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Locavore Cooking with Southern Efficiency and Northern Charm

Posts Tagged ‘restaurants

No Precious Olympia Oysters at Olympia’s Waterfront Budd Bay Cafe

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Robb Walsh’s Oyster guide: Olympia’s are the morsels on the bottom row (http://www.citypages.com/2009-02-11/news/a-guide-to-oysters/).

I am admittedly a food snob. Still, I can feast like a king on a tangy, umami-bomb of Vietnamese banh mi sandwich, a steal for about $4.25 each. Of course, you can cook simple, delicious meals at home for less. But when we spend $60 or more on a meal for two, we expect it to be good. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case tonight in Olympia.

 
En route to Seattle (on rainy, Thanksgiving-traffic-clogged I-5), on a whim we stopped for dinner in the charming capital city of Olympia on the south Puget Sound. We considered Trinacria, a supposedly stellar red sauce and homemade pasta joint whose name (the term for “Kingdom of Sicily”) reminded us of an Italian deli we loved in Baltimore. Then we got a hankering for oysters, reading that the petite native species has been revived here. The obvious Oyster House seemed too touristy. We wanted to eat oyster burgers and shooters at the Fish Brewing Company pub, but alas, no minors–no one under 21–not even a five-month-old baby who subsists on breastmilk–are allowed on the premises. Just like at our beloved Squirrel’s Tavern in Corvallis. Having kids does limit your choices. We were directed instead to Ramblin’ Jacks, which had a hip vibe but alas no oysters (just fried pickle chips) on the menu.
 
Sometimes you just become too blinded by a quest for something like oysters. We should have been content with wood-fired pizza at Ramblin’ Jacks. We would have had a great meal at the brewery, if not with child. Somehow we found ourselves at the dated seafood and brunch-focused Budd Bay Cafe only because they had pan-fried oysters on the menu. The excessive Christmas decor and cloying Christmas music should have been a sign. They didn’t have oysters fresh enough to serve on half-shell, just the pan-fried “Pacific Northwest” variety. Their salmon was King, but farm-raised. Discerning diners know better out here. Budd Bay’s was hardly a locavore, but rather a Sysco-inspired, menu. I just no longer have a tolerance for white tablecloth, country club-style food that is expensive, bland, uninspired and often inedible. Touristy waterfront seafood restaurants are often the worst offenders. You go to these restaurants–the Lobster Trap in Maine, Gracie’s Sea Hag in Depot Bay, Ore., the Rusty Scupper in Baltimore, Jake’s in Hull, Mass.–with such expectations. The menu items tempt–the fish descriptions sound so fresh–you have the illusion it was just plucked from the water outside the restaurant’s window. But the dishes generally disappoint. Usually, the seafood is fried and the chowder’s too unctuous, thick and creamy, so you leave feeling a little sick and so wishing you’d spent your $60 elsewhere.
 
So we wasted our one meal in Olympia. Somehow I just felt cheated, because I told the hostess-owner we were there to try to the local oysters. So I felt betrayed when we weren’t served the local delicacy. Sure, they were Washington-raised oysters, but they were the much larger, less delicate and briny Pacific variety. And they weren’t even that fresh. They were the last oysters left in the bucket, bathing in a sludgy liquor. She went to retrieve the container when I asked if not the local Olympia oysters where they were from. I know I seemed like the characters in Portlandia who ask in a restaurant about the source of their poultry, abruptly getting up to go visit the local chicken farm. But this is what I care about. I want to know what species of oyster I’m eating and where it was raised. I expect it to be fresh. I wanted to vote with my dollars and my tastebuds for the Olympia oyster, to support ecological efforts to revive the Pacific Northwest’s only native species. But sadly out-of-touch restaurants like the Budd Bay Cafe, who care more about boasting waterfront views than sourcing quality local ingredients, just don’t get it.
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Written by baltimoregon

November 28, 2011 at 12:42 am

My Willamette Week Restaurant Reviews

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Trout salad at Kir.

Trout salad at Kir.

Kir's pickle plate.

Kir's pickle plate.

(My three reviews that made it into the Willamette Week’s excellent Portland restaurant guide. Sorry, Giorgio’s, the editor and I decided you didn’t make the cut.)

Kir

This shabby-chic space feels like an old friend’s living room. In a flyspeck kitchen, chef-owner Amalie Roberts, the former wine director at Clyde Common, works her Mediterranean magic, assembling generous plates (a cornucopia of Manchego and cured meats, fragrant bowls of steamed mussels) for $10 or less. Sit at the Art Deco slab of bar and let bartender Russell Smith guide you. The chalkboard emphasizes affordable Old World vintages, particularly rosés. Or sip a cava-elderflower liqueur kir royale. Stunning late-summer surprises included a new pickle plate and large slabs of smoked trout beside a sunny salad of cherry tomatoes and haricots verts. Save room for the homey desserts, like the delicate plum hazelnut cake. Then find yourself becoming a regular here.

Kir flexes its muscles.

Kir flexes its muscles.

Order this: Mussels steamed with corona beans and chorizo.
Best deal: Charcuterie and cheese plate.
I’ll pass: Mixed olives, toasted pistachios (the least alluring of the snacks).

LAURA MCCANDLISH. 22 NE 7th Ave. 232-3063. kirwinebar.com Map

Happy hour pizettes pretty good deal during Fratelli's happy hours.

Happy hour pizettes pretty good deal during Fratelli's happy hours.

Fratelli

This cucina has staying power. After an 11-year, inconspicuous run in the Pearl, chef Paul Klitsie’s still at the helm. Fratelli’s Bar Dué boasts a happy hour offered not once but twice daily: first until 6 pm and again after 9 pm. Deals from the mesquite wood-fired oven include pizzas (though the green grape, olive and rosemary one lacked verve) and mix-and-match antipasti (pick the chicken-liver mousse and the better-than-hummus chickpea purée with arugula pesto). Among small plates, try the tangy, tender boar ribs; skip the porchetta sliders (all bun with little pork). The dinner menu trumpets local sources: grilled baby romaine with albacore tuna Caesar dressing, a Mountain Shadow Farms strip steak. How solid is Fratelli’s locavore street cred? Co-owner Tim Cuscaden even grows some of the produce himself, such as the beets braised with the black cod.
Order this: Braised boar ribs with balsamic glaze.
Best deal: $5 happy-hour pizzas and antipasti.
I’ll pass: Mixology (e.g., the Cello Drop) isn’t stellar. Consult the polished wine list instead.

LAURA MCCANDLISH. 1230 NW Hoyt St. 241-8800. www.fratellicucina.com Map

Clarklewis

Lunch and happy hour—that’s when to frequent the former capital of the fallen Ripe food empire. Sure, you’ll miss seafood starters (scallops with sweet corn and chanterelles), toothsome antipastos (arugula, burrata, yellow beans and grilled peaches) and heartier entrees (roasted pork shoulder with figs), but you can still sample a decent menu for a lot less cash. Try these sandwiches: peppery lamb bacon with grilled eggplant or in a BLT on the blue-plate special; roast chicken salad with Gruyère; an Italian grinder with olive dressing. Salads (watermelon with feta) seem less bold these days; most desserts don’t wow.
Order this: Any housemade pasta, like tagliatelle with lamb ragu. The smaller plate is ample.
Best deal: $6 happy-hour hamburger.
I’ll pass: Insipid soup and plain sorbet don’t beef up the lunch special. Get the sandwich alone instead.

LAURA MCCANDLISH. 1001 SE Water Ave. 235-2294. www.clarklewispdx.com Map

Written by baltimoregon

October 21, 2009 at 11:44 pm

April’s at Nye Beach in Newport

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Duck breast with currants at April's.

Duck breast with currants at April's.

I’ve realized there was a glaring omission in my review of where to eat in Newport, on the Oregon coast. Somehow I managed to overlook foodie favorite April’s at Nye Beach. But then I realized why: the restaurant shutters each January and that’s when I did my dining for the reviews. So this week I finally had a chance to eat at April’s.

While not paradigm-shifting in the vein of Portland’s most inventive spots, April’s is a reliable, elegant and warm restaurant. The servers are gracious and the food is local and good. Pacific Northwest seafood is well-represented on the contemporary Italian menu, which also features ultra-local produce from the chef-owner’s garden in nearby Toledo. My duck breast was succulent and the salmon panzanella was a fresh and unusual presentation.

For fine dining in Newport, there is also the more cosmopolitan Saffron Salmon and perhaps more affordable Panache. Most days, we’d prefer Cafe Mundo‘s earthier, more informal scene. Of course when Dungeness crab is in season, that’s the way to go, the less adorned the presentation, the better.

Written by baltimoregon

September 13, 2009 at 2:07 am

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Clemenza’s: Some of the Best Italian Food Around

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Rigatoni Clemenza ($10 for a hepaing serving)

Rigatoni Clemenza ($10 for a heaping serving)

After last week’s disappointing trip to local-chain Pastini Pastaria (overcooked pasta, ridiculous waits), we were thrilled to finally make it to Clemenza’s Italian American Cafe in neighboring Albany. Hands-down it has to be the best Italian place in this area, especially when you consider the quantity and quality you get for the price.

I had the Rigatoni Clemenza, with a unique spicy-sweet tomato sauce fortified with with pureed broccoli and shreds of the stalk, cubes of dried salami, a dusting of Italian bacon and baked cheese. Pictured is a more than ample “medium” portion. For just dollars more, Clemenza’s lets the big eaters order a larger plate of the entree. Dan took that route, happily feasting on baked spaghetti with a rich three meat (beef, turkey and pork) sauce. Clemenza’s is his Platonic ideal of a restaurant: homestyle, unpretentious pastas and simple sauces that speak for themselves. With two small cups of the house red, the bill came to only $26. Move over, Mamma Zu.

Restaurants like Clemenza are slowly revitalizing blue-collar downtown Albany, which unjustly plays step-sister to tonier Corvallis, though both small cities have similar sized-populations. Leading the progress are restauranteurs Matt and Janel Bennett. They’ve run the more upscale Sybaris in Albany for several years. That’s where we had that magical mushroom dinner this fall. Then the Bennetts opened Clemenza’s just down the main street in June. Chef Matt Bennett is a rising culinary star here, especially since he cooked at the Beard House in NYC.

Albany could use a third spot with his magic touch. Let’s hope a rumor suggesting that was in the cards comes true!

Written by baltimoregon

January 19, 2009 at 2:07 am

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Eating Our Way Through San Fran

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My first In-N-Out burger

My first In-N-Out burger

Please excuse the New Year’s hiatus. We went to San Francisco for the American Economic Association meeting (where we saw some of the old Baltimore posse) and hung out with my dear college friends in Berkeley.

Yes, I finally consumed my first (half) of an In-N-Out burger on the way home from wine-tasting in the Russian River area. Those Mormons make good burgers, and apparently they treat their staff right too, paying several dollars above minimum wage at the entry-level.

Papalote burrito

Papalote burrito

But the real memorable meals took place in San Francisco’s Mission District. I’m still dreaming about the burritos and not-too-sweet strawberry aqua fresca from Papalote Mexican Grill. Instead of my chile verde pork, I should have just stuck with the potato-mushroom-carrot veggie one I ordered when there with my now sister-in-law summer of 2005.

We returned to the Mission that night for dinner at another favorite on the Bernal Heights Border: Emmy’s Spaghetti Shack. Let’s just say heaping bowls of spaghetti and meatballs (and 40’s of malt liquor) are the things to order at this hipster joint. And the fragrant garlic bread. The bartender poured some mean cocktails — a ruby red grapefruit-cucumber martini and a Kentucky Iced Tea (mint julep with lemon and sweet tea syrup) — while we waited an hour for our table at the bar. It’s worth the wait.

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Emmy's

Emmy's

All forms of Asian food are also a San Francisco treat. We had interesting Vietnamese broken rice bento box-type dishes at Binh Minh Quan in Oakland’s Chinatown. And I met my cousin for lunch at the always reliable House of Nanking in San Francisco’s Chinatown/Financial District. I love how you just tell the waiter to order for you there. The mu shu beef, sesame chicken and usual pea shoots salad with braised eggplant didn’t disappoint. Several of the dishes were completed by slices of a crisp raw cucumber-like winter squash.

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Almost forget to mention: lunch at Chez Panisse was good but over-priced. It’s just not the revolutionary concept it once was now that local food is everywhere. But we did love our braised quail and duck breast chichory salad. If only it was half the price.

But the most memorable meal of all might have been the home-cooked one we shared in Berkeley on New Year’s Eve. Kudos to Chef Dave, who made delectable seared pork chops with a mushroom-caper-rosemary garlic sauce, brown butter potatoes and homemade Alabama-style apple pie, without depending upon recipes or even measuring cups.

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Written by baltimoregon

January 9, 2009 at 2:09 am

Baltimore’s restaurants and other charms

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I was surprised to find a STYLE: Smart Living in Baltimore magazine forwarded to my Corvallis address. A wave of longing for my favorite Baltimore restaurants hit me when I read its piece on former City Paper (and now Baltimore Sun) restaurant critic Richard Gorelick. sorry, there’s no link to it online. But it mentions the One World Cafe (see photo above) and Golden West, two Baltimore institutions for which we have yet to find replacements.

 I met Laura Wexler, the STYLE article’s author, at a spirited Day of the Dead dinner at Cafe Azafran on Johns Hopkins’ Homewood campus, just about this time last year. Little did we then know where we’d be for Dia de los Muertos in 2008! Oh, and how I miss the Stoop Storytelling series that Wexler co-currates at Centerstage Theater in Baltimore. It hurts to miss the Stoop Holiday Hoopla, with its line-up of prime Baltimore musicians like Abby Mott and Caleb Stine. The Real Geniuses (Abby Mott is lead female vocalist) played at our wedding, and Hannah and I were just becoming groupies for the alt-country yet genre-defying Caleb Stine. But live where you are, right, and there is much to love here.

Written by baltimoregon

October 28, 2008 at 8:32 am

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Crossing the country in six nights

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Much of the country is fields of corn, soy and hay, connecting the the urban metropolises in between. You wonder how many of those cornfields, consuming the likes of Ohio, Illinois and South Dakota, were planted with the crop before the ethanol boom.

We first visited Pittsburgh, Baltimore’s post-industrial soul sister, after crashing at a Pennsylvania Turnpike roadside motel. As the capital of Appalachia, Pittsburgh dwells in that space in between and, despite its spectacular skyline, seems to feel inferior to East Coast cities. The bacon was the highlight of our brunch there at there at the Harris Grill in Shadyside. But the waitstaff was grumpy.

 

 

In Chicago, we had a free place to crash downtown within walking distance to Lake Shore Drive. We ate yummy Italian tapas at Quartino, where carafes of Barbera reds from Italy’s Alba Piedmont region flowed freely. And then I made a pilgrimmage to the Tribune Tower, the corporate home of my former employers, The Baltimore Sun and the Daily Press.

Then we took a short detour to Minneapolis, stopping for cheese curds in Wisconsin along the way. We got a real primer on Minnesota politics, including the current Senate race between Al Franken and Norm Coleman (born Goldman) from an affordable housing advocate mentored by the late Sen. Paul Wellstone. And we had a memorable brunch featuring local wild rice sausage patties at the veg-friendly Birchwood Cafe.

Then South Dakota took an eternity to cross. Its famous Wall Drug signs greeted us as we hit I-90 in Minnesota: the tourist stop near Rapid City was only 355 miles away. South Dakota must have more anti-abortionists and fewer vegetarians per capita than any other state, judging from the road signs along the way. A fierce lightening storm illuminated the wide South Dakota skies as we drove west at dusk.

But then a detour toward the Badlands at the edge of the state provided truly spectacular views.

Wyoming and Montana were more scenic and dry. We stayed at a B&B in the warehouse district of Bozeman, Montana and stumbled upon our first farmer’s market of the trip. Bozeman had good local beer and yuppy boutiques, while Missoula had a more rugged granola feel. The fresh roast beef, red pepper hummus and sprouts sandwich at Dauphines’s Bakery & Cafe in Missoula was worth going back for.

We stumbled upon our second farmer’s market in Coeur D’Alene, Idaho, a mountainous city on a lake that seems to lure tourists from California. Then made another detour into Washington’s wine country in the Walla Walla Valley. Our lushest accomodations were there at the Fat Duck Inn, after we ate a farm-fresh outdoor dinner at Luscious by Nature. We also picked up some wine from the Reininger Winery. Their Helix Pomatia 2005 was a tasty blend. The arid landscapes in Eastern Washington and Eastern Oregon had a real vacant, apocalyptic feel.

In Portland, we lunched at the city’s oldest Chinese carry-out restaurant, in the Hollywood District. Chin’s Kitchen opened there in 1949, though it now has a decidedly vacant and 50s feel. Chop suey, the American-created dish popular with World War II vets who served in the Pacific (see Jennifer 8. Lee’s The Fortune Cookie Chronicles, is still on the menu.

Written by baltimoregon

September 11, 2008 at 12:33 am

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