Friday, May 31, 2013

Post 122: Portland - Olympic Provisions Seals the Deal (Portland: Southeast/Industrial)

For our last meal in Portland we headed to the Industrial District for the renowned Olympic Provisions, a purveyor of locally sourced quality meats.  It is more than just a butcher shop or salumeria.  It is a full fledged restaurant that serves dishes featuring fresh cuts of meats, vegetables that are in season and cheese galore.  The type of food that Olympic Provisions has on its menu is great for pairing with beer and wine.  After all, what goes better with cured meats and cheeses than a good bottle of red?

To start we had The Chef's Choice of five meats.  I really liked the pork and pistachio terrine, and we thought the dry cured salami selection was outstanding.

Another stand out dish was the mixed beans salad with frisée, basil pesto, and bread crumbs.  For those that are not a fan of these legumes, this salad will change all that.  It was cool, chill to the touch, and surprisingly refreshing.  The frisée was truly fresh, and the bread crumbs added the perfect slight crunch to pull the dish together.

The steak tartare was one of the best I have ever had.  The cuts of steak were mixed in with olives and parsley, and the perfect round of egg yolk was placed ever so carefully over the top.  Absolute perfection.  It was as fresh as fresh could be.

After some off-the-menu chef specials, we headed straight into dessert.  We closed off our last meal in Portland with the chilled roasted peach with crème anglaise, salted almonds and caramel.  By the time the dessert came out, I was so serene and content that I almost drowned into the roasted peach the way my spoon did.  There was something about sitting at the bar counter and watching the chefs at work at Olympic Provisions.  The stereotypical Portlandia cooks (tattoos, piercing, and facial hair all dressed in black) were working the line in a seemingly effortless calm.  Their smooth, orchestrated actions created a serene atmosphere that put all the guests at ease.  No shouting, loud noises or cacophonous clashes... it sealed the deal for my love of Portland.

Portland is a city of amazing food, friendly people, and crisp, clean air.  I will be back for more in June.  Until then, let's all get S.O.F.A.T.

ML - 20120915

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Post 121: Portland - Salt & Straw Offers Ice Cream of All Kinds (Portland: Northwest/Alphabet)

I love ice cream... all kinds of ice cream.  From the simple strawberry by Haagen Dazs to the ghastly garlic ice cream from The Stinking Rose, I love them all.  Some of the creative flavors that the chefs from Iron Chef America put together even seem intriguing to me.  I'm down to get away from plain Jane vanilla, and I'm constantly on a quest for a nutty chocolate flavor that can top that dollar scoop of Thrifty rocky road.  Really, it's the best.  While in Portlandia, we visited Salt & Straw, an ice cream shop on bustling Northwest 23rd that serves anything but ordinary flavors.  In fact, it was even featured on an episode of Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern.  But ice cream... how bizarre can it get?

Well, if it's from Portland, it can get pretty weird.  After all, as Portland residents always say, "Keep Portland weird."  And if it can be done with ice cream, then it shall be done.  From Brown Butter Popcorn with Pink Peppercorns to Pear with Blue Cheese, Salt & Straw offers it all.  And yes, there is a Double Fold Vanilla for those who are a bit more traditionalist when it comes to dessert.

There were quite a few people waiting for the all natural, organic, local Oregon ice cream offered in 15 different flavors.  Everyone in line tasted samples of as many flavors as possible.  Many of the flavors were creative, whimsical, even unimaginable... I mean, Aquabeet-Kroqstad Aquavit and Oregon Beets? What in the world is that?

The best way to try them all is to get the tasting flight and share.  Four scoops, two spoons, nine dollars, unlimited possibilities.  Okay, well, there are a limited number of combinations, but who's going to do the math? Writer here... not a mathematician. 

The first flavor we chose was the Strawberry Honey Balsamic with Black Pepper.  If whimsical is what is desired, then this is the one.  Strawberry... good.  Honey... good.  Balsamic... good.  Black pepper... good.  Put it all together... what am I eating? My brain couldn't figure it out, but it was so delicious.  And in just a few bites, it was over way too soon.

We also tried Almond Brittle w/ Salted Ganache.  Ah, so good.  The subtly sweet and salty combination was to die for... and I just loved the expected crunch from the almond brittle.  It's shake-my-head good.

Another one we tried was the Coffee & Bourbon.  A little extra drizzle of chocolate on top wouldn't have hurt, but this was already a good way to get in an afternoon caffeine kick.

Here is the ice cream that made no sense but so much sense at the same time.  Our final scoop on the flight of four flavors was the Chef Series of Ox-Foie S'mores, a house vanilla with hazelnut graham crumble swirled in with foie gras, s'mores, and veal stock fudge sauce.  Finally, foie gras, we meet again... but in ice cream.  That made no sense at all.  But combined with s'mores and fudge sauce, all of which are extremely rich flavors, this flavor combination didn't seem as bizarre anymore.  The fatty richness blended together in a complex yet fitting way, but I was more than glad that a few spoonfuls is all it took to finish this insanely decadent dairy dessert.

There is only so much ice cream that anyone can eat in one sitting before becoming sick, so that only means that I'll be back again to try all those seasonal flavors that I missed this time.  The Malted Plum and Horchata Sorbet do sound great on a warm summer day.

The next post will be the final in this first series of Portland eats.  Until then, let's all get S.O.F.A.T.

ML - 20120915

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Post 120: Portland - Off the Menu Mini Macarons from Little Bird (Portland: Southwest/Downtown)

Little Bird, the well known sister establishment of the even better known dining institution known as Le Pigeon, made little macarons.  They aren't featured on the menu, but I found them.  On our way back from Voodoo Doughnut with our arms full of devilishly decorated doughnuts, we passed by a window on Southwest 6th where I saw a young, female baker meticulously placing row after row of miniature macarons on metal trays.  I yanked on the door handle thinking it would lead me to a world of wonder, but it was locked.  The baker looked up and shook her head apologetically signally that they were not open.  But that didn't stop me.

Apparently, the mini macarons were made as complimentary post dinner desserts for restaurant patrons.  The baker said they weren't even on the menu nor were they for sale.  In a desperate and somewhat forceful attempt at securing some of my favorite dessert treats, I began taking dollar bills out of my wallet and told her I would pay for them... I would bribe her to relinquish those little round treasures.  She gave in and packaged as many as she could into a brown paper box for me.

They were light and crisp upon first bite.  And once the bite sinks into the filling... oh, the filling... it was almost like a soft fruit leather, sweet yet ever so subtly tart at the same time.  The combination of fig and balsamic was compacted to one easy little bite.  I loved that the fig seeds would pop up every so often, reminding me that they were made from fresh fruit and not overly pumped with butter, cream and coloring like macarons from the mass produced chains.  These were the best macarons I have ever had.  Sadly, this exact flavor may not be on hand on my return visit as the flavors change nightly... from red velvet to oatmeal raisin to apple cider... but I look forward to what Little Bird has in store for my next visit.  Until then, let's all get S.O.F.A.T.

ML - 20120915

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Post 119: Portland - Cursed by Voodoo Doughnut's Bacon Maple Bar (Portland: Southwest/Old Town/Chinatown/Downtown)

Every trip to Portland requires a visit to Voodoo Doughnut whether you love doughnuts or not.  It has become an institution in this city since opening its erection.  Some have flocked to this twenty four hour corner store to simply see the snake of a line, but many more wait patiently to experience that yes, indeed... the magic is in the hole.

Angela and I went to the shop to see what the fuss was all about, and I will stop just shy of saying that the doughnut shop put a spell on us because the two of us left with about three dozen doughnuts... for our friends and family, of course.  We were cursed by the voodoo doughnut to have an unrelenting craving for these fried rounds of dough, but partly, it was because we had absolutely no willpower.  None.

Here are the doughnuts that I bought with the exact descriptions from the menu on the Voodoo website... and some of my commentary.  The site may curse you with uninhibited gluttony too, and it may have possessed me to say some of these things.  Beware.

Voodoo DollRaised yeast doughnut filled with raspberry jelly topped with chocolate frosting and a pretzel stake! Apparently, each voodoo doll looks slightly different from the next.

Bacon Maple BarRaised yeast doughnut with maple frosting and bacon on top! This was delicious... my favorite.

Portland CreamRaised yeast doughnut filled with Bavarian cream.  Topped with chocolate and two eyeballs, representing the vision of our great city.  Well, what I see is a doughnut, so I think I will eat the vision of Portland.

Captain my CaptainRaised yeast doughnut with vanilla frosting and Captain Crunch! Like drugs, really.  I can smell the sweetness of the sugar.

Triple Chocolate PenetrationChocolate cake doughnut with chocolate frosting and Cocoa Puffs.  Who's gone kuckoo for Cocoa Puffs now?

Grape ApeRaised yeast doughnut with vanilla frosting, grape dust and lavender sprinkles! It looks a little like a solidified toxic version of grape Kool-Aid. 

Diablos RexChocolate cake doughnut with chocolate frosting, red sprinkles, vanilla pentagram and chocolate chips in the middle! This one looks like it's verging on voodoo too.

Dirt DoughnutRaised yeast doughnut with vanilla frosting and Oreos! It'd be cool if there were some gummy worms digging their way out of this thing.

Maple Blazer BluntRaised yeast doughnut shaped into a blunt and dusted with cinnamon sugar.  The tip is dipped in maple frosting and red sprinkle embers.  Prices vary due to Blazer Mania! OK, what someone smoking a blunt when they created this?

Marshall MathersPlain cake doughnut with vanilla frosting and mini M&M's! Haha, I get it... it's very punny.

Old Dirty BastardRaised yeast doughnut with chocolate frosting, Oreos and peanut butter! Combine the Old Dirty Bastard, the Marshall Mathers and the Maple Blazer Blunt, and you get a Rapper's Delight.  No joke.  It's on the menu for $4.20.

McMinnville CreamRaised yeast doughnut with Bavarian cream with maple frosting on top and two eyeballs and a mustache! Wait, does this guy have a brother or cousin that I've seen before?

NeapolitanChocolate cake doughnut with vanilla frosting, strawberry dust and three marshmallows! Why are we so excited about marshmallows?!

There you have it... a baker's dozen of the most popular devilish delights from Voodoo.  I took them back to So Cal with me.  Angela had a dozen of these too.  We got stares from everyone walking through the weird streets of Portlandia, and when we got moved up to the front of the plane (because the TV screen wasn't working), some of the passengers on the plane accused us of bribing the cabin attendants with doughnuts... jokingly, I think.  And back at Long Beach Airport, a dad even said to his son, "Hey, remember the man with all the doughnuts?"

Sugar overload for real.  Until the next voodoo curse, let's all get S.O.F.A.T.

ML - 20120915

Friday, May 17, 2013

Post 118: Portland - Best Sandwich Ever: The Cubano at Bunk Sandwiches (Portland: Southwest/Downtown)

I had a mouthgasm at Bunk Sandwiches in Portland.  It was the first that I have ever received from a sandwich.  Hats off to the Pork Belly Cubano for giving me this mind blowing experience.  So glad this is the one we chose to have over all the other sandwiches on the menu.

All that is between the bread is pork belly, ham, Swiss cheese, pickles and mustard.  For something that has no more than five ingredients, it is pretty incredible that this seemingly simple sandwich could rock my world.  It must have been the pork... the succulent, succulent pork.  I still have dreams about this sandwich.  I am literally drooling as I type this.  No joke.

I guess it could be the bread too... the crusty, toasty, warm bread.  I can usually pinpoint what makes or breaks my experience, but this time I really don't know.  This is one of those experiences that I haven't quite figured out.  Perhaps that's what made it so good.  Who knew that this small, unassuming shop in Downtown could produce an amazing-delicious sandwich? Well, I guess we know that it's not the size of the shop that matters but what it does with its ingredients... eh?

If you just had the best sandwich ever, would you go back for more as soon as you could? Or would you not want to risk it for fear that the second time around would disappoint? Okay, we got way too philosophical here... if that makes any sense.  Anyway, long story short... best sandwich of my life.  I said it.  Until the next sandwich induced mouthgasm, let's all get S.O.F.A.T.

ML - 20120915

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Post 117: Portland - Brunch Box and Portlandia Food Cart Pods (Portland: Southwest/Downtown)

What we know as food trucks in Southern California they know as food carts in Oregon.  There is a reason or two for this nominal difference.  For one, the food trucks in Southern California truly are traveling motorized trucks.  While they can be expected to visit certain locations on a regular basis, sometimes they need to be tracked down using social media as they move from site to site.  On the other hand, the food carts in Portland are much more sedentary and rarely roll away.  They sit in these pods or clusters in organized in the sort of way that books are neatly filed away on a library shelf.  One such shelf of food carts is located on Southwest 5th Avenue called Food Cart Alley.  We came here to visit Brunch Box, one of the most renowned food carts in Portlandia.

Brunch Box makes all sorts of breakfast and lunch sandwiches using burger buns, bagels, and Texas toast.  For those unfamiliar with Texas toast, it is extra thick slices of bread that is great for holding together sandwiches that are piled high quite possibly with ingredients that leak, drip, or run.  For those more familiar with Taiwanese toast, it is quite similar to brick toast except that it is used to hold a sandwich together.  To say that their menu has a wide array of hearty sandwiches is a complete understatement.  There is even a grilled cheese sandwich shaped into a dinosaur called the Cheezasaurus Rex.  Cheesy filled T-rex? Yes, please.

Of all the artery choking foods on the menu, though, what really caught my attention was the Hawaiian.  It had Spam, and lots of it.  I love Spam... and lots of it.  Along with grilled pineapple, cheese, a runny egg, and teriyaki sauce, the Hawaiian was quite a mouthful.  But it was delicious to the very last bite.  There were a few squirts of Sriracha somewhere in there too.  Good stuff.

Moseying down south one block and east two blocks to Southwest Washington and SW 3rd Avenue is another pod of food carts.  Here we found Batavia, a food cart specializing in Indonesian cuisine.  We ordered a lunch box of the house special Indonesian fried chicken.  It was not the crispy battered fried chicken that we are accustomed to, but it was spiced up and flavorful.  The rice was a great accompaniment, and although it looked like there was a large amount of it, the spicy chicken flavor and sauce went a long way.  In fact, the chicken had so much kick that the fresh tomatoes and cucumbers really calmed the fire on my tongue down.

Also located in the same pod of food carts is Elmasry Egyptian Food.  We saw a good amount of the late night crowd stopping for a bite here in the wee hours of the morning after the bars close, so we hopped in line too.  We got a chicken shawarma that was absolutely huge in proportion.  The meat was tender and juicy enough that I picked at it toward the final bites of the pita wrapped sandwich.  Oh, and the sauce... the sauce is amazing.

There seemed to be quite a few food stands specializing in Thai cuisine in the pods that we explored.  Nong's Khao Man Gai is supposedly one of the most popular carts in the Downtown area, but they were not open for business when we visited.  This will be in the plans for a return visit to Portland this June.  Until then, let's all get S.O.F.A.T.

ML - 20120914-15

Monday, May 13, 2013

Post 116: Portland - Whiskey, Beer, and Drinking Vinegar at Whiskey Soda Lounge (Portland: Southeast/Richmond/Clinton)

While we waited for the most authentic, non-authentic Thai food at Pok Pok, our hostess recommended that we go across the street to Whiskey Soda Lounge, a relaxing bar of sorts that is also part of the Pok Pok restaurant family.  Whiskey Soda Lounge offers a wide variety of beverages.  There are plenty of international beers, particular from Asia.  The menu also includes Taiwan Beer, which I was very surprised to see at a modern whiskey lounge in Oregon of all places.  There are also drinking vinegars, which is just what it sounds like... a diluted form of vinegar consumed for its supposed health benefits.

There are also whiskeys from around the world... from countries that are not typical whiskey producing countries such as America, Ireland, and Scotland.  I ordered the Khing & I.  It was made with Mekhong, known as a Thai whiskey, combined with lime and house made ginger syrup.  The ginger was not biting but was strong enough to inject a state of rejuvenation before dinner.  The lime cleansed my palate, and of course, the whiskey induced a euphoric sense of vacation.

We also tried the Lord Bergamot among other cocktails, but before we knew it, it was time to cross the street again back to Pok Pok for dinner.  I liked that the menu includes a message telling its guests to be careful crossing the street.  From what I observed, though, Portland drivers seem to stop for all pedestrians and slow down around cyclists.  It must be the clean air and water here.

Until our next meal, let's all get S.O.F.A.T.

ML - 20120914

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Post 115: Portland - Finally Made it to Pok Pok Thai (Portland: Southeast/Richmond/Clinton)

I finally made it to Pok Pok in Portland.  I have heard about this place from many, many friends for a long, long time.  Anyone who lives in Portland, has been to Portland, or is about to make a trip to Portland knows about this place.  Is this the best Thai restaurant in Portland? Possibly.  Is there even a large ethnic Thai population in Portland? Hardly.  So why have people have said that this is the most authentic, non-authentic Thai food they have ever eaten outside of Thailand? What the hell does that even mean?

Well, the creator and head chef of Pok Pok is Andy Ricker, and he is a white man.  The common culinary conception is that a white man cannot make good Asian food.  But if that is the rule, then there are always exceptions to the rule.  Chef Andy Ricker is the exception.  He presents what he calls Northern Thai peasant food to the people of Portland (and now Brooklyn) with recipes and ideas that he picked up from his travels to the Land of a Thousand Smiles.  But let's not get it twisted.  No one comes here to eat pad thai.  It isn't even on the menu.

What the people of Portland come to eat on the patios of Pok Pok is pure and unpretentious peasant food.  It is the people's food... dishes that Northern Thai people make at home on a daily basis.  It is not the food that can be found at restaurants or at the typical street stall down some soi in Bangkok.  It is food like muu paa kham waan, a charcoal grilled boar collar dish.  It is rubbed down with garlic, coriander root, black pepper before cooking and glazed with sugar and soy.  Sliced and served with a sauce of spicy chili, lime, and garlic, it is considered a great pairing with alcohol.  With its fatty succulence and the fiery spice, it is definitely something that should be eaten with beer.  Rather, it is something that must be eaten.

Ike's Vietnamese fish sauce wings are another must-eat on the Pok Pok menu.  It is not entirely Thai as it actually originates from the Vietnamese home of the restaurant's daytime cook, but it still has a bit of Thai flair with its spiciness.  It is marinated in fish sauce and sugar, deep fried, and then tossed in more fish sauce and minced garlic.  These glorious and spicy chicken wings go great with beer too.  We ordered one spicy and one traditional plate each.

Other daily Northern Thai dishes include kaeng hung leh, a homey sweet pork belly and pork shoulder curry, khao soi, a curry noodle soup, and papaya pok pok, or what we commonly know as green papaya salad.  Since we were in a large group, we tried all of these dishes and more, and I know that I would be happy to eat these dishes at home... peasant or not.

Not knowing how these dishes actually taste in Northern Thailand, though, sparks my curiosity.  Perhaps it is time for a return visit to Thailand.  But for now there is much more food to be had in Portland... and a few drinks too.  Until next time, let's all get S.O.F.A.T.

ML - 20120914

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Post 114: Portland - Surprise Visit to The Meadow, A Salt and Chocolate Shop (Portland: North Portland/Boise/Mississippi)

All in one morning Angela and I flew from Southern California to Portland, warmed up our stomachs with oysters and charcuterie, devoured a hearty breakfast, and polished off pastrami sliders and cookies.  If that isn't reason enough to take a fat nap, then I don't know what is.  We were determined to find the closest public transportation back to our hotel in the Southwest quadrant of Portland to take said nap, so we wandered west from North Williams Avenue to North Mississippi in search of said public transportation.  While meandering through the quaint residential streets of Boise neighborhood, we came across a section of restaurants and coffee shops that peaked our interest.  We stayed away from more meals, but we did enter this unassuming salt and chocolate shop called The Meadow.

Salts were proudly displayed from wall to wall.  The shelves of chocolate started at the floor and almost reached the ceiling.  There was a table of wine tasting and even a section dedicated just to bitters.  Every nook and cranny of the store was filled with something intriguing, mesmerizing... fascinating.

These chocolates were no ordinary chocolates.  On every shelf there were chocolates for eating, chocolates for drinking, chocolates for baking, dipping, dunking, saucing, and gifting.  Naturally, the best were the chocolates that were combined with salt.  Many of them had imported ingredients but were produced locally around Portland.  Some were even made in small batches and even numbered by hand on the label.  Pretty impressive.

I took some of the more unique flavors back with me... chocolate bars with tortilla, lime and salt (of course) and a few bars with ramen noodle scattered throughout.

The salts came from all over the world.  From sea salt to fleur de sel to salt blocks, there were an unimaginable plethora of salts.  And when we sampled them with the expert staff on hand, we were surprised to find out that not only do the various salts have different salinity, but they have different flavors as well.

If there is any place in Portland, or the entire country for that matter, to discover salts and how they can be tailored to your cooking and baking, The Meadow is the place.  Andrew Zimmern's episode of Bizarre Foods in Portland aired just last week with him visiting this hidden gem.

Okay, but really... nap time.  We need to rest before we restart our marathon of eating.  Until then let's all get S.O.F.A.T.

ML - 20120914