Saturday, September 29, 2007

A Caffe Mocha with a Specific Gravity Roughly in the Neighborhood of Kryptonite...

Jenni and I headed to the Portland Farmers' Market today, and after loading ourselves up with the good stuff, went to Sahagun to try their mocha.

This is not a normal mocha. It's an anomoly. A mutant. A dense, gooey and weirdly confrontational freak of nature. A more conventional mocha is to this one what Tom Clancy is to Fyodor Dostoevsky. What George W. Bush is to Abraham Lincoln. What Carrot Top is to Lenny Bruce. This mocha is built on estate grown single bean Bolivian chocolate, incorporates Stumptown Hairbender and is finished with a dollop of cream. It costs nearly a dollar per ounce, and is worth every last cent. Go experience it for yourself...

Oh yeah, their truffles ain't bad, either.

"Why are you taking pictures of my food?"

I suppose it was bound to happen eventually.

I headed out last night with John the Irishman to have a look at a couple of pubs which have opened in the past few months here in the neighborhood. We started at the Morrison Hotel, which in addition to nearly 100 different beers, offers a menu of "Mediterranean street food" which skews heavily Spanish. The tortilla espaƱola wasn't on the menu last night, so I ordered the special, a seafood stew of monkfish, scallops, prawns, squid and octopus. The bartender granted me permission to take a few photos, and thanked me for asking (always ask first, people!). I took my camera and mini-tripod out of my bag, set up my shot, and got a few images. Then I felt a tap on my shoulder...

The protocol which surrounds photographing food in a restaurant is still a little cloudy, it would seem. Now, don't get me wrong. Charles Trester, the Morrison Hotel's executive chef, is quite a personable guy. My only previous experience with him was a very positive one (back about a year ago, when he was running the Terra Sol wine shop on Hawthorne, he helped me through a particularly tricky pairing. The dish was a maple butternut stratta. What he came up with for me was a mildly sparkling spanish white called Blanc Pescador, crisp and dry, and with just enough acidity to stand up to the mapley richness of the custard. It was a hit with my dinner guests that evening). I explained my situation to him, and he eventually nodded his approval. But I sensed that he couldn't help but view what I was doing with a little bit of suspicion, which I can understand. Chefs and restauranteurs at the top of the game pour a considerable amount of expertise, dedication and sacrifice into their work. They endure incredible financial pressures, crazy hours, outsized egos, substance abuse issues, fickle and often cranky patrons, and now... bloggers. To suddenly find yourself confronted with a roomful of potential amateur food critics night after night must be, as I can only imagine, un-nerving at best. As Mario Batali rather infamously illustrated a few months ago, the relationship between food professionals and food bloggers can be an uneasy one from time to time. But it needn't be.

I do this as a hobby, and I try to do it as responsibly and respectfully as I can. My background is in neither the culinary arts nor journalism, and as such I tend to tread lightly when it comes to offering my opinion of what I encounter in any given restaurant on any given night. I don't review so much as describe. But there are certainly those in the food blogging world who don't exercise as much caution as they could.

The stew, by the way, which was somewhat akin to a cioppino, was excellent. The prawns stole a little bit of thunder away from the monkfish, which I felt should have been at the fore, but hell, it was the special. I guess if enduring a few prawns is the sacrifice I have to make, well so be it...

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Eastbank's Last Hurrah

September 27th is photo essay day here at Casa del Belmont... So to wit, some images of a bittersweet occasion, the Eastbank Farmers' Market's very last day of the season:

We'll miss you too, Butter Man, we'll miss you too...

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Southpaws, Arise and Fight the Power!

I've never posted someone else's material on this blog, but I felt this rant from Jesse over at Corduroy Orange would be appreciated by you, my valued readers (many of whom are, no doubt, left-handed). Enjoy.

I know I’m a bit off-season with this, as it will still be a couple of months for grapefruits to come back around. But, it’s not too early to think about them—or the discriminatory silverware policy in place at Williams-Sonoma.

Williams-Sonoma makes perhaps the best grapefruit spoon I have ever used. My father and sister, on the other hand, will never be able to use it because for some inexplicable reason, Williams-Sonoma has toothed this spoon on only one side. As a result, southpaws can not use this spoon without putting themselves through considerable contortions.

I first contacted Williams-Sonoma about this matter in 2005, at which time I noted in my letter to them that their 2004 annual report lamented, “we may not be able to reposition existing brands to improve business”(33). I pointed out to them that a simple re-toothing of the spoon so that both sides are serrated could increase their potential market for that particular product considerably. I never heard back.

Two years later, the spoons are still the same. Narrow and well-proportioned to get every piece of the grapefruit section out, but only if you are right handed. Their 2007 annual report declares, “Our success depends, in large part, upon our ability to anticipate and respond in a timely manner to… customer demands”(10). Well, if you’re a lefty who likes grapefruits or are friend or family to someone who fits that description, let them know that as a customer, you demand citrus equality! Write W. Howard Lester, Chairman of the Board & CEO; and Laura J. Abler, President at Williams-Sonoma, 3520 Van Ness Avenue, San Fransisco, CA 94109.

My letter to Mr. Lester will be in the mail by the end of the week. I urge you all to do the same. Thank you, Jesse, for leading the charge on this!

Friday, September 21, 2007

Jay's Amazing Curried Chicken

Judging from the photo, you might not think a whole lot of this dish. I'll give you that much. The presentation leaves a little something to be desired, to be sure. But bear with me here, my friends, because I promise you, this is truly something special...

Anyone who's ever worked the night shift on "The Hill" (which is to say, OHSU's main campus) has inevitably made their way down to the 3rd floor cafeteria, sometime after 2:00 am, drawn by the intoxicating smell of the work of a brilliant Indo-Fijian chef known to us only as "Jay."

Nobody knows this man's last name. We can't even be sure that "Jay" is really his first name. He's a mysterious figure who gives away few clues as to his background, other than the fact that he grew up in Fiji's Indian community and at some point, under circumstances unknown, made his way to Portland. But his history notwithstanding, Jay's way with curry is legendary among the shadowy community of freaks and misfits who work the graveyard shift at this most revered of Portland institutions. As soon as the clock strikes 2:00 am, a hungry zombie crowd of doctors, nurses and technicians alike collect en masse in the bowels of the hospital to get their share of the best curry in Southwest Portland, if not the Western Hemisphere...

A few months ago, the OHSU Sleep Disorders Clinic (which, as many of you know, is where I make my living) relocated to a site off-campus. So on one of my last shifts on the Hill, I made my way down to the cafeteria, pulled Jay aside and persuaded him to share with me the secret of his etherial Curried Chicken. He graciously obliged, and I've been sitting on this recipe ever since. I finally got around to making it this evening for a couple of friends of mine. I was worried that Jay may have sandbagged me, perhaps left out a crucial ingredient or two to throw me off the trail, but as it turns out, my concerns were completely unfounded. What I made this evening was pretty much exactly what I used to enjoy so much all those months ago on the Hill. So without any further ado, I give you Jay's Amazing Curried Chicken...

The ingredients:
Two lbs chicken thighs
One cup chicken stock
One small onion, finely chopped
Four cloves garlic, minced
One Tbsp ginger, minced
One Tbsp Masala curry powder
One Tbsp cumin
Two cinnamon sticks
Two Tbsp fresh squeezed lemon juice
Salt and Pepper
Olive oil and butter

The process:
Bone the chicken thighs and cut into bite-size chunks. Heat 2 Tbsp of olive oil and 1 Tbsp of butter in a large saute pan over medium heat, and add the onion. Saute until just translucent. Add the garlic and ginger and continue to saute for another minute. Add the chicken and cook until it just begins to brown. Add the chicken stock, lemon juice, and cinnamon sticks, reduce heat to medium low, and continue to cook until stock has reduced by about half. Remove cinnamon sticks. Add curry powder, cumin, a generous pinch of salt and a few twists of pepper, and continue to cook for about ten minutes. If at any point the liquid reduces too much, add a little water. When all is said and done, it should look something like this:

Serve with rice and a cold beer, and imagine yourself transported to the lower stories of Oregon's pre-eminint medical school! I should mention that Jay also makes beef and lamb versions of this dish, so feel free to experiment with those meats as well. And enjoy!

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Torta Margherita!

About a month back, Nina over at Sweet Napa posted about a tart she'd made with peeled cherry tomatoes. Ever since, I've been wanting try something like it. So this evening I made a sort of tart version of Pizza Margherita.

I'd picked up some cherry tomatoes at the farmers' market on Thursday, but they didn't weather the three day wait very well, and I ended up with three dollars' worth of compost. Cherry tomatoes, it would seem, don't have quite as much patience as their larger cousins. So I picked up some even smaller grape tomatoes, along with some other ingredients, at New Seasons today and set about my task.

The first step was to peel the tomatoes. I blanched them for about a minute, and shocked them in ice water for another minute. Given the size and amount of the tomatoes, this was a bit labor intensive. The orange tomatoes peeled pretty easily, but the red ones more often than not required a little work with the paring knife. It was well worth the effort though, as these tomatoes are an entirely different animal without their skins. Once they were peeled, I set them aside and began work on the dough.

I used Shuna Lydon's All Butter Pie Crust recipe. This being a somewhat savory tart, however, I cut the sugar by half. Pie dough is notorious for being difficult, but if you have a decent stand mixer, it's really not that tricky. The key is to keep everything cold. Freeze the butter. Put your mixer's bowl into the fridge for a while. Turn the heat in your house down. Pie dough, particularly when made with butter instead of shortening, likes it cold.

After the dough had come together, I kneaded it for a minute, rolled it out, set it into my tart pan and put it into the freezer for a half hour. While the shell was getting its chill on, I pre-heated the oven to 350F. I then mixed about 8 oz. of ricotta with 1/2 tsp of dijon mustard and some chopped oregano and marjoram (about 1/2 tsp of each). I set this aside with the tomatoes.

Once the oven was up to temperature, I took the shell out of the freezer, I docked it (that is, poked holes in the bottom with a fork to allow for airflow), lined it with parchment, threw in some dried beans and set it into the oven to blind bake. Blind baking basically amounts to pre-baking a shell when the filling doesn't need to cook for as long as the dough. It shouldn't take more than 15-20 minutes for the dough to take on a light golden color, according to my Internet sources. I hadn't rolled my dough quite thin enough, however and mine took upwards of 45 minutes. It also shrank quite a bit. Rolling the dough thinner, and perhaps baking at a higher temperature for less time, might have allowed it to keep its shape a litte better (Pastry chefs, feel free to weigh in with your two cents here...). But it turned out well enough in the end, if a little underdone.

I let the shell cool for a while, then spread a 1/4 inch layer of the ricotta mixture on the bottom. I put the tomatoes in with enough space to pack some fresh mozzarella in between them. I added some sliced kalamata olives as well (I know, dijon and kalamatas are a departure from the traditional Margherita, but hey, I like dijon and kalamatas) and put the whole thing back into the oven until the mozz began to melt, about 15 minutes. I took it out, sprinkled on some chiffonaded basil, and voila! Torta Margherita!

Buon Appetito!

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Oh My God! Oh My Friggin' God!!!

THAT, my friends, is a... Bacon! Wrapped! Hot Dog! Yeah, you heard me right. It's pretty much just what it sounds like. Disgusting? Yes. But delicious? Oh, yes...

I headed out to my first Midnight Mystery Ride last night. I met up with my buddy Fuller and his friends Paul, Dylan and Gabe at Plan B, whose menu does indeed include the artery destroying bacon wrapped hot dog. Paul and I each ordered one. I wouldn't eat this on a regular basis. In fact, I'll probably never eat one again, but when you're confronted with something like this for the first time, there's no way you can refuse...

From Plan B, we headed to the Lucky Lab, a few blocks away, for another round. From there, our five-man fixie gang made its way to Roots Brewery, the starting point of the Mystery Ride, where we met up with Paul's friend Spencer. There was a pretty good crowd amassed at Roots for the ride, I'd say close to a hundred people. At the stroke of Midnight, we set out through the streets of SE Portland. The bulk of the ride took us around the circle and through the alleyways of Ladd's Addition. Eventually we made our way down 20th, ultimately winding up at a party in a parking lot somewhere near 21st and Powell, where cold Pabsts and Hamms were enjoyed by all. Here we see Spencer and Paul posing with April Danger's tall bike (the two of them took turns riding the thing, which made for some good comedy):

Here's a shot of your humble author:

Our contribution to the party was Jiffy Pop, in camouflage packaging (this was apparently military issue Jiffy Pop), cooked over a camp stove:

Once we'd had enough of the party, the four of us (we'd lost Gabe and Spencer at this point) headed north to that classic SE late-night mainstay, Bistro Montage. I ordered the Crawfish "Beignets":

That's a pretty blurry photo, I realize, but no matter, because these really weren't beignets at all, they were more like corn fritters. Don't get me wrong, they were tasty and all, but hey, Bistro Montage, come on... I've never even BEEN to Louisiana and I know these ain't anything like the real thing (which, as I understand it anyway, consist of deep-fried pate-a-choux liberally sprinkled with icing sugar)! If you want beignets, it would seem there's still no way around a trip to Cafe Du Monde...

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Run For Your Lives! Take Cover!! Or Suffer the Wrath of... NEWZILLA!!!

Since I moved to Portland eight years ago, I've become something of an inner city kid. Apart from the odd venture out to Beaverton to hit up Uwajimaya, or the occasional trip to Lake Oswego to hang with my cousins, I don't tend to stray very far from Portland's urban core. That said, I do head a ways out Foster Road every Thursday evening to tend to the chickens at Zenger Farm. So this evening, after locking said birds up safely in their coop and collecting their eggs, I headed to Happy Valley, a suburb a bit south of the farm, to pick up some supplies at the most recently opened location of Portland's favorite organic/local/sustainable grocery store chain, New Seasons.

Now, I love New Seasons as much as the next Portlander, but this place might just be TOO big. It's gigantic. No, gigantic doesn't begin to cover it. It's GINORMOUS! No, wait, that doesn't do it justice either... it's SUPERNORMOUS!!! It's by far their biggest store. It goes on for miles. It's even bigger than Uwajimaya! Really, the place is huge... Home Depot huge! If you're in that part of town, check it out. It's pretty impressive. I was impressed, anyway.

Of course, as you know, New Seasons also carries non-food items, such as kitchenwares, Nalgene bottles, and... dog leashes! So naturally, I had to pick up a souvenir for Burke:

The skull and crossbones motif perfectly suits his dark and brooding personality...

Monday, September 10, 2007

Moto Rising!

Well, I didn't wind up making it to last night's final MusicFest show, but I figured I might as well throw in one more non food related post before getting back on topic, which will happen soon, I promise...

My old Motobecane has been back in my hands for a while now, and I finally got around to giving it some attention this weekend. The first task to be undertaken was to strip it of all of its parts, save for the bottom bracket and headset:

I then set about cleaning up the frame with some steel wool and metal polishing cream. And I have to say, it cleaned up quite nicely:

The fork, which was pretty badly colonized by rust, cleaned up especially well. I'm VERY happy about this. Take a moment to behold its chrome plated glory:

I won't be restoring this bike. To try to build it back to its former grandeur would be a fool's game. The componentry is too worn. To find replacement parts would be next to impossible. And this being an old French bike, it doesn't make much sense to try and outfit it with modern componentry (which I couldn't afford to do anyway). So my project for this autumn will be to rebuild the Moto into a fixie. This will entail teaching myself to build wheels, repack the bottom bracket and if necessary, overhaul the headset. And I'm looking forward to all of this. It should prove be a great deal of fun, so stay tuned. In the meantime, I'll be getting back to the food post-haste.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

MusicFestNW: Saturday Night

I had only one band on my agenda for tonight's installment of MusicFest: Atlanta feedback pilots Deerhunter.

I've encountered some long lines this weekend, and as I figured Deerhunter (pictured above) would be a pretty strong draw in Portland, I got to the venue a full 40 minutes before their set was to begin. Said venue was, no surprise, the Doug Fir (this place is becoming my home away from home; it's gotten to the point where the bartender no longer has to ask me what I want). And wouldn't you know, once I got there... no line at all! Which meant that I was able to catch some of the previous act, Chicago's Bobby Conn:

This guy was easily the sleeper of this year's MusicFest for me. He's fused 1970s glam rock and arena rock about as well as anyone can in the new millenium. To listen to what's on his Myspace page, you wouldn't think much of him, but what I saw tonight was something else entirely. His stage presence recalls the androgynous vibe of early Bowie (as you can see from the photo, he looks a bit like Eddie Izzard), and he and his band channeled the energy of that decade at its best. Imagine pre-1984 Van Halen with a punk rock violin player. Great stuff! I wish I'd gotten there earlier...

After Bobby Conn, Deerhunter almost fell a bit flat at first. They seemed a bit too noisy, a bit too dischordant. But after a few songs, they began to hit their stride. In their better moments they came close, not quite but close, to channeling My Bloody Valentine (and yes, I have seen My Bloody Valentine live, so I know full well what an amazing, if painful, experience that is...), and washed the room with a beautiful onslaught of crazy, distorted, reverby sound. Just the right note on which to end the third night of MusicFest!

The festival wraps up with a single show at the Crystal Ballroom tomorrow night. It's a show I want to see, but I haven't yet decided if I'm actually going to be there...

Friday, September 7, 2007

MusicFestNW: Friday Night

I went out for another MusicFest fix tonight. First up were Seattle's electro dance popsters Valella Valella at Holocene. I've been disappointed by this band before, but I figured I'd give them another chance. I was disappointed once again. They just don't make sense to me. I'll give you an example: their drum parts are all programmed, but at one point one of them spent the better part of an entire song playing a lone crash cymbol. Why? Just program the crash cymbol and give the guy something useful to do! I really don't get what these guys are doing, but they seem to have found their audience, so more power to 'em...

Fortunately, it got better from there. I made my way to the Doug Fir, stood in line for about 20 minutes, and caught Eric Bachmann, formerly of Archers of Loaf, now of Crooked Fingers. He's currently on tour as a solo act, accompanied by a keyboard player and a violinist. He's got a sort of acoustic country folk troubador thing going on, and his voice, at once assertive and plaintive, perfectly suits the form. Something in his delivery reminds me of Richard Buckner. Very good stuff.

Next up at the Fir were a playful, arty noise-rock outfit from Brooklyn called Grizzly Bear, pictured above. Think Sonic Youth meets Iron and Wine, with occasional four part harmonies (yes, you heard me right). They have a very loose and abstract approach to song structure, which I tend to like. I was impressed.

Stay tuned for more MusicFest...

MusicFestNW: Thursday Night

Tonight was the first night of MusicFestNW, Portland's answer to South By Southwest. I picked up my wristband this afternoon at the remaining outlet of Music Millenium, and later set out for the Crystal Ballroom to see Viva Voce's 10 pm set. Unfortunately, this was not to be. I got to the Crystal at about 9:40 and took my place at the end of the line. Which stretched around the block. This didn't bode particularly well, but the line started moving, so I figured there might be a chance I'd catch at least part of their set. But after about 15 minutes, a member of the Crystal's staff came out to inform us all that they'd reached capacity and that none of us were going to get in. This wouldn't bother me too much if it had been simply a supply and demand thing... MusicFest works on the wristband principle. You buy a wristband, which gets you access to all of the venues, all weekend long, and from there it's first come, first served. But here's the rub: The Crystal sold tickets to this show as well. So the folks with tickets got in no matter what, while those of us that had ponied up our forty bucks for the wristband were left holding the bag. Frankly, I found myself a little chapped about this. I figure, if you're going to include the show in the MusicFest line up, don't undercut those of us participating in the wristband flim flam by selling a bunch of tickets. I'm not even sure who to be upset with here... The Crystal? Viva Voce? MusicFest? But hey, I didn't let it ruin my night. I came home, made myself some Mac & Cheese and headed to Berbati's to see Roky Erickson:

I encountered another line outside Berbati's, but this time I was far enough up in the line to get in after a couple songs. Roky fronted a band back in the mid-1960s called the 13th Floor Elevators, and as legend has it, coined the term "psychedelic." There wasn't much psychedelia to what he played tonight, it was pretty much just four guys about your dad's age playing straightforward blusey rock. But they did a good job, and the crowd (average age being less than half that of the guys onstage) couldn't get enough.

From there I went to the Doug Fir to see the Portland's own Shaky Hands:

And, another line (I don't remember encountering lines last year)! But I managed to get in before they started. I saw this band at Holocene about a year ago, and they had a pop-ish sound, sort of a British Invasion Garage Rock thing, going on. They must have written some new material since, because what I heard tonight was a more nuanced, quiet/loud kind of thing. Imagine the Walkmen and the Pixies all mashed together. Pretty good stuff. Worth keeping an eye on.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Tell the USDA to Keep Experimental Drugs Out of Your Dinner and Out of Your Environment!

The USDA is considering new policy options concerning genetically modified organisms, including regulation of "biofactory" farm produced drugs and contamination of the commercial food and feed supply with unapproved genetically engineered crops. Now, I'm not here to tell you what your politics should be, but I strongly urge any of you who are concerned with the safety of your food and the health of your environment to have a look at this. The Center for Food Safety has put together an e-mail petition which you can fill out (and edit to your liking) and send to the USDA via their website. Public comment is only open until September 11, so the time to act on this is now!

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Thai Weekend Part III: The Best Pad Thai You're Ever Gonna Eat (outside of Thailand, anyway)!

So I tried my hand at Pad Thai this evening, using a recipe, er, method, I found over at ChezPim. Pim's method calls for combining a number of the ingredients into a pre-made sauce and cooking the dish for as little time as possible, and only one portion at a time. This is, she tells us, how the street food vendors in Bangkok do it. And, well, Pim is from Thailand, so I'm inclined to defer to her authority on this matter. I made a few derivations, but on the whole stayed true to her instructions, although I'd encourage you to have a look at her version should you decide to try this yourself (if you make this with chicken or tofu, you'll definitely want to consult Pim's tutorial). My proportions here are for one serving, except for the sauce, which makes enough for about three servings. It should freeze well, I figure.

Before I go on to the Pad Thai itself, allow me to offer a little useless trivia: Pad Thai was popularized in Thailand during World War II by then Prime Minister Luang Phibunsongkhram, in part to reduce consumption of rice due to shortages. Fascinating, no? Okay, back to the food...

The Ingredients:

1/3 cup Ma Kahm (tamarind paste)
1/2 cup Nam Pla (fish sauce)
1/3 cup palm sugar (or 1/4 cup light brown sugar)
Four thai chiles, seeded and minced
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
1 1/2 cups dried rice noodles (often called rice sticks)
Three Tbsp oil (canola, peanut or safflower)
One clove garlic, minced
One extra large egg, lightly beaten
Two Tbsp chives, chopped into one inch pieces
1/2 tsp shrimp paste
Two Tbsp unsalted roasted peanuts, finely chopped
1/2 cup mung bean sprouts
Shrimp, peeled and deveined, enough for one person
Two thai chiles and a lime wedge for garnish

Here's the meez on that, by the way:

The Process:

Melt the sugar in a saucepan with the tamarind paste, shrimp paste, fish sauce, chiles and paprika over low heat. While this is happening, reconstitute the rice noodles in a bowl of hot water until they're pliable, but not quite soft enough to eat, about 15 minutes, and drain. At this point I put the sauce into an ad-hoc double boiler set-up to keep it warm (I used the lid from the shrimp paste jar to raise the measuring cup off the bottom of the pan):

Place your wok over high heat and once it's almost smoking hot, add the oil, then the noodles and two oz. of the sauce (a 2 oz. ladle comes in handy here). Keep the noodles in constant motion. If they start to stick together or dry out, add a little more sauce. Once the noodles are done, push them to the side and add the egg:

Let the egg cook for about 20 seconds, and stir the noodles back into it. Add the shrimp, garlic and bean sprouts. Stir constantly until the shrimp are cooked, about two minutes. If the mixture looks too dry at any point, you can always add a little sauce. Stir in half of the peanuts and half of the chives, and remove the wok from the heat:

Transfer to a plate, sprinkle with the remaining peanuts and chives, and garnish with the chiles and lime wedge (a little lime juice will finish your Pad Thai off very nicely). Pim said this would be better than any restaurant Pad Thai, and I can tell you, she was dead right. I've eaten more than my share of Pad Thai and this was by far the best I've had. So whip some up and enjoy!

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Thai Weekend Part II: Pok Pok

I headed out with my friend Lowrey this evening to check out the wildly popular Pok Pok. It seems you can't swing a dead cat in Portland without hitting a thai restaurant, but for the most part their menus are identical. There are exceptions, places which elevate the cuisine beyond the typical curries and stir fries, Thyphoon and Kun Phic Ban Thai being two which come to mind. With a northern Thai street food inspired menu, Pok Pok breaks the mold as well. They even landed the Oregonian's Restaurant of the Year award this year, so I figured it was about time I gave the place a look.

We started with one of the specials, Tap Waan:

This was a duck liver salad with cilantro, mint, and a fairly mild fish sauce based dressing. I'm not generally a big fan of liver of any kind, but this was quite tasty. The duck liver and mint made for an interesting combination of flavors and textures. Next up were Papaya Pok Pok and Sate Kambing:

The Papaya Pok Pok, the restaurant's namesake, is a salad of green papaya, tomatoes, long beans, Thai chili, lime juice, tamarind, fish sauce, garlic, palm sugar, dried shrimp and peanuts. We ordered it with the optional salted black crab. The salad was a bit hotter than I expected, but it was excellent nonetheless. It didn't come with a very substantial amount of crab, however. The crab is apparently only meant to provide a salty dimension to the dish. Strangely, the sticky rice we ordered at the waiter's suggestion to accompany the salad was served in a plastic bag...

The Sate Kambing, two skewers of lamb sirloin kebabs marinated in cumin, chili, sweet soy, tamarind, garlic and palm sugar and served with a sweet dipping sauce, was good, but not as interesting as the previous two dishes.

At this point Lowrey was done but I had some room left, so I ordered the Coconut Ice Cream Sandwich:

This, I have to say, was something of a disappointment. It wasn't an ice cream sandwich as you might imagine it, but rather four small scoops of coconut-jackfruit ice cream on a sweet bun and drizzled with chocolate syrup, condensed milk, peanuts and sweet sticky rice. You'll notice the sweet bun looks a bit like a hot dog bun. It didn't taste like a hot dog bun, but it had about the same consistency and didn't hold its own against the melting ice cream. The ice cream itself, which is made in-house, was great. If they were to reconfigure this with something other than the sweet bun, it would probably work much better.

Pok Pok is well-known for their Kai Yaang, a charcoal roasted stuffed game hen, and their pork dishes seem to be especially popular as well, so I'll have to make it back at some point to try those.

All in all, it was a good meal. The food was a nice break from the thai standards, the service was attentive, the atmosphere was nice, if a bit noisy. It was a good experience. But restaurant of the year good? I think not. Although I am willing to let that stuffed game hen change my mind at some point down the road...