Wednesday, January 09, 2008

1-9-08

One of my favorite taste-experiences of all time was so simple, but so perfect. I was walking in midtown Manhattan while there for work a couple of years ago. Hungry and on-the-go in Manhattan--usually circumstances under which you just keep walking until you see something (coffee, nuts, pizza?) that you can swiftly shove in your mouth as you continue to elbow your way through the throngs of people beside you. So I'm walking, and getting a little desperate, when the warm waft of something freshly baking snuck up to my nose. I looked around, and there I stood in front of one of New York's classic bagel shops (the ones with the wood paneling and paned glass--I think it may have been Ess-a-Bagel). As I walked inside, a man was dumping trays of plump, bouncy bagels from the hot oven into the display baskets. Usually I take my bagel toasted, but as these were piping hot, there was no need. The man behind the counter just sliced open an "everything" and spread a good spatula's worth of cream cheese in the middle. The bagel was so hot that the cream cheese began to melt into the soft, doughy center, while the outside was just perfectly shiny and chewy.

I know that's getting a little bit poetic about a bagel, but until you've had a REAL bagel, you'll never know what I'm talking about. You'll never know about this perfect round of dough that inspires poetry. (Those bagels that come in packages of six in the grocery stores are not real bagels. They're bagel shaped rolls. Or bread, or something). Real bagels are of a species defined by the technique of their production: they must be first BOILED, then BAKED. This is what makes them plump up SO GOOD and creates that perfect shiny/chewy exterior. Most often, REAL bagels are found on the East Coast. [Here's what I'm talking about knowing a REAL bagel: Mother's Bistro, a breakfast place here, actually ships their bagels in from H&H Bagel in New York for their Lox and Bagel Plate.]

So one can imagine how excited I was, in early Fall, when I saw signs for "New York Style Bagels" up on the windows of a new store front only 2 blocks from my apartment. Over-eager (as always) I tried this place out promptly after it opened, and was, (as I often am when I try a newborn food establishment) disappointed. The bagels weren't big and puffy, but instead kind of...skinny. And that's not a quality I look for in a bagel. Neither is lopsidedness. But after some time, Kettleman Bagels worked it out, perfected it's technique (maybe the ovens just had to be seasoned), and now I'm addicted. Really, being addicted to bagels in the middle of a grey and sleepy winter is not exactly ideal. But they have so many kinds...the classics (poppy seed, onion, sesame, everything), the sweets (cinnamon raisin, blueberry ), the savories (rye, pumpernickel, jalapeno, sundried tomato). They even have a mulitgrain for those with food-guilt issues (hey, you're still ordering a BAGEL). They've got hot egg sandwiches, lox sandwiches, deli sandwiches and all the sourcream spreads. It seems that they add a new sourcream spread everyday (they used to have pumpkin, now they have wild berry). I LOVE the scallion cream cheese with tomato on an everything bagel, or the lox cream cheese with mixed greens and cucumber for crunch. YUM! Come visit me in Portland, we'll have bagels...
[I just wish they had hazelnut flavored drip coffee, then for breakfast everyday I could close my eyes and be in New York...]

Monday, January 07, 2008

1-5-08
I finished working brunch this afternoon, and when I stepped out of the restaurant at 4:30pm it was already getting dark. Too early for a cocktail, but almost too late for anything else. Besides, this holiday season was a rough one, and I’ve resolved to clean up my system for a little while. Well, toxically speaking. So I took my aching legs for a walk to “the Pearl,” our swanky little boutique area, in search of something warm to drink. After doing a few laps, I arrived where I expected I might, at this little chocolaterie. I walked in and examined the various cases: one with shelves of handmade bonbons, truffles and other chocolate confections, and the other full of cakes and pastries. I have to mention that I love that this bastion of chocolate richness, sugar, and fat, is directly across the street from Portland’s premier vegan cafe (Blossoming Lotus) and yoga studio. In fact, one of their employees was in line for a triple-espresso just before me.

I looked over the menu and stood in line for my treat. When I got to the front, the girl working asks me “so how’s your day been going?” And I (wearing all black except for the hat that my tired eyes were hiding under) reflexively crinkled my brow and replied “well, if it were going well, I probably wouldn’t be in here right now.” (In a pastry shop. At 5 o’clock at night.). She still had a friendly smile and said, “oh. I wonder why everybody’s having a bad day today?” Well, I’m gonna venture to say that it’s THE WEATHER. It rains every fricking day. Okay, it didn’t rain on Tuesday, but it was still cloudy the ENTIRE DAY.

So I ordered a “drinking chocolate” and an indulged in an oatmeal cookie and enjoyed them both immensely. The drink is basically melted chocolate with cream, with the consistency of a thick chocolate sauce. It’s what you get in Europe if you order a “hot chocolate.” In Spain anyway. It was served in tiny cup with a little spoon. It gave me just enough lift to get back out into the cold and the energy to go to Whole Foods to buy some vegetables that made up for it.

1-4-08
A new year. New tastes. New writing.

Wednesday was my twenty-ninth birthday.

Toro bravo, from what I remember*: The night began with a toast of Cava rose (in authentic Spanish tapas bar fashion, all of their glassware is stemless, which is cool, except that they have bowls like wine glasses, where they should’ve just gone all the way with the flat bottom or more of a water glass style. Champagne poured in stemless is just kinda wrong aesthetically...but it still tasted great!).

The food impressed all my friends to no end. Tiny crab cakes shaped like scallops that were almost pure crab, accompanied by a fresh in a lemon dill aioli. House pickled olives and vegetables to nibble, infused with a red pepper that coated the tongue. Super-fresh clams in a garlicy broth with spicy homemade chorizo AND bacon/pancetta chunks. Roasted pork that was shredded and served with pickles and toast (this dish actually tasted like kalua pig, and looked like it too--one of the owner’s old partners is from Hawaii—i wonder...). Radicchio salad all beautifully purple and simple, with shaved cheese and some incredible creamy dressing--fresh, crunchy, bitter, salty. There was that other salad...meatballs with stewed tomatoes, fried chickpeas with smoky paprika, affogatto, chocolate souffle, two bottles of Rioja...a big wooden table...oh man, my favorite: harissa roasted winter squash with some kind of melted white cheese (soft? goat?) oh my god was I mopping my bread in that!! So incredible. The sweet of the squash, the deep smoky spice of the harissa, the creamy cheese... i could’ve eaten that whole stoneware dish myself. Soft bread that most people would’ve enjoyed with that good green olive oil, but which I used to drag over each plate—even the aioli! Hey, it was my birthday, and damnit, I’d clean a plate of homemade mayonaise if I wanted to! Amazing friends, good laughs, great time.

FYI: Toro Bravo was voted Portland’s best new restaurant of the year. This was my second time there, and far more delicious and memorable. We were originally quoted a 2 hour wait, but it turned out to be much less, and, well, that’s where that Cava came in. Also notable—John Gorham, the chef/owner was one of the founding partners in Viande meats (Portland’s premier butcher shop/meat guys. They make the best bacon, salami, etc.), which subsequently spun-off into Simpatica catering & dining hall (some of the best brunch in P-town). These guys know their pork.

*Regretfully (and totally unlike me), I cannot take any responsibility for the accuracy of my flavor discernment. I was just enjoying my wine and the overall sensory experience too much to pay attention to specifics. I think I remember some dill, but hey, that aioli might have been tarragon. The pickles? No idea what made them so good. Come on, it was my birthday, and many toasts were had. Actually, the first, which is worth mentioning, was at Vault martini bar, a place which I have to commend for mixing excellent cocktails, with fresh squeezed juices and infusions at only 4 bucks a pop for happy hour (between 4:30 and 7. It’s in the Pearl at 12th and Everett). 4 bucks! I had a “Wicked Gimlet” (their booklet of a drink menu is a fun read)—gin, lemon/lime juice and mint, shaken & served up. Mmm...and that’s the point when the tastebuds started a’ tinglin’ (and began to get a little confused).