Recipes for restaurants

Notes from Oregon

October 10, 2017

It’s almost unimaginably beautiful up around Mount Hood – and stunningly cold.  At lunch the other day at the beautiful Timberline Lodge, we came outside to find the ground white, the air filled with snowflakes. But as we drove down to the base of the mountain the temperature dropped a few degrees every mile, and at the bottom of the mountain we found sunshine and a balmy weather in the fifties.

I came to judge Wild About Game, a beloved local cooking contest where chefs from Portland and Seattle compete in cooking dishes made with antelope, guinea hen, wild boar and rabbit. One of the pleasures of the event was that I got to spend time judging with the wonderful Justin Chapple of Food and Wine and Karen Brooks of Portland Magazine.

My two favorite dishes in the contest were these:

Niihau Ranch Hawaiian antelope meatballs in a spicy tomatillo sauce with crisp fresh radishes by Paul Osher of Seattle’s  Porkchop and Company.  Antelope is a difficult meat – extremely lean and a bit gamy, and this preparation showed it to wonderful advantage.

But the most brilliant dish of the event came from Sarah Schafer of Irving St. Kitchen, who showcased guinea hen in this ambitious and delicious preparation that used every single part of the bird, from that ballotine – all tender softness with the crunch of pistachios on the outside – to the smoothest, silkiest liver mousse I’ve ever experiences. The little gizzard salad with its marigold petals and whipped chive oil was lovely.  Most astonishing of all, perhaps, was the cracker up above, somehow constructed out of jus and skin and tapioca flour. I wanted to keep eating it forever.

Is this the best cornbread I’ve ever eaten?  Definitely.  The night before the big event, last year’s winner, Eduardo Jordan of June Baby in Seattle, cooked a memorable dinner for the judges.  Among the astonishments was this okra, catfish and einkorn gumbo,

and these chittlins….

Then on to Portland, where I’ve been munching around.  A couple of highlights:

The most wonderful eggplant and tomato soup – rich, warming, utmost comfort – eaten outside on the patio at Nostrana.

And this Isaan albacore laab at the wonderful Padee, one of my favorite Thai restaurants anywhere. The raw fish, tangled with chilis, scallions, shallots, fish sauce, sawtooth mint, tiny tomatoes, kaffir lime – rolled up in lettuce leaves and topped with more herbs – hits every button.  Pure pleasure.

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Blood and Slime in LA

September 25, 2017

These are bloody clams – something I’ve never seen on the east coast.  They’re strange and delicious creatures that actually look like they contain blood. They don’t. But they do taste fantastic eaten simply on the half shell with a squirt of lime and perhaps a splash of hot sauce. If you’ve never experienced them, they’re worth trying just for their texture, which is as dense as an ordinary clam when it’s cooked. It’s a surprise in the mouth.

I had them at La Cevicheria in Los Angeles, a modest, wildly popular restaurant on Pico that serves all manner of seafood, mostly raw and almost always spicy. I love their aquachile de camaron – raw shrimp in a spicy green sauce that seems to be mostly chiles, cilantro, onion and citrus.

Loved these tacos de ceviche de camaron too: fresh, spicy and crunchy.

Late at night, one of my favorite LA spots is Aburiya Raku.  The other night (to the horror of a friend), I indulged in a night of slime.

To start, this dish called bakudon– which means “the bomb.” You mix up yama imo (mountain potato), natto, uni, and salmon roe, then roll it all up into crisp sheets of seaweed. The crisp, dry seaweed closes around that flavorful goop to offer you the most superb textural experience.

Another version of slime: poached egg with salmon roe, uni, tiny mushrooms and okra.  The point is to mix it all up and eat it with a spoon. If you’re me, this is pure pleasure.

To horrify my friend even more, we ordered raw liver in thin slices. It’s not the  loveliest dish, and I refrained from photographing 1t, but both the flavor and texture provide a delightful experience. I did, however, take pictures of this beautiful Spanish mackerel which seemed ready for its closeup.

For dessert: there is nothing quite so soothing as fresh tofu:

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The Very Beautiful Valle de Guadalupe

September 22, 2017

The Valle de Guadalupe is unlike anyplace I’ve visited before. People compare it to the Napa Valley thirty years ago, but that’s not right.  This is very much it’s own land – an arid dessert, filled with dusty, rutted, unpaved roads and no addresses that make any sense. A place where grapes struggle up out of the ground, and the stressed vegetables are filled with flavor. A place where the air is filled with the music of crowing roosters, and the jauntiest dogs you’ve ever seen gambol across the land.  A place where those who scratch a living from this difficult earth band together in what seems to be a true spirit of solidarity.

It is also a place of extraordinary beauty.  You bump down these dusty rock-filled roads and then suddenly turn off into an oasis of green plants and gardens.  This is my view from my lovely room at the Villa del Valle, the hotel run by former Angelenos Phil and Elaine Gregory next to their Vena Cava winery.  (which has been called “the hippest winery in Baja”.)

And then there is the food….

Javier Plascencia, who owns the wonderful Finca Altozano (home of this extraordinary restaurant built right into a tree)

says that there is a freedom here in Baja that untethers a chef accustomed to cooking in the United States.  That – combined with the freshness of the food and the universally gracious service – gives every meal a joyous quality.

I fell in love with everything about Traslomita, an outdoor restaurant that raises its own vegetables and serves them in simple and imaginative ways.

Seafood here is very fine – the port of Ensenada is just across the mountains – and the Sea of Cortez has extremely cold water. Traslomita’s version of aquachile is remarkable; the chef, Sheyla Alvorado burns the vegetables to make the sauce.

She serves her ceviche in a giant clam shell…

And makes the most addictive taquitos  from suckling pig cooked in a caja China.

Don’t miss the rice pudding; rich and textural, laced with guava, bits of cold and crunch and topped with caramel ice cream, it reminded me of the famous rice pudding at L’Ami Jean in Paris.

Many of the wineries and restaurants here were designed by architect Alejandro D’Acosta, who is one of the more inspiring people I’ve met.  His architecture – he is famous for recycling – is idiosyncratic, changing remarkably from venue to venue. Sometimes funky, often spare and beautiful, it is always interesting. But in addition to creating beautiful spaces, he and his brother have created La Esquelita, a place where local grape growers come to learn winemaking, using the school’s equipment at every step along the way.  This seems very much in the spirit of Guadalupe: people helping one another out. (Alejandro, in the blue shirt, stands before vats of crushed grapes. The green lines are refrigeration.)

One ofd D’Acosta’s most gorgeous buildings is the winery Bruma, which has just opened its own restaurant, Fauna. Chef David Castro is a local son, but he’s worked at Eleven Madison Park, Blue Hill at Stone Barns and Cala – and his food is extraordinary.

To begin there were kumamoto oysters, blood clams, and these little seaweed chips with nopales


This is his version of aguachile – kanpachi hiding beneath the larges slice of daikon you’ve ever seen.  There are also rumors of sea urchin hiding in here.  A truly spectacular dish.

Hiding beneath that cauliflower foam (shades of the famous Robuchon cauliflower and caviar) is a wildly delicious mixture of sea urchin and bone marrow.  Brilliant!

Rare duck , very flavorful, with a burnt cabbage mole.

And a beautiful dessert that was so delicious it was gone before I remembered to pull my camera out.

The friendliest meal we had was at La Cocina de Dona Esthela, a huge barn of a place that attracts a wide clientele for breakfast – which surely counts among the world’s greatest ways to start the day.  Dona Esthela is justly famous for her lamb, but I was equally enamored of her machaca, served with lacy light Sonora style flour tortillas and irresistible refried beans.

Her gorditas are spectacular – these are filled with nopales

and of course her chilaquiles are superb.

Could this woman possibly serve you anything bad?

The most magical meal we had was the one Javier served us beneath that ancient tree at Finca Altozano.  The meal was very long, but these were the highlights

geoduck (which apparently grows in the Sea of Cortez)

local sea urchin

grilled suckling pig

chilied beans mixed with hominy

Smokey, lemony, slightly spicy paella, cooked over the open fire, with local quail.

The food here in the Valle de Guadalupe is exciting, and the wines are fascinating.  But things here are changing fast.  Go now; thirty years from now you’ll be proud to say you knew the Valley when it was still young.

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A Little Taste of Tijuana

September 21, 2017

This is my overwhelming image of Baja California: smiling, generous and very relaxed. Also, I must say, very delicious.

That beautiful woman is at Marisco’s Ruben, in Tijuana, just over the border.  Fantastic aguachiles, made to order with raw shrimp, scallops ….

or callo de acha – a scallop that is the adductor muscle of a giant clam (here they are in the fish market in Ensenada).


You will not want to miss chocolate clams which are the most delicious clams I know – crisper than the ordinary sort – and which sadly never make their way across the border.

And while we’re on the subject of clams, an important bit of information.  Should you need to use the restroom, you will need to understand the signage.

This is the lady’s room.

This means men.

In Tijuana I also recommend the tacos here at Fitos.  They’re quickly made, the tacos dipped into the sauce, crisped, then filled with the most wonderful birria of beef.  (I would have liked to try the tripe, but sadly they were out.)

In Ensenada, in addition to visiting the fish market (if only to see the display of shrimp)

You will want to stop in at Tacos Fenix.

A true example of the law of the line: although there’s a similar stand across the street where there’s no wait, the line at Fenix is always long. Join it.

Tomorrow: a visit to one of the most enchanting places in the world, the Valle de Guadalupe where, among other things, you can dine beneath the shade of a century-old oak tree.

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Italy, Continued

August 10, 2017

Just outside Bologna, in the tiny town of Savigno, is a terrific little restaurant called Amerigo dal 1934.  The town itself is quaint and peaceful; wandering down the streets, peering into bakeries and butcher shops,  you know its citizens eat very well.

They certainly do. The trattoria has been serving its citizens since 1934, and it proudly lists the date each item went onto the menu. We, it turned out, are pure traditionalists; just about every dish we ordered has been on the menu since the very start.

We began our meal with a plate of traditional cured meats,

pickled vegetables (there’s a little shop attached to the restaurant, where they sell their own products),

and this fantastic tongue salad, the meat soft, the herbs fragrant.

This might have been my favorite dish of the evening, tortelli with prosciutto di Mora and parmesan cream

And even on a scalding hot night, these tiny tortellini in brodo were superb.

This was our dessert – although it’s actually intended as an antipasto – an Italian ice cream sandwich. Parmesan gelato is splashed with balsamic and served on the local tigelle bread.


Another night we were on lovely Lake Trasimeno, looking for seafood. It’s difficult to find salt water fish in this land-locked area of Italy, but we found it at Il Fischio del Merlo in Passignano sul Trasimeno.

Seafood salad.

Beautifully fried fish

One of the stranger dishes I’ve encountered (and one the restaurant is very proud of): risotto cooked in sweet wine, with raw shrimp cooked simply by the heat of the risotto.

And a very beautiful orata, served curled beneath its own bones.

If you’re looking for a different kind of menu in Umbria – one that departs from the usual meat-centric dishes along with a little pasta – this is a very good choice.  A lovely ambiance and extremely pleasant service.

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