Friday, March 16, 2007


At the end of the long thick plank of a wooden bar, I sat in the shadows by myself. A glass of ’03 Pineraie Cahors on my left, White Haven New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc on my right. I took alternate sips of each as I savored every bite of my tasty little dinner.

I stopped into Noble Rot last tonight because my friend was working. Late in the afternoon, I took one of the last open seats at the bar, all the way down, where the food comes from the kitchen. In front of me stood two huge jars: one full of marcona almonds, the other of house-marinated olives. It wasn’t even six o’clock yet, but the room was sufficiently low-lit to urge on the start of an evening of solid wine drinking.

“The Rot” divides their wines by the glass into flights based on themes or regions, which is always entertaining. For my first glass I debated between that Cahors, from a flight of such, and a Barbera. As mentioned, I decided on the former, which was slightly stronger and more to the point than the slippery, cool Barbera. A little bit more, shall we say, “saturday night.” Glass in hand, I studied the specials board up on the wall to my left, and my gaze immediately got caught on the first item: Rabbit Cassoulet (for only $13). Slightly weary of rich food (as French cuisine is prepared in the restaurant in which I work), I ordered it anyway. The last time I sat down to a dinner of laupin was when I was actually in Paris, over a year ago.

I asked for a little wedge of some type of triple-cream cheese that looked a like camembert, and I spread it all over little rounds of soft artisan bread. The restaurant was busy, and I enjoyed sitting there, planted in my little spot in the corner, legs a bit road-weary from exploring the neighborhood all afternoon. I browsed through the first few pages of the Wine Spectator, perfectly content listening to music and the orders being called to the kitchen.

That cassoulet was divine. It turned out to be quite delicate for a traditional dish like that. The rabbit was first prepared confit-style, imbuing a fantastic smoky flavor in the meat. It was shredded, slightly crispy, and set amongst beans and vegetables (cubes of turnip, celeriac, and arugula) in what was more like a broth than a roux based sauce. I ate it slowly and deliberately, stretching out the dish’s deliciousness with my little pieces of bread. And wine.

When I finished, definitely satisfied, the chef, an acquaintance, came over and asked me about my meal, followed by the question, “is there anything you DON’T eat?” I paused for a second, and answered, “not really, except maybe sweatbreads, tripe...offal.” “All meat?” “Yep.” He approved, and walked away, returning about ten minutes later with a gift of short-rib ravioli with two sauces—creamy blue cheese and a bordelaise. Topped with crispy shallots. I felt lucky. But overly stuffed. Like a goose on a fois gras farm. My friend brought me a glass of dessert wine (a Tokaji, I believe). I sipped the golden liquid from a tiny antique glass. When it was finally all gone, and I felt at the height of my most cosmopolitan, most Parisian, I said my goodbyes and stepped out into the night. Then I walked to catch the bus.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Way up on Northwest 23rd and Vaughn Street, far past all of the shops and twinkling lights of Nob Hill, is a little restaurant called Filberts. Yes, like the hazelnut. It is a little nut: a little nugget of delicious, tender goodness sheltered from a tough outer shell of the surrounding industrial zone, freeway on-ramps, and budget hotels. Inside the door of the cottage is a cozy room with warm colored walls, and an equally warm staff that invites you in as if they’d been expecting you at a dinner in their home. It’s quiet, tiny, and intimate, and the food is equally comforting.

Subtle and unpretentious, I felt like what we had to eat there was just the best of what someone (well, a highly skilled, professionally trained someone) might put in front of you if you were having dinner with them at home. Everything was just really good—nothing too showy, nothing too salty (you know how, you go out, and something really pops in your mouth, the flavor is huge, and you go home, unable to get enough water down your throat, realizing, that in fact it was just REALLY salty? I feel like this happens a lot with French food and sauces).

We started with mussels (undoubtedly from waters somewhere very close) in the classic white wine butter broth—so plump, so fresh...dare I use the word...succulent. They really were. We began to wash down our feast with Brooks Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, decidedly the only choice to accompany the diversity of flavors that we intended to devour (sea, land, garden, dessert tray).

I could not resist the Carlton pork chop, which, upon ordering, I was given a short exposition on how the chef prefers to cook them medium rare, being that they come from
a town only a short drive away, and that there’s yet to be any concrete evidence that consuming raw pork will cause illness. I agreed to the preparation, because, hey, if that’s how the chef says it’s to be done, that’s how I want to eat it (although when it did arrive, it appeared fully cooked to me). It came out beautiful, thick cut, over atop a bed of tiny parsnips and ham hock, delicately cubed into the exact same size, with strips of lovely fennel. All of that was over this delectable caramelized cake that they called a “carrot rosti,” basically shredded carrot with shallots and seasonings, formed into a little patty and browned on the outside. The combination of the sweet root vegetables with the savory salt-pork flavor was perfect. Perfect. I do believe that I had the best thing on the menu, though my friend’s trout was delicious as well—pan fried light and crispy. Despite the fact that it was served with black-eyed peas, ham, and shiitake mushrooms (an interesting take on the southern combo), I was impressed at how the fish maintained it’s crispy crust throughout the meal.

We finished with the best creme-brulee I’ve ever had (I have to admit, I haven’t tried TOO many, because normally I don’t care for sweets of the custard persuasion). It was more creamy than custardy, smooth and silky. There was a tiny little portion stuck to the side of the ramekin when our smiling server came by to clear our plate, and she sweetly encouraged us to eat this last bit--what she called “the angel’s share” (or something equally whimsical). I love how the staff appreciates the food so much, that, like a good friend, they can't help but tell you to go ahead and finish that last spoonful.