Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Press Herald's Final Sunday? We'll See...

22 Broad Street Pleases the Palate and The Eyes
Translation: Deception, Seduction, Sexual Tension, and Photosynthesis.

BETHEL — The sun is always shining out of the food on our plates, each ingredient ripening or maturing and storing away a nutritious translation of light.

In order to enhance your enjoyment of this review, it's important that I take this opportunity to talk about photosynthesis.

So what better way to enliven a thoroughly rained-out weekend in Bethel than by dining out at 22 Broad Street on good Italian food?

The only other things I could come up with were painting model airplanes, using my Ouija board, huffing gas, or doing an intestinal cleanse. Good Italian food it is!

Magnificent Carpaccio with shaved Parmesan, heaped arugula and a fruity olive oil did the trick at the beginning of the meal. Rich focaccia, good wine and a flourless chocolate cake and biscuit Tortoni for dessert made a chilly evening warm right up.

More about all of these things later. You will learn how Carpaccio the Magnificent, Foccacia the Rich, Arugula the Heap, and Tortoni the Biscuit were able to come through and warm the very cockles of my heart.

An eggplant "lasagna" constructed without pasta that was not quite fresh, and house ravioli with an odd texture were frustrating detractions, since they were so close to the mark. Those misses could easily have been the result of a bad night.

Everytime I thought I was getting there, I would encounter a frustrating detraction. I tried to close my eyes and concentrate. I could feel myself about to hit the mark, closer, closer, god i'm almost fucking there.. Shit! Goddamn these detractions!

St. Urbans-Hof Estate Riesling ($8) filled a bright glass with nectar, slightly sweet and utterly refreshing. Santa Martina Toscano Rosso 2005 ($8) was the recommended chianti from the opposite side of the wine spectrum, though just as full-bodied and richly flavored. This deep red wine tasted earthy, with a hint of spice and dry tannins.

I launched into my usual reckless abuse of wine terminology. Not often you find stemware that's so bright, twinkling like an utterly refreshing little angel. The recommended Chianti from the other side of the wine spectrum? Just as full bodied and richly flavored as what? Dry tannins? As opposed to fucking wet tannins?

More good wines and multiple specialty martinis are offered from the snug bar area, and in good weather, a game of Bocce might be a fine way to enjoy the cocktail hour in the court outside.

More bad wines are offered elsewhere, but only good ones in the snug bar area. A game of Bocce may in deed be a fine way to enjoy the cocktail hour. I also suggest parcheezi, the game of life, lawn darts, sparklers, retiring to the men's room to pleasure yourself, getting a henna tattoo, reading star magazine, or writing a bad food review.

John Amann owns the inn, called the Gideon Hastings House after its original owner, a major in the Union Army during the Civil War. The line of columns across the front veranda exemplifies the 1848 building's Greek Revival architectural style, and the paint following each molding detail shows off a painstaking renovation.

The Gideon Hastings House is the Inn owned by John Amann. You may hear more about him later, in reference to bread. He is mentioned only to fill out space. It is named after it's orginal owner, who was a major in the Union Army during the Civil War. Just some food for thought...

Inside, gleaming, ornate tin ceilings reveal more of the careful work accomplished here.

The tin ceilings were gleaming, ornate, and inside. They reveal work accomplished here and hide the horrible mistakes of the past..

Chef Donald Hauser has run the kitchen since mid-June. He prepares John Amann's focaccia recipe every day the restaurant's open, and once it's on the table, it is too tempting to pass up.

Before it's on the table, I could give a fuck about it. As I see the server approaching the table with it, I try to supress a yawn. Focaccia? Whatever.. My server's arm extends towards the table and I feel something changing inside of me. What's this? Why am I suddenly so intrigued by this bread? As it lands on the table something inside of me snaps. I violently backhand my 6 year old dining companion's hand away from the basket and I dive in. I eat piece after piece, barely pausing to breathe. I become unaware of my surroundings and the fact that my dining companion had started to weep loudly... I have completely surrendered myself to temptation, and may god have mercy on my soul.

Spongy, topped with some coarse salt and dried rosemary, this focaccia is like a savory cake. A few cherry tomatoes pressed into the top and roasted added their own concentrated flavor, and a dish of olive oil offered another layer of richness.

It's like some sort of goddamned savory cake. I can't even believe it. My other dining companion tries to stop me, saying that at this point I'm actually panting and that I need to get a grip on myself.

The restaurant's Carpaccio ($11.50), presented on a wide white plate covered with tissue-thin raw beef under arugula and strewn with olive oil, capers and cracked pepper, won a new convert early in the meal. The abundance of cheese and sour sharp capers accentuated the sweet, mild beef.

This is the carpaccio from the restaurant, just in case you got confused and thought I was talking about someone else's carpaccio. I'm talking about the one I had that night. It wasn't so much paper-thin, more tissue-thin. Like a woman's stocking. It actually won a new convert early in the meal, so that means we must have had it as an appetizer. The abundance of sour sharp capers were much more appealing than an abundance of sweet crunchy capers.

The soup of the evening, wild mushroom bisque ($6.50), wasn't immediately identifiable as wild. The finely chopped mushrooms were portobello, crimini and oyster, Hauser said, and their flavor was quite good. The bisque was exceptionally thick – too thick for my liking, though my companion preferred it that way.

My keen senses weren't screaming wild mushrooms initially. Hauser told me that they were portobello, crimini, and oyster mushrooms. I didn't want to believe him at first, but I gave in to his confidence, his sinister smile, and his bedroom eyes. I started thinking - how thick? I usually don't like it thick, but It appears I might be able to get used to it.. Over time...

Caesar salad ($3.50 with an entree) was admirable, the fresh, crisp romaine dressed in a lemony dressing and accompanied by a wedge of lemon to make it even more so. Lots of grated Parmigianno Reggiano intensified the savoriness of the salad.

I admired the Ceasar's spunk. Lemony dressing and lemons and a spoonfull of parmesan make the savory medicine go down in the most delightful way. Such a nice departure from the cowardly Ceasar's of past dining experiences..

Hauser said the dressing was not made with an egg yolk, and therefore healthier than dressing that is – but an egg yolk is one of the reasons Caesar salad can be sublime, and I would not give it up.

I wouldn't give in to his seduction. I love egg yolks.. Don't I? Why am I second guessing myself around this man? My dining companion tells me that he's bad news but I don't care. I know I can change him, I know I can make him love egg yolks, and I know he feels this crazy sexual tension as much as I do..

The kitchen offers Italian classics such as spaghetti and meatballs, a daily ravioli special, and perhaps gnocchi with prosciutto and mushrooms.

Perhaps gnocchi with prosciutto and mushrooms.. Or perhaps fucking not!

The main course, or "secondi" in Italian, could be veal chop al forno ($17.50), grilled and served with gremolata, chopped parsley, lemon zest and garlic, and shrimp pomodoro, or steamed halibut Toscana ($22.50), served with fresh Little Neck clams, roasted plum tomatoes, capicola, artichokes and basil.

It could be veal chop al forno or it could be halibut toscana. It could also very well be nothing, another order of carpaccio, more focaccia, a cup of Sanka, an alcoholic call beverage of your choice, a caramel calcium chew from your purse, or an ice cube. Kind of like a culinary choose your own adventure..

Eggplant lasagna ($17.50) is a popular favorite on the menu and it's easy to see why, though my own serving tasted a little off. Deeply browned on the top, this layered vegetarian dinner struts the classic virtues of tender fried eggplant and creamy ricotta. The house marinara, lavished around the large serving in the shallow bowl, is excellent.

Even though mine tasted off, it's easy to see how the other shitheads who dine here would make this their favorite. This layered vegetarian dinner was all about strutting around the fucking table, just asking to be lavished with some serious house-made shit.

Chicken and pesto ravioli ($19), the ravioli of the day, had an odd texture, with the pasta rather chewy and not at all tender, as is typical of fresh pasta.

The ravioli of the day, chicken and pesto ravioli, was different than other ravioli that i've had when I've ordered ravioli out in ravioli restaurants that serve lots of ravioli.

Biscuit Tortoni, an old-fashioned dessert described in a New York Times Sunday Magazine column last winter by Amanda Hesser, is a mixture of meringue and whipped cream with toasted almonds and almond extract folded in. Hesser wrote that it fell out of favor after the 1960s, though online blog said it's never lost favor in Pittsburgh. It's wonderful whatever the history – and I am glad 22 Broad Street put it on the dessert list.

I desperately need to fill up space so I begin referencing ridiculous bullshit to distract you:
Old fashioned biscuit tortoni had fallen on hard times. With the 60's over no one seemed to care about their old pal tortoni anymore.. After successfully dodging the draft, he found himself in Pittsburgh, running with a tough crowd. People in this city seemed to identify with Tortoni's irrepressible spirit and soon he became the number one dessert in the entire city. To this day they still celebrate St. Tortoni day, with a parade and a massive city-wide orgy. So wonderful....

Valrhona flourless chocolate cake was another surefire pleasure, almost liquified with heat when it was served on the night of our visit – dark, bittersweet and excellent.

Surefire, Pleasure, Liquified, Excellent, Dark, and Bittersweet. The Verve begins to play in the background and we all rise from our seats and start dancing. I find my self spinning uncontrollably and get so caught up in the moment that I am completely oblivious to the fact that i'm screaming at the top of my lungs. If only this moment could last forever..

A cup of smooth decaffeinated coffee accompanied those almond and chocolate flavors perfectly.

A soothing cigarette put an end to the madness..

Drinking at Bars in Asian Restaurants #1 - Kon Asian Bistro

Welcome to the first of many posts where Dietz and I set out to get hammered on ridiculous drinks and sample the food at random Asian restaurant bars in the Greater Portland Area.

Kon Asian Bistro, located out by exit 8 on Brighton Avenue, occupies the spot formerly known as The Maine Super Buffet. I never made it out to the buffet during it's reign of terror, but I do recall a story told by someone who had...
It was a birthday party for what appeared to be a five year old. When it came time to open presents my friend witnessed the child open up a new Black and Decker Tool Set (probably purchased last minute across the street at Bradley's). Apparently the child seemed confused and the father seemed ecstatic... Nice.

Our companions for this venture were Nolan (Beer Buyer - Downeast Beverage), Molly (Avid Drinker), and Edna (Local Bartender). We stumbled in already half in the bag around 8 p.m...
The owners clearly invested alot into renovating the space. A big golden Buddha greets you as you enter. We head straight over to the illuminated bar which we decided, after a few more drinks, was made of magic. Immediately I declare that I love this place..
To start I select the "Man Tai," a Mai Tai with twice the booze. At this point I decide to fire up the voice recorder on my phone knowing that a blackout was iminent.
I order food for the group. Overall, the quality is excellent. I focused on hot apps, though the restaurant has a full sushi bar (and Habachi tables - next time).
We Had:
1. Indian Pancakes: Delicious little flatbreads with curry sauce.
2. Mini Beijing Duck: Everyone loved these, especially the doughy house made "mini buns" to wrap around the duck.
3. Kon Lettuce Wrap: I liked that the lettuce wrappers were perfect ovals. The filling was delicious, kind of reminded me of an egg roll (at least that's what I listened to myself say on the recording a day later..)
4. Gyoza: I haven't had many Gyoza that I haven't liked but these were exceptional. Great filling and a perfect crust on the outside.

5. Hot and Sour Soup: This was the most disapointing dish of the evening. Even though it showed up with an opulent golden spoon, it was neither hot nor sour.
6. Garlic Chilean Sea Bass: The fish was cooked perfectly, with a nice crispy crust. The accompanying soba noodles were a little overcooked.
7. Rock Shrimp: Oh My Fucking God... This is one of my new favorite dishes in Portland. Crispy fried rock shrimp doused in a kewpie mayo sriracha scallion sauce... Fuck.. We devoured 4 orders of these and I (after listening to the recording) declared that they were amazing about 15 times..
8. General Tso's Chicken: Had to order it and I was glad I did. Everything it should be - fried, sweet, spicy, and delicious.
9. Beef Negimaki: I liked these but Dietz was indifferent. They did have a little bit of a "home stir-fry kit taste," but I thought they were decent.

Halfway through all of this Dietz decides to officially send me spiraling into an abyss of drunken insanity by ordering a scorpion bowl. This enormous bowl of liquor tasted like exactly that, sucked through a foot long straw. Dietz also declared that we needed to drink the puddle of Bacardi 151 used to set the drink on fire - which didn't help my cause either. I tried to convince him to snort it, but to no avail.

The only problem with using magic as the material for your restaurant bar is that it clearly illuminates the mess you've made with the food. The prices are very reasonable, I think, I don't really remember.. I felt that I needed to try a regular Mai Tai after the dreaded scorpion bowl and the conversation began about the next move for the evening. I suggested the Strip Club but Edna protested, saying that Mondays are "Totally B-Team over there." Nolan and Molly decide (wisely) to call it a night. We somehow end up at Vignola (because if there's anyone who won't judge me for being such a fuck-up, it's Steve Sousa) where I barely get through saying hi to everyone before I decide that I have no business being in public... I am graciously escorted home where I open another bottle of wine, drink about a glass, and finally pass out..

I'm excited to go back to Kon, as I'm sure it will catch on as a place for strippers to go hang out and drink before and after their shift. Everyone wins here, because not only are strippers fun but they love to spend money and tip very well.

The only thing this place is missing is an opium den...

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Pho At Home and Other Delightful Shit

Given a random Thursday night off I decide to hit the Asian markets and get into an rather involved cooking project: Pho.
I think I'm getting pretty close to dialing this one in at home. Obviously I don't have access to the master stocks that Vietnamese restaurants keep going for long periods of time, but I was happy with the results anyway.

To start the process you'll need to make stock. To me there's nothing more relaxing than getting stoned and doing this at a relaxed pace. Maybe wake up, get coffee, go to Pat's Meat Market to get supplies, and then come see me at Downeast Beverage where i'll provide you with one of my new favorite morning beverages - Fruit Beer. I know what you're thinking - "Magic Hat #9 sucks" or "I'm all set with Pete's Wicked Strawberry Blonde Ale now that I'm not in 8th grade anymore" - and I agree. These beers, however, changed my mind:

Dogfish Head Festina Peche, Delaware

You get the flavor of fresh peaches, while the beer is very tart and dry. Serve it ice cold with breakfast.. delicious.

Unibroue Ephemere Apple, Quebec
This reminds me of Unibroue Blanche de Chambly with a finish of Granny Smith Apples. French fries with good mayonaisse makes a perfect pairing - and I also like to drink it while I sit and stare blankly at my computer screen trying to figure out what the fuck I should blog about.

Now that you've got your frosty beverage, time to make stock.

5 lbs chicken necks
4 lbs pork necks
4 chicken feet (i'm not sure if this actually helps but I like to think it does)
3" piece of ginger, peeled and chopped into 3 pieces
4 scallions
1 head of garlic, halved
2 tbsp. black peppercorns
1 white onion, quartered

Rinse the necks and feet under cold water and place them in a large stockpot. Cover with cold water and bring just to a boil over medium high, skimming any shit that comes to the top as you go.
Add the ginger, scallions, onion, garlic, and peppercorns. Reduce heat to medium low and simmer partially covered for at least 4-5 hours. I often let it go 9 or 10.
Strain the stock and let it cool. Remove the layer of fat from the surface and freeze if not using within a day.
I like to portion the stock out into quarts and half quarts. The half quarts are perfect for preparing ramen noodles for a late night after-work snack.

For the Pho:

One Whole Chicken, cut into 4 pieces (try to have as much marrow exposed as you can -It makes the broth very rich)
3 quarts chicken stock
6 cloves
4 star anise
2 small cinnamon sticks
12 oz. dried galangal (thai ginger)
grilled ginger and onion (about 2 knobs ginger, 1 white onion)
1 package fresh rice noodles (you can get them at Haknuman Meanchey on forest ave.)
1 sliced white onion
picked cilantro
chopped scallions

For Garnish:
Vietnamese basil
fresh mung bean sprouts
lime wedges
hoisin sauce
sambal oelek
sliced chilis

Bundle the spices up in cheesecloth, as well as the ginger and onion (separately).
Place the chicken into the cold stock and bring to a boil over medium high, skimming any foam that rises to the surface.
Add the bundles of spices and ginger-onion and reduce to a simmer. I also toss in a pinch of salt. Cook for about an hour and a half, partially covered. Remove the chicken and set aside to cool, letting the broth continue to simmer.
Once cool enough to handle, pick all the meat off of the chicken. Strain the broth and return to a simmer. Salt to taste. Drop the rice noodles into the broth for about 30 seconds and then divide them into the bowls for serving.
Add chicken, white onion, scallions, and cilantro to each bowl. Ladle the hot broth into the bowl and serve with all of the garnishes.

I generally go to 3 different Asian markets to get my supplies:

Hong Kong Market - Congress St. Right Next to Dogfish Cafe
The go-to for any Chinese ingredients
Sun Market - Congress St. Near Norm's
Great for any Japanese needs
Haknuman Meanchey - Forest Ave Near Haggarty's
I like this market for Thai and Vietnamese items, as well as produce and meat (pork belly, tripe, feet, etc.)

What to drink with Pho:

I think that German riesling would be the obvious choice here. Some of my favorites:

2007 Donnhoff Estate Riesling, Nahe (about 25.99 retail)
I find it hard to believe that a riesling this good is only their "entry level." beautiful balance of sweetness and acidity with a haunting, lingering finish.

2004 C.H. Berres Riesling Spatlese Urziger Wurtzgarten, Mosel-Saar-Ruer (about 32.99 retail)
Similar to the Donnhoff but has a little more age on it. Rieslings from the Mosel tend to really show off elegant slate and lime peel characteristics and this wine is no exception.

2006 George Breuer Rudesheim Estate Riesling, Rheingau (about 19.99 retail)
This is a great wine to shut anyone up who tells you that they don't like riesling because they "don't like sweet wines." Brilliant acidity and notes of limes and petrol dominate here.

2006 Shafer Frohlick Riesling Spatlese, Nahe (About 39.99 retail)

One of the most interesting rieslings I've ever tasted. The nose hints at wet earth and mushrooms, and then the minute it hits your palate it explodes into life with limes and peaches (and yes, I just said it explodes in your mouth).

Some Upcoming Features on this blog:

1. Drinking at Bars in Asian Restaurants
Dietz and I will be getting hammered on ridiculous frozen drinks and sampling the food at Asian restaurants throughout the city. We will be accomanpanied by different guests in the restaurant and alcohol business each time.

2. Hot Dogs and Pretty Girls
I will be searching for the best Hot Dogs in Portland, while accompanied by pretty girls. What's not to like?

3. I will continue to translate the Press Herald reviews for you.

4. Another Review of Miyake (gets better every time)

...And as an extra bonus for actually fucking reading this far, I'll tell you about my Father's day brunch experience at Verillo's Restaurant:

"After getting very little sleep due to being a drunk bastard the night before, my day randomly begins at Walmart. I've been tipped off in a not-too-subtle fashion by my mother that my dad is currently in the market to purchase a gas powered weed-wacker. Immediately memories came flooding back of myself trying to negotiate the fucking electrical cord of the current weed-wacker around the maze of obstacles in my backyard growing up. I also started thinking of how much fun it used to be to weed-wack ant hills. So anyway, I'm at the fucking Walmart feeling like a pilgrim in an un-holy land and I can't find the weed-wacker section. I decide on a gift certificate in the shape of a mug that says "#1 DAD" on it. Perfect.
When my parents had suggested Verillo's (out by exit 8, across from what was previously known as Platinum Plus - now CJ's or something..) for brunch a few days prior, I knew it was perfect. I wouldn't know anybody there, the menu shouldn't present any significant obstacles for my parents or grandmother, and I could be in and out in without any excessive delays. I was told that they were doing a "father's day cookout buffet," though there promised to be nothing resembling an actual cookout going on at all.
The parking lot was a ghost town when I arrived, with the exception of a sky blue Buick and a gold Oldsmobile. As we roll in I question whether or not they are even open. The host/waiter seems to assume that we're lost because we're not over the age of 87. The dining room is quite large, with plastic lobsters and fish all over the walls. It has that musty old restaurant smell - that I actually find a bit comforting at times.
It is not until the waitress starts to take our order that my parents realize that this isn't actually a buffet at all. You get the options of Haddock, Chicken Parmesan, Prime Rib, Fried Chicken - White or Dark Meat, or BBQ Spareribs. They come with a soup, salad, and a side - 10.99. My mother immediately sets in with her usual modification shitshow - sub this for that?, what's in this?, well is it a good baked potato?, etc.. - and finally gets them to add cheese to her house salad and sub clam chowder for the soup of the day. My pulse races and I go into fight or flight mode as my father starts reaming the waitress out about "how we were told it was a buffet on the phone so that's what we expected...." I realize at this point that I'm actually pressing my face into the wine list and fantasizing about being anywhere else.
The waitress, who turned out be 65 but looked about 50, was actually fantastic. She was patient, efficient, nice, and could tell that I was about slit my wrists if I didn't get a drink. I shot-gunned 2 Sam Adams Boston Lagers and at this point I was able to calm down a bit. I ordered the Spareribs, soup of the day - cream of tomato, and salad with ranch dressing.
"You can always tell that a restaurant is good when alot of elderly people go there" my Mom said. While this is completely untrue I will admit that once I had a few drinks I did have a pretty good time enjoying the sheer ridiculousness of Verillo's."