Saturday, March 31, 2012

Travels with Chili: Penticton Personalities

I'm getting back to this series because the last few days of our visit to BC's Okanagan deserve their time in the sun. This stage began with a couple of encounters we had in Penticton.

Hungry for some lunch, we walked by a bakery that looked like it had some fantastic specials on an easel out front (below left). Two men sat inside discussing something in low voices over a copy of the local paper. There was no one behind the counter, and we were about to give up when one of the men got up, came over and gruffly asked what it was we were there for.

This was our introduction to Benjamin Manea, Romanian-born Israeli and owner of Walla Foods, billed as "authentic Mediterranean and Middle Eastern foods." We ordered the Israeli tuna salad sandwich made with tuna, minced onion, pickles and anchovies on focaccia, and inquired about buying a loaf of his bread (photo above is his Puttanesca sourdough with kalamata olives, capers, olive oil and olive pesto). He looked at us sternly and said, "Before you buy, you need to know about this bread.”

I don't know what it is about me, but when confronted by prickly characters like Mr. Manea, I consider it a personal challenge to get them to smile. I remarked that this sounded like a warning, and he looked at me like I was a misbehaving child. Then he turned to Dave and instructed him to never, ever put the bread in a plastic bag in the fridge, that when it’s cut open it needs to be stored cut edge down on the counter and that it would last for four days. As we were paying, he grumbled something about people not knowing how to take care of fresh bread, and we took our sandwich out to the table in the hall and shared it.

We’d finished about half of our lunch when he came out and proceeded to tell us he'd started baking just four years earlier after emigrating from Israel, how no one in this town appreciated anything homemade, how his bread took two to four days to make, and that the loaves (in plastic bags!) sold down the hall in a bakery outlet were crap. He’d definitely warmed up to us at this point, and said that he’d have homemade pastries on Saturday and we should come by.

Cranky bread maniacs met in far-flung locales? Bring 'em on!

Details: Walla Food, 114-1475 Fairview Rd. in the Cannery Mall, Penticton, BC. 250-770-2001.

* * *

The lovely Sarah, our host at God's Mountain Estate, had suggested that we should try a local Greek eatery, Theo's, for dinner. It's tucked into a corner of an older building and has an atrium in the center that gives it an airy, garden-like feeling. The host, a handsome fellow with a charming smile, came by our table asking if we'd like to see the wine list and inquiring if we had any questions about the menu.

Nikos Theodosakis.

When I remarked on the purslane salad on the menu, he excitedly whipped out a flyer and explained that his mother, Mary Theodosakis (video above), had grown up foraging the plant in her native Crete. After coming to Penticton, she visited a local farm and found it growing in his fields along with amaranth, and that both were being treated as a unwelcome weeds. She explained to him that these were delicious edible plants and that she'd be happy to buy them for her restaurant. The farmer, Gene Covert, did just that and they became a favorite of his farmers’ market customers as well as contributing to his decision to get his farm certified as organic.

Obviously I was captivated by the story, and then this friendly fellow, Nikos Theodosakis, the son of the owners and a very interesting fellow, said something even more amazing.

You’ve heard of TED? The place where ex-Presidents and geniuses expound on their cool ideas? Turns out this Greek restaurant owner with the nice glasses and wavy hair has done two TEDX presentations on his films and nonprofit work. His current passion is developing curriculum connecting kids and food and impoverished people, a project he's calling OliveUs. In this program school children raise money and loan it to people in third world countries and, like the Grameen Bank, when the money is repaid it is loaned out again. Oh, and he's also working with Apple and their “iLife in the Classroom” curriculum. Wow.

And the dinner, you might ask? The purslane salad was terrific, the calamari (above right) was crisp and tender, with just the right amount of garlic in the tzatziki. My rabbit (left), seared and then braised in wine, brandy, tomato and small onions, was spiced with rosemary, bay leaves, cloves and cinnamon (my mouth is watering at the memory). Dave's roasted chicken, like my rabbit served in the sizzling copper pan it was cooked in, was glazed in a mild paprika, lemon juice and fresh rosemary sauce. Stunningly good, but not as stunning (or as lucky) as walking into a restaurant and meeting someone like Nikos.

Details: Theo's Restaurant, 687 Main St., Penticton, BC. 250-492-4019.

Read the other posts in this series, The Great Okanagan Road Trip, Okangan's Lake Country, Magical Moment, Perched In Penticton and Crazy for Kelowna.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Mixing It Up at Mextiza

"I am not an academic, historian, anthropologist, or botanist, but just an adventurous cook and a lover of the natural world who delights in the experience of traveling to discover and taste foods, some of which I had only heard about, but many that I was yet to discover in this infinite world…"
- Diana Southwood Kennedy, in the introduction to Oaxaca al Gusto

It's really sad that we know more about the cuisines of Italy, France and even Japan than we know about the food of one of our nearest neighbors. Mention going out for Mexican to most people and they think of burritos and enchiladas swimming in a sea of melted American cheese. But with the opening of Mextiza, Oswaldo Bibiano's paen to the pleasures of the Mexican table, there is finally an opportunity to experience a taste (pun intended) of the incredible breadth and depth this cuisine has to offer.

A view of the room.

Since 2004 and the closing of Claire Archibald's late, lamented Café Azul, it's been rare to see Portland restaurants venture much beyond a molé here or a nopales salad there. Bibiano's first restaurant, Autentica, on the once-spooky-but-now-chichi corner of NE 30th and Killingsworth, celebrated the foods of the chef's home state of Oaxaca and earned him a Beard nomination in 2010.

On recent visits for lunch and dinner, Mextiza exceeded even my optimistic expectations by miles. If you want to get a first taste, I'd go for a mid-week lunch, but if you want to really get a sense of what Bibiano's kitchen is capable of, get yourself a party of six and make a reservation for dinner. Otherwise be prepared for a wait at the bar, well-stocked with tequila and offering many tequila-based cocktails, if you come on a weekend night.

The cabrito.

I'd been looking forward to a well-made margarita all day, and our table ordered a round as soon as we sat down. Mine was an outstanding version of the classic, while the special margarita made with blood oranges that another of our group ordered was wonderfully fruity with a slightly flowery nose. Dave noted that their beer list was nicely put together, as well, featuring three Northwest microbrews and Modelo Especial on tap.

The menu is grouped into six categories from salads and chips to appetizers, entrée-sized sandwiches filled with the likes of shredded pork, chicken and tongue, small plates, entrées and sides. With our margaritas we ordered the chips and guacamole (see previous review) and the special app of the evening, calamari simmered in a chile sauce (top photo), a dish so heavenly it nearly stole the evening. The squid was tender but meaty, and the mildly spicy sauce begged to be sopped with the tortillas provided alongside…I could tell people were tempted to pick up the plate and lick it despite themselves.

Lechon Yucateco.

Two of our party ordered the cabrito, a Northern Mexican dish of slow-roasted goat with potatoes, pinto beans and a chile-vinegar sauce. The goat was mild and fall-apart tender, and the sauce added a piquant (but not overwhelmingly tart) note. I ordered the lechon Yucateco, chunks of tender meat sliced from a whole rotisseried pig with black beans, onions and salpicon that brought back memories of the wonderful flavors we'd experienced on our last visit to Mexico.

The most interesting dish was the huarachitos estilo DF, a fried oval of corn masa topped with black beans that comes with a choice of huevo frito con tuetano (fried egg and marrow), mushrooms, carne asada, chicken breast, nopalitos, fried cheese or chicken tinga. The corn masa and beans were classics, and the carne asada was good, though I'm dying to try the egg and marrow combo on my next visit.

We were all far too stuffed to have dessert and drinks, but maybe next time I'll be able to save room. And from the two references I made above about a next visit, you can be sure there'll be one!

Details: Mextiza, 2103 N Killingsworth. 503-289-3709.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Pickled Buds of Joy

You know the post I wrote about the lacinato kale in the garden that I can't seem to pull out? The one that recently started producing, as contributor Jim Dixon would call it, "immature flower buds from various cabbage relatives" that are commonly called (cover your ears, Jim) raab, rabe or rapini.

Not to get off topic, but my son has been expressing an interest in making pickles for some time. So I consulted my favorite pickle meister, Kevin Gibson, who makes some of the best pickles in town at Evoe, as to what book might be the best introduction to the art. He suggested a slim volume titled Tsukemono: Japanese Pickling Recipes by Ikuko Hisamatsu, which contains lots of quick pickle recipes using relatively common ingredients. What's even better is that my son happens to love Asian flavors, so I immediately ran next door to Powell's on Hawthorne and picked it up.

In that book is a recipe for Rape Flowers in Mustard or Nanohana Karashi-zuke that require just 45 minutes from start to finish, the main ingredient of which we could get by stepping out the back door. It did require a trip to our neighborhood Asian grocery but, as promised, within 45 minutes of starting the prep, we were munching on some surprisingly tasty green pickles. Excellent!

Rape Flowers in Mustard (Nanohana Karashi-zuke)
Adapted from Quick & Easy Tsukemono: Japanese Pickling Recipes by Ikuko Hisamatsu

1 lb. rape, raab or rapini
1 Tbsp. soy sauce
1/2 Tbsp. hot mustard paste (karashi)
1 Tbsp. mirin
1 Tbsp. light soy sauce
1 dried chile pepper

Cut off any tough stems of rape flowers. Tear off leaves. In a pot of lightly salted boiling water, cook leaves and flowers briefly just until the color changes. (We chopped up the stems and threw them in first to cook a little more before we added the leaves and buds, and they worked fine.) Plunge into cold water to stop cooking. Drain and squeeze out as much water as possible.

Place in bowl, pour 1 Tbsp. soy sauce over the green and combine. Squeeze again to remove moisture. Mix with remaining seasonings and stir well. Remove seeds from chile pepper and mince. (We left the seeds in.) Add to greens mixture and combine. Take a small plate that will fit inside the bowl and place it over the greens. Take a jar filled with water (or a pint glass) and place it on top of the plate, pressing down the greens. Let it stand for 30 minutes. Serve.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Oregon's Black Gold: The Nose Knows

"I'm ceding the field to Chloe today," said Jack Czarnecki, master mushroom and truffle hunter. He'd just been bested by a young blond who totally skunked him in a day-long search for Oregon black truffles.

Jack appreciating Chloe's work.

The blond in question was a two-year-old golden Lab trained by Jack's friend John Getz (top photo, with Chloe), who'd invited him and a couple of observers to forage for this elusive buried treasure, Leucangium carthusianum, in a stand of Douglas fir in Oregon's Coast Range near Florence. Unlike Oregon's white truffle, Tuber oregonense, which grows on surface roots of the Douglas fir, the black truffle tends to grow at depths of six inches to three or four feet. (Read my article on foraging for white truffles.)

Jack and John "helping" Chloe dig.

And that's where young Chloe came in. Dogs have been used to hunt truffles in Europe for many years, almost completely replacing the famous truffle-hunting pigs. A well-trained dog can sniff out the gasses being released by a truffle hiding beneath the soil, and John had been training Chloe to find ripe or nearly-ripe truffles since she was a pup. Dogs are also preferred because they dig in one spot and disturb the tree roots much less than other methods for finding the deeper fungi.

The training is a totally reward-based system, beginning with hiding a truffle or a truffle oil-scented cloth around the house, giving the dog a treat when the bait is found, then gradually moving the game outdoors as the dog develops its skill. Chloe turned out to be a natural, one of the best that Getz had ever had, and she was able to keep at it for several hours without losing interest.

The day had started with an early morning drive to the coast, where my friend Linda and I met Jack at his family's beach house for a breakfast of coffee and egg strata prepared by his wife, Heidi. After fortifying ourselves for the day's work, we headed down to pick up John, his wife, Connie, and Chloe at their home in Florence.

Chloe gets excited about truffles.

Our little caravan made its way up into the mountains to an old Christmas tree stand that John had obtained permission to hunt on, and we ducked under the branches of the outermost trees and into the darkness beneath them. As we worked our way in, the temperature dropped precipitously and I was glad that I'd worn insulated boots and several layers of clothing.

Candy cap mushroom-infused vodka martini at Joel Palmer House.

Chloe was very excited to have all these people with her, and it took several minutes for her to calm down and focus on her job, but with a few gentle commands to "Go find them, girl," from John, she got down to business. Within a few minutes her nose was ruffling through the duff under the trees, and then she was digging furiously. John rushed to her side and when she got about six inches down he reached in and pulled out an almost-black lump about two inches in diameter.

Filet with foie gras, wild mushrooms and mushroom polonaise.

This happened many times over the next three hours or so as we tagged along, straining our eyes to see if there was the black edge of a truffle breaking the surface, but even Jack admitted that he could find little evidence of them above ground. Chloe, meanwhile, was finding a trove of the black beauties, and the scents that rose up from them were amazingly diverse, ranging from pineapple to apple to bacon and even chocolate. (Read how to ripen truffles at home by scrolling to the second half of the link.)

Scallop quenelle with black trumpet popcorn and trout caviar.

With around two pounds of Chloe's hard work in our buckets, it was back into the cars to drive to Dayton for a grand mushroom dinner at the Joel Palmer House, now owned by Jack's son Chris, who is also the chef. A shower of courses came and went, each one with a wine pairing chosen from the restaurant's cellar. And even though mushrooms were included in every course—even the martini was made from candy cap mushroom-infused vodka, which had its signature maple flavor—each one had a completely different flavor profile.

This was one of those days that was an education as well as a revelation, and ever since then I've been eyeing Walker as a potential candidate for truffle training. It could be the start of a whole new breed trait for Corgis…great idea, right?

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Coffee Foam as Art

I've written about the sweet hideaway that is Fehrenbacher Hof in the Goose Hollow neighborhood. Today Dave and I stopped in, the lovely Sammy took our order and we chatted about restaurants as she made our coffees. Though when she put mine on the counter, it was almost too lovely to drink! So nice!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Big Horses: The Future of Farming?

Nascar and monster trucks have their fans, but for me an afternoon spent out in the fresh air listening to the heaving breath of big horses and the sound of plows turning the earth is a slice of heaven. This year's Farm Fest 2012, sponsored by the Yamhill County Historical Society and the Oregon Draft Horse Breeders Association, will give you a rare chance to see a wide range of draft horse breeds doing what they do best.

Lest you think this is a quaint historical reenactment, know that plowing with draft horses and mules is coming back in a big way on many small Oregon farms. Its low impact on the land and multiple benefits—manure for fertilizer, ability to do multiple tasks like plowing, haying and harvesting, relatively low maintenance costs—have many pieces of farm equipment being put out to pasture, especially in an era of sky-high fuel prices.

So whether you're into history, horses, the future of farming or simply want a nice drive in the country, put this event on your calendar with a big red circle.

Details: Farm Fest 2012. April 14, 10 am-3 pm; $3 adults, kids under 12 free. Yamhill Valley Heritage Center, 11275 SW Durham Lane, McMinnville. 503-434-0490.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Dirty Work, Delicious Payoff

I'd heard about Oregon truffles. I'd eaten Oregon truffles. But I'd never had the opportunity to go out and dig them myself. Then the Oregon Truffle Festival invited me to attend this year's celebration, which included going out in the forest with dogs specifically trained to find them, as well as eating my fill of these native treasures prepared by Oregon's top chefs.

Outside. Dogs. Native foods. Great eating. How could I say no?

Shortly after that I got to go out with restaurateur and Oregon truffle guru Jack Czarnecki and get the download on his life's passion. Read the result in my article in today's FoodDay section of the Oregonian, "Dirty Work, Delicious Payoff."

Read about my weekend in Eugene at the festival, including a great under-the-radar B&B and some good eating and drinking!

Scourge of the Garden But Tasty on the Plate

Speaking of gardening, there are some lessons that I've had to learn the hard way. My recent Waterloo came in the form of a friend offering to share a cutting from her horseradish plant.

Fresh horseradish? Sure! I love its dry, peppery bite, which is so much milder than the white, biting stuff in jars that can take your head off if you're not careful. (Due not as much to the horseradish it contains as to the mustard oil that's sometimes added to it.)

My big mistake was in not checking into its growth habits before planting it in my raised bed. The first year was fine…it stayed contained in the corner of the box where I'd planted it and yielded a few long roots that spiced up grilled meats and stews when grated over the top.

The second year was the wake-up call. That's when I realized I had a monster on my hands. Almost half the bed was taken over by the large waving leaves, and it was threatening to strangle the rhubarb next to it. Which meant digging out the rhubarb plant and disentangling its roots from the death grip of the horseradish, as well as digging out as many of the horseradish roots as I could find.

I know I'm going to be digging them out for years to come, trying to prevent a second War of the Raised Bed. Though, as strange as it may sound, I'm committed to planting it again. The difference being that this time it'll be growing within the confines of a pot.

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Czar Gets Saucy!

Jack Czarnecki is a busy guy. Not only does he spend countless hours tramping through the woods looking for mushrooms and Oregon truffles to feature on the menu of the Joel Palmer House, the fine restaurant he founded in Dayton, but he's also come out with a line of sauces using Oregon pinot noir.

This week's Small Bites section of the Oregonian's FoodDay highlights the four appropriately-named Czar's Sauces: Pinot Szechuan, Pinot & Pepper, Pinot & Habanero and Pinot & Chipotle. He gave me a sample of each one to play with, and I can tell you that the unique flavor of each pepper comes through, with the wine adding a nice depth that you don't get with a lot of spicy sauces. It makes them perfect for using as a sauce on everything from meat to eggs, but also as an ingredient in recipes.

They'd be perfect as gifts for your favorite host or to send to spice-loving friends out of town. Here are a couple of recipes I came up with (and that got the big thumbs up from the fam), and there are more online!

1000 Island Dressing

1 c. mayonnaise
1/2 c. ketchup
1/8 tsp. celery salt
1-2 tsp. Czar's Pinot & Szechuan Sauce, to taste
1 Tbsp. Kosher dill pickles, minced (I like Bubbies)
1 Tbsp. onion, minced

In small mixing bowl, combine all ingredients and stir till well mixed.

* * *

Chili with Beans and Ground Pork

1 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1 1/2 lbs. ground pork
1 large onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 green bell pepper, finely chopped
2 Tbsp. chili powder
1 Tbsp. cumin
1 c. Czar's Pinot & Chipotle Sauce
4 c. roasted or canned tomatoes
3 25-oz. cans red kidney beans or 6-8 c. cooked beans
1 Tbsp. oregano
Salt to taste

Heat oil in large Dutch oven over medium heat and sauté pork till browned. Add onion and garlic and sauté till tender. Add bell pepper and sauté till tender. Add remaining ingredients, stir to combine and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for at least one hour and preferably two or more. Adjust salt to taste.

Details: The Czar's sauces are available online and at Newman's Fish Co. and Storyteller Wine Shop in Portland. Also at Roth's in McMinnville, Willamette Valley Tasting Room, NW Food & Gifts, WilaKenzie Lavender, Harvest Fresh in McMinnville, Tyrus Evan in Carlton;  Zerba and Red Hills Market in Dundee, Rain Dance Gifts in Newberg and Sokol Blosser in Dayton.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

I Say Raab, You Say Rabe

When I planted those lacinato kale seeds in the garden last spring, I figured I'd get some good eating from their greens later in the summer. Indeed, that did happen until they became infested with aphids and the dusty grey bugs and their residue couldn't be washed off the leaves. At that point I thought they were pretty much done and it was time to pull them out.

Then Anthony Boutard mentioned that he prefers these greens in the winter, when the cold weather causes the plants to produce sugar as a kind of anti-freeze. So I left them in, pulling off the leaves for salads, soups and sides and discovering, by golly, that Anthony wasn't pulling my leg. There was a definite sweetness that crept in as the winter progressed.

As the plant grew, looking like a Dr. Suess illustration of a tiny palm tree, the leaves became smaller and smaller, and again I thought about pulling them up. About then I noticed that little heads were forming with buds that looked like the raab I love at the spring farmers' markets. I picked one off and tasted it…nutty, green, sweet…woohoo!

So about the time the raab runs out it'll be time to plant new seeds and get a whole new year's worth of eating. Who knew?

For more, read Jim Dixon's rant about the "immature flower buds from various cabbage relatives."

Friday, March 09, 2012

How to Shuck an Oyster

If you love our Northwest oysters as much as I do, then there's a good chance you'll be shucking oysters at some point. But if you're a novice like me, you'll want to avoid the mistake I made of shoving the oyster knife into your palm in front of your guests.

So when I had the chance to interview Lissa James, co-owner with her brother Adam of Hama Hama Oyster Company on Washington's Puget Sounds, I asked if I could film her technique for shucking oysters and she graciously obliged.

(And sorry about the focus, but you'll get the idea…)

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Cold Weather's Bounty

My friend Linda Colwell isn't what you'd call an excitable sort, but when it comes to the goodness coming from the fields of an Oregon winter, all I can say is, "Stand back!"

So when the Oregonian's FoodDay section asked me to put together a meal using products from our winter farmers' markets, I knew just who to call. Read about the winter feast we cooked up (and get the recipes!) in "Cold Weather's Bounty."

Photos by the ever-fabulous Motoya Nakamura.

Monday, March 05, 2012

A Really Great Day

The e-mail's subject line was enough to grab my attention: "Oink oink."

Turns out my friend Matt Berson, winemaker under his own Love and Squalor and Behemoth labels, had bought half a pig from Chris and Amy at Square Peg Farm and was looking for some moral support. He'd observed a couple of other butcherings, and taken the hands-on pig butchering class from Melinda at Portland's Culinary Workshop, but this was his first solo effort.

I told him I'd only butchered a pig once under close supervision, but he said the company would be helpful, so I was (more than) happy to come and lend a hand. I climbed the stairs at his friend Matt Johnson's Secret Society and up to the kitchen where Peg the pig (named after its former home) was waiting on a long table.

After consulting a couple of online resources, Matt set to work cutting it into the large primal sections, leaving the leg in a single piece for prosciutto. The jowl came off, then the belly, a nice long slab of bacon-to-be. We threw scraps of meat and fat into a bin for sausage, then after removing the backbone and dividing the rib sections, I had to leave Matt to do the rest of the piecework since I was meeting my friend Kathryn for a lunch date.

Kevin was just turning the "CLOSED" sign around as I got to Evoe, so I grabbed two seats at the prep table, the better to observe the chopping, shaving and mixing of the ingredients that makes this place my personal choice for the best restaurant in town. By the time I'd perused the chalkboard with the day's offerings, Kathryn had arrived and we promptly ordered two house-made elderflower spritzers and the pickle plate.

Knowing as I do that Kathryn's appetite for Kevin's food is as prodigious as mine, despite the fact that she is (quite astonishingly) petite, we set about ordering. Nettle dumplings with cream (left) were the essence of spring, three light-as-a-feather quenelles arranged in a dish of cream and briefly set under the broiler to warm and brown.

To follow that we chose a light salad. Kevin has had a way with butter lettuce salad since the early days of Castagna, and we knew this one would be the perfect mid-meal break with lightly dressed whole leaves tossed with chopped anchovies. The culmination of lunch was duck confit (right), a whole leg that had been sitting in duck fat for several days, which was then toasted to crunchy, crusted perfection and served with a spoonful of thick applesauce. After that we considered splitting the spicy pork sandwich for dessert, but decided that might be a bit too much even for us.

Dave came home that evening in the mood for a martini, so while I cubed up some of the jowl from Roger the pig that he'd cured and smoked the weekend before, he shook up a couple of his house specials. In Italy a cured, unsmoked jowl is called guanciale and, when sliced, looks a lot like bacon with ribbons of fat streaked with meat. It's used in dishes like carbonara and pasta all'amatriciana, and since I had a couple dozen of Clare's amazing eggs, I decided to go with the carbonara, a fitting tribute to Roger's home and an appropriate end to a spectacular day.

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Quick Hits: Mextiza, Smallwares, Luce

Recent noontime visits to this trio of newcomers revealed much promise, with a side of newbie-itis.

With big bro Autentica holding court on the hot corner of NE 30th and Killingsworth with the likes of Yakuza, DOC, Beast and Cocotte, a little sister down the street might feel a teeny bit overshadowed. Indeed, Mextiza, Oswaldo Bibiano's new outlet a few blocks west of Interstate, is understated, but has a certain sophisticated style all its own.

Autentica specializes in the cuisine of Bibiano's home state of Guerrero in Mexico. But with a menu spanning the whole country and a wall o' tequila and mescal that rivals any the big boys boast, this little girl might just be poised to have her moment in the spotlight very soon.

On a recent lunch visit the housemade guacamole was laced with lime and the queso-and-salt sprinkled chips (left) were crisp and light. But what captured my eye were the enchiladas with roasted poblanos in a sauce of—be still my heart—huitlacoche cream sauce and sprigs of epazote (top photo). One whiff took me back to the Plazuela Machado in Mazatlan, the last time I'd had that particular combination, and this version stood up to my memories of it. The dinner menu covers much broader territory, and I've heard reports that it and the cocktails are worth seeking out. I definitely will!

Details: Mextiza, 2103 N Killingsworth. 503-289-3709.

* * *

Northeast 46th and Fremont has seen a couple food businesses come and go. The latest entrant to attempt to anchor this key corner in the Beaumont neighborhood, Smallwares, has a bit of a pedigree in owner and former Nostrana sous-chef Johanna Ware. An alumna of David Chang's much vaunted Momofuku restaurants in New York City, she's revisiting those roots with what's billed as an "inauthentic Asian" spot.

My lunch there, shortly after it opened, revealed a menu with tastes collected from many Asian cultures with, as you might expect, a twist thrown in. For instance, the kimchi featured the expected cabbage and daikon, but then also included apple, which worked quite nicely. The mapo dofu (above) was a small cup of pork richly combined with a fermented black bean sauce, but it was served sitting on a cushion of savory egg custard. Mussels (left)—see, I told you I can't resist 'em—were the most traditional, in a nice broth of sake and chile flake, and had little slivers of doughy rice cake mixed in.

The only complaint was that the same chile sauce seemed to make an appearance in several plates, though this sameness of saucing may change as the kitchen adjusts the menu.

Details: Smallwares, 4605 NE Fremont. 971-229-0995.

* * *

No sign, shelves full of Italian food products and a few tables scattered across the floor. On a side wall, a listing of delicious-sounding plates. Such is the caché of John Taboada, originator of the Spanish-inspired Navarre on NE 28th, that he can open a minimalist spot like Luce and pack in eager foodies looking to be the first among their peers to tweet about it.

On a mid-week stop for lunch, a friend and I had our choice of tables (the hipsters must still have been in bed) and we sat down to sample a few plates. The price is the only giveaway of the size of the plates…for instance, for $2 each we ordered stuffed clams, a beet dumplings and a slice of squash tart (above). Six bucks, right? What came out was a salad plate that featured three teensy little clams containing maybe a half teaspoon each of "stuffing," two 1-inch beet fritters and a maybe-1-inch-wide sliver of tart. The chicken in wine sauce was a little more generous, with a decent-sized leg divided into thigh and drumstick in a capered wine sauce. I'd like to go back in the evening and have a glass of wine and a couple of plates, but it's definitely not the kind of place to go and expect heaping plates of food or cheap prices.

Details: Luce, 2140 E Burnside St. 503-236-7195.

Friday, March 02, 2012

The Cutest Puppy Picture Ever?

Nothing scarier than a five-week-old Cardigan Corgi puppy…so cute your head could explode. I know because it happened to me. Yikes.