Tuesday, December 30, 2008


It's going to be a good winter! Just out of the Amazon box today are two new cookbooks that I've been salivating over for some time. Molly Stevens' "All About Braising", considered by many to be the bible on that subject that warms cold weather souls like no other; and "Fish Without a Doubt" by Rick Moonen and Roy Finamore, which I spied on Gourmet Magazine's best of list and knew I needed so I could have something, anything, less fattening in my cooking repertoire. Plus it seems the perfect yin to the braising yang. Stay tuned for further, hopefully delicious, reports!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Mr. Chan's Hong Kong Fried Noodles

In keeping with the tradition that no stomach goes unstuffed at the Chan family dining table, w's dad has sent us off to the airport today with a last lunch of his trademark Hong Kong style fried noodles. See that large 12" platter in the foreground? That's one of three....for six people. As always, deliciousness and feelings of contenment were in abundance. Thanks B&R for a generous, filling, and unforgettable holiday!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Bay Area Imbibing

I don't know about you, but for me any trip requires rigorous preparation. I can break down my total trip planning into three simple steps:
#1: Where am I going to eat?
#2: Where am I going to drink before I eat?
#3: Where am I going to sleep after I have found the answers to #1 and #2?

For anyone who is planning a getaway to San Francisco, two recent articles in the NY Times and the SF Examiner may provide some answers to #2. In exploring question #2, the Examiner also provides an answer to #1 by mentioning one of my favorites, NOPA (to read my post about dinner at NOPA, click here). Since I sadly don't have an upcoming trip to SF planned, I hope this helps one of you!

photo of the Alembic Bar courtesy of NY Times
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one year ago today @ E.D.T.: a perfect finish with this fab Ginger-Pear Crisp!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Everything's bigger in Texas....including my ass!

Okay, this isn't really my ass. It actually belongs the the unwitting, well fed, and I'm sure very nice person sitting next to us at Ninfa's in Houston. But if I don't get the hell out of Dodge soon, that "one chair isn't enough" girth could be me! Between the feeding frenzy going on at w's parents house, where every meal is an exploration of delicious Chinese, and unfortunately for my weak will, overabundant cooking courtesy of her dad, then it's going out to a place like Ninfa's, where overabundance seems to be their credo. Unfortunately high quality isn't.

w had been to Ninfa's on previous trips to this city built on a swamp (with all the discomfort that entails), so after eating yet another extravagantly generous and satisfying dinner the night before her parents house, we went to Ninfa's for lunch for an ethnic change of pace. Ninfa's is a mini-chain, with locations scattered across the endless sprawl of Houston. We chose the original location, because it seemed like the best way to get the flavor. It was jammed at midday, and we were squeezed into a dark corner table and immediately set upon by their very friendly waiters, whose mission it seems to be to make sure you are served endless (free) chips and salsa, drinks (average margaritas), and so-so Tex Mex food in large ass portions.
We started out with Shrimp Poppers, which were a bit too cheesy and unremarkable except for its over-mayonaissed dipping sauce. Then came two Pork Sopes (left), little masa cups with shredded pork, salsa, and sour cream which we both really liked, and which in her wisdom, sensing stomach real estate trouble ahead, w was wise not to finish. Of course, and as always, I was not.

For her main plate, w ordered their red fish tacos (left), which she thought were really well done. Not in the dry, over-cooked sense, but in the tasty, correctly made way. Fresh fish, crisp, not-too-heavy batter, hand made tortillas, nice sides of salsa fresca and guacamole. To achieve my goal of becoming like my friend in the picture, I ordered one of those combo plates with a crispy beef taco (good), chicken fajitas (very good), and a cheese enchilada (disgusting). All the calories and fat without the satisfaction. Mmmmm........

The service from our waiter was stellar, the food mediocre, and proves that if you throw gargantuan portions of mediocrity at people for a reasonable price, they'll keep coming.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Merry Freakin' Christmas

I may be down in Houston...the reason for the posting hiatus.... for the Chan family Christmas (more on that in future posts), but thanks to a tip from my friend bobbo, I was reminded that it's never too late to say Merry Christmas!!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Snow(shoe) Day!

Just because we can't drive because of all the crazy snow we're getting doesn't mean we aren't getting fed. Besides, what better way to rationalize indulgence at EVOE than working it off before and after with a snowshoe stroll through the winter wonderland that Portland has become. Sitting inside the cozy space at the big table letting Kevin stuff us yet again while watching snow falling outside on the street was about as good as it gets! Here's how the reward system works for w and I..........
Perfectly seared scallops on top of sliced fennel that's been tossed with olive oil, a little lemon juice, and sea salt, with pomegranate seeds scattered about like little Christmas ornaments.
An amazingly ample portion of fabulously succulent Big Table Farm pork loin on top of locally sourced garbanzos and kale. This was insanely good!

Santa will be a little late this year......

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Quick Bites PDX: Bunk Sandwich, pt.2; and Apizza Scholl's "Sicilian Sunday"

w's comment about Bunk Sandwich midway through lunch the other day: "It's very manly in here". She was referring I think to the overwhelmingly male clientele who happened to be working their way through meat meister Tommy Habetz's menu of fleshily fabulous sandos. She could just as easily been talking about the atmosphere. The hood was barely keeping up with the smoke off the grill adding to the olfactory assault, and right in front of us the guys on the line were chopping and slapping together the various offerings. My friend Joseph happened to wander in and grab a seat next to us at the counter...by far the best seat in the house....and he correctly observed that even though Bunk had only been open about three weeks (at that point) it had the feel of a place that had been around for years. Also the sandwiches with chips when they're put down in front of you don't look that big, but every time I'm done I am stuffed. Of course it also be the added and must have sides of incredible bacon and egg potato salad and the best red beans and rice in the city that I also consumed, but this is old school lunch the way it was...and now is!
I had to try the Meatball and Parm Hero (top pic), having heard raves. It was solid, nearly equal to the perfection that is the Garden State version. w, being one not to be intimidated by all the perceived testosterone, ordered the grilled eggplant and pepper sandwich (above). It was about as good as a vegetarian sandwich can get, although going veg at Bunk seems roughly akin to asking were the condoms are at your local Christian supply house. That's not what you should be tere for, right? In any event, more kudos to T.H. for nailing a concept and creating my new Monday addiction.
Bunk Sandwiches on Urbanspoon
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A couple of Sunday's ago on a cold ass night, w and I were searching for sustenance after getting our holiday fix at a so-so performance of The Nutcracker by Oregon Ballet Theater. Now it had been snowing ever so slightly and the streets were mildly slick, so of course every person in Portland went into a panic and bars were closing all over town. Which is another reason east coast transplants laugh at us. We wanted a drink and a snack, and headed up to Higgins. Now I know a lot of people who are slavish devotees of Greg Higgins food, but I always seem to look at the menu and find it incredibly uninteresting (with an accompanying wine list that offers very little value). w and I grabbed a couple of seats in the bar, checked it out, and both of us were like "meh". So we beat it out of there, and continued the search. After driving by a couple of other places that were, of course, closed, we ended up in our 'hood at Apizza Scholl's, which has recently opened Sundays for their "Sicilian Sunday", where they offer meatball hero's and Sicilian-style pizzas with a thicker crust than their usual crisp crust version of pizza perfection. We had a half pesto-mozz/half meatball pizza (that's it in the lame cell phone pic) and it was rocking. The shocker is that this is the one day you can also order pizza to go. Of course you have to order in person, but for Apizza's "our way or the highway" mentality that is a seismic shift. Plus the Sunday thing, which runs from 4-8, is much mellower than the usual Tuedsay-Saturday mayhem.
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one year ago today @E.D.T.: going old school with a classic Sidecar Cocktail!

Christmas with Barack...ho-ho-Hawaii!

If w can find the information on the house in Hawaii where the Obama's are having their Hula Christmas at in about 3 minutes on the internet while sitting in bed this morning, then you get an idea where reporters/stalkers/groupies get their information. She cross referenced the info in this article in the NYT with a rental search and came up with this. Natural pool. Beachfront. That's what $2,500+ a day gets you on Oahu. Think O is looking forward to chilling by the pool with a mai tai or several? Merry freaking Christmas, Mr. President-to-be! Is it January 20th yet??

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The King is dead, long live the King!!

Until a few years ago I used to think that ketchup was the undisputed King of Condiments. Heinz ruled the tomatoey kingdom (and still does as far as all things ketchup go). But times change, and with my ever expanding world view (to go with my equally expanding waistline), I am now an Aioli Advocate.

Garlicky mayonnaise. Is anything simpler, or more versatile in the condiment firmament? On burgers, with grilled fish, shrimp, veggies. Dipping french fries. Yum!! Plus it takes well to riffing, as the following will attest. Add a few spices into your mix, and you can tailor it to suit any edible exploring that may be happening. I did this particular Smoked Paprika Aioli to go with some sautéed shrimp and fried okra poppers (I'll post those as soon as I get them just right...I'm very close) I was feeding my friends for an app course before a recent dinner party. It was fantastic, and received glowing reviews. And sure, you could make your own aioli from scratch, and I have and it's actually even better, but I agree with Bittman, there's nothing wrong with using a Best Foods (or Heileman's, depending on your geographic location) base. Follow this or do your own take. So good!
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Smoked Paprika (Pimenton) Aioli
adapted from Mark Bittman/How to Cook Everything

This would also be an awesome condiment with the Spanish Roast Halibut mentioned at the bottom of this post, which is divine!

1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 teaspoon smoked Spanish paprika (pimenton)
1-1/2 teaspoons finely minced garlic, or to taste

method (now read this carefully, because it gets REALLY complicated):
1- Mix all the ingredients together.

Wow, can you believe you made something so complicated? Take that, Keller!
This actually improved given an hour or two in the fridge, and will last several days for further enjoyment.
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one year ago today @ E.D.T.: Happy Holidays with this incredible Standing Rib Roast with Rosemary-Thyme Crust

Friday, December 19, 2008

Restaurant Deathwatch PDX: Ruth's Chris and Morton's

The death of high end dining in Portland? Hot on the heels of the Titanic-like dining disaster that was Lucier, a well placed source has told me that come January both Ruth's Chris and Morton's, those bastions of expense account dinners, are about to shut their doors sometime in January. Not only is the upper tier (cost-wise) always affected most when the economy is circling the drain, but when businesses are cutting back...drastically...how many $75 steak dinners can be justified to the accounting department?

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Pigging Out (w/ update)

It has become increasingly apparent to me that I will never become a vegetarian. Not that I aspire to a protein deficient diet or anything, but especially in this cold weather season, nothing tastes better than slow-cooked animal flesh. My friend DOR made an amazing mustard-crusted beef tenderloin roast last weekend. Last night I was over at my other friend's Bill and Martha's where he did some incredible cold-smoked boneless pork chops (paired with a bottle of truly perfect 1998 Chateau St. Jean "Cinq Cepages"). I did my standing beef rib roast for friends a couple of weeks ago, and then last Monday I made a lusciously tender braised pork shoulder for w and me. In my meat-centric dietary hierarchy, pork is rapidly overtaking beef at the top of my carnivorous food pyramid. There are some many fun ways to play with the pig...shoulders, chops, tenderloins, ears, and of course the glory that is bacon and all of its cured cousins like pancetta and prosciuotto.

I happened to have a four pound shoulder in my freezer that needed my attention. Pork shoulder has to be the best deal at your butchers. This particular cut was only $1.20 a pound on sale at my local market. That is insane, especially when you consider that with some slow, low heat the fat and connective tissue melts away, tenderizing and flavoring the meat in a way that only confirms God's good intentions for us to be happy. I looked through various cookbooks, then went on the computer where I this particular recipe on epicurious (it had the all important 95% would make it again rating) which I tweaked ever so slightly. The meat just fell aprt when it was done (in a good way!), and the whole thing was so incredibly simple to put together. That five well placed ingredients could combine to produce this was nothing short of mind-boggling. Oh, and really, really satisfying!
UPDATE 12/19: Check the recipe below as I forgot to add that I put a sprig of rosemary and a few sprigs of thyme in with the pork before braising.
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Cider-Braised Pork Shoulder with Caramelized Onions
adapted from epicurious
yield: Makes 4 to 6 servings
active time: 30 min
total time: 3 hr

1 (3- to 4-lb) bone-in or boneless fresh pork shoulder (preferably arm picnic)
4 garlic cloves, cut into slivers
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 lb onions (5 or 6 medium), halved lengthwise, then cut lengthwise into 1/4-inch-thick slices
1-1/4 cup unfiltered apple cider
1 sprig rosemary
3 or so sprigs thyme

1-Preheat oven to 325°F.

2-Score fat and any skin on pork in a crosshatch pattern. Make slits all over meat with a small sharp knife and insert a garlic sliver in each slit. Pat pork dry and season with salt and pepper.
browning the pork
3-Heat oil in a 4- to 5-quart ovenproof heavy pot over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking, then brown meat on all sides, turning occasionally with the aid of tongs and a carving fork, about 8 minutes. Transfer pork to a plate.
onions being sautéd on their way to sweet caramelization

4-Add onions to pot and sauté over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until softened and starting to turn golden, about 5 minutes. Add 3/4 teaspoon salt and sauté, stirring occasionally, until onions are golden and caramelized, 8 to 10 minutes more. Stir in cider and return pork to pot with rosemary and thyme. Cover pot with a tight-fitting lid and braise pork in middle of oven until very tender, 2 1/2 to 3 hours.

5-Transfer pork to a serving dish with the aid of tongs and carving fork. Boil cooking juices with onions until mixture is reduced to about 2 cups, 2 to 3 minutes, then season with salt and pepper and serve with pork.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Doghouse

Yeah it's advertising, but it's really funny advertising!

What, no Eau de Big Mac?

Great, now I can smell like that wadded up sack on the back floor of my car. In yet another sign of that the End of Days is near, Burger King has figured out that what American men want to smell like is.......cooked meat. Fat America, I am pleased to give you Burger King Flame.

Monday, December 15, 2008

My new love

Shun. When I first saw Shun, I just knew........this was it. Very sexy, sleek, elegant, yet with a sharp edge that demands respect. When I hold Shun, my heart starts beating faster. Anticipation. I can feel Shun mold to my hand, ready for whatever task I demand. Onions and garlic are child's play for Shun. Shun likes it rough.....artichokes, butternut squash, your toughest cuts of meat. The further you push Shun's limits, the more you get back. And the more I want.........

Quickly Natasha, Moose and Squirrel are on the loose!

With all due respect to Boris Badanov and Natasha Fatale, you don't have to fear the wrath of Fearless Leader and the powers that be in Pottsylvania should you be foiled once again in your quest to find Bullwinkle J. Moose and Rocket (Rocky) J. Squirrel. You don't even have to venture to the wilds of Frostbite Falls, Minnesota. All you have to do, at least if you live in PDX, is get over to Laurelwood Brewpub (soon, I might add) and you are assured of capturing all the Moose and Squirrel you can handle with their annual (very) limited release of this finest of Russian Imperial Stouts. My sister called this afternoon and said she and and her husband (aka: he with his fingers on the beer pulse of Portland) were heading over. I went, and enjoyed a couple of pints of this chocolately, rich, full-bodied, belly warming holiday treat! Might I suggest you do the same?

For your own taste of the "real" Bullwinkle and Rocky (with Boris and Natasha), click here!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Sea Scallops on a Pea-Mint Purée: simple genius!

Let me repeat myself: I am so damn lucky to have the friends I do. Especially because so many of them have genius cooking skills. I'm not talking molecular gastronomy/sous vide/foaming everything/mad kitchen scientist (aka Grant Achatz) sort of genius. I'm talking the genius of people who just appreciate good food, mostly prepared simply, and who also love sharing what they know. The following recipe is a perfect example of what I call simple genius.

The other night w and I had friends over, and since it was a Monday (when I'm off work), I was looking forward to a day of shopping, prepping, setting the table, all those things that build the anticipation for a great evening and I happen to LOVE doing. Even more so than usual this time because I was being joined by my author pal DOR, who just got back from the India/Nepal border region on a research trip for a new book, suggested we hang out cooking together in my kitchen. Nothing could have sounded better. The night's main course was going to be my, if I may shamelessly prop myself, stellar butternut squash risotto. After apps and cocktails, I wanted to start with a first course of scallops, and DOR mentioned he had a recipe for seared scallops on a pea-mint purée that he was feeling pretty smug about. He has fed me enough incredible food, so there's no need for debate. As you can see from the photo, his dish is beautiful to look at and even more delicious to eat (we decided together that a few fried pancetta bits could only help things). And it was so simple to prepare. The best part is it uses frozen peas, so you can get all food-porny year round. DOR thought it was an old Bittman recipe, but he couldn't remember for sure. Wherever it came from, it left everyone gasping for superlatives. Again, simple genius!

Wine choice: to me this cries out for a crisp, all stainless fermented sauvignon blanc. Maybe a fresh Sancerre from the Loire Valley, or if you can find it (I know where), what I consider the finest sauvignon blanc made in the U.S., the 2007 J. Christopher "Willamette Valley".
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Seared Scallops on a Pea-Mint Purée
Serves 8
3 tablespoons butter
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
16 sea scallops
2 small bags frozen peas
1 cup fresh mint leaves
4 garlic cloves, peeled and halved.
2 small shallots, sliced
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 ounces pancetta, finely diced (optional....but really good!)

1- In a large non-stick skillet on medium heat, add 2 tablespoons butter and one tablespoon olive oil. When butter has melted, add peas, garlic, and shallots. Sauté until peas have thawed and heated slightly. Remove from heat. While peas are heating, put diced pancetta in a small non-stick sauté pan and cook until crisp. Drain on paper towels and set aside.
2- Place pea mixture in a food processor. Add half on mint leaves. Pulse until peas and mint form a coarse purée. Taste, and if minty enough, don't add any more, If not, have at it with more mint leaves. Drizzle in olive oil with motor running until mixture is slightly viscous (about the texture of pesto). Add lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.
3- Rinse scallops, pat dry, and lightly salt both sides. In a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat, add one tablespoon butter and one tablespoon olive oil. When butter melts and foam subsides, add scallops and sear for about 2 minutes per side until a light brown crust forms (see picture). If pan is too crowded, do in batches, and keep finished scallops warm in a 170* oven (they won't be in long enough to cook more).

4- On small plates (if you have white plates, use them because the color just jumps off of them) add a dollop of pea-mint purée, spread slightly, top with two scallops, and sprinkle with pancetta bits. Serve immediately. Feel the love!
Cooks note: DOR also says he uses this as an edibly attractive base for halibut, salmon, and other fish.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

A cute tattoo

As seen on the arm of my Rudy's haircutter Amber

Paris and Chocolate....

......two great things that go great together! If you have plans to visit what I consider the greatest city in the world anytime soon...or not so soon...biking from chocolatier to chocolatier across the city sound like the perfect afternoon. I came across this article on the NYT website today detailing writer Amy Thomas own Le Tour du Chocolat. To her two-wheeled itinerary (and what a way to rationalize indulgence!), I would suggest adding the remarkable artistic caloric creations at Chocolatier Joséphine Vannier (some of whose "pieces" are shown with this post), which w and I visited on our last trip. At so many of these shops, it's almost like you're eating art, which is a fabulous concept!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Dreams do come true! (w/ update at bottom)

About two years and a half years ago on a solo trip to Paris and Spain I found myself in Barcelona for several days. Needless to say Barcelona is one of the most amazing cities in the world. Colorful, vibrant, sensual, and oh yeah, the food is fucking amazing! I spent most mornings at the incredible La Boqueria market, a food lovers mecca and perhaps the greatest food market in the world. If you want it, it's here. Stalls packed cheek to jowl, a riot of noise, color, and edible energy. Just thinking about it makes me want to book my next trip. And of course there's Bar Pinotxo right inside the main entrance. I had read about Pinotxo in an airline magazine article by Barcelona based food and travel (and more) writer Jeff Koehler, who was a friend of one of my customers/friends, Jim, at the wine shack. In Jeff's article he mentioned being at Pinotxo and having a plate of their signature chickpeas and blood sausage (that's the precious in the pic at top left). Knowing good advice when I read it, my first morning in the city I made a beeline to the jammed counter at Pinotxo and ordered my own. It came to me, steaming and looking too delicious. I had one bite and experienced an immediate "Oh, my lord!" sort of moment. I was back every morning for more. One of the worst parts of leaving Barcelona was knowing I wouldn't be able to get another fix of my new food addiction until I came back, and who knows when that would be.

Fast forward two years later. Jim came into the wine shack talking about how his friend Jeff Koehler was coming to town. THAT Jeff Koehler?? I started talking with Jim about Pinotxo and The Legend Of The Chickpeas (he had also experienced their greatness) and we were conspiring to have Jeff get the recipe from the owners of Pinotxo. When Jeff arrived in town, they stopped by VINO, and he turned out to be one of the nicest people I could hope to meet. He said he would try and get the recipe, or at least recreate it in his own kitchen. In gratitude, and to perhaps grease the wheels, I grabbed a bottle Oregon pinot noir (I think it was a single vineyard St. Innocent, one of the finest expressions of local terroir you could drink), and handed it to him as a sort of pre-payment....or bribe. Then a week ago I received an email from Jeff saying he was close to recreating the dish. My heart started beating faster, my stomach began rumbling, and I've been on pins and needles. fork in hand, since. Then this morning The Message came. Success!! Christmas came two weeks early as Jeff said he posted the recipe on his blog. Now that I have my weekend plans laid out, I'm sharing with you so you can share with yours. Am I happy? You bet your ass I am!!! Click here for his post. I have to go now and search for blood sausage.............
UPDATE 12/13/08: This morning I received the following email from Jeff:
Hey Bruce,
Good luck with finding botifarra! You might find "morcilla" which is the version of blood sausage made in Spain (as opposed to Catalunya) but it often has rice or onions. Skip it if it has rice; onions might be OK. Often morcilla is loaded with anise. WIth the garbanzos, if you get them canned be sure to rinse them well, and simmer for a bit in lightly salted water to kill that canned taste. The only other tip, and perhaps all of these should have been in the recipe, is to use the best oil possible at the end to drizzle over. The other day in Pinotxo they used, I am 99% sure, unfiltered arbequina, which is a Catalan oil: fruity, aromatic, almost sweet. Something like picual (or most Andalusian blends, which has plenty of picual) is much sharper. That works fine. But the raisins, onions, the balsamic vinegar, and then a sweet oil all work towards the same goal somehow.

I am being particular not to say that it will ONLY work this way but rather as an ideal.

Here's a few more shots of La Boqueria to whet your appetites!
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one year ago today @ E.D.T.: Punch Drunk!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Lucky Strike: hitting the sweet (and spicy) spot?

After our trip to China last October, w and I have been pining for good Chinese food. Even a close approximation of what we had there would be okay. Unfortunately in Portland, that is proving next to impossible. Excellent Thai food? Sure. Vietnamese? Yeah, occasionally. But Chinese done with the care and simple complexity (and if you've had real Chinese food you know those words actually do go together) we had in Shanghai and Hong Kong seemed to be like searching for coherence in GWB's economic policy. It just hasn't been there. So a couple of weeks ago when our local fishwrap The Oregonian wrote up a new-ish Sichuan joint called Lucky Strike Chinese Restaurant, which Oregonian critic Roger Porter raved over recently. Could this be the answer? Appetites raging, we set out to find out.

To get there, you have to drive a fair distance out to the east side, the places where RV dealers, radiator repair places, and cigarette shops reign supreme. In fact, somewhat coincidentally, Lucky Strike is right next door to a cigarette store. We pulled in with our friends Monique and The Handsome One, and before we got out of the car were greeted with the sound of loudly breaking glass. Seems the guy who lives above the businesses tripped coming down the stairs and crashed into the glass security door of their apartment, shattering the glass. Luckily for him in a stunning reversal of the usual Darwinian process, and most likely due to the alcohol or drugs coursing through his system, he didn't cut himself so our entry into Lucky Strike wasn't needlessly delayed. We walked into the tiny dining room, maybe 25 or 30 seats scattered at tables around the room (with three or four seats at the counter) with a flat screen TV that was playing a fascinating show about a guy getting his legs waxed, painfully it seems, which may or may not be appetite inducing depending on your particular bent. Anyway, we dove right in with beers in hand, starting our Sichuan eating adventure with the Spicy Jellyfish Salad ($5...top left pic), Crispy Tofu ($4) and the JiaoZi (dumpling in spicy sauce. $4...both pictured at right). The jellyfish Salad was excellent, one of the highlights of the whole meal. Just right spicy, with perhaps a few too many chili seeds left in, but the jellyfish itself had a nice texture, not rubbery at all, and the flavor was bright and fresh. The Crispy Tofu was also good, nothing too special, with an odd dipping sauce with muddied flavors that we thought was shrimp paste based. Kind of a "meh" dish. Sadly the dumpling, in a nice red sauce, was too doughy and w thought he ground pork filling was way too dense.

Next up were Dan Dan Noodle ($4) and Mapo Tofu ($9....both at left). The Dan Dan was delicious, a small dish of noodles bracketed with little piles of seasoned ground pork and scallion. I was really looking forward to the Mapo Tofu, one of the defining dishes of Sichuan cooking. We had an incendiary version in Hong Kong, and I was hoping for that same flavor punch. But the LS version, while good, was lacking that intensity, that "holy fuck" factor that makes this a painfully satisfying dish. Where it hurts but you have to come back for more like a masochist saying "thank you, may I have another?" This wasn't that. Also coming out at this time was the Crispy Pig Intestine ($10...regrettably pictured at right), again something I hoped would equal the skewered deliciousness I had from a street vendor in HK. All I can say was this was one funky ass plate of food. Monique thought they didn't rinse the intestine enough times. I don't know what it was, but it tasted like something that was still part of the digestive process, and a little too close to one end of it than other, if you get my meaning.

Lastly on this excursion through the spicy heart of Chinese cooking we shared the Guinness Pork Ribs ($9), their signature Ants on the Tree ($8), and the Chive Stir Fried with Egg ($7....pictured at left). The pork ribs, which Porter raved bout in his review, were a sticky, too sweet mess. About an inch or so long, and with very tender meat, the sauce had been reduced too much into a gooey mess. But it was pork after all, so The Handsome One and I made them edible by dipping them into the leftover Mapo Tofu sauce to try and cut through the sweetness. The stir fried eggs were another highlight, the eggs scrambled in the wok, then the chives which were arranged on top. Simple, flavorful Chinese cooking at its best. The Ants on the Hill was ground pork (the "ants"), scallions, and spices mixed together with cellophane noodles which unfortunately had been overcooked to a congealed glop. The flavor was good, but the texture of the noodles took away from what should have been an excellent bite.

Overall, after eating our way through a fair representation of the menu, it was......okay. Very reasonably priced: all of the above plus six beers came to just $68! The Jellyfish Salad, Stir fried Eggs, and Dan Dan Noodles were some of the best Chinese food I've had in town. The irregularity of the other dishes, combined with the extreme funk of the Crispy Pig Intestines (that isn't a taste memory you want to carry with you, believe me) really took away much desire to come back. We probably will at some point, but it isn't a place I would rush back to.
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one year ago today @ E.D.T.: one of the loves of my culinary life, a.k.a. Spaghetti alla Carbonara!

Restaurant Deathwatch PDX: Lucier update

My post a few days ago about Lucier being on the ropes appear to have come true already. A post on Portland Food and Drink today is suggesting the place may shut their doors as soon as this weekend. We may not have seen the last of Lucier, though. At dinner out with two friends in the restauarnt biz last night, they said they had heard that Lucier may attempt a relaunch, perhaps as soon as late this/early next year, a la Ten-01, which a few years ago performed one of the most remarkable Lazarus imitations in local food history. Sympathies to those who may soon find themselves out of work.

It is a terrible time to be unemployed, but I fear that after everyone's holiday distractions are over, the first quarter for restaurants here in Portland (and everywhere else for that matter) is going to be brutal, and a big shake out is coming. Two articles in the NYT (here and here) highlight how more people ar cutting back on going out and cooking at home, and that trend will only increase after the first of the year. Scary times, indeed.

UPDATE 3:30pm- Lucier is a confirmed casualty as of this weekend. Wine oriented minds want to know: what's going to happen to that million dollars worth of inventory. A better question: why did they have a million dollars worth of wine??!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Barolo and booze: who would've thunk?!

I was talking my friend Athena about cocktails. Now Athena, along with her husband Stewart also happens to produce my new favorite Oregon pinot noir at their Boedecker Cellars. She and Stewart also happen to enjoy a bit of a cocktail appreciation, and I was telling her how I've been getting into all these new and classic cocktails. We both agreed that part of the fun is going to the liquor store with all of its seedy, semi-illicit attraction. And I was also telling her about the Darkside Cocktail, which combines the best of both our worlds: wine and booze. It is made with Chinato, which is Barolo from Italy's Piedmont region (made from 100% nebbiolo grapes) that has been, according to The Washington Post's Jason Wilson "infused with quinine bark and other herbs and spices, including rhubarb root, star anise, citrus peel, gentian, fennel, juniper and cardamom seed." I've heard that Chinato has been popping up on various cockatil menus as the latest "in" ingredient. I had a cocktail made with Chinato recently at Portland's best bar, the Teardrop Lounge, where über-talented and very personable bartender/owner Daniel Shoemaker whipped me up their "Bejewelled" (gin, chinato, yellow chartreuse) which was delicious (FYI- get in soon and try their Fastback Cocktail, made with Bulleit Bourbon, paired with one of their spicy appetizers. A match made in alcoholic heaven!). I got the recipe for this Darkside Cocktail from Wilson's column, and it was fabulous. of course anything made from gin has a pretty good chance of gaining my appreciation, and the combination here with herbally/fruity Chinato and citrusy/bitter Peychaud really nailed it on the pleasure meter. A perfect starter before my Fastback and snack!
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Darkside Cocktail
From Jason Wilson/The Washington Post

1 serving

2 1/2 ounces gin, preferably Plymouth brand
1 ounce Barolo Chinato, preferably Marcarini brand (see headnote)
3 dashes Peychaud bitters
Twist of lime peel
1 whole star anise (optional)

Fill a mixing glass two-thirds full with ice, then add the gin, Barolo Chinato and bitters. Stir vigorously for 30 seconds, then strain into a cocktail (martini) glass. Twist the lime peel over the drink, then drop it in, along with the star anise, if desired.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Shrimp, His Way

The "His" referring to the master of simple deliciousness, Mark Bittman (who in his
"How To Cook Everything" calls it Shrimp, My Way). I made this recipe out of the book last night for some friends as a quick appetizer, and it received much praise and even a couple of "oohs" and "aahs". Try it at your next gathering (it would be perfect at a tapas party), preferably washed down with copious amounts of dry rosé like in the pic!
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Shrimp, My Way
from Mark Bittman's "How To Cook Everything"

1/2 cup olive oil
4 or 5 big cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1-1/2 to 2 pounds shrimp, 20-30 count, peeled, rinsed, and dried
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 teaspoon cumin
1-1/2 teaspoons smoked Spanish paprika
minced parsley leaves for garnish (optional)

1-Preheat broiler and set rack as closely as possible to heat

2- Very gently, in a broad, oven-proof skillet, warm the oil over low heat. There should be enough oil to coat the bottom of the pan; don't skimp. Put the garlic in the oil and cook over low heat until it starts to turn golden.

3- Raise the heat to medium-high and add the shrimp, salt and pepper, cumin, and paprika. Stir to blend and immediately place under the broiler. Cook, shaking the pan once or twice and stirring if necessary, but generally leave the shrimp undisturbed, until they are pink all over and the mixture is bubbly. This will take from 5-10 minutes. Garnish and serve immediately.
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one year ago today @ E.D.T.: Cooking Up a Story at Gaining Ground Farms!

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Mozza Mania

The two buzzwords at restaurants around the country is "house made". You get house made cured pork products hanging in walk-in coolers and wine rooms; house made condiments (although I have yet to taste a ketchup as good as my beloved Heinz); house made pasta; house made bitters and tonics in the bar; and house made etc., etc. It's a worthy ethos, if only because it allows them to call themselves responsible, sustainable, local, and any other trend-word du jour. You also see, which is the point of this post, house made mozzarella plopped on appetizer plates across the country, which is what The Atlantic's Corby Kummer explores in his essay in the current issue. His bottom line: most shouldn't even try. He talks about a small and growing company in the industrial wasteland of outer L.A. called Gioia Cheese whose mozzarellas and their incredibly sensual cousin burrata, which I would humbly posit is the Sophia Loren of the cheese world, are becoming the stuff of culinary legend, served by food luminaries like Nancy Silverton and her partners, Mario Batali and Joseph Bastianich at their restaurant Mozza in SoCal. Read for yourselves while I make my airline rezzies to South El Monte......

photo from flickr
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one year ago today @ E.D.T.: jumping through the hoop at Lovely Hula Hands!