Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Portland, Oregon - A Humble Point on the Culinary Map - Ace Hotel, Stumptown Coffee Roasters, Beast PDX, Clyde Common & Broder Scandinavian

Portland Sign

A few months back, J took me to Hatfield's for a fantastic birthday dinner. When we were about to leave she told me she had one more gift. She presented me with an unsealed envelope. I opened it and found two photocopied menus from restaurants i had never heard of.

Me: "What do I do with these? We ordering delivery?"
J: "Pick one."

I looked closer at the info under the two restaurants and noticed that one was based in Seattle, the other one in Portland.

J: "They are both oyster restaurants. Choose one."
Me: "I think i'm going to have to go with Portland."

Why Portland? Maybe it's because of the strong influence of Indie music bands there? The large social movement of thirty-somethings escaping big urban monsters; seeking a new place to live and restart? The fine coffee, breweries and distilleries spread out all over the state? My coworker said, "If Silver Lake, Los Angeles was its own city, it would be like Portland."
But for whatever reason Portland is the way it is, it has claimed much attention in the culinary world in the last few years. I read a few articles recently in NY Times, GQ and Food & Wine... all had great things to say about the food of Portland.

And if that was not convincing enough to settle on Portland, I only needed to think about two gentleman in Portland that would ensure that Jeni and I ate well. These two guys are Ron of PDX Plate and Kevin of Guilty Carnivore. We have never met the Guilty Carnivore himself, but we DO know him through his 3+ years of writing. He is a man who loves to mix food and politics together and always seems to be in search of the ideal Vietnamese sandwich. And there's Ron, who some of you may know as SauceSupreme on Chowhound. An ex-Angeleno who moved to Portland for work and for the food. But his knowledge of food alone makes the "work" part a complete lie. After a few weeks of email correspondence with Ron, Kevin and another generous foodie by the name of Matt, we had the most important thing taken care of: the food itinerary. I have to say one of the best things about writing a food blog is having a connection to other bloggers anywhere in the world. And it is very likely they will do their best to make sure you enjoy your time.

Only $250 for a 2-hour flight to Portland, we arrived on an early Friday morning with nothing but duffle bags, hunger and sheer excitement. It was a different feeling entering a city much smaller in relation to New York or Chicago. But thanks to the internet, you can very much see what you're getting yourself into. We got out of the Portland airport (PDX) and hopped on a train into town.

As the train slowly slithered through the city, I could only think about one thing – green. Green as in true chlorophyll. I think the product designers of Glade bathroom spray cans based their artwork on the Portland scenery. I couldn't believe how green the trees and grass were and how clean and fresh the air felt. So THIS is what fresh air is SUPPOSED to feel like. Part of this is due to the bicycle as a common means for transportation. In LA, we have parking meters. In Portland, where there is a meter, there is a bike rack.

We got dumped off in the South West area of Portland - it's one of four quadrants in the city divided by a river and major bridge. Speaking of bridges, it IS known as Bridgetown – 12 to be exact! We stayed at the Ace Hotel franchise, which also has locations in Palm Springs, Seattle and New York. If Urban Outfitters were to have their own hotel, this would be it. It's a great combination of Pacific Northwest/wilderness chic and design. Not to mention very reasonable in price for a room that is decorated by individual artists.

Portland Sign

We walked into the Ace and smiled upon seeing the lobby area with dark wood walls. A good 10-12 people sat on the couches and chairs reading their Mercury's and sipped quietly on what smelled like some of the best coffee ever. But I couldn't attest that as I don't drink much coffee – I prefer fun juice.

Portland Sign

Portland Sign

We checked in and J already knew what she wanted to do. That coffee we smelled earlier in the lobby was none other than Portland's favorite coffee shop, Stumptown Coffee Roasters. I put this next to Vietnamese iced coffee as my favorites. But for a coffee that was unaided by velvety condensed milk and a tiny drip press, this was some asskicking coffee. A few sips of this and I was awake. We sat over in the lobby, sipped on our asskicking coffee and people watched like the creepy tourists that we were.

Portland Sign

Portland Sign

10:32 am.
Our stomach rumbles and I rub my hands together. Time to start Ron's food tour.

Portland is a big breakfast town. Ron said that even if you served the shittiest breakfasts, you'd still be doing okay because people will still eat it – something to that extent. That is how Norm's and Denny's has survived for so long. He sent us out to a place in the Southeast that serves breakfast Scandinavian style. Whatever that meant, I hope it tasted better than Ikea's breakfast and didn't require me to walk 1.8 miles through a showroom just to get to the exit.

Portland Sign

And here we are at Broder, which is known for danish pancakes called Æbleskiver, pronounced 'eh-bleh-skee-vah'. I was lucky enough to find someone on Yelp who previously typed out that Æ letter.

Broder Collage

What is an Æbleskiver? Think ball-shaped pancakes similar to a beignets and Japan's takoyaki. Its cooked in a pan with seven round grooves. Like takoyaki, once the lower hemisphere of the batter is cooked, it is then flipped over with a skewer/needle and naturally molded into a round ball. Topped with powdered sugar and a trio of dipping sauces that includes lemon cream, lingonberry jam and maple syrup.

Broder Abelskiver1

We both enjoyed these as they were very light and tasty. If you're near Solvang, you can stop over at the Solvang Restaurant for some Æbleskiver as well.

Broder Abelskiver2

Broder Baked Eggs

I saw people at neighboring tables ordering eggs baked in square skillets. I love square things. So Scandinavian to shape food into squares and present them to you in a grid layout. I had the farmer's special which included smoked trout and shallots. I am now wearing a "#1 Scandinavian Smoked Trout Fan" shirt – that's how awesome it was.

Broder Potato Latkes

And what is there not to like about potato latkes charred perfectly for toothsome texture. Served with walnut bread.

CC Collage

After breakfast we headed back to the hotel, but not before seeing a bartender extracting fresh juice from an old-school juicer through the window of a neighboring bar/restaurant. One of the things Ron mentioned was the prevalence of stellar cocktail lounges in Portland. I told them that while we enjoy places in LA like The Association, The Varnish and Rivera – $12-15 for a drink can do damage to a wallet. Enter Clyde Common for the $5 happy hour and regularly priced $8 drinks. He also mentioned that $9 is what the best bar in town will charge, so if a bar charges $9.01 – you'd better taste that extra penny. And Clyde Common did not FAIL with their drinks.

One thing you'll notice in Portland is that quite a few respectable bars/lounges will display their Bohemian Absinthe fountain. This seems to be the trend of late for a drink that was brought to attention by artists and writers – Van Gogh for example. If taken as a shot, you could find yourself feeling very ill in the style of too much Jagermeister or Ouzo. Used in moderation as an aromatic, your cocktail is taken to another level. Thanks to John, the wonderful bartender at Clyde Common, for the conversations and cocktails.

CC Collage2

A few hours later, it was time for dinner. One of the restaurants that caught our eye was a place in the Northeast called Beast, headed by a female chef named Naomi Pomeroy. She was most recently nominated as one of Food & Wine's Best New Chefs 2009, along with the two guys from LA's Animal. We made reservations a month back.

Me: "I'd like to make a reservation at 7:30."
Beast: "We only do two seatings. 6 pm or 8:45 pm."
Me: "Okay 6 pm then."

Not knowing why they only had two seatings, I just went ahead and picked 6 pm. I looked on their site and realized that the menu was what-you-see-is-what-you-get. Chef Pomeroy quotes: "SUBSTITUTIONS POLITELY DECLINED."

Our cab dropped us off in front of the cozy and quaint restaurant named Beast. What we thought would be a very strict dinner all of a sudden made sense once we stepped foot inside the square dining area no larger than a deluxe living room. On the left was a table for 8 and on the right, a table for 12-16. And right in the center was a large counter top covered in plates. This was HER kitchen AND dining area. Awesome.

Beast Naomi PomeroyAlign Center

We took a seat and watched as Pomeroy's sous chef plated salads on the counter top. Pomeroy, in a black top and black pin-striped apron, walked around her kitchen gracefully. Jeni and I felt relaxed because there was absolutely no kitchen havoc. Quite notably, a huge difference between a male and female chef's kitchen. Working in a restaurant before, I knew how noisy and stressful it could get. These two chefs could have been walking barefooted on glass, stacked dishes on their head, two monkeys climbing on their backs and still serve food with a smile.

Beast Collage

We really loved the idea of sitting with other guests, a style of cuisine that could only come from someone who loves her home as much as her food. Another thing we loved about Pomeroy's restaurant was the clear view of her cookbooks perching on shelves. Whether or not they are put to use or merely restaurant fodder, we assumed that she is a humble and homey cook, not afraid to experiment or refer to the books in a pinch. I highly doubt any egotistic chef would display books for guests to scrutinize their level of experience. We introduced ourselves and sat patiently for the meal to start. If you really want to know, she enjoys Joy of Cooking, Judy Rodger's Zuni Cafe, Suzanne Goin's Sunday Supper at Lucques and Harold McGee's On Food and Cooking – all very solid cookbooks we could not live without.

And here's what Pomeroy served.

Beast Table

Beast Chilled Soup

Chilled Fresh Shelled English Pea Soup
With english peas in season, you'll see this delicious ingredient everywhere. It's sweet, crunchy and can go well with salads, meats and of course soup. She pureed the peas with herbed creme fraiche/cream and served it quite cold. I really enjoyed this.

Beast Salad

Spring Greens with Sauvignon Blanc Vinaigrette and Shaved Sheep's Milk Cheese
I loved the presentation of this – rustic and fresh. The shaving of cheese made it easier for it to melt on your tongue.

Beast Appetizers

Shaved Fennel Salad & Charcuterie Plate
Wow. This plate had everything - variety, colors and pate-like objects. This was a fabulous carnival of hors d'oeurves. I think this is where Chef Pomeroy shines.

Beast Appetizers2

Steak Tartare & Quail Egg Toast - I read about this in a magazine and could not wait to try this out. A+ for the combination of two things I enjoy - quail eggs and steak tartare. I actually asked if I could 'buy' a few more of these but was POLITELY DECLINED. I had to try.

Pork Liver, Sour Cherry & Pistachio Pate
- what I liked about this was not the usual mushiness of a pate. This was in fact more of a terrine/cake because I could taste all the texures. The pistachios still had a decent bite to it. Similar recipe found here.

Chicken Liver Mousse & Maple Candied Bacon
- if I could eat this everyday I would. By far, the table's favorite on the charcuterie plate. The combination of creamy liver and candied bacon had a yin & yang relationship.

Foie Gras Bon Bon
- our table considered this the 'dessert' of the charcuterie plate and it sure was. it was like a scoop of really savory buttery ice cream on top of shortbread.

Beast Rabbit

Rabbit Saddles Stuffed with Brioche & Spring Vegetables and White Wine Braised Leeks with Prosecco Butter
Probably the best rabbit I have ever eaten. Flavorful seasoning on the skin, moist meat and crunchy vegetable filling. The leek was a bit strong on the wine but great in texture.

Beast Cheese

Selection of Steve's Cheese, Anise & Fleur de Sel Shortbread, Fruit & Hazelnuts
Whoever Steve is, nice job.

Beast Custard

Brown Sugar & Cream Cheese Custard

What a great casual dinner this was. The food, the service and the fellow diners really helped us enjoy our first night in Portland. I would definitely come back and ask to put in a pre-order of those Quail Egg & Steak Tartare toasts.

Portland Bridge

Ace Hotel Lobby

Ace Hotel Stairs

Day one of four came to an end. We were too tired to go anywhere else and decided to call it night. Standing in the elevator, we noticed this sign. A simple reminder that because we would be eating a lot, we needed to do something about it or buy new jeans. To be continued...

And here's a mix that I made for the Portland trip. Enjoy!
Read more!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Breed Street Food Fair, East Los Angeles - Taking A Trip on the Mexico Time Travel Machine

Breed Street Food Fair East LA

If you could time travel, where would you go? More importantly, where would you LIKE to travel to solely for food? If you ask me, it would be very difficult for me to answer. But, I would consider...

Shanghai. For some of the crispiest, juiciest pan-fried dumplings ever. A line with no less than 30 people at any given moment. One bite of these, and you'll know you're in China.

Hong Kong. For some of the crunchiest, toothsome wontons ever. So crunch you can hear the friction between the shrimp and your lucky tooth.

Vietnam. I could die eating a bowl of pho on a tiny stool at 7:15 am, inhaling the toxic gas from scooters passing by.

Paris. For those gigantic oysters known as belons, or European Flats. They taste like Duracell batteries at first, but with one swig of a fine wine, you''ll understand the relationship between the sea and land, and ascend into oyster heaven.

I could go on and on about things that would get me hot & bothered, but until I nail the Lotto or if Virgin surpasses its galactic endeavors with an actual time travel machine, I'm stuck in Los Angeles. But if you're interested in all things Mexican and strapped for cash, like I am, during the economic hardship, you may find what you're looking for – a portal into Mexico. Right in East LA.

I first heard about this food fair from Anjali of Delicious Coma, Abby of Pleasure Palate and Bill of Street Gourmet LA – who write fantastic blogs. On a Friday night, some friends and I met up with Anjali and Pam for some time traveling. We got off the 5 freeway and as we neared our destination, I really didn't know what to expect. Would it be similar to our trips to Oaxaca and D.F.? Or would this be an overhyped event. Once we saw the Big Buy Foods market and people crossing back and forth on the street, we knew it would be stellar. There were a good 25-30 people working the 10+ booths and about 100 hungry patrons walking around with cash in their hands.

If you haven't been to Mexico, I'd say this is a pretty good simulation of it. Portable lights affixed to poles, rainbow-colored parasols, Tejano music pumping from old boomboxes, people's voices and the pattering of spatulas on metal griddles. All within a parking lot on a Friday night. This was fantastic.

We also ran into a nice couple that we had met at a La Casita dinner in Bell, hosted by a certain teenager. Jocie and Al are also heavily involved in the Los Angeles food scene and head their own 'food tours', including stopovers here at the Breed Street food fair. With their guidance and generosity and our swine-like instincts, we would only eat the best tonight.

Breed Street Food Fair Fish Taco & Pupusa

This couple offered fish tacos, flautas and pupusas. Quite a cultural mix of food.

Breed Street Food Fair Taquitos

Taquitos/flautas getting a spicy, green bubble bath.

Breed Street Food Fair Pozole

Pozole/posole. One of my favorite Mexican soups made with pork feet, tomato sauce, broth and hominy. Topped with thinly sliced radishes (rabanos), onions, cilantro and lime – so good on a cold night. A large container of this for only $5.99.

Breed Street Food Fair Pozole

Breed Street Food Fair Elotes

Esquites. A Mexican favorite. What is there not to love about
corn, mayonnaise, cheese, chile and lime? I always get stinging
red lips after eating this but it's so worth it.

Breed Street Food Fair Quesadilla Nina

Breed Street Food Fair Dough

Breed Street Food Fair Quesadilla

Tortillas hecho a mano. Yummy corn tortillas.

Breed Street Food Fair Quesadilla

This vendor, Nina, as written on her t-shirt, specializes in Mexico City (D.F.) style quesadillas. The tub in the center with the dark filling is huitlacoche, Mexican corn fungus. It has a pungent, sour taste similar to parmesan cheese. Great stuff.

Breed Street Food Fair Quesadilla Salsas

Breed Street Food Fair Enchilada

Breed Street Food Fair Enchilada

From the same female chef, Nina, is this variation of enchiladas that
has huitlacoche. Jocie's friends were kind enough to order this
and share some with us. Thanks!

Breed Street Food Fair Barbacoa

Have you had barbacoa? If not, you should eat it because it's fabulous. It's slow roasted lamb served on a tortilla.

Breed Street Food Fair Barbacoa

Breed Street Food Fair Barbacoa

Breed Street Food Fair Barbacoa

But what I love most about eating barbacoa or even birria, is the accompaniment of rich, flavorful broth known as consome. Usually in the flavor of goat (chivo). You take a bite of the taco and refresh your palate with a shot of this soup. So good. Might even taste good dipping it in the consome.

Breed Street Food Fair Cabeza al Vapor

If you've been to a taco stand/table, you'll usually see a pan covered in saran wrap or even a white towel. That type of meat, usually cabeza or lengua, is being steamed. Mexicans call it tacos al vapor, as in steam/vapor, because they steam both the meat AND the tortilla. And it's hot enough to leave blisters on your hands. I had the cabeza here and I can't explain to you how moist this meat was – melted right away.

Breed Street Food Fair Cabeza al Vapor

Breed Street Food Fair Tacos Al Pastor

Of course you'll find your standard taco vendor. But to tell you the truth, they become the lonely stepchild of the family when there's so many other new things to try. I'm sure they are good.

Breed Street Food Fair Churros

But what I found to be the most delicious and interesting was the Churro Man and his son. They were situated next to the barbacoa people and told me that he had constructed the churro machine at home. An ingenious contraption that involves a crank, star-shaped tip and a pool of hot oil. You can't see, but the man has his right hand on a crank that pushes out a segment of churro dough. He then carefully catches the churro and gently lays it in the pool of oil. The whole process takes a few minutes and is finished off in a bowl of cinnamon sugar, done by his son. Only 4 pieces for $1. Crunchy on the outside, and doughy in the middle - a perfect churro in my opinion. I wonder how these compare to the churro truck in Echo Park.

Breed Street Food Fair Churros

Breed Street Food Fair Churros

Breed Street Food Fair Flan Dessert

Just an FYI, there are only 10 vendors in a small portion of a parking lot. It may look small from the outside, but once you see the amount of food offered by the vendor, it is definitely larger in one's perspective.

Bill of Street Gourmet LA's writeup.
Abby of Pleasure Palate's writeup.
Anjali of Delicious Coma's writeup.

Big Buy Foods (Across the street)
2233 E. Cesar Chavez Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90033
Thursday - Sunday, 7-10 pm
Read more!

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