medium-rare, the cream curry was silky smooth and defines "understated", yet it filled my mouth with so much flavor. A ridiculous combination that as I look at the picture, I know it is something I MUST have again!

For wine we ordered a bottle of Hugel Sylvaner, a crisp, delicious Alsatian white that was spot on with all the different flavors. w considers, and I can only agree, that this is one of the best meals of any kind we have ever had. Brilliant, stunning cooking in a serene settting. This is why I can only feel blessed to be able to have an experience like this. If Tojo's was food as art, this is food as religion.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Eating Vancouver '09: Food insanity, pt.1-Tojo's

That is the only way to describe two of our dinners out in the 'Couv last weekend. Easily the two best meals I've ever had back-to-back, in fact the best Japanese and Indian food I've had out. To save on too much blather, I'll just do the pictorial with short comments to add to the obvious flavor.....

First up, Tojo's "Omakase", where Hidekasu Tojo is doing miraculous things with local ingredients. Tojo has a reputation on par with Masa Takayama's eponomously named restauarnt in Manhattan. After this meal is was easy to see why. The key here is to grab some of the coveted seats at the sushi counter, which in a sign of the down economy we were able to do on short notice. When you sit at the counter you get served "omakase" style, where small courses come one after the other, according to the chef's whim, and limited only by your appetite (which when it comes to me is a slightly scary position to be put in, being that I'm a boy who has a terrible time saying no, especially to great food). All we had to do was answer two questions: Are we allergic to anything and are we adventurous eaters? After our "no" and "yes" answers, Tojo told us he would make us things we had never had before, and my anticipation ratcheted up about ten levels. With that, our first course....
Incredible bluefin sashimi, each slice is about a half inch thick. The best sashimi I have ever put in my mouth, so achingly tender. Tojo told us "Don't use your teeth, only tongue" (the first in a running set of instructions throughout dinner: "no soy sauce"; "use fingers, no chopsticks, no sauce"), which caused the flavors to explode all over our mouths. Amazing!
Since I forgot to take a picture of the second course, an earthy, pure tasting soup of shiitake mushrooms with a scallop puree that was as good as it sounds, I'll include a pic of Tojo (on the left) doing witchcraft behind the counter.
This was a succulent pile of octopus, lightly sauced, topped with flower blossoms. BTW-the sauce descriptions here are pretty non-existent, because I am unfamiliar with Japanese cooking, and I was too busy swooning and weeping to ask any questions. Suffice to say they were all perfectly matched to our dishes. The octopus again was super clean, with just the right chew to it according to w. For me maybe a little tough...slightly...maybe.....
A beautifully presented sea urchin "stew", with chunks of sea urchin and bits of unagi in an incredibly rich broth. This was my first experience with sea urchin, and if it is all this good I'd bathe in it. Another stellar composition. After this course, w already had her "I'm getting full" look going. Which of course meant I had to finish her last bite!

From a presentation standpoint my favorite dish of the night. A bowl of steaming hot fish soup is placed before you, covered in a light paper cloth that has been tied down. You untie the string, and lift the cloth to have this whoosh of ethereal, steamy fish essence assault your nostrils. An absolute sensual experience, and the soup itself was of course brilliant!
The next course...what is this, five, six courses in?....was two simply presented pieces of sushi, one toro, one shrimp, which of course was the perfect counterpoint to the previous course's rich broth.
These were the first of two courses of rolls. Honestly I can't remember what kind of fish was in them, but it was incredibly flavorful, and part of what made it so intriguing was the egg wrapper, which I had never experienced before (as Tojo promised at the beginning).
This was simply incredible. I saw the chef making it for someone earlier, and was praying it would be on our menu. Imagine a sheet of impossibly thin cucumber, stuffed with lobster, butternut squash tempura, avocado, and asparagus. The whole roll was sliced into 3/4" pieces, each of us got three pieces. Stunning to look at, the picture doesn't do justice to the vibrant color. The flavor was unbelievable, the textures of each ingredient playing off of each other like a perfectly tuned orchestra. My favorite dish of the night. Astonishingly good, and fabulously creative.
At this point w, in her wisdom, decided she was done. They asked me if I wanted another course, and like a horse who will keep eating until his stomach explodes, I just nodded my head "yes, just one more". Tojo, with a smile on his face, said it would be a few minutes. It was, and set before me was a stunning piece of halibut cheek sautéed with sesame seeds pressed into it atop some small greens with flower blossoms delicately set on top of a pile of daikon slivers. Again, so well composed, food as art if it ever was. The sauce surrounding it, again I have no idea what it was comprised of, was crazily rich, the whole dish telling you "If you weren't done before, you are now!" And I was........

......until our waiter offered us dessert. We were both so full, and tried, really tried, to say no. but he insisted, saying "no, so small, so fresh". Alright, alright, bring it on. We picked up our spoons, and our palates were instantly shocked awake by the fresh heat of ginger sorbet, topped with a raspberry with a sesame cracker. The sorbet was sublime, and ending to a meal that couldn't have gone better. Tojo's is something special. Be forewarned you do pay...a lot...for your pleasure. Was it worth it? To experience Japanese food as good as it can possibly be from an insanely talented cooking savant, for me I'd have to say hell yes.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Eating Vancouver '09: quick bites, pt.1

Here's a few quick hits from our eating safari to Vancouver, BC last weekend. Places we liked, one we thought was totally over-hyped, and leaving out the best Indian and Japanese food I have ever had (more on the glory that is Vij's and Tojo later)...

One of our main goals in Vancouver was to eat as much good Asian food as we could, because really authentic, quality Chinese/Japanese food is sadly lacking in Portland. So after our trip to Salt Tasting Room our next stop was dinner at Hapa Isakaya, which is seemingly on everyone's must stop list for excellent izakaya, the famous Japanese small plates/drinking tradition. But first, since we had to walk right by on our way back to the hotel, our pals N&R had also recommmended drinks at Chambar. Certain people you trust for certain things. If N&R had said they serve killer cocktails on that burning barge out in the bay, I'd put on my asbestos suit and belly up to the bar. Chambar is just south of Gastown, in the one block nice/one block seedy 'Couv downtown. In fact it kind of shocking how many homeless/junkies/hookers are out on the streets in this downtown area. One can only assume that social services are woefully lacking. In any event, I'm here to refresh my palate, not make societal judgements, so it was tha we wandered into Chambar. This is a really cool spot, a casually elegant Belgian styled bar (where a couple of days later had some awesome moules frites). Before we ordered I watched the bartenders making drinks, and they seemed to know their stuff, so it was with growing confidence I asked them to make me something served up with gin. Anything they wanted, I was good with. Our provider said she had the perfdect thing, and she wasn't lying. Appearing before me, in a pretty foamy green martini glass, was this luscious concoction of gin, green chartreuse,rhubarb bitters, lime juice, basil, and egg white....
Deliciousness defined from Chambar

We wandered out of Chambar, back to the St. Regis to change for dinner. One thing we really were impressed by was how walkable the downtown area was. Our hotel was perfectly situated to reach Gastown, Robson Street, Chinatown....a great base. We walked the two blocks to Robson and headed west to get to Hapa Izakaya, which was supposed to be not only very hip and trendy, but also was reputed to serve some of the best Japanese small plates in the city. On our way there we wandered by a place that would soon get my appetite's attention, but first we were on a misiion to get our izakaya on. Walking into the darkly list Hapa, with its pulsing techno music and good looking clientele (which of course we only added to...), we also noticed that for the all female wait staff there seemed to be a certain "cleavage requirement". Now I'm not sure if it has always been like this or if it is a recession driven marketing tool, it's just an observation. We had read there would be a long wait without reservations, but were seated at our table within 10 minutes of arriving, another recession benefit we experienced at numerous places. Did Hapa measure up to the hype. No. Well, let me clarify: No. Plate after plate, while looking good and with fresh quality ingredients, was over-sauced or poorly prepared. The beef carpaccio had perfectly tender thinly sliced meat buried under a too sweet sauce. The fried octopus with curry was tough. The hamachi was drizzled with a sickly sweet and salty soy-based sauce, ruining what was otherwise a fresh, clean piece of fish. The veggie plate defined "meh". The only saving grace was the squid plate, which was tender, slightly charred and smoky, with a aioli dipping sauce. It was the only dish we had where they didn't fuck it up with too much "creativity", letting the food speak for itself. Dejectedly we wandered out onto Robson, hoping this was the exception and not the rule for our trip.

It was on our way back to thehotel that w, and this is she is the perfect girl for me, said "what about the place we walked by earlier that you said you wanted to check out?" What we'd passed by earlier was this....
Babylon Café, a literal hole-in-the-wall shawerma joint, where I noticed on the way to Hapa there was a line out the door waiting to order and people standing outside eating their just purchased wraps. For me not to be satisfied at dinner is a situation that must be remedied immediately, even if I'm not really that hungry. It feels like a betrayal to go to bed without the taste of something good. So I took my place in the line to Babylon, and proceeded to be served the most wondrous pita wrapped sandwich I've ever had. Run by a couple who take the cash and carve the meat off the spits (I opted for the chicken option), and let you decide what you want on it (I opted for the "everything" option....of course). This was drippy, delicious, and unbelievably satisfying. I am absolutely craving one just typing this.....damn! Vancouver's 5-1/2 hours away, I could almost be up and back before anyone knew I was gone...................
##### ##### #####
one year ago today @ E.D.T.: happy hour PDX at Serrato!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Vancouver '09: let the eating commence!

That pic to the left is exactly what my vacations tend to be about. Sipping effervescent glasses of bubbly while a chef prepares my latest indulgence. And that's the way it was at Salt Tasting Room in Vancouver, one of the first stops on the culinary tour of this strikingly beautiful piece of BC. Our friends Nancy and Randy had given us several recommendations, of which Salt was right up there. Within walking distance of our hotel, the very affordable and well situated St. Regis, Salt is located in the Gastown area, which is a rehabbed...sort where there are still plenty of homeless among the tourist shops and restaurants, they've just been shoved off into less noticeable areas.

We walked down the ominously but not aptly named Blood Alley, where the sign for Salt sits high on a building. Salt is a sleek, minimally done wine bar/small plates resto (small plates being the of-the-moment way to eat in the 'Couv) that could easily be too stark, but is actually quite comfortable. Two long communal tables (they also have a room in the cellar with more tables and a glassed-in meat/wine cellar room), a bar and tables in front. The deal here is you choose meats and cheeses off their blackboard menu, in groups of three, then pick three condiments to go with them. They source their meat from some of the city's best purveyors, and the plates are very nicely presented. You can see our picks at right. They also list a couple of specials on the board, one of which was torchons of foie gras. Ah, the fatted goose. Who am I to deny his liver? This was deliciously rich with a sprinkling of sea salt, spread on slices of bread with housemade rhubarb compote. "Yummy" doesn't it justice. We washed down this pleasure with a couple of glasses of bubbly followed by a local red and white, which was just enough to fuel us to our next stop..........