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Krémes

October 31, 2011 Leave a comment

[András Szántó]

My days with the Wall Street Journal’s Saturday arts/culture/food/wine/cars sections are numbered, as I have previously lamented. As far as I can tell, our WSJ subscription has already ended, but the paper keeps coming, just in case I change my mind and renew. Which isn’t going to happen, Rupert.

In the meantime, I still get to enjoy their wonderful articles, such as András Szántó’s piece two days ago on the best krémes in Budapest. I keep looking at the photos of krémes and wondering when we get to go. I told Gail last night that we should plan a trip to Budapest, maybe with Prague and Vienna thrown in. Today we got a postcard from her childhood friend Lois, in the midst of that very trip. Not fair.

What is krémes? (Or should I say what are krémes?) The author explains that it is

a quivering quadrangle of vanilla crème, sandwiched between layers of crisp mille-feuille and finished with a dusting of confectioner’s sugar.

The krémes is dessert stripped to the essentials. It’s usually consumed on its own, not after a meal. Best to order before noon, when cream and crust are both fresh, their contrasting textures clearly discernible.

On a visit to Budapest with his son, he does research on the best krémes, coming up with a list of six. I sent the article to friend and colleague Sándor, a Budapest native, who found the article close to his heart, noting that although krémes “is not my first choice of pastry,” it is “a major thing a Hungarian misses in the US.” I also had my current TA, Pál, yet another Budapest native, weigh in. It turns out that the place Szántó ranks number one, Maródi Cukrászda, which opened just last spring, is around the corner from Pál’s home in Budapest. Pál will get to try it in December. Like Sándor, Pál commented that krémes is not his favorite Hungarian dessert. He prefers somlói galuska.

We will have a lot to explore. While we wait, we can look at more of Szántó’s photos, such as the one below.

Categories: Food, Travel

Moroccan Fish Balls

October 9, 2011 Leave a comment

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago how much I’ll miss the Wall Street Journal’s arts/culture/wine/food/sports coverage when we soon stop taking the paper. (I won’t miss the rest and won’t miss Murdoch, the reason for canceling it.) Another gem appeared as the daily front-page feature (the A-Hed) a couple of days ago, Lucette Lagnado’s piece with news that fabled Jewish food producer Manischewitz was branching out from gefilte fish to Moroccan fish meatballs. Yes, the acme of Ashkenazi food was heading over to the wild Sephardic side.

For years, gefilte fish—plump little patties of minced fish—has been the Jewish holiday treat that some Jews love to hate.

[snip]

Even Paul Bensabat wasn’t that impressed when he tried it. “Boring,” he says. “Pretty bland.” And he’s co-CEO of Manischewitz Co., one of the largest producers of gefilte fish. When Mr. Bensabat and partners took over the 123-year-old company, they decided to spice things up. One idea: Moroccan fish balls.

[snip]

Mr. Bensabat, a Moroccan Jew born in Casablanca, had never tasted gefilte fish when he and his partner joined an investor who had acquired the company. Some Manischewitz fare hadn’t been a part of his upbringing. “I never grew up eating matzoh-ball soup,” he says. His childhood memories were of couscous and other dishes of the Mediterranean.

He started sampling jars of gefilte fish. Manischewitz makes more than 50 different kinds—sweet and not sweet, in jelly and in broth, to name a few.

His partner and co-CEO Alain Bankier, also Moroccan-Jewish and also from Casablanca, is more diplomatic. “It is an acquired taste,” he says.

They agreed Manischewitz needed to go beyond gefilte fish—and quickly. Sales of traditional gefilte fish in a jar were still a pillar of the business, but were steadily going down. Younger consumers favored other foods or brands. The company hadn’t produced new products in years when Messrs. Bensabat and Bankier joined it in 2008.

[snip]

Mr. Bensabat’s prescription was to branch out to Mediterranean fare—starting with his mother’s Moroccan fish balls.

The company’s food technologists at its headquarters in Newark, N.J., were mystified: They hadn’t a clue how to make Moroccan fish balls.

The solution: a cross-cultural, trans-Atlantic cuisine transplant, in which Mr. Bensabat would get the family recipe from his 83-year-old maman and Manischewitz’s cooks would translate it for large-scale production.

There were a few obstacles, starting with the fact that his mother, Claire Bensabat, lives 4,000 miles away in Nice. She speaks French and doesn’t use recipes or follow a cookbook to prepare her delicacies.

Her recipe for fish balls: Take a fish, and “add a little bit of cumin.”

Read the full story.

Now I’m eager to try the fish balls, or fish meatballs, as Manischewitz decided to call them. Manischewitz has a recipe for the meatballs at their website, along with the photo at the top of this post.

Also, accompanying the WSJ article is Mrs. Claire Bensabat’s Festive Sweet Couscous Recipe, along with this explanation: “Sweet couscous is a specialty of Mrs. Claire Bensabat, Paul Bensabat’s mother, that she loves to make; since she cooks by instinct, it was hard for her to come up with exact measures, but through the efforts of working together with her son, she produced the following recipe for The Journal.”

Gail, should we give it a try?

Categories: Food, Religion

Pasta by Design

September 25, 2011 Leave a comment

What do I love most in the world? Well, yes, Gail. But forget about people. And sports. Let’s try again.

What do I love most in the world? Tough one, right? Is it pasta? Is it math? Let’s just say they’re tied. Guess what? There’s a book about them: Pasta by Design, by George L. Legendre.

I might have missed this book if not for yesterday’s WSJ, whose Saturday Review section devoted most of a page to illustrations from it. I didn’t have to look for long before deciding to order a copy.

The publisher’s website provides the following description of the book:

The pasta family tree reveals unexpected relationships between pasta shapes, their usage and common DNA. Architect George L. Legendre has profiled 92 different kinds of pasta, classifying them into types using ‘phylogeny’ (the study of relatedness among natural forms).

Each spread is devoted to a single pasta, and explains its geographical origin, its process of manufacture and its etymology – alongside suggestions for minute-perfect preparation.

Next the shape is rendered as an equation and as a diagram that shows every distinctive scrunch, ridge and crimp with loving precision. Superb photographs by Stefano Graziani show all the elegant contours.

Finally, a multi-page foldout features a ‘Pasta Family Reunion’ diagram, reassembling all the pasta types and grouping them by their mathematical and geometric properties!

I love the idea of a pasta taxonomy.

If you follow the WSJ link, you’ll see some of the photographs and diagrams. More can be found in this announcement of a book giveaway competition by Dezeen magazine, which explains that the book “includes photographs, 3D diagrams and parametric equations of 92 different pasta types, grouped and analysed according to their mathematical and geometric properties.”

Check out this example, included in the WSJ:

Or this, from Deneen:

I can’t wait to see them all.

Categories: Books, Food, Math

Shaw & Sucia Islands

August 21, 2011 Leave a comment

Sunset from Shaw Island

Back in April, at the annual fundraising auction of the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture, we were high bidder for an overnight outing to two of the San Juan Islands. The premise of most of the auction items is that you get to spend time with one of the museum’s curators, either in the museum itself or out in the field. In this case, we were bidding for two curators and a generous host couple.

The San Juans, as you may know, lie to the north of Puget Sound and east of the Juan de Fuca Straits, in the waters between Vancouver Island (to the west) and the northern part of Washington State. The US-Canada border snakes through in a complicated pattern, separating the San Juans from Canada’s Gulf Islands to the north. (See the Pig War of 1859 and the ultimate determination of the border in 1872.) Four of the islands are served by Washington State Ferries: Lopez, Shaw, Orcas, and San Juan. But there are many others, such as Sucia, some privately owned and some public.

In outline, we were to arrive at Shaw Island in time for dinner at the host couple’s home along with the hosts and the curators, spend the evening there, then head out as a group on the hosts’ boat to Sucia Island, which lies on the other side of Orcas Island, about an hour away (depending on tides). There, we would explore the archaeology, geology, and paleontology of the island, with a break for lunch, and in mid afternoon we would return to Shaw to catch the ferry back.

Finding a mutually satisfactory time was not entirely straightforward, but we eventually settled on two weeks ago today and tomorrow. Gail and I headed off around 1:30 PM for Anacortes, on Fidalgo Island some 80 miles north of here, and its ferry terminal a few miles west of town. There we met up with Julie and Liz, our guides. Julie was once the museum’s archaeology curator, but has served for six years now as its executive director. Liz is the invertebrate paleontology curator. And both are friends, which was part of the appeal of the trip when we bid on it. (Julie is more than a friend. She’s my long lost twin, having been born on the very same day as me, just hours later. We have shared the fate of having only a limited number of birthdays. Next year is a big one.) The ferries were running late, so we had some time to kill at the ferry landing. The day was warm and lovely, and we were quite content to sit outside waiting and chatting. Once aboard the ferry, we did the same, as we snaked through the islands to Shaw.

I had never been on Shaw before, only looking at it from the ferry. It’s primarily residential. No town. No commercial area, except for the general store and post office just a hundred yards up from the ferry landing. For years, these were managed by nuns, but they left seven years ago, leaving the store in the hands of a Shaw couple. Our host met us, loaded our bags, and whisked us off to his home, where his wife welcomed us. We were shown to our guest quarters, took a few moments to unpack, then headed over to the main house to join everyone.

Soon, as we relaxed over drinks and hors d’ouevres in the most gorgeous of settings, the tour began. A large map of the islands was unfolded and Julie and Liz explained the islands’ geological history, along with that of western Washington as a whole. Birds flitted in and out among the nearby feeders and we looked out at the view across the water to other islands. Our host got the salmon going on the grill, and before long it was time to move inside for dinner.

What a feast! With two weeks gone now, I can hardly remember all the details. Many of the vegetables had been bought the day before at the market in Friday Harbor, the main town of San Juan Island and a short trip by boat. Fresh corn salad, green salad, assorted other vegetables, perfectly cooked salmon. And the conversation was every bit as wonderful as the food.

After dinner, our host took us on a walk up a slight slope on the property to its high point, a wooded area with mysterious boulders that Julie said were not naturally occurring. They would have been placed there by natives, perhaps as a burial area. From there we walked down to an overlook above the water and back to the house. The sun was near to setting, so I headed out with my camera and took shot upon shot, one of which you can see at the top.

Soon dessert awaited us, the most gorgeous of almond tarts. I had been trying to limit my carb intake, but I couldn’t pass up the tart entirely, and our hostess was kind enough to cut off a piece of just the right size for me. It was so good that if allowed, I would surely have had three regular pieces rather than one tiny piece. We talked into the evening, partly about issues of higher education, then headed off to get some sleep before our big adventure.

The next morning, we arrived at the main house from our guest quarters to find yet another feast, a breakfast of eggs and bacon and fruits and berries and bread and more. After eating and loading up, we headed to our hosts’ boat, moored not far away, and within minutes we were off.

Leaving Shaw Island for Sucia Island

The tides were against us as we headed north around the west side of Orcas and then east, along the north side of Orcas to Sucia. We arrived in Fossil Bay, an inlet on the island’s southeast corner, found some dock space to tie up along, and disembarked. The morning was for archaeology.

Julie isn’t just any archaeologist. She’s Ms. San Juan Islands Archaeologist, the famed islands expert, having led digs, studied, and published about them for decades. And Sucia isn’t just any island. It’s the island on which the young archaeologist Robert Kidd did some groundbreaking (I know, this is must be a tiresome pun among archies) research starting in 1960. We walked over to the site of Kidd’s work, where Julie gave us a lesson on the history of archaeological research in the islands. She had brought along photos of the old dig, much of which is now covered over by wild roses and other growth, as well as the thistle pictured below.

Sucia Island thistle

We then walked along the beach in search of evidence of shell middens (the garbage dumps where native residents would have thrown their shells and other waste, and where tools are typically found as well). We didn’t have to look far. We reached one of the raised composting toilets, and there just below was a midden, disturbed of course by the construction years ago of the original toilet. Two parks employees came by and Julie gave us all a lesson on middens.

Time for lunch. We retraced our steps back to the boat, our hosts set pulled out all the food, unfolded a tablecloth on one of the picnic tables that sit on the dock, and laid out feast number three. There were some leftovers, new salads, smoked salmon, homemade chocolate chip cookies, fruit, drinks. Gosh we ate well.

Time for paleontology. We walked back past the shell middens to another stretch of beach, which you can see below. We walked down the beach not in the direction shown, but in the direction behind me.

Sucia Island beach, with Waldron (US) and Saturna (Canada) Islands beyond

This brought us to some cliffs filled with fossils. Let me assure you, in case you have any interest in heading over to Sucia, that fossil collecting is absolutely forbidden. So don’t do it. Unless you have a permit, which you don’t, but which Liz does. Out came two hammers, though Julie showed me that I could pick up any quartz rock along the beach and use it as well.

Sucia Island fossil

We all hammered away at the cliff, or at pieces of fallen rock at the cliff’s foot, turning up fossil after fossil, which Liz duly recorded and bagged. It was great fun. I forgot to mention that Liz had brought some fossils up from the museum collection, showing us back at the house after breakfast what they were and previewing what we might see. As we found new fossils, she was able to tell us what they were.

Well, one can only have so much fun, and there was a ferry to catch, so around 3:00 we started walking back to the boat. Those darn tides. They had gone and reversed themselves on us, setting us up for yet another tide-fighting ride. But a beautiful one, with great company, so we were happy as we bumped along, around Orcas again and on to Shaw.

After docking, we unloaded, carried and wheelbarrowed everything back to the vehicles, and it was time for goodbyes to Julie, Liz, and the hostess, who would be returning to the house. The host drove us on to the ferry landing with time to spare, so we were able to wander through the general store with him and check out the post office. Then one more farewell, leaving Gail and me to sit and look out across the water to Orcas as we waited for the ferry.

The return trip was longer, since the ferry makes a triangle, going on from Shaw to Orcas before returning to Anacortes. We were back at our car around 7:00, in need of dinner. I had seen two possibilities the day before on our way through downtown Anacortes to the ferry, a Chinese place and a Mexican taqueria across the street from it. We drove into town, checked both out, and chose Chinese. A bit of a comedown from the three amazing meals of the previous 24 hours, but perfectly fine. Just what we needed. We got back in the car and an hour and a half later we were home.

We can’t wait for next year’s auction, and perhaps another curator trip, though nothing can top this one.

Categories: Food, Science, Travel

Porterhouse for Me

July 27, 2011 1 comment

Prime porterhouse steak with creamed spinach and hash browns at Palm

[Evan Sung for The New York Times]

Sam Sifton’s restaurant review in today’s NYT features classic New York steakhouses Palm and Palm Too. I never ate at them, or at their brethren that have sprung up across the country (not Seattle). Since childhood, my model for the New York steakhouse has been Peter Luger. But I have to say, when I reached the photo above from the review’s accompanying slide show, I was ready to head straight to Palm, leaving let Peter Luger for another day.

Sifton suggests that this would yield a happy outcome:

It is better to do as was always customary at Palm in the past, and ignore the menu entirely. Most want steak — the prime porterhouse if it’s available is generally the most crusty without and tender within … . So do not read about anything. Just ask for the steak after some Gigis and a crab. You may certainly ask for mashed potatoes or broccoli or fries. These will come with a shrug and perhaps some sucked teeth. The waiter knows you want creamed spinach and hash browns.

And then have a drink while you wait for the food to arrive, and catch up with your tablemates about work or family gossip or the affairs of the day. Do not order wine — the selection is not very good. Cut into your buttery meat, your buttery potatoes, your creamy greens. These are prepared with real skill and care, and taste it. Meanwhile, look at that sawdust on the floor and the twinkle in everyone’s eyes.

Categories: Food, Restaurants

Safeco Suite

July 7, 2011 Leave a comment

The Mariners have been playing baseball at Safeco Field since July 15, 1999. On June 27 of that year, we went to their final game at the Kingdome, a place I spent my first 18 years in Seattle detesting, but one I miss a little bit these days. I’m not sure why. Maybe because their greatest moments took place there and I got to see some of those moments. But anyway, I wasn’t too sad on June 27. Looking at the boxscore, I see that 56,529 others were in the stands with me as we beat the Rangers 5-2. Freddy Garcia got the win. And check out the lineup, with A-Rod, Griffey, and Edgar Martinez batting in the 2, 3, and 4 slots. No wonder I miss those days.

The Mariners then took a 12-game road trip, returning for a few gameless days before Safeco opened for business. We didn’t make it to that game. But we did show up some days earlier for the free open house, designed in part to put the staff and the food operations to a test. The best part of the open house was that visitors were free to walk everywhere, exploring the different seating options and views. We tried out seats at field level, in the third deck, the bleachers, and, of course, the luxury suites.

It took 12 years for us to get back to the suite level. We did Saturday night, courtesy of Gail’s sister, Tamara, and her husband, Jim. That was fun.

Jim worked part-time at Safeco last year, and therefore was eligible to participate in a contest that had as one of its prizes a suite for one of this season’s games. He won, and they chose Saturday to go, as a way to celebrate their 20th anniversary. The anniversary was actually on Monday, the 4th, but the Mariners were down in Oakland by then and the idea was to have the suite for a home game, so Saturday was it.

The suite has a limit of 20 people, and we were among the lucky 18 whom Tamara and Jim chose to celebrate with. So it was that we watched the Mariners play the Padres from a suite down the first-base line. Tamara and Jim also chose one of the catered food options, providing us with a full dinner as well as the game.

Guests could come at 5:00, two hours before game time, and start the festivities with hors d’ouevres. We were among the last to arrive, just before 6:00. There’s a special entrance to the suite level from the south parking garage, but we parked in our usual garage way north, so we walked down to Safeco, entered at the public entrance in left field, worked our way up the escalators, and entered the suite level somewhere down past third base. We had a long walk to get to our suite, allowing us the opportunity to see the large number of suites that are not rented for the season. As we neared home plate, we saw the largest concentration of rented suites — Microsoft, Boeing, Key Bank, and their ilk. But mostly the suites had blank nameplates.

Our suite was the basic model. One enters what you might think of as the living room. There’s a big island in the middle, which was covered with appetizers: salad, pita with hummus and other spreads, regular and sweetened popcorn. Let’s see. I must be leaving something out. Maybe shrimp. On the interior wall, next to the doorway, is a counter that had water pitchers and glasses on it as well as a sink. Below is a small refrigerator that was stocked with sodas and bottled water. Opposite the entrance wall is a high counter with bar stools looking out on the field and a doorway leading outside to a small stairway down and three tiered rows of seats. The interior bar counter functions as a fourth row, with an indoor-outdoor feel. Alternatively, windows that were folded out of the way can be closed so that one can sit at the counter and watch the game through the windows. The three rows of outdoor seating have counters as well, with desk-style rolling chairs, 5 or 6 per row.

On the right wall of the living room is a sitting area with comfortable chairs. The left wall has another counter, which had warming trays awaiting the main dishes. They arrived around 6:10. One held steaks and mashed potatoes. Another had salmon and rice. A third had asparagus. And there was a hot lamp that kept a tray of little brie-strawberry pastries warm. We were all able to enjoy the food well before the game started. And the food was quite good.

It turns out to be a bit of a distraction to watch a game with 20 people, almost of all of whom are related to each other, spanning three generations, with people moving around a lot for one reason or another. Plus, I was on photography duty. I got shots of pretty much everyone before game time, and of the food too. Then I took a seat, kept score, and got absorbed in the game. I played around with trying to get good shots of Doug Fister, the Mariner pitcher, taking multiple shots with each pitch for a while. Then I did the same with the batters. I hadn’t done this when Ichiro led off for the Mariners in the first inning, so I was making a point to be ready for his next at bat. But just as he got to home plate, Gail asked me a question, and before I knew it, he had swung at the first pitch. I took three shots of him approaching and rounding first base on a fly out to right field that ended the third ending. See below.

Soon thereafter, the Mariner Moose arrived. I ran up to the living room to get my telephoto lens off the camera and put on a wider aperture prime lens so I could snap the official anniversary photo of Tamara and Jim with the moose. I also got photos of Gail and moose; Gail, Tamara, and moose; and Gail, Tamara, Tamara’s daughter Leigh Anne, and moose.

After that, it took a while to refocus on the game, which is my excuse for missing the key moment in the game. In the top of the 5th, with Fister still pitching well, the Padres got a strikeout, a walk by Maybin, a grounder to third that was thrown to first, with Maybin going to second, a grounder to Ryan at short that just went off his glove for a single, allowing Maybin to score, and another grounder to end the inning. The Padres thereby took the lead, 1-0, and that was all the scoring. Fister pitched all nine innings for a painful loss.

The thing is, though, that walk by Maybin wasn’t a real walk. The count was 2-2 when Fister through a third ball. But the scoreboard said 3-2, the umpire got confused, anyone who knew better kept his mouth shut, and Maybin trotted off to first. The Mariners were apparently not among the group who knew better. Nor were the umpires. The walk stood, and that was that. I wish I could say that I knew better. I wish I could say that I even remember seeing the walk. I did see the subsequent fielder’s choice on which Maybin went to second and the single on which he scored. But the walk? I have no memory of it. I headed off to the men’s room before the top of the ninth, and in the men’s room was a speaker with the play-by-play of the game. That’s when I heard them talking about the sequence of pitches that led to what they referred to as the “controversial” walk. What a way to lose!

Then again, the way the Mariners were(n’t) hitting, it may not have mattered. The Padres would have won sooner or later. But Fister deserved better.

One thing I didn’t mention — the TVs. In the outer seating area, a couple of TVs are hung above the seats for each suite. And indoors, in the living room, is another TV. That’s another distraction. You look up at the monitor to see a replay of a hit or a call at first, and an at-bat later you’re still watching TV when you hear crowd noise as the batter is thrown out at first and realize that noise is for real, not from the TV, and you’re actually at the game, with that guy on TV running for real below you. Very disconcerting.

The game was quick, 2 hours and 9 minutes, a throwback to the old days. The sun had barely set when it ended. We stood around for a while in the living room, a few of us watching the post-game coverage on TV as they showed Fister’s full pitching sequence to Maybin in the walk. It takes a while for 20 people (21 counting the babe in arms) to say goodbye. Eventually, we left the suite, walked down past all the other suites to the left field exit, rejoined what was left of the crowd, and headed back to our car.

I don’t know when we’ll be in a suite again. They’re available for the taking. What with all the empty ones, I believe you can buy one for any game. Perhaps not such a good deal if you don’t have 20 takers. But it made for a great evening. Happy Anniversary, Tamara and Jim.

Categories: Baseball, Food

Lunch at Home

July 2, 2011 Leave a comment

Having just written about our lunch yesterday at Rover’s, I need to add a post about the meal we just had at home that was every bit as good, thanks to Joel and Gail. You can see it above.

Joel made the entrée, Masitas de Puerco, using the recipe he found at a blog called Cuban in the Midwest, which in turn credits epicurean.com. He prepared the marinade yesterday, mixing together garlic, chopped onion, orange juice, olive oil, oregano, cumin and salt, and letting this sit overnight in the refrigerator along with the pork chunks. Today, he cooked it up with sautéed onions.

To complement the masitas, Gail prepared a massaged kale salad. She cut the kale into thin ribbons and rubbed salt into the leaves, altering both the flavor and the texture. Then she added nectarine pieces, green beans, and a lemon vinaigrette. Although the recipe didn’t call for it, she also added pink peppercorns. And avocado, as you can plainly see.

The result in both cases was a sublime mix of flavors. We’ve had some pretty good meals lately, but none better than this.

Categories: Food

Lunch at Rover’s

July 2, 2011 Leave a comment

[From slideshow at Rover’s website]

Two summers ago, we became lunch regulars at Rover’s, famed Seattle restaurant that is just over a mile from our house, and I wrote a series of posts about our meals there. They serve lunch on Fridays only, so there are weeks at a time when getting there for lunch isn’t convenient. As a result, we fell out of the habit. Indeed, our last lunch visit was with Joel two Marches ago, and our last visit altogether was for a magnificent dinner last August courtesy of our visiting Glaswegian friends/houseguests. I never did write about that. I meant to.

Yesterday, at long last, we returned for a Friday Rover’s lunch, again with Joel. This time I’ll write about it.

We arrived at noon, when they open for lunch. Seated before us at a two-top were a mother and son. We were put at a four-top at the other end of the restaurant, in a quiet corner. There are usually just four entrées to choose from, plus maybe seven or eight appetizers and two desserts, so there isn’t much to think about, other than that it would be nice to have all four entrées. You can see one version of the lunch menu here. It is close to yesterday’s menu. In fact, the same four entrées were available, but with slightly different treatments.

Gail and I chose the farro appetizer. The menu lists it as follows: Farro, Asparagus, Pickled Lemon, Almond, Snow Pea. We had a variant: farro, peas, spinach, pickled lemon, basil oil. Boy was it good. That pickled lemon! Joel had the soup, a chilled almond soup poured over marcona almonds. I wouldn’t have minded a small cup of it along with the farro. Gail and I got small tastes of it and it was a perfect summer soup.

For his main dish, Joel chose the black cod, which came with green garbanzo beans and cous cous. He said he liked it. We didn’t taste it, but I’m sure we would have been happy with it. Instead, Gail and I chose the roasted Wagyu beef, which was served with cubed potatoes, pearl onions, and peas. And something else that neither of us can remember right now. Very frustrating. I meant to write everything down. No matter. The beef was beautifully prepared, the sauce superb, the vegetables vivacious. Well, okay, maybe not vivacious. I’m over-doing the alliteration. But they sure were good, and I could have eaten more of them.

For dessert, Joel chose the espresso crème brulée. The menu mentions almond tuile, but I’m pretty sure it didn’t come with that. Gail and I had the Chocolate Bavarian, with some sort of cream, but maybe not the “praline creme” of the online menu. Whatever the cream, the plate came with three chocolate cylinders — large, medium, and small. The large one was all chocolate with a dab of cream on top. The middle one had a cylindrical cutout in the center, filled with cream. The small one was the cylindrical cutout of the middle one. A lovely presentation.

Oh, I forgot that the beef and sauce were topped with little flowers of some sort.

I can’t imagine why we went over 15 months without a Rover’s lunch. We did eat multiple times in the interim at Rover’s new, more casual sister restaurant Luc, next door. A wonderful place. But not a reason to bypass Rover’s. The good news is that summer is just beginning and I should be able to get away from other duties for additional Friday lunches in the coming weeks.

Categories: Food, Restaurants

Georgian Room Dinner, 2

June 27, 2011 Leave a comment

Georgian Room

I wrote earlier today of our visit to the Wright Exhibition Space last Thursday afternoon, on the occasion of our 26th anniversary. Thursday evening, we continued our anniversary celebration with a dinner at the Olympic Hotel’s Georgian Room. This is always a natural location for our anniversary dinner, since we were married in the Olympic. We don’t make it there every year. Last year, for instance, we headed across the Sound to Alderbrook Resort & Spa on Hood Canal, a visit I wrote about at some length. But we were at the Olympic for our anniversary dinner two years ago, and I can’t imagine why we waited so long to return. It’s open, after all, on days other than our anniversary.

I realize now that I wrote about our two-year-ago Georgian Room dinner at the time. I had a lot to say. I expect this report to be briefer.

Let’s start with the menu. This link may not survive for long, and the menu displayed online tonight isn’t a perfect match with last Thursday’s, but it’s close. You might take a peek to start.

We arrived on schedule and were seated at one of the banquette tables along the back wall. These are two-tops designed for the diners to sit side-by-side on a sort of love seat to one side of the table, the other side being open. Sitting on the table was an arrangement with a dozen orange roses. (How did they know? I suspect it probably helped that I called Topper’s, a florist located on the hotel’s bottom floor, that morning.) We sat down, admired the flowers, then examined the menu.

A fixture of the menu is dessert soufflés, a standard one and a nightly special. In addition to deciding on our appetizer and main dish, we also needed to think about whether to order a soufflé early. More precisely, I had to decide. Gail didn’t. She always orders a soufflé. And we had to decide about wine.

In due course, we made our decisions. Gail chose the lobster appetizer. The online menu doesn’t explain it well. It came with a seaweed salad and some other item on the side that slips my mind. I had the onion tart, which is accurately described: Walla Walla Onion Tart, Baby Spinach, Warm Shallot and Bacon Vinaigrette. The tart wasn’t much more than an inch in diameter and an inch high, or maybe 1.5 inches. Next to it was another cylindrical stack, with greens and bacon in alternating layers. The salad stack was perfect. The onion tart was pretty good too, but I liked the salad even better. Gail was happy with her lobster, not so sure about the seaweed salad.

Oh, I jumped ahead, didn’t I, going from choosing appetizers straight to eating. Sorry about that. For her entrée, Gail selected the Roasted Rack of Lamb with Tomato Crusted Kalamata Olive, Sweet Pea Quinoa, Grilled Spring Onion. I’m going off the online menu, but it might have been slightly different. I chose the Filet of Angus Beef, Shallot and Oxtail Braisage, Young Organic Carrots. That’s what the online menu says, but our menus were different. Instead of carrots, I had mashed potatoes and peas. We also ordered a half-bottle of Châteauneuf-du-Pape La Crau, Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe, and Gail chose to start with a Bellini.

The Georgian Room’s sommelier was soon at our table with the wine. He’s the same fellow I wrote about two years ago, from Austria, who regaled us with family stories for several minutes that evening after someone other table’s entrées were brought to us by mistake. This time, we learned about his nearly complete home kitchen remodel, even as a waiter brought us our amuse bouche and another brought Gail her Bellini. We didn’t mind. He’s awfully charming.

So, now I have things in the right order. We chose our food and drink, the wine came, the amuse bouche and cocktail came, then the already described appetizers came. I don’t have much to say about the amuse bouche. I hardly remember it. It looked interesting, but the taste wasn’t so memorable.

And then it was entrée time. We were both happy with our choices. My steak sat atop the peas, which were encircled by the mashed potato, extruded it appeared from one of those pastry extruder bags. A lovely presentation. Gail’s lamb sat atop the pea quinoa, which formed a firm rectangular block, a blended mix of peas and quinoa that looked inviting and tasted pretty good too. Off to the side was a waffle-shaped tomato crisp, and below were balsamic dots. When Gail was done, I tasted her pea-quinoa cake. It was so good, I finished it off, then I asked her why she hadn’t finished it or her chops, as I bit off the last of the meat. That’s when she pointed out that she didn’t know she was finished. She was just giving me a taste. Oh well.

By the way, I failed to mention it, but after an advance look at the dessert menu when we finished ordering the main dishes, I decided to join Gail with soufflé. She chose the on-going option, a black and white chocolate soufflé. I chose the nightly special, a peaches and cream soufflé. A waiter came by to ask about coffee just as we were reminiscing once again about the time we were eating at Topper’s Restaurant in Nantucket and Gail asked at dessert time if they had a Sauternes. Sure. She had a glass, and only when the check came did we find that it cost $65. We didn’t know how expensive Château d’Yquem Sauternes is, and we haven’t ordered it since.

But this was our anniversary, so Gail decided to go for it. She asked if it was possible to get a glass of Château d’Yquem. The waiter apologetically said no. She ordered cappuccino. Then the waiter returned a few minutes later, apologetic again, this time because he hadn’t pointed out that (a) she could have other Sauternes and (b) we could order a bottle of Château d’Yquem. Well, we sure as heck weren’t going to choose (b), but I urged her to go ahead with (a).

Soon the soufflés came. And the Sauternes. And the cappuccino. Everything was perfect. And some minutes later, the closing treat was brought to us, adorned with two lit candles making an arch and the message Happy 26th Anniversary written in glaze on the plate. The treat consisted of some chocolate disks, a little dish of honey, and a long narrow trough filled with white chocolate flakes. We were instructed to dip the chocolate in the honey, then drag it through the white chocolate trough. That worked well.

So ended our anniversary dinner. Except for a little confusion on the bill. The wine was missing. I suspected this wasn’t a parting gift, so I pointed the omission out to the waiter, who was effusive in his thanks. The adjusted bill came, we paid, we walked out, and we made our traditional journey to the Kensington Room, half a flight up on the balcony level that overlooks the hotel’s grand lobby. All the other function rooms looked pretty dead, but the Kensington was hosting a reception, so we couldn’t really stare in, as I like to do. Gail isn’t as caught up in this tradition as I am. The Kensington is, of course, the room in which we were married, and I’m always happy to point this out to any passersby. I resisted the temptation to crash the reception and tell the guests that they had the good fortune to be sitting in the very room where 26 years ago on that very day … .

Categories: Food, Restaurants

A Day in Portland

May 31, 2011 Leave a comment

I have already written about our first half-day in Portland, last Friday. Now I’ll go over the highlights of our one full day there, Saturday.

1. Heathman Restaurant. We couldn’t get in the night before, but no problem Saturday morning. We had a fine breakfast. Then we headed up to the room and got ready for our outing.

2. Oregon Nikkei Legacy Center. We drove up to the Old Town Chinatown neighborhood, which includes the Portland New Chinatown/Japantown Historic District, and parked just a block up from the center. It opened at 11:00 and we were there a few minutes early. At 11:00, we headed in. There’s an on-going exhibit, Oregon Nikkei: Reflections of an American Community, that we were enjoying when a guide came up to us and asked if we’d been to the center before. Once we said no, she began to give us a tour. This was a mixed blessing, given that the exhibit itself seemed up to that point to be extremely well laid out, with excellent explanations of the photos and objects. She raced us ahead, not allowing us to absorb all the items, but she also had much to say that was of interest. Then another group walked in and she dropped us in mid-sentence. Fair enough. By that point, we were on the threshold of the exhibit we had come to see, a temporary exhibit scheduled to end a day later, Taken: FBI.

The exhibit is no longer listed online at the Center’s website. Too bad. Here’s a series of photos someone has posted. It was a small exhibit, focusing on a handful of the men and one woman who were rounded up by the FBI on December 7, 1941. Some of the relevant background is laid out in a series of signs as one enters the exhibit, the key point being that already in the 1930s, Roosevelt gave the FBI permission to start collecting information on Japanese Americans, so they would know who to pick up first if war came. Mind you, the people to round up were not dangerous. They weren’t spies, or collaborators. They were simply successful members of the community, community leaders. Those focused on in the exhibit led exemplary lives. Extraordinary lives even. As you read about how each of them lived before the war, and how they tried to restore their lives afterwards, the message of national madness, irrationality, and hysteria comes through clearly.

How could it happen? Well, the exhibit takes pains to remind the reader of the racial stereotyping taken for granted 70 years ago, not that that justifies anything. Only in the final exhibit signage is it hinted that we really haven’t advanced all that far, as we continue to narrow the rights of certain ethnic groups in response to war, a war we now find ourselves in that by definition will never end. And indeed we seem willingly to take away everybody’s rights. Witness last week’s extension of the Patriot Act.

But back to the internment of Japanese Americans. Just a week before our tour, the acting solicitor general of the US, Neal Katyal, wrote about errors made by his office at the time of Pearl Harbor.

The Ringle Report, from the Office of Naval Intelligence, found that only a small percentage of Japanese Americans posed a potential security threat, and that the most dangerous were already known or in custody. But the Solicitor General did not inform the Court of the report, despite warnings from Department of Justice attorneys that failing to alert the Court “might approximate the suppression of evidence.” Instead, he argued that it was impossible to segregate loyal Japanese Americans from disloyal ones. Nor did he inform the Court that a key set of allegations used to justify the internment, that Japanese Americans were using radio transmitters to communicate with enemy submarines off the West Coast, had been discredited by the FBI and FCC. And to make matters worse, he relied on gross generalizations about Japanese Americans, such as that they were disloyal and motivated by “racial solidarity.”

See also the LA times editorial on this last Friday.

3. Japanese American Historical Plaza. From the center, we walked two blocks over to the Willamette River to see the Japanese American Historical Plaza, a part of Portland’s Waterfront Park. As the park site explains, “On August 3, 1990, the Japanese American Historical Plaza was dedicated to the memory of those who were deported to inland internment camps during World War II. In the memorial garden, artwork tells the story of the Japanese people in the Northwest – of immigration, elderly immigrants, native-born Japanese Americans, soldiers who fought in US military services during the war, and the business people who worked hard and had hope for the children of the future. A sculpture by Jim Gion, Songs of Innocence, Songs of Experience, also graces the plaza.”

We walked around, read the poetry on the stones, took in the atmosphere, examined the Gion sculpture. Most people milling around were overflow from Portland’s Saturday Market , which was in full swing just south of the plaza. We’d gladly have checked it out, but time was running out on our parking meter, and we had to get on with our plans. We could easily have spent the full day in Portland. Or we could have spent the day visiting wineries. We had decided to try to squeeze both in, and it was time to head out of town for our one winery visit.

4. Red Curry Thai Restaurant. We weren’t looking to eat Thai food. All we wanted to do was drive out past Beaverton to Ponzi Vineyards, where we thought we might hook up with our niece Leigh Anne. But when we were on the highway headed out to Beaverton, she texted us that she was a ways out, so once we got off the highway, we decided to stop at the first reasonable restaurant to eat lunch and kill time. The first reasonable restaurant turned out to be Red Curry. In fact, it was the first restaurant period. Just past the exit was a new strip mall. We turned in, found a 7-11, an Indian food market, and Red Curry. It didn’t look like much as we drove past. It’s extremely narrow, though deep, and we couldn’t see much. Once we walked in, we found it to be surprisingly elegant. I see now that it’s been open only two months. The reviews at urbanspoon that I’ve just been looking at sum it up well: “A very nice, elegant Thai restaurant in the ‘burbs! Nice decor and tasty menu!” “Don’t let the small store front fool you. They did a very good job decorating the place. The food can rival some of the better Thai restaurants.” “just the best food ever. … a fantastic meal. Service was very gracious. Decor is way above caliber for a restaurant in an office park.” We weren’t looking for much, but we had an excellent meal.

5. Ponzi Vineyards. Why Ponzi? No good reason, but there were reasons: (i) It must be the single closest winery to downtown Portland. As one heads west, past housing developments, one crosses Roy Rogers Road and all the development ends. I missed it, but Gail says there’s a sign saying you’ve entered an agricultural district. And moments later, there’s a turn down a small road that deadends at the winery entrance. (ii) The hotel gave us a card for a free tasting for two. Not that the tasting would have been so expensive. But we decided to take advantage.

The tasting room was crowded, and became even more so while we did our business. They start everyone off with a free tasting of their pinot gris. Then one can get a three-wine flight for $10. This is what our card entitled us to for free, so we took it. A rosé, a white, a red. I think they call their first one their rosato. Next was their new release arneis, which we were told would be sold out within the week. And then their lower end pinot noir. From there we could pay another $5 for their pinot noir reserve and $2 for their dessert wine, the gelato. We tried them. Then we asked how the reserve compared to the next level up in their pinot noirs, which was not available for tasting. She did pull from somewhere a chardonnay for us to taste unasked. And then we proceeded to choose wines to make up a case, with the 15% case discount. Four of the gelato, a few of the higher end pinot noirs, three of the arneis, a chardonnay, another white. Now we have some tasting to do.

6. Japanese Garden. We never did meet up with our niece. It was time to head back to Portland so we could visit the famed Japanese Garden. First we had to find it. I knew it was in Washington Park, just above downtown. I suspected we could get off US 26 at the zoo exit before reaching downtown, on the assumption that the zoo is in Washington Park, and then drive around until we found the garden. But I didn’t trust my suspicion. Or listen to Gail’s advice to take Canyon Road, the next exit. Instead, we drove right into downtown, back out to the park, but entered the park on a road that bypasses everything and puts you right back onto US 26 heading out of town. At that point, when the zoo exit appeared again, I took it. This had the benefit that we did in fact get to drive through much of the park and see what it has to offer. The zoo. The children’s museum. The world forestry center discovery museum. The arboretum. Holocaust and Vietnam memorials. The famous rose garden. And finally, the Japanese Garden. We couldn’t find parking, and suddenly we were right out of the park, into a fancy residential neighborhood that looks down from the hills to downtown.

We parked, walked back to the shuttle stop, took the shuttle up the steep hill to the garden entrance, paid our $9.50 apiece, got a map, and entered. Map in hand, we followed the suggested route and saw many of the sights. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see the amazing view that would have awaited us on another day of Mount Hood, sitting above the city. We never did see Mount Hood. It was quite a weekend of weather, with showers, hailstorms, sun, rain, but never views of the Cascades. And our time in the garden was probably the hottest, sunniest time of the entire trip. Highlights? Gosh. It’s all really quite lovely. I’d like to go again earlier in the day. We were near our limit in terms of taking in new sights by the time we got there.

We walked down the hill to the tennis courts, considered going down below the courts to the rose garden, but decided instead to call it a day. Minutes later, we were back in the Heathman.

7. Lacrosse. This was Saturday of Memorial Day weekend. Normally, that means I’m watching the NCAA men’s lacrosse championship semifinals. I wrote last week about the earlier rounds. We had already missed the first semifinal, in which Denver’s historic ride came to an end against Virginia, 14 to 8. But we were in our room in time to pick up the Maryland-Duke semifinal. Maryland won an amazingly low scoring game, 6-3. Time for dinner.

8. Pearl District. We headed up to the Pearl District, anticipating a meal at one of Portland’s renowned brew pubs. Alas, when we got to Deschutes, we were looking at a one-hour wait. We headed back to Henry’s Tavern, which sits within the old Blitz-Weinhard Brewery building. The doorman had warned us didn’t have the greatest food, though it did have the largest beer selection. And the wait was only 15 minutes. Soon we were seated. What we didn’t know was that we would then have a 40 minute wait for our appetizer, hummus and bread, which Gail wasn’t convinced we even needed. And 3 minutes later, our dinner came. A fiasco. The waitress apologized, I suggested we needed more than an apology, she said yes, of course, the manager already knew and would be coming to discuss adjustments. When the manager did come, she told us several tables had the same problem. The bread, it turns out, is really a thin pizza, essentially, with herbs but no toppings, and the pizza guy somehow flaked out. She assured us we wouldn’t have to pay for it, and we could have dessert on the house, which we did. Not the best experience. What can you do? Maybe next time we should wait at Deschutes.

9. Hotel. We had anticipated wandering through Powell’s Books after dinner, it being just the next block over. But dinner was so long that we were ready to call it an evening. We headed back to the hotel and our day came to an end.

Categories: Food, Garden, History, Travel, Wine