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Canlis

threeshovelThe only reason I went to Seattle at all was because it was–and is–cheaper to fly to from NYC than Portland where I ultimately ended up taking a Bolt Bus to because I’m all about luxury. Also, I had this minutely contrarian notion that Seattle is a more serious restaurant city than Portland, which I’m not sure is true. All I knew was that if I were going to Seattle with that mindset, I’d need to experience Canlis, a classic spread-out in a low-slung, mid-century building overlooking Lake Union with food that has morphed over a half-century into something highly regional and to be taken seriously, the latest incarnation circa summer 2015 being the work of chef Brady Williams, formerly of Roberta’s, a slightly unexpected shift from the special occasion restaurant with a piano player, and couples stationed side by side to take in the view from banquettes.

I don’t even know if Portland has a Canlis equivalent. I can’t recall ever seeing women dining in sequined sheath dresses, or even tattoo-sleeved youths–this is the Northwest, after all–in appropriately glam frocks, in my hometown

My original plan was to simply go by myself, despite no bar seating (the lounge was closed for renovations, but I’m not sure if it was ever for dining) but after my sister said she would be into coming up to Seattle from Eugene (and thankfully saving me the visit down there) I said I’d take her to dinner as a belated Christmas gift, the first time I’ve ever role-played the wealthy husband role. Even going the $100 four-course pick-and-choose prix-fixe route rather than a tasting menu and sticking to a sub-$100 bottle of wine (a small percentage of the voluminous list), a Walla Walla syrah from a producer I’m blanking on, this was a full-on splurge (those pre-dinner drinks and digestifs will get you).

canlis grid

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Langbaan

fourshovelI wouldn’t have expected one of my favorite, ok, maybe my total favorite, meal in Portland to be tough-reservation Thai, served just a few nights a week, across the street from the bar I used to frequent two decades ago with the boyfriend who was the age I will be in five months. Why not four shovels? That gif could use some airtime. 

langbaan grid

Langbaan is a pop-up of sorts, a side piece of PaaDee, with a theme that changes monthly. January, my month, was Central Thailand, which could’ve been boring potentially since that’s region most Thai restaurants in the US draw from. I’ve only been to Central Thailand, yet knowing myself I’m still going to say it’s my favorite, leaning sweet and rich with great balanced heat. It’s not like Langbaan was going to put out chopsticks and bowls of overly coconutty green curry with the option to substitute tofu. (If it were my show, I’d be a dick and make pad thai, a really awesome pad thai, but that would be more of an NYC move not Portland. Pad Thai is notably absent from PaaDee’s menu, as well.)

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#humblebrag

humblebrag

Bon Appétit’s March culture issue presents a full page of A-to-C action: “I Quit My Boring Job So I Could Make…”

Babies would be my answer if asked (no, I don’t have children) but whatever. It’s all well and good, not terribly upsetting or anything. The kimchi anecdote was my favorite, though.

kimchi

Buying a bodega in Queens is going to be my new response to any life goal-type questioning.

I can’t speak to Mama O’s, but I bought a jar of Mrs. Kim’s last week on Fresh Direct as a whim and I must concede that it’s 10x better than the grocery standard Kimchi Pride. Fresh and effervescent overall, lightly gingery, with a funky, beefy backbone. Sadly, not made in a bodega in Queens.

Eaten, Barely Blogged: More Ramen, Bhutanese Queso, Boat Noodles

ramen by mew

Ramen by MEW Maybe at a certain point even ramen obsessives (which I am not) give up on keeping tabs on every new option’s appearance. To me, they just blur together and I’m never going to click on the whichever best-of round-up emerges weekly. I know Ramen-Ya is the more lauded newish West Village shop but at Ramen by MEW you can just walk in and be slurping within seconds. The karamiso tonkotsu, melding earthy miso and chile heat with pork broth into an opaque orange brew, is seriously hefty. There’s no way that tuft of spinach can balance out that lovely slab of of fatty chasu porking-up the bowl even further.

Not terribly related, there was an unusually long reported piece in Tasting Table today about Japanese chains opening in the US, mostly in NYC with some focus on Portland, Oregon. The ramen’ed-out like me have udon-focused Tsurutontanto and standing-only Ikinari Steak to look forward to. Yes. 

A little related to the above, Portland’s Original Pancake House is opening in Hakata, its third Japan location.

ema datsi bhutan

Bhutanese Ema Datsi  Controversial blanket statement: I’m kind of indifferent to most Himalayan food, which is shameful since I live steps from  its New York epicenter. (Ok, I almost ordered delivery from Phayul the other night, but they have Sichuan leanings so it’s not all bland beef and starch.) But I got caught up in the spirit of neighborhood adventure–this unusual restaurant at the nexus of Woodside, Jackson Heights, and Elmhurst is the only place in the city serving Bhutanese food, after all–after some back and forth with someone who might turn out to be my last-ever NYC Tinder date (a development having nothing to do with this benign individual). I was fond of the namesake dish, ema datsi, in that it was like eating chili-studded queso with nutty red rice instead of chips. The confusing aspect was being warned about heat, specifically the soup that came with the sekam thali, akin to a milky seaweed-heavy miso broth, was baby palate mild. Maybe I’d just revved up my taste receptors too high, having come straight from Plant House Love (r.i.p. Queens location). Sekam, by the way, is practically Bhutanese chasu; thin, still-fatty, jerky-like strips of pork belly interspersed with daikon and rehydrated red chiles.

lots of memories but it’s time to move on

A photo posted by บ้านปลูกรัก/ ร้านลูก (@plantlovehouse) on

More unrelated-ness: with the recent defection of Biang! (and humble kin Xi’an long before) and Plant Love House to Prospect Heights, plus Bun-Ker’s expansion to Bushwick, there must be a Queens is the New (Old?) Something or Another trend piece to unpack. 

pata paplean nam tok

By the way, it’s not like you can’t still get petite servings of blood-enriched nam tok in Elmhurst. If you can work out Pata Paplean’s quirky hours, there will be a nice bowl of boat noodles in your future.


 

I Do(nut): Red Hot Red Lobster

cheddar bay mixThere’s likely a lame bae pun in this, but I’m just going to give the facts: Green Bay Packer James Jones proposed to his now-wife using Cheddar Bay Biscuits as a romantic foil, as one should.

I would’ve preferred the ring to be inserted into one of the baked goods rather than just placed in the basket. And now you know my preferences, if anyone was getting an idea or anything.

The Middle Ages: Valentine’s Bushwick Bar Crawl

crawlPlaying The Middle Ages game in Bushwick is a fool’s errand. And yet sometimes you have to drink cans of Genesee and well tequila in 16-degree weather until it feels like Valentine’s Day. Never mind that you will wish you were dead on Presidents’ Day.

Where: Central Station
When: A little after 6pm
Age appropriate? Not really.

Where: The Shop
When: 7:30pm
Age appropriate? For men who like honky tonk, yes. I don’t think there were any ponytails yet I keep picturing that.

Where: Heavy Woods
When: Roughly 9pm
Age appropriate? I want to say no, but I stopped paying attention by this point and started focusing on my fried chicken biscuit sandwich.

Where: Pearl’s Social and Billy Club (previously)
When: 10-ish
Age appropriate? Nope. And despite the name, the vibe always feels vaguely anti-social.

Where: The Cobra Club
When: 11pm or so
Age appropriate? There were a few non-young men. Ladies? No, I don’t think so. Then again, I saw a photo the next day showing a slice of pizza and  I don’t remember that either.

 

 

In Other Words: Red Lobster Is for Lovers

“When he fuck me good I take his ass to Red Lobster, ’cause I slay.”

Aw…this Beyoncé shout-out is the second-happiest I’ve been in 2016. (Can’t talk about the #1 reason without being a boring sap.) Chains of love, indeed.

Newborn: Pokéworks

I managed to completely avoid poké while in Los Angeles, a city practically synonymous with the 2015 iteration, and assumed I was in the clear as long as I stayed on my side of the country. But within a matter of months, no less than three restaurants featuring cubes of raw fish dressed and gussied-up in bowls appeared nearly as far as one can get in the continental United States from Hawaii.

pokeworks interior

I don’t dislike poké. I just had better things to do in LA. In fact, it’s kind of a perfect office-day lunch: light with lots of satisfying texture and flavor. Except that I didn’t realize quite how popular Pokéworks was. I’m not sure if the new aspiring chainlet always has a line 30 deep at 2pm (enough to warrant a passing-out of samples and menus to soothe the eager) or if my inadvertently showing-up the same day The New York Times wrote about poké had any bearing on the line apocalypse that out-snaked Chick-fil-A’s corner queue a few doors down.

pokeworks line

Originally, I mistook this as a poké bouncer–until I realize he was there to keep fish freaks from blocking the entrance to the gentleman’s club.

pokeworks poke

Pokéworks offers eight signature styles, including a vegetarian and chicken version, but after waiting 25 minutes, menu in hand, then eyes on the assembly line, it almost feels irresponsible to not attempt a custom order even though that might be the optimal way to assess what a restaurant is all about. Every option (it’s a six-step process) has already been computed mentally by this point. I felt like confident when I went for a brown rice base, a two-protein combo of ahi tuna and salmon, edamame and hijiki as mix-ins, classic salt (Hawaiian salt and sesame oil) flavor, masago-only topping (seaweed and salad and crab salad were tempting), plus garlic chips for crunch.

So many components might threaten to overwhelm the whole point of this purist dish, and I didn’t need all that rice, but the firm chunks of tuna and salmon still shone through, a bright counterpoint for a blustery winter afternoon in NYC.

Pokéworks * 63 W. 37th Ave., New York, NY

Portland Old and New

I post sporadically enough that I can’t imagine anyone wondering about a few days or even a week of quietude. But just in case, I have been soaking up the pre-Portlandia Northwest and avoiding the blizzard while getting rained on daily.

sizzler goths

Goths schlumping along 82nd Avenue across from the Sizzler was my favorite Portland image as of yesterday afternoon.

fred meyer bar

And then I found out that Fred Meyer, the best regional grocery store ever, had a bar occupied by youths at all hours, so that caught my fancy.

Only two more days left of this.

 

Tanoshi Sushi

tanoshi grid

I spent Christmas truly alone this year and it was surprisingly fun. This isn’t something I’ve brought up because it makes me defensive, and it wasn’t until I received the email earlier this week from Dirt Candy announcing “Solo Diners Week,” meant to counter the Valentine’s onslaught, that I gave it more thought. Sure, I guess it’s sad on some level to dine alone on Valentine’s Day, but not everyone is coupled up and really anyone who wants to go out eat on February 14 (unless it’s Dallas BBQ, obviously) is asking for trouble, whereas dining alone on Christmas is just straight up pathetic because who doesn’t have friends and family?

* * *

Some people are mildly horrified when they hear this and begin secretly judging you differently than when they met you hours ago as you were trying to hold their attention with animated stories. An impression that you’re a suspicious decision-maker with no ties has already been imprinted when they convince you to walk the three blocks to their apartment after the New Year’s Eve party instead of the bus stop where you intended to go even though they are not 100% single.

Some people think it’s normal enough not to comment like the stranger who also didn’t go home for Christmas who you’ve been texting with sporadically for over a month and plan to meet at my favorite extinct-on-the-East-Coast chain restaurant in a few weeks when you finally do visit family in Oregon because you’re not a monster.

Some too-young stranger you have no rapport with and have never met texts you something benign on Christmas morning when you’re still in bed and you think that’s creepy because he should probably be spending time with his parents so you ignore him.

 * * *

 

This was the first year the words “I hate Christmas” came out of my mouth even though I’ve hated Christmas for at least the past 15 years. I never considered myself a Scrooge despite my ex-boyfriend calling me one because I wouldn’t participate in decorating the tree he’d buy in the Western Beef parking lot right before ditching me to head to his parents’ in a D.C. suburb where I was never once invited in over a decade. I was the only one who ever saw the tree on Christmas.  And then it would stick around pissing me off right up until Super Bowl like a desiccated guest who’d long overstayed its welcome.

Some years I’d throw orphan parties. Some years I’d go out to eat with friends. This was the first year I made zero overtures. It was a weird year. I wasn’t going to go out at all, partially to try and save a little money for vacation. But an unexpected raise coupled with the fear of becoming a shut-in (too late) had me scrambling for a counter seat  experience that would be just right i.e. special but not baller (we’re talking maybe two nice-ish dinners a month raise not Powerball money).

Oh yeah, Tanoshi. I wouldn’t say I follow the NYC sushi scene closely, and I kind of hate talking about sushi because I don’t have the vocabulary, but even casually observing I’d say there has been a recent trend toward the luxe and maybe even the bombastic. That’s not Tanoshi, which I haven’t heard much about since 2013 when everyone was going nutso about the bargain priced omakase being served in a small, understated storefront in Yorkville with an impossible reservation system that possibly added to the lore.

It’s still bare bones, just ten seats, and an ideal candidate for the Second Avenue subway, but you can now reserve online. The price has risen thirty dollars to $80, but it’s still BYOB, and I would argue still a bargain.

And it was great. Not precious and exactly what I needed. (Last year around Christmas, but not on the 25th because I wasn’t fully embracing real holiday aloneness yet, I splurged on Momofuku Ko with wine pairings, and while lovely, that kind of experience demands a high level of attention and energy, and honestly, tasting menus can be agitating when maybe you just want to zone out. Not to mention that I’m kind of over spending that kind of money on ephemera.) I didn’t take copious notes and I’m not going to regale you with descriptions of scored flesh or how the warm, vinegared rice almost managed to taste buttered when melded with fattier pieces of fish. I also felt a little anxious taking photos, which I did for my own memory not to demonstrate any skills, obviously–I was semi-seriously warned I had three seconds–because this style of sushi is loosely packed and falls apart quickly, no time for fussing around.

A rhythm developed. Listen, quickly snap, pick-up with fingers, cram into mouth and slowly savor the whole piece while trying to stay in the moment even if only ten seconds. Done. Sip some sake, nibble a slice of pickled ginger. Chill. Repeat.

Kelp-cured fluke, marinated big eye tuna, cured king salmon, winter mackerel, cherry blossom leaf amberjack, miso marinated black sable, uni (Hokkaido or US, I don’t recall, though I want to say Maine) saltwater eel, fatty tuna with yuzu pepper, spicy toro.

Then three extras a la carte: kani miso a.k.a. crab brains, not unlike lobster tomalley, bittersweet guts really; the halfbeak just because I thought the name was cute and the presentation, two spirals, more than met my expectations; then ending with the nodoguro/black throat, suggested because I asked for something rich and unctuous.

lady sushi chefs

Really what was cool, and that I was vaguely aware of, is that while Toshio Oguma is the head chef, half the restaurant is served by Oona Tempest, who I’m not sure is a full-fledged chef yet or what that even entails, but no matter because it’s so rare seeing a woman behind a sushi counter and Tanoshi has two (Alex, left, is apprenticing).

* * *

It was truly the best potentially worst Christmas ever. Afterwards, warmed from my small bottle of chilled sake, I stopped by 7-Eleven for cigarettes on the way to Seamstress because it was close and a real cocktail bar open on Christmas and a woman resembling a younger Kathy Bates was rampaging the aisles and yelling at both of the young Latino men on duty, “Where is the hard candy?!” My first instinct was fist-clenching anger and I wasn’t even working there and then I made eye contact with the cashier and said, “So, where’s the hard candy?” and we both started laughing and then I couldn’t stop as if I felt more high than drunk and became the new crazy lady in the store.

Maybe it was the 60 degree weather. Maybe I was just out of my element. I was definitely happy to have left the house and to have not turned into someone harassing people trying to make a living on a major holiday. Eventually, I ended up drinking a beverage garnished with a candy cane and marshmallow Christmas tree and aggressively making out with a grown man wearing glitter nail polish and eyeliner who caught my attention by talking about the ups and downs of NYC co-op ownership, neither thing I anticipated ever happening on the Upper East Side on Christmas. It all happened because of sushi. I’m pretty sure.

Tanoshi Sushi * 1372 York Ave., New York, NY