Sunday, December 26, 2010

Ate Oh Ate? Man Oh Man!

The menu for a restaurant dedicated to the foods of my childhood would start with a list of appetizers that included large cheese balls rolled in walnuts with Triscuits alongside, a brick of cream cheese smothered in cocktail sauce and sprinkled with little pink shrimp (more Triscuits) and, of course, the crack…er…dips my mother made from sour cream mixed with instant French onion soup or canned clams.

The entrée list would lead off with tuna casserole à la Campbell's (bien sur!), then meander through Spanish rice, hamburger casserole (we called it goulash), chipped beef on white bread, hamburger tacos and fried-to-death pork chops. Desserts would come from a box (cakes, puddings) with the occasional made-from-scratch fruit crisp or ice cream topped with chocolate sauce and salted peanuts and called a Tin Roof.

You can thank your lucky stars that Ben Dyer came from much more interesting culinary roots when he decided to open a restaurant dedicated to the foods he remembered from a childhood spent in Hawaii. Add to that the high-quality ingredients he's become known for at ventures including Simpatica Dining Hall, Viande and Laurelhurst Market, and Ate Oh Ate…a pun on the area code for Hawaii…looks like a sure winner. Especially when you factor in that a plate full of food rarely runs over $10.

Though when my friend Ivy suggested going there for lunch I was a little hesitant, since the only Hawaiian food I'd had consisted of a large platter of white rice topped with cubed chicken breast that had been drowned in sweet teriyaki. But when our order arrived my fears evaporated like the rain after a tropical storm, the Lau Lau pork shoulder and house-cured salt cod steamed in taro leaves (left, above) achieving a miraculous melt-in-your-mouth quality. (Note: don't forget to eat the taro leaves…with a flavor similar to kale, they add a slightly bitter green note that brings out the sweetness of the pig.)

Even Dyer's side of macaroni salad was great, probably the best I've ever had of that much-maligned and rarely successful chestnut of barbecue and Hawaiian joints. The poke (pron. POH-kay) daily special of raw fish tossed with green onions, shoyu and ginger (top photo) was amazing, and the fire engine-red chile sauce on the cucumber kimchi (right) took me back to my college trip to Seoul.

So until I can arrange a trip to Hawaii to sample these island specials for myself, I'll rely on Ben to guide me through the finer points of his native land. And rest easy. Unlike Mr. Dyer I don't have any intention of recreating my childhood in restaurant form.

Details: Ate Oh Ate, 2454 E. Burnside St. 503-445-6101.


Anonymous said...

Triscuits. In 1954 I was in the 5th grade at Furnace Creek School, in Death Valley, CA (the only school in the USA below sea level--but I digress). We were in the marketing survey for a new Nabisco product: Triscuits! We pronounced them OK, and the rest is History.

Kathleen Bauer said...

So it was you! My mother would owe you a huge debt of gratitude…