Wednesday, September 30, 2009

PDX Quick Bites: Ping; Koi Fusion; + coffee, carts, bars, and Taboada's, oh my!!

Some quick thoughts/observations from eating around town.....
After a recent lunch at Ping with my friend's Denise and her man K I asked on a twitter post if anyone else was as underwhelmed with Andy Ricker's Ping as I am? This place opened with great hype, riding the PDX Asian street food wave created by his much better Pok Pok. Both times I have been to Ping I am always kind of "meh". Okay, so where are all these amazingly creative, vibrant flavors? From what I hear about Thai street food, you can have fireworks going off in your mouth. Ping is like a sparkler that gives you a minor thrill, then fizzles. It seems it has been dumbed down for local consumption. Some things I like: the octopus skewer (below right) was nicely al dente with the requisite fire. The meat stuffing in the pork bao (pic at top) was very flavorful, but the bun surround was too chewy (and not a good deal at $4 each). The other things were....nice...but seemed to lack spark. And finally, I have to join the chorus that goes "what the hell is up with the skewers HAVING to be ordered by the 2 each?" If I'm by myself, maybe I only want one skewer so I can try more things. Would the orbit of the Ping kitchen really come to a screeching halt if they had to put skewer?!? And I have to say, the few small bits of over-cooked lamb on that skewer for $6 (oh, wait, I meant $3 each as they are listed on the menu, but you have to order 2...*#@!%^) were not a terribly good deal...or a just plain terrible deal. The greater mystery is how can Pok Pok be so good, and this place not so much? Answers, anyone??
Ping on Urbanspoon
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So, with being less than satisfied with the Ping lunch, Denise and I (sadly K had to go back to work) wandered a couple blocks down to Burnside and 4th, where the roving Koi Fusion Korean taco cart was parked for the day. In the food media world it seems you can't throw a tortilla without hitting an article about Korean taco carts. It started with the Kogi carts that are the hottest thing in L.A. dining. Koi owner Bo Kwon, inspired by a visit to Kogi decided to give us a Portland version. The Koi marinated meats are delicious. Fresh made corn tortillas, creative Asian style topping, and tender, very flavorful Bulgogi tacos and my favorite, the Korean Short Rib tacos are fantastic at $2 each (hello Ping? $2 each, and I can order ONE if I want). Both marinated in what their website calls "Mama Kwon’s secret sauce" they were spicy, savory, and sweet....and delicious! We also tried the spicy Bulgogi pork taco, which could have used a lot more seasoning. I can't wait to go back and try the two beef tacos again, as well as the Seoul Sliders, which are tacos with "Bulgogi BBQ beef, shredded napa cabbage, griddled onions, crisp bean sprouts and spicy mayo". You can find out where to get your Koi on by checking their twitter feed, and it is totally worth the chase!
Koi Fusion on Urbanspoon
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TASTY BITS: A double shot of good news for those who like to get their caffeine high going. I was hanging outside the Spella Caffé coffee cart downtown, swilling another of owner Andrea Spella's perfect double espressos, when I found out he is opening a store at SW 5th and Alder that he hopes to have going by Dec. 1st. Great coffee without the raindrops falling on my head? I am so in!.....The other coffee shot is the news flash that Billy Wilson, owner of Barista coffee in the "Pearl", dropped on twitter yesterday that he has just signed a lease for a space on NE Alberta. Billy is a fanatic about sourcing high quality organic coffee from small boutique roasters around the U.S., and his drinks, as you'd expect from a champion barista, are top notch.

Add Pok Pok: It was written up in our local fishwrap that Pok Pok/Whiskey Soda Lounge owner Andy Ricker is opening a bar just kitty corner from his always rocking spot on SE Division, so us poor bastards who wait outside in all kinds of weather can have a warm, dry place inside to get some alcohol fueled warmth and a few tasty bar snacks. The new space will become Whiskey Soda Lounge and Pok Pok across the street will be just that.
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Just opened in my Sellwood 'hood (and conveniently just across the street from the wine shack) is a new food cart called Bruce Lee Kitchen. I've checked out their phat thai and red curry, both around $5 and $6, and was really impressed. The phat thai isn't quite a classic style, being somewhat spicier than your normal version, but it was bursting with fresh flavor. And I was even more smitten with cart owner Liza's red curry (pic at left), which was a deep, rich, lightly creamy and pungently flavored blast of palate pleasure. Great values, and an excellent compliment to the goodness always coming out of the Garden State cart which sits right next to BLK. My life continues to receive many tasty blessings!
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Portland Monthly blogger Mike Thelin mentioned in his post Monday that Navarre's John Taboada is opening another space just down from Navarre on 22nd and E. Burnside he is going to call Luce (pron. loo-chay). It's a two room spot, one of which will house a large commercial kitchen, the other a spot Taboada hopes to turn into a dining room event space seating up to 60 people (a la Beast?). Taboada, whose Navarre was named "Restaurant of the Year" by The Oregonian last year, cagily says he should be open "Soon".

Monday, September 28, 2009

Raita: millions of Indians can't be wrong!

It was halfway through the main course of spice crusted pork (recipe to come this week) last night during a dinner party at our house when my friend Amy said "This is delicious, but I wish I had some raita." I instantly had that "oh shit" moment and ran to the fridge to grab the bowl of raita I had made with such anticipation earlier in the day and completely forgot to bring to the table. Better late than never I suppose.

Raita. As ketchup is to Americans, chismol to Hondurans, and ajvar to those of the Balkan persuasion, raita is the yogurt-based accompaniment that millions of Indian families will not go without. As Vikram Vij says in his "Vij's Cookbook", where this recipe come from: "With the exception of coconut curries, it's hard to think of any Indian dish with which we would not eat raita." And no wonder. With its subtly complex flavor and cool, creamy texture, it's the perfect foil to the pungently spicy dishes of India. Vij says they also at times eat it on its own as a soup. Ridiculously easy to make, this is a must at your next sub-continental soirée!
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Cucumber Raita
from the Vij's Cookbook

2 cups plain yogurt
1 medium to large cucumber, peeled or unpeeled (do not use bitter cucumbers or the long English cucumber. If you want to add color to this dish, don't peel the cucumber. Make sure the peel is not bitter)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp garam masala
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
1/4 cup milk (optional, use if raita appears too thick)

Place yogurt in bowl. Using a hand grater, grate cucumber and all of its water into the yogurt. Stirl well to combine. Add salt, garam masala, and pepper, and mix well.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Forget the revolution, let's have a drink!

Any country that uses a drink competition to name its Trago Nacional, or "national swig." because "Nicaragua needs a new identity that doesn't have anything to do with revolution." deserves my respect and attention. Hell, any country that has a national drink is to be be given its proper due! I read about this bit of national enlightenment/envy in this column by the Washington Post's spirits writer Jason Wilson. He cynically mused that the drink actually has more to do with "a familiar sense of cultural envy: Cuba had its mojito. Mexico had the margarita. Why didn't Nicaragua have its own cocktail?" Why indeed? Being that we are experiencing a bout of early fall weather that wouldn't be out of place in a tropical country, it seemed the perfect moment to feel brotherhood with this perennially dysfunctional Central American nation.

As I've mentioned many times before, the national drink of my despotically ruled 50'x100' plot of Portlandia is the negroni. But like all leaders, I want to understand the broader world, so with that in mind I went to the local mercato and purchased the necessary guava juice, went home to my palatial presidential estate, and shook and strained out this deliciously refreshing bit of Latin American culture (as much as something that was invented out of the ether just 3 years ago can be of cultural significance). It did have a perfect bit of sweet tartness, and the not-too-fruity guava juice was the perfect match with the rum. It would definitely not be out of place at a tiki party. All I can say is "Viva la Revolucion!!", because this is one drink any nation should would proud to call its own!
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El Macua Cocktail
Recipe and the following summary from Jason Wilson: Named after a tropical bird native to Central America, this was declared the "national drink of Nicaragua" in late 2006, after a countrywide competition that took place during the heat of that year's ugly presidential campaign. El Macua is light, tart and only a bit sweet: the perfect drink for a warm afternoon. Goya's guava juice is good to use, though guava nectar by Jumex is acceptable (the drink will be yellow instead of pink). Though white rum works best, an aged rum such as Flor de Caña's 7-year is also nice.

1 serving
2 ounces rum
2 ounces guava juice (see headnote)
1 ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 ounce simple syrup (see NOTE)
Orange slice, for garnish

Fill a cocktail shaker halfway with ice. Add the rum, guava juice, lemon juice and simple syrup; shake well for at least 30 seconds, then strain into an ice-filled highball or Collins glass.
Garnish with the orange slice.
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one year ago today @ E.D.T.: Anthony Bourdain's hair, the early years!

You are where you live

And dammit, if I want to live in a pineapple, then that's what I'm going to do! Although I personally like the picnic basket building in this fun collage of buildings that look like food. Although what I'm really pining for is a three bedrrom mid-century BLT on a half acre. Maybe someday............

thanks for the tip to @steamykitchen on twitter

Thursday, September 24, 2009

You call this work??

As I said to some people in an email this morning, this is yet another reason I absolutely LOVE working for myself. This morning's big chore at work: setting up the Weber out back of VINO to slow roast herb scented tomatoes for some sauce making. I'm guessing if I worked in some office building downtown it might be a bit problematic to set the 'que out on the sidwalk. Here, in the lovely Sellwood neighborhood of Portland, not so much. Now, come January and February, when memories of fresh tomatoes are somewhere in a warm, hazy cloud, all I have to do is pull a container of this blast of Indian summer out of the freezer (that's a bowl of it I made a couple of years ago at right), toss it with some pasta, and suddenly it isn't quite so cold outside. The heat from 4 to 5 hours of roasting concentrates the sugars in the tomatoes, yet still preserving all the sweet, fresh summer flavor. There are tomatoes coming on by the bushels out of gardens and farmer's markets right now. If not for you, then for those who depend on you for sustenance you must take advantage!!
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Slow Roasted, Herb Scented Tomato Sauce
an E.D.T. original

Destem tomatoes and cut in half. Arrange on foil that has been placed on top of grill grate (poke several holes in foil to facilitate smoke seepage). Arrange tomatoes on top as shown above. Drizzle olive oil and sprinkle salt on tomatoes and top with sprigs of thyme (I’ve also stuck a few sprigs of water soaked rosemary under the foil). Place grill over medium-hot fire, cover grill and let roast for four or five hours (you may need to replenish the charcoal to maintain the temperature). When done, carefully slide tomatoes off of grill with spatula into large bowl. When cool place tomatoes in food processor in batches and purée until smooth. Portion into freezer containers, place in freezer, and wait for winter! You can also do this in a 250* oven, but you’ll lose out on the herb-tinged smokiness that takes this sauce over the top.
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one year ago today @ E.D.T.: Super seasonal (and delicious) caponata!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

PDX Quick Bites: The Deck is divine; + Tabor Food Cart and Bro Dogs

How did I not know about The Deck? Not that thing outside my backdoor, but that place on Portland's backdoor, a hideaway on the Columbia River off Marine Drive that is a throwback to all that is outdoors and thirst inducing. A place where the cocktails are strong, the food is, well, okay, and the beers are cold. It is a place where the hangout factor is huge, and the mellow vibe will instantly take hold. It's like a mini-vacation in the city. If it is sunny out and you're not here watching the sailboats slide by on the Columbia, then you are clearly in the wrong place in your life.

w and I picked the gloriousness that was last Sunday to ride our bikes out (an effort I use as rationalization for any consumption), rolling out NE 33rd Avenue and crossing at McCuddy's Marina, where floating among the various pleasure craft is the real pleasure to be had at The Deck. Cold beer in hand, easing the leg burning pain of the ride, I ordered their special of a fried halibut sandwich (right), and w had the tuna melt. I won't go too much into the food, because that is not the point here. The food is merely filler to soak up whatever alcoholic indulgence you might be getting into. Suffice to say they were both good, and the fries were a bit above average. Sitting on the deck, just chilling (in the metaphorical sense) and basking in the late
summer sun I was LOVING it. However, the love is short lived, because here's the rub: The Deck is only open from April through the end of September (this year through Oct. 3rd). Meaning you have exactly the next ten days to experience this piece of PDX heaven before, Brigadoon-like, it slips away for the next six months!
The Deck on Urbanspoon
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You more than likely have heard tales about the glory that is the Tabor Food Cart Schnitzelwich, the breaded and fried über-sandwich that cart owners Karel and Monika Vitek have been using to deliciously clog PDX arteries for the past few years. If you haven't yet been so informed, click here for my first experience. I found myself downtown last Monday in need of sustenance and was a block away from Tabor, so I walked over with every intention of getting my schnitzelwich on. That is until I saw the Szekely (pron. "seh-kee") Goulash (pictured above) on special. Pork, paprika, cream, kraut, dumpling, and of course the most important ingredient "more". How could I not. And once again Karel and Monika did not disappoint. Right on par with their rarely seen chicken paprikash this was rich, intensely flavored, the bread-like dumplings perfect for sopping up the sauce. At $6.50 this was filling in the way I would imagine all eastern Euro food should be, giving strength for the afternoon of tractor driving that would usually follow a hearty lunch in the Czech countryside. That is what follows lunch in the Czech countryside, isn't it??
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I also had the opportunity to sniff out Bro Dogs down in the same cart utopia where Tabor is located. Bro Dogs is keeping Portland "Brolicious" with their array of offerings powered by Sabrett kosher dogs. When I was there I went straight for the unvarnished Classic Bro Dog, which was actually quite good, a plain Sabrette dog wrapped up in a flat bread roll that snugly keeps the hot dog tucked inside and the condiments off of your clothes. At $4 I wouldn't call it a screaming deal, maybe even a little overpriced, but the quality is all there. Worth a try, but at that price I'll head over to Sheridan Fruit where I still feel their grilled dog reigns supreme.

Breaking the fast

Not only do I love the picture above of workers in Pakistan preparing noodles for the Eid ul-Fitr celebrations that mark the end of Ramadan (thanks to @ivysfeast on twitter), I love the accompanying article from the UK Guardian about one person's plans for breaking the fast. If this story doesn't get your tummy rumbling in envy, then may Allah bestow enlightenment upon you.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Fresh Corn and Wild Mushroom Risotto

You've got to be feeling some serious pressure tight now, don't you? Summer is winding down...actually over officially two hours ago (and still 90 freakish degrees here in Portland!)...and that means the bounty that is filling farmer's market stalls and bursting out of gardens everywhere is coming to a close. That's why when w and I were at the Montavilla Farmer's Market last Sunday I had to grab some gorgeous ears of corn, and that was after a customer at VINO stopped by Saturday and bestowed upon me a few choice hunks of white chanterelle mushrooms (!!!) he had just picked that morning. Customers who bring me I lucky or what?!? I immediately thought risotto when I saw the mushrooms, then the thought of adding the brilliant yellow corn, some fiery flashes of red from some chopped padron peppers from my garden (those are the lovely 3" beauties at right), and of course pancetta because everything's better with cured pork! That was pretty much all it took to make one of the best risotto I've had all summer, the corn kernels popping in our mouths, the earthy forest taste of the mushrooms, their sweet/rich flavors set off against the spice from the peppers. Late summer/early fall comfort has never felt better!
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Fresh Corn & Wild Mushroom Risotto
an E.D.T. Original
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
5 oz pancetta chopped in a 1/4" dice
1 pound wild mushrooms- chanterelles, shiitakes, etc., chopped
1/4 cup finely chopped padron pepper, or other medium-hot red pepper, with seeds removed
2 cups fresh corn kernels, cut off of two or three ears
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup onion finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 cups arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
48 oz chicken broth or stock,
1 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
Salt and freshly ground pepper

1- In medium saucepan heat chicken broth until simmering. While stock is heating in a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat add two tablespoons oil. Add diced pancetta and cook until slightly crisp, about 8-10 minutes. When cooked remove pancetta with slotted spoon and set aside. Pour off excess fat, leaving two tablespoons in skillet. Add chopped mushrooms and sauté for about 8 minutes until softened. Add chopped pepper, pancetta, and corn and sauté for another minute or two. Remove skillet from heat.
the mushroom/corn/pepper/pancetta mixture

2- in medium (3-4 qt.) sauce pan, add remaining 2 tablespoons oil and 2 tablespoons butter and heat over medium heat until foaming. Add onions and sauté for 5 minutes. Add garlic and sauté for another minute. Add rice and stir for 1 minute until all the rice is well coated. Pour in 1/2 cup of wine and stir until almost all of it is absorbed. Add broth/stock to rice (about 3/4 cup at a time) stirring constantly. Let each ladling of broth be almost absorbed until adding another. Keep ladling and stirring until rice is soft outside but with a slight crunch in the middle, about 20 minutes. When rice is almost done, reheat corn/mushroom mixture. When rice is done, add corn/mushrooms and stir to combine. Add 1/2 cup of cheese and combine well. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper. Serve immediately.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Sunday Morning

I know it's Monday morning, but yesterday I was too busy scarfing down fresh huckleberry pancakes at home to post this delicious pic. Huckleberries....yet another reason for late summer love!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Local Flavor, Rucker style

Is there a future in front of the camera for Gabriel Rucker, owner/chef of PDX's Le Pigeon? Maybe, maybe not, but I kind of like his act in these short videos he did for Travel Oregon. Here's a sample from youtube. Click here to watch Gabe travel Oregon with his distinct view, interacting with winemakers, brewers, ranchers and others who bring so much local flavor to our tables. If you've eaten at LP, did ya ever imagine you'd would see him in chaps on a horse getting his cowboy on? Yeah, neither did I!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Perspectives on Ramadan

A fascinating slide show from slate about Ramadan observances around the world. The glare of a Palestinian woman at an Israeli guard is particularly chilling.

picture from slate

Friday, September 18, 2009

Family secret revealed: Vij Family's Chicken Curry

I've written before (click here to read all the salivatory details) about our trip to the North American mecca of Indian food that is Vij's Restaurant in Vancouver, BC. There all is sub-continental and sublime. Before we had left w had picked up a copy of the Vij's Cookbook, which until our visit we hadn't cracked. Since then I am constantly looking for inspiration within. Last week w stated that she had the desire for Indian. Me, always being eager to please, knew just where to turn. But when so much opportunity presents itself, where to start? This seemed as good as anyplace. I mean if it is good enough for Vij's family, and his own mother made it, you think it isn't worthy? Me neither. One bite in, you'll agree. With the other things I've made from the Vij's Cookbook (like this fabulous coconut curried vegetable side), this has remarkably complex flavors that are coaxed out of very few ingredients (that is a few of the key spices at right). The key is each ingredients is so flavorful, that the whole coats your tastebuds in savory pleasure. This is tremendously easy to put together, and so rewarding. One final word: be prepared as feelings of inner peace and happiness are soon to be yours!
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Vij Family's Chicken Curry

½ cup canola oil
2 cups finely chopped onions (2 large)
3-inch stick of cinnamon
3 tablespoons finely chopped garlic
2 tablespoons chopped ginger
2 cups chopped tomatoes (2 large)
1 tablespoon salt
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon garam masala
½ teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
3 pounds chicken thighs, bone in
1 cup sour cream, stirred
2 cups water
½ cup chopped cilantro (including stems)

1-In a large pan, heat oil on medium heat for one minute. Add onions and cinnamon, and sauté for five to eight minutes, until onions are golden. Add garlic and sauté for four more minutes. Add ginger, tomatoes, salt, pepper, turmeric, cumin, coriander, garam masala and cayenne. Cook this masala for five minutes, until the oil separates.
the masala coming together.... and smelling SO good!
2-Remove and discard skin from the chicken thighs. Wash thighs and add to the masala. Stir well. Cook chicken thighs for 10 minutes, until the chicken looks cooked on the outside. Add sour cream and water and stir well. Increase the heat to medium-high. When curry starts to boil, reduce the heat to medium, cover and cook for 15 minutes, stirring two or three times, until chicken is completely cooked. Poke the thighs with a knife. If the meat is still pink, cook for five more minutes. Remove and discard the cinnamon stick. Cool curry for at least half an hour.
the chicken after the addition of sour cream & water
3-Transfer cooked chicken to a mixing bowl. Wearing latex gloves, peel chicken meat off the bones. Discard bones and stir chicken back into the curry. Just before serving, heat curry on medium heat until it starts to boil lightly. Stir in cilantro. Divide curry evenly among six bowls.
Serves 6

Thursday, September 17, 2009

PDX Quick Bites: Beaker & Flask

When is a bar not a bar? That thought wandered across my mind as w and I were sitting in Beaker & Flask a couple of nights ago in the midst of what was turning into one of the most satisfying dinners we'd had in a long time. The reason for that musing was when B&F was getting started, the buzz around town was that bartending savant Kevin Ludwig was finally fulfilling his dream of opening his own place, and won't it be a cool place to grab a drink or three? That sort of chatter only increased as he pilfered (and I use that term with all due respect for the talent behind the bar) some of the best mixologists from across the city to work with him. "Oh, and he's going to have food? Yeah great, but only to soak up those killer drinks, I'm sure." I was right in there, fully expecting some creative intoxicants to come spilling across the bar, but not imagining the food would be that much of a wow factor. And the cocktails uphold their end. Pictured at left is my Dock Ellis, a heart warming blend of rye whiskey, limoncello, Dolin Blanc vermouth, Cynar, and bitters (not quite as mind bending as the inspiration for the drink's name, ex-big league pitcher Dock Ellis whose biggest claim to fame is supposedly having pitched a no hitter for the Pittsburgh Pirates while peaking on LSD). Well, after last Tuesday's dinner my preconceived notions about the menu have been tossed aside like a poorly made negroni.
Turns out this guy Ben Bettinger who Kevin hired to run the kitchen is doing some creative magic of his own back in their open kitchen, at least equaling the stellar drinks that are being shaken and stirred behind the bar. Not only excellent food at outstanding prices, but generous portions on their app menu to boot. Case in point on the new menu are the Grilled Pork Cheeks (pictured above) with braised peppers, pickled octopus, and aioli which Kevin strongly suggested ordering when he and I were talking before w made her grand entrance. Not ones to ignore insider information we of course ordered it, and it did not disappoint. Perfectly grilled fork-tender pork cheeks, a much underutilized part of this remarkably delicious animal, the B&F version was piled with lightly sautéed peppers and succulent octopus, with a slash of aioli drizzled across the top. The whole was served atop a crispy piece of rustic toast, and it was fabulous. A dish worth developing a serious craving for, and a portion that would easily work as an entrée. All for a meager $9! Since we were sharing a main course, we also ordered the Fried Razor Clams ($10) with beets, frisée, and horseradish cream; and the Grilled Romaine ($7) with salsa verde and smoked feta. Again the razor clam was an eye popping portion, with a light breading, fried to a crispy golden brown, and blessedly tender as there are so many leather tough versions to be had out there. The grilled romaine salad was excellent, the piquant salsa verde dressing complimenting the slight char from the grill and the smoky feta. Really a great start (especially with a mug of hop-a-licious 60 Minute IPA from Dogfish Brewery. With all the genius cocktails to ponder, they've also got some great beers frothing out of the taps), and we giving each other that "Wow, this is some seriously good stuff" look.

Then along came our entrée, a very lovely to look at, delightful to eat Pan Seared Black Cod with mussels, chorizo, fennel, and green beans. A simple plate like this is surprisingly one of seemingly easiest things for a kitchen to screw up. Is the fish seasoned too much? Is it dry? Too much sauce? Apparently Chef Bettinger hadn't heard about those concerns, because his presentation was absolutely spot on! w declared the cod perfectly cooked, and we loved its salty, crispy skin. Still so very moist and fresh like it came swimming out onto my plate, with the surround of mussels, chorizo, and veggies providing an inspired textural contrast. In other words our mouths were loving this! I washed it down with a glass of J. Christopher "Croft Vineyard" Sauvignon Blanc which is not only the best sauv blanc made in America, but a ridiculously food friendly white.

This was followed not by dessert but an unctuous glass of Bas Armagnac cognac, yet another reason to respect the French and their liqurious ways. I really like the B&F space, brightly lit (at certain times of the early evening a bit too), very comfortable open space. The bar stools are some of the most butt worthy spots to park it in town, and the service is always friendly. With Kevin providing direction and his crew whipping out the goods behind the bar, and Bettinger obviously showing some serious chops in the kitchen, Beaker & Flask is a great, near-bargain priced night out. Put it on your "get there soon" list!
Beaker and Flask on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Vacation pt 2: Roadhouse of my dreams?

The thing I dream about on every road trip is coming across the perfect roadhouse, a place you know has been around for years and hasn't changed a whole hell of a lot. The requirements: 1-Cozy atmosphere; 2- veteran waitresses (sorry PC police. I want female servers, preferably 30+ years old, hopefully ones who not only can dish the food but just plain dish); 3- decent food. Doesn't have to be great, but good, maybe with some homemade desserts. In my experience this kind of place is immeasurably harder to find than a great city restaurant. But I'm sure you know where I'm going here. On our two nights in the Crater Lake area I think the most beautiful site I saw was a plate of huckleberry pie a la mode at Beckie's Restaurant in the "town" of Union Creek, which basically consists of Beckie's, a "lodge" across the street, and an ice cream place. Pair that with a credible cheeseburger and fries and better than average tuna melt and a cold mug of Deschutes Mirror Pond Ale and this is like something I almost had to pinch myself to believe. Besides the glory of the fresh huckleberry pie, they had a long list of other homemade pies that tempted me. But the huckleberry, which they said was almost out as it was end of season for fresh berries, was quite possibly the best version I've ever had. The exquisite crust flaked away, the berries were plump, ripe, with that oh-so-satisfying sweet/sour thing going on, and a more than healthy scoop of vanilla bean ice cream. All this pleasure for an insanely affordable $5.75 a slice. Crazy. I stopped by the next morning on our way out for 2 slices to go. One does not let opportunity like this pass them by! I know it may be years, if ever, that I get back, and it pains me. If you're ever remotely close, get there!
w lounging post-lunch on the veranda at Beckie's
Other highlights of the trip:
Site #121 at LaPine State Park (with the Silver Streak resting oh so comfortably and Chopper keeping watch), with the Deschutes River running by off the backside of our site. A great spot, although I have to say that ponderosa pines do become a bit redundant.

Grilling fresh caught Columbia River chinook salmon and super sweet corn over the campfire at LaPine. Simple camp cooking that was one of the best things I've had in a long time!

Hiking above Paulina Lake, with a great view of the lake and its sweet campground below.

Climbing up Garfield Peak which rises to an altitude of 8000', putting it about 1700' above Crater Lake and gives staggering views not only of the lake, but also south towards Shasta and various other Cascade peaks. As a guy from England we met at the top said "you won't see this anywhere else in the world". True 'dat, brother! That's w at left making sure she can find our way off the top......

Seeing the Natural Bridge over the Rogue River, where you watch the churning Rogue disappear into a lava tube(at left), only to emerge anout 100 yards downstream from the rocks. Incredible!

And one word to the wise Crater Lake camper. We stayed at Joseph Stewart State Park about 35 miles from the lake. Skip please. Why the fuck they have acres of lawn in a state park is beyond me. Sprinklers going. It was like camping in my backyard. We couldn't even really muster the spirit to build a campfire. Plus Lost Creek Reservoir was half empty, leaving a dry, jagged scar above whatever water remained. A much better choice would be a sweet little primitive campground we checked out on our way to Waldo Lake, Hamaker Campground. A deeply forested spot that you can drive a smaller RV into or pitch your tent, and it is very close to the entrance road to Crater Lake. Well worth putting on your list.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Vacation, pt 1: Paradise found

You know you're someplace special when you can't wait to get out of a comfy warm trailer bed on a cold morning and get down to lake's edge to take in the view. With a hot mug hot mug of fresh coffee (left) providing added inspiration, mornings like this at Waldo Lake in the central Oregon Cascades are what I go on vacation for. How to describe Waldo Lake.....Stunning? Breathtaking? Idyllic? A place I would go back to again and again? All of the previous, and probably the most beautiful camping I've ever done. Keeping in mind this was at the end of a week long tour of central and southern Oregon where we did some amazing hiking and saw the natural insanity that is the beauty of Crater Lake, it is saying a lot.
w standing lakeside in front of "our" island
There are three campgrounds at Waldo, and w had her eyes set on the southern most area called Shadow Bay. We had our sights set on a lakeside spot, but could se the place was filling fast. Then at the end of our loop tour, we came across site....and I'm giving up this site number assuming you won't be keeping it from me....F-80. Perfect for backing the trailer into. Far enough away from the neighbors so you hardly know they're there. A 100' walk to lakes edge, where two little islands sat just offshore, serenely and scenically awaiting our exploration. Yeah, this was it. The weather was fabulous, the water warm enough to swim in and crystal clear. Waldo Lake, along with Crater Lake and some lake in Siberia, is one of the three purest lakes in the world. I almost felt guilty tainting it with my body. But I did and it felt goooood! The water was shallow enough off of our 'beach" that you could practically walk out to the islands. The larger of the two even had huckleberries ripening on its bushes. Amazing! What we didn't have, and I wish we did, was a canoe as there were flotillas of kayaks and canoes skimming across the lake. But with enough cocktails (including that delicious your honor right), beer, wine, and some pretty kickass camp cooking, we did just fine. Oh, and a bit of hiking was thrown in just to rationalize all the indulgence. I suggest you check out the Twin Peaks hike about a 1/4 mile from the campground entrance. A 6-1/2 mile round trip up to 7300' where you can look down at waldo and take in staggering views of the Three Sisters and various other cascade peaks. Did I mention this was a pretty complete experience? Enough talk, here's some photo evidence to help you make your next year's vacation plans....
w on the top of Twin Peaks looking out at the Three Sisters
Chopper relaxing by the water's edge,
pondering which chipmunk to chase
me in yet another fruitless attempt to get Chopper
to run back to camp for beer
if you could see behind the camera you'd find a very happy camper
enjoying another stunning sunset with a fizzy gin and tonic in his hand. Ahhhhh..........