Monday, May 24, 2010

Ten Things to Eat in Portland 2010

Last year I published a list of my go-to foods in Portland when I had no patience to be disappointed. Here is the revised version, which I would like to say is for 2010 but is more reflective of this particular week and is subject to change. You’ll notice that several of the restaurants are the same from the 2009 list, I’ve just moved on to different items. You also may think that I have no idea what I’m talking about, which I’m comfortable with, which is why i've included this picture of myself to boost my credibility. As Billy Dee Williams says, this list "Works Every Time."

1. Fried Shrimp Po’ Boy, Gumbo, and a Macaroon – Po’ Boys & Pickles (1124 Forest Ave. 207-518-9735)

This is probably my new favorite lunch spot in the Portland area, which is why I had to list an entire meal there rather than just one thing. They really get it right, down to the Crystal brand hot sauce, Abita beer, and Zapps potato chips. After the shrimp sandwich I’d recommend trying the others in this order: Pulled pork, muffaletta, fried oyster, the Reggie (meatloaf), cheeseburger, and the Debris (roast beef). The Gumbo is the best around and the accompanying biscuit is damn near perfect. Also, get a fucking Macaroon – trust me.

2. Rock Shrimp Appetizer – Kon Asian Bistro (1140 Brighton Ave. 207-874-0000)

Tempura fried shrimp doused in a spicy mayo sauce that I could probably eat damn near every day. Sure, Kon has several shortcomings on the menu, but these never disappoint, along with the Peking duck wrappers.

3. BBQ Beef Banh Mi Sandwich – Kim’s Sandwich Cafe (261 St. John’s St. 207-774-7165)

These simply can’t be beat, especially for 2.75. I know this is old news to many, but just in case you haven’t tried them….

4. Caramelized Pork with Lemongrass – Thanh Thanh 2 (782 Forest Ave. 207-828-1114)
Though I enjoy the Pho more at Saigon, Thanh Thanh still has a few items that can’t be beat, such as this dish along with the rare beef salad and fresh spring rolls.

5. Beef Pho – Saigon (795 Forest Ave. 207-874-6666)

I love the aromatic broth, the sawtooth herb, the sate paste, the meatballs, the noodles, and the fact that they open, and serve beer, at 9:00 a.m. The crispy dumplings with ginger and scallion make a great starter as well.

6. Chili-Cheese Dog – Rosie’s (330 Fore St. 207-772-5656)

Both Rosie’s and Ruski’s have kick-ass hot dogs, and when you add Rosie’s chili you’ve got a perfect (nap-inducing) hangover helper.

7. Maine Hamayaki – Miyake (129 Spring St. 207-871-9170)

Quite possibly one of the best things I’ve ever eaten. Lobster, crab, and scallop over sushi rice, covered with kewpie mayonnaise, broiled, and then topped with eel sauce, sansho pepper, and truffle oil. If you’ve never tried this, you’re fucking crazy.

8. Lamb with Ceylonese Korma Sauce – Haggarty’s (849 Forest Ave. 207-761-8222)

Nothing better than a night at home, getting this delivered with an order of garlic naan, slugging three bottles of cheap red wine, and watching Rocky III and IV consecutively.

9. Menudo – Tu Casa (70 Washington Ave. 207-828-4971)

Sunday morning got several times more exciting the day I found out about this tripey deliciousness. Like I said, only on Sundays and get there early, it goes fast. The good news is that if you do miss it, you can still order the Enchiladas Salvadorenas with tongue.

10. The Sicilian Slab – Miccuci’s (45 India St. 207-775-1854)

I love Stephen Lanzalotta’s breads, so when you mix his baking with a tomato sauce that reminds me of the one my grandmother used to make, I’m happy. While you're there, pick up some Luna bread to make ridiculous burgers at home.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

What My Last Day on Earth Would Be Like, As Of Right Now....

While reviewing some material from "Deathmatch: Last Meal" today, I came upon my description of what my last meal, or day of meals, on earth would be and realized that that over a year it has already changed significantly. I decided to update this experience here, and, as I did on the facebook page, would encourage others to think about this question as well.

Bear in mind that this would be my last day experience in relation to food and drink, which I’ve based my life around, and obviously there would be other things (such as who would prepare the food, what kind of stereo system we would be listening to, having sex with various people, etc.) that won’t be covered (you’re welcome). Also, in relation to wine in particular, I’ve chosen things that I’ve already had because I need to know what to expect when mapping out this final experience.

That being said:

The Last Sunday

I would begin this day, at dawn, after about twelve hours of sleep to insure that I wouldn’t have a hangover. The setting for this final experience would be a house on a lake in the Maine woods, around late October. A walk in the woods, getting stoned while listening to “Blackwater Park” by Opeth on my headphones, would set the tone for the day and get me hungry enough to take down the extraordinary amount of food I have planned.

The first course after the walk would be a bowl of Vietnamese Pho, accompanied by a bottle of 2004 C.H. Berres Riesling Spatlese “Urziger Wurtzgarten,” which is definitely a little young to go, but then again, so am I. After finishing the bottle and listening to “Jar of Flies” by Alice in Chains, I’ll be ready to see my friends.

A group of about thirty people would arrive for course number two, which would be Iranian Osetra caviar served with farm-fresh soft-boiled eggs and brioche toast. We would enjoy magnum after magnum of vintage Krug and Salon Champagne, all kept cold in an old claw-foot bathtub full of ice. I think “Siamese Dream” by Smashing Pumpkins would probably fit my mood at this point.

A few hours later lunch would be served outside on a large porch overlooking the lake (did I mention that the house had one of those?) We would begin by enjoying bowls of creamy tripe soup with lemon & tarragon, followed by pork ribs and spicy macaroni & cheese. Normally this meal would need some greens, but this is my last day on earth, so fuck it. I think I would go with something simple and cold, like Commanderie de Peyrassol Rose, with this course. I know that many would choose beer, so it will be served for those who so desire. A playlist of various “Yacht Rock” artists would keep things smooth and entertaining here, and would eventually lull us into a brief nap period.

I would like to wake up to “Edge of the World” by the Faith No More, along with some hot Genmaicha tea and then maybe a little more weed. Now it’s time for afternoon snack number one: Foie Gras & Blood Sausage tarts inspired by the one I had at Au Pied du Cochon in Montreal. A few bottles of St. Joseph from Yves Cuilleron would put me us back on track and prepare people for the feast that lay ahead.

At this point I would break away with a small group and let the party go on without us for a few hours while we partake of snack number two: “Nyotaimori.” We would enjoy several pieces of sushi off of a beautiful Japanese woman’s naked body, served with four bottles of Sato No Homare "Pride of the Village" Junmai Ginjo.

As we rejoin the group for dinner, I would turn over the DJ responsibilities to my friend Katie, with the unspoken agreement that at some point we would hear “Home Sweet Home” by Motley Crue.

The final feast would start with Tom Kha Gai soup, served with 1990 Dr. Burklin Wolf Riesling Auslese Trocken. After that we would enjoy crispy fried veal sweetbreads washed down with several glasses of 2004 Shafer Frohlick Riesling Spatlese. I would probably need to make a drunken speech at this point, assuring everyone that there’s “only two more courses and then you don’t have to eat for a week as far as I’m concerned, I’ll be dead.”

The main course will be braised lamb shanks, that will be served with nan bread and hand-rolled israeli couscous cooked in almond milk. For this segment we will serve various magnums of Cote-Rotie, Vacqueyras, and Gigondas, hand-picked by my roommate. I would now begin to interfere with the music, requesting songs and then changing my mind halfway through.

I can’t think of any dessert I would enjoy more than crepes with Dulce de Leche, just like I had in Argentina. No matter how painfully full I am, I will be able to eat this dish. As the hour draws near, I think I might munch some psychedelic mushrooms and wash them down with a half bottle of old Trockenberenauslese.

Now that I should be pretty detached from any kind of reality, the day is almost over. At the last few minutes, I would like to be fed something disgusting, such as a bowl of English Peas and a warm glass of cheap rum, to make my transition a little easier…..

photo of myself by Zack Bowen

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Mr. Panda is Here to Stay

It’s Official. Mr. Panda is the new mascot for Portland Food Coma!

After facing stiff competition from Mr. Neglected Plant, Mrs. Microplane Grater, Captain Scallion, Ms. City of Portland 30 Gallon Trash Bag, and Admiral Wine Cork, Mr. Panda has emerged victorious and to celebrate, Gemma (tattoo artist responsible for the Bacon Cross) and I decide to take him for ice cream.
I was already covering local ice creams for an upcoming magazine feature, so we decide to make the epic journey from Portland to Brown’s Old Fashioned (232 Nubble Rd.) in York Beach, over an hour away.
The original plan involved very loud music and a mini-car-dance-party on the way down, but due to both of us being brutally hungover we just settled for pleasant conversation. It was all smooth sailing until we got to York, when fucking Google Maps almost got us kidnapped by Carnies.

It seemed strange that we were being instructed to enter York’s Wild Animal Kingdom (still closed for the season) but I figured “hey, seems like a reasonable place to have an ice cream stand!” As we drove through, we began to feel like pilgrims in an un-holy land. Google Maps said to continue down the road, but the Carnies eyeing us suspiciously made me think otherwise. It was a lot like the scene in the movie “Goodfellas” where Robert De Niro is trying to convince Lorraine Bracco to go down the alley and pick out some Dior dresses but is secretly planning to have her murdered. This may have been due to the fact that we were driving through the animal kingdom with an enormous Panda Bear in the back seat, but either way we decide to get the fuck out of there and reassess the situation.

I call Brown’s, and it turns out we were way off track. It’s funny how 90% of the time the iPhone GPS is spot on, and sometimes you just end up in the middle of nowhere. I accidentally admit to the person on the phone that we’d come all the way from Portland to have ice cream, which makes me feel like a shithead. His advice to us is to “drive towards the lighthouse,” which we found about twenty minutes later. Gemma and I agree on two things:
1. This is the longest journey either of us had ever made for ice cream.
2. Never to go near York’s Wild Animal Kingdom Again.
We both decide that Frappes would be helpful for our hangovers, and we were right. The quality of the ice cream is excellent, although they did not offer a bamboo flavor for Mr. Panda.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Mr. Panda Comes To Dinner

Nothing livens up a Sunday meal like setting a place at the table for a giant stuffed Panda Bear.
Mr. Panda had been living on the third floor of our house for about a year and a half, and I felt that that a dinner party revolving around two head-on ducks would be a great time to re-introduce him to the world.

You may be asking how we were lucky enough to have this magnificent creature as a roommate, and it’s actually a pretty funny story involving an ex-girlfriend, a yard sale, and the gay pride parade. I think she could probably tell the story best…

I had purchased the birds with the heads on with the intention of doing Peking Duck, which, like Buddha Jumps Over the Wall, is another classic and labor-intensive Chinese feast involving multiple courses. One of the steps is to use an air pump to separate the skin from the body to make it extra crispy. My proposed solution to this was to bring the ducks down to the Mobil Station and hook them up to the air pump for tires while taking multiple pictures, but this idea was quickly shot down and we decided to just roast the fuckers and improvise.

My kitchen partners in crime for this venture were Dietz, who was in charge of roasting the ducks, and Drew, who tackled sides. I decided to put together a hot and sour soup using a much different method than I was accustomed to, one of the major deviations being the use of Chinese red wine vinegar instead of the Chinkiang variety. Other interesting elements included Sichuan mustard pickle, dried bean curd sheets, and dried tiger lily buds.

As of late I’ve been obsessed with the Chinese method of making chicken stock, which involves ginger, wolfberries, scallions, white peppercorns, cilantro, and fried onions. Frying or grilling vegetables adds an incredible amount of depth to a broth, and is essential for creating dishes such as Pho.

To prepare the duck Dietz marinates it in a mixture of Sichuan bean sauce, brown sugar, soy, cilantro, and white pepper. The cavity is then filled with scallions, ginger, star anise, and Ceylon cinnamon, and roasted, turning occasionally, at 400 degrees.
Drew cooks fried rice with the duck hearts, livers, and Lap Cheong (Chinese sausage) and stir fries mustard green stems to round everything out. At this time we realize that a few cans of Lion Imperial Pilsner from Sri Lanka, coming in at about 9% alcohol, can get you pretty fucked up on an empty stomach. I transition into wine and quickly get my head back on track and ready to murder a few bottles, such as the Chateau Des Tours VDP from the Rhone Valley that paired perfectly with the duck.

We decide to serve the duck in dough wrappers with hoisin sauce and julienned scallions, and improvise by making these out of Pillsbury biscuit dough in the bamboo steamer. As you can imagine, fatty, crispy duck served in rich buttery biscuit dough wrappers was utterly ridiculous. No, not remotely traditional but utterly fucking ridiculous…

Dinner conversation drunkenly descends into an argument about old kid's toys, such as Pogo Balls, Power Wheels, and My Buddy. There is a debate about the relationship between Pound Puppies, and Gund, and we try to figure out what kind of fucking person actually collects Beanie Babies and where are they now. It ends with Julie trying to describe a toy that had two big wheels and a seat that you could ride around into which I reply: "I believe you're thinking of a WHEELCHAIR."

photos by Julie Smith

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Tuna Head at Miyake

Last Night, Five of my lucky friends were treated to an extra-special treat along with their tasting menus at Miyake: A whole, slow roasted Bluefin Tuna head. We had got the whole fish in the day prior, and Masa had asked me if I thought anyone would enjoy eating the entire head as a family-style dish. Are you fucking kidding me? Who WOULDN'T want to tear this up?

Masa slow roasted it for almost three hours.

We presented it to the table, and the rest of the dining room, in a ridiculous manner. The head was then taken back and Masa separated the meat onto serving platters, with a creamy ponzu dipping sauce. Eating Tuna in this way is not unlike eating delicious and fatty pork ribs, falling off the bone.

You can now start with the "Tuna Head" Jokes...

Essay in Restaurant Debauchery, number three

KGB – A Short Story

Throughout years of working in restaurants, there are certain characters that, no matter how many years it’s been, make you chuckle to yourself every time they cross your mind. In this case it was someone who just made it too easy to have fun at his expense, you simply couldn’t help yourself. He was the kind of person who would always sit and take the harassment, almost as if enjoying the attention whether or not it was positive.
When I met him I was working at a restaurant that we’ll call “Bella Serra.” I had recently moved back to Portland from Chicago and was going through what I consider to be my “prima donna” phase. One day I noticed a man, who appeared to be in his late thirties, poking around the host stand. I remember his hair looked like it was cut with a Flowbee and he was wearing pants with about five pleats in them that I was sure were purchased at Chess King.
Now to give you a little background, I was already a little shaky about new hires at this place. Just recently they had brought on a woman to wait tables who looked like actor Paul Sorvino, but with bleached blonde hair. She was immediately nicknamed “Dumpy Spice,” and lasted about two weeks before getting shit-canned. Now there was this fucking guy…
I don’t remember why we nicknamed him KGB, he was Polish not Russian, but it immediately stuck. He started by hosting a few nights, and then began waiting tables. I remember that we made him train to the point where we would just make him our bitch and collect all of the tips. He was the kind of guy who was nice enough, but also made really stupid mistakes that at first invited ridicule, but progressed to torment.
One of the my favorite examples of this would be the “Table Game.” There are two ways of playing, and they both involve the victim being really busy on what was usually a weekend night. The minute you would see the look of panic in their eyes, it was time to start the game. When he went into the kitchen to check on food, we would log into the dining room computer, close all of his tables as cash, and clock him out. Then we would re-locate to the other side of the dining room and wait. First there’s the phase of confusion, when he can’t find his name to log in (because he’s been clocked out), which progresses to frantically looking around the dining room, as if an explanation would present itself. Finally, anger sets-in as he knows we’ve got something to do with this. Another variation on this game was to transfer all of his tables to different servers and then clock him out. This never got old.
Then there was this one night in early November, we were starting to close down and the last customer had just filtered out. We had several “sample” bottles of wine on the bar, so we help ourselves, getting a little rowdy in the process. The restaurant had been decorated with various gourds and pumpkins in kind of a “harvest theme,” and to this day I can’t remember who threw the first gourd. Next thing you knew the dining room was like a war zone with people hiding behind walls and various decorative items zinging right past your head as you looked desperately for ammunition of your own. KGB was on the second floor, open to the first, completely oblivious to what was going on and polishing glasses to re-set a ten top.
It was at this moment several things happened at once: A server from the restaurant across the street had just walked in to ask if he could borrow a decanter as I spotted a large pumpkin on one of the shelves. I grabbed it and, to the decanter-borrowing server’s amazement, flung it up at KGB on the second floor (who’s back was to us). It misses his head by about 2 inches and lands directly on the table, smashing about five glasses and creating one of the loudest noises I’ve ever heard. KGB reacts as if a bomb had gone off, leaping about a foot and ducking for cover.
At this moment, myself and everyone else realized I may have just taken things a little too far, but no one can stop laughing to do anything about it. The visiting server leaves, completely forgetting the decanter, and I can only imagine the stories he told when he got back to work.
The last of KGB’s Portland exploits, before moving to Tahoe to become a blackjack dealer, involved getting banned for life from the Commerical St. Pub. For those who don’t live in Portland, I’ll just tell you that it is pretty fucking difficult to get banned from this bar. Apparently, KGB had been very drunk and kept following women into the bathroom and trying to “interact” with them, which he later referred to as “just trying to, you know, use the bathroom, man.”