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Archive for May, 2012

Espresso Tasting in the Emerald City of Espresso

Victrola’s Espresso

Vivace or Victrola?

We’ll cut to the chase. Both are very worthwhile espressos. In fact, both are easily some of the finest espressos served in this country without a doubt. They’re both more nuanced, woody, and with spectacular cremas that only the true barista masters and highest caliber of beans can accomplish. Espresso of this level demands everything to be sharp as a razor blade– the beans, barista, the machine, the timing, the temperature, the pull…the difference between good and bad espresso is as minute as the victory by barely a nose Saturday at the Preakness for I’ll Have Another.

Victrola has it all. It is the complete espresso, coffee shop experience. Sunshine streams in mid day, bathing those outside at the few sidewalk tables, writers clawing away at their laptops, or of course, the gesturing Italian standing at the bar giving his approval of this sensual espresso from beans roasted in the back of the room behind a glass window. The espresso is more robust than any I have found. Slick, creamy, it resembles more a shot of the most soulful dark drinking chocolate. It demands to be savored with the respect of a reserve Kentucky bourbon. (more…)

Monday’s Neighborhood: Central-West Burnside, Portland, Oregon

The Ace Hotel and Powell’s Books are anchors of Portland life, and the anchors of this once very grungy, now on the border of  rough edges to gentrified stretch of Central West Portland, where the main artery Burnside divides the Northwest and the Southwest. Between 10th and 11th Avenue, Powell’s is truly a city of books, where you can read and read until headaches force you to stop. You’ll easily get lost in Powell’s, even after a dozen visits. Trust me.

The Ace lies a block south of Powell’s, on Stark. Impossibly chic, the New York imported hotel boasts a far too cool for school lobby where the fashionistas gather to sip lattés from Stumptown’s baristas, who reside in the Stumptown cafe adjacent to the lobby. On the 11th St. side of Stumptown is Kenny and Zuke’s, the young, exciting Jewish deli of Portland, with superb rugelach, smoked salmon, rye bread, and house brined, smoked, and roasted pastrami that could give Langer’s and Katz’s stiff competition. (more…)

Tuesday Project: Jambalaya Time!

As the onslaught of Portland and Seattle articles are finally reaching the end (almost…), we’ll be heading out to New Orleans next, switching microbreweries for sazeracs and espresso for beignets and cafe au lait.

Which got me thinking about creating a New Orleans dinner. With a little help from Emeril Lagasse and John Besh (of August and an emerging New Orleans restaurant empire), I tackled a jambalaya dinner with mostly success.

Jambalaya is essentially a paella with a paprika-chili based seasoning instead of saffron. You can put whatever seafood, sausages, meats you want into it. The more the merrier, right? (more…)

Portland: The City of Coffee

I’m still wide awake a week later from all of the espresso I enjoyed when comparing one barista’s shot to another at a dozen different cafés across Portland. Seattle may receive the fame when it comes to coffee thanks to a certain empire with headquarters there. Seattle may also receive the fame because the city is always associated with gray, rainy weather that makes you want nothing more than to linger for hours over a latté on a cozy couch.

Portland on the other hand gets the press for its food, its beer, and its quirky “Portlandia” culture. All three certainly are everywhere in the city, especially if you are willing to explore outside of Downtown. However, let us not think that it doesn’t rain in Portland either. My week plus trip to Seattle and Portland somehow was completely immersed in spectacular summer-like sunshine. It must have been me the Californian bringing the Los Angeles weather to the Northwest. Usually though, I gather it rains quite often in Portland. The recent weather may have been more appropriate to enjoy an iced coffee. With its enviable wealth of worthy cafés with baristas at the top of the espresso game, whether or not it was eighty degrees, an espresso at each café was the purest, most honest way to compare the fascinating differences of Portland’s coffee shops. With all of the world class beer produced in Portland, it is only fitting that the city may be the strongest in the country for coffee as well, to keep everyone awake.

I made the mistake on my final morning of crunching too many espressos into a short amount of time, combined with the stress of trying (and missing by 30 seconds) the Max light rail to the airport. Was that worth the final sip of Spella’s espresso? Eh, well… (more…)

Rose City Eating Round Up

Portland’s Steel Bridge

We have already covered the icons of dining in Portland– Gabriel Rucker’s gutsy, bold cooking at Le Pigeon’s, Andy Ricker’s eccentic, captivating Pok Pok, and the brilliant innovative Alpine cuisine of Chris Israel at Gruner. Later this week we’ll add a fourth for a quartet of icons courtesy of the Lyonnaise bistro that Lyon itself would envy, St. Jack. I should add to the list the classic Pacific Northwest cuisine of Greg Higgins at his handsome Downtown dining room Higgins as another essential stop for a knockout housemade charcuterie plate or beautifully prepared salmon, though it has been two years since I last visited. It has also been two years since waiting for and enjoying the Neopolitan pizza at Apizza Scholl’s, who with Chris Bianco of Phoenix, and Totonno’s, Motorino, and Di Fara of New York create some of the most ethereal pizza that exists in this country.

Classic Portland: Bikes and Biwa

Let’s now take a look at some of the other spots to eat in the Rose City that might not reach the heights of the legends, but all of them come close. Portland is not a city that allows for decent eating. Big, bold flavors abound from daring chefs who are much more interested in what goes on your plate than how they look on the Food Network. (more…)

Two Innovative Portland Icons, Two Iconic Dishes

Grüner, Portland

It’s hard to say what dish truly represents the eclectic nature of Portland, Oregon’s dining scene. It could be a bacon maple bar from Voodoo Doughnuts, an cult favorite long before bacon in desserts was in vogue. It could be a salmon dish prepared in the capable hands of Greg Higgins, quite possibly the father of modern Pacific Northwest cooking. That’s not a dish, though. It’s an ideology.

Most people would call beer not a dish per se, but it is liquid bread after all. Everywhere in Portland you can find hop forward, spectacular IPAs. But there are two modern pioneers now in Portland, as passionate for quality and seasonal cooking as Oregon’s famed son James Beard, combined with the daring nature that led Lewis and Clark west to Oregon over two centuries ago.

There are millions of restaurants in this country, of which far too many seem to not care about being unique or consider themselves unique by copying new concepts. A pair of chefs in Portland are running restaurants that simply cannot be repeated. Their voice is too strong in an innovative concept for somebody else to fully be able to replicate. Andy Ricker’s truly authentic Thai cooking at Pok Pok in the Southeast of town and Chris Israel’s Alpine Central European cuisine in a handsome, quaint dining room in the West End of Downtown are truly trail-blazers in a town that knows a thing or two about that subject. It’s impossible to go wrong with any dish from either chef, yet it’s a…hamburger and…chicken wings that are not just the deservedly iconic dishes of the restaurants, but also the iconic dishes of the Rose City. (more…)

Tasting Notes From The Willamette Valley

Penner-Ash Winery

It was a spectacular Mother’s Day Sunday in the Willamette Valley, the Pinot noir heartland and all around world class destination wine region about an hour’s drive southwest of Portland. Yes, Pinot noir is the beloved grape of the region, as symbolic here as malbec is to Mendoza, Argentina or shiraz to Southeast Australia. Tasting around the region for an afternoon, you’ll find a few chardonnays and rieslings here and there, but seriously, it’s about the Pinot. You’ll have lots of good Pinot, some great Pinot, perhaps one taste of a Pinot that has the watery, faint style of the lackluster Pinot Noir that constitutes most of this country’s Pinot noir sales, and then you’ll find the jackpot of a thick, rich, jammy, plush taste such as the 2009 Pas de Nom or 2010 Williamette Valley Pinot Noir, both at the beautiful tasting room of Penner-Ash near Newberg, staring down Mt. Hood in the far eastern horizon.

The trip was a bit of an impromptu one, with wineries chosen on the go as we sped through the country roads in the Mini Cooper of our host and guide. The sprawling, green as Ireland scenery seemed downright rural at times, a far cry from the congestion of Napa and other wine regions. You could’ve sworn that a herd of sheep might just stroll across the road at any turn. (more…)