Monday, January 24, 2011

Bitter Tequila: the Milano Rita at Victory

In Imbibe's article on agave spirits, the bartenders whom Paul interviewed kept talking about mixing them with bitter ingredients. In my field research, I found a great, straightforward example of this at Victory in their Milano Rita, which pairs tequila with lime, grapefruit and Campari. The Campari and grapefruit blend into one beautiful bitter-citrus flavor, which offsets the tequila perfectly. The bright red drink is also served in a big goofy hurricane glass with multiple fruit garnishes, which is a nice foil to the bar's dark masculinity and makes me want to get sassy and snap my fingers in a Z formation.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Fast, Starchy, Yummy Squash

Deborah Madison has a great explanation on Culinate of why you never actually cook some of the foods you well-intentionedly buy, and royally enticing ideas for to do with big ass winter squash when you finally get around to tackling them (fried squash with butter, blue cheese and pepper? Yes, please). I love this article because I have long considered squash to be a rewarding but laborious ordeal, and tend to avoid cooking it. But as inspiring as Deborah's ideas are, I still have less patience than is required to break down a 12-pound squash. Luckily, I have figured out (with help from a certain Schweitzer) a sort of fast food version. Fast food in that it provides  instant gratification, and also in that it's salty, starchy, oily and sweet in a total late night drunk food kind of way.

Delicata squash is small and relatively tender so it's easy to cut up, and if you slice it thin it cooks up fast. It has this amazingly beautiful, deep flavor that really comes out when you roast it at high heat.

Fast Food Delicata Squash

1. Preheat the oven to 425F or so. Take a delicata squash and halve it the hot dog way. Scoop out the seeds and stringy junk with a spoon. (If you're feeling resourceful, save the seeds to toast.) Take each half and slice it into thin Cs, about 1/4" to 1/2" thick.

2. Oil a pan with any kind of high-heat oil, butter or spray oil. Throw in the squash Cs and drizzle more oil on top of them, or spray with spray oil (recipe has not been tested with I Can't Believe It's Not Butter Spray, but it worked well with Pam). Sprinkle with salt and pepper and toss to coat evenly. Alternately, you can just throw the squash in there with a chunk of butter, which will melt in the oven and then you can toss everything to coat.

3. Stick it in the oven. I'm not sure how long it takes. My general guideline for roasting is to put it in there and forget about it, and then when it starts to smell yummy and you remember there's something in the oven, go give it a toss and leave it in for another few minutes until amply brown. Maybe 10 or 20 minutes total for delicata squash.

4. When it's almost there, you can turn the heat up to broil to get the tops nice and caramelized. This only takes a couple minutes so keep an eye on it. When it looks awesome, remove from the oven and eat immediately. Add a fried egg or two and you have a super bachelor-style but awesome, cheap, healthy dinner.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Vermouth in the O

The Oregonian has a story on local vermouth featuring Neil Kopplin of Imbue and Patrick Taylor of Cana's Feast. It's great to see vermouth - a magical but overlooked category - getting attention.

Two local producers help boost vermouth's revival |

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Presentation Is Everything

OK, maybe not everything, but it's the little details like this that slay me every time. Soup is somehow a million times better when it has parsley flecks on it, even if you can barely taste them. Carrot cake is a whole different thing when the carrots have doggone googly eyes. GOOGLY EYES! How can you not love that? In the realm of good-looking food, I carry the biggest torch for beautiful dessert displays. Rows of colorful, sparkly, good-smelling, tooth-decaying delights just give me a stupid grin - even without eating them. Even just looking at creamy, pastel pictures of them.

Sometimes when I used to work downtown I would go into Whole Foods and gaze at the pastry case on my lunch break. It totally cheered me up no matter what. Tiny, perfect tarts with just enough room for three blueberries on top of each one, cupcakes topped with frosting snowmen and crystal sugar snow, cakes piped with flowers and vines, glossy lemon tarts, all in neat rows. Once a few years ago I was in the mall with my boyfriend, walking past the rainbow columns of jelly beans at the candy kiosk, and he squeezed my arm and murmured wistfully, "You look at that candy the way you look at me."

One of my other favorites is the display at Pambiche, tropical and decadent and whimsical - that is where these happy carrots live, among chocolate cigars, sugar parrots, pineapple upside-down cakes, candy dominos and huge halves of papaya, creamy orange with all their weird black shiny seeds. I imagine the dessert case coming to life at night after everybody leaves. The carrots jump off the cake and dance with the dominos, the cigars roll around and the parrots fly around the room. You would never know from looking at them perfectly still in there during the dinner rush, but if you look closely there are tell-tale crumbs on the stereo.

Photo courtesy of Autumn Peterson

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Tequila Mockingbird

Buy this magazine.

Paul Clark has a truly inspiring feature on agave spirits in the Jan/Feb issue of Imbibe. Tequila is possibly my favorite spirit because it is so assertively flavorful, yet sadly lots of people hate it due to unpleasant memories of Daytona Beach. I hope that with all the premium tequilas and mezcals that have been coming out, and the ascendance of apple pucker as a new collegiate memory maker of choice, that will start to change, because I'm sick of getting raised eyebrows when I order tequila neat at a bar.

Paul's article gives a good breakdown of the production and classification of tequilas and mezcals (mezcal agave is roasted underground like Hawaiian pork, whoa), and details some really provocative, amazing-sounding cocktails bartenders have been shaking up (mezcal and amari, seriously?). I typically prefer tequila straight, in a good margarita or with other fresh-squeezed juices, but I think I could be persuaded to broaden my horizons. In Portland, my first impulse is to hit up Beaker & Flask and Teardrop (Kevin Ludwig created a killer carrot margarita awhile back, and I know Daniel is a fan of obscure mezcals) and see what they're up to in the agave department. Some people think tequila is just for summer but I strongly disagree - like Scotch, its earthy flavor is perfect for cooler months.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011


I'd been curious about Genoa ever since their remodel and reopening. I remembered it as the setting for a phenomenal $150 meal a few years ago and wondered if it would still be at the same level now that they were offering a six-course dinner for $60 per person. The answer to that is hell yes. Genoa has joined the 21st century, while preserving their legendarily high standards in the kitchen and front of house.

I'm not going to detail every course (we had more than than six, and each had a lot of components) but what stood out to me about the food the most was the composition of each plate. A lot of the mid- to high-end restaurants in Portland these days are doing rustic, simple, old-world style meals. Which I love. But it's such a treat to have a plate appear in front of you with as much care as a love letter. David Anderson, Daniel Mondok and their crew do it up for real. Contrasting flavors and textures are calculatedly posed in the perfect place. Everything is beautiful and there for a reason. Everything works together. Lobster with risotto and herby sauces with little fronds of fresh greens and sunchoke chips perched on top. A medallion of foie gras perched on a tiny crispy bit of brioche (I kept thinking of a mattress balanced on a bottle of wine) with slivers of truffle and like five mustard seeds and a ribbon of glittery pepper honey. It was an emotional experience.

Another thing that impressed me was the service - everybody was super professional, perfectly attentive without pandering, and just paying really good attention. No attitude, no waiting for five minutes for everybody's entree to come out, no "actually, I'm not sure what's in that, but everyone really likes it." Spot on.

But overall what I loved the most was the honest, geeky passion that everybody had for what they were doing - the sommelier talking about a rare wine she found the way a record collector talks about an obscure 45, the chefs testing out new amazing concoctions on us (radicchio jam?! yum!), the servers letting a sly joke fly between rehearsed descriptions. It's all honest and all happening at a really high level that's rare for Portland. Hopefully I'll be in there again before another four years are up. I'm excited to see where Genoa and Accanto go from here.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Cheap Chicken

Francis Lam at Salon has a really articulate essay on a dilemma I face several times a week: whether or not to buy cheap chicken. You're broke, maybe you work out a lot, it's affordable, it tastes amazing with Thai chili garlic sauce from a cart, but you know what's behind it. Francis decides not to do it - mostly - but he also touches on the arbitrary/dogmatic/point-missing element that tends to accompany decisions of this nature and gives a thoughtful argument for ambiguity. Thanks Eater PDX for the link.