Monday, March 31, 2008

City Grill (Downtown)

I was all settled in for a rare quiet night at home, which was to involve:

a) making my favorite "Jen's Rare Quiet Night at Home" pasta dish--freshly cut linguini from Pastaworks, olive oil and lots of it, a liberal sprinkling of crushed red chili pepper flakes, chopped fresh garlic, a few handfuls of wilted arugula, and fresh mozzarella or roasted chicken,
b) reading my new book "The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint," which I bought at Powell's because the first line was "If I could tell you only one thing about my life it would be this: when I was seven years old the mailman ran over my head," and
c) strategizing how to peaceably remove the intrusive and nosy ants from my medicine cabinet, possibly by flicking them with a chopstick into a biodegradable paper cup and then setting it out on the fire escape and suggesting they visit my neighbor Jackie, who is an artist and probably has way more interesting toothpaste than me. Pest intervention isn't my forte, really, so these ants have been a problem.

Instead, I was jolted from my carefully laid plans by a desperate call from my sis, who needed companionship at the Portland City Grill's illustrious 30th floor happy hour. At first I protested, for the last time I happened upon the City Grill's happy hour, a drunk Amish lady (formerly Amish, I'd think) from New Orleans (I am NOT joking, either) bought my friends and I so many drinks I didn't quite make it to dinner with my sis, which as you can imagine, had severe consequences, namely that she ran over my head with her bright blue Miata. Just kidding! Also, the Drunk ex-Amish Lady ate our last crispy prawn unbidden and dribbled its sticky sweet 'n sour sauce in my hair, but we were on our fourth comped Cosmo so nobody was complaining. The memory of this evening lingers like the aftertaste of a shot of ouzo, and I wasn't altogether eager to disrupt my peaceful, quiet evening to return to a place where anything can happen, even drunk Amish ladies buying you drinks and sloppily pirating your prawns.

But I am easily persuaded, so a half hour later I found myself downtown, briskly navigating a path through the wet evening towards the pink beacon that is the Bancorp Tower. Upstairs my sis was smirking triumphantly, having finagled us a perch in an East-facing window seat, which had an incredible view--a double rainbow glowed in the murky skies and everything glistened from the rain that had doused me as I ran the last few blocks. A pox on this Faux-Spring! I shed my sopping coat and ordered a glass of Caposaldo Pinot Grigio, Veneto, Italy ($6.50) and my sis ordered a glass of the Sterling Vintner’s Collection Cabernet Sauvignon, CA ($7.75) and we set about examining the extensive and delightfully cheap happy hour menu while the piano player played "Tiny Dancer" by Elton John.

Now let me tell you the three reasons I genuinely like the Portland City Grill:
1. Even though the views could arguably permit them (however immorally) to charge upwards of $12 a glass for any sort of alcohol like some other cities' preeminent watering-holes-with-an-incomparable-view, they still have a very healthy selection of wines by the glass for $6-$7. This makes me happy.
2. Their happy hour menu might not be haute cuisine, but it's an admirable value and the dishes are well executed AND it's all night on Sundays. And the servers are all really nice even though they have to wear those stuffy outfits.
3. The piano player, if you ask politely, will play Elton John's "Tiny Dancer" twice in one night for you. (Me & sis get a little misty over that one, due to being big Almost Famous fans)

We ordered, and we ordered a lot, so I will categorize it to make reading easier for you.
Happy Hour Appetizers That Cost A Paltry $2!!!
*Papaya, Cucumber, & Avocado Stack--Papaya, cucumber, and avocado drizzled with a sweet papaya vinaigrette and served with lotus root chips: very healthy, papaya is full of antioxidants to combat the effects of your Cosmo/wine/tequila shot, and who isn't curious as to what exactly a lotus root chip is?
*Basket of Shoestring Fries: not bad, skinny as a hipster's pant legs and lightly seasoned with a nice crisp to them.
Happy Hour Appetizers That Cost Only 3 Measly Dollars!!
*Teriyaki Chicken Rice Paper Spring Rolls--napa cabbage, carrot, cucumber, red pepper, mango, and Thai dipping sauce: tasty enough although the chicken is sort of crumbly and gets caught in weird alcoves in my mouth I never knew existed.
*Kung Pao Chicken--red & yellow bell peppers, sweet onions, peanuts, sticky rice, spicy Kung Pao sauce: this dish looks kind of ooky but is actually really good, with a nice spicy kick to it.
*California Sushi Roll--crab, avocado, cucumber, pickled ginger, and wasabi: too much rice for my taste, I felt like I was trying to chew and then ingest a massive gob of half-dried rubber cement.
Happy Hour Appetizers That Cost $4, Which is Pushing It But Okay!
*Dungeness Crab & Bay Shrimp Bruschetta, served on grilled ciabatta with balsamic marinated roma tomatoes, mozzarella & Parmesan cheese, and pesto mornay sauce: a very tasty take on bruschetta, with satisfying chunks of crab and shrimp.
*Crispy Tempura Prawns & Mizuna Salad--Thai sweet & sour sauce, pineapple curry, and hot soy mustar because the drunk ex-Amish lady had eaten most of mine the last time I was here and I wanted a rematch, this time none of the sauce ended up in my hair, thankfully.
*Shrimp Chop-Chop Salad--romaine and iceberg lettuce with kalamata olives, provolone, blue cheese, roma tomatoes, basil, cucumber, and balsamic vinaigrette: reading the description I didn't feel overly excited about this exhaustive collection of ingredients, but it's really very good.
Happy Hour Appetizers That Cost a Whopping $5 So They Better Be Really Fricking Good
*Dungeness Crab Cake--beurre blanc sauce and Key lime reduction: This dish comes with two good-sized fresh-tasting crab cakes, and they disappear very quickly from the plate so I'd say go ahead and splurge and order them.
*Furikake Crusted Ahi--crispy nori chips, firecracker aioli, and scallion oil: I love ahi, but I'll be honest, I ordered this because it featured firecracker aioli and I think more dishes should have the word 'firecracker' in the description...anyway the tuna was cooked perfectly and had a nice firecrackery kick. Firecracker! It just might be my favorite word today!

My sis also ordered an entree--the Wild Alaskan King Salmon with Ginger blackberry beurre blanc, garlic mashed potatoes ($28). The salmon was cooked well and the sauce was interesting, but this dish was simply not good enough to ignore the fact that it cost just slightly less than the rest of our food bill combined. I told my sis as much.

Before concluding, I should probably mention that Portland City Grill also sports a lovely dining room adjoining the bar, but the way I see it, why would you pay 6,000 times more to eat in the dining room when you can get the same 5-star view and 2-star food in the bar, except for 6,000 times less? Besides, during my last visit when I peeked into the dining room on my way to the bathroom (where incidentally, I ran into the tipsy ex-Amish lady enthusiastically applying lipstick to her teeth and chin) it looked like mostly young fawning couples who didn't know better and older couples dressed carefully in their dowdiest Sunday best. Sorry if you proposed/celebrated your promotion/toasted your 40th birthday or 50-year anniversary/prefaced Prom here in the Portland City Grill Dining Room, I don't mean to demean your unforgettable experience.

Just one more tip about Portland City Grill Happy Hour--I suggest arriving as close to the 4:30 pm Happy Hour Bell (imaginary, mind you, but I hear it) as possible, or you will find yourself exchanging filthy and challenging glares with a tough-looking bunch of retirees visiting town from Hoboken as both your parties breathe meancingly down the necks of some hapless group who looks like they might be inclined to pay their bill and vacate their window booth in the next half hour, maybe, a situation which stresses everyone out, except me, because I let my sis do this part while I sit at the bar and chat up any single, gorgeous & disgustingly rich Deloitte executives who own their own island complete with private Michelin-star chef. Okay yes, these are rare, but the Portland City Grill happy hour is an enjoyable enough value-with-a-view that you can make an attempt to find one several times a week if you so desire.

Portland City Grill * * 111 SW 5th Ave (Bancorp Bldg, 30th floor) * (503) 450-0030 * Happy Hour graciously served everyday--4:30 pm ~ 6:30 pm Monday through Saturday + 10:00 pm ~ Midnight Monday through Thursday
and 4:00 pm to close Sunday * yes, piano player will play Tiny Dancer by Elton John for you, maybe even twice, yes do happy hour instead of dinner--faaaar cheaper and you get the same boggling view

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Easter Candy On Sale At Freddy's!

Peter and his babies are so cold, sis. Let them in!

Fred Meyers * 29-cent Easter rabbits on sale * line them up on your sister's doorstep after happy hour at the Sapphire Hotel

Old Town Pizza (Oldtwn)

Before heading to Dante's last night to see Irish band Bell X1 (so good! so cute! aaah, those accents!), we wandered into Old Town Pizza on NW Davis Street. It was either pizza or VooDoo Donuts for dinner and it seemed prudent to preface a night of Smithwicks and Irish rock with something more substantial than a Grape Ape donut.

"Old Town Pizza is good, but it's no Apizza Scholls," Tata declared as we walked in, and while she may have a point with regards to the actual pizza product, I completely dig the atmosphere at Old Town--minus the haunted by a ghost named Nina thing, because I'm a little afraid of ghosts. The restaurant is old and cozy without being smelly/creepy, and the low ceilings, dark wood, exposed brick, and old-fashioned bar make me want to linger much longer than is necessary at a pizza joint.

The process is simple: order your salad/pizza/pasta/panini at the window, order your pitcher of beer at the bar, find a table, discuss just how attractive Irish and English accents are (very). The four of us girls ordered a large pizza (the pizza comes in two easy-to-remember sizes: small and large): half House Special--salami, pepperoni, Italian sausage, mushrooms, black olives and bell peppers, and half Dragon Lady--a "wicked blend" of sun-dried tomatoes, feta, spinach and pine nuts ($22.95). We also ordered two spinach salads ($6.75 each)--spinach, crispy proscuitto, dried cranberries, feta, and house Dijon dressing. I thought the dressing was a little light on the spinach leaves, but I didn't want to say anything lest our slightly snippy server sic Nina on me.

We complemented our meal with a pitcher of African Amber Ale brewed by Mac and Jack's Brewing Company (WA), a copper colored brew with nutty notes, creamy mouth feel and a nice finish ($12 a pitcher).

If you don't want pizza, Old Town offers a few classic pastas--spaghetti & meatballs ($7.50), Pesto ($8.50), Chicken/Veggie Alfredo ($8.50), and Chicken Marinara ($8.50). They also have four paninis--Milano (canadian bacon, salami, greens & tomato); Caprese (fresh mozzarella, pesto, tomatoes), Ham & Cheese (probably obvious), and Meatball (served open-faced and topped with mozzarella)....all a reasonable $6.95. Old Town also offers some excellent lunch deals M-F 11:30 to 2:30--cheap slices and mini-pizzas, salad for $1.25, and a free haunting by Nina. Sorry--that may or may not be available...I don't know what Nina's haunting habits are, but you can read about it at

Aaaahhhhh!!!! It's Nina!!!! I was just kidding!! I loved the dressing/spinach ratio!! It was perfect!! Oh wait, this is actually a picture of Bell X1 lead singer Paul Noonan at Dante's...he was pretty dreamy all right, Irish accent or no. But oh that accent...

Old Town Pizza * * 226 NW Davis * 503.222.9999 * Sunday - Thursday 11:30 - 11PM, Friday & Saturday 11:30 Midnight * yes, they deliver...on bicycle, yes they have a ghost. her name is Nina.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Table For Twelve: The 'How Many Beignets Can YOU Eat in One Sitting' Edition!

Dear Friends Who Love Food,

It's snowing outside as I write this, so it makes perfect sense that our next Table For Twelve is going to be held at Roux, where we hope to heat up with some spicy hot Creole cuisine!

I called Roux yesterday and spoke directly to Executive Chef Sean McKee, who was kind enough to make room for us next week and also answer a few questions. But before you read our interview with Chef McKee, my sister said I have to give you the details of dinner, "just in case people nod off before finishing your long-winded emails," (whatever!). So here you go:

Details, Details

When: Wednesday, April 2, 7 pm

Where: Roux Restaurant, 1700 N Killingsworth Street

Why: Because we all need something spicy right about now. I mean, it's snowing.

RSVP: Via our email address (


And now,'s interview with Roux Executive Chef Sean McKee.

Jen: How long has Roux been open?
Sean: Three years in October.
Jen: My birthday is in October. (Please take note, dear readers.)
Sean: Hmm.
Jen: What is your culinary background?
Sean: I'm classically trained in French cooking, I worked at Café Zenon in Eugene, then came to Roux. I've been with them since they opened.
Jen: I think most of us aren't necessarily that familiar with Cajun/Creole food. What can we expect?
Sean: Traditionally, with French Creole cooking, what comes to mind is definitely a lot of spices. There's lots of pork and cayenne and heat and corn and chicken. I'd like to say it's comfort food, down-home, traditional cooking. And I make all my own bacon, sausages, and tasso in-house, from scratch.
Jen: What's tasso?
Sean: Cured ham, usually on the spicy side.
Jen: I love ham. So will we see anything unusual on your menu, like alligator?
Sean: Right now our game items are the stuffed rabbit, confit duck…I have done more obscure stuff in the past, like gator, and turtle soup.
Jen: Is it really true that alligator tastes like chicken?
Sean: It does a little bit. It definitely has the same texture.
Jen: What's the best drink to accompany Cajun/Creole food? Wine, beer, straight bourbon?
Sean: Depends. We have a wide variety of house cocktails--Molly the bartender does a great job of pairing drinks. We have a pretty extensive wine list. For myself, with a nice spicy dish I like a good crisp pilsner. We get some of our beer from Amnesia Brewing, most of our wine purveyors are from Oregon, Washington, and France.
Jen: Where do you get your meat/produce from?
Sean: All our beef and free-range chicken is from Oregon, our beef is Painted Hills or Strawberry Mountain. We have probably 30 different produce purveyors we use in the summer, all our fresh oysters usually come from the West Coast, we get scallops from the East Coast, we get our crawfish imported from Louisiana.
Jen: Britney Spears is imported from Louisiana too. How do you feel about this Britney situation, do you think she can make a comeback?
Sean: I hope she does.
Jen: So do we. So what's the most beignets you've eaten in one sitting?
Sean: Um, of ours, probably not more than four or five, they are pretty big and filling…each one is like a full doughnut. We did have a guy in the kitchen eat 14 or 15 hush puppies in 20 minutes, for a bet.
Jen: That's intense.
Sean: Uh-huh.
Jen: Right, okay. So have you ever met Chef Tom Colicchio? From Top Chef?
Sean: No I haven't met him.
Jen: Okay. So…anything else we should know about you and Roux?
Sean: I was named Best New Chef in January by the St. Johns Sentinel, so that was a nice little attribute.
Jen: Definitely, that's great. How old are you?
Sean: 27
Jen: Are you single?
Sean: No.
Jen: All right, well thanks so much for your time Sean, and we look forward to seeing you next week!
Sean: Great, we'll take good care of you guys.

So there you have it everyone! Super nice Roux Executive Chef Sean McKee is going to take good care of us and dish up some magnificent down-home Creole cooking! Come with us to Roux Wednesday night for the "Table For Twelve at Roux: The 'How Many Beignets Can YOU Eat in One Sitting' Edition!", where even if the weather outside is still frightful, the spicy nosh and atmosphere and beignets and regrettably un-single Chef Sean McKee will be delightful!

See You at the Table,

Jen & Michelle

Table For Twelve is Jen & Michelle's earnest effort to Cultivate Convivial Consumption amongst food-lovers great and small across Portland. For more information about Table For Twelve, go to

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Jen's Turkey Meatballs

My sister often pokes fun at me for using recipes, to which I say, "Bollocks! I didn't spend $35 on this shiny gorgeous cookbook just to use it as a coaster for my mojito!" I believe strongly in the value of trodding where others have tread culinarily, but that said, I am not immune to the inquiring impulses of the maverick home chef, so tonight I will develop my own turkey meatball recipe from a motley assortment of ingredients pulled from my refrigerator and freezer, mostly because it's too cold to leave my home and get a grilled chicken burrito from Laughing Planet.
Jen's Turkey Meatballs
Ingredients (rough approximations, that is)
3/4 pound ground turkey (you should really be using pork, but what's a girl to do when there ain't no pork in her freezer?)
1 egg
1/4 cup breadcrumbs
2 Tbls wine (some turkey meatball recipes would have you moisten with water, but my motto is: Why use water when you can use wine?")
2 Tbls chopped fresh parsley
1 Tbls chopped fresh thyme
1 Tbls finely minced garlic
1/4 finely grated parmegiano reggiano or pecorino romano
A dash of dijon, just cause
salt and pepper (this is can't very well salt to taste unless you fancy risking a nasty case of food poisoning so go with your gut...I used slightly less than a teaspoon of salt...but I LOVE SALT. I hope I used enough. I'll let you know.)
1/4 tsp pepper

What a gorgeous assortment of flavors! I mash everything together with my fork, even though I know I should be using my hands. But I do not like touching raw poultry, it grosses me out. Eventually I give up and plunge my hands in, I'll have to touch it eventually when I mold the meatballs or else spend my whole evening in here faffing about with two spoons. When I feel everything has been blended satisfactorially, I mold perfectly round meatballs from approximately 1 big rounded tablespoonful of mixture, using my palms to roll them briskly. They are so sticky. I carefully place them in a baking dish, and then I offer them a glass of wine, which they politely decline, and we both go our separate ways for a half hour, the meatballs to rest in the fridge, me to make a simple tomato sauce for them to bake in.

I swirl olive oil in my biggest Calphalon skillet, then add a couple cloves of minced garlic once the oil is quite hot. I quickly pour in 12-14 oz of tomato sauce and let it cook while I chop up a quarter cup of flat leaf parsley, and about two tablespoons of thyme, plus a tablespoon of brittle cranky old sage I find in the fridge drawer. Better than no sage, I suppose! I really need to plant a windowsill herb garden. I pour a healthy amount of red wine in, salt my sauce delicately, add a dash of dried red chili pepper flakes for a bit of a kick, and let the sauce simmer until my meatballs are fully rested. I pull them from the fridge, gently plunk them into the sauce, then cook them 10 minutes on each side, hopefully enough to kill any lurking pathogens.

These meatballs look amazing. The sauce looks amazing too, flecked with dark green herbs, a rich, brooding burgundy from all the wine I accidentally poured in while trying to take a picture of the wine streaming into the sauce.

Holding my breath with anticipation (I am still smarting from my recent Thai soup disaster) I try one. Phenomenal! These may well be the best turkey meatballs I have ever eaten, seasoned magnificently, with the richness of the parmesan adding a savory kick to the herbaceous notes and zesty garlicky flavor. And the texture! So tender to the bite, but still very meaty. The sauce is perfection, cooked down to the ideal thickness and with a complexity that just matches the meatballs'. So there you have it sis--while I will continue to stubbornly decline to develop too many of my own recipes, it's good to know I can be an inventive genius in the kitchen when the occasion--aka a frigidly travel-prohibitive, lazy evening at home--calls for it.

Half and Half Cafe (Downtown)

It's Spring Break for me this week (yay, Spring Break, boo, genuinely egregious faux-Spring Weather!) and since I needed a break from sitting bundled in quilts at my Mac in my freezing living room blogging about what I eat (too much) and drink (also too much), I decided to reply to my friend Brian of PICA's call for volunteers today. Walking down to his (heated) office in the Pearl, in the span of 10 short blocks I basked in bright sunlight, sloshed my way through a rainstorm, and struggled through a mini-blizzard. Ridiculous.

After a couple of hours of using Photoshop to painstakingly scan slides of pieces by artists Kay French, Jenny Rideout, and Christine Bourdette for PICA's exciting upcoming event TADA (, I was sort of cross-eyed and ready for lunch, so Brian and I headed down the street to cozy Half and Half, a groovy teeny weeny cafe on SW Oak Street that sits plunked between alternative media hotspots Reading Frenzy and Counter Media. After some lengthy discussion, Brian and I decided to share the spicy muffalata sandwich--soppressata (you know how I feel about soppressata), hot copa ham, provolone and olive salad on a ciabatta roll. We also ordered two deviled eggs and two homemade sugar cookies with cheerful pastel purple and yellow icing. The super nice girl behind the counter was kind enough to heat up our sandwich and she must have heard our deliberations about sharing because she brought the muffalata sandwich split onto two plates with an egg on each plate and a few pickles as well. Lovely little lunch! we cried. I neglected to see the homemade soup until we'd already ordered, so I will certainly try that next time I am taking refuge from a faux-Spring blizzard. I wanted to order coffee because everyone raves about Half and Half's french-pressed coffee but I was already a little hyper, so it was water from the self-serve jug for me. Maybe next time I can upgrade to a fruit soda or something.

We scanned the eclectic reading selections hanging on a long wall rack above the bar and read a book called "Sad Poems" while we watched it snow outside. I wrote my own sad poem. Like most of my greatest work, it was penned in under 45 seconds. Oh yes, I know, hard to believe.

Death to a Heartless Spring
I cannot feel my hands, she moaned.
How will I grasp this toothsome deviled egg with these brittle claws?
Away foul chilblains!
Will faux-Spring ever die?!
Is it not cruel fate enough that I have been rendered cross-eyed by Adobe Scan?
I do not also want to be the color of an un-iced sugar cookie for-ever.

Thank you, thank you. I am sure PICA is going to ask me to present this fall at TBA 08! Anyhow, definitely wander into Half and Half someday soon (Half & Half's sister cafe, Acorn, is located at 539 NW 13th Ave in the Pearl) and have a sandwich and a deviled egg and a homemade cookie and perhaps even some soup and french-pressed coffee, and try to forget that all this talk of Spring having arrived is obviously just a cruel joke.


Half and Half Cafe * 923 SW Oak St. * * (503) 222-4495 * M-F 7:30-7:30, Sat 9-7:30, Sun 9-6

Trebol (NoPo)

Jen & Michelle and their new sundresses and some very fun friends headed to Trebol tonight for delicious Oaxacan influenced dishes turned out by Executive Chef Kenny Hill, who was also gracious enough to let us tour his kitchen! We had a fantastic tequila flight and some great drinks as well, and oh...those sopapillas. Jen could eat those for breakfast, lunch and dinner, but then her new sundress wouldn't fit anymore, would it? Too bad...

Stay tuned for our review of the Table For Twelve at Trebol, the "If You Give Michelle a New Sundress" the meantime, here is the link to our pictures of the evening!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Table For Twelve at Trebol !

Dear Friends Who Love Food,

Jen & Michelle bought darling new sundresses to celebrate the coming of Spring (yes, it's officially spring; yes, it's difficult to tell), and as a result, TableTalkPortland's next Table For Twelve event is to be held at Trebol Mexican Restaurant!

Perhaps you aren't seeing the connection between buying new sundresses and eating at one of Portland's most buzzed about new Mexican restaurants? Well, we're not sure if you've read "If You Give a Mouse a Cookie"--the consummate cautionary cause and effect tale of a foolish little boy who gives a rodent with a severe entitlement complex a cookie, then must supply him with milk, a straw, a haircut, art supplies, more cookies, etc, etc, but basically the point is that If You Give Michelle A New Sundress, she's going to want a vacation-somewhere-you-can-wear-a-sundress-in-March to go with it. Etc, etc.

So Michelle is heading to Mexico for Spring Break with her new sundress and her darling BF, while Jen and her new sundress are keeping their feet and hem's firmly on American soil--the last time Jen went to Mexico she lost eight of her nine lives, BUT, geographic differences aside, both Jen & Michelle agree that this is the perfect time of year for all of us to get a little dose of our sunny southern neighbor, albeit from the safety of Trebol's cozy dining room on N. Albina Ave, which is in North Portland, which is in America.

If Pacific Oysters served with Cucumber and Jalapeno Granite, Vegetable Empanadas filled with Lobster Mushrooms, Poblano Peppers, and Aged Mexican Cheese, or Honey and Tamarind Glazed Pork Loin with Chayote Gratin, Braised Greens and Mole Coloradita sound like just the thing to help you shake off some residual it's-technically-not-winter-anymore-but-who-can-tell blahs, please join Jen & Michelle this Wednesday evening as we sample Trebol Chef Kenny Hill's 'Nueva Latina meets the Northwest' cuisine, inspired by both the Oaxacan specialities he grew up eating and his eight years in the kitchen of Higgins.

Details, Details

When: Wednesday, March 26, 7 pm

Where: Trebol Mexican Restaurant, 4835 N. Albina Ave, Portland, OR, United States of America (

Why: Because we had the sopapillas there last week and haven't stopped thinking about them since. And because at Trebol, it's highly unlikely that Jen will be stung by a glistening bright blue Portuguese man o' war, stalked by a wild-eyed Mexican poet, pushed off a cliff and onto a busy Mexican highway, abandoned at a taco stand in the middle of the Sonoran desert, trampled by a mad horned vaca, or held up by a cabbie in the parking lot of the La Paz Applebee's (Jen was not dining there at the time, seriously). She will tell you the whole story over dinner, if you come.

RSVP: Via our email address ( us if you'd like to be a part of Table For Twelve's "If You Give Michelle a New Sundress" dinner this Wednesday at Trebol !! We hope to see you there! Jen will even show you her Portuguese man o' war scars!

See you at the table,

Jen & Michelle

Tuesday, March 25, 2008 Portland Menus

Being the food lovers that we are, we have menus spilling out of every drawer and cupboard in our home, and spread across pretty much every bare surface as well. They line the hamster cage, they are used to soak up champagne spills, they sit pretty in a basket in the loo, they are stuffed in the massive crack at the bottom of our drafty old living room window, they have even been known to pinch hit as dinner party placemats in a crisis. So we were pretty thrilled to get a press release from, informing us that we could toss our menu collection and just use their extensive online menu inventory instead!, already operates in Boston, San Francisco, and Washington, DC and now has launched their Portland/Vancouver site with over 2,400 menus. offers users free access to menus and basic information about nearly every restaurant in Portland and Vancouver. Listings include key information such as restaurant name, phone number, address, cuisine, cross street maps, website link and most importantly – the menu. Restaurants and menus can be browsed or searched by any combination of city area, neighborhood, cuisine, and delivery. Users can also create an on-line menu drawer of their favorite restaurants and write their own reviews to appear on the site.

I guess this means we will have to find something else to line the hamster cage with now.

Link here:

Monday, March 24, 2008

Pok Pok for TableTalk

Ok... I am going to come out and say it, Pok Pok is now my favorite restaurant in Portland after this week’s Table for Twelve Dinner. Not only is the food fabulous, but the service is amazing. The staff at Pok Pok read our invite on Portland Food & Drink and knew that my sister and I disagreed about where we wanted to sit (M inside and cozy and J outside in a tent), so they called and wanted to figure something out about the seating that would make both sisters happy. (Little did they know that we are always happy and just poke fun at each other for pure amusement) Making both of us seem happy so not an easy task, but they did it. When I arrived early, Mark of Pok Pok greeted Michelle of Table Talk and said we have created a new space for your group. I followed him up their outside stairs (I didn't know they existed either) and low and behold they had created an outside/inside seating experience for us. They have a small patio up there and it is enclosed with a clear tarp thingy and it has its own overhead heating... It was perfect- cozy, intimate, candlelit, and the sun was just going down so the lighting was beautiful. Our guests gave the ambience 4.3 out 5 bottles of champagne on our survey... the only reason it wasn't a 5 is we were in control of the heat lamps and we were seated under the clear tarps, so we would go hot/cold often, but all guests said they loved sitting there.

All this excitement and we hadn't even eaten yet! First things first... after everyone was seated it was definitely time to take part of the amazing fresh cocktails that Pok Pok makes. Our diners ordered everything from from Fernao Pires wine to Blood Orange Negroni and Tamarind Whiskey Sours and everyone was raving about them and gave them 4.4 bottles of champagne on our survey.

It was almost 8 by the time we were settled enough to order our first course and we started with the Ike's Vietnamese Fish Sauce Wings ($10) a plate of spicey and mild. I could write an entire book on how perfect these wings are- I am not even a "wing type girl," but the sauce on these wings is intoxicating. The wings fried to a perfect carmely crisp with the sweet yet spicy/tangy sauce- most of our guests gave the appetizer a perfect rating of 5 bottles of champagne to toast the taste of these amazing wings. By this time we were all so happy and I have to say that our waiter James was helping on creating this experience... HE WAS THE BEST WAITER WE HAVE HAD YET! Funny, witty, caring and a perfect server.

With the help of our great waiter, we went on to order the following (I typically don't list the food menu style, but are people going to know what Buu Phat Phong is if I don’t):

Buu Phat Phong Kari (Fresh whole 2 pound Oregon Dungeness crab stir-fried with Thai curry powder, fresh chilies, Chinese celery, onions, egg, and oyster sauces)- $22

Kai Yaang (Charcoal roasted natural game hen stuffed with lemongrass, garlic, pepper and cilantro served with a spicy sweet and sour dipping sauce) $10

Whole fried Tilapia (our gracious waiter kept the last one in the restaurant for us)

Kuung Op Wun Sen (Wild caught gulf prawns baked in a clay pot over charcoal with pork belly, whiskey, soy, ginger, cilantro root, black pepper, Chinese celery and bean thread noodles) $14

Laap Khwai Neua (Spicy Northern Thai minced buffalo salad with naam phrik laap (crushed blend of spices brought back from Chiang Mai), crispy fried shallots and garlic, topped with herbs and cracklings) $10

Muu Sateh (Carlton Farms pork loin skewers marinated in coconut milk and turmeric, grilled over charcoal and served with peanut sauce, cucumber relish and grilled bread. Yes, bread really is the normal accompaniment) $8.5

Phat Makheua Yao kap Thua Fak Yao (Chinese eggplant and long beans stir-fried with fresh chilies, sweet basil, oyster sauce, garlic, fish sauce and soy sauce) $9

Sii Khrong Muu Yaang (Carlton Farms baby back ribs marinated in whisky, soy, honey, ginger and Thai spices- slow grilled over charcoal and served with 2 spicy dipping sauces) $10

I almost forgot the beautiful coconut, jasmine, and sticky rice.

The food moved around the table like a giant lazy susan and people were sharing and trying everything. The flavors are so intense and clear that it is like a mouth circus... all sorts of unusual things going on and it just works. My favorites were the buffalo steak salad and the clay pot prawns... I will let the rest of our diners comment on their entrees! The diners gave it 4 out of 5 bottles in our survey.

After the entrees and drinks everyone was glowing from the inside out and so we decided the night shouldn't end just yet- it was time for dessert. We had almost every dessert on the menu: Whiskeysoda Bourbon Float, Mango Rice, Coconut Ice Cream Sandwich, and Pok Pok Affogato (Condensed milk ice cream drowned in a shot of Vietnamese coffee, served with a Chinese fried donut). The desserts were unusual-not your typical chocolate pot de crème, crème Brule type, but they were good. I can say that I am definitely more of a French dessert type... napoleons, crème Brule, cheese, etc.., so I will let our diners who gave it 4.2 bottles of champers comment on how they liked the desserts.

How do I wrap up a meal like that...? It was perfection from the service to the food and company. There is something amazing about sharing a food experience like that with others... where you look around and feel lucky that there are witnesses to such a joyful, fabulous dining experience.

View pictures of our experience: Table for 12 Does Pok Pok

Pok Pok * 3226 SE Division * 503.232.1387 * Take-Out Shack: M-F 11:30a-10p, Sa 5p-10p, Whiskey Soda Lounge: M-F 11:30a-2:30p, M-Sa 5p-10p * Reservation Policy

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Alberta Street Oyster Bar (NE)

As you may not have realized because of this genuinely crappypants weather, it is officially spring. And since the dawning of spring turns our thoughts to love, and oysters make people love each other more, we decided the (albeit anticlimatic) arrival of spring would be a perfect excuse to go visit the the Alberta Street Oyster Bar on NE Alberta. We hadn't been to Alberta Street Oyster Bar since it closed then changed hands and reopened, but we knew hottie Executive Chef Eric Bechard was still in the kitchen so we were confident the food would be as stellar as our last visit, which happened to be last spring.

We were seated promptly by gracious new owner Bruce Kaad at a table in the center of the modern, L-shaped dining room, which has high ceilings, a vivid red, black and white color scheme, cement floors, flattering pendant lighting that highlights the contemporary art pieces on the walls, and a generously sized L-shaped bar that was filled to capacity, mostly by couples with champagne in their hands and gleams in their eyes. Or maybe it was just the flicker of the tea lights in the dimly lit dining room, it's hard to say. Sadly, Bruce told us that Chef Eric Bechard wasn't there that night, he was off for Easter, which totally took the gleam our of our eyes.

While we argued about, I mean, decided what to order, Michelle, our friend Tata and I ordered drinks and a half dozen Kumamoto oysters, from the Tillamook Bay right here in Oregon. Small, bold and creamy, they were divine sprinkled with the accompanying black pepper & fresh vanilla and blood orange toasted fennel mignonettes. Michelle paired hers most appropriately with a glass of the Blanquette de Limoux, Domaine Rosier, NV ($9) a crisp, refreshing sparkling wine with hints of apple. Tata ordered a Bloody Mary ($8) and because I was feeling as though I might be getting a cold, I had the Lucrecia cocktail, with Pepper Infused Tequila (for strength), Pomegranate Puree (for antioxidants), and Fresh Lime (cleansing) on the rocks with a salted rim ($8). It was excellent, with a strong black pepper flavor that was mellowed out by the sweet tang of the pomegranate and the tart lime. I felt better immediately.

Michelle's appetite for oysters was hardly sated by her share of the Kumamotos and she kept squalling about wanting a "meatier" oyster, so she ordered another half dozen, this time one of each of the oysters on the board behind the bar. When they came out along with two new mignonettes--a pink peppercorn with champagne and a cucumber & horseradish--we labeled the white paper tablecloth with the name of each oyster so we could keep them straight, and here are our conclusions. (Well, Michelle's conclusions. It's hard to divide an oyster three ways, even a 'meatier' one.)

SNOW CREEK (WA): "Holy ****, that's good." (Sis, I thought you gave up both kicking puppies AND saying bad words for Lent!)
MIRADA (WA): "I'm moved by this one , it's just how an oyster should taste. I feel dizzy from it." (Yikes. Tata and I moved back a little after that one.)
KUMAMOTO (OR): "Smooth and non-fishy." (No comment)
VIRGINICA (BC): "It's huge, but had no taste until the end. Way less flavor than the others. Bigger is not always better."
MALASPINA (BC): "Fishiest one yet, good but not as good as the Mirada, has more of a sea taste to it." (The Canadian oysters did not fare well tonight.)
TONTEEN (WA): "Most beautiful, nice smoky fishy flavor."

Michelle ranked her top three oysters as such:
1. Mirada (WA)
2. Snow Creek (WA)
3. Kumamoto (OR)

So I guess the conclusion we can all draw from this little taste test is: Pacific Northwestern oysters totally get more chicks than Canadian oysters.

Onward to the food!
So Tata started with the Tuna Tartare ($12), which was served alongside a parsley salad with horseradish vinaigrette and bone marrow toast. Our server explained that Tata was to mound the tartare and salad on the toast, which was a divinely savory combination and made me a little dizzy. Michelle's escarole salad had a tart, creamy dressing that was just garlicky enough. Fat green olives rent in half and crispy croutons surrounded the salad, and two meaty anchovies topped it. Like I said, I wasn't feeling so hot, so I just had the grilled beef burger ($9) on a fresh ciabatta roll, with gobs of blue cheese gushing out the sides, and tender sweet carmelized onions, and a smattering of winter greens. I also got the house cut fries ($4), which were lightly fried and golden with a spicy garlicky remoulade alongside.

"I love it when the blood soaks the bread," Michelle said rapturously as she bit into my burger (cooked medium), then added, "It's a good burger. It's not a Castagna burger, but it's a good burger." So there you have it.
Tata had the potato gnocchi ($11) studded with jet black slightly chewy escargots and black truffle, and topped with a dramatic red-wine poached hen egg, so it sort of matched the design scheme of the restaurant. This dish was a blend of unusual flavors and had a lovely creamy texture, both to the gnocchi and the pan sauce blended with the burst egg yolk, although Michelle and I thought it was a little undersalted because we LOVE SALT. Michelle had the seared diver scallops ($13), great fat things set on a bed of tiny black beluga lentils resting on top of a rich chicken liver sauce, and topped with a mound of wispy golden fried shallots. Once again, great flavor and texture but we thought perhaps they could have used MORE SALT. WE LOVE IT! Also, I think I'm going to start poaching my eggs in red wine, because it just looks neat.

After dinner Tata ordered a Makers Mark neat (eek!) and we all shared the ""Coffee & Donuts" ($7) - Coffee Pot de Creme and Cinnamon Sugar Donut Holes. The server was kind enough to even bring extra donuts out with the order, I guess we looked like girls who could really polish off the donuts. The thing is, when I order donuts/beignets for dessert, I like them to come out of the kitchen piping hot, with that freshly fried puff to them. These particular donuts felt like day-olds.

It took a minute for the check to come, so we entertained ourselves by creating haiku about dinner.

Many good flavors
I thought it was all quite good
It made me happy


Alberta Street Oyster Bar * 2926 NE Alberta St * 503.284.9600 * * yes reservations, yes fantastic oysters, yes hard dough-nuts

The Illustrious Au Gratin Vs. The Stupid Strawberries

Even when Michelle and I were very little, the dramatic differences in our personalities were obvious. Mom would stroke my neatly brushed hair as I sat quietly reading in the parlor, dressed in an immaculate pinafore and clutching my little black bible in my freshly scrubbed hands, and say, "Jen, you are such a sweet-natured child, so smart, so well-behaved, so destined for great things, but, aaaah, your sister..." while outside in the front yard, a wild-haired Michelle, wearing nothing but a tattered Care Bears kerchief and pair of filthy red Wellingtons, chased the family goat (Stavros) around with a makeshift branding iron fashioned from a curling iron and a pair of fake Chanel earrings she bought at the Asian market on SE 82nd with her Sunday School collection money.

So I am not surprised that my sister had to turn even the holiest of holidays into a bitter battle of the Extravahamsa! recipes.

I would like to graciously concede that Michelle's Strawberry and Blackberry and Basil and Balsamic Fruit Salad was both well conceived and a refreshing dash of vibrant color and flavor that brightened our friend Tata's Extravahamsa! celebration this dreary faux-spring day. However, my potatoes, simply put, kicked her stupid salad's herbally-enhanced heinie. I bet those strawberries weren't even like, organic, either.

Being a woman of few words (um, well, not really, but just this time) I'd like to tell the ending to this controversial Easter Extravahamsa! story in pictures if I may.

The results of a random poll taken of an Extravahamsa! diner.

Hmm. Interesting, how most of my potatoes are gone while your strawberries sit there embarrassedly, trying to make small talk with the other unpopular kid at the party, Mr. Hummus.

But in the end, we made up of course, and shared dessert by St. Cupcake. (My chocolate with cream cheese frosting cupcake was better than your coconut cupcake, though.)

Michelle's Famous Strawberry Basil Easter Salad

Yes, as my sister said in her previous blog, "today is Easter." We are both going to the same party and I cannot let her get away with having something better than me. I unfortunately forgot that I was supposed to bring something and was enjoying spending the day at Crema sipping my cappuccino and reading when my sis called and asked what I was bringing. I quickly said it was a surprise and that I was sure that it was going to be better than what she was bringing. I then chugged the last of my cappuccino and went running to Wild Oats. Unfortunately I couldn't remember if I had already agreed to bring something, so I made a quick call to Tata(hostess) to check. She said I didn't respond, so I asked if she needed anything. Right when the words flew out of my mouth, I had a sense of dread... I knew it would be jello or fruit salad, because I hate jello and what can you do exceptional to trump your sister with a fruit salad. Of course Tata said she needed fruit.

I looked around for something seasonal and of course it just isn't the right time, so I gave up on seasonal. I then saw some beautiful strawberries and blackberries, so I grabbed them and then thought what do I love with strawberries... then it occurred to me that one of my new favorite drinks is a basil and strawberry martini. I grabbed the basil, paid, and ran out of the store. Unlike my sister I rarely cook from a cookbook (unless I need one of my Mom's Greek or bread recipes), so I goggled strawberry and basil salad. Everything looked to time intensive, because I only had about 20 minutes and didn't have time to make a reduction, blah, blah, blah. I did see that quite a few used balsamic, so I slammed the computer shut and decided I would create my own.

Ingredients for Michelle's Strawberry, Blackberry, And Basil Salad That Is So Much More Creative Than Potatoes Au Gratin:
- 1 1/2 pounds of fresh strawberries quartered
- 1/2 cup of blackberries halved
- 2 teaspoons of sugar
- 1 1/2 teaspoons of balsamic vinaigrette
- 8 basil leaves finely chopped

I combined the strawberries into a bowl and added the sugar and balsamic vinegar. I then tossed them gently and added half of the basil. Then place the remaining basil on top for a great color contrast. It is delicious and takes only 5 minutes and makes you seem incredibly creative.

I am sure it will be the clear winner at the Easter Dinner!!


The Perfect Potato Gratin

So today is Easter, which means my friend Tata is holding her Extravahamza!, because whether you're a Christian, pagan, or innocent bystander to the Easter holiday, I think we can all agree that ham is the reason for the season. Tata has asked all her guests to bring something to her Extravahamza! which means I have an hour and a half to whip up a quick dish involving potatoes, which is what she asked me to bring. "Something involving potatoes, Jen" is what her email read. I can work with this, but my time is limited, not because Tata didn't tell me she needed this in a timely manner (she told me last weekend), but because I have been faffing around all day and now it is 3:30 pm and I have to be at her place way out in the Southeast at 5 pm.

No problem! I quickly scan my current foodstuffs. I've got cream, thyme, garlic, salt, parmeggiano reggiano. No potatoes though, a critical ingredient in a recipe for "something involving potatoes." Curses! I put on a coat and hurry down to the City Market, where I buy four fat Russet potatoes and a small Toblerone for the walk home. I now have all the essentials necessary for a truly memorable potato gratin, so I head into the kitchen with my potatoes, get out my mandoline (makes slicing potatoes, apples, pears, fingers, pretty much anything a complete JOY--get one) and start assembling my ingredients, which include:
A cup of cream
A tsp of salt
Some pepper
A rounded tsp of chopped fresh thyme
A big clove of garlic
Four fat russet potatoes

This gratin recipe has three strong points: It is delicious, it is easy to make, and it is inexpensive, depending on your labor costs, which I will explain. First up--you must peel the potatoes. I am halfway into the first one when I remember what a crap job peeling potatoes is. I recommend that you outsource the potato peeling. Find someone who needs a little extra cash, like your live-in grandmother or a passing tweaker or maybe a small child living down the hall--seriously, Easter usually falls during Spring Break aka "every working parent with a pittance of paid vacation's worse spring nightmare," so I bet you that one of your neighbors might even pay you to take their child off their hands for a day or two to peel potatoes or whatnot. You could probably get your laundry folded, your baseboards dusted, and all your spices alphabetized (kids love this job!) out of the whole affair. Just a suggestion. Anyway, once your potatoes are peeled, you'll want to mince the garlic and chop the thyme and measure out your salt. I can't find my teaspoon, we were using it to stir mojitos the other night so who knows where it is, so I just innovate--an important skill for any home cook to hone--and use the small end of my melon baller, which looks about right.

I pour the entire 8 oz carton of Sunnyside cream into a very large mixing bowl--use a big bowl, about the right size to hold a regular-sized cat, although you shouldn't really let your cat hang out in your mixing bowls, it's not sanitary--and add the garlic, thyme, salt, and a dusting of pepper, then stir it all up. Beautiful!

I slice the potatoes quickly, watching my precious knuckles--the mandoline will take them right off, let me tell you, I have a lovely scar I'll show you sometime if you like--then add them to the cream mixture, stir it with a pink spatula (not mandatory) and layer them lightly in a blue oval Le Creuset baking dish my mom bought me because she thinks I'm great. I grate a light layer of parmeggiano reggiano over the top, and the gratin is officially assembled! Bake the gratin at 350 degrees for however long it takes you to watch last week's Tivo'd episode of "Top Chef" and fire off a quick "Happy Easter, I think you have a nice keester!" monk-e-mail ( to co-host Chef Tom Colicchio, so roughly an hour and 15 minutes.

I'm done. What a relief. I will pull this gratin out in an hour and 15 minutes and be on my way to my friend Tata's Extravahamza! The only thing left to do is the dishes, but since Easter falls on the sabbath, there's no way I'm going to do that. And anyway, that's what the neighbor kids are for! I have them scheduled for dish duty at approximately 6:30 am tomorrow morning, immediately before "Riedel champagne flute buffing and shining" duty. I love Easter!

Jace Gace

I woke up on Saturday morning with a hankering for a great breakfast. I called a friend and asked if she wanted to walk down Belmont and find a place to eat. She suggested Jace Gace and I was excited, because my sis said they have the largest mimosa in town.

As we were walking down there she said that they only had waffles and I was a little disappointed, because I am a savory person for breakfast who likes just a little sweetness. I was surprised when we got there and they really do only have waffles, but they have creatively made sweet and savory waffles. The place is beautiful inside and has a rotating art show and it also has a great little patio out front. I ordered my giant mimosa (sis did not lie at all about the size-GIANT), cappuccino, and a biscuits and gravy waffle and it came to about $12. My friend ordered the honey nut waffle with brie, prosciutto, and apples. Everything about the place is artsy and it transcends to the way the food is plated... it is beautiful.

After texting my sister a picture of my mimosa to make her jealous... I concentrated on enjoying my waffle. The gravy was a wonderful sausage home-style gravy and I was concerned that the waffle would be mushy with the gravy and two eggs on top, but it still maintained its crisp little edges... it was delightful. My friends waffle was brilliant with just a bit of honey to add sweetness to the sides of brie and prosciutto. I think I might become a regular here, because they are open all day and it looks like they have a great happy hour with $2 house red and white wines and $1 off waffles!


Jace Gace * 2045 SE Belmont * Monday & Tuesday: 9A-2P, Wednesday - Friday: 9A-Open Late, Saturday & Sunday: 8A-Open Late * Happy Hour Wed-Thur 4P-6P * No Reservations* 503.239.1887*

Saturday, March 22, 2008

C Bar - Great Bar Food & Service

So my friends asked me to meet them at the C Bar last Friday and I had never heard of it, but I love to try new places. I quickly goggled the C Bar before I left work and was totally surprised about sooooo many negative service reviews, but I am a firm believer in trying out a place regardless if others hate it. I have to admit that I was a little skeptical about it, but as I arrived I thought it looked like a real cute place from the outside (thought it is a little hard to find their front door) and then when I got in I thought it was even better. It is very trendy, modern, and inviting inside. I sat down at the bar with two of my friends and ordered a blueberry cocktail that was excellent... whole blueberries, vodka, and soda.

We then decided that we would grab a booth and order dinner. The adorable bartender came out and we questioned him about all his favorites before deciding on the chevre salad and pesto pizza. The salad was smothered with an amazing chevre, sundried tomatoes, and a house made vinaigrette and it was wonderful. The pizza was thin and crispy and the pesto was laden with garlic and basil and had artichoke hearts and tomoatoes on top- I was so pleasantly surprised. I would definitely go back there for pizza and as some of you know I am a pizza snob. The bar was starting to get busy and we stayed for a few more hours drinking their lovely cocktails and talking before building up the appetite for a third course... NACHOS. They totally hit the spot as we plowed through the piles of tortilla chips, olives, avocado, cheese, spiced beans, salsa, jalapenos and sour cream.

After the nachos were polished off, a friend of mine wanted chocolate for dessert and we asked the bartender if he had any chocolate desserts. He told us he didn't and then 5 minutes later he came back with Japanese fried chocolate ice cream from the sushi place next store. He went and got it... How is that for service? It was great!

So, I am glad I went and didn't listen to all of the negative reviews. It was a great night, with great service, great company, and great food.


C Bar * 2880 SE Gladstone St * (503) 230-8808 * Sun-Thu 5:30pm--12am, Fri-Sat 5:30pm-2am * No reservations * Isolated Smoking Room

Ole Ole- Come Come Michelle

I was driving home from work on Thursday night around 7 pm, contemplating what I was going to make for dinner. I decided to go up Burnside, so I could stop at the Wild Oats and grab something. The rain started to downpour and who feels like cooking in those conditions? And then I saw it, something staring right at me, a sign saying Ole Ole and since I don't know Spanish I thought it said Come Come Michelle Out of the Rain and Have Fresh Mexican Food- I instantly pulled into the parking lot and ran in.

The place is very casual with a few tables and the night seemed slow. I stepped up to the counter and placed my order for three carnitas and an avocado salad and handed over my $9. I sat down and texted Sis that I was incredibly busy at work and might not be able to blog tonight... she replied a not so nice sentiment and I felt content as my carnitas arrived. The homemade corn tortillas were covered with mounds of shiny shredded pork, diced tomatoes and onions, and just a hint of cilantro. They were perfection... the pork so tender and seasoned and then I added an avocado from my salad to give it a more creamy texture and I was in heaven. The salad was gigantic and had tons of ripe avocado and was seasoned only with lemon and salt, which gave it a nice fresh flavor and brought out the avocado flavor.

By the time I was finished the place was getting packed... I guess other people held my views that you shouldn't cook in rainy conditions and then had seen the Ole Ole beckoning them to come in and eat great, fresh Mexican food.


Ole Ole * (503) 230-1132 * 2137 E Burnside St * no reservations * Daily 10am to 10pm

Fra' Mani Salumi at Square Deal

Here at TableTalkPortland, we LOVE pork. We love it roasted, braised, grilled, baked, simmered, poached, slow-cooked, stuffed, marinated, rubbed, sliced, diced, shredded, pulled, on the bone, off the bone, and we particularly love it ground up and mixed with spices and crammed in a piece of hog gut and slowly aged until mold grows on it and it is pronounced salumi.

So when we heard that Square Deal Wine Company ( on NW Thurman was holding a salumi tasting hosted by Michael Fabbro, Director of Sales and Marketing for Fra' Mani Handcrafted Salumi, a salumi company founded in 2006 by legendary San Francisco Bay Area chef and "curemaster" Paul Bertolli (formerly of Chez Panisse and Oliveto), we had to go.

We rushed through the doors, just a few minutes late (Michelle's fault), and were warmly greeted by Square Deal founder Dan Beekley, who immediately endeared himself to us by pouring us each a glass of the exquisite Bele Casel Prosecco ($16) into equally exquisite Riedel Restaurant series champagne flutes, which I am in love with but are only available to industry professionals. That is why I write this blog, you know, because someday I have dreams of us being approached by Riedel and welcomed into the 'industry professionals' fold, and allowed to purchase an entire crate of my darling Riedels so I don't have to nick them from the San Francisco Ferry Building Wine Bar and risk arrest and deportation, hopefully to France.

Riedels clutched tightly in hand, we browsed the crates of wine throughout the carefully laid out store, and admired Steve's Cheese's impeccably arranged cheese and charcuterie selection. Steve's Cheese ( is a specialty retail cheese, charcuterie, and dry goods counter located towards the back of the store, so don't be fooled at first peer into Square Deal's front window into thinking this is exclusively a wine shop. A few minutes later, we were gently herded into the glass-enclosed back room to sit around a long farmhouse style table set with small plates, cloth napkins, and two pours of Italian white wine--the Olivella, "Racemo", Frascati Superior, 2006 ($18) and the Germano Ettore, "Binel", Langhe, 2005 ($15). Becky Brandt, Square Deal's excellent wine stewardess, explained each wine's origin on the map, then super-cute-and-nice Michael Fabbro introduced himself and Steve passed the first plate of salume--neat folded triangles of mortadella. Describing the mortadella as 'refined and elegant',Michael said restauranteurs who inquire about how to plate this particular meat are told to plate it as though it were a 'silk handkerchief', folded gently onto a platter or meat board. Mortadella's soft texture, according to Fabbro, is attributed to the fine grinding of the hog's leg, shoulder, and belly meat, as well as the addition of pig snout, which provides a gelatinous quality. So now you know, and when someone passes mortadella around at a gathering, you can regale everyone with your pig snout trivia or offer constructive criticism of their plating methods. I have been, and let me tell you, I am enjoying unprecedented popularity at parties now. It's also just fun to say Pig Snout!, which can be used in place of your usual exclamation of surprise, distaste, or hearty agreement. Try it the next time someone tries to cut in front of you in line at the bar at North 45 when you're trying to order a California Chillum--"Pig Snout!" Or if you have to give a toast at a wedding..."I wish you the utmost happiness...(hold up your champagne flute) Pig Snout!" See what I mean? It's just so poignant.

Michael also introduced the Salame Nostrana, a small mild salame, and its bolder cousin the Salame Gentile. Someone asked about the nature of the salame casing, which Michael bluntly demystified. In Italian, he said, 'gentile' means 'friendly, kind, pleasant'. We all nodded. That sounded nice. But ironically, he went on to explain, the Gentile's casing comes from the last part of the hog's large intestine. The group pondered this and one woman squished her face up into a distasteful grimace. Michael nodded gravely. "The casing is the ass of the hog," he stated matter of factly. "And there's nothing really very pleasant about that." Everyone giggled their agreement. We all chewed slowly.

Steve and Becky floated around the table, pouring two Italian reds--the delicious Montori, Montepulciano d' Abruzzo, 2005 ($11) and Brunori, "Barco", Rosso Conero ($15), and the second round of salumi began making its way around the table. First, the salty, dark burgundy Toscano--purposefully saltier than its counterparts, Michael explained, because the Tuscans traditionally serve food with unsalted bread, a practice dating back centuries and one I remember vividly from my trip to Italy this past summer, because one of my travel companions, in an ongoing fit of Ugly Americanism, complained loudly and bitterly in one trattoria after another throughout Tuscany about the agonizingly bland bread. Next up was the Soppressata, a large dry salame that Fra' Mani produces in the style of Italy's Veneto region, which Michael said is also responsible for Prosecco, so when I move to Italy someday, I'm buying my villa in Veneto, for sure. With its rich flavor and notes of clove, this was an immediate crowd favorite and as Steve revealed, the store's best-selling salame.

As the group nibbled our last sample, thick slices of Fra' Mani Salametto Piccante--a small Spanish-style dry chorizo made with smoked pimenton de la vera (Spanish paprika), cumin, red wine, and plenty of garlic, Michael invited questions from the group, but we were too busy taking pictures of Michelle trying to eat an entire Salametto Piccante (passed around so we could admire its gym socks-esque smell) in one bite to ask our burning question, which was: Are you single? Whoops, I mean, we meant to ask him if he wanted to attend our Table For Twelve dinner while he was in town.

Michael concluded by explaining the Fra' Mani philosophy--use only the highest-quality all-natural pork from locally sourced farms, 'discreetly seasoned, aged slowly, letting the flavor of the pork come through to you." To which we say, Pig Snout!

A Perfect Sandwich

I'm supposed to be blogging about my sis and I's trip to Patanegra right now, which I fully intend to do, but I am slightly famished and craving a ham sandwich something terrible so I have to interrupt my thus far admittedly lackluster blogging attempts to go in search of a ham sandwich, and perhaps some chocolate. I feel a little bit guilty but then I remember that my sis, who is also supposed to be blogging, about our Pok Pok experience, is currently at Jace Gace on SE Belmont eating a biscuits and gravy waffle and drinking mimosas. I know this because she keeps texting me pictures of her mimosa, which is rude because she knows full well I cannot join her in drinking mimosas on Jace Gace's lovely little patio because I can't remember where I parked my car yesterday when I got home from work (it was a long day) and don't have the patience to go searching for it right now.

I leave the house with 10 dollars in my pocket and a few critical decisions to make. I could go down the street to Ken's Artisan Bakery and buy a jamon sandwich, but they always run out of the premade stock before noon and they always refuse to make me another one! I could walk up to St. Honore and get the Parisian (ham and cheese) sandwich, but that's at least a 10 minute walk and I'm an instant gratification sort of girl, at least at the moment. So, I decide I will just have to go to the City Market, which is a mere one block away. You are probably thinking, Jen you are always blathering on about shopping at the City Market, can't you write about something else? To which I will say: No.

I walk in with my 10 dollars and head for the deli counter, where all thoughts of ham fly from my head when I see the salumi selection. The choices! I can actually buy genuine Salumi salumi (from Salumi in!) or some delicious Fra' Mani selections are available as well. I had no idea, and I'm in here practically every day! Since we attended a Fra' Mani tasting event this week at Square Deal Wine and LOVED their salumi, I decide to get an eighth of a pound of the soppressata. I'm sort of obsessed with soppressata lately. (If you haven't already had it, you must scurry to Ken's Artisan Pizza and get the spicy soppressata one) This gives me a generous portion for a small sandwich. I choose a basic Brie from the crowded (in a good way) cheese case and order a quarter pound. One small Pearl Bakery roll and a 2 oz bar of bittersweet Scharffen Berger chocolate later, and I have the makings of a perfectly satisfying late afternoon lunch, which rings up at $8.22, well under budget. I posted a picture so you can share my joy.


Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Jen vs The Root Vegetables

So I bought too many root vegetables for Sunday Supper the other day, which means I now must do something to remove their homely countenances from my refrigerator. And since a root vegetable cannot be poured into a Riedel champagne flute and sipped, my preferred method of emptying my refrigerator of its most prominent inventory, I must dispose of them in some other manner. I will make my current favorite vegetable-related recipe, Roasted Root Vegetables With Gremolata, from Suzanne Goin's most excellent cookbook "Sunday Suppers at Lucques." Suzanne Goin is an amazing chef although her picture on the back of the book is a little severe. If I ever have the opportunity to interview her for our website, I think we should do the interview whilst getting makeovers, perhaps.

Anyway, the recipe calls for, in essence, a shedload of root veggies and shallots, butter/olive oil/salt/pepper, and a gremolata of minced garlic, flat-leaf parsley, and lemon zest. So, pretty much all of the finest things a kitchen should have on hand, with the exception of the root vegetables, which I think are hideous, but I cook and consume anyway because I am of course, completely non-discriminatory. Please do not sic the "Society Against Unfairly Labeling Parsnips As 'Hideous'" on me.
First off I wash the visually offending turnips and parsnips, and their more beautiful counterpart, the carrots. The first time I ever made this recipe, I used the exquisite red and purple heirloom carrots I bought at Farmer's Market during its last few weeks back in December. But this time I'm using ordinary carrots, because that is what they had at City Market.

I locate a lemon lolling about in my cornucopia-esque fruit bowl, and dig through my messy kitchen drawers to find the microplane. I always feel rather badly about zesting a lemon, as I am callousing removing his skin, essentially flaying him, and as we all know from "Silence of the Lambs," nobody likes to be flayed. Even lemons, one would think. But I need that precious layer of bright yellow cells, with their pungent oils and unmistakeably fresh scent and flavor to add just the right note to my gremolata. Before I made this recipe, I had no idea what a gremolata was. So I wiki'd it, and here is what I found: "Gremolata (or gremolada) is a traditional accompaniment to the Italian braised veal shank dish Ossobuco alla milanese. Typically, gremolata contains garlic, parsley and grated lemon peel." Hmmm. I am not making veal tonight, but it seems like useful information anyway.

Click here to read: Eeek! I've Been Flayed! One Lemon's Account of a Brutal Zesting.
(Just kidding.)

I squint my eyes and slice the root vegetables, then set up my 'mise en place', which is French for, everything's measured out and ready to go or something like that. I usually cook in the 'rien en place' or 'nothing in place' method, which is one that embraces complete chaos and lack of preparation and involves eggs being madly beaten while mushrooms and onions burn abandoned in a too-hot skillet, but today I'm trying to be like a real chef.

Surveying my lineup of ingredients, I realize I have forgotten the thyme. Even worse, when I check the crisper, I see that the thyme has completely let itself go! It is withered and brittle and wearing holey mismatched socks, which means my dream of living in my robe the entire day is dashed. I will have to don trousers and walk to the City Market. Drat! Inside the market, I quickly grab a bunch of fresh thyme and head to the checkout, but en route I am distracted by Viande's Chicken Fig sausages, and even further distracted by the fact that Benjamin Dyer is behind the Viande counter, slicing something meaty. This is my chance to ask him about the small roasting hens conundrum explored in my posting about Fred the Little Crippled Kosher Chicken. Alas, I chicken out again! No pun intended! I request a chicken and fig sausage from the butcher on counter duty and buy it along with my bundle of thyme and hurry home.

I get ready to roast. I turn on the gas, heat up two skillets, and swirl about a tablespoon of olive oil in each pan. I divide the root vegetables between the two pans and commence roasting them on high heat, turning them often. I add the thyme leaves, and some salt. They sizzle and crackle madly, and before too long the incomparable smell of carmelizing root vegetables and fresh thyme fills the apartment, and my stove, sink, table, refrigerator, favorite tank top, hair, and every single other item in my kitchen, including the MacBook, is covered in a fine spray of olive oil! Not again! I forgot that the last time I roasted these root vegetables I basically had to toss a Formula 409 All-Purpose Cleaner grenade through the door post-recipe and return in a day or so, when the oil slick that was my kitchen had finally succumbed to the Formula 409's relentless de-greasing campaign. My socks are carrying me across the floor of their own oily will and the smoke detector is starting to hiccup, even though I took it down and put it under the kitchen table for the duration of this recipe, which I do NOT recommend doing at home, okay? It's just that the smoke alarm is so...incessantly alarmist, and I have sensitive eardrums. I always replace it in a timely manner, I swear.

After I rescue the laptop, I go back in and swirl some unsalted butter around in the pans with the rapidly browning vegetables, then add a half cup full of thinly sliced shallots to each pan five minutes later. I let these carmelize and release their savory flavor and smell for about five minutes, then I turn the vegetables off, toss them with the gremolata, and serve them with a pan-fried Viande Chicken and Fig Sausage.

The combination of the sweetly robust flavors of roasted root vegetables and the fresh sassy kick of the gremolata is divine, and I almost forget that my entire kitchen has been meticulously doused with miniscule droplets of olive oil, until I nearly break my leg slipping on the checkered linoleum on the way to the sink. Funny how the cookbooks never mention this completely unglamorous side to cooking at home. Or is it possibly me? Don't know.

Anyway, this experience, while pleasant to my gullet, has led me to begin work on a book of anti-root-vegetable prose, entitled, "Ode to a Hideous Parsnip." So far, I've only nailed down one line, "Obese albino carrot! May you be eaten by a rabid ferret!" but I think it's showing a glimmer of real brilliance.

For more of Suzanne Goin's fantabulous recipes, you can buy her book "Sunday Suppers at Lucques" at Powell's online at Now if you'll excuse me, my Formula 409 bath is getting cold.