Friday, December 23, 2011

I’m leaving Portland to go back to Kauai for the holidays, but I already feel like I’ve eaten my fill of decadent seasonal treats. Here’s a quick list of some of the tastiest things I’ve put into my mouth here in the past few weeks:

Roasted beef heart and octopus skewer over raw and roasted beets at the Woodsman Tavern

Oven roasted Brussels sprouts (and every vegetable dish there really) at the Firehouse

The Margherita D.O.C. pizza at Via Tribunali (pure and simple)

The Calabrese Salami pizza at Oven and Shaker (spicy salami, pungent provolone and honey!)

Eggnog at Clyde Common (just a sip and I was convinced)

Pumpkin bread pudding at the Woodsman Tavern

Ramen at Biwa, because it is just my favorite

The roast duck banh mi sandwich at Double Dragon

The outrageously delicious ice cream flavors at Salt & Straw (gloriously open until 11pm), specifically the Lumberjack Stack (maple syrup ice cream with bits of blueberry pancakes inside!)

The simplest sparkling holiday cocktail, which I had at a luncheon at Castagna: prosecco and Clear Creek Pear Liqueur. You can get the recipe and read about that wonderful meal on my friend Jen’s blog here.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Hele on to He'eia Pier

Oh, the power of Twitter. Through this rapid-fire social medium, I've met people in Portland and as far away as Hawaii. First online, then in person. One of my coolest discoveries on my last trip to Oahu was He'eia Pier General Store and Deli on the island's windward side, all because I was following chef Mark "Gooch" Noguchi, aka @musubman, on Twitter. The photos he posted of his creativity with native ingredients (ulu, aku, kalo, wild pohole ferns) online were enough to entice me to first fly to Honolulu, then drive out there. When I arrived, I met Gooch, ate, talked story, and was later led on a tour of the nearby fish ponds and lo'i where the taro is farmed that ends up on the menu. Their commitment to hyper-local sourcing and investing in the community are inspiring. Not to mention the scenery. Check out this video that tells the story.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Ramen Quest

Ramen is one of the most difficult foods to photograph. It’s also a complicated soup to prepare. David Chang wrote in the Momofuku cookbook, “Of all the challenges making ramen poses, getting the noodles right might be the toughest.” That’s what seemed to be at play when, on my third visit to Ippudo in New York, I finally had the patience to wait long enough to eat there. For almost two years leading up to this, I read and listened to groans of praise from food friends coast to coast about this ramen.

When the bowl of steaming noodles was placed before me, something immediately looked odd. Why weren’t they thick and glistening? Why were they whitish, thin, and almost undercooked looking? I tasted one and it was slightly floury, not chewy, as I had hoped. This thin style of noodle was unfamiliar, and I didn’t love it. What I ordered was the Akamaru Modern ramen (pictured above). The broth was cloudy, rich and savory with pork, miso and saké. The soup was addictive, but I didn’t like the noodles.

The chew: that is how I personally measure ramen. Then there’s the broth, and the garnishes, and all the rest. I developed a taste for the thick ramen noodle as a kid on Kauai, at Hamura’s Saimin. They’ve made those noodles from scratch with a winning texture for over fifty years. Toothsome wavy noodles, noodles that you can grasp with chopsticks, slurp, and bite into with satisfaction – that is what I look for in ramen. So after visiting this branch of the highly regarded Japanese chain, it affirmed that some of the small restaurants serving ramen in Portland are really doing something good.

I’ve been going to Biwa for years, and have tasted Gabe Rosen’s ramen evolve through different noodles, broths and toppings. I think that its current incarnation is the best it’s been, and the best I’ve tasted. The noodles are thick, the broth is a hearty blend of chicken and pork broths, and it comes garnished with an egg cooked in shoyu and chasyu pork.

Wafu opened recently on Division Street, and the first bowl of ramen that I had there (a couple of weeks after it opened) was a bit disappointing. But on my second visit (and apparently after the visits of many other vocal patrons with culinary backgrounds), the ramen had morphed into a deep and complex broth of pork, chicken and bonito, with chewy house made noodles topped with slow-roasted pork belly, scallions, kamaboko and corn. It won me over.

One of Portland’s sushi masters, Hiro Ikegaya, wanted to open a Sapporo-style ramen restaurant for a while, and this year he did. Mirakutei is a stark space with a counter along the kitchen and feels the most authentically Japanese. It’s a place where you can come in, find a seat, slurp down your noodles, and be on your way. There are a few styles here, but I like the Mirakutei Original Ramen. The flavor of the tonkatsu (pork and miso) broth is good, and the noodles are just right. It’s satisfying with minimal garnishes.

One day I’ll visit Japan and taste ramen at the source, and see how these compare. It’s at the top of my list of international travel destinations. Last year when I found out that I had to change planes in Tokyo on my way to Thailand, I was determined to eat a bowl of noodles there. I ordered airport udon, and it left me with so much more to desire. The watery broth tasted of packaged stock, but the noodles did have chew.

Ramen references: the Momofuku cookbook and Lucky Peach magazine

Sunday, August 14, 2011

"As our palates improve, we appreciate finesse, perfume, subtlety...characteristics Pinot Noir has." Daniel Johnnes at IPNC, 2011

The IPNC is a multisensory experience that starts washing over you the minute you step onto the Linfield College Campus in late July. The heat, and smell of the dry fields of the Willamette Valley, the soft manicured greens of the quad beneath your feet, the red brick buildings around you, these are the familiar elements that immediately put you in the mindset of what is to come. And what that is are three days of joy, learning, working, eating, drinking, camaraderie and friendship forging. For the hundreds of attendees and volunteers fortunate to be a part of it, this is the weekend looked forward to year after year, to reunite with friends from another town in Oregon, or another part of the globe.

The International Pinot Noir Celebration started twenty-five years ago in McMinnville Oregon, by a group of passionate food and wine lovers in the Willamette Valley. It has grown in size, allure and esteem while still maintaining its strong local base, but now including wine producers from Pinot Noir growing regions around the world. This year, there were wineries represented from France, New Zealand, Austria, California, Canada, Italy, Australia, Washington and of course Oregon. I was most pleasantly surprised by the wines that I tasted from the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia, a region I hadn't tried before.

As a lucky volunteer, my experience was richer than I could have imagined. Helping to set up various seminars and tastings, I was able to observe them, too. In a wine and cheese pairing seminar with Laura Werlin, I learned that white wine pairs far better with cheese, and that Oregon cheesemakers are producing an incredibly wide range of European cheese styles that are exceptional to eat with wine (she procured them from the Oregon Cheese Guild). The “classico” made by Tumalo Farms in Bend was outstanding.

In a farm-to-table panel, I listened to Greg Higgins share his hard earned wisdom as a chef sourcing directly from farmers. "I don't think you have to be a great chef to make great food,” he said, “you have to have great ingredients." He went on to explain how lucky we are in Portland to have access to the produce that we do, and that we (and likeminded communities), need to make a conscious effort to support them to maintain that resource.

In a panel titled “Secrets of Sommeliers” (inspired by the new book by the same name), some of the country’s best, Larry Stone, Daniel Johnnes and Rajat Parr, sat and bantered about serving and selecting wine for customers. I found out that the least expensive wine on a restaurant’s list often has the highest markup, and that I share one of Daniel Johnnes’ current pet peeves -- red wine served too warm. At one point during the panel, I notice that the mediator, author Jordan Mackay, was standing barefoot behind the podium. This moment perfectly exemplified how wonderfully relaxed everyone is at IPNC, joined by a love of wine knowledge, a subject often thought to be so formal.

Every meal on campus at IPNC was served outdoors, either on a great lawn or under the trees in the old Oak Grove, and it all seemed so magical. The white tablecloths against the foliage, the flowing wine, the starry sky, the sommeliers and waitstaff serving with skill, and the food prepared by esteemed chefs from throughout the Pacific Northwest, all set an incredible stage that can only be experienced during this one time each year, in the summer of Oregon.

Friday, August 05, 2011

Late last summer, I had the fortunate opportunity to follow culinary instructor Blake Van Roekel of Keuken on a tour Zenger Farm in southeast Portland, and then a short cooking class in Robert Reynolds' lovely Chefs Studio. She prepared simple but wonderful zucchini cakes. We ate them with wine from Cameron (I think it was the Giovanni), and I was charmed by the whole experience.

This week, after running around all summer from trip to trip, I finally had some time and motivation (as well as inspiration from the farmers market) to flip through cookbooks, and actually cook. I made a simple tomato sauce with spaghetti on Monday night, with tomatoes so ripe I could peel them without boiling, and a salad with peach, arugula, feta, olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Summer produce makes cooking so simple.

My new favorite cookbook is David Tanis' (of Chez Panisse and legendary Parisian dinners) "Heart of the Artichoke." The recipes are fairly simple, inspired by his own experience, and most are in small enough portions for me to prepare for myself. The book itself is beautiful as well. So, with all the zucchini so abundant this time of year (as well as summer squash), I cooked his zucchini cakes, substituting the recommended scallions for shallot, as that was all I had, which actually provided a nice deep flavor. What a great use for these vegetables, with a dish that you could eat as an entree with tomato sauce or pesto, for breakfast, or cold as a frittata-like snack. I took mine and ate them with brown rice, pesto and pinto beans, as I'm on both a budget-tightening and health-conscious kick this week.

You may look at these and think that they're not so pretty. Well, it's not the recipe's fault, it's all mine. A word of advice: when cooking zucchini, don't talk on the phone with an old friend during the part when you're supposed to drain the zucchini. You will end up with watery batter, as I did, and the cakes, while delicious, will not fry up firm.

Monday, July 11, 2011

I wish I had bought a wok in Thailand. I just brought back a couple of cookbooks and aprons. I don't think I envisioned myself cooking pad thai at that time, and now, here I am in Portland, craving the stuff. The real deal though - what you can buy in alleys in Chiang Mai for less than a dollar, cooked with egg and garnished with peanuts and a squeeze of lime. It's that sour, salty, sweet, savory, oily balance that takes place as a result of the unification of all of those flavors. There was a place in Seattle I used to go to in college that topped it with a fried egg. That was delicious. At the time that seemed authentic to me, but now, who knows. I can't find any that stack up here, so sometime soon, I'll make some myself with the recipe from David Thompson's six pound tome, "Thai Street Food."

I was immensely intimidated by the heft of the book, as well as by its expert author, but I cooked his crab fried rice and it turned out perfectly, with local dungeness from Linda Brand Crab at the Portland Farmers Market. I could've used a wok for that.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011


1. East and west coast oysters at the John Dory, devoured between trains en route to Long Island and washed down with sparkling Riesling
2. Poster at the John Dory of Atlantic fish species
3. Sunset from the bay side of Montauk

Monday, June 20, 2011

Yesterday I spent seven hours cooking my first Thai meal, and it really was worth it. Cooking Thai food is so labor intensive, every last bit, from sourcing the right ingredients* if you're in the U.S. (light soy sauce, not Japanese soy sauce, kaffir limes, coriander root, etc.), to pounding curry paste in a mortar and pestle, to first frying the dried shrimp before you chop and mix it with everything else. Anyway, I learned a lot (like you may have to visit five stores to find everything that you need, and you're lucky if you do) and had a great time sharing it with my friends. I probably most enjoyed my favorite Thai snack, miang kham, which I described previously on this blog, because I was quite satisfied by the look and taste after having made it myself. Arroy mak! Very delicious.

I used Andy Ricker's recipe, which was published last year by Northwest Palate. But, I think next time the craving strikes, I'll head over to the Whiskey Soda Lounge and order those with a Singha, instead of going through the ordeal of gearing up in gloves and goggles to prep the birds-eye chilis that the recipe requires.

*I found the photographic ingredient glossary at to be very helpful.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

More from Castagna:
1. Dungeness crab with lemony foam
2. Squid a la plancha with leek charcoal (one of the best dishes I've had there yet)

Monday, June 06, 2011

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Franklin BBQ

I never expected to have such strong feelings about this meat. But a few bites into my lunch at Franklin BBQ, I was feeling some passionate love. Not only was the beef brisket unbelievably succulent (Aaron Franklin asked us when we ordered if we wanted "lean, or Fatty McFatterson," and of course we ordered the latter, which he held out to show us the glistening ribbon of fat sandwiched between the roasted meat layers), but it had such a depth of flavor. And its salty, smokiness was only enhanced by the potato salad, and tangy coleslaw, and bites of the tenderest pork ribs (you could chew right through the cartilage) I have ever had in my life. They were bright with black pepper and so, so juicy. Every accoutrement was vinegary, including the homemade bbq sauces that you can see in the jars in the background, which complimented all the richness. This meal was absolutely worth waiting for an hour in the sun and 100 degrees - it outshined the hype, and they bring you iced tea while you wait. Get in line before noon.

There's some more detail from the mouth of a Texan, at Hungry in Houston, from when Franklin was just a food truck. Now they have seating, and AC.
Franklin BBQ is located at 900 E. 11th street, Austin, Texas.
Snapshots of Austin, Texas

Visiting these places, in order, would comprise a perfect day in Austin. From top to bottom:
1. Breakfast tacos at Congress Ave. Grocery inside La Peña art gallery (corner of 3rd and N. Congress Ave.) are $1.00 each, and the real deal. The bean and cheese was really good, and I thought, kind of genius (how else would you want to eat beans for breakfast?). They're more like a little burrito than a taco, served warm wrapped in a small flour tortilla and foil, served with fresh salsa. And this one was better than the one I tried from Taco Deli.
2.Lunch at Franklin BBQ. See next post. Seriously worth the wait, but get in line before noon, otherwise you'll be out of luck. They sell out at about 1:00 p.m. If you don't live in the South, this will likely be the best BBQ of your life.
3. Ice cold beverage in the leafy courtyard at the Hotel San Jose.
4. Dinner at Uchiko. I was skeptical about sushi in the desert, but they really know what they're doing here, and then some. Ultra fresh hamachi to rival what I've had in Hawaii, and really creative (but not overdone) additions. I love how they serve sashimi on a mound of shaved ice, as pictured above (that was mackerel with tomato and shaved truffles - not my favorite, but beautiful). Standout dishes were the raw ones, especially the hamachi with Thai chili, the pork belly, and the desserts (big time talent at the pastry station). Great service and sexy dining room design, too.
5. A hot and breezy after dinner stroll on South Congress, under the neon lights of places like Fran's Hamburgers, feels so nice, with options to stop into one of the many bars for a margarita outside, or a craft cocktail inside. We found Woodland, which fell into the latter category, and I had an ultra-refreshing lavender gin rickey.
If you find yourself in Austin seeking live music, sophisticated cocktails, an amazing atmosphere (including silent Westerns projected in the background), a charming patio and speak-easy vibe (trust me - this is what you should be seeking), head across town to Eastside Showroom, one of the coolest bars I've been to, ever.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Irresistible San Francisco
I was in San Francisco last week for work, so I squeezed my taste adventures in where I could. I admit, I was completely overwhelmed by the recommendations that were flung at me prior to my visit - there is just so much there to explore. Here are a few of my most palate pleasing moments in SF:

1. Lunch at Pizzeria Delfina with an old friend. We shared two pizzas, the Amatriciana (guanciale, tomato and pecorino), and a white broccoli raab pizza with lemon, olives and a peppers. The bitterness of the the latter was a perfect foil for the richness of the former. A simple endive salad, a glass of rose and a table on the sidewalk in the sunshine made this a perfect meal.

2. Great San Francisco restaurants require a wait. So we put our names on the list at Delphina and went for an appetizer at Tartine. My friend knows me well - she suggested the passionfruit coconut cake, which was out of this world. Fluffy, tart cake (the tartness is key), passionfruit cream in between the layers, and thick shredded coconut on the outside. Magnificent.

3. Hapa Ramen (pictured below). I had breakfast at about 9 a.m. one day at the Ferry Building, but when the farmers market opened up at 10, I saw one of the fruit vendors slurping a paper bowl of ramen. I knew exactly where it came from. "How is it?" I asked him. "Amazing," he said between bites. Thus, I had my second breakfast. This ramen had a thick pork broth, asparagus, kombu squares, snap peas (all perfectly cooked), and a succulent, savory slice of pork from a local farm. So glad I opted to stuff myself with that.

4. The banh mi that I've been searching for for years. It's all about the herb/pickle to meat ratio, I'm telling you. And the two Vietnamese ladies behind the counter at Saigon Sandwich (Larkin and Eddy in the Tenderloin) have it perfectly formulated. Cha Lua, "pork special," is the way to go there (photo below).

5. Muralhas de Monção Vinho Verde at Ferry Building Wine Merchant. This wine recommendation proved to me that this place has an excellent wine selection when I was looking for something to bring to a friend's house for a casual taco dinner. Far more complex than any vinho verde I've had, this wine had good body, nice acidity as well as aromatics and an effervescence that pleased and surprised my friends who'd never tried the varietal. The best thing about this wine shop? They have a wine bar as well, so you can taste a wine that they have by the glass (like this one) before you buy the bottle. An impressive wine buying experience.

6. The parmesan shortbread with fennel and sea salt to go with my New Orleans style iced coffee at Blue Bottle Coffee at Mint Plaza.

The photo at the top is of a bacon/cheddar/egg muffin from the Tell Tale Preserve Company at the Ferry Building Farmers Market. I didn't try it, though I would have if I had any stomach room available between breakfast and the ramen. I couldn't resist a photo.
Oh, San Francisco. Your year-round produce, ocean shore, cypress air and sunny skies charmed me once again. I spent most of my free time during my stay in the city at the Ferry Building, lucky enough to catch one of the weekly farmers markets held there. The building itself offers so much for the visually and viscerally hungry, and even more so on market day. I ate apricots and marveled over ripe heirloom tomatoes of all colors.

"San Francisco always cheers me, for there is such an array of produce in the markets. There is no longer a great central market...There is one especially good one on Market Street where the quality and variety of merchandise are beyond belief... The vegetable section is equal to the fish and meat departments, and I will not enumerate the beautiful specimens to be found there, but a selection of them was provided for a special food demonstration I did in San Francisco last year. They were so handsome and so photogenic I have been grateful ever since to the gentleman in charge of the vegetables." - James Beard, from "Delights and Prejudices," c. 1964

Yesterday in Portland, I joined Robert Reynolds on a free walk that he led in honor of his late friend James Beard's birthday. He read passages from his book, "Delights and Prejudices" along the way, following Yamhill Street from Pioneer Courthouse Square to the waterfront, where formerly existed the grand Yamhill public market. This was where James Beard followed his mother as she shopped for the hotel that she once owned, and he developed his legendary palate. In "Delights and Prejudices," Beard laments the fall of the public market after the introduction of the supermarket in America, writing of them as an institution gone by. We are so fortunate that markets like the Ferry Building, Chelsea Market and Pike Place Market have revived this culinary tradition during our time. Work is being done to build a James Beard Public Market in Portland, and I hope that those decades-long plans eventually come to fruition.

"Nowhere in America does one see finer vegetables than on the West Coast, in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Portland," James Beard.
Morel mushrooms at the Hollywood Farmers Market in Portland. The photo at the top is of the sunset from Alcatraz.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

A family and its dumplings. My family has its dumplings. More on that later. For now, a bit from the making of the movie "Oxhide II."

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Springtime at Castagna in Portland, Oregon:

A sunchoke "chip" with yogurt inside

Green almonds, flowers and almond milk

Scallops with licorice

Bison tartare with "seeds and stems"

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Food poetry.
Spotted on a recent run through my Portland neighborhood, Irvington.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Miang Kham

I pulled this book off my shelf tonight to read before bed, and as you can imagine from the above photo, it did the opposite of lull me to sleep. No, delving into "Pacific and Southeast Asian Cooking" from Time Life's 1970s "Foods of the World" series only made me hungry. I love reading their observations on Hawaiian food at the time (describing the melting pot through a mainlander's eyes), but was engaged in the section on Indonesia. The combination of coconut, ginger, shrimp paste and peanuts in gado-gado salad has me craving something like it. The peanuts, and the color of this dish made me think of miang kham, my favorite Thai snack. The version served at the Whiskey Soda Lounge is my favorite, because of its tartness and fire from chopped chilis. You can see what that looks like here. Stop drooling. Right?

Miang kham is composed of a combination of chopped dried shrimp, ginger, shallots, Thai chilis, peanuts, coconut and limes (with the peel on - that's the key, I think), wrapped into a betel leaf (sometimes with a sweet sauce). The recipe for the Whiskey Soda version can be found here. Those are served atop the leaf, and when you eat it, you pick up the thing, wrap it in a bundle and pop the whole thing in your mouth. When I went to Thailand, I was intent on trying other versions. Sometimes they're served wrapped for you (like a little purse), and sold on skewers. Here's a few photos of that (obviously I'm not the first to be obsessed with this dish). At a market in Bangkok, I came across the woman below, who sold a deconstructed version. the ingredients were placed separately in a bag to take on the go. It was a lot sweeter than I prefer, but still tasty and definitely one of the coolest bagged snack foods I've ever seen.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Pink Drinks

Pink drinks make me happy. Of course there's rosé, and even more lovely, sparkling rosé, but when a cocktail arrives before me blushing with a rosy hue, I am downright delighted. The refresher pictured above is "El Diablo" at Natural Selection, a combination of tequila, cassis and ginger beer. I've written before of my affection for the "Pink Pepper" at Yakuza, which uses pink peppercorns to spark up the flavor of grapefruit. At Prasad, my favorite juice bar in the Pearl, they serve a mixture called "Beulah Land," blending grapefruit, apple, celery and mint, that arrives pretty in pink. The cocktail below was a brilliant spring concoction at Castagna, simply called "Rhubarb," made with Appleton white rum, rhubarb and eggwhites. One of my dining companions ordered that last night, while I couldn't resist their tangelo gin and tonic. Castagna's short list of culinary coctkails matches the inventiveness of their menu, definitely one return to for further exploration. Unfortunately, they're only served in the dining room, not the café, just one more element that makes the dining experience there so special.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Cutest little coffee shop in Portland: Oui Presse. Homemade pistachio cake with buttercream, magazine racks stocked with fashion, food and foreign publications, Parisian decor and an owner who was both working the counter and making play-dough for her son's class at the same time. Need I say more?

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Yesterday, Hawaii chefs, farmers, diners and concerned members of Hawaii’s food community gathered to talk about sustainability and the state of the local food supply at the Hawaii Food Forum. You can read one summary of it at KITV News. I knew that this was coming and wished that I could have been there to hear what was discussed. Following the panel last night, I read quite a bit of commentary online, hopeful about what might have taken place, but became disappointed as I read about the challenges voiced that I was already aware of. My thoughts are reeling as I see the conversation go on, and I hope that this inspires movement and change, but the question really is how. And who is going to take charge to lead a statewide intitative to further food independence?

I moved to Portland because I was frustrated in Hawaii. I was working in my mom’s grocery store, learning her 20 year-old business and watching her feed a neighborhood as gas costs rose and prices climbed. When I last worked there in 2006, I kept turning over organic products (almost all shipped in) and saw that many were made in Oregon. Granted, staple ingredients are much cheaper on the mainland, but the great chefs in Portland are committed to using as much local product as they can. Local can be limiting, but I believe it is the way to go. So I moved here, frustrated by the apathy that I saw in Hawaii at the time, to see how farm-to-table can work in a city.

Five years later, much has changed on Kauai (this is where I’m from, and what I know, not Maui or Oahu). Waipa Foundation fosters sustainability through farming and educational initiatives targeted at the surrounding Hawaiian community, farmers markets have increased in number and popularity, and there is more awareness about growing your own food when possible. Experiments have begun with restaurants growing their own vegetables such as 22 North, utilizing local product as they do at Oasis on the Beach and Hukilau Lanai, and farms opening restaurants in the case of the Common Ground non-profit. I go into Living Foods Market and am so excited to see that they are roasting their own coffee! Baking their own bread! Selling local cheese and honey! But the store and café are not crowded. And, well, it’s expensive.

High-end chefs have always championed the good stuff – Merriman, Roy, Alan Wong. I’m not going to pretend to know everything about the history of Hawaii Regional Cuisine as I went to college and became a diner on the mainland, not in Hawaii. After the Hawaii Food Forum yesterday, I read on Twitter that the one chef one farmer paradigm is over. I agree, that no, that’s not enough, but lets admit that Ed Kenney and Ma’o Farms together have made great strides to raise awareness of the flavor of locally grown produce and how that can elevate local restaurant cuisine. Not to mention the incredible example set forth for education and stewardship of the land in the case of Ma'o Farms. The importance of a chef to expose people to the beauty of the product growing in their own backyard (I had never eaten pepeiau mushrooms before having it in a pasta at Town), cannot be overstated.

But Hawaii does not have as widespread of a dining culture as metropolitan cities. Many people cook at home. So what’s the solution there? Buying mainland-grown staples will always be costly. Wheat will always be shipped in, and probably rice, unless Hawaii starts growing it in quantity again. Maybe then it’s supplementing what must be purchased with home gardens for vegetables and fruit. Akamai Backyard is an inspiring example. I’ve seen friends starting similar yard farms in Hawaii. But lets’ face it, not everyone has a green thumb or the time and skill to be a farmer (though I wish they taught that as an elective in public school). Is there a service like Your Backyard Farmer in Hawaii, where someone will come in and set up a food-producing garden for you that you only have to maintain? If not, I hope to see this someday. Just writing that is evidence of another challenge; I use the name “Hawaii” generally to talk about the entire state, but really each island is a distinct community unto itself with its own set of unique resources and obstacles.

There is no singular solution, this change has to come from a number of different directions. People need to appreciate local food, and know how to prepare it deliciously. Farmers need to be valued, agriculture, REAL agriculture, the kind of farms where people are growing FOOD for the community, need to be financially supported and protected by the state). And there are additional challenges posed by the presence, and business of multinational genetic engineering operations farming in the islands.

I write this from the perspective of a concerned child of Kaua’i, whose parents opened a store in the 70s in order to have a place to retail local produce on the island, who grew up on a working banana and papaya farm, whose grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins farmed and were involved in the Kauai County Farm Bureau and local ag for decades, and who now lives on the mainland, visits Hawaii only a couple of times a year and stays connected by following chefs on Twitter, reading Edible Hawaiian Islands (a beautiful publication that showcases local food, the people growing and cooking it, and how to prepare it yourself) and Hana Hou magazines. I don't claim to be a current part of Hawaii's food community, but with my family and friends there, I will always care about it.

Last time I visited Oahu this past January, I was with a friend - a Portland chef who specializes in Thai food. We went to Maunakea Market in Chinatown and were both impressed by the supply, vibrancy and freshness of the vegetables, seafood and meat sold by the vendors, most of which was locally grown and raised. This is the quality of produce he covets on the mainland and often has to buy from elsewhere. We really HAVE something in Hawaii, but it’s a matter of how to make people value it, crave it, grow more of it, pay for it, and afford it. I think that sustainability, self-sufficiency and fantastic flavor, is worth it.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Eggs and Greens

Nettles are one of the first signs of spring on menus in Portland, and I'm fond of scouting out the ways in which different chefs use them. Today, I think that the Best Use of Nettles Award should go to Beaker and Flask for the nettle and mushroom galette: seasoned greens and sauteed mushrooms folded into a buttery, crisp and flaky crust, topped with a gooey fried egg and microgreens.

To me, both eggs and greens epitomize this culinary season, when the rain keeps falling and the sky stays grey, only creating a perfect backdrop for the vibrancy of sprouting leaves. On the plate at this time of year that color is just as alive, especially accompanied by eggs that naturally represent rebirth and the yearned for yellow sun.

The contrast between crisp greens with a bit of lemon or vinaigrette and the richness of egg yolk is one of my favorite combinations. Asparagus topped with a fried egg and parmigiano reggiano, and sauteed spinach added to a great eggs benedict are some of the best things I have tasted. In the photo above, at lunch at Clyde Common, they do it twice: a salad of broccoli rabe with lemon, pistachio, egg vinaigrette and a poached egg, and then whole grain flatbread spread with goat cheese and those wild greens tossed in a slightly sweet but tart vinaigrette.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Magic Little Pink Peppercorns

Spicy desserts, herbal cocktails, and floral notes in savory dishes always enchant me. These combinations are seemingly paradoxical, but so deliciously complex when perfected. Lavender shortbread, aromatic gin (like Aviation or Ransom’s Old Tom), fiery sauces filled with Szechuan pepper… My roommate just told me about an olive oil chocolate bar that Xocolatl de David is making while I was typing this; that’s exactly what I’m talking about.

My current passion is for pink peppercorns. If their scent were bottled, I’d wear it as perfume. I first had this revelation when I tried the Pink Pepper cocktail at Yakuza, which, coincidently is made with Aviation Gin. That’s shaken with fresh grapefruit juice, bitters, lime, and pink peppercorns that float on top, perfuming your nostrils with every lively sip. It’s fantastic.

At Aviary, a new restaurant on Alberta Street where three chefs collaborate every night to turn out an inventive and thoughtful menu, smoked pork ribs are served with a tamarind glaze, green papaya slaw, and a dusting of pink peppercorns that brighten the entire dish.

A friend recently pulled me into Sizzle Pie on East Burnside to try their pizza, but I was completely enthralled by the salad. The Word Salad as it’s called, is a simple combination of good local red leaf lettuce (the silky yet crunchy texture is critical), pepperoncinis, red onions, and pepitas. But it’s the dressing, this super-light, magic dressing that I cannot stop thinking about and would probably put on every vegetable that came across my kitchen counter if I had the recipe, is what really makes it. They call it their Vegan Pink Peppercorn White Wine Vinaigrette, I call it amazing, and I can’t wait to figure out how to make a version of it myself.

I’ll leave you with a heavenly photo by blogger Aran Goyaga from her gorgeous website, Canelle et Vanille, of raspberry macarons with pink peppercorn buttercream. Here. See what I mean?

Sunday, January 30, 2011

`Ono Oahu

If you're driving through Kalihi and see this mural overhead, pull into the parking lot immediately, because you have found Alicia's Market, quite possibly the home of the best poke I've ever had. Doubling as a liquor store, and sharing the parking lot with a laundromat, this place is in a grittier part of Honolulu, but definitely worth seeking out. The fish is clearly cut fresh (the shiniest, reddest ahi I have seen in a long time), and they have a selection of other pokes as well. The tako (octopus) was awesome.

To me, the the food flavors of Hawaii are best expressed in the fresh fish (especially raw), tropical fruit (local papaya that tastes of flowers and strawberries, unlike any other), and the local foods that are often fatty and fried, and mouth-fillingly delicious.

Discoveries and recommendations from this last trip:

1. Alicia's Market (see above). Conveniently located between the airport and town, or Waikiki.

2. Fiji Market and Curry Kitchen in Kahuku. Wow, we were just driving by on the way from the Eastside to the North Shore on Kamehameha Hwy., and thank goodness, I followed my boyfriend's instincts to stop at this place. Best curry that I've had IN YEARS: the shrimp (local, from a farm down the road) curry.

3. Town: always great, breakfast lunch or dinner. In the morning they have great coffee (not the easiest to find on Oahu if you're used to NW coffee), and seriously delicious, flaky scones that change daily. Most of their menu is shaped by the produce coming from local Ma'o organic farm. DownTown, their other location, is excellent for fresh, creative salads and lunch items.

4. Acai bowls: I can't decide if I like this surfer food or not, it's more of a dessert to me than a meal. But if you want to try one, the best was at Lani Kai Juice in Kailua. This is also a great choice if you're looking for a smoothie made of Hawaiian fruit.*

5. Breakfast at Morimoto: decadent, but amazing and interesting. And the outdoor tables look out over the harbor and ocean. The banana/mac nut pancakes are served with kuromitsu (molasses) syrup, and the Japanese style breakfasts are a true treat, with components such as a sous-vide poached egg, miso cod, seaweed, rich dashi, and rice porridge.

6. The fresh markets of Chinatown: these places will transport you straight to Asia, with exquisitely fresh fish, produce, and many prepared food choices.

*One thing about Lani Kai Juice, and so many other takeout places in Hawaii is that they still use styrofoam containers! With all the compostable stuff out there, and the garbage situation in Hawaii, I feel like there's no excuse for this. I hope it's outlawed soon.

`Ono means "delicious" in Hawaiian.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Satiated in Seattle

Those oysters took me to my happy place. I was made aware of this by my roommate and dining companion, who commented after I finished my third Kushi oyster and glass of muscadet that I had what is apparently my look of delighted satisfaction all over my face. Those oysters were fantastic. My favorite variety, from the dark almost freezing waters of British Columbia, with a sweet succulence that stands apart from all others. I was in oyster heaven. Of course, the atmosphere of the new Walrus and the Carpenter in Seattle's Ballard neighborhood helped to take me there, with a metal bar, marble tabletops, whitewashed walls, and delicate framed line drawings of the namesake Lewis Carroll poem. In the open kitchen, food is cooked in vintage enameled French pots and plated on hand-crafted wooden cutting boards beside wire baskets filled with ice and Northwest oysters. And at 4:00 p.m. on a Saturday afternoon, a golden setting sun bounced off of the boats docked nearby through the walls of windows and onto every shiny surface in the place.

Three friends and I were in Seattle this weekend to eat, drink and view the Picasso exhibition at the Seattle Art Museum. The quick trip to our city north was filled with newness and more than satisfying for such a short one. A few places we visited, which I highly recommend:

The Boat Street Cafe - I had brunch at the original location in college. The new one, a bit less charming, having moved from a boat house under a bridge to a new building on Westlake, is still a top place for brunch. The cornmeal cake with sausage and maple syrup, as well as baked eggs with spinach, bacon and breadcrumbs were my favorites.

Melrose Market - Indoor gourmet market encompassing multiple shops and eateries. We had lunch at Sitka & Spruce, which was beyond lovely. Precious vegetables, open kitchen, perfect bread, sparkling rosé by the glass, music played on a record player.

Spinasse - Intimate Italian (Piemonte) restaurant on Capitol Hill, wonderful housemade pastas were the centerpiece, but the rabbit meatballs stole the show.

Bathtub Gin - A tiny two-story bar down a Belltown alley. Brick walls and well stocked bar (I was happy to find Portland's own Ransom Old Tom Gin on the shelf) - a place to come with a couple of friends, or no one.

Next time I'd like to spend more time in Ballard, eat at Staple and Fancy and bar hop on Ballard Avenue. I am determined to one day have a drink at the bar amongst the surly sailors at the Lock & Keel Tavern. Meanwhile, I have to note that it continues to amaze me how the area around Seattle University, where I spent four years prior to 2001, has become the hottest area in Seattle for bars and restaurants. Lark, Spinasse, Cafe Press, Tavern Law, the list goes on. When I lived there it was surrounded by coffee shops, vacant buildings and a Value Village.

But one of my favorite things, built in Victorian times and thriving today, is the Conservatory at Volunteer Park, which is a warm and tropical cocoon filled with the plants of my island home. I take deep breaths in there of the moist air and warm soil, and think of Hawaii...