Monday, April 12, 2010

Oaxaca wonders and Portland ports in the storm

Oh my, I found this is my half-written posts so finished up to post.
Portland, Oregon is a lovely city that seems to get better each time I go. I love the public transportation and the walkability. Where else can you get right from the airport door to the middle of downtown for $2.30? The food there is always improving too. I just was there for the Public Library Association conference and did not have all that much time to discover dining pleasures but I did manage to have a few good meals and treats.

Small treats: after a 35 minute wait I had the famous bacon and maple bar from Voodoo Donuts, the current must eat in Portland. I was not too impressed. Good, not great. A cinnamon crown from Pearl Bakery was a great way to start the day. I got there soon after they opened so smells and treats were fresh. I also had an excellent blueberry muffin from Great Harvest Bread Company.

Meals: An excellent lunch was had at Southpark Seafood Grill and Wine Bar. One of the fresh fishes of the day was sturgeon, beautifully grilled and served over a terrific bean puree with very fresh veggies ($16.50)The bread was great and excellent wines are to be had by the glass. I had a Loire white for $8.50 that was dry, loaded with flavor. As always, I had a terrific breakfast at Bijou Cafe, the oyster omelette, not cheap at $13.50 but superbly unusual. Potatoes were perfect and an apple cinnomon muffin was nice. Another homey star was Mother's where I indulged in a grilled gruyere and bacon sandwich with fries. Oh so good on the taste meter but maybe not on the cholesterol. Another not great on the cholesterol but nevertheless very enjoyable was a thick-sliced, nicely seasoned pastrami and chopped liver on rye at Kenny and Zuke's Delicatessen ($10.50)-- filling and surprisingly authentic for this pretty whitebread city. Another Portland treat, food for the mind over body is Powell's Bookstore; it's just a pleasure to be there. Kenny and Zuke's is just a block away. An excellent Bay Area kind of meal was dinner at Ping in Old Town, featuring modern takes on Southeast Asian. Starting with large well-filled Thai pork buns and moving on to green beans, salmon, and yam yai salad. The server forgot our fried little fish and grilled octopus skewers, but we left full and satisfied. I really would have loved to try the octopus but my other 3 companions were not, so just as well. Something to add to my list for my Portland visit.

OAXACA: Here are recommendations for the wonderful city and environs of Oaxaca. I went at the end of January so there may be some memory lapses but hopfully the sensory memories are still acccurate. Oaxaca is loaded with great food so every meal was good, but some stood out. Having exit visa problems I had to stay another night but that gave the opportunity to have breakfast at Itanoni in the Colonia Reforma, where I had the best hot chocolate and best chiliquiles of my trip. I'm not sure how you know about this place if a local didn't tell you, so I'm telling you, Go there.

Oaxaca is famous for their moles so I had to try them whenever possible. The best I had was in the weaving center of Teotitlan del Valle at Tlamanalli, which Rick Bayliss swooned over. So dark and rich and bursting with deep chili flavors. They also had the best guacamole. Prices are not cheap for Oaxaca, but worth the trip. We stopped there on the way back from the Sunday market in Tlacolula, a wonderful cornucopia of food, mescal, handicrafts and local people.

Someone gave us a tip to go for lunch at Los Danzantes, a really beautiful outdoor restaurant and considered one of the finest dining experience in Oaxaca city. Had a lovely tomato soup and fish entree at a very reasonable prix-fixe (about $15). Had a delicious dinner with very good drinks at another dining star, Biznaga, where the only menu is a large blackboard. Other highlights were several stops at street food places including incredible empanadas at the Merced Market.

Friday, April 9, 2010

European Ethnic Adventures

When I first moved to the Bay Area in 1973, a reliable type of restaurant to get a large meal for a great price was Basque restaurants. San Francisco had quite a few offering 5 course meals for $5-6. Most have closed but there's still a fascinating example in South San Francisco, the Basque Cultural Center, where I recently had lunch. It's a huge place with banquet rooms and a pelota court and a big restaurant. A woman who looks like she's worked there for 50 years sat us down and gave us menus. The waiter brought fresh sourdough bread with sweet butter in little silver packages. The menu has both lunch and dinner on it and daily specials. We went for the specials. V. had pork loin with the daily soup (broccoli) at $11.95. The pork was lean and tender served with potatoes and veggies. I went for the veal short ribs served on polenta and the house salad. Both the veal and polenta were delicious, the veal tender as can be, balanced well with creamy polenta and a stewed tomato sauce. We both licked our plates clean. Most dinners are around $20 including soup and salad and vegetables and a starch and each night features a family style dinner(the classic Basque experience) with 2 entrees. It's not Piperade but it's a fun and fulfilling eating experience.

Have you ever noticed Russia House driving south on 101 on the hill opposite Candlestick? I've always been fascinated by the chandeliers and odd location and wondered who goes there? Now I know after a multi-course banquet with lots of vodka. Russians go there and they have a good time when there and seem to feel at home, whereas our group felt like we were visiting a foreign country. Which is exactly what I was hoping for. A Russian scholar friend made the reservation for 8 and was told when to come and how much it cost, but nothing more. We entered the huge, chandeliered dining room, past a long empty bar, and were directed to our table, totally covered with appetizer plates. The drooling began: fresh herring, smoked salmon, sturgeon, breaded shrimp, great chopped liver, potatoes, coppa, ham, tongue, eggplant. A nice bottle of Russian Standard vodka, soft drinks, and water. We ended up finishing one bottle of vodka and another was brought. Da, I was drunk but fortunately not the designated driver. Mushroom turnovers came fresh from the oven. We ate the appetizers for over an hour and a two-man modern folk Euro-Russian group played and sang.
People started to dance; we danced. Then a course of fresh pelmeni simply served with butter and dill. More music and dance. Main courses were rack of lamb and chicken with asparagus, roasted potatoes and onions. More music and dancing but much more difficult because we were so full. Fresh pineapple and strawberries for dessert. You have an odd view over 101 that feels like you're in a highrise overlooking a big city. One of the highlights of this Saturday night was when I went into the men's room, somewhat tipsy. There was a guy plastering the wall in the restroom! As I said, it was like being in a foreign country but that really did it. We left after 4 1/2 hours for $92 a person which ain't bad for all we got, besides assuaging my curiosity about the mystical Russia House. How great that we live in an area where this exists.