Archive for August, 2009
Just Plum Delish

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Thanks ladies at exercise class for the giant bag of perfectly ripe Italian plums. Of course they turned into a crisp that used an entire cube of butter and nearly a cup of sugar, thereby negating a month’s worth of senior aerobics, but what the heck.

img_1404K said it was the best ever. Using, once again, a variation of the crisp topping I found on Eat. Think. Drink., which bb found on blazinghotwok, which Darlene modified from Ina Garten. Phew. When summer fruit season ends it’ll be back to store-bought-cookies and ice cream for our guests. Poor guests.

(Modifications, since K is trying to cut down on sugar, included 100% of the butter, half the sugar throughout, and half the flour though 100% of the lovely oats and almonds. And I made it in an 8×8 square pyrex instead of individual ramekins. What can I say? It was midweek and not for a dinner party, we were being casual.)

Le Tomato-Love, a la Jacques

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The Flavel Street “farm” has one crop…tomatoes. (K grows pumpkins but primarily for their big, showy leaves that he lets run rampant across the lawn. We’ve never actually eaten one…he grows attached. That would be a-kin [heh] to murder.)

But back to tomatoes.

It’s been a weird year. Some people had blight before the fruit could ripen, we had the smallest crop on record. And the earliest. It seemed that ours were the only plants to hit their stride in mid-July; oh how we cackled with glee over the 2009 plan to under-water. It was working! True, the plants were sad, bedraggled little things, but the tomatoes were delicious, early (for Portland’s wet spring), nicely sized, with skins not overly tough (as ours usually are). But then…

The fruit got smaller and smaller until normally small Stupice shrank to the size of cherry tomatoes. The beefsteak? Roughly the size of a golf ball. Lemon boy? Like a junior baseball.

The flowers? Very few flowers. And by mid-August, very few tomatoes.

We started sneaking water.

Then madly dousing to coax along the few green ones left on the vines.

img_1329We have a healthy crop of Romas on the way, the Sun Gold’s continue indestructable as usual, and time will tell if the others rally. With the extreme heat, this may not have been the year to experiment, but really, can one complain about a steady stream of delicious fruit over several months? And as ours peter out? I figure friends will be looking for a home for their excess.

< Here's what a July haul looked like.

For YOUR extras, here's one of my favorite Jacques Pepin recipes from 1992′s Today’s Gourmet. I’ve made it countless times, and the proportions and herbs are endlessly forgiving and flexible. I’ve even cut up regular tomatoes to make up the difference, if the cherries measure short. Bon appetite!

Cherry Tomato Gratin
1 1/4 pounds cherry tomatoes (approx 3.5 cups)
3 oz day-old french bread (about 3.5 cups) cut into 1″ cubes
4-6 cloves garlic, peeled & sliced (about 2 T) (interesting; had forgotten these were sliced. I’ve always chopped)
1/2 cup coursely chopped flat-leaf parsley (mixing basil and parsley is nice)
1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
2 T virgin olive oil (I use a bit more, usually)
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese (even good w/o this)

IMG_1469 Preheat the over to 375. Wash tomatoes and discard stems. Mix tomatoes and all ingredients in a bowl. Transfer the mixture to a 6-cup oven-proof dish. Bake at 375 for 40 minutes, serve immediately.

Four servings: 185 calories; 6 gm protein; 21 gm carbohydrates; 9.4 grams fat; 2.1 grams saturated fat; 5 mg cholesterol; 506 mg sodium.

Part 3 of 3: Fear and Small Plates (Tanuki)

Tanuki…oh Tanuki…your dark mysteries call. A little fear makes the thrill that much stronger, and yours are the ties that bind.

lanterlogotext2I wandered in an innocent, a fool, a virgin, though the “No kids, no sushi” sandwich-board sent a frisson of warning up my spine. Tiny, I knew, but not a single four-top? With only half our party on hand we meekly backed out the door, bowing and scraping, vowing to be Johnny-on-the-spot should adjacent two-tops open up. (Okay, bb is never meek, but even HE was on good behavior.) Out in the sun, away from the cold cynicism of weary eyes, I was once again able to draw a deep, clean breath. But after a whiff of your darkness, it tasted a little saccharine, a little too bright.

Attitude can come in many forms and have many causes: ignorant youth, flat-out-stupid, a surfeit of shallow beauty, undeserved strokes, a lifetime of paying dues, a singular vision. I was well-primed to find the source of Tanuki’s brashness, and prepared to enjoy the ride.

Just as our Basta happy hour snacks were set on the table our fourth arrived and frantically flagged us from across the street. Four chairs together! Ready! Team RacoonDog deploy now! Slamming drinks and money on the table, ignoring the food (well, I may have snagged a calamari) we scampered across, and though nothing was said, I detected a hint of approval that we’d so obviously hustled to play by the rules. We were ready–nay eager–for whatever Tanuki wanted to dish out.

And dish it out, it did.

The spirit of our $30/pp omakase meal’s well documented at Eat. Think. Drink., but it took a team effort to recall everything we ate. Edamame, dried anchovy and seaweed salad paved the way as we discussed and poured sake, settling more deeply into our seats. Skewers of bay scallop, shrimp (overcooked, unfortunately), meat (beef? heart?) and Portuguese sausage helped ease us into the dark universe. Then a plate each of hamachi with white miso and uni slammed us into Tanuki-land. No color commentary needed beyond OMFG. (Pics over at bb’s, with his money shot borrowed below, and a fantastic catalog of shots at The Goodist. Tim’s reviews are what first put Tanuki on my radar.) Followed fast by raw oysters with kimchee ice, all we could do was hold on. Hold on, taste, revel, and bask in the fresh flavors and the adventure of not knowing what was next.

dscf3678And what was next? In no particular order, a large fillet of unagi, with salty-sour umeboshi to cut the sweet bbq sauce, a fresh and flavor-filled clear soup with raw…nearly raw? razor clam, a slightly sweet rice-dish of clams, sausage and cherry tomatoes, and another of vegetables with monkfish liver. bb has a photo of salmon tartare with cuke and green onion…how can I not even remember that? I’d accuse him of hiding it on his lap but the variety of food was so generous, there was no need to covet. Out of this bounty there was only one item, which I’ve dubbed “Band-Aid Flavored Soup” that was not to my taste. K opined that the meal, like Moulin Rouge, had a brilliant first act but then got a little messy. That may have been our fault for increasing the server’s recommended $25 budget to $30, but for a first visit, I don’t regret having had the variety. In the famous words of, well, pretty much every hedonist, “Too much of everything is just enough.”

So what makes one server’s snark and another’s ditzy misstep (Shared Plates post part 1) so off-putting, while Tanuki’s rules and attitude draw us in like a magnet? Why did Park Kitchen’s foie mess leave such a lasting impression, while bandage soup was easily shrugged off? Perhaps it’s ascribing a price to a whole meal rather than valuing individual dishes…or even courses. If we’d gone with the prix fixe PK menu, we may well have been happier…but the dishes would still have been overworked. Tanuki, at its most successful, showcases a hero, and then supports, frames or twists it for added depth. I’ll leave the debate of “authentic”, etc. to others. All I know is that I like a hero, especially when it rides in on white miso. Or sleeps on a bed of home-made kimchee.

Finally, there’s the whole vibe, the ability to embrace one’s vision and lock it down in a death grip. Which MBA program instructs biz owners to taunt its detractors and potential customers via social media? (“Dear Idiot…” “Please don’t breed…” “Bite me…”) If such a program doesn’t yet exist, it should. When you run 10 to 12 tables it’s your world, your rules, your vision, your domain, and “bite me” sounds like a pretty good idea with food this good.

Tanuki, you’re a black-hearted bitch. Delectably skewered and grilled, and I want more.

BTW, our server was lovely. Recommended a great sake, kept water flowing, and unobtrusively shuttled full plates to, and empty ones away from, our table. No exaggerations in this post should reflect on her. I hope we tipped well…but between my food drunk and the flying cash due to the rule against split tabs, I can’t say I remember.

Part 2 of 3: Big Experience, Small Plates (Beaker & Flask)

beakerflask3Drinks and dinner at Beaker & Flask, other than too bright at a non-shaded table, was a nice surprise: comfy circular booths in a soaring space, minimalist but smart decor, and unique cocktails. (While “unique” is great, I need to remember to integrate some clean classics amongst the plethora of chartreuse, absinthe, cynar and blueberries. No doubt they’d mix up a stellar classic cocktail, and sometimes a break from so many bold, interesting flavors can be a relief.) In any case, as GoodStuffNW stated, it really was “… the food here [that] was the surprise…” I didn’t expect anything beyond the ordinary and instead found a dining experience that was a cut above. (One of the “cuts”, beef, to the left.)

beakerflask2Four of us shared the trout deviled eggs, corn on the cob, fried oysters, spot prawns, which, from left to right were: good; good and fun but the thrice-promised knife would have been helpful; great/crunchy/moist/ woulda done NOLA fried oysters proud; fabulous, especially the half of the dish that was the raw prawn. For shared entrees C&S had the grilled beef shoulder: nice, though my bite of meat was under-salted and the carmelized cauliflower looked like the best thing on the plate. And K & I shared the barely seared tuna with aioli on…hmm…greens, bacon & croutons? Too many Walk Don’t Run’s by then (White Rum, Grapefruit/Wormwood Soda, Angostura Bitters). In any case, it was delicious. (But can I channel my mom here for a moment? Prices felt a tiny bit steep.)

beakerflask With so many great places to eat in town, both old and new, it’s time to compile some lists to keep myself both branched out and on a budget. While their happy hour selection isn’t amazing, making it far too easy to stray onto the dinner menu, Beaker & Flask is a delightfully civilized way to unwind after a busy day of…err…unemployment.

Part 1 of 3: Big Attitudes, Small Plates (50 Plates & Park Kitchen)

Early July was an extravaganza of shared plates (Park Kitchen, Tanuki, 50 Plates, Beaker & Flask), and for a household in which the small-plates ban has recently been lifted? That’s quite a list. Between SF visitors and a birthday there was a lot to celebrate, and some of the meals were even celebration-worthy.

Aside to Portlanders: Remember early July? Temps in the mid-70s, cool breezes that we mindlessly accepted without a whit of gratitude? Sleeping with a sheet…or jammies at the very least? (Our poor, unfortunate neighbors. Open windows, no clothes or blankets, we’ll just leave that mental picture unfinished.) Cooking, running the dishwasher, hopping a bus, sitting out on the sidewalk sipping lattes, going to a restaurant without first calling to see if the a/c is working…ah the good old days.

Happy hour at 50 Plates was pleasant but forgettable. Not much enticing in the way of drink specials and the plates were hit and miss. The mushrooms on toast and shrimp ‘n grits, both dishes I’d loved before, were again fantastic: rich and bursting with mouth-filling flavors. The silver dollar sammies were a mixed bag (and a tiny clutch-sized bag at that, they take the silver dollar part very literally): forgettable pulled pork, but a great little kobe burger. The artichoke roll was bland and lifeless with no discernable artichoke, the crab jalapeno poppers had no crab flavor…nor any pop…and the Not a Cobb was not only not a Cobb, it wasn’t much of anything else, either. Simultaneously watery and gooey, it was a bland disappointment after the Not a Cobb at Quinn’s in Seattle. Our elevated sidewalk seat was great for people-watching, but the 70s rock classics blaring from the speakers and the slightly snarky-but-not-in-a-clever-way service didn’t really go with the white wine thing that was happening at our table. I’ll definitely go back for real food, but it’s not knocking Andina off the top of my Pearl happy hour list any time soon.

PK-logoDinner at Park Kitchen was also a mixed bag. (Adore their logo. No mixed feelings about that at all.) Having gone to Toro Bravo with out-of-towners twice in June, we were determined to branch out. So we shortlisted: Park Kitchen, Laurelhurst Market, Le Pigeon, Toast and Nostrana. All are pretty and / or unique, and they seemed a good variety of off-beat, new and hot, tres Pdx French, neighborhoody and solidly good. From websites and menus our guests both put PK at the top of the list. Having had great meals there in the past and having neglected them for the past year, we all felt good about the decision.

We started at the bar with two white wines, a refreshing and unique Violette (Meyer’s rum, crème de violette, Cointreau, orange bitters, lime twist), and an excellent Trace Bourbon Manhattan, and soon moved to our table. Is there any better location on a balmy evening than a Park Kitchen sidewalk table? Our four-top was just outside the rollup door where we could experience the buzz of the room and the ever darkening shadows of the trees in the park, as we perused the menu. Due to one slightly particular eater, we ordered a la carte, though the $40/pp chef’s choice looked like a great deal when all’s said and done.

Let’s do this laundry list style:

    Crisply brown salt-cod fritters seemed overly large and…the greater sin…overly potatoey after Toro Bravo’s, and the vinegar was fine but pooled on plates that we had to keep for several more courses.

    The fried green beans were delicious, though somehow we’d all envisioned an Asian dried-fried thing rather than tempura bean fries in a glass. Once we adjusted our mental picture they were consumed with relish (well actually with aioli, but you know what I mean).

    Grilled prawns: Forgettable and a waste of a course.

    Razor clam salad with sea beans and favas: Unique, flavorful and seaworthy, exactly the kind of eye-opening dish one expects here.

    Smoked sturgeon, currants and nasturtiums: Flat-out yummy. Smoky, salty, sweet, but all with a light, balanced touch.

    Roast pork entree: Nicely done. It didn’t blow my socks off but any time I can get a pink and juicy loin, hats off!

    Foie gras with pickled strawberries, pistachios and baby beets: Completely misleading (it was better described on the bill than menu), baffling and disappointing. With paper-thin shavings of foie (apparently…they were hard to locate), on cooked strawberries in a thick tasteless sauce that turned out to be the pistachios, it was softness on mush, topped by shavings of melty. With nice beets. A misstep can happen anywhere, but this one got compounded by the server’s dingbat response to our honest but polite assessment. In an attempt to stem her misplaced gushing I pronounced the dish “a mess”. SO not Portland-nice of me…oops. She stalked away and handed us off to another (more seasoned) server, but there was a lot of meal to go and we all felt the effects of my tactlessness. May I suggest that if you’re going to ask how something is, one should listen to the (unanimous, btw) answer? And not take offense? I’m not at your home and bound by the “everything’s delicious” rule. (Oh wait, I don’t even do that at people’s homes unless I mean it.)

    Nothing on the dessert menu called to me, though I thought the olive oil cake with summer berries was very nice. The boys also had chocolates from Xocolatl de David, which they dubbed “interesting”.

K. pronounced the pork and green beans a hit. A. really liked the lavash-style crackers in the bread plate. “Nothing else? Not even the sturgeon?” “Well, the bread was good, too.” Ohhhh snap! Ouch. J and I appreciated the creativity and effort but agreed it was an uneven experience for the pricetag. At meal’s end we noticed by chance that they’d comped the pistachio-sauce course. While wonderful and appreciated, a verbal acknowledgment would have gone a long way to putting things into perspective. As it was left, this debacle of a dish and the server’s handling of us left the biggest impression.

Next, a little additional color commentary on Tanuki, reviewed on Eat. Drink. Think., and a small shot of Beaker & Flask also recently reviewed by GoodStuffNW.