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The Affineur’s Art

Walkers Blur’s bassist Alex James has a new line of cheeses at Asda. One is ketchup-flavored (one is meant to taste like salad cream…hurl).


At a recent Hamptons event, Wylie Dufresne apparently attempted and failed at making ketchup-flavored cheese.

Both processed…so mass production for the win?

Paley’s Place

I’m not sure if this is a Portland vs New York City thing or a Way We Live Now thing, but when I lived in Portland—up until the age of 25—I ate things like burritos, monte cristo sandwiches and pizza (well, laska too) if I ate out at all. Late night Montage with their leftovers wrapped into foil swans was as fancy as it got. I drank Rainer Beer and whisky sours. Based on daily Twitter skimming, it would appear that it is not uncommon for young adults in NYC to imbibe $14 cocktails, bottles of 20-year-old Oregon Pinot Noir and eat foraged purslane salads and aged, grass-fed beef on a regular basis.

Maybe we just have more choice…maybe it’s just the money flowing in NYC. There’s a reason why food cart culture has flourished in Portland, after all. I didn’t see anyone obviously under 30 eating at any of the city’s high end restaurants during my visit.

Then again, we didn’t have a lot of “nice” restaurants in Portland when I was growing up. The city gets plenty of attention for its food now, but it’s not like there is a Per Se or Le Bernadin (Portlanders still don’t really eat fish) equivalent. In my era, Northwest Portland was the most expensive neighborhoods (I only paid $225 per month because the building could be demolished at any moment, a threat that had been present for years and came to pass not long after I moved in) and that’s where restaurants emerged that were acclaimed at the time: Wildwood, which is still going, and long-gone Zefiro, which stuck out on a stretch of taverns and delis with its soft glow emanating from a wall of windows polished and full of successful adults, it was the ultimate yuppie restaurant. I had no idea what kind of food they even served and would never bother getting close enough to check.

Paley’s Place, opened in 1995, was one of these novel-at-the-time local and seasonal restaurants that it never occurred to me to try. And did I want to now? It seemed kind of passé compared to on-trend Castagna or any number of young cheffy places in neighborhoods that no one would’ve traveled to to eat 15 years ago. But it’s an important restaurant and epitomizes old Portland, by which I mean late last century—things changed post-millennium as an influx of transplants and loftier ambitions began creating the Portlandia of today.

Paley's place exterior

Classic Portland translates to homey, literally, a wood frame house with a wide porch for al fresco dining. The interior is simple, warm; I’m remember drapes and carpeting even though I can see hardwood floors in photos. Despite the reputation as being a special occasion restaurant—it wins votes for Most Romantic and If I Won the Lottery, This is the First Place I’d Eat—suited for anniversaries or where your parents might take you out of they did that sort of thing (mine don’t) or where you might take them if you’re the flush one (maybe I’m doing better than I realize because I didn’t consider the prices lottery-winner steep) the diners were classic Portland, as well. Men wear neither jackets nor ties, but rather shorts and sandals. The servers themselves wear khakis and polos. Babies are breastfed at the table. Formality is an abstract concept.

The food, the whole point really, was completely solid. I chose not to stick with an appetizer/entrée approach, and you don’t have to; many items are available in half portions or aren’t course-specific.

Paley's place seafood sausage

Seafood sausage amuse.

Paley's place oysters

There were three different oysters on offer, all from Washington State: Blue Pool, Diamond Point and Kusshi.

Paley's place wagyu pastrami

Wagyu pastrami might not look pretty on the plate, but it was a delicious, smoky, fatty mess. Extravagant without being dainty, there were hints of brown sugar complemented by both stone ground mustard and thousand island dressing. I wondered if Paley’s other charcuterie—there were at least ten types listed—excelled, as well.

Paley's place pork belly & sweetbreads

More shared richness in the form of a pork belly cube and pan-fried sweetbreads.

Paley's place salmon with aioli

The 3-ounce half-portion of salmon turned out to be just enough when combined with the above dishes. Normally, I stay away from salmon because it seems dull, but it would be silly to avoid a Northwest fish so close to home. The charred cauliflower and saffron aioli gave a nice Spanish luster to the dish.

I was glad that I didn’t skip Paley’s in a quest for the latest thing. I had a reservation for Castagna the following night (so did a woman at the table of men in sandals) and was eager to compare old Portland to the new.

Paley’s Place * 1204 NW 21st Ave., Portland, OR


Gale Force Winds

Compared to many food bloggers, I suspect that I have an unusual level of fascination/tolerance for mainstream food innovations and marketing ploys (I cover consumer packaged goods digital marketing in my day job).

That’s the main reason why I accepted an invitation to a pop-up restaurant affiliated with George Duran and the Supermarket Guru, Phil Lempert, even though I suspected it might be gimmicky. I mean, a Food Network personality and a product spokesperson who appears on Good Morning America and The View? I kind of knew what I was getting into.

Well, sort of, at least. It turned out to be a focus group that ended with a gotcha moment when it was revealed that the main dish served was really Marie Callender’s Three Meat and Four Cheese Lasagna and we were being filmed the whole time. Apparently, this has upset a lot of bloggers (something I only discovered after receiving a damage control email from the PR agency a few hours ago) particularly mom bloggers, likely the brand’s target audience. Not to denigrate anyone’s experience, but perhaps I had different expectations.

I wasn’t going to even mention this event, but here I am waiting to see if Irene is all that it’s cracked up to be, watching the Doctor Who premiere, drinking a use-every-thing-in-the-liquor-cabinet Charleston and an ad for the Marie Callender’s  lasagna comes on—and it stars Gale from Breaking Bad (formerly of Damages, The Wire and Flight of the Conchords)!

There he is happily enjoying his frozen entrée with his pretty, age appropriate wife and…is that a  well-adjusted daughter or friend? When I see a recently deceased meth-cooker with a penchant for Thai karaoke renditions of German one-hit-wonders surrounded by such a loving family, smiling (or is that a smirk?) to himself, really savoring his slab of bubbly cheese-topped pasta, I can’t be mad.



Bar Tartine

I managed to take part in Bon Appetit’s so-called “Germanic cuisine boom” in San Francisco despite having a contender two blocks from my apartment (two more days in Portland and I totally would’ve ended up at Gruner too). These things happen.

Bar Tartine struck me as more Austro-Hungarian than purely German. Some might say Cal-Hungarian. I wouldn’t, but that’s my aversion to the Cal prefix. James took to calling the hey-that’s-cool Bay Area style “Cal-tude,” which started getting on my nerves (him saying it more than the practice) but the service here was so careless and forgetful—we were given a free blueberry dessert, to be fair—that I kind of had to agree in this case. Cal-tude is not the same as the haphazard style that’s rampant in aggressively homespun/quirky Brooklyn restaurants because the venues—Bar Agricole was another practitioner—are polished in other regards.

I can easily say that I’ve never eaten food like this in NYC (maybe I should check out Hospoda?). The flavors—lots of hot paprika, offal, rye, quark—hewed traditional yet everything I sampled managed to be fresh and light instead of stodgy. And a little daring; I don’t picture goat meatballs or beef heart tartare being common in Budapest.

Bar tartine dinner

Bottarga, grilled bread, butter, radish. At first I thought the butter had been smoked Extebarri-style, the flavor was so prominent, but I think it was simply the heavily grilled bread. A simple open-faced sandwich was made special by the translucent slices of fish roe.

Grilled tripe, fennel, cabbage, coriander. This dish almost never came, but I wasn’t about to say, “oh, never mind” because I have a thing for cow’s stomach in all preparations and like to see how it’s handled in different cuisines. These tender strips were also given a serious grilling, and despite the presence of fennel and cabbage had a vague menudo quality thanks to a spicy broth and cilantro.

Kapusnica – smoked blood sausage, pickled cabbage, cherry, chili, hen of the woods. I’ll also always order blood sausage if I see it (I’ve never seen one quite this obscene) especially when paired with unusual mushrooms, a hit of spice and cherries (which I encountered time and again on this trip—you know you’re eating seasonally when the same ingredient shows up on your plate in numerous restaurants). The richness of the sausage still dominated, but wasn’t overly heavy.

Halaszle – Rock cod, Hungarian wax pepper, smoked broth, purslane, fennel, onion. Hmm…if they can smoke broth, maybe that butter was smoked, after all?

Bar Tartine * 561 Valencia St., San Francisco, CA


Fall is Full of International Intrigue

Fall previews don’t really have much of a place here (though I’m still quite stoked about the Bahama Breeze opening October in Woodbridge) but this year my attention has been peaked by the number of foreign chains—many high-end—that have decided to open in NYC.

One hesitates to equate an establishment with a $125 tasting menu involving fried grasshoppers and a “cucumber cloud” with say, a joint serving spaghetti teeming with hot dog weiners, but to me if a restaurant is using the same name and concept here as in its country of origin, it’s a chain. And I want to embrace them all.

La Mar Cebicheria Peruana
Cholopolitan1 Peruvian cuisine has been touted as the next big thing for some time, but up until now we’ve made do with regional chain, Pio Pio (while researching a trip to Charlotte next weekend, I discovered there’s a branch there and in Orlando—who knew?) and their massive matador combo. Soon we’ll have celebrity chef Gastón Acurio’s ceviche-centric outpost in the former Tabla space. We’re a little late to the game; there are already six La Mar locations in Latin America and one in San Francisco. The most cross-cultural item I see on the Lima menu is a cocktail called the cholopolitan (Pisco acholado, cranberry, lima-limón, cointreau, toque de maracuyá). Will the Peruvian cosmo make it to NYC?

Al Mayass
This Armenian-Lebanese chain with locations in Kuwait, Beirut and Riyadh signed a lease in the Flatiron District over year ago. It looks like it will finally be opening. I'm curious about the cherry kebabs.

Laduree I tend not to get caught up in things like cupcakes, frozen yogurt and yes, macarons. Such a strange fetish lady food bloggers seem to have with these little rainbow-hued almond flour cookies. They are certainly pretty, and I was hardly immune to the power of a giant blue specimen at Bouchon Bakery. I also recognize that Ladurée is the shit, hence the venerable patisserie's 1pm grand opening tomorrow is understandably a big deal. I do wonder how it will go down since there will be no public transportation after noon. Also, I take back any cynicism I had—these religieuses are freaking beautiful. I might brave a hurricane for these.

Madkasse I’d nearly forgotten about this Danish smørrebrød chain coming to Tribeca. I’m picturing a Pret a Manger meets Le Pain Quotidien affair with more herring, nettles, sorrel and rye. Probably no sea buckthorn or reindeer blood, I imagine. Promotional photos promise something  very bento.

Taka Taka
I just mentioned this Mexican sushi chain earlier this week and now I’m going to again. This one’s a doozy because it’s exporting an imported cuisine—and presenting it on a conveyor belt! We haven’t had kaiten sushi since Singaporean Sakae Sushi departed in 2009. Also, if YO! Sushi finally gets it together, we’ll have two and all will be right in the world.

Jung Sik Dang
Salads This one was totally new to me. And yes, this high end South Korean restaurant is the grasshopper-serving culprit, and will also be in Tribeca, taking Chanterelle’s old spot. I’m all for modern cuisine and chef Jung Sik Yim has cooked at Bouley and Aquavit in NYC as well as Akelare in San Sebastián, so he might know what he’s doing. “Picking your Salads” seems far more appealing than a Korean deli salad bar (and I frequent them all the time).

Photos: Living in Peru, La Tartine Gourmande, Aamanns, Jinhwa-FICATION

Faking It

Bread talk

First it was the fake Apple stores and Ikeas in China.

Now, NYC authorities are getting tough with Chinatown vendors of copyright-infringing cardboard replicas of luxury goods.

Should I tip off Singapore-based bakery chain, BreadTalk, about the above Chinatown name-stealer?

Photo: Robyn Lee/Serious Eats

Tacos Avec Sauce Piquant

Tacos I hesitate to call four articles/posts in 15 months an obsession, but The New York Times does appear to have a thing for tacos in European capitals—with hot sauce. (Me, I’m more concerned with how taco means a million different things in Spain.)

May 19, 2010: Now in Berlin, Tastes of Mexico

May 6, 2011: Paris, With Hot Sauce

May 31, 2011: At Long Last, Tacos in Paris

August 23, 2011: Berlin With Extra Hot Sauce

Now if there was only a way to work in a Nordic and/or foraged angle…

I hear they’re serving fish tacos at Noma.

Taco shirt from MNKR

Chain Links: Empire (of the Sun) Boardwalk


I don’t normally look to Mex and the City for chain restaurant news (usually, it’s more of a source for I wish I could get away with wearing 4” serape-esque heels notions) but today I learned of Moshi Moshi, a Mexican conveyor belt sushi chain that will be opening an offshoot in lower Manhattan. Named Taka Taka, the concept is described as “Mexican sushi & Japanese tacos.” My one experience with sushi in Mexico City introduced me to their inclusion of cream cheese on just about every roll, so this could prove interesting.

I’m also excited for the impending midtown Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf even though it’s technically Californian and I’m never in midtown. I say technically because I had never encountered one until I started visiting the malls of Southeast Asia, so I always associate it with that part of the world. While I never drink sugary, frosty, whipped cream topped beverages in the US, there’s something about sweating to the point of collapse, then getting blasted with air conditioning while drinking an Iced Blended to revive (the experience is even better if followed by MOS Burger). Plus, Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf is where I spied Steve Buscemi in Shanghai (pictured above). If it’s good enough for a fellow Brooklyn dweller…

And I guess Firehouse Subs is opening in Puerto Rico, but really who cares about that.


Possibly the strangest thing about Benu is that no one had any idea what I was talking about when I mentioned it (which was not that many times). Clearly, I do not fraternize with anyone particularly interested in French Laundry alumni. I could’ve just as easily said I was dining at Benihana for my birthday (the hibachi chain has been on my to-try list for some time).

The food at Benu is the style–seamlessly blending Chinese luxury ingredients with modern technique and a greenmarket sensibility–that I expect I might find in the more wealthy, aggressively image-conscious Asian capitals like Singapore or Hong Kong, but never encounter. Presentation is definitely important here, but never for the sake of showing off. The components are subtle and thoughtful.

I have resolved not to dork-out and take photos during higher-end meals, but the atmosphere while mildly stark, was not stuffy or nerve-jangling in a manner that I always associate with Corton. After settling into a relaxed (I was going to say quiet, but there was nothing hushed about the odd foursome next to us, what appeared to be married men showing off for married women who were less than impressed) corner table  I was glad that I had not left my camera in the hotel, after all.

To be perfectly frank, though, I don’t really enjoy blogging about tasting menus. Who cares what I have to say about 18 courses, wonderful as they may be? (In a similar vein, I’ve really started to tire of those talking head food tv shows where minor personalities ooh and ah over moijto ice pops or food truck fish and chips for people sitting at home on their couches.) After getting the play by play on the elaborate method used to craft the translucent kimchi wonton wrapper, I stopped focusing on techniques (well, the “shark’s fin” demanded a few questions—it’s made from Dungeness crab and hydrocolloids are involved) and took in the food at face value.

Continuing surface appreciations…here are photos without commentary. I can’t just let them flounder on flickr (do visit, if you would like to see full-sized images).

thousand-year-old quail egg, cèpes, ginger
oyster, pork belly, kimchi
wild sockeye
    belly, maple-sake cure, fennel ash
    roe, homemade sesame tofu, Serrano chili

cherry blossom, yogurt, cucumber, pistachio
beef tartare, caviar, horseradish, chive
tomato, hand-pulled mozzarella, dashi

eel, feuille de brick, crème fraîche, lime
jasmine chicken with dates
foie gras xiao long bao

monkfish liver torchon, turnip, plum, brioche
abalone, potato, caper, lettuce
fresh noodles, shrimp roe, tarragon, chicken jus

“shark’s fin” soup, Dungeness crab, Junhua ham, black truffle custard
Duck, glutinous rice stuffing, fermented pepper
Pork rib, sunchoke, pine nut, cherry, black bean

Passion fruit white chocolate, chili
Peach, matcha, elderflower

Benu * 22 Hawthorne St., San Francisco,  CA


Char Burger

I wouldn’t exactly call Char Burger a institution. But anyone who grew up in an eastern suburb of Portland is probably familiar with the western-themed eatery that’s just beyond Multnomah Falls and the Bonneville Dam Fish Hatchery (those giant sturgeon freak me out as much now as they did when I was a kid) on the Oregon-Washington border.

Char burger sign2

With Girl Scouts, we’d often stop before crossing over on the Bridge of the Gods into Stevenson where Camp Arrowhead was. Sometimes, we’d stop at a soft serve place on the other side. I don’t remember a thing about that place, though. You do not easily forget Char Burger.

Char burger serving

Arrowheads and rifles plastered on the walls, wagon wheel light fixtures and a condiment station housed in a shrunken covered wagon make an impression. The food is simple and not remotely destination-worthy (when I told my friend Lema I was going, her initial reaction was “Why?” and then “You’re not going for the food, are you?”).  No matter, just line up, grab a try and order at the counter.

Char burger marionberry pie

I just had a slice of stiff marionberry pie and an unsweetened ice tea.

Char burger chili dog

A chili dog.

Char burger view

You do get a nice view of the Columbia River from the windows.

Char Burger * 745 Wanapa St., Cascade Locks, OR