Tuesday, December 22, 2009

THE NEW GENOA



The fireplace may not have been there the first time around, but the recipes were. This is a good thing- the place is a classic. Our server told us right off that the dishes on the five course prix fixe menu were based on archived recipes from Genoa's historical archives, updated for the restaurant’s reincarnation. The revived interior feels sumptuous and luxe, incorporating an original armoir, recessed ceiling, modern chandeliers and upholstery. Warm, solid, and very classy.

For once, I resisted pilfering a menu, so I’ll go by notes and memory of this very lovely,* 3 hour, Tuesday night, holiday season meal.

1. Amuse bouche: shaved endive with black truffle and very vibrant lemon essence/zest. Wake up, tastebuds!

2. The Genoa cocktail: dry white wine, sweet vermouth and a lemon wedge served in a crystal wine glass. Surprisingly fresh and satisfying as an aperitif (and apparently the original recipe from over 20 years ago).

3. 1st course: Oregon Dungeness crab mixed with micro greens (sprouts) on grilled bread. The crab was so clean and fresh, no need for the bread, I’d rather eat it like sushi. It was paired with an oaked Italian chardonnay, but could’ve used something crisper (sans oak).

4. The pasta course, oh god, THE PASTA COURSE. I was in heaven with the duck confit “tortelli” (ravioli). It was one of those dishes that made me pause, close my eyes for a second, and attempt to permanently remember its taste sensation. So rich in flavor, yet so delicate (crazy umami). And the wild mushroom fettucine (freshly made) was like pasta dressed with butter and the essence of a forest floor. Mmmmmm....

5. Winter salad, a.k.a. palate cleanser. A beautiful presentation of pomegranate seeds, blood orange, arugula, red onion. The onion was a little strong, but it was placed at the perfect point in the meal to cut the heavy stuff. Served with a (almost tropical) Verdicchio, this may have been the best pairing.



6. Lamb chops, cooked perfectly medium rare with a rub of sea salt and rosemary (I licked the bones). Garnet yam souffle, sauteed garlic and greens. This dish was what I am considering my Christmas dinner for 2009. (Notice that I had no time for photos of the best dishes – too busy enjoying). The Chianti paired with it was okay, but I have to admit that I would have loved a glass of Hawk’s View Cellars' Pinot Noir (’07) with this dish.

7. The meal would’ve been very nicely punctuated with a goat/sheep’s cheese plate, but we opted for dessert instead. Their tiramisu was perfect. Espresso, smooth and delicious. Vin Santo, one of my favorite things to drink on earth at the close of a meal (besides chinato).

Merry Christmas and thank you, Genoa!

*Our table was the deuce to the right of the fireplace, and I had the place facing the flames. I couldn’t have asked for a better seat.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Okay, I thought things were good yesterday, when I left my wine class in the rain, stopped by a friend's birthday party at Rogue brewery (Smokey Ale!), and ended up in the cozy confines of another friend's apartment for homemade lasagna and Chianti Ruffino.

I get to work today to recieve an invite for lunch at the legendary Higgins. This is on top of the fact that I was invited to a dinner at the reincarnation of Genoa tomorrow night, and had been looking forward to that meal for weeks. And then... AND THEN, an inquiry into this guy called the Ethical Butcher leads me to get invited to a rare heritage pork dinner that he's cooking up tonight at the ACE Hotel. Can't wait! Exciting stuff happening in this here town known as PDX...
Yesterday in my wine class we tasted through New World Wines, including South Africa (I can't say that I was convinced those wines are worth the effort of exporting). When it came to the food-wine pairing section, my teacher put up a large picture of biltong hanging up to dry. I hadn't seen the stuff since I was about nine, when my dad and stepmom brought some back from her native country for us to chew on back in Hawaii. I loved it as a kid, as I did most dried out meats and fish. My friends and I used to snack on beef jerky, pepperoni sticks, and cuttlefish. I wonder why I don't buy that stuff anymore? Probably because of issues around hormones in meat, industrialized agriculture, etc. Natural beef jerky is pricey! The closest I get to all that these days is salami, and the very rare treat (at $27/lb), the wile salmon jerky at New Seasons (cured with salt and brown sugar).

Friday, December 18, 2009


MERRY CHRISTMAS!

How cute is this?! The apron is by Jessie Steele and yes, those are little candy canes and clusters of holly all over it. Her fabrics and cuts are adorable, and I thought that this one was just too over the top not to post. I love all of her aprons and oven mitts (they're affordable, too!). This picture makes me a little bit nostalgic for my Kong Lung Co. days, when I spent lots of time dressing manequins and reading cookbooks.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

I can't stop thinking about the food that my friends and I had last Saturday at Beaker and Flask. A couple of entrees, to be specific. The food there is "French/Northwest" which is very Portland - taking our local, seasonal ingredients, preparing them in a traditional French way, etc. Done and done and...boring. And it can be too rich, with pork and cream and butter. Which is why this meal at Beaker was so refreshing. The dishes, while so deep in flavor, were not overly heavy, or rich in fat. The elegant touch which really made them pop was the acid balance with the protein.

One of these was a whole trout, grilled (and I'm sure seasoned and stuffed with some fabulous spices - I didn't order this one), on a bed of purple radicchio salad in a vinaigrette with slices of small fingerling potatoes (I loved how it was just the smallest bit of starch there), and topped with a quince salad. Orange, purple, charred whole trout -a beautiful presentation.

My absolute favorite, which inspires salivation just at the recollection of it, was the porkbelly. Not for the faint of heart, a large slab of browned and jiggling pork fat was placed in a shallow nest of creamed curly kale and teeny-tiny diced green apples. This was the brilliant part - the creamed kale was actually tangy - in the same way that southern collard greens are the perfect foil for greasy bbq ribs, this was the ideal match for the pork belly. There were a couple of rings of yellow delicata squash with it as well. It was perfection. And even more so with Oregon Pinot noir (Soter North Valley '07).

Saturday, December 05, 2009

The Roof is On Fire! (Dining at Lucky Strike)



I awoke this morning, uncertain of whether the ache in my stomach was caused by indigestion, or last night’s repeated and uncontrollable bouts of laughter. My friends and I ventured to Lucky Strike, way out on 122nd and Powell (is that Gresham?). Like the group of Chinese students who took the bus to get there, with my first step inside the restaurant I knew it was worth it. Breathing in there is like breathing fire – deep into the dinner service there’s that much spice in the air.

My eyes popped when I saw the finished plate of “hot pepper chicken bath” on a table next to us. It was not empty at all. It was full - of whole, red, chilis. Apparently, when it’s served, cubes of chicken are scattered through them. I’ll admit that I was a little bit afraid of what I was going to force my body to experience. But at this place, flavor and heat combined in a harmonious way that takes over your entire being to provide one of the most experiential dining experiences I’ve ever had.

What ended up being my favorite dish arrived first – pork ribs with noodles. Oh, where do I start – just recalling it makes my mouth water for this savory soup. This thing had umami. Chewy (surely fresh) noodles, baby bok choi and small pieces of pork ribs in this red, oily broth flavored with chili, whole Szechuan peppercorn, clove, star anise, dried orange peel, and a myriad other spices. These are the owner’s family recipes, and she was sweet enough to divulge only a few ingredients.

With this first dish, the reactions began to occur – the extreme degree of heat contained in this meal eventually caused each of us to lose control of our bodies to some degree. After devouring a first bowl of this soup, my friend’s face turned red and broke out into beads of sweat.

Then the spicy cumin beef arrived, buried under those said whole chili peppers, alongside strings of Chinese celery. The spice in this dish turned things up, and with that all of our lips burned red and puffy, and we took turns taking breaks for ice-cold beer and laughter. You have to laugh at yourself when you don’t want to stop eating something that is causing you physical pain and distortion. It was liberating, actually. We started to lose control, but didn’t care, and were more than happy to dribble hot rice from our flaming mouths upon discovering that it only further ignited the fire burning within.

The dan dan noodles (a cult Chinese comfort food) were something I’d always wanted to try, and their spiciness seemed calming compared to everything else. The noodles were perfectly chewy – did I say that already? Thank god for beer and white rice.

Then came that masochistic chicken. At least I knew what to expect after the beef, and my friend was right – the whole chilis add a nice texture to the bite of chicken, and no added heat really, since all of its seeds fell out to basically encrust the bits of meat. (Warning: some chilies can still be full of seeds and if you bite into one of those with the chicken, you’re playing with fire my friend).

I do have a regret about last nights’ meal: not ordering one of the more delicately flavored dishes first so that we could actually taste it. As it was, I loved the kimchi fried rice. Bits of ham (spam?), kimchi, browned egg (the egg bites did a surprisingly good job of cooling things down) and scallions. I also regret not taking home the leftovers.

Then, THEN, lastly comes the tofu (my friend rationalized this one saying “yeah, the tofu will be like dessert – it’s soft and custard like”). No, this thing was packing heat too! Large cubes of pillowy white tofu soaked under a layer of chili oil, along with ground meat, scallions and ginger. The way that the aromatic spices are layered between layers of heat – that’s how they nail these dishes. That flavor was so rich, so deep, I knew it, despite the fact that could no longer trust my taste buds. I can’t wait to go back and order that again. Or anything, really.

As I sit here in my bathrobe, I wonder where those leftovers are right at this minute...


Can you see the deep layer of chilis suspended in oil over the tofu?

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

I went to New York a couple of weeks ago, so excited to eat. I had a few particular restaurants on my list, including the Fatty Crab and any of the Momofuku places. The former was incredible - sticky, coconuty short ribs (a version of rendang that I'll never forget) and intense laksa soup. Momofuku...well, we were a little bit dissappointed by the Ssam Bar. I had a really tasty meal there shortly after it opened (some pork belly/kimchi combo), but this time, everything but the honeycrisp apple kimchi was just okay. Except for the cocktail I had - whoa - a nori/celery/brandy concoction - their bartender is a mad scientist genius. Anyway, chef David Chang's out in the world on his book tour, and recently in the Pacific Northwest (Seattle), he had this to say:

"The coolest thing was seeing the foragers and purveyors there, talking with the chefs about shrooms, fish, vegetables (in the middle of November!)—just a beautiful, intimate, honest, open relationship between the people picking the food and the people cooking it. Fuck them. We have a "local" FedEx guy who's great during the winter in NYC."

We might not have the breadth of variety, or countless ethnic and regional cuisine represented, but we have more local, seasonal sourcing in our restaurants than you'll find anywhere else.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009


The blog is looking bare. Maybe I should've added "tiny digital camera with genius micro food setting" to my Christmas list. Often, I really yearn for color on dark winter days. Eating locally and seasonally doesnt offer much on the plate in that department (see above), which is why perusing Flikr can be so refreshing. I just found a Flikr collection by "Moriza," with some super fun vibrant photos. Like these two.

The squid dish looks amazing, by the way. Various fresh and simple components to a perfect meal, in that way similar to the one I had at the bar at Biwa the other night: effervescent daikon/cabbage kimchi, grilled chicken thigh skewer, onigiri and fresh soft tofu with smoky, weightless bonito flakes.