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Showing posts from August, 2011

Pok Pok - Portland, Oregon

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The story of Pok Pok goes as follows: Andy Ricker is a chef who fell in love with Thai food during repeated trips to the country in the 1980s and 1990s, and eventually set out to do it himself. Pok Pok started as a rotisserie grill take-out business in the driveway of a house, and over time expanded, in somewhat haphazard fashion, into an actual restaurant. "Authenticity," a hot-button word recently, comes up often in discussions of Pok Pok because (a) Ricker is white; and (b) notwithstanding (a), the food at Pok Pok is regularly praised as being more "authentic" than what you will find at most typical Thai restaurants in the U.S.

The issue of "authenticity" gets a lot of attention lately. Is it "authentic" when Ivan Orkin, a white guy from New York, goes to Japan to open a traditional ramen shop? Is it "authentic" when Grant Achatz and crew set out to do a Thai menu for three months at their everlasting pop-up restaurant, Next? Why d…

Coba-Yakko-San - Cobaya Dinner with Chef Hiro-San

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There is no restaurant I have eaten at more often than Hiro's Yakko-San. I literally can not count the times: for the past five years we've been there probably an average of once a month, but often as frequently as weekly, with Sunday dinner at Yakko-San being something of a family tradition. So yeah, I kind of like it.

Our kids grew up on their chicken katsu and kurobuta pork sausages, later finding their own favorites among the more than 100 items on the menu (for Little Miss F: kimchi tofu, octopus ceviche, seabass miso, lotus root kimpira; for Frod Jr., edamame, salmon onigiri, yakiniku don, shoyu ramen). For years Yakko-San was located in a hole-in-the-wall on Dixie Highway where the waits for tables often flowed out the front door. Recently they moved to a bigger, fancier location on 163rd Street Causeway which has more than enough room for everyone. It also has room to set aside a space for 30 guinea pigs, giving us an opportunity to do a Cobaya dinner there.

The Cobay…

Tasty n Sons - Portland, Oregon

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I love breakfast. For some, the first meal of the day is more about sustenance than savor, but I firmly believe that breakfast is every bit as deserving of attention, every bit as capable of greatness, as any other meal. Generally I don't have much of a sweet tooth, so I don't get overexcited about pancakes or waffles drenched in syrup, but you can stick an egg on just about anything and I'll eat it before noon - or pretty much any other time, for that matter.[1]

The folks at Tasty n Sons are clearly of the same mind. This funky spot in northeast Portland serves up a brunch menu six days a week till 2:30 in the afternoon, and even when they shift to dinner service, they still keep a few "breakfast for dinner" items on the menu. Even the shortened happy hour menu filling the gap in between is still pretty brunch-y. I like their style.

Speaking of style, Tasty - the second restaurant from Chef John Gorham, who opened the well-regarded tapas restaurant Toro Bravo i…

Grüner - Portland, Oregon

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"New Alpine Cuisine" - is that a "thing" yet? If it's not, maybe it should be.[1]

With the meteoric rise of Noma to prominence among most lists of the world's greatest restaurants, there has been plenty of talk of the "New Nordic Cuisine." No doubt, the ultra-local and ultra-seasonal cooking at Noma is far more radical and ambitious than what's going on at Grüner, Chef Christopher Israel's restaurant in downtown Portland, Oregon. But Grüner makes a good argument that "Alpine Cuisine" deserves greater attention.

What Grüner calls "Alpine Cuisine" is the foods of a stretch of Europe including Germany, Austria, Hungary and Romania starting in the Alps, and meandering along the Danube River out to the Black Sea - an area which Chef Israel claims, with only some poetic license, bears a resemblance to the geography of the Pacific Northwest. This is fare that typically is more hearty than haute. While the food at Grüner is no…

Le Pigeon - Portland, Oregon

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Portland has such prodigious natural bounty available to it that creating a fine meal need not be difficult work. With its proximity to both river and sea, there's abundant fresh seafood, and nearby farmlands supply excellent produce. Perhaps as a result, Portland has long been a good food town, but creativity has not generally been its calling card; who needs to be creative when you can so happily subsist like a bear on a regular diet of fresh wild salmon and berries?

When we last visited Portland five years ago, we saw some signs of change. The most interesting meals we had were on the then somewhat uncharted east side of the Willamette River, at ClarkLewis and Gotham Building Tavern, both run at the time by Chef Naomi Pomeroy. So I was intrigued to see during my trip research that Gabriel Rucker, now chef of Le Pigeon, was the sous chef at Gotham back when we had eaten there.

Since opening Le Pigeon, Rucker has been bestowed a Food & Wine "Best New Chefs" reco…

Want a Burger and a Shake with that Pork Bun?

Richard Hales, chef/owner of Sakaya Kitchen, was not in pole position when the Miami food truck trend started. But when he unveiled his Dim Ssam a Gogo truck about a year ago, it quickly rolled to among the front of the pack, mobilizing Sakaya's offerings with some street-friendly contemporary Asian dishes and expanding them with some truck-only items. A few months ago Hales added a second truck, initially dubbed, somewhat uninspiredly, the "Sakaya Kitchen" truck. With a menu that was mostly a short-form version of the regular restaurant menu, the second truck primarily enabled Sakaya to be in two places at once (three, if you count the brick-and-mortar location in Midtown).[*]

Now that's all changed. Hales is rolling out not one, but two new trucks: the "Baketress" and "Burger Cheese Bun."

The "Baketress" will offer "a homey American dessert menu with an old southern soul," meaning soft-serve ice cream, fresh baked pies, made …

Oregon Trail

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Next week we're off to Portland, Oregon and surrounds. We've been a couple times before, but the last visit was roughly five years ago and it will be interesting to see what's new. Many old stalwarts are still around, like Higgins, Paley's Place, and The Heathman. But a couple places that impressed the most when we were last there - ClarkLewis and Gotham Building Tavern - have undergone multiple changes. The former at least seems to maintain some of the spirit of the place I visited in 2006, but the latter is unrecognizable.

In digging back through the archives, my fuzzy memory was happily surprised to see a now-familiar name was associated with both ClarkLewis and Gotham back then - Naomi Pomeroy. Chef Pomeroy, who recently got some extended airtime on Top Chef Masters, now runs Beast, a fixed menu ("substitutions politely declined") affair that has gotten much critical acclaim. And the sous-chef at Gotham Tavern? Gabriel Rucker, now the chef at Le Pigeon a…