Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Well, weeks have past since my houseguests have gone, and still, I have not written about all of the delicious bites that were had! A couple stand at the forefront, so these I will describe in brief:

Dinner at Nuestra Cocina: On Halloween night, my family and I sat down at this little nuevo-mexican restaurant up division street from my apartment, owned by the husband of the daughter of a friend of my stepdad. whew! So we sat at this little place, with few expectations, except for it to be reasonably good (the chef/owner, Ben Gonzales has received much acclaim for his cooking, and recently collaborated with famous Mexican chef Patricia Quintana and Philipe Boulot on a special fall dinner at the Heathman Restaurant).

As we looked over the short paper menus, we were presented with our drinks—fresh margaritas, in small cups filled with chunky lime pieces and ice. I’m not sure what kind of tequila they used (I think it was sauza though), but that was the BEST margarita I’ve ever had—on a cold fall night, in Portland, of all places. D-licious. Freshly fried chips, tangy salsa...mmm. Then, it is very much a blur, but there were shared bites and sips of everything: pumpkin soup--spicy and warm, crab tacos, steak tacos. We were not talking, but we were smiling—that food was SO incredibly good. It was savory, and flavorful, and rich, but not too rich. Perfectly seasoned, nothing too salty. My entree was their special, cochinito pibil—a thick piece of pork, braised until it just falls apart, in a pool of black beans—oh my god, it was SO GOOD. So filling, but so good. Everything was exceptional. The best mexican food I’ve ever had, probably.

Pizza: My mom and I had two incredible pizza eating experiences while she was here, and appropriately so—she loves pizza, and I’ve been waiting for someone to come along who’d enjoy these places with me. The first was Ken’s (of Ken’s Artisan Bakery) recently opened artisan pizza restaurant on East 28th street (a.k.a. restaurant row). We got there after 7, and there was a full bar, AND a line, with a wait of an hour. We put our name in, walked around the block and returned to enjoy a glass of wine on a couple of high stools, providing the perfect view to oversee everything that came out of the wood-fired oven. In addition, there were piles of greens as salads, and atop pizza crusts (they’ve got a pizza that is basically covered in a baby arugula salad after it comes from the oven). The food was gorgeous, and the place was warm in atmosphere and attitude, which I love. I also love short but great wine lists, one of which they had. So we ordered a yummmy antipasti plate, with roasted curried acorn squash, red pepper bruschetta and other roasted vegetables, and shared a chewy, delicious cheese pizza.

A finer pizza devouring experience can be had at the beautiful Nostrana. Walking through the glass doors in to it’s rustic/industrial expanse is transcendent—it doesn’t feel like Portland. It feels somehow glamorous, with a hint of Italy and maybe San Fransisco. Despite the restaurant’s size, you can see their wood-fired oven from the front door, and this mammoth is the center piece for the whole place (the bar is great looking too—with sky high shelves of wine as a backdrop). It’s rustic and modern at the same time, and the food is fabulous. As their business card states, Nostrana means “local” in italian, and their menu evokes this in every way. The pizza that we had was decorated with wild mushrooms—chanterelles and others, almost with a little bit of a truffle taste, and perfectly chewy crust. I had to order a side of their polenta, which they have ground especially for their restaurant. Served with gorgonzola and a bit of oh, what was it, marscapone? Anyway, it was amazing. They have a bistecca a la fiorentina, florentine steak served with arugula, one of my favorite dishes, which I will order next time. Our salad was slightly dissapointing, albeit accurately described on the menu (“simple, undressed”), it was just lettuce and carrots in a bowl with oil & vinegar on the side—a humble statement, but boring. If it had onions in it, it’d basically be the salad that you get in every standard restaurant in Argentina.

The wine that I had there, also good, a Barbera, was served a bit too warm. I’ve never felt that complaint before, but it noticeably affected the drinking experience. I’ve had a red too cold before—as it is sometimes at Bar Acuda in Hanalei. Apparently, wine temperature is a subtle art, and while ideal temperature is not necessarily expected, it is certainly appreciated. I mean, no one wants to sit at dinner watching thier glass of pinot noir sweat on a rainy winter night.

Pancakes: During the third week of November, I think I ate pancakes four times. Gluttonously and happily. We had a banana-pancake cook-off, I won in the taste category, and my friend won for presentation (his smiled). We had huckleberry (tiny, blueberry like things, sweet & tart) pancakes at Genies down the road, and those were awesome. Soft and thick, but with crispy outsides. Mmmm. And I made turkey bacon, in the oven, so easy, and actually, super tasty! But not as tasty as the strips of pork belly that the cooks sneak up to me at work...

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