Monday, June 11, 2007

I stood outside Park Kitchen early one Friday evening, gazing at the eclectic monthly offerings (chickpea fries, grilled shrimp salad, leek tart, terrine du jour). Park Kitchen has an excellent reputation in Portland (and, I believe farther than that), as being a restaurant of seasonal specialties, and as a real chef’s restaurant. It’s another head-to-tail place, where you’ll see something like tripe (or sweetbreads, or tongue) on the menu just next to something like pasta. I think at one point they were making their own hot dogs.
Anyway, I liked the look of things on that menu, and was about to walk in when a pretty woman from my yoga class (where I’d just come from) and her companion parked their Land Rover out front and came to look at the menu as well.

“All I could think about during that yoga class was having a glass of wine!” I turned and said to her as the bar bustled behind the glass in front of us.

“I’m glad I had one before class!” She replied with a smile, “it made those poses a little easier to hold.”

It was kind of funny, all things considered, that we both came from the Pearl’s temple of yoga (and vegan restaurant attached, no less), dressed in workout clothes to this meaty little restaurant. It’s all about balance, I guess.

I walked in and tried to hide my outfit and backpack by sitting at the far end of the bar (it’s so casual here, that in all honesty, no one really noticed what I was wearing), and was pleased to find that an acquaintance of mine was bartending. This sprightly friend let me taste a few wines, and with the help of another waiter’s (unsolicited, but appreciated) two cents, I settled on a white Rioja—round, smooth, full of fruit, with a clear lemony color. The perfect spring sip.

I wasn’t starving (which was lucky, because this is a “small plates” place, where you have to order a few to get full, and even bread is one of those, so you have to pay for that too), so I decided to go for it. See, sometimes when I go out, I seek out fresh, interesting vegetable dishes and salads, OR, I just want to get straight to the point with meat and dessert. This was one of those times. [One of my most memorable meals was at Roy’s Kihei, with a few crew guys from the music tour I was working on. I walked in late, and ordered filet mignon and a chocolate souffle. One of the best meals ever. ‘Nuff said.]

I ordered the tripe. I’ve never had tripe, but I’m slowly making my way through the bits and pieces of the edible animal (sweetbreads—check), and decided it was time. Serious foodies love this stuff, so here I go. Prior to this, I’ve only seen tripe in menudo at the post-ceremonial gatherings of my Mexican extended family, and have always been deterred by it’s pale, honeycomb appearance. But this was Park Kitchen, I put my trust in the chef, and I was fortunately pleased.

This dish was comprised of veal tripe (smaller, delicate and lacy), shelled spring peas, julienne carrots, morel mushrooms, and hand-rolled pici pasta, all in a shallow bowl of rich earthy brown sauce (mmm...stock and mushrooms). The presentation was delicate yet homey (the morels and tripe had a similar texture and look). It tasted like the inside of a pot pie. Well, a gourmet Park Kitchen fantasy pot pie. The elements were there. It was delicious.
I followed this perfect portion with a warm ginger-rhubarb galette (fruit filled pastry, like a personal pie), topped with candied ginger and cardamom whipped cream (LOVE anything sweet with cardamom, especially coffee cake). I sipped a tiny glass of Quinto do Infantado 10 year tawny port to finish it off. I definitely selected well, and was fully satisfied. The woman that I befriended on the barstool next to me who ordered lightly—the leek tart and some sort of grapefruit poundcake--was clearly jealous.
I find myself deeply frustrated and at last overloaded with all of the FOOD around me. I serve it all day. Working in a restaurant (a good one), I graze on it all day too. After work, I often want to go out to a restaurant for something to eat. The only magazine I subscribe to is Gourmet, so that’s what I have around my apartment to read. The books I’m reading right now happen to be “Hope’s Edge: The Next Diet for a Small Planet,” and Gael Greene’s (famous NY restaurant critic) memoir, “Insatiable.” On my days off, I want to cook and go to the farmer’s market, and often find myself at New Seasons grocery store at least twice a week. It’s too much. I’m bored already.

When I worked in retail (fashion), I couldn’t get enough time for the food stuff. What I thought I wanted to be doing was working in a restaurant (well, owning one really). And here I am. I care more about the buzz on what’s opening, what the innovative chefs are doing, how Greg Higgins is flying from Portland to New York city to make an appearance at the “Chef’s Gone Wild” event benefiting City Meals on Wheels (which, coincidentally Gael Greene helped to start) this summer. One of my managers came in to work this afternoon proclaiming “I will bet...I’d put money on Rocket being named the Oregonian’s Restaurant of the Year.” He was boasting it like some self-proclaimed prophet. I just stood there (stewing). Duh. Hello! When I HEARD about the concept for Rocket months (actually about a year) ago, I knew it would be a big deal. The chef, his connections with the food world (coming from Noble Rot, which I read about in Gourmet before even thinking about moving to Portland), and the innovative concept (molecular gastronomy, blah blah blah). When I heard that the building built to house it (the “Rocket Building”) was platinum LEED certified (one of a few in the nation), and read that Leather Storrs (the chef) planned to put a garden and chicken coop on the roof, I knew that the place would be like no other. And finally, when I applied for a job there (knowing, based on all of the above factors, that it would be buzzworthy) and took in the view for myself (more than 180 degrees—best view in Portland, of both the downtown skyline AND Mt. Hood on a clear day), I knew that it would be this summer’s hot spot. Or, at the very least, the most talked about restaurant in town. Which, it is. A friend who works there just told me that the New York Times is flying in this weekend to review it. What did I tell ya?