The Accidental Palate

After nearly ten wonderful years of editing Northwest Palate magazine in Portland OR, I've handed over the reins and am now enjoying the leisurely (not!), ever-changing (and then some) life of a freelance bon vivant. Hope you enjoy these posts, and if you want to reach me, contact ajabine (at) yahoo (dot) com. Cheers! Angie Jabine

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Appointment in Blood Alley

Fam tours--you've heard of them, right? Short for "familiarization tour," they're expenses-paid trips for journalists to see what a place is "really like." I'm not much of a world traveler but I've been to British Columbia twice now on fam tours (and a few times on my own), and I'm going to tell you about my just-concluded four-day fam tour weekend in Vancouver, B.C.

Day one. I love flying in the low-flying turboprop Dash 8s that really let me see the terrain instead of the clouds. I thought I knew my Cascade peaks but there seems to be at least one more than I know—I see Hood, St. Helens, Adams, Rainier and yet another one. Hmm.

Long wait at customs getting in—flight arrives around 2:30pm and between customs lines and the half-hour wait for an Airporter bus (around $13 one way) I don’t get to Fairmont Hotel Vancouver until after 4pm. The wonderful Tourism BC welcome kit includes a bottle of Jackson Triggs Chardonnay. The room welcome includes a plate of chocolate-covered strawberries, shortbread cookies (I guess they’d call them biscuits, this being Canada), and a little box made of chocolate, with handmade jelly candies inside. Ah, the little touches!

Minutes later, I meet up with Tourism Vancouver's Emily Armstrong and my fellow guests in the lobby and we walk to the historic nearby neighborhood of Gastown. Up a seedy cobble alley--Blood Alley, according to the street sign--is Salt Tasting Room and its new underground Salt Cellar, which I love on first sight. Long wooden table. Display wine case with chalkboard notes on some of the notable wines including, no kidding, a Doobie Brothers label. There's also bags of dried apples and lots of hanging charcuterie, functional yet aesthetically pleasing.

Proprietor Kurtis Kolt offers up some Gruner Veltliner and a BC red. Such a simple concept for the menu--it's basically charcuterie, bread, cheese, and condiments such as quince paste--but the combos all taste delicious. My favorite was rabbit confit with dried cherries. My first restaurant of the weekend, and it feels more like the DIY style of inner east-side Portland than any other place we are going to visit on this trip.

A short walk in Gastown's zigzag cobbled streets leads us to Cobre, which seems like it should mean Cobra but actually means Copper. Their PR rep is Nancy Wong, whom I’ve corresponded with for years but never met. Instead of being Asian Canadian she is European and memorably dressed with accents of houndstooth in her belt and shoes. Reminds me a wee bit of Lucille Ball. She shows us to a chic little downstairs lounge and points out all the subtle little accents of copper throughout the restaurant, even in the textured wallpaper.

At our meal, we tell her how we enjoyed Salt and she says it has spawned home “Salt” parties where the host supplies one or two components—say, the wine and the charcuterie—and the guests bring the third, such as fresh bread or B.C. cheeses. Comparatively inexpensive and small effort for all.

Other seatmates are the above-mentioned Emily Armstrong, Katie Schneider from Calgary, and chocolate writer Emily Stone, who is vaguely from Pittsburgh (currently) by way of New York and, for a while, Guatemala. Later, the BC gals swap places and Josie sits down by me. I had met her in Portland at the University Club for Canada Tourism's annual Canada dinner. She was very quiet that night but tonight I learn more about her—her husband is the financial director for the company that manages Barenaked Ladies, Dido and I think Sarah McLachlan.

Dinner is a series of sampler plates from Chef Stuart Irving, ranging from tuna ceviche on a potato platform, to chupe (a potato-based peasant soup), to a wonderful Ibarra chocolate souffle.

From there we walked to the Vancouver Convention and Exhibition Centre, home of the 30th annual Vancouver Playhouse Wine Festival. Pretty darn big, with a large space set aside for this year’s theme country, Italy. I ran into one of my favorite food writers, Tim Pawsey, almost instantly, along with a very handsome and radiantly smiling friend of his, an actress. He led us to taste this and that but truthfully I had used up my powers of discerning, shall we say, fine liquid distinctions, at least for that day.

Back at the Hotel Vancouver, I had my lights out by 11:30pm, the better to prepare for the next day's amusements. I would have slept like the dead except that the room next door started a party at 4am. I don’t mean a few minutes of noisy sex, I mean a full-on PARTY, with drinking and yakking and cackling laughter. I called the front desk and banged on the wall, but all in all, the festivities went on for an hour. Thought about crashing the party myself, seeing as I was thoroughly awake, but settled for turning on the light and reading Anna Karenina. Forget about that chick who throws herself under a train. If you want to read what Tolstoy thought about how to run a farm, this is the book.

More to come!

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Driving to the Moon—and The View Point Inn

Sometimes everything works out perfectly—like the other night.

We were signed up for a Sokol Blosser wine dinner at The View Point Inn above the Columbia Gorge on Wednesday, February 20—the same night as the total eclipse of the moon.

I missed last summer’s lunar eclipse because it was inconveniently “scheduled” for the wee hours of the night. I stumbled out of bed and out the front door around 4am and by then the show was almost over—anyway, the sky was overcast.

But not on the 20th. Despite the wet forecast, it was a clear evening. We drove over the Fremont Bridge from Northwest Portland and then east on I-84 into the Columbia Gorge, all of which gave us a perfect view of the fat full moon as the earth’s shadow gradually drew a reddish veil across it. We left the freeway at the Corbett exit, headed up the hill and onto the old Scenic Highway to Larch Mountain Road. By the time we pulled onto The View Point Inn’s gravel parking lot, the moon was completely covered with a fog of amber-tinted alabaster.

The View Point Inn is a splendid small mansion with the steeped pitched roof of a Swiss chalet and a lot of exterior Tudor-style details. It was built in 1925, and under the ownership of a German named William Moessner who had been the head chef at Portland’s Benson Hotel, it served as a stopping point for some glamorous visitors—Franklin Roosevelt, Charlie Chaplin, and the royalty of Hollywood and Europe.

In the past several years, its new owners, Geoff Thompson and Angelo Simione, have marketed it as a wedding venue, with a suite of guest rooms upstairs and a spacious, meticulously restored dining room with a stone “Count Rumford” fireplace and bar on the main floor.

Our table offered an expansive view of Vancouver and Portland lights to the east and we could see (though not hear) the planes taking off from Portland International Airport. Our dinner, created by the Inn’s chef, Matthew Crone, was for the most part very well paired with the wines from Sokol Blosser, the venerable Willamette Valley winery.

We started with a smoked trout “pizza” whose crust was more of a puff pastry, with velouté, watercress and truffle. This was paired with SB’s 2006 Rosé of Pinot Noir, as was the slow-roasted tomato soup. The next wine was SB’s cash cow, their signature Evolution, which is always a blend of nine white varietals. With it came a pleasingly different salad of locally grown “ice lettuce” (which may be another way of saying “iceberg”), with duck prosciutto, crispy cracklings, and a bit of gelled spiced cider.

I think at this point we stood up and wandered into the chilly but not freezing February air to see how the moon was faring. The eclipse was almost over and we sat back down again to our diver scallop with a bit of braised pork belly and cornbread pudding, served with Sokol Blosser’s 2006 Estate Pinot Gris. This is their first all-estate Pinot Gris, and there were fewer than 200 cases made, so you’re unlikely to run across it unless you were lucky enough to taste it at the winery.

The conversation moved from lunar events to the books we were reading as we tucked into our main dish, a tournedo of pork en croute, served with the winery's 2005 Dundee Hills Pinot Noir. For dessert, a trio of chocolate confections, we were served the Meditrina Red Blend, but Sokol Blosser’s savvy regional sales manager Lee Medina realized this was a misfire, culinarily speaking, and brought out the company's Riesling dessert wine instead.

I don’t know if I’ll ever spend the night at the View Point Inn—its upstairs suite of rooms with their Victorian-style furnishings seem best configured for a wedding party—but I’ll definitely be back to sample Matthew Crone’s weekend brunch, which will be a great way to start—or conclude—a morning’s hike in the Columbia Gorge.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Guest Post: Love is a Restaurant Battlefield

This post comes courtesy of Northwest Palate editorial intern Peter Szymczak, who has just completed his studies at Oregon Culinary Institute. He’s dividing his required OCI “externship” between our magazine and a well-known Portland restaurant.

Valentine’s Day is right up there with Mother’s Day as one of the Hallmark holidays that instill fear in the hearts of food-service workers. In a nutshell, stakes are high.

From the opening of their doors to well past closing time, most restaurants will serve a continuous stream of diners who have heightened expectations that Valentine’s should be a night to remember — an aphrodisiac dining experience that will spark the evening’s passion to follow.

Restaurateurs also have high expectations: Valentine’s Day can be one of the highest-grossing days of the year, with the possible added payoff — if the staff delivers a memorable experience, if the food is cooked perfectly, and if every desire is attended to by the wait staff – that diners can be converted into regular patrons.

This year, Valentine’s Day fell on a Thursday, a day I don’t normally work. Chef asked if I could come in since the restaurant was booked solid with reservations and the crew was already down a dishwasher. “Count me in,” I said, sounding like a soldier who doesn’t know he’s volunteering for a suicide mission.

I arrived for my shift just as the doors were opening. The moment I walked in, it hit me like a slope-sided stainless sauté pan: this feeling, call it instinct or premonition, that tonight was going to be brutal. I exchanged some brusque hellos with the wait staff and my fellow line cooks, strapped on an apron, and grabbed a couple of side towels. I prayed silently to the restaurant gods for the night to go smoothly.

The first tickets of the evening started to print out, but everyone was behind on their prep. Chef had created a special menu for the evening. “It was supposed to be easy,” he humbly remarked. But what had looked good on paper was proving to be more difficult to execute. The line cooks were unfamiliar with the recipes, cooking times were different, and they weren’t sure how to plate certain items.

I jumped into triage mode. I went down the line asking the cooks what they needed. “Make some sauce!” “Bring me salad greens!” “I forgot the cucumbers. I can’t believe I forgot to dice the &*%$ cucumbers!” With my orders, I hustled to the back-of-the-kitchen prep area and made or retrieved the items needed and brought them out to the line.

On one trip back, the pantry cook was struggling with shucking oysters. We don’t normally have oysters on the menu, but since they are de rigueur for Valentine’s Day, we were serving them tonight.

As anyone who’s ever shucked an oyster knows, they are difficult and dangerous to open – and even more so during the demands of restaurant service. For every oyster the pantry cook successfully shucked, the shell of the next one would shatter, or her knife would slip and she’d cut herself, a pain made worse by the acidic mignonette that made her cuts burn. An order of a half-dozen oysters was taking her five minutes or more to shuck and plate, which was too much time, given the other orders that were piling up on her line. Miraculously, she kept her cool and got the oysters plated.

After about an hour of finishing up last-minute prep, Chef said to me, rather sternly, “Don’t leave the line again.” The window for completing prep had officially closed; from now on, he wanted me to assist directly on the line for the rest of service. We were, as they say, “in the weeds.”

During the rush of service, time just flies by, punctuated now and again by memorable events – like when somebody shrieks. It wasn’t a customer, thankfully: it turned out to be one of the waiters, who was holding a plate up high and run-walking to the back of the kitchen. He threw the plate down on the prep table and a crowd of cooks gathered around. “It’s right there,” he said, pointing at an oyster. We stood aghast at the sight of something squirming around – a parasitic worm in the oyster. “It was standing up looking at the customer,” the waiter said, using his index finger to mimic the worm’s movement.

“86 oysters,” Chef said, telling the waiters that the oysters were now off the menu. The pantry cook sighed with relief.

The restaurant has an open kitchen, which affords diners a view of their meals being cooked. At one point, a lady wearing a silky red blouse came up to the line, pointed at a plate of food, and asked Chef, “Is that going to be my meal? Can I take a photo of it?” Before Chef could respond, she drew her digital camera and – FLASH – shot her photo, blinding the Chef. She returned to her table, squealing with glee.

The open kitchen also affords the cooks a view of the dining room floor. During a rare lull in the service, I scanned the room and saw many people laughing, eating, drinking, and generally enjoying their night out. But I also saw stoic faces on some of the couples. Were they unhappy with their dining experience, or just unhappy in love?

I asked one of the waitresses how it was going out there and she said, “Eh, Valentine’s, shmalentine’s.”

The rest of the evening was a blur at best. When we finally served the last plate of food, I asked Chef if I could leave the line: I had to go to the bathroom! You don’t think about it, but when you’re on the line, unless you really have to go, you don’t… go to the bathroom, that is. I stepped into the bathroom and was immediately struck by the image of myself in the mirror. My work uniform had never been so dirty. Spatters of sauce covered my chest. I had new burns on my hands and arms and my hat was soaked with sweat.

Returning to the line for cleanup, I asked Chef for his thoughts on the night’s service. “We never got our feet under us,” he said. “From the get-go we were behind and never made up the slack. Tonight was certainly trying by any measure.” Then he added, “But you graduated tonight. Now it’s time to go to graduate school.”

I took that to mean I’ll probably be working Mother’s Day this year.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The Premier Cru That Wasn't

I spent all of last Saturday shopping, cleaning, and cooking in preparation for a dinner and overnight visit from our friends Mike and Joy, who live on a chestnut farm outside of Sheridan, Oregon.

I was really looking forward to our evening together, but my wine-loving pals will understand perfectly when I say that one of the things I was anticipating most eagerly was that I was finally going to pop open the first—and only—Premier Cru wine I’ve ever owned.

It was an NV Larmandier-Bernier Premier Cru Blanc de Blancs, to be exact, from a biodynamic producer in Champagne. Real Champagne from France! Surely it would redefine my entire experience of sparkling wine, a drink I’m inordinately fond of to begin with.

Being a cheerleader for all things local (in my case, the Pacific Northwest), I mostly drink wines from Oregon and Washington. This treasured Champagne was a gift from a Portland wine merchant who sold me the case of (Oregon) Domaine Meriwether bubbly that my husband and I served at our wedding in 2004. We’d been waiting more than three years for a fine enough occasion to open up the real Champagne.

For you non-wine geeks, NV means non-vintage, which is very common among Champagnes—the makers strive to minimize vintage variations by combining wine lots from more than one year. As for “Premier Cru,” it’s usually translated as “First Growth,” and it alludes to the vineyards that France, in its almost comically fierce dedication to wine classifications, has determined are la crème de la crème--the very best.

Firm in my belief that sparking wine goes with everything, I made polenta con maiale, a dish of polenta with pork braised in wine. It’s a great, easy recipe from La Buca restaurant in Portland. By the way, the recipe calls for pork butt, which the butcher at Zupan’s told me is another term for pork shoulder—I ask you, does that make any sense?

My husband Scott had to work that morning, supposedly just until noon, and he called at noon to say they’d hit some snags and he wouldn’t be home until after 6pm. Great—we were expecting Mike and Joy at 4pm. I called Mike with Scott’s updated plan and the dinner menu, only to learn that Joy doesn’t eat meat. The horror! But no worries—I had a spinach salad and bread on the menu, so I added some roasted carrots for insurance. With macadamia nuts and walnuts and a few nice wedges of cheese, no one would go hungry.

The enticing Premier Cru, meanwhile, was up from the basement and chilling in the fridge. Mike and Joy arrived around 5pm laden with gifts—a lovely maple burl and a slab of walnut for Scott (a weekend carpenter), eighteen eggs of all shades and sizes from their specialty chickens, and a blue hubbard squash so big that it would take a saw to cut up. We talked about chickens, nibbled at the cheese, stirred the polenta, and waited for Scott. And waited. At 6pm I said, Let’s open the bubbly! No, no, no, they protested—such special wine—Scott will be here soon! And he was.

By 6:40pm we were sitting around the table with our dinner and, finally, four flutes of real, honest-to-God Premier Cru Blanc de Blanc Champagne. We toasted one another’s health. We sipped. It tasted…terrible. Just terrible, like a wet dog sitting on moldy newspapers under a dockside pier. I’ve never in my life had a bottle of bubbly that was afflicted by cork taint. That couldn’t be the problem! Maybe it’ll just blow off, I said lamely.

No such luck. Minutes after our guests had tactfully changed the subject, I was still glaring at my glass and feeling robbed of my Premier Cru experience. In my mind, the Blanc de Blanc Champagne was now the blankety-blank, no-good, %#*&@?*! Champagne.

There was nothing I could have done differently to keep the wine from being spoiled by a tainted cork. So what’s the moral of this story? There is no moral, except, perhaps, that when it comes to entertaining, you should always have a Plan B. Plan B in our case was to say “C’est la vie,” and enjoy one another’s company. Which we did.


Monday, January 28, 2008

Jack scores a ten (01)

As every foodie knows, it’s become a rite of passage for ambitious chefs to cook a dinner at the James Beard House in Manhattan. An invitation to this hallowed hall of gastronomy means cooking for some of the most jaded palates on the planet, and no chef would dare bring anything less than his or her A+ game.

Last Monday night, I was lucky enough to sample a repeat of the James Beard Dinner prepared by Chef Jack Yoss of Portland’s ten01, and I have to say, he did Portland proud.

Because a trip to the James Beard House can be a spendy endeavor, restaurants try to get all the mileage they can from the experience. That means making nice with as many New York media outlets as you can. Adam Berger, the owner of ten01, tells me that spent quite a while shooting Chef Jack at work, and there should be a segment about it on the website in early February—I’ll keep you posted. There were interviews with Food Arts and Wine Spectator, too.

At ten01’s James Beard dinner in Portland, just about everything was flat-out delicious. Bear with me because I’m going to regale you with a few highlights, starting with:

The bluefin tuna sashimi and hamachi tartare
, served with yuzu kosho, beet chips, and balsamic brown butter. One thing Jack Yoss seems to excel at is balance: flavor balance, texture balance. The secret weapon in this dish, aside from the impeccably fresh fish, was the yuzu kosho, an addictive Japanese condiment of yuzu zest, chile, and salt—yuzu being a Japanese citrus fruit. The beet chips supplied the note of crisp texture; the brown butter the umami (richness) to complement the lean tuna and hamachi. One of my tablemates said she’d had this dish at ten01 before. If you ever see it there, order it!

The same goes for the next course, a sweet onion and cauliflower soup, punctuated by a dollop of spicy lamb sausage with bits of golden raisin, chopped almond, and curry oil. Again, a wonderful textural contrast, with the almost crunchy lamb bits heightening the honest vegetable flavor of each creamy spoonful of soup.

Then came a perfectly seared sea scallop, surrounded by stewed Willapa Bay oysters, tender buttered leeks, and a drizzle of tarragon oil. On top was a spoonful of trout caviar—golden, pearl-sized beads as fun to bite into as they were pretty on the plate.

Quite honestly at this point, I could have happily retired from my meal. Each dish had been accompanied by a white wine from the Willamette Valley’s St. Innocent Winery, starting with all-but-unavailable 2000 Brut, and moving into a 2006 Freedom Hill Vineyard Pinot Blanc, a 2005 Shea Vineyard Pinot Gris, and a 2005 Anden Vineyard (formerly Seven Springs Vineyard) Chardonnay, Each wine had been a crisp and refreshing partner to its course-mate.

But such is not the way of a James Beard wine dinner. Just as St. Innocent president and winemaker Mark Vlossak told us diners that night, “My father always said a wine’s first duty is to be red,” no such feast is complete without its red meat course. And so we were each treated to roasted lamb chops with butternut squash, honey-glazed parsnips, spiced walnuts, and Pinot Noir-lamb jus—and two vineyard-designated 2005 St. Innocent Pinot Noirs. To my palate, it was all a bit of a jump, but I must say most of the plates I saw were cleared away with neat, clean bones on them.

Where I really would have drawn the line, I think, was with the dessert, a panna cotta made with the deliciously unctuous Rivers Edge chèvre, made 10 miles inland from the Oregon coast at Newport. Accompanied by poached Mt. Hood pears and a star anise red wine reduction, it was a special dish indeed, but after this juggernaut of a meal, it was simply too rich for my blood. I think I could have made a complete lunch of it—would have, given a chance. As it is, my lamb chops came home in a box.

I’ll let you know about the segment as soon as I hear about it.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Guest Post: Taste B.C!

This post comes courtesy of Mireille Sauvé, a Vancouver, B.C.-based wine writer and proprietor of The Wine Umbrella consulting firm. To reach her, email Thanks, Mireille!

Whew! I just got in from a walking tour of the entire province of British Columbia and are my feet sore! Okay, so I didn’t tour the province physically, but rather it was a virtual tour through B.C.’s bounty of food and wine at the first annual Taste B.C. event held at Vancouver’s Hyatt Regency Hotel.

I didn’t know about this event until about a month ago when I walked into a Liberty wine store. I saw this vibrant painting on a postcard with the heading “Taste B.C.” and, thinking that sounded right up my alley, I picked up the card. In chatting with the store clerk, I learned that this event would have been titled “Liberty Wine Merchants’ 14th Annual B.C. Wine and Oyster Festival,” were it not for some problems that had occurred with the oysters in the past. (I didn’t ask for the sordid details as I find that oyster stories in general usually fall into the category of “over-sharing.”)

So, what is now the first annual Taste B.C. event turned out to be just delightful, and I personally applaud the change of name, as along with it came format changes in the event itself. You see, I have attended the Oyster Festival in years past and, as much fun as it was on a consistent basis, there was always a horrendously long lineup for the oysters and, let’s face it, there are only so many wines that you can drink with oysters without feeling like you’ve bitten into the foil lid of a sardine can. Add to that the fact that B.C. moves more and more into the red-wine-making scene with every vintage, and I say it was high time for a change.

This year’s event featured everything made in B.C. that you’d want to put in your mouth. From fruit juice to sake, from crackers to meatballs, from beer to wine, this festival was in every way a celebration of all things edible in B.C.

Highlights included Artisan Sakemaker at Granville Island and its absolutely memorable Junmai Ginjo Nawa Genhu (I don’t speak much Japanese so I hope I’ve got this right). The brew’s sweet nose smelled of scented brown rice and the sake offered a clean texture with white peach and licorice on the palate. All this made right here in Vancouver, and for only $25 a split–I can’t wait to get on my gumboots and pop over for a tour of this place.

There were a few restaurants at Taste B.C., too, but with very small food bites. My favorites were the Fanny Bay oysters from Rodney’s Oyster House and Rogers’ Chocolates’ spicy Fire Bars. I liked the sunchoke pannacotta with albacore tartare that FigMint made, too, but it was a real challenge to find a suitable wine to drink with it, as the food’s umami flavor altered nearly every dry wine to taste sweet. I ended up enjoying it with Quails’ Gate’s 2006 Chenin Blanc, so all was well on my palate at the end of the search.

Being the wino that I am, I visited more than my share of wine booths at the event, too, and here are a few wines that really stood out:

Little Straw Vineyards 2006 Old Vines Auxerrois. A distinct kumquat aroma is what lured me into this wine. Sourced from 30-year-old vines, the concentration of fruit in this wine is superb. Floral aromas wrap around white peach and nectarine flavours while that kumquat acidity carried through the length of the palate. Delicious and a mere $15cdn a bottle–how’s that for the perfect apéritif!

Dunham and Froese Pinot Blanc. A full body is what struck me most about this wine, then it dawned on me: it tastes like Alsace! So rarely do we see good Alsatian Pinot Blanc in this neck of the woods that I nearly forgot what it tasted like–and here I was tasting a fine example, only it was from B.C! Excellent weight supported flavors of white peach and chalky flint with a charming white peppery spice at the finish. A mere $16cdn is what they were asking for this gem of a wine.

Tantalus 2006 Riesling. It sells for $20 a bottle and what a deal! Bracing acidity complements an abundance of orchard fruit flavors while a mineral quality to the wine reminds me of the riesling grape, making this a very food-friendly wine that screams of B.C.’s terroir.

Golden Mile Cellars 2006 5th Element Red. An almost completely traditional blend of Bordeaux varietals. Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, and Cabernet Franc combine to make this wine, with a bit of Syrah thrown in for good measure (that’s what I like about winemaker Michael Bartier – he’s not confined by tradition). The wine is full-bodied and complex with flavors of cocoa, black cherry, and vanilla supported by vigorous tannins. I’ll add this one to my cellar at $35cdn a bottle.

Of course, I couldn’t leave the tasting without visiting the winery that everyone was talking about as “the most expensive” at the tasting–Blackwood Lane. I tasted the flagship wine, the 2004 Alliance. At $54cdn a bottle, I have to concede that it was well worth it–a Bordeaux blend featuring a full body, good structure and complexity, and rich dark fruit flavors backed with a hint of anise.

While visiting Blackwood Lane’s booth, I noticed some packaging that I really liked on their Pinot Noir blend so I asked what the name meant. “Vicuña Roja,” as it turns out, translates to mean “A Fine Red Llama.” Isn’t it funny what some people will name their wine? --Mireille Sauvé

Monday, January 14, 2008

Discoveries Rocking My World

Here are a few things I’ve discovered in the mere two months since my last posting. And when I say “discovered,” I don’t mean I’m the first to make any of these discoveries. Al Gore never claimed he invented the World Wide Web, either. I just mean, I didn’t realize this stuff until now.

I discovered that one of the advantages of a wood-fired pizza oven is that it can go on baking pizza during a power outage. My little group was one of several that retreated into Southeast Portland’s Nostrana restaurant during last December's windstorm to enjoy an oven-blistered margharita pizza by candlelight.

I discovered what galub jamon ought to taste like, thanks to the one served at the East India Co., a handsome new Indian restaurant just behind the Central Library in downtown Portland. A little ball of fried sweet dough drizzled in a light, fragrant, cardamom-laced syrup, it reminded me of French toast when it’s made with challah. I’m jonesing for it this very minute.

I discovered that I really like pastrami—as long as it’s the pastrami served at Portland’s Kenny & Zuke’s deli. I like it best on rye, but an added slice of pastrami also brings a cheeseburger to new heights of indulgence.

I discovered – and probably the entire industrialized world knows this already – that you can bake a potato in a microwave oven in 15-20 minutes, and as long as you don’t over-zap it there is no discernable difference from an oven-baked potato.

I discovered that I really enjoy staying at the Skamania Lodge in the Columbia Gorge. Just outside of Stevenson, WA, the lodge sits in a gorgeous mist-laden setting, the halls and rooms are filled with quintessential Northwest art collected by sharp-eyed developer John Gray, and the great room is anchored by a three-story fireplace I could loll in front of all day long. I also really enjoy the cheese blintzes the lodge serves at its all-you-can-eat Sunday brunch.

I discovered that the quaint little toll booth at the Oregon end of the Bridge of the Gods (Cascade Locks exit off I84 East, one dollar, please) is decorated with Christmas lights all through December. This two-lane bridge, by the way, delivers an awe-inspiring view of the Columbia River Gorge.

I discovered that the U.S. Olympic Committee wants OLYMPIC Cellars on the OLYMPIC Peninsula to stop marketing its wine outside of the Pacific Northwest. The USOC, in its OLYMPIAN wisdom, has been pestering all sorts of businesses in the Pacific Northwest with all sorts of utterly unreasonable demands. Perhaps also we need to rename the OLYMPIC National Forest as well as OLYMPIA, Washington's state capital? Read all about it in the OLYMPIC Peninsula Daily.

I discovered on Christmas Day that I CAN fit 10 people around my dining table, as long as at least four of them are madly in love. My husband and I vowed never again to serve a dinner that requires the complete attention of two cooks for the full hour prior to eating (not to mention two days of prep). We will probably forget said vow some time in the next 350 days.