Friday, July 31, 2009

"Sweetly wonderful"....

...was what my friend Denise called this video when she mentioned it on twitter. I couldn't agree more. And once again I am slack jawed at the creativity of others!

The Peacemaker

Now this would have been funny....
thanks to @shawnlevy on twitter for the tip

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Quick Bites PDX: Tanuki's edge!

"No Sushi"
"No Kids"
How can you not love a Japanese restaurant that is balls enough to put that on their sign out in front of their place in this annoyingly PC age of businesses/people not wanting to offend ANYBODY?? That was the first hint of edge at our recent visit with our friends Denise and K the other night for her b-day dinner to Tanuki over on NW 21st Avenue here in PDX. The second bit of edge was when we told them we had a group of four, and they said they didn't have four tops. Hm, okay...well then maybe they could pull those two two-tops together? Which is of course what happened, and from that little get-to-know-the-rules moment on we had what was the best Japanese food I've had in Portland. It was so good it was reminiscent of our recent visit to the temple of Japanese haut cuisine that is Tojo's in Vancouver, B.C. Not quite on Tojo's level of exquisiteness or artistry, and not quite the same stunning best-of-everything ingredients (and the equally stunning tab at the end), but the same course-after-course of thoughtfully prepared food, with that Portland indy style. I mean you're sitting in a tiny shoebox sized place at Tanuki. That ain't no place to be putting on airs!

We had been advised to order (like at Tojo's) omakase style, which is what American restaurants would call a chef's tasting menu. Only at Tanuki, and this is the part I loved, you tell them how much you want to spend per person and the chef tailors a meal of small plates for your group around that. Whatever the kitchen is digging, that's what you're eating. We asked the server what would be a reasonable amount per person, she said $20; we went for $30 each, and proceeded to have maybe 8, 10,....I don't know, maybe 12 different plates of food to share? The amount of food that kept coming out of the kitchen was staggering, and the quality was shockingly good. I guess I had my usual lowered expectations for Portland Asian food going in, but at Tanuki they really seem to have the "feel". I can't remember everything we had, it kind of became a blur of flavors and textures, but I do know from the generous portion of hamachi (above right) we started out with on through an amazing plate of creamy, umami-laden sea urchin (above left), to grilled skewers, to "tanabata" kimchi, to whatever else found its way to our table, I was pretty blown away. For $30 a pop, this was a steal, and adding on the recommended bottle of sake and a couple of beers only added on to my pleasure. I'd go back and get my Tanuki on in a second. Now I'd heard from various people that they love the food but the service wasn't all that warm and fuzzy.Tanuki is definitely a place where it's their playground and their rules. Personally I get/appreciate that. Besides I'm not looking to hug my server, and if you keep throwing down food this good, this creative, for this cheap then I'll take some edge!
Also for you Twitterati, you should follow Tanuki's quite amusing tweets: @tanukipdx
Tanuki on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The reward system

In case you hadn't noticed in reading this blog I am all about the reward system. Food, drink, travel, movies. If there's not a payoff in sight, count me out And if it's a sure thing, count me way in! Such is one of my favorite hikes in Oregon, the incredibly beautiful Cascade Head Trail just north of the hellish blight on the Oregon coast known as Lincoln City. The trail, which winds through national forest and Nature Conservancy land, offers a reward to effort ratio that is off the charts, which is an equation also high on my list. From the top you can see for miles down the coast and the take in the delta of the Salmon River estuary. On the day we were there a couple of weeks ago the view was stunning (the pic at top left is about two-thirds of the way up, and that is w and I being blown around the top on this über-windy day in the pic lower right). Just long enough at around 1.6 miles each way to give you a solid workout, especially the last bit of the uphill section to the top of Cascade Head. The walk up goes through thick forest and open hillside grassland. I've seen herds of elk on past trips, and there never seems to be too many people on the trail (unfortunately dogs aren't allowed). Absolutely worth the day trip from Portland.

After the hike we headed north to Tillamook to head back on Highway 6 to Portland. As we pulled into Tillamook we both realized we were far too hungry to have to wait two hours 'til we got home. Luckily, or so we thought after checking the iPhone, the taco truck phenomenon had hit Tillamook. We found the La Providencia truck along highway 101 heading north out of the downtown area. Always up to satisfy that particular fetish, I pulled in with hopes high. They have a limited menu but some interesting choices, which at the time seemed promising. w ordered the carnitas quesadilla and I opted for 2 carnitas, 2 adobada (pork cooked in red sauce), and 1 buche taco (pork stomach, although I think they meant pork belly....I think.....). All incredibly cheap as they should be. But in this case you don't get what you pay for. The tortillas were very pedestrian, commercially made, and the tacos and quesadilla were unbelievably greasy. w resorted to wiping her quesadilla off with her napkin to sop up some of the oil. For me not to finish tacos is almost heresy, but we both dumped half of our "lunch" in the garbage, and our stomachs were a-rumblin' all the way home. Consider yourselves warned. Apparenly La Providencia had not heard of, or chose to ignore, my philosophy of the reward system!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Quick Bites PDX: Tabla elevates its game!

The past three times I've walked out of Tabla on NE 28th Avenue here in Portland, I am always left wondering "How in the hell do they do it?" Not how do they make the food. That I get. The question was raised again last Saturday night by the absolutely stellar quality of the plates coming out of Tabla executive chef Anthony Cafiero's kitchen (that's Cafiero with burners blazing behind him in the photo below right). Add to that the sheer ridiculousness of the value offered by their 3-courses for $24 menu and it boggles the mind how they are doing it. We're not talking tiny tapas sized plated here. they are virtually full-sized portions. This is without question the best dining deal in the city. Maybe one of the best restaurant values I've ever come across in any city. Cafiero, with owner Adam Berger's blessing, has put into play an über-seasonal menu. Cafiero relentlessly prowls the local farmer's markets, buying what's fresh and looks good. Now I know lots of chefs do this, but it's what they do with what they buy once they hit the kitchen that matters, and luckily chef Cafiero has an incredibly creative mind and palate that knows not only what tastes good together, but helps him find new ways to pull different flavors out of tried and true ingredients. Cafiero didn't go to culinary school, instead pursuing an arts education, and you can see it in the way his plates come together visually. Eating with the eyes is the thing you do first at Tabla.

When I made the reservation for Saturday, I asked for seats at the chef's counter so I could watch Anthony in action. While we perused the menu Cafiero graced us with a small plate of two of mornings market finds, padron peppers and cherry tomatoes (left) that had been suatéed and served arounda spoonful of lemon cream that I would gladly bathe in. With those flavors shooting around my mouth I opened my beverage search with their Bicycle Thief cocktail, a refreshing and nicely balanced mix of Campari, basil infused gin, and Carpano Antica. With the Tabla 3-course menu, you choose one appetizer, one pasta, and one entrée. w decided to get the eat fest started with their warm haricot vert salad, which was plated with chioggia beets, hazelnuts, aged balsamic and a fried farm egg. The green beans were perfectly cooked, the whole thing fresh (you may see that a lot in this review) and bright. The same could be said for my app of red veined sorrel and salmon tartare salad (right). The delicately textured and sublimely flavored tartare was ringed by the sorrel and shaved chioggia beets with rosemary oil, shallots, and sherry. Both appetizers were light on the palate, the perfect teaser for what was to come, which is exactly what you'd want them to be.

For our pastas I went for the fettucine verde (below left) which was wonderfully textured house-made pasta with a light yet rich basil-pistachio pesto and cherry tomatoes and ricotta salata. The noodles themselves couldn't have been better. Just the right chew. w's spicy pork sugo tagliatelle was equally satisfying. Meaty, rich but not heavy, a hint of chili spice complimenting but not overpowering, with the basil flavor peeking through around the edges. Both pastas were delicious, and in not-small portions. Again, the value offered here is astounding! The only down note to this course was the suggested wine pairing with my fettucine. The menu suggested a 2007 French gamay, whose flavor totally got lost when tasted after the nutty-green pesto. Much better would have been a white of some kind....maybe a sauvignon blanc or northern Italian bianco.

When we chose our entrée, I asked Anthony what was looking good. Proving his farmer's market cred he gave me the "Dude, the salmon. I just picked up a 26 pounder at the market this morning." Done. He pan sears it and serves it with roasted mushrooms, salt roasted new potatoes, sautéed mustard greens and a saffron fumet (looking delicious at left). Talk about flavor! The salmon couldn't have been fresher, and combined with the earthiness of the mushrooms brought to mind a "surf & turf" for the farmer's market age. w went for the pan-fried rockfish that came with cumin scented carrots (one of the few things that didn't quite work. The cumin was a bit dry and raw tasting on the carrots), a broccoli pesto that was brilliantly original, and an olive and cherry gremolata. Once again the fish was cooked to that just-right doneness, tasting so fresh, moist, and clean. The broccoli pesto was a dollop of broccoli that had been mixed with the usual pesto ingredients and whose flavors really popped when we took a bite. For wine, I had an elegantly delicious 2007 Pierre Guillemont Savigny-les-Beaune, which as always proved that nobody does pinot noir like the French.

We finished with an off the menu layered chocolate dessert that had a decadently creamy palate and was topped with a slice of ripe fig from Cafiero's own back yard. Owner Adam Berger was expediting in the kitchen this night, and it was good to watch his and Cafiero's seemingly easy working relationship (and to Berger's credit, not many guys can pull off photo-Tweeting a plate of food while calling out orders!). Like I said at the top, eating this well for this kind of money seems almost too good to be true. And from the buzz in the dining room lots of other people apparently agree. Since Cafiero took over the kitchen earlier this year, he has elevated the restaurant's game and this below the radar gem is doing things as well as any kitchen in town. And for as little as you pay for your pleasure, that is reason enough to be there!
Tabla on Urbanspoon

Friday, July 24, 2009

I'm feeling super, man!

Too bad most of America isn't, or shouldn't be, as is made evident in this series of photos from a New York Times story about how our fellow countrymen get their grub on. Photographer Susana Raab, who coincidentally was born on the same day that the Big Mac was invented but had never eaten one until she started this series she calls "Consumed" (although she said when she did try one: “I’m embarrassed to say that the thing is tasty". Can't argue with her there). So click on the highlighted "Consumed" link and remember that if you're reading this or are really into food, you/I are still in about the 10%-15% minority in the good 'ol USA who actually care about what they eat. Ronald McDonald smoking, a trio of Col. Sanders, and a kid who is gnawing on a disturbingly long corn dog. God bless America!!

Guilty Pleasure

I interrupt the usual food porn/info, but I got this link emailed to me this morning, and I have to admit it was pretty sweet. Enjoy!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Spaghetti and meatballs: take that grandma!!

I'm not going to say these are best spaghetti and meatballs ever (even though they are) because I don't want the Italian grandmother mafia to put the hit on me. Spaghetti and meatballs, an iconic thing if ever there was one with deep familial connections. Kind of like potato salad, or a history of mental illness (not my family mind you...we're FINE!). So I don't make that "best ever" claim lightly. But the truth is the truth, so I have to go with it.

My great claim to food shame is that in all these years of cooking at home I have never made spaghetti and meatballs, where the meatballs and sauce are made lovingly from scratch. The other day I got the bug, even though the middle of summer in our defiantly non-A/C house doesn't usually put me in the mind of "Man, something that cooks for hours on the stove sounds perfect!" Stuck in my mind it was, though, so I had to rid my brain of the demon and hopefully end up with something completely kickass in the process. I did and it was! I looked at many versions and got this recipe off of the iPhone epicurious app (the unholy tech-child of Steve jobs and Ruth Reichl). Never mind that the recipe said it would feed 12-16 and it was just w and I for dinner. Ever hear of leftovers (as in three 48 ounce Tupperware tubs) for Christ's sake? When I decided to put this to the test, I somehow missed the part that said to roll out 70 meatballs. 70 freaking meatballs?? Maybe it's because my hands are big and the meaty orbs were a bit, um, large, but I ended up with 52 (a few of which can be seen awaiting their simmery fate at left), which sorely tested my patience. If I would of had to roll out 18 more I might've chucked the whole fucking lot. With the sauce simmering happily in the background (above right), I browned off the meatballs, which after a few fell victim to careless turning left me with 48. Which was plenty. After the whole lot was combined and cooked together, the bowl of luscious Italian comfort food that resulted was incredible. The sauce was light and fresh, not that dark, heavy, too-sweet slop that often passes for "rich" spaghetti sauce (note how simple the sauce is, and NO tomato paste needed, thank you). As expected, the next day the sauce was even better because of that 24 hour food miracle called "flavor melding". And I am quite content to know that sitting in my freezer are three more big dinners to come. To all Italian grandmothers: I am ready to throw down!!
*** *** *** *** ***
Spaghetti and Meatballs
from Gourmet | January 2009
Yield: Makes 12 to 16 servings
Active Time: 2 hr
Total Time: 3 hr

For tomato sauce:
6 (28-ounce) cans whole tomatoes in juice (preferably San Marzano)
2 medium onions, chopped
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
6 garlic cloves, finely chopped

For meatballs:
2 medium onions, finely chopped
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
10 garlic cloves, finely chopped
3 cups torn day-old Italian bread
3 cups whole milk
6 large eggs
2 cups grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (1/4 pound)
1/3 cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
1/4 cup finely chopped oregano or 1 teaspoon dried, crumbled
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
1 1/2 pounds ground veal
1 1/2 pounds ground pork
1 1/2 pounds ground beef (not lean)
1 cup olive or vegetable oil

For pasta:
2 pounds dried spaghetti

Accompaniment: grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Equipment: a 12-to 16-quart nonreactive heavy pot or 2 smaller nonreactive pots; a 6-to 8-quart pasta pot with a pasta/steamer insert for cooking spaghetti in 2 batches.

Make sauce:
Drain tomatoes, reserving juice in a large bowl. Crush tomatoes with your hands and add to juice.

Cook onions in oil in pot over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 10 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 2 minutes. Stir in tomatoes with their juice, 4 teaspoon salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper. Simmer sauce, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened, 45 minutes to 1 hour. Season with salt.

Make meatballs while sauce simmers:
Cook onions in extra-virgin olive oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 10 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl to cool.

Soak bread in milk in another bowl until soft, about 5 minutes. Firmly squeeze bread to remove excess milk, discarding milk.

Stir together cooled onion mixture, bread, eggs, parmesan, parsley, oregano, lemon zest, 51/2 teaspoon salt, and 1 1/2 teaspoon pepper until combined. Add meats to bread mixture, gently mixing with your hands until just combined (do not overmix).

Form meat mixture into about 70 (1 1/2-inch) balls with dampened hands, arranging meatballs on 2 large baking sheets or in shallow baking pans.

Heat olive or vegetable oil (1 cup) in a 12-inch heavy skillet (preferably nonstick) over medium-high heat until hot but not smoking, then brown meatballs in 4 or 5 batches (without crowding), turning frequently, about 5 minutes per batch. Return to baking sheets.

Add meatballs to sauce and gently simmer, covered, stirring occasionally, until cooked through, 20 to 30 minutes. (If pot is not large enough, divide meatballs and sauce between 2 pots.)

Prepare pasta:

Cook spaghetti in 2 batches in pasta insert in boiling salted water (3 tablespoon salt for 6 qt water) until just al dente, draining and tossing each batch with some of sauce in a large serving dish.

Serve with meatballs, remaining sauce, and grated cheese.

Cooks' notes:
•Meatballs can be made and simmered in sauce 5 days ahead and chilled (covered once cool).
•Meatballs with sauce can be frozen in an airtight container or heavy-duty sealable bags up to 3 months.◊

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

I'm hungry. I want to be in Paris!

But alas, I'm not. I'm in Portland. Dreaming of Paris. And food.
"a wonderful plate of braised lamb with sautéed kale and leeks, a glass of Pessac-Léognan"?
That sounds good.
Lunch? Hmm...."a buckwheat crepe and smoked Bordier butter"? Mai oui!
All this temptation is but a continent away. Or a click, if you go to this NYT article by Christine Muhlke on her "work" assignment to write up 4-1/2 days of eating, in Paris, on the paper's dime. Some writers have all the luck.......

photo from the NY Times

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Google that!

7/16/2009 2:52pm
Mountain View, Ca.- In a terse video press release, in what some analysts are calling "not a coincidence" coming two weeks after the appearance of this sign outside of a small Baptist church in Portland, Oregon, Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergei Brin have today announced that Google (GOOG -NASDAQ) has purchased the entire assets of the Baptist church in America, and are finalizing a world wide acquisition of the formerly low key religious order. Terms of the deal were not announced, with no mention of the premium Google would pay for "good will". In his one sentence statement, a unsmiling Brin asked this pointed question: "Who's got all the answers now?"

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

And now, a word from our sponsors....

two commercials that have come rolling across my computer screen from various sources (one tweeted, one emailed). The first is a new microsoft ad that @pdxFoodDude accurately described by saying "Never thought I'd say this... great new Microsoft advert". The second a clever bit of Brazilian auto fluff from Toyota. Enjoy......

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The duck that keeps on giving

I keep having the same pesky kitchen problem. What is it? What is causing me to lie awake at night, tossing and turning? Two words: duck confit. A fridge that lately has been full of duck legs ever since I made a big batch of confit the other week (using this recipe). Man, is my life hard or what? I did a terrific confit and fava pasta the other night. I still had a couple of legs left and had to do something with them, if only so I could sleep at night. So I stole some ideas from epicurious, did a little riffing, and came up with a savory bit of salad deliciousness that would be a great first course at a dinner party. This was one of those fast, easy, and healthy (as long as you don't eat too much fatty-crispy duck skin, which w didn't but I of course did) salads that just felt good to eat. The original recipe called for pears, but this is early season for those. There were ripe white nectarines in abundance at the market and their juicy sweetness set off the other ingredients perfectly, and the browned/fried pecans added a nice nutty complexity. epicurious also called for blue cheese crumbles. Why do they always do that? Usually you don't need them. In this salad it was completely unnecessary, and would have been way too strong for the duck. It turned into a pretty damn impressive salad.The downside: now my fridge is devoid of duck, so back to Nicky USA I go!
*** *** *** *** ***
Duck Confit and White Nectarine Salad
adapted from epicurious
serves 4-6

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon Sherry vinegar
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons finely chopped shallot
1/2 cup pecans, coarsely chopped
2 confit duck legs
3 firm-ripe white nectarines
8 cups mixed greens, such as frisée (French curly endive), tender watercress sprigs, and baby spinach leaves

Preheat oven to 225°F.

Whisk together mustard, vinegar, and salt and pepper to taste in a large bowl. Add 4 tablespoons oil in a slow stream, whisking until emulsified, then whisk in shallot.
Heat remaining tablespoon oil in a 10-inch heavy skillet over moderate heat until hot but not smoking, then cook pecans, stirring, until golden brown. Transfer nuts with a slotted spoon to paper towels to drain, then season with salt.

Heat skillet with any oil remaining in it over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking, then brown duck on all sides until crisp, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board and tear meat into bite-size pieces and discard bones. Keep duck warm, covered, on a baking sheet in oven.

Slice nectarine into thin wedges. Add nectarines, greens, duck, and nuts to dressing with salt and pepper to taste, then toss gently to combine.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Quick Bites PDX: Cora y Huichol Taqueria; Chinese Delicacy

So I hadn't eaten all morning Sunday, was going to the 12:30 showing of Public Enemies (LOVED IT!...Michael Mann did a fabulous job with this. Beautiful movie, great acting) and had about 10 minutes to solve the blood sugar problem. Not being a member of fast food nation, that left out Mc's or the King. Which I assume is why the God of all things delicious and convenient invented taco trucks. It helped that the Cora y Huichol truck was right around the corner from the theater on SE 82nd and Holgate. It also helped that their al pastor is maybe the best I've had in the city. Tangy, tender, with just enough chili spice, these tacos for $1.25 per were spot on. I also tried the carnitas, which were pretty run of the mill. The Huichol salsas were also delicious with plenty of pop in both the rojo and verde versions. The tortillas made on premises weren't too slouchy. Not Lindo Michoacan perfection, but better than average. Beats the hell out of spending $35, or whatever they fuck you for, for a soda and popcorn at the show, don't ya think?
*** *** *** *** ***
I was still digesting Public Enemies a few hours later and was in no mood for shopping, so suggested to my lovely bride we check out Chinese Delicacy which is just on the east end of Felony Flats south of 82nd and Foster. w was up for it and had wanted to try it. We were both hoping for that most elusive of food finds here in Portland: decent Chinese. Yummy Yummy had been a recent success so we thought we'd push our luck. Walking in and seeing all Asians is always a good thing. That may seem like racial profiling, but it's usually true. Also racial profiling: their setting a fork down for me but not for w because they thought maybe her gwai lo hubby couldn't handle the sticks. Just so you know, they had another think comin'!! A tiny box of a place, brightly lit (of course), with a remarkably limited menu for a Chinese joint. "Remarkably limited" in this case being only about 50 choices. We ordered three plates, the Chinese Delicacy bean curd; salt and pepper shrimp; and kung pao chicken. Here's the photo montage with commentary......
Chinese Delicacy bean curd, which was the best thing we had. The tofu was cooked just right, medium-firm, a flavorful sauce coating the curd and mushrooms, and underneath some super fresh micro greens of some sort. Although I'm guessing they don't call them "micro greens".
Kung Pao Peanuts....oh, I mean chicken. All I can say is they must have gotten a helluva deal on peanuts and had run out of bell peppers or any other vegetative matter for this. Plus with everything sitting in an incredibly bland sauce, this dish, which is one of w's Chinese food yardsticks, got a big pass from both of us.
Salt and Pepper Shrimp, which inexplicably seemed to lack both salt and pepper, or any other flavor. First I tried to eat the onions with it to try to get my tastebuds interested. Then I resorted to sriracha sauce. It helped, but not enough. Another pass. In fact the whole meal did nothing to make us want to return. Back to Yummy Yummy it is........

Chinese Delicacy on Urbanspoon

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Refreshing: Grilled Halibut and Mango Salsa

A couple of days ago it was really effing hot here. 90*+, just enough humidity to give your skin that oh-so-comfortable clammy feeling. Our dog Chopper preferred to simply lay about, tongue hanging attractively out of the corner of his mouth. Nobody was very happy. But we still had to eat, right? We'd been going out maybe a little too much lately, so even with my ability to rationalize pretty much any indulgence, it seemed a good time to rein it in. There was no way the oven was going to be turned on, and although I've had this strange burger fixation lately, almost like I feel like eating them every day (I can't explain it, it just IS), I decided halibut, grilled, was the deal. But since halibut is only a vehicle for whatever sort of condiment wants to come for a ride, I needed something else. Let's see....I'm hot, sweaty, refreshment desperately needed, something cool yet with some zing to wake my palate up...tropical?...thoughts of an island, with cool waves lapping on the beach, a cold, fruity drink in hand...mmmmmmm....escape....mangos??...hell, yeah!!........

So, properly inspired, the research team came out. To the interweb I went where this kickass mango salsa recipe appeared on, of all sites, (all the more surprising because I find about as user friendly as an angry baboon in mating season. And don't ask me why I know this is a good analogy). I read this one over, though, and it seemed to have all the requisite palate pleasing things: mangos, fish sauce, citrus, cilantro, garlic, Thai-inspired, and super fast and easy to make. Plus the author had some great tips for trimming up the mango. This stuff really rocked, and would be great on any number of fishy plates, especially some fish tacos. Refreshment is at hand!
*** *** *** *** ***
Grilled Halibut with fresh mango salsa
adapted from Darlene Schmidt
(click here for printable recipe)

2 fresh halibut steaks OR fillets (enough to serve 2 people)
2 Tbsp. fish sauce OR 3 Tbsp. soy sauce
2 Tbsp. fresh lime juice
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

MANGO SALSA: (Serves 2)
2 tsp. Thai sweet chilli sauce (easily purchased at your local grocery or Asian/Chinese food store
about 1/2 cup fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
1 Tbsp. fish sauce OR 1+1/2 Tbsp. soy sauce
1 ripe mango , chopped into 1/2" cubes
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp. lime juice
1/2 to 1 tsp. sugar, depending on how sweet your mango is

1- Wash the fish portions and pat dry with a clean tea towel or paper towel. Place in a flat-bottomed bowl.
2- Mix fish sauce or soy sauce with lime juice, then pour over the fish. Turn the fish several times in this sauce.
3-Sprinkle over the black pepper, gently pressing it into both sides of the flesh. Set in the refrigerator to marinate while you prepare the salsa.
4- Slice the mangos and scoop out the flesh. Place the mango with all other salsa ingredients in food processor. Pulse for short periods, until the desired consistency is reached. Tip: You want the salsa a little on the chunky side - don't over-process or it will turn to liquid Taste-test the salsa for saltiness/sweetness. If not salty enough, add 1-2 tsp. more fish or soy sauce. If too salty, add a squeeze of lime juice. If too sour, add 1-2 tsp. more sugar. Set salsa aside.

5- Heat up your grill and lightly brush it with oil. Grill the fish 5-10 minutes per side, depending on the heat of your grill and the thickness of the fish.
Halibut Cooking Tips: Allow the fish to cook at least 2 minutes undisturbed before turning (this will help prevent sticking). After the steaks have been grilled 5 minutes on each side, use a fork to gently pull flesh apart enough to see inside. Flesh inside will turn from light pink to opaque white when cooked. Try not to overcook. If cooking indoors, pan-fry the steaks in 2 Tbsp. canola or other vegetable oil for roughly 8 minutes per side, or until done.

To serve, place fish on serving plates. If desired, make a simple bed of greens for the fish on each plate (try to include fresh basil and coriander if you have it). Drizzle the salsa over the fish. Top with a little more fresh coriander and serve with rice or potatoes.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Oh, no! Duck confit again??

You can imagine my dilemma. Having a couple of pesky duck confit legs left over from my confit project a couple of weeks ago (from this recipe; worked beautifully, maybe even better than the first time). Maybe "dilemma" isn't the right word. A dilemma would be having duck confit legs that your dog dragged off the counter and wolfed down, like "what a dilemma, I like my dog but now I'm going to have to kill him". How about "opportunity"? Much more positive.

So in the long list of ways to take advantage of this opportunity...risotto, salad, sauce, etc....a simple seasonal pasta sounded perfect, especially since w had picked up a rather large bag of fresh favas at the farmer's market. Of course as we all know a large bag of favas quickly becomes a small dish of favas (and every time I shell them, I can't help but feel sorry for the poor prep bitch at any restaurant who has to do a dinner service's worth. That would so quickly suck). In keeping this simple and light, yet really focus on the duck and favas, I only added some fennel to the mix, a little garlic, a sprinkle of parma and that was it. Obviously this recipe is endlessly adaptable with what is available at the markets right now. It's all about being a vehicle for the glory that is duck confit. If you haven't been inspired to make this duck confit before, hopefully this will spur you on. It really is SO incredibly easy. And maybe you'll find yourself with the same "dilemma" as I did!
*** *** *** *** ***
Duck Confit Pasta with fresh favas and fennel
an E.D.T. original
(click here for printable recipe)

2 duck confit legs with meat shredded off
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 pounds fresh favas, shelled and with outer skins removed
1 large fennel bulb, chopped in half, removing fibrous cores at bottom of bulb, and sliced thinly crosswise (with some chopped fronds reserved if attached. This is optional)
3 garlic cloves, finely minced
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Parmigiano-Reggiano for sprinkling
1 pound dry pasta (it doesn't really matter what kind. I liked how the fusilli worked)

Put large pot of water on to boil. When water comes to boil, add small handful of salt and pasta and cook until desired doneness.

While water comes to boil, add olive oil to sauté pan over medium-high heat. When pan is hot add sliced fennel and sauté until softened, about 8-10 minutes. Add garlic and cook for another 2 minutes, turn heat down to medium-low, add favas and duck ad briefly until heated through (you don't want the duck to cook any further).

Drain pasta and combine with duck-fava mixture. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Plate immediately, top with chopped fennel fronds and a drizzle of olive oil. Pass grated parma for sprinkling.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Quick Bites PDX: Garden State; Asian Station; Ziba's Pitas; Malay Satay Hut; Lindo Michoacan

This is the "Things I like to eat in Portland" edition of E.D.T.: Quick hits of some edible delights you should be indulging in...

There was a collective wail of anguish heard in Sellwood when, several weeks ago, Garden State dictator Kevin Sandri decided to discontinue his pork-a-licious Porchetta Sandwich. If you are among those who have been pining ever since, salvation is at hand starting today. The porchetta is back, and based on my sample today it is better than ever. Kevin, who seemingly never seems to run out of ways to raise the bar of how good cart food can be (he does make the best meatball hero in town), has taken the art of braising a pork shoulder in a toaster oven to new heights. Starting with a locally raised, organic pork shoulder and applying various seasonings, then finishing it with a 14 hour braise, he has produced a moist, super tender sandwich filling that will be dripping delightfully down your chin with every swoon inducing bite. This is meat love at its finest!
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As I'm sure I have made obvious, the thing that is missing in Portland is truly good, authentic Chinese food. Ever since our trip last fall where we ate our way through Shanghai and Hong Kong, I have been appalled upon my return to realize how truly mediocre the Chinese food scene is here in Portland. A glimmer of hope appeared recently at Yummy Yummy, where they seem to truly get it. But the thing I miss most are those steamed delights called Xiao Long Bao, aka Shanghai soup dumplings. We had incredible, and unbelievably cheap ones in Shanghai, and got a nice bao-fix when were in Vancouver, B.C. recently. I had heard there was a cart downtown, Asian Station, who were producing some pretty respectable bao, so the other week, with hopes high, I checked them out. I was told by the girl manning the cart their XLB are made by a friend of the cart owners. I placed my order for 8 bao, not too badly priced at $7 with rice (must...forget...Shanghai). They came out looking pretty good. I dipped it in their too-vinegary-not-gingery enough sauce (memo to the cart owner: buy some wider little plastic sauce containers since the bao are wider than to the ones you are using now), bit a hole to suck out the soup, and....and...where was the soup?? Usually you have to watch out for squirting soup. This bao was soupless. Maybe they forgot the bouillon cube. I don't know. The others had soup, but one out of eight was not a good percentage. In any event the verdict is good texture on the wrappers, the meat filling was tender and flavorful, the broth a little thinly flavored but still pretty good (I really want to like these). I'll definitely be back to try again, hoping for the best.
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Assuming you haven't had your Bosnian food fix lately (because frankly who has?) then I strongly suggest you get down to Ziba's Pitas at the food cart pod on SW Alder between 9th and 10th, where former Bosnian accountant Ziba Ljucevic is lovingly preparing these delicious stuffed pitas. Not really stuffed, like in the gyros or falafel way, not even pita bread like that. Her dough is thinly rolled out, then the fillings are layered on the dough and baked. I had 1/2 a spinach and 1/2 a beef pita, with a side of cucumber and sour cream salad and the national condiment of eastern Europe, Ajvar, a roasted red pepper spread that kicks ketchup to the curb, all for around 5 or 6 bucks for a large serving (or maybe it was the eight XLB's I had just consumed!). Ziba herself may be the sweetest person manning any cart in town. I really can't wait to explore more of her offerings.
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Malay Satay Hut
Three words: Mango Tofu Salad! At MSH in the Fubonn Plaza on SE 82nd between division and Powell I could eat plates of this. Their fried fish and noodle offerings are pretty damn good, too, but that salad rocks!

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Lindo Michoacan produces hands down the best tortillas in town. What goes on top of them (not to ignore the meaty delights that go into the tortas and burritos) is about as good as it gets in taco truck land here in Portland, but those tortillas...holy shit, they are so perfect! Hechas a mano daily on the premises at SE 34th and Division, they are just the right thickness and texture, light but not too, with actual corn flavor coming through. In the photo they are the double layered mattress for a blanket of savory, drool-worthy barbacoa. For $1.50 each are a steal! Plus they have a nicely laid out, heated outdoor seating area...other cart owners take note.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

The Call of the Wild!

Okay, it wasn't exactly Jack London, or camping at altitude in the Himalayas, but there were some tense moments during our overnight camping trip July 4th which we used as a method to get our poor dogs as far away from fireworks trauma as possible. There was that moment where I was frozen in fear that I had left my can opener at home (luckily my man K had a backup). Then the terror that took hold when I couldn't find the corkscrew to open that 2002 Cali Cab. When I did manage to dig it out of the glove box of my car, the collective sigh of relief was probably heard around the campground! Such was just a sampling of the drama during our "adventure" to the beautiful, and easily accessible from Portland, Paradise Creek campground in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest.

My oft-repeated mantra is "just because one is staying in the wild doesn't mean one has to become wild". Luckily my friend Denise believes this as well (much to the consternation of our respective spouses K & w, who both have to keep telling us...repeatedly..."we're just going away for one night, you know"). This trip it all came together for everyone I think, starting when, after setting up our "base camp", K made a batch of his refreshing Manhattans (left in process and below right two happy campers, k on left, moi on right) which immediately made me feel more in touch with nature. That was followed by some delicious artisan cheeses, some foie gras that I had brought back from France a couple of years ago (which makes this my response to the foie gras protesters mentioned in yesterday's post), more cocktails and wine, then the piéce de resistance, thick NY Steaks grilled over the campfire with grilled fresh ears of corn. And luckily I managed to save enough foie to smear a nice thick slice over the tops of the steaks. Decadence you are my mine! Steak and wrong and yet SO right! Washed down with several glasses of red (and the 2002 Alexander Valley Vineyards "Estate" Cabernet was drinking perfectly), calling this satisfying doesn't even come close. And don't tell me we weren't roughing it. Did you notice we were eating off of paper plates?!

The finshed product, with luscious foie melting on top...yummm!
Your scribe, multi-tasking to get food to the table!

Monday, July 06, 2009

Foie gras protesters: put down your signs and read this!

A great open letter to the misguided foie gras protesters of our land by a Portland restaurant owner. Very well written and reasoned.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Freak show

The last seven minutes of resignation Palin's speech. the tape says it all.....

Friday, July 03, 2009

Highs, lows, and Noble Rot

There's a difference between a full "review" of a restaurant and a lot of what I report. Most of my commentary of my all too frequent eating adventures are more in the "slice of life" category. Kind of a review of one evening. I have to say in my experience I think one evening at a restaurant can tell you a lot about what future visits might hold for you. Last night we made our first visit to the new Noble Rocket...oops, I meant Noble Rot that inhabits the old Rocket space on East Burnside. My first impression, whether it was Rocket or Rot, is that I really love this space. The unique view view of the west hills, unfortunately marred by the giant billboard on top of the Hippo Hardware building across the street (and no blame to Rot for that. Last night's giant Egg McMuffin right in our face was quite comically surreal), and the light that pours into the space gives it a sleek, elegant feel. The spacious booths are comfy, and the bar is a great spot to sit and take in the view...although an inconsistent place to drink.

We were going with our friends J&K, and I called ahead to find out if they took reservations. As expected the answer was no unless we were a party of six, which I have no problem with. The girl who answered informed me I could come in and get on the list and the wait probably wouldn't be too long. I in turn asked if I could call and get my name on the list, which is a system that seems to work really well for Three Doors Down. I mean if someone calls with their name and no shows, how hard is it to go to the next name on the list (from the restaurants perspective, they want you there and drinking while you wait for your table). I was curtly told no, you have to sign up in person, and when I said no problem, I'd be there, I got a somewhat condescending "yippee" in response. Gee, thanks for your professionalism.

w and I got there early, put our names down and sat at the bar to wait. I ordered the Dark and Stormy off the cocktail list, a Tiki classic. w, who was laying off the hooch this night asked for a non-alcoholic...and I hate to use this term..."mocktail" (btw- she had an amazing one at Beaker and Flask...of course). My D&S, which is basically rum & ginger beer, was, and I can't believe I'm complaining about this, way to rummy, the balance was way off, the booze obliterating the ginger beer. w's strawberry daquiri-like drink was way too sweet, so much so she took about 2 sips and left it. A drink in dire need of citrus. Our friends arrived and we were promptly led to a booth along the windows. They had just navigated the B&T crowd that prowls the 1st Thursday art scene in the "Pearl" like black-clad, hip-urban wannabes and were in desperate need of refreshment. Sadly our server, who spent the entire evening seemingly uninterested in her job and should have had "whatever" printed on the front of her shirt, was in no hurry to gather our order. When she did show up after ten minutes they ordered margaritas, and I had a Hendrick's gimlet (one of my bar competency tests). This time all the drinks were excellent, the margs letting the smoky tequila seep through, and the gimlet just a notch below mine and the Café Castagna version. We snacked on two of their signature apps, an onion tart (right) and the onion rings. The tart was too mushy, the flavors mish-mashing together, which was too bad as the crust was perfect. The onion rings on the other hand, were the best I've had in town, lightly battered, beautifully golden, with some bite left in the onion itself.

Our entrées off the limited menu (and that's not a rap; I actually like a menu that doesn't need to be everything to everyone) were next, and they showed the same inconsistency as our drinks and apps. K had the rib eye (left), which was easily the best thing on the table. Tender, perfectly medium-rare and topped with a rich shallot butter. The fries were credible if unremarkable, but the arugula salad was too stemmy, as if the prep person was in a hurry to get through his admittedly mind-numbing task. J had the pasta special (below right), which had ham, carrots, and radishes in a light lemon-cream sauce. This dish just missed, the individual ingredients fresh and flavorful (or they could have been), but over-whelmed by the too lemony sauce. For her plate w ordered the ham and cheddar panino with a mango marmalade and that was actually quite good with a generous side salad for $9. Then we came to my plate of food, which of course I had high hopes for: "Grilled pork shoulder, rice & lentil croquettes; green bean, rhubarb & red mustard salad" (below pic). Sounded so good, and the salad part was. But I didn't order it for the salad, I was in it for some pig, and that fell so far short. It was sliced pork shoulder, tender but overcooked (as were the too-crusty croquettes), with an insipid pan sauce that shredded the page out of the book that said "food should never be boring". This was the Guy Lombardo of entrées. Another of my pet peeves when I eat out is that when a server sees my empty plate, please come and pick it up. Nothing is worse than having an empty, dirty plate sitting in front of me. Our server made eye contact with me when I had finished, looked down at our table, and walked right by. Again, at least show some interest and professionalism, if it's not too much trouble.
Which just drove home my whole impression of our evening, and what I came away with was a feeling of a place that is still struggling to find itself and some consistency. The food prices are in the high-moderate range (BTW- the wine list does offer numerous values and is one of the more well-priced, interesting lists I've seen lately), and as with every restaurant consistency, in both service (and I don't mean consistently bad service) and food is paramount. Especially when a place is working with a limited number of menu items, there is no excuse for anything to be less than excellent. I was surprised, because I had heard from several people that after a rocky start things were turning around. With so many good options out there in our local dining scene, places that always seem to nail it time after time, dish after dish, inconsistency isn't to rewarded.
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After this experience we all headed down the street to Beaker and Flask to rehash and regroup, and once again Kevin, Tim, and the VERY professional and nice servers were spot on. This is exactly the kind of place I'll be rewarding again and again!

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