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Eaten, Barely Blogged: Oregon, Better Late Than Never

 

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Mae. I was reluctant to eat at a Southern food pop-up in Portland. Who needs it? (I would be more interested in a Pacific Northwest pop-up on the South except that there isn’t a distinct cuisine to speak of.) But it was one of the highlights of my trip; very vegetable-focused, light when it needed to be (chilled zucchini & buttermilk soup with sweet pepper relish, cherry tomato, and sumac-toasted pecans and lingerie beans, flame nectarine, pickled chantrelles, purslane with brown butter vinaigrette) hefty when it was required (chicken fried in three fats–no idea which). And I will never again underestimate the power of biscuits slathered with Duke’s mayonnaise and topped with nothing more than heirloom tomatoes and bourbon barrel-smoked salt. At $65 (suggested donation) for ten courses (was too busy eating to take photos of them all) and BYOB I would consider it a great bargain, though in Portland that means you’ll be sharing a table with some wealthy middle-aged Bergen County transplants and siblings from Eastern Oregon of mysterious means (and a dubious relationship) one whose child with a septum piercing will be going to Harvard in the fall. I was the only teenager-free diner at the table (even my boyfriend has a daughter going to the cool downtown public high school, which everyone approved of) and when the sister from Pendleton made everyone state their favorite movie, and wouldn’t let up after I demurred, I was like maybe I’m a poor conversationalist? No matter, when there’s pickled ramp pimento cheese to be eaten.

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Nodoguru. $125 ticketed omakase that sells out in minutes. It was all right. Something about it felt off for Portland, not that I’m critiquing quality or creativity.  I just couldn’t get excited because I’m a jaded monster.

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Pizza Vendor. Totally the break-out hit of this trip. With its straighforward name and no reason to go unless you happen to already be in Scappoose identity, it suited my needs just fine. It’s the childhood pizza of your dreams, half-and-half if you please, lots of cheese, thin, chewy, and puffy cornmeal-dusted crust, except that now you can get pitchers of beer instead of root beer and I still can’t figure out how what seemed like six-pints worth of some local IPA was only $6.99. Bon Appetit had recently declared Pizza Jerk, a take on East Coast pizzerias, one of America’s Best New Restaurants despite it being closed due to a fire. Magically, it reopened two days before I was to head back to NYC. I had planned to hit it on the way to the airport but went back to Pizza Vendor instead.

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Hat Yai. It’s no secret that I’m a fan of Portland Thai food. There are all sorts of interesting niches being filled despite the Thai population being practically nonexistent. The shtick is Southern Thai in a fast-casual format with cute branding. Fried chicken, lightly battered in seasoned rice flour encrusted with fried shallots and sweet chile sauce is featured and I tried a combo with a big buttery roti and chicken curry, not exactly a light lunch. I kind of love that there are six straight liquors for $6, soda an extra $1.50 (though I’m sure that’s considered overpriced since a majority of cocktails in Portland are still sub-$10) as I’ve been on a tequila and soda kick (so I can pretend I’m not a lame as a vodka soda-drinker). Sometimes I think I will move back to Portland and then I see middle-aged foodie dudes with goatees setting up elaborate photo shoots (was under the impression this was a blogger of some consequence) who pronounce prix fixe, pree fixay, and I’m all nope, I would just be too mean for this town.

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Urdaneta. Stopped in for a snack because I was wandering around the area and recognized the name as something newish and ended up ruining my appetite for the $5 Little Bird happy hour double brie burger I had planned on later. Complimentary pimenton-spiked chickpeas and a sweetbread-topped pintxo would’ve suited my needs fine. The tortilla was substantial, gilded with Idiazabal and sherry aioli, and I couldn’t stop eating it.

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Pine State Biscuits. I’ve been before. It was close to my Airbnb.

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Giant Drive-In. There’s a shingled A-frame practically in the backyard of the apartment complex my mom and stepdude are now managing. No, it’s not a destination but I would recommend the big, fun (Hawaiian!) burgers and homemade shakes even if you lived a little more than walking distance.

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Cedar Plank Buffet. We gathered 10 family members for a Sunday brunch buffet at Spirit Mountain Casino because nothing is too good for my mom’s 66th birthday. Fried oysters, smoked salmon, biscuits and gravy, lemon meringue pie, french toast, and bacon is just all a part of the deal.
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Mountain View Sports Bar. Oh, and a late night sports reuben that I carted around from my mom’s to Scappoose because I’m gross and can’t toss food. I can’t remember if this was before or after the mushrooms and Keno (my sister is a hippie) but it was ok because we stayed overnight, no driving.

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Coyote Joe’s. Weird that I would encounter biscuits three times in two days because biscuits aren’t particularly Northwesty.

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San Dune Pub. An oyster po’ boy with local Willapa Bay oysters. See? New Orleans appropriation.

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Little Big Burger. I completely forgot I ate this.

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An Xuyen. Banh mi, only $1.49 more than the ’90s. Best sandwich under $3. The owner/cashier was so damn chatty I thought the line of customers behind me were about to kill us, yet when I looked up no one gave a shit.

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Pho Van. Part of a mini Vietnamese empire. Solid pho. No, I did not make it to Rose VL Deli.

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Shut Up and Eat. My grandma is into this food truck-turned-brick-and-mortar restaurant and I’m half-convinced it’s simply because of the name. The Italian sandwich contained a little more roughage than I’m accustomed to.

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Ixtapa. The waiter was all, “I put habaneros in your food,” I guess to get a reaction, but I was all “ok…” That’s humor in Scappoose. The combos are crazy cheap and you won’t feel weird for ordering a chimichanga. That’s all you need to know.

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Shari’s. The last two times I’ve been (2x in one year is more than I’d been in two decades) they did not have my first choice or second choice pie. YMMV. They always have tots, however.

 

Thoughts No One Asked for On Two Things I Read Related to Bon Appetit Two Weekends Ago

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I still remember the first time I saw that photo in Bon Appétit of a line of beautiful people patiently waiting outside a low-lying, barely marked building, a tree blooming out front. It was a spoon-fed fantasy — that you, too, could be one of the good-looking regulars — and I wanted all of it.

Me too, despite being over two years ago, because two of those “beautiful people” were women not being skinny, something always surprising to see in a lifestyle publication not specifically featuring a larger woman because they have to i.e. she is being profiled. Interestingly, the image on bonappetit.com has been cropped to erase one offender (the other was already hidden behind a pole).

* * *

meehan

This wasn’t so much reading–if you call tiled blurbs and captions reading–as page-skimming and absorbing, though that’s all it takes to have an “It Me” moment with Peter Meehan. Crab rangoon is my favorite junky snack food in the whole world, and the only dish I miss when not doing a traditional Thanksgiving is the stuffing (ok, and pecan pie but there are no guarantees there will be a pecan pie).

Newborn: 969 NYC Coffee

Tuna, salmon, shrimp, and pork...you're covered.

Tuna, salmon, shrimp, and pork…you’re covered.

A mostly Japanese cafe (deli sandwiches are in the display case) with no seeming awareness of matcha’s trendiness (right up there with ube, one might say) or desire to convey its raison d’être with its name recently appeared off Roosevelt Avenue selling heart-shaped onigiri (only $2.50), tempura, miso soup, and green tea beverages. There is even outdoor seating, an anomaly in the neighborhood shared only by The Arepa Lady.

Ok,  Jackson Heights has never been known for its beauty.

Ok, Jackson Heights has never been known for its al fresco beauty.

The last thing I would expect around these parts is a cafe selling rice balls (take that back–dry-aged burgers or grain bowls would be less expected) and it may have to find its groove.

“Cafe con leche?” said one older woman to her friend as they noticed the new awning, deciding if they should go in. “Japonés?” They kept walking.

Being close to the 82nd Street subway station, I could see it working for a morning coffee or tea and a snack. I wouldn’t mind some sweets like daifuku or even a selection of Pocky and Japanese Kit Kats for beginners (green tea and sweet potato).

969 NYC Coffee * 37-61 80th St., Jackson Heights, NY

pauglina

Bonus newborn: Pauglina, a tasteful and luxurious shop like you’d find along the main strip in Hudson, NY, niche and not for townies, is a surprising entrant. Mostly store, there is a small cafe in the back with counter seating and stools, hence a mention here. They’re selling pastries from Lety’s, a nod to keeping it local. I didn’t try anything, but everyone–owners and customers–was friendly and excited for something new in the neighborhood, G word or not. (I’m not anti-gentrification in non-alienating doses, but don’t even get me started on the use of hipster to describe anything you don’t like, i.e. Facebook comments and message boards about anything new that’s not a 99-cent or mobile phone store. Only in Queens could  Latino couples, well-dressed middle-aged gay dads, and imported incense and artful floral arrangements [triple newborn: Tilde, a floral pop-up showcasing creative bouquets inside a decades-old floral store] be characterized as hipster.)

 

Shovel Time: Tito Rad’s

threeshovelMuch like the real world, the food world can be a confusing place. A quick skim through Twitter (well, my Twitter feed) will often mention the same subject framed multiple ways, interpreting ingredients or dishes as a new trend or old hat depending on the source. And this really only stands out to me when the disparity involves a pet interest of mine, like, say, Filipino food (I’ve always been a champion of this chronic underdog cuisine and swore it was going to blow up in NYC around 2012 when Maharlika, Talde, and Pig & Khao were fresh on the scene) which intersects with my blue/purple food mania, and then I get antsy. 

titoradsIn the same few weeks, I attended a Queens Dinner Club event at Tito Rad’s (awesome name and logo) where ube ice cream seemed like a novelty for people who love trying new food enough to come from all parts of NYC and beyond to Sunnyside  on a weeknight and Mic, one of countless millennial-focused sites that seems no different from any other site, posted an article titled LOL “Everything you need to know about ube — the purple yam that’s more than a hipster trend.” (In the past few months, other headlines, blessedly hipster-free, read like: “What You Need to Know About Ube, the Filipino Ingredient Invading the Dessert World,” “Is Ube Filipino America’s Breakout Food?” “Why ube is our new yam.” )

So, is the Filipino purple yam hot shit Instagram-bait or an exotic tuber that you’ve never heard of?

Tell me it doesn’t matter. It’s ok. I was going to “Barely Blog” this but now I’ve gone on too long to lump Tito Rad’s in with anyone else.

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Newborn: Sac’s Place

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So, Jackson Heights finally got good pizza. Not a Motorino or even a Milktooth. No brussels sprouts or negronis–are you insane? Believe me, I’m good with grandma slices, garlic knots, and meatball heroes, the sort of classics you take for granted in many New York neighborhoods. This is Sac’s, a new branch of a popular Astoria Italian restaurant that recently opened a block from my apartment, which is to say in the Latino section of Jackson Heights sitting among two of the best Uruguayan bakeries. The world needs empanadas and calzones, though. 

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It feels more like a takeout counter operation, though there are eight tables configured in twos and fours, and more substantial entree specials, like the lasagna (cheese or meat) and wild mushroom ravioli announced out front on one of my visits.

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So far, I’ve tried a few slices, a pepperoni roll that was nearly hefty as a calzone, and a whole pie. The “mama,” simple with full moons of fresh mozzarella and basil atop what read as a zippy sauce, chunky with San Marzano tomatoes, and tart. (I say “read as” because lately tomatoes, even roasted grape tomatoes which barely qualify as tomatoes, taste acidic to me and I’m not sure if that’s accurate or something I’ve done to my palate with new prescription drugs.) and a white slice, creamier and milder, obviously, which I liked well enough to order as a whole pie with sweet Italian sausage (ground up and blobby not firm and sliced, a surprise) another time.

Unsurprisingly, the Jackson Heights doesn’t have a coal oven that lends that trademark char to the thin crust. Here, it’s a little floppier. No complaints. Ok, just one–with Sac’s now on the scene, I can no longer justify ordering Hawaiian pizzas in the neighborhood. It would be a shame.

Sac’s Place * 86-14 37th Ave., Jackson Heights, NY

Still Summering

I’m almost back in the NYC saddle, after a not-super-food-focused vacation in Portland. Pricey, pop-up sushi was consumed (it was ok–ack, so jaded New Yorker), rural-suburban pizza that was such a hit I went back twice was the sleeper hit, Southern Thai was a charmer, no surprise to me since the city excels at new and shiny but not newfangled Thai food.

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In the mean time, here’s an essay I wrote in defense of dining at chain restaurants abroad for Serious Eats while they were doing a paid experiment on Medium. It was previously un-linkable publicly, and now it’s not.

See You in September

summerThis is usually point in August when everyone starts crowing about the end of summer even though there’s more than a month left and I get all needlessly wound up, except that I haven’t heard that gaffe much this year so maybe 2016 marks the moment in history when people got smart? Or I started tuning out? Maybe they are sweating too hard to notice the calendar counting down.

No matter. I’m just here to say I’m taking a summer break, not simply being more wildly sporadic than usual if anyone even pays attention to such things. I’ll be back sometime in September, definitely while it’s still summer.

 

Eaten, Barely Blogged: French-ish, All-American, Mexican Mash-Ups

mimi trio

Mimi The mark of a good restaurant is one where you leave feeling better than when you arrived (despite young men good-naturedly but firmly asking you to move down six inches so their lady can have more room even though you’re already arm-to-arm with the older-but-not-old man waiting for his lady on your right, being there first [the first customer period to avoid this situation because you know your limits], the isosceles triangle napkin placed by a server establishing your plot of land at the bar). That’s not a lot to ask, though it’s scarcer than it seems. Mimi succeeds. The sliced madai in brown butter with lemon curd and dried seaweed was like candy, or more accurately, caramel corn, fish caramel corn, which sounds dubious but is brightened by the citrus and amazing with nice bread and butter. I would go back and have this as a bar snack with sparkling wine in a second.  Don’t play around with it too much or else the sauce will start to cool and congeal. Peppery calves liver, rare and steak-like, is served with boudin noir-stuffed eggplant, studded with golden raisins, and also blended sweet with savory well, potent and energizing in the same way as the crudo without being heavy, matchingwith a glass of equally bold French red wine that I vowed to remember without taking a photo  and promptly forgot (comped, I realized later, which occasionally is a benefit–at least at a certain type of casual-polished place–of dining on your own) Even approaching fullness, I was never bored.

emmy squared duo

Emmy Squared I forget if this is supposed to be Detroit-inspired or Detroit-style pizza (which I did try last year for the first time in a very different setting i.e. one that doesn’t threaten a $25/per person fee for no-shows because you just show up and eat pizza). The slices are square, the crust thick but not Chicago deep, with crisp edges and plenty of cheese. I will take any excuse to eat Hawaiian variations in an acceptable manner. Here, that would be ham and spiced pineapple on the Lou-Wow. I’m also a sucker for pretzel buns, which hold together Le Big Matt Burger, the formerly semi-secret double-pattied, white american cheese, and sambal-spiked mayonnaise monster that’s now formally on the menu. Split a burger and pizza if possible. Both are good but you’ll probably leave feeling more or less the same as when you entered. 

mission cantina trio

Mission Cantina is as good a spot as any to unintentionally stumble into on a weeknight. The whole operation from service to menu feels haphazard, and that’s not a criticism (though I almost ordered a drink special because it was green until I parsed that it contained  Midori, god no, which the server thought was cucumber liqueur). It’s a perfect place to knock back micheladas and marvel at more fried chicken than would seem imaginable for $26. That would be masa-crusted, spicy, honey-drizzled, and tarted-up with pickles and pickled jalapeños in a vaguely Southern/South of the Border/Korean way. Like pretzel rolls and Hawaiian pizza, I will always order crab rangoon if I see it. There was an undercurrent of what I thought was curry powder in these fried wontons, which you have to be in the mood for, and then the next day while sweating on a walk home it hit me that the abrasive seasoning was likely Old Bay, with celery salt being the offender.  Limey, lightly funky mussel tostadas, chosen instead of a side vegetable that was practically insisted upon, were more guacamole than anything.

 

A to C: The Ice Cream Life

ice cream#sevenfirstjobs mania has really given me a lot of food for thought. Ok, not really at all, but it was good for some really bold A to C fodder like strawberry harvester to editor in chief in three steps (not an actual example).

That’s my segue to trying to figure out why at the end of the August Food & Wine’s regional round-up of ice cream there is a short personal essay from the author of He’s Just Not That Into You. “My Life in Ice Cream”‘ (that’s the name of the piece because it’s about ice cream and her life) wouldn’t have even registered as a blog post. Print, though…such veritas.

A. So, she works at an ice cream shop in the West Village as an NYU student and eats ice cream.

C. She owns an apartment in the West Village and is always on a diet and can’t eat ice cream.

There’s a lot of life between those two things. Though honestly, it doesn’t seem as egregious now as when I read the whole thing at the gym and got outraged. I’m convinced exercising has the opposite effect of its intended purpose (clear-headedness? calming?) on me.

Spoiler: Big Gay Ice Cream opens and she starts eating ice cream.

 

 

Taking the Cake

Two things became readily apparent after pawing through a shoebox of family photos I was recently reunited with.

One: no one took photos of food. At least not intentionally. (I do have a middle-school Christmas shot of me sharing a seat at the table with a bread bowl, one of my summer 2015 obsessions.)

Two: photography skills left a lot to be desired pre-digital. Nearly half were out of focus, the framing dubious, lighting wonky. Delete is now our friend.

The one exception to the food-free subject matter, I discovered, were birthday cakes. I don’t remember anyone ever taking pictures of them, but there they were, at least ten of them spanning from age seven to roughly 20. Because it’s Thursday I’m going to post them all.

monkey cake

Fairly certain this was seven. One of my aunts decorated cakes as a side hustle, or maybe just a hobby? I don’t know. She still exists. I should ask her.

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