Tuesday, April 11, 2006

My whole budget constraint situation has led to some creative innovations in food storage. As I will not pay for any disposable plastic containers, bags, etc., I have taken to using what I have. Of course, the most obvious of these is the plastic yogurt container, which is basically just tupperware with writing on it. I’ve scored similar (clear!) reusable containers for leftovers at Thai restaurants, which are great for anything, especially a big lemon that you keep taking wedges off of. Many tortillas these days (luckily the homemade whole wheat ones I love) come in re-sealable zip locks. So does dried fruit actually, though I buy mine in bulk so I miss out on that one. After I baked that apple pie, I wrapped the whole thing in a Fred Meyer plastic shopping bag and just tied and untied it. And to keep an avocado half in the fridge, just dampen a paper towel and wrap it over the top (this actually keeps in better than plastic anyway). But I think I may have invented my own food wrapper yesterday, when I wanted to take a banana to work in my bag, but didn’t want the brown sap to get on stuff. Since, you know, old plastic bags are prized also for their usability as trashbags, I didn't want to waste one, so I rolled the thing in an outdated resume and taped it up like a present. Tres resourceful, no?

Last night I had dinner with a friend at Piazza Italia. I’ve been wanting to try this place out ever since I discovered it on a day wandering around the Pearl, because the place is a slice of Italy in Portland. The first time I saw it, there were three slick twenty somethings standing outside on the sidewalk, speaking in Italian and wearing mirrored sunglasses and tailored clothes. I glanced inside, to see a short, bald man behind the espresso bar, and soccer on the numerous televisions hanging above the restaurant. This was the most authentic Italian place I believe I’ve ever been in outside of Italy. A bold statement, I realize, but it is not a place of the romantic, Roman, marble and wood, old men sitting outside and chatting over cafĂ©. This is Italy now. This is what a place looks like in one of the towns outside of the tourist centers, where things are being built, and they actually use what looks like drywall. To the visitor, it might seem a little fake even, or a little tacky looking. But this is exactly the kind of place where modern Italians eat.

Anyway, to add to the authenticity, the serving staff was speaking in Italian, amongst each other and to a few of the customers (particularly a group of older adults sitting at the table next to us). And there was a deli case full of chilled side dishes, just like they do in Italy, and big cellophane wrapped easter eggs and that Italian boxed fruitcake for sale up front. One of the nightly specials was rabbit, roasted with vegetables. Rabbit! In a family style restaurant in Portland. That is the second time I’ve seen rabbit served at a casual restaurant here, proving, I believe, that this really is a foodie town. Back to Piazza Italia—I had lasagna, and it was perfect really. Bubbling in its own little casserole dish, crusty around the edges, with a thick layer of cheese that topped off layers of pasta and delicious saucy meat. And the meat had a delicious flavor, I’m thinking it was a veal mixture, because it was definitely not ground beef. I know what I said earlier about veal. But...this was really good. I want to go back there on a Sunday morning, to have a real Italian cappuccino and read the New York Times in it’s entirety, since Rich’s cigar shop (the best magazine store in town) is right by it.

Last night we also wandered over to South Park wine bar, which was pretty empty (it’s a big space, and it was Monday night). They had a great by-the-glass menu, with really descriptive categories like “European style with minerality and finesse”, “Modern New World style, rounded with rich fruit,” and “European reds tending towards earthy spice.” My friend already knew that he was ordering his favorite wine, from that last category, an Italian Aglianico. I wanted a Pinot Noir, but I do like a certain “toasty” style of wine. When I asked our server about the one Oregon Pinot Noir on the menu, she described it as being “very characteristic of the Willamette Valley style” or something generic like that. The day before I tasted over 25 “willamette valley pinots” and each one was different. I thought that was pretty weak. Instead, I went for a French Carignan, because I thought I’d try a new varietal, but I didn’t really care for it. I should know better, when it comes to French reds, I love Cotes-du-Rhone and Chateau Neuf du Pape, but few else that I’ve tried. I don’t think my palate is sophisticated enough yet. This wine was really smooth, but just a little too cool for me.

Have I told you about Tuk Tuk Thai restaurant yet? It is SAVORY. So many perfect flavors. And it’s so affordable (it’s been chosen as one of Portland’s best cheap eats for a couple of years by the WW). It’s on Freemont and 42nd or something, way out there in the neighborhood. We had wide noodles with vegetables, a red chicken coconut curry, and fried salt and pepper calamari to start. There are many places that serve calamari, but this was the best I’ve had in town so far—the batter was glistening and golden, really fresh. There’s not too much more to say, just that, there’s thai food everywhere, and most places have the same dishes, but at Tuk Tuk, they just do everything better. The food is just more fragrant, and delicately done (the chicken was in perfect thin slices, and the veggies were all really fresh).

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