La Moule

Well, that was…. meh.

I am not hip enough for the Clinton neighborhood. Given the amount of pomade and very, very clean plaid shirts on display, I don’t know that anyone is- though they’re certainly trying. But following a stunning performance of NeZha the Dragon Conqueror at the Clinton Theater, we fetched up in what should have been a fine meal. It’s mussels in the Pacific Northwest. The only way to make it easier would be if they sauce themselves.

What followed was a lesson in musical composition taught by a college freshman – dishes that included all of the elements of a meal, but lacked the wisdom to tie all of the parts into a coherent tune.

Summer Salad –  Because who can resist “fancy herbs”. This really set the tone for the rest of the meal – each ingredient was, on it’s own, very good, but when you tossed them together it just got weird. Plum vying with cherry, then masked with cheese. And what’s the deal with the pumpkin seeds? Lots of things were crunchy in the salad and, so far as I could tell, they were unseasoned. Just a gritty texture at the bottom of the salad.

Cheese Board – This one was essentially “what youtube cooks think you should put on a cheese plate”. One blue, one hard, one soft, some pickles, some bread. Two of which were imported, which in a state like Oregon is basically a venal sin. Maybe you’re not going to hell, but you’re going to need dispensation from Saints Child and Bocuse before they let you out of purgatory.

Moules Catalan –  Momma always said that if you can’t say something nice, talk shit about people on the internet. And to their credit, this was definitely the best thing we had. The mussels are big and meaty and very, very good. The broth less so. You go into something like this expecting big wine and chorizo flavors and what came out was a fairly limp fish stock. Almost no heat, definitely under-salted. Just bland. I know the northwestern palate is unaccustomed to spice, but gimme something.

Duck  – it’s five spice duck. It’s hard to be generous about a thing that I’ve had – done in essentially the same way  over and over again. Just because you lump chimmichurri on it doesn’t make it interesting. It just overpowers the Chinese five spice. And I realize that you can make unspiced kimchi, but if I wanted sourkraut, I’d be back at Stammtish. Here too, the ubiquitous and totally unnecessary nuts – admittedly, a helpful textural note, but one that could have easily been played by a more robust kimchi. The eggplant, though, is fucking dynamite.

It was a meal without theme – music without composition. Each note played with workmanlike competence, but without joy, without risk. A bloodless meal in a bloodless restaurant. In the end, all I had was dinner.

 

http://www.lamoulepdx.com/

Ingrid’s Scandinavian Food

Bet you fuckers thought I forgot about you. But like elephants and my ex-wife, I never forget anything. And by “never forget” I mean ‘ was prompted to quick fucking around”. Turns out having a kid kinda puts a damper on your hobbies.

Admittedly, I’d never heard of this place – Most Persistent Dining Companion found it on the interwebs. It’s down in Oregon City – a place most notable for it’s municipal elevator. Once upon a time, it was the height of technology. It’s with projects like that Roosevelt beat the Nazi’s.

I’mma level with you chief, I don’t remember shit about the sandwiches here. The fillings are good – smoked fish and meatballs and sausage – but what you’re coming here for is the best fucking crepe-like thing I’ve ever had. The actual wrap, Lefse, is absolutely dynamite. They are soft and tender and I want one big enough to cuddle up in on a cold winter night. They’re like the hug your father will give you when he finally comes back with his smokes.

You need to go there. Right now. I mean it. I will find you and make you eat these. I have are a very particular set of skills, skills I have acquired over a very long career.

If Jesus decides to come back as a sandwich, he’d be a lefse.

https://www.facebook.com/scandinaviandishes/menu/

 

Kachka

Unlike all those assholes on Yelp, I am an expert on Russian cuisine. I saw that episode of Chef’s Table on Netflix and everything. So hitch up your hotpants and strap on your mesh vest, cause we’re gettin’ all post-Soviet chic in here.

First off – unlike some of the other “hottest” restaurants in Portland, Kachka actually delivers on the hype. And by hype, I mean, turns out delicious things that I assume are representative of Russian cooking because they told me it was. And they had vodka – lots of vodka. That’s got to be authentic, right?

We had a flight.

As is tradition, my dining companion and I went with the “one of each please” strategy:

Perlovka –  because salads can be fun too. With the exception of the dumplings, this was probably my favorite dish. It’s got an herby umami thing going on which is killer. Plus, you’re gonna need some fiber at the end of all this.

Herring ‘under a fur coat’ – Think seven-layer dip if you were limited to things that came out of the ground, the ocean, or a chicken. Seriously,  everything seems to be garnished with crumbled hard-boiled egg. You get some fun contrasts in flavor and texture with this one, plus the bread is dynamite.

Cholodetz –  This one was tough – the combination of gelatin, boiled meat, and hard-boiled egg melded into a headcheese-esque texture, but without any real difference in meat flavors.  I’m normally at home with stuff like this, but both my dining companion and I had a hard time with it.

And then we got a shit-ton of dumplings: siberian pelmeni  and sour cherry vareniki. These little fuckers were awesome and a fantastic way to end mains. Individually delicious, better when you mashed one of each into your greedy pie-hole.

Dessert was the life-changing cookies and some fantastic tea. Save room for dessert. I mean it.

Kachka – it’s euro-pop and things made from fish. See if you can find the picture of baby Jeremy Clarkson.

http://kachkapdx.com

Killer Burger

This fucking town.

I get it – the bums won out here. You’ve got to pay transit and arts taxes. Everybody’s got a vegan dish on the menu. Downtown smells like patchouli and urine. Your white-bread, bougious existence is threatened. All you can cling to now is charred mammal flesh – a talisman against the onrushing hoards of Birkenstock armored hippies and be-avacadoed and mustache-waxed hipsters. Hiding on the outskirts of town, you eek out a dismal existence, scampering from one safe-house to the next, desperate to maintain some shred of your grandparents America in the face of the Millennial gestapo. You’ll finally pick a hill to die on – a place to stand and fight: burgers.

Sweet jelly-roll Jesus, can you simmer down with your fucking hamburgers?

Killer Burger, Dave’s Agro-Burger, Dick’s Primal Burger, Super Dave’s SuperAgro-Burger. They’re burgers, kids. Let’s slow our roll a little.

Admittedly, it was a pretty good burger.

I went with a Fun Guy – I’m a sucker for puns and mushrooms and mushroom-based puns.  It was everything I wanted in a burger – greasy, cheesy, and an umami bomb. I also appreciate that they didn’t try to insert a salad into the relationship. Lettuce and tomato have a place in my world, but it not on the Friday before Christmas. Professional Fat Kid

Their house sauce is interesting. I didn’t like it, but I ate a bit of burger, drank a little beer (their house red – a little weak on both flavor and body, but probably what I needed since there was a non-zero probability of having to be a responsible adult), had some more and eventually decided it was pretty good. It’s heavy on the browner spices – cumin and the like – so YMMV. Mine did.

My dining companion had a similar experience with his normal burger – storing an extra layer of blubber before he returned to the tundras of his homeland.

I’d probably take my dad here, but not tell my mom. Get you some.

www.killerburger.com

 

Pambiche

This is the story of the first time I fell in love.

Way back in first grade I was friends with a Cuban girl and, in the normal course of things, her folks invited mine ’round for dinner. While our mom’s gossiped about other parents and our dads sipped beer, she and I sneaked into the kitchen where her grandmother and great-grandmother were cooking – Abuela and Abuelita, respectively. And, in that wonderland of delicious smells and surreptitious bits of food to taste, I fell in love.

It turned out that Abuelita had a soft spot for polite, toe-headed young-uns – a harried affection that would, over the next few years, earn me quite a few treats from her kitchen. And, in return, I loved her as only a little kid can – that searing, all-consuming, white hot love, undiluted by adult sexuality, that launches you sprinting from the car and into the kind of floury, comforting hug only a grandmother can give.

It is my firmly held belief that food made by grandmothers tastes best. Arroz con pollo, picadillo, carnitas, yuca, moros y christianos. And the cookies. Good lord the cookies.

But best of all things: ropa vieja.

I’ll admit, I had thought I was going to be doomed to the netherworld of half-assed, hipster-fied “Cuban” sandwiches and sad, under-spiced black bean mush when I left the east coast. Not because Cubans are not an industrious and adventurous people, but because, like bloggers, they are sensible and prone to mildew in the rain. Imagine my surprise then when, not wanting to brave the accordions and leather pants at Stammtisch’s Oktoberfest, we end up having dinner in Miami.

It is one of life’s true joys to sit on the sidewalk as the sun goes down, sipping an Iron Beer and talking about the day with someone you love.  If you ask nicely, they’ll slip a little rum in it too.

We started with fried yucca and maduros. If my tentative optimism was to be dashed, I wanted it out of the way early. These are things I love. And they were perfect. Sweet and starchy and crispy and sour. Perfect.

Ropa Vieja. It’s such a simple thing – slow stewed beef, peas, beans and rice. And yet, it meant that I might not always feel foreign in this part of the world. This little piece of familiarity – of home – grabbed me hard. I have no idea what my dining companion ate. I was wrapped in a great, soft, floury embrace.

The Tres Leches cake is also excellent. Get it with some coffee.

I can probably stay here now.

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Oregon Health and Science University Cafeteria

This one has a happy ending.

Hospitals aren’t, as a rule, going to be included on anyone’s “ten best” list  The trope of terrible hospital chow –  grey, overcooked mush floating languidly in a  sightly grayer sauce – persists because, well, hospital food sucks. It seems to be calculatedly awful, encouraging you to leave through the front door or through the morgue, but definitely not to linger.

That said, having recently spent a few days at La Hotel OHSU, my most persistent dining companion and I were pleasantly surprised at the quality of the meals. First, it’s room service. You call down, they bring you what you want. There’s a menu! Of recognizable meals! Secondly, it’s good. Fresh produce, actual meat, and they manage to get it to you while it’s still hot. They’re not going to win any Michelin stars up the hill, but as institutional food goes, it beats the hell out of nutraloaf.

It’s cheap too, at least for those of us tangentially attached to the action. It was like $10 bucks a plate. I’ve paid a lot more for worse meals in Portland. Probably making it up on the insurance side of things.

Admittedly, after being awake for better than seventy-two hours, I’m a bit foggy on what we actually ate – meatloaf was in there, a spaghetti-esque plate of pasta, lots of fresh fruit. At one point there was a giant cesar salad, though it’s a even bet was to whether that one actually existed. I had to go mump coffee off the nurses – not for the first time, having been on the meatball side of medicine in my girlhood –  but even the perpetual pot yielded surprisingly good results.

So if you’re going to have a major medical episode, I can recommend the chocolate chip cookies at OHSU. If you complete the frequent customer card, they also give you a child to take with you. It’s pretty alright.

 

 

Biwa

My scifi addled childhood has left me with romantic notions about ramen.  Some part of me wants to stand on a rain soaked, nighttime street, neon light reflecting in the puddles on the asphalt, slurping noodles while the runoff from the awning above drips into my bowl.  It’s an image that has become inescapable – from the Bebop to the Straylight, I dream of electric sheep.

In truth, the grey, intermittent as it’s been, has started to get to me. Which doesn’t bode well for actual winter. The steady drizzle drove us along the sidewalk, looking for a warm hole to climb into. Enter Biwa.

It was nearly empty when we went in for lunch – one guy sitting at the bar, a couple chatting quietly in a corner. The steady bass thump from the stereo. The clatter of pans from the kitchen. It’s a friendly, warm spot – comfortable in it’s clutter.

My dining companion went for the bento box. The resounding silence from opposite the table likely representative of appreciation. I went for the gyoza and a bowl of ramen. The dumplings are excellent – full of pork and shrimp, savory and delicious.

The ramen isn’t fancy. Other folks talk about spending days on their shoyu or tonkotsu broths, layering and chilling and clarifying. Which is not to deny the competence of this dish – someone had clearly put some thought into the process. But it was simple – broth and noodles, pork belly, soft boiled egg, green onions. Simple and entirely satisfying.

I’d bet there’s better soup our there somewhere. You should have this too. Apparently it’s super cheap sometimes.

https://www.biwarestaurant.com/

The People’s Pig

In belated recognition of Reformation Day (Halloween to all you deviant Papists out there) and to celebrate the successful completion of a long underground toil, my dining companion and I retired to The People’s Pig in order to salve our souls from the continuing affronts to Mr. Luther’s Glorious Revolution.

And these folks are on the right track. The smokers outside gave off the intoxicating aromas of wood smoke and sizzling animal fat. The building looks like it’s seconds from collapsing into a heap. These are folks who’ve learned that barbecue comes from a joint, not a restaurant. If it all feels a little contrived, well, its because they’re striving for authenticity in a place that is a relative newcomer to the magic of smoke and pigs. Everybody’s got to start somewhere.

And now that I’ve given someone the benefit of the doubt, here comes the fun.

The food is good. Not great, not bad. Just good. I had sliced pork shoulder, as I was feeling morally strong. It’s not a cut that generally makes the barbecue rounds – pulled being the traditional thing – and it was okay. Good smoke ring development, moist and tender, but under-seasoned. Serving size was good though. They ain’t cheaping out there anyway. The also put it on a salad, to which I say “fuck off”. There is no room for unstewed vegetables in barbecue.

The sauce was….meh. A syrupy concoction designed to convey cumin into your face. A little vinegar, a little sweet, but didn’t seem to be going anywhere. Just the one flavor which when applied to meat roflstomped over anything else it had going on.

My dining companion had smoked tri-tip, since they didn’t have brisket – an experience that seemed to mirror my pork: good, but under seasoned. Also, what kind of barbecue joint doesn’t have brisket? Its not like cows are hard to lay hold of. You’re not sending boats out across the Pacific to cast their nets into the black abyss, praying for a good catch and to see their families again. It’s just at the other end of the cow, mate. Don’t tell me you’ll have some in on Sunday like the magical meat fairy is going to bring you some because you’ve been a good little boy.

The sides were varied – Collards were very good, tender without being overcooked, though they could have used a bit of vinegar. Cole slaw was bloody awful, cabbage and celery seed swimming in a mayonnaise broth. The highlight of the sides was the cornbread w/ cane syrup. This is like mama fixed it. Get the cornbread.

Still, it was good. I think there’s some socialism involved in there somewhere. Apparently they’re opening one on Burnside at some indeterminate point in the future. Probably around the time they have brisket.

http://www.peoplespig.com/

 

Izzy’s Pizza Buffett

You know what’s a great idea? Hitting up a pizza buffet for lunch on Friday. Because nothing says I’m a professional like desperately trying to stay awake through an afternoon of meetings. Also fuck you if you schedule things on Friday afternoon. And fuck me, ’cause I scheduled things on Friday afternoon.

For all my refined, cosmopolitan tastes, I’m no stranger to a buffet. Golden Corral (which always struck me as a fairly cynical name for an all-you-can-eat place), Cici’s Pizza, Sizzler; I’m game for all of them. I’m a professional fat kid, after all.

Izzy’s hit exactly the right note – pan pizza was crispy on the bottom, savory sauce, good variety of toppings. I went for the meat and olive variety; my dining companion, an avowed sexual deviant and pariah his homeland, opted for pineapple. Portland may strive to be a tolerant place to live, but some people just take things too far.

They also have a ton of other stuff – fried chicken (tasty), Ribs (v. sweet), some really good looking mac and cheese, plus a bunch of things I can’t remember but were probably pretty good. They also have a salad bar, though if you’re going that route you’re never going to get your money’s worth out of a buffet. You gotta go with the big ticket protean, then pack it down with some carbs. Professional fat kid.

They’ve also got resoundingly mediocre chocolate pudding, which is one of my shameful favorite foods. It reminds me of elementary school cafeteria lunches- there was a kid in my fourth grade class who would smash tomatoes on his head. Doesn’t really have anything to do with pudding, but I’ve basically run out of folksy anecdotes to write about pizza.

It’s a pizza buffet – there’s a lot of it, it’s pretty good, and it wasn’t super expensive.  Do with that what you will.

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Baldwin Saloon

The Bar Nude is a curious thing. On one hand, the traditional naked lady reclining above the bar is essentially the 19th century version of the pin-up girl.  On the other, nearly everyone painted one at some point – Manet had his Olympia, Goya his Maja (though she’s still got her frock on). It’s like icon painting for Impressionists. But frankly, any time you put men in proximity to alcohol, they’re going to want to see some tits.

The Baldwin Saloon has four – not directly over the bar, unobtrusively hanging in high corners, because this is a family place now. They, like the landscapes that nearly wall paper the rest of the restaurant, were created in exchange for paying off an overdue bar tab. An elegant solution from a more civilized age.

The cooks at the Baldwin have mastered the two necessary requirements to satisfy the middle American palate: gigantic quantities and the liberal application of fats, salt, and garlic.

Stuffed Mushrooms – Great whopping things stuffed with artichokes and garlic, topped with a fuckton of mozzarella. For all that these had obviously spent some time under the broiler, they managed to escape getting cooked. Fortunately, raw mushrooms and cheese are still pretty tasty.

Calamari Dijonnaise – The Great Cephalapod Jihad aside, this one was a little confused: the “sauteed” squid was pretty obviously the same stuff they were frying, evidenced by the breading. Still, it was garlic and squid in a mustard cream sauce. It’s not like we didn’t eat the whole fucking thing.

Seafood Bouillabaisse – Everything about this was fucking baller. Briny, tomatoey goodness. This one is a hard recommend. Good bread too.

Smoked Salmon and Baby Shrimp Fettuccine – This one’s tough. Cured anything can be a tough flavor to balance and while someone had made a valiant effort with some cream and cheese, this mostly just came off as salty.

The food’s good, the restaurant’s pretty, the staff have obviously been encouraged to turn tables quickly. Eat yer dinner quick.