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

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.