Skip to content

Archive for

Gustav’s Pub & Grill

Did I love it? Not as much as The Rheinlander next door.

There are two reasons to go to The Rheinlander: fondue and Victor Meindl. Gustav’s, the adjoining cuckoo clock-free bar-centric offshoot (now a chain), only has the melted cheese in its favor.

Victor Meindl was the gangly Christopher Kimball-looking gentleman in lederhosen and a jaunty Tyrolean cap that roved around the restaurant playing accordion on our almost annual Christmas visits in the ‘80s. He was still there when I celebrated high school graduation at The Rheinlander. And he was still there when I was in my mid-20s and I thought I was too cool for him when he asked if had any requests. I brushed him off with a “No, thank you” then irrationally changed my answer to “Do you still play that Consider Yourself at Home song?” (Oliver—and Victorian England in general—always gave me the creeps) While being serenaded the confusion between kitsch and genuine love overwhelmed me and my nervous laughing turned to tears. That was over a decade ago, and the last time I saw him.

The Rheinlander wasn’t always the source of joy. In college my sister and I came along with my dad and his new family for dinner. The rotund druggie (I’m not svelte but I’ve also never been a meth addict and assumed the two went together) step-sister who wore Tasmanian Devil t-shirts down to her knees, demanded extra mushrooms in brown sauce and they actually brought her more in a little dish and her uncle got rowdy and angry when the waitress wasn’t familiar with a whiskey/beer drink he’d had in Germany while in the service. I wasn’t 21 yet and couldn’t drown my sorrows publicly but you’d better believe that when we had to spend Christmas with these folks my sister and I pillaged their well-stocked liquor cabinet (at the prompting of our step-sister who showed us where her wealthy grandparents—millionaires from the garbage business, trash genuinely—kept the booze).

Why didn’t I check in on Victor on my no-longer-recent Labor Day weekend visit? I think I was scared that he wouldn’t be there. But I also didn’t have the time to commit to a full-blown German meal. I was meeting one of my oldest friends before flying back to NYC in a few hours and The Rheinlander is only five miles from the airport. I thought I’d give Gustav’s a go once I saw online that you can simply order the fondue and that it would be happy hour.

Gustav's swiss fondue

Ah, the fondue, simple, sharp, creamy and served with a mix of pumpernickel and paler bread, none of that healthy vegetables and apples nonsense. If I’m correct this was the $4.99 version from the happy hour menu. There is a mini pot for $2.99 and you can also order add ons like sausage an pesto. As an old-timer pesto is just wrong. I’m torn on the new-to-me Dungeness crab and roasted red pepper version because that could be good if done right.

Imade fondue twice in the past two weeks and went totally classic: Emmental, gruyere, kirsch (ok, no Chasselas—I can’t even pretend to be highbrow now that you know I used Charles Shaw Sauvignon Blanc) and obviously good enough to prepare for two different sets of people. The Rheinlander’s version contains only Swiss cheese and no cherry brandy, and it doesn’t even matter. You’ll eat it and you’ll like it. This is Portland not Geneva. Wow, it’s all coming back to me; chef Horst Mager, used to (and still does for all I know) regularly appear in cooking segments on local morning news shows. It looks like he even has a self-published (Portland, always with the diy spirit) cookbook on Amazon.

Gustav's schnitzel fingers

The fondue is all you need to know about the food at The Rheinlander. The rest is just not that remarkable. However, I still went wild with a pre-flight repast ordering up a slew of bar snacks that I don’t recall from the original stodgier menu. Things like schnitzel fingers with honey-mustard, ketchup and thousand island. Both the fries and cutlet could’ve been crisper.

Gustav's smoked salmon, potato pancake

The potato pancakes with smoked salmon, chopped hard-boiled eggs and capers and sour cream were pretty good. I got these to share but no one seemed interested in them.

Gustav's sausage trio

James picked a sausage trio (brautrust, weisswurst and smoked bier sausage) with potatoes and two types of cabbage.

What I learned from Lema, the only person I’ve known for over 25 years that isn’t family: the last time she was in the Philippines she and her mom visited a mystic four hours from Manila whom they call Angie. She made them turnaround and drive back to the city for a belt to use in a spell. Details are blurred but I think it was her dad’s belt and he stopped cheating after the ritual was performed so it was well worth it. Also, her 80-something grandfather has a 30-year-old girlfriend, which no one questions. Supposedly, she wooed him with her cooking, though I imagine his US citizenship has something to do with it. Her aunt, who had been trying to come to America since the ‘80s, was finally granted permission, got here, hated it and promptly returned to the Philippines.

Meanwhile, I’m toying with idea of going to Manila in February. Years ago Lema told me that she knew someone who had his hand outside the window of a car and a passerby chopped it off to get his expensive watch (she also has an unbelievable tale about a prostitute and a randy tapeworm). I don’t wear a watch.

The tenuous Filipino/German connection: When I ate German food in Hong Kong I ordered the monstrous pork shank like the Filipinos at the table next to me (not like the Filipinas on stage singing “We Are Family”). They stared at me in a possessive way that questioned, “That American likes lechon?” But see, it wasn’t lechon because it was German food in Hong Kong. Neither of us owned it.

Gustav’s Pub & Grill * 5035 NE Sandy Blvd., Portland, OR

Financial District Baoguette

When I spoke to the unstoppable Michael Huynh for this Metromix year-end trend piece, he was envisioning Baoguette as the new Subway. And sure enough the  still-rough-around-the-edges storefront in the Financial District is just a few spaces over from a Subway. Five-dollar foot-longs had better watch out.

In the nearly three years I've worked way downtown pho has been high on my list of edibles missing in the neighborhood. I think I would be more jazzed if we hadn't been barraged with so much Vietnamese food this year. It is still a novelty in the Financial District, though. My only other venture to a Baoguette, the one on St. Mark’s, involved the beef soup not banh mi and it wasn’t half bad. Now that it’s brutally cold, soup seems smarter than sandwiches. But it wasn’t to be. Even though pho is on the menu, it  isn’t being served yet. They did have some prepared summer rolls in the refrigerated case, but it’s hard to get excited over the chilled cylinders as long as it's wintry.

Baoguette exterior

The brown awning with an air conditioner punched through bore the Baoguette name held in place by blue tape. The long-necked lighting wasn’t having a good time either. Inside, the dry erase board on the wall was still shiny and unsullied. Same with the chalkboards above the counter. Rows of goldenrod Café du Monde coffee cans and full bottles of green-tipped Sriracha were the only design elements.

My old hard rule about $5 lunches shifted to $6 somewhere in the recent past and even that gets broken at least weekly for a Pret a Manger salad. Even those pick-a-mix salads where short little guys toss it in a plastic container for you come in around $7. It doesn’t mean I make a habit out of it, though. But hey, I had a little Christmas gift cash burning a hole in my pocket. I could spring for the $7 for a catfish sandwich…just this once.

Baoguette catfish banh mi

The flavors were an untraditional mishmash (honey mustard and sweet pickles?) not dissimilar to certain swampy Thai curries. I only saw a few jalapeño slices and no obvious red pools of Sriracha, but mouthfuls were hot, a dirty spicy that was compounded by the catfish’s natural earthy taste and tempered slightly by the strands of pickled red onions and sweet cucumber relish. I liked it more than I thought I would.

Baoguette catfish banh mi cross section

The catfish sandwich is akin to Num Pang's (which I never blogged about, oddly) and in some ways is preferable to me because I like a drier sandwich and this one uses honey mustard while the Cambodian one bulges with mayonnaise. It’s hard to disassociate honey mustard from chicken fingers, but the condiment wasn’t that jarring, just tangy. I only recommend not trying on candy apple red lip glosses at Sephora on the corner right before biting into one of these sandwiches.

Baoguette does serve better food than the than closer-to-my-office banh mi cart and both charge $6 for the traditional Saigon sub (though I notice it’s only $5 at the Christopher St. Baoguette/Pho Sure while the catfish is $7 at both). I’ll likely return to check in on the pho at some point but as long as it’s in the 20s outside I’ll probably just walk the one block to the cart instead of the seemingly long (lots of tourist-dodging–I’ve given up on politeness and now barge through everyone’s posing in front of the Stock Exchange photos) five blocks to Maiden Lane.

Baoguette sign

Clearly, I’m not the only one who likes appropriating The New York Times' banh mi cross section photo.

Baoguette * Maiden Lane, New York, NY

New Adventures of Old Christine

Drive-thru diet Yes, yes, Christine is the new Jared, losing a significant amount of weight eating fast food. Specifically, items from Taco Bell’s Fresco menu (essentially regular items minus cheese, sour cream or guacamole) helpfully labeled in small print, “not a low calorie food.”

Not a particularly fresh angle either, anti-Morgan Spurlocks abound. Deshan Woods, who lost weight by eating exclusively at McDonald’s, is just one that I had time to look up. Even the Swedes got into the debunking.

There is no secret to losing weight. Reducing calories and increasing activity are tried and true (spending an hour at the gym, then eating fried chicken will not result in weight loss—I can tell you that first hand).

Almost anyone could lose weight eating fast food daily. 2,000 calories is the number typically used as an ideal for the average woman’s daily intake (2,500 for men). If you wanted to lose a modest but healthy one pound per week you would need to shave 500 calories a day off this number.

For 1,500 calories you could scarf a Whopper (670 calories) and a Cinnabon (730) every single day and lose weight (1,400 total). You probably wouldn’t stay full and would become completely scurvy-ridden and deficient in essential nutrients. So, you could also eat zero and near-zero-calorie roughage like carrots and broccoli and use the remaining 100 calories for an apple (65 calories) or an orange (85 calories).

This is assuming you are completely sedentary. 45-minutes-to-an-hour on an elliptical trainer would probably allow you a small handful of fries (220 calories for BK value menu size, 340 for a small).

Fast food isn’t a particular weakness of mine, though I am proud of my proposed miracle diet. I do like to drink, however. Why blow hundreds of dollars on those silly juice cleanses when you could drop weight fasting on seven martinis a day (roughly 200 calories each)? Everyone knows that cleansing is about getting thin not detoxing or being healthful.

Unrelated: why do people insist on spelling lose as loose?

Buttermilk Channel

Hate is a very strong word. At least that’s what my mother tried hammering into my head for years. That didn’t make me banish the word from my vocabulary–sometimes you really don’t like something. I’ll never be able to soften my stance on women substituting tights for pants or people who insist on walking up-and-down the left sides of staircases (those who stand on the left side of escalators instead of walking are right up there).

Buttermilk channel bloody mary I’ve said that I hate brunch. That’s not really true. The whole ritual is kind of gross and not my thing, but it does make drinking before noon seem respectable and I can appreciate that. And since blizzards negate all normal self-imposed rules I felt ok with myself for seeking out the short rib hash down the street that I’d read about in Metromix’s Top Dishes of 2009 (my contribution to the list was Aldea’s arroz con pato).

But not before I ordered their classic bloody mary, a chunky, spicy (horseradish?) beverage in a tumbler with a pickle spear. Brunch comes with a mimosa, bellini or sparkling wine. I opted for the peachy cocktail towards the end of my meal because I don’t see them that often (probably because I don’t eat brunch). Who orders a bellini? That same night, I slogged through the not-that-engaging Elegy and Ben Kingsley ordered pre-dinner bellinis for Penelope Cruz and himself. I think it was supposed to be the choice of an older sophisticated man. That’s me all right.

Buttermilk channel short rib hash

The short rib hash is really a smart burst of decadence, not the greasy, heavy, starch-laden fare I often gravitate towards when dining out for my first meal of the day. Rich fatty meat, tiny cubes of potatoes and runny yolks are perfect with simple triangles of toast (the salt could’ve been toned down a notch, though). Hey, there’s even a little lettuce for extra class. In fact it was so well portioned that if there is to be a next time I’ll also order a short stack of pancakes or coffee cake. Savory demands sweet.

Previously on Buttermilk Channel.

Buttermilk Channel * 524 Court St., Brooklyn, NY

La Farola

Drinking culture, my favorite kind of culture next to eating, stymied me in Oaxaca. I never did figure out if there was a place where a single female could have a drink without inviting unwelcome attention. I’m not even prime pestering material and still got invited to drink cervezas by a random man who started chatting me up while walking down the street in broad daylight.

I did have a few shots of mezcal at a random top-floor bar in the same building as Los Danzantes but the crowd was very young. The friendly guy working at Mezcalería Los Amantes gave me a flyer for a Nortec Panoptica Orchestra show later that night at Café Central (owned by artist Guillermo Olguín, also the proprietor of the above tasting room who is opening a mezcal bar on the Lower East Side in the near future) but after heading back to my hotel I became a fuddy-duddy and didn’t feel like going back out after midnight.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t until the end of my week that I started interacting people. I vowed to meet up with three women from my cooking class (one whom I was drawn to because of her white hair. I mean, she was in her fifties but even so you just don’t see anyone attractive with the nerve to go natural in NYC, and yes, she turned out to be a New Yorker. Her sister, traveling with her, also had non-dyed gray hair) with Susana Trilling, originally that evening. But after ten hours (we were picked up at 9am and didn’t get back to Oaxaca until after 7pm) of market shopping, cooking, snacks, lunch, mezcal, beer and a multi-course dinner, everyone was sated into a stupor.

The next night was my last, Thanksgiving, and it was my last chance for cantina fun at La Farola, a touristy but charming bar from 1916. I was sipping not slamming but hours flew and at some point I broke a glass, the universal signal that it’s time to stop drinking. And nice, non-rot gut mezcal or not, I still felt all the painful effects the next morning while getting ready for my flight back to NYC.

La farola polaroid

We gave small children a few pesos when asked but for the most part fended off the deluge of rose vendors and candy sellers. After a week my no gracias guilt had fully abated. It wasn’t until the guy with a Polaroid camera came by that we caved. Photos are always entertaining and instamatics are a dying breed in this digital world. We did color, black and white, numerous shots. They came in little colorful cardboard frames.

Certainly the mezcal contributed but it was some of the most fun I had all vacation. (This was enhanced by calls of “Krista! Krista!” when I went upstairs to use the bathroom. I genuinely thought I was hallucinating but it turned out to be this couple from our class that I had pegged as wholesome and naïve [others interpreted this as gay and in denial]. They were accompanied by a Mexican con artist who’d been following them around all day scamming free drinks. It turns out that the day before this very same guy had been trying to glom onto the woman from L.A. that was sitting with us downstairs. She had no problem getting rid of him, however.)

Fun with strangers? Anti-social me? What did I have in common with these women? It eventually became obvious: we were all unapologetically unmarried and childless. It was heartening to be around like-minded females in their 40s and 50s, a spiritual nightcap and satisfying end to my vacation.

La farola botanas

Oh my god, botanas at last! Tasajo, cecina, chicharon, cheese, chorizo, pickled carrots and jalapeños (with tortillas and salsa, of course). Technically my final meal in Oaxaca (I did pick up a sweet roll and mini banana from my hotel’s breakfast buffet the next morning).

La Farola * 3 20 de Noviembre, Oaxaca, Mexico

Las Quince Letras

I almost forgot about my first meal in Oaxaca. It was short and sweet and I had no idea what I was doing or where anything was yet. The city is incredibly easy to navigate, though. I don’t think I’ve ever traveled anywhere before that is so compact and tidy, by which I mean grid-like right angles and well labeled street names not clean and sterile—it seemed like every street was under construction, riddled with ditches and trenches, dust in the air. Combined with the cobblestones, I don’t see how women could possibly wear heels without twisting their ankles or getting caked in dirt.

Las quince letras patio

Las Quince Letras was listed on a handout at my first hotel and seemed relatively nearby. I was enticed by the description of an open-air back patio, though I soon discovered that amenity was hardly uncommon in Oaxaca where inner courtyards abound.

Las quince letras condiments

The salsa and butter twosome that always comes with a bread basket. Do you eat the two together, choose one or alternate? I opted for the more is more approach and dabbed the spicy sauce on top of a thin layer of butter, which was creamier and more tongue-coating than any American or European types I’ve had. It was practically like cream cheese in texture..

I first asked about tasjao, which was new to me. It’s a salted dried beef like a plumper jerky that is very popular in Oaxaca. The thing is, we have that here too but we call it cecina. Even more topsy-turvy is that the word cecina is also used in Oaxaca but to describe pork.

Las quince letras enchiladas oaxaquenas

I went a different direction and agreed to the enchiladas Oaxaquenas, suggested when I asked for something not too huge (I hate wasting food and leftovers seem impractical on vacation). Chicken and black mole. I’m not sure if I was starving or what (I did eat a much inferior enchilada on the plane) but the flavors were amped up. I feared cottony white meat chicken, but this meat had substance, the sweetish sauce was rich without being heavy and the crumbles of salty cheese and raw rings of onion kept things from becoming too one note. There would be no way I could let these enchiladas fall victim to the (ridiculous to me) three-bite rule. I’m still trying to figure out who possibly has the willpower to eat three bites, supposedly the amount that registers in the mind as exciting, then stops. Dietary quirks have no place in Oaxaca.

Las Quince Letras * 300 Abasolo, Oaxaca, Mexico

Marco Polo

I didn’t anticipate eating fish on Thanksgiving. I didn’t have any plans at all for El Dia de Acción de Gracias, quite possibly the longest phrase ever to approximate one compound English word. But that Thursday afternoon I had one last open spot for a full meal and took the opportunity to try Marco Polo, a reasonably priced seafood restaurant that is a favorite with locals with outdoor seating and clay oven. Everyone says the location along El Llano park is better than the one in the center of town so that’s where I went.

Marco polo oven

The rack on the left contains dishes waiting for their turn in the wood-burning oven.

Marco polo bread basket

Tostadas, crackers and bread, all bases covered. Marco Polo seemed particularly concerned with hygiene. The bread basket and ceramic dish of chipotle mayonnaise both came wrapped in plastic and the servers all wore surgical face masks.

Marco polo condiments

Condiments aplenty. I wasn’t sure how the mayonnaise fit in but observed others slathering it on the dried corn tortillas.

Marco polo shrimp cocktail

I chose the small shrimp cocktail to start with. There were endless combinations of seafood in sauces as well as ceviches. This was one of the few that didn’t contain ketchup. I just wanted to taste the shrimp enhanced by lime, tomatoes and jalapeños.

Marco polo huachinango al horno

The huachinango al horno (red snapper) was so simple and wonderful. The baked fish is coated with chipotle mayonnaise (apparently their trademark), which keeps the flesh moist and is liberally sprinkled with roughly chopped garlic (they ask if you want garlic or not—I think you do).

If not being able to share a plate of botanas was the biggest downside to being a solo diner, never having room for dessert was a close second. Not once did I have the appetite for a postre, and here it seemed like a genuine shame. I’d heard and read from numerous sources (including two waiters who were disappointed when I declined) about the plantains and rompope that also get the wood-burning oven treatment. Dear lord, I searched Flickr using keywords: bananas marco polo, and this is what I found.

Marco polo exterior

Marco Polo * Pino Suárez 806, Oaxaca, Mexico

“Spanish” Food Coming to Red Hook


Spanish food taking over the former Viva space in Red Hook? Ah, “Spanish” food and the printed ad devotes more space to wraps, ribs, salads and soups and sandwiches and burgers. I’ll have to see about this Diego’s. I’d take either arroz con pollo or paella since both interpretations of Spanish are lacking in 11231.

Mucho Gusto couldn't make it along Columbia Street and Reds Tapas never gets mentioned ever.

Photo from NewYorkology

Los Danzantes

1/2 Los Danzantes was by far the prettiest, chicest restaurant I dined at in Oaxaca. Dramatic at night, the open-air courtyard strewn with foliage, fountains and surrounded by towering bottom-lit stone walls, actually made me feel more alone than relaxed. The space and elegant take on local cuisine (they’re adherents the Slow Food movement) scream date restaurant. While my meal was impressive, I did start having second thoughts about visiting higher end Casa Oaxaca later in the week. I would’ve felt even more solo, I think.

Los danzantes dining room

I was surrounded by couples, exclusively tourists or expats it seemed. I couldn’t ignore a nearby large table that appeared to be occupied by a Spanish-speaking man with grown children and a ruddy, boomer American woman, who I could’ve determined was American without hearing her speak, those drawstring cuffed cropped cargo pants did all the talking. She was loud, animated, self-possessed, not a New Yorker, earthy, well-off, a Whole Foods shopper. I really only took notice about half-way through my quiet meal when her college-aged son showed up and she went hysterical and emotional and if I heard correctly (I had no choice; despite the tables’ generous spacing, sound carried) she hadn’t seen him since August. It was only November. Clearly, I have no understanding of close-knit families as I can go years without seeing my mom in person.

Demomstrative was all I could think. Posing and photo snapping began, flashes. When I caught the son glancing at his watch as if he had someplace more pressing to be, I felt slightly relieved.

Maybe Los Danzantes is made for family reunions. Via Twitter I noticed that Top Chef Master, himself, Rick Bayless was there this week for an annual Christmas with family. He exudes Midwestern wholesomeness and he’s chatty as heck on Twitter; I wouldn’t be surprised if Rick was the demomstrative member of his family.

Los danzantes bread basket

I started with a cocktail that I can’t remember clearly now, though I’m fairly certain it was a margarita with a smoky element. I do love how the bread baskets are a mish mash of both said bread and tortillas, salsas and butter as accompaniments.

Los danzantes flor de calabaza rellena de queso y hoja de aguacate con sopa ligera de chayote y chapulinesFlor de Calabaza Rellena de Queso y Hoja de Aguacate con Sopa Ligera de Chayote y Chapulines/Cheese-Stuffed Squash Blossom and Avocado Leaf with Light Soup of Chayote and Grasshoppers 

Clearly they meant light in flavor not texture. I was only given a fork with this (possibly an oversight—my service was a little wonky, as scrawled in my notebook, “Slow Food but oddly harried atmosphere.” The black-clad waiters with ponytails, facial hair and Converse moved faster than anyone I’d seen in leisurely Oaxaca. I had to slow down my walking pace 70% to not mow down pedestrians on narrow sidewalks) but the soup was thick enough to eat in that manner. The focus was definitely on the squash blossoms filled with mild cheese. Small, dried bugs do not scare me (the thought of sago worms, on the other hand, makes my stomach seize up) so I felt compelled to order the starter involving chaupulines. I did end up nibbling them straight up, the more traditional way, later in the week. It’s hard to describe the flavor because it’s the chewiness that is more prominent. They really don’t have a distinctive taste beyond a slight tangy saltiness.

Los danzantes escalopas de pato al chichilo con verduras, papas y pepitasEscalopas de Pato al Chichilo con Verduras, Papas y Pepitas/Duck Breast in Mole Chichilo with Vegetables, Potatoes and Pumpkin Seeds

Chichilo is one of the so-called seven moles of Oaxaca and incorporates local chiles like chilhuacle negro and is less rich and sweet than the popular mole negro. This is definitely nuevo and I got caught up in the duck, which I’m often drawn to. But the protein, vegetable, potato convention is a bit continental for my taste. Hotel-like. The carrots and zucchini weren’t terribly exciting but the duck was perfectly medium-rare.

Los danzantes mezcal

Los Danzantes showcases a large number of artisanal mezcals and have their own distillery. I sampled the joven (and later bought a bottle to take home at their retail shop, a block from my hotel) because that was what was suggested to me but they also have a golden reposado and darker anejo. I am still kicking myself for not picking up any sal de gusano, the traditional ground worm, chile-laced accompaniment for mezcal. It’s savory, salty, spicy, a little umami, and impossible to find in NYC. I can’t even find it for sale online.

Los danzantes jaguar bathroom stall

The she-jaguar in the women’s bathroom stall is a bit jarring. Maybe more so after a few cocktails.

Los Danzantes * Macedonio Alcalá 403-4, Oaxaca, Mexico

Five-Dollar Foot Longs 105 Stories Up

Freedom subway Subway is hardly an adequate replacement for Windows on the World but for now the sandwich chain is the newest and only food vendor at the Freedom Tower construction site.

I’m still not clear how the whole operation works in a shipping container. Too bad it’s not open to the public.

AP Photo/Mark Lennihan