October 13, 2017
Eating in Portland made me think that cabbage must be the new kale. The lowliest vegetable is now on everybody’s menu, usually charred. Here it is at Tusk: charred, quartered and blitzed with in an avalanche of Middle Eastern spices. Truly fantastic. As is so much of the vegetable-centric (yes, there are plenty of meat and fish dishes too) at one of Portland’s hottest new restaurants. Their motto is “locally sourced, aggressively seasoned), and they live up to those words.
I didn’t have a chance to eat an entire meal at Ryan Fox’s Nomad, but I did sneak in for a few bites at the bar. If there are more adorable bar snacks anywhere, I haven’t encountered them.
This is Fox’s version of a slider: the meat is laced with umeboshi, the bun is fluffily appropriate, the slaw adds crunch and the fries are terrific. An awesome little tidbit for nine bucks.
Scrambled eggs, bacon and Wonder Bread. Did I mention that Fox spent a fair amount of time in Joel Robuchon’s kitchen? These are the most sophisticated scrambled eggs you’ve ever eaten – so soft they’re almost custard – and sneakily filled with padron peppers. As for the bread – when Wonder Bread goes to sleep at night, this is what it dreams of being.
Inside this little brown bag is Fox’s version of school lunch: a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, a juice drink and some cookies. But oh, that sandwich! Silky smooth peanutbutter mousse, slightly tart jam and bread that is griddled until it has a caramelized crunch. I’ve always thought peanut butter and jelly was one of the great American inventions – and here Fox proves it!
October 11, 2017
I might move to Portland just to start every day at Maurice. Yes, it’s that good.
You know, as soon as you walk in and find yourself surrounded by that cozy aroma – all butter and sugar and sugarplum fairies – that you’ve come to a very special place. Look up and you find delicate garlands of dried fruit, flowers and herbs dancing above your head. Sit down- in the window seat if possible- and prepare to be deliriously happy.
This is – I have to say it – one of the most delicious things I’ve ever eaten. A citrus cloud, it whispers lemon, lemon, lemon as it slowly evaporates, leaving a trail of delicious memories in its wake.
(Want the recipe for lemon souffle pudding? Here it is. )
Have you ever seen a more adorable dessert than this chocolate capuchin? Don’t miss those tiny berries in that puddle of cream: they contribute a little zing of wildness.
This bird seed coconut tea cake looks so mild and innocent. That is entirely deceiving. The slim slice is a wonder of crunch and crackle, and as the butter slowly melts each bite astonishes you with unexpected flavors. I can’t think of a more perfect way to wake up.
Proprietress Kristen Murray is famous for her black pepper cheesecake. And rightfully so. Topped with a single ground cherry and tiny slices of plum, this is the cheesecake of your dreams: the cloying richness of ordinary cheesecake has magically vanished. The most mature cheesecake on earth.
We finished breakfast with this wonderful quiche. Kirsten pulls it from the oven while it’s still slightly floppy; a brave move. Airy and light, it seems held together with a wish. After this other quiches start to seem clumsy.
Kirsten’s cookies. Of course.
I sat there in a sweet daze, considering staying to lunch. But by now I was so happy all I wanted to do was walk around Portland, thinking how lucky I am to be here.
Maurice is, for me, the quintessential Portland restaurant. Quirky, passionate and personal, the restaurant is named for Kirsten’s rabbit. Does he, I wonder, wear a little waistcoat and peer at a pocket watch?
February 17, 2016
Dinner last night at the counter at Le Pigeon was… insanely delicious. I’m going to let the photographs speak for themselves. Well, except for that dish above, which hit every single pleasure point in my brain. It’s a wild rice pancake topped with a slab of seared foie gras, sea urchin and sour cream. What gilds this lily is the salty maple syrup, which makes every bite zoom around your mouth in a completely seductive fashion. I’ve never encountered anything remotely like it – and I look forward to doing so again.
The bay scallop crudo was a wonderful contrast: cool, clean, totally refreshing. It’s the yin to the yang of that mad pancake, all icy sorbet, celery root, apple, with the tang of mezcal and the zing of jalapeno. Pure pleasure.
I liked the “Rip City stir fry” – although it couldn’t begin to compete with the other two dishes. It’s basically strips of onion tangled into pieces of heart: robust and fascinating food, all crunch and texture.
Grilled pigeon, with couscous, cauliflower, onion raisin relish and pinenuts.
Truffle parmesan risotto with orange-drenched carrots, squash and peanuts.
And for dessert….. Pigeon leg: deep-fried and spiced until it turned into a kind of avian cruller. Chewy, sweet and savory, all at the same time. And then, finally, this madly wonderful ice cream sandwich. What a meal!
September 26, 2014
A little image from Portland Feast, the fabulous three-day festival where the eating never stops. This was around midnight, and although I couldn't capture it, those pigheads stretched out in a long, strange line. Different chefs did different things – all delicious. Best dish at this particular afterparty? The tripe and pork tacos served up by Brad Farmerie of New York's Saxon and Parole; the scent of those tacos wafted through the air, drawing everyone inexorably over.
Other favorite dishes? At the Sandwich event, Paul Kahan (Publican, Chicago) reimagined the gyro, filling it with eggplant, yogurt and fenugreek to memorable effect. Rick Gencarelli, of Lardo, made incredibly delicious pork and peach sliders – very smoky – with a tiny bit of cheese and a little frisk of arugula. I intended to take a single bite and ended up devouring the entire messily delicious thing. And at the huge High Comfort event I was stunned by Vitaly Paley's sweet and spicy fried chicken, which he served with a watermelon salad.
This was breakfast one morning at Sweedeedee, which struck me as a fine place to begin a Portland day. Laid back – with rules. You can't sit down until your entire party has arrived. You get your own coffee. You bus your own dishes. And you get to weigh in on the music (real vinyl, played with a needle). On this morning? The Kinks. Loved that Andama bread. But what I loved even more was this amazing muffin, bursting wtih blackberries.
You can NOT leave Portland without stopping at Salt and Straw. Kim and Tyler Malek (they're cousins) are reinventing ice cream. Tyler, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, works with local farmers, dairies and chocolate makers to whip up astonishingly delicious concoctions.
My favorite flavors? That pear, blue cheese number was amazing; like an afterdinner dish, frozen for all time. Loved the apricot and hops, with its serious tang. And the freckled chocolate…. it's for grownups, not people addicted to candy bars. Kim says that after tasting their way through the offerings, half their customers end up with Sea Salt and Caramel. My favorite too.
The Portland Farmer's Market is a wonderful place. Pimientos de Padron everywhere. This gorgeous okra.
A blue pumpkin
And this incredible Galeux d'Eysines, which looks more like sculpture than something you can eat. (It apparently keeps well and has sweet, dry flesh that makes excellent pumpkin pie.) If I'd had any room in my suitcase, I would have brought this beauty home.
Instead, I brought this powerful Basque pepper powder- which sits in my kitchen, reminding me of all the reasons to return to Portland.
September 25, 2014
A secret space, hidden behind a door disguised as a bookcase. Could anything be more appealing? Longbaan literally means, "back of the house," and that's exactly where this restaurant is, hidden behind PaaDee, a restaurant specializing in Thai street food. It's a small, spare space – a few tables , a counter, two chefs working intently, barely looking up.
Owner Akkapong Earl Nimson and Rassamee Ruaysuntia seem to be in a kind of wordless trance, working together, silently tasting the balance of flavors, plating each intricate dish. They handed the first plate of their tasting menu across the table – miang som (above) – and it took me right back to Thailand. This is Thai food as I have not experienced it in any other restaurant in America.
We tend to think of the food of Thailand as hot, and chiles certainly have their place in the Thai kitchen. But this reminded me that my first impression of Thailand was herbs, dozens of them, dancing through the dishes, cutting through the flavors. And here it was again, one intense little bite: shrimp, chiles, orange, lime, roasted coconut, but hovering above it all was the forceful flavor of the betel leaf it was wrapped in, along with little jolts of cilantro, of ginger, of shallot.
The next bite is like the yin to the yang of the miang som, tender rice noodles wrapped around a a sweet filling of coconut, shrimp, radish, peanuts chiles. Irresistible, and once again, the dominant note is herbal.
A couple of oysters, laid on rock salt, with a chile jam, shallots, a few herbal little leaves.
After the complexity of the first few bites, the clarity of beef and oxtail broth, the flavors clean and fresh. Ringing through it all is the green taste of the herbs.
Tuna in a complex configuration of figs, chanterelles, zucchini and garlic tossed with a sauce tasting strongly of grilled cherry tomatoes. But it is the mint that pulls this all together, marrying the flavors.
Ora king salmon, with such varied flavors it is impossible to keep track. Pomegranate, finger lime, salmon roe, torch-crisped peanut candy. Again, the herbs – shallots, dill, Chinese celery, lemongrass, basil, dill- rush through the dish sounding their high triumphant notes.
After these complex dishes, there's a short respite, an easygoing bite of sweet, garlicky fried chicken.
And finally a curry: mussels, scallop, hearts of palm, dates. And more herbs: basil, betel leaves and on the side, the clarion freshness of cucumber relish.
There were desserts too – a soybean panna cotta in ginger broth, followed by a little "cupcake" of concentrated coconut. Spooning up the last of that, the woman at the table behind me sighed. "I lived in Thailand for two years," she said, "and I haven't had anything like this since I left there."