30 December 2008

Eat Here: Country Cat

My sister and her husband decided to stick around for the weekend since my brother wasn't able to come down to Portland. Since she was down here, we met up with a couple of her friends who live in SE for dinner on Saturday night. I suggested the Country Cat, which I had heard was good from my friend Michael.

The restaurant is a lot smaller than it looks from the inside. The Web site says it seats 65. A few of those seats are in front of the kitchen--I will have to go back to try those out. The food and drinks were so good. I know I've been raving a lot, but seriously, this is worth checking out.

We started with the roasted wild mushrooms over chicken liver toast with pork confit & fennel-apple slaw, as well as the roasted chestnut & potato dumplings with grilled ricotta salata cheese, brown butter, & crisp sage. Both were delicious, but I think I liked the meaty one better. For dinner, I chose the Strawberry Mountain braised beef on a chanterelle mushroom & orzo pasta pilaf with caramelized brussels sprouts & red wine braised bacon. It was tough to decide between that and the fried chicken and steelhead. Luckily, I was able to try both and I think I still made the right choice. There was suprisingly a lot of meat on my plate. The prices were a little high, but for the quality and quantity you get, it's worth it. I was so full I couldn't even think about dessert...but it looked really good. Our server was awesome and tattoo-filled, wearing a fedora. Ah, Portland.

On a related note, I've heard some complaints about menus writing out the full description of their dishes including where the ingredients come from, but you know what? I like it. I like knowing everything that will be on my plate. I also like knowing that the beef comes from a local, natural producer.

And on yet another related note....In an effort to save money this year and pay off my debt so I can actually go travel and write about something other than food on this blog...I will not be eating out much more. Instead, you will probably be reading about creative concoctions I've come up with to tolerate my lack of eating out in the interim. Feel free to leave your cheap, healthy recipes!

26 December 2008

A Very Merry Christmas Indeed!

I spent the majority of last week working from home due to the snow storm we were having. I managed to bake about 14 dozen cookies in the process and prep all my food for our first ever Sibling Christmas. My sister, her husband, and my brother were all supposed to come down on Christmas Day and join me, Shawn, and two of our friends for a casual Christmas together. Plans were changed for many in the area, though. I'll get back to that.

Christmas Eve, Shawn and I made plans to dine at Roux, the cajun-influenced restaurant about four blocks from our house. They were serving a special Christmas Eve menu, and since we had no plans that evening, we decided to treat ourselves. We've been to Roux a number of times since moving to the neighborhood and the food has never let us down. The atmosphere is upscale, but definitely not uptight. There's always something interesting on the ever-changing, seasonal menu, so I'm never bored. I do have one problem with it, though. Two times that we've been there, this last time included, we've felt very rushed through the meal. The first time, with my dad and his wife, we didn't have a reservation and I understand that can be a problem. However, the hostess chose to tell us, at 6pm, that we could have the table, but it was reserved for 7:30, so we need to hurry. OK, fine, I get it--but we were done well before 7:30 anyway. This last time, we did have a reservation for 6pm, but were told multiple times that there was a reservation on the table at 8pm. This bothered me. Here we are paying a lot of money for a relaxing Christmas Eve dinner and basically being told to hurry up and get out. From the server's point, I can see wanting to make sure that we're not lingering and just wasting space when other people are waiting (I've had that happen before and been the person waiting...very annoying!), but on the other hand, there were plenty of other free tables. If the reservation arrived a bit early, because the times we were told it was still well before 8pm, they could always seat them at a different table. Or they could wait for a couple minutes in the bar. There are alternatives. What bothers me most is that I've spent so many lines talking about this problem and not about the delicious food we had. The issue shouldn't overshadow the food, and unfortunately, it did. For those who are curious, we started with the pork rillettes and shared the butterleaf salad. I had the blackened quail over gumbo ya ya and herbed rice. Shawn chose the ham with whipped sweet potatoes and rosemary biscuits. We had a nice bottle of Dolcetto, and split the fallen chocolate souffle cake for dessert.

Christmas day turned out fine, despite the earlier assumption and my siblings wouldn't make it down. My brother wasn't able to, and I was sad, but very grateful that Gina and Richard made the journey. When it started snowing heavily early in the afternoon, I started to feel bad for making them come down, but luckily they made it safely. Also, since our friends' plans were changed, we were lucky to welcome Jason and Megan to our house as well!

I made another loaf of the no-knead bread, which was a hit. I also dipped into the genius of the America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook for the appetizers. I made goat cheese spread, chicken satay with peanut sauce (which I'll be using with some spaghetti tonight to make noodles and veggies in peanut sauce), and deviled eggs. Gina made mac and cheese, which was overflowing with cheesy goodness (and yes, the mini penne worked just as well as the rigatoni Steve...). We had many bottles of alcohol of various kinds and just generally had a great time. It was relaxing and fun and different.

Hope everyone's holidays were just as fun and family/friend-filled as ours! Shawn got me the America's Test Kitchen Family Baking Book for Christmas, so many new recipes and breads to come!

Next up...New Year's at the Alibi. Otherwise known as the last night of smoking at the Tiki Bar!

24 December 2008

Eat Here: Mint/820

Tuesday night our friends Eve-Maridy and Tobias saved me from the snow and we met Shawn at Mint/820 for happy hour. I discovered this place with a few friends about two years ago when we went for the half-price wine night (every Monday). The restaurant is in an odd place, next to the McMenamins White Eagle Tavern and the Widmer Brothers Gasthaus, but it's fitting. It's definitely urban, but I don't get that YOU DON'T BELONG vibe when I go in there. The service has always been pleasant and food delicious.

Our happy hour in 820, the bar, turned into happy hour in the resaurant since the heat was broken (bad timing). Tuesday nights they have a great deal--$5 Oregon spirits. There was a limited menu, but no matter...they had martinis on it. You may have heard of the owner who is famous for her inventive cocktails--Lucy Brennan. I haven't tried too many of the concoctions, but I'm sure they are good. I just prefer a straight up martini.

For dinner, I enjoyed the spicy Caesar and the cuban lamb burger. I've had this burger a couple times now and it always amazes me how absolutely perfect it is. The meat is so tender and juicy and it comes with perfectly crisp sweet potato fries with a spicy aioli to dip them in. For $8 on the happy hour menu, it's not a bad meal. In fact, I probably could've done without the salad, but it just sounded good. I highly recommend hitting happy hour, or a dinner there. We had a great time, despite the heat problem. Perfect evening with great friends!

17 December 2008

Make This: No Knead Bread

I had my first experience baking bread yesterday. For some silly reason, I've always been a little wary of working with yeast. I'm convinced it's going to die on me and I'll end up with a big, globby mess. But when I heard about the No Knead Bread, I though I could try it. It's taken me over a year, but I've finally done it. I started the process on Monday afternoon when I was home from work on a snow day. I probably should have read the recipe first. I ended up letting my dough rise for well over 24 hours. When I got home yesterday from work, I finished it up, let the last step of rising happen, then threw it in the oven to finish. Ladies and gentlemen...my first loaf of homemade bread...
Besides actually being very easy, it's delicious. Just as airy and chewy on the inside and crisp on the outside as my favorite bakery breads. Honestly, if I can do it, with all the fear of yeast that I have, then anyone can. I highly suggest trying it out. You may never want to buy bread again.

08 December 2008

Gluttonous Weekend

The weekend began with take-out Mexican food and then a cocktail party...already off to a bad start.

Saturday morning I awoke and realized we had nothing to make for breakfast. It then dawned on me that we did have some frozen blueberries. Blueberry pancakes...a-ha! I pulled out my favorite cookbook, America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook, and got to work (waking Shawn up in the process and getting him excited for pancakes). Despite being a pretty good cook, I have a couple of trouble spots. One is pie crusts. The other is breakfast food. I can cook up a few things really well, and improvise with leftovers like a whiz, but when it comes to basics like pancakes, I doubt every instinct I have. Which was the case on Saturday morning. I decided to add some whey protein powder and displace some of the flour. When the batter looked awfully thin, I decided I should add the flour back in. Then I over mixed it. Then the pancakes wouldn't rise. It was an overall disaster. Devastated and broke, I figured we'd just have to eat them anyway and deal with it. Then Shawn pulled out the emergency "Carmel-doesn't-want-to-cook" piggy bank and we were off to Beaterville (coffee in toe to save a little).

Beaterville is one of my favorite Portland breakfast spots. Not because it serves the best breakfast, but just for the casual atmosphere, reasonable prices, and solid offerings. It was 11am and the place was still packed when we got there (as I'm sure many people in the area were enjoying some holiday spirits the night before as well). However, the staff there always seems to be pretty chipper, even when completely packed. Luckily it wasn't raining and we dressed appropriately for the chilly weather, so we enjoyed our coffee and waited. (Just a side note, even if you don't bring your own coffee, they have it available at the front of the restaurant...Portland Roasting--not my favorite, but it's not bad). After we were seated, it didn't take long to order and receive our food. Feeling a little slighted by my own pancake experience that morning, I ended up choosing a Denver omelette. Satisfying, but it reminded me why I don't get omelettes in general--just a little too slimy in the middle. I'm more of a scramble kinda gal. At least I got my toast fix and was able to top it with the delicious strawberry jam they make.

Saturday was a very easy-going day. After our weekly house cleaning and grocery shopping (at my favorite store, New Seasons), we headed down to Hawthorne to do some vintage window shopping. After wandering around for awhile, it was time to decide on dinner. We ended up at Hopworks Urban Brewery.

Since its opening last year, Hopworks has been pretty steadily busy given that its structure is perfect for a town like Portland. It boasts its organic beers and sustainable structure. Given that the environment, organic methods, and sustainability are all important issues to me, I wondered why it had taken us so long to get down there. We managed to grab one of the last spots in the very tight parking lot. The brewery sits right on Powell Blvd, across from the bowling alley. Walking in, it feels more like a chain restaurant than new, hip Portland eatery. Despite the creatively recycled pieces decorating the place, it felt less like the Rebuilding Center and more like T.G.I. Friday's. The staff was a little overwhelming as we were told the exact whereabouts of our waitress and not to worry that we'd get beverages shortly. And then were checked up on every 5 minutes. It's not that I want to be ignored, but you have to strike a balance.

So, once our server arrived, as promised, Shawn and I both ordered the winter seasonal beer. It was surprisingly light and floral for a winter, but very tasty. We started our meal off with a large Caesar salad which was accompanied by some warm parmesan breadsticks. The dressing on the salad was very nice--garlicky, without being offensive, and more of an oil-base, rather than the creamy version. We unfortunately had little time to enjoy the salad as our pizza arrive only about 5 minutes after the salad. I don't think we were eating that slowly either. The pizza was pretty good. I appreciate the commitment to better ingredients and saw the kitchen tossing the pizza dough, so I know it wasn't pulled out of the refrigerator pre-made. We had the sausage, mushroom, and black olive pizza. The sausage was delightfully spicy and crumbly. We topped off our meal with another beer. This time I tried the deluxe organic ale, and Shawn the IPA. Both were just as good as the winter ale. Given that we had quite a bit to eat and drink, I was pleasantly surprised by the bill. Turns out we had made it during happy hour where beers are $0.75 off regular price. It's a little shocking, as a Portlander, though to see the regular beer prices being $4.25-$4.50 a pint. For organic beer, I'm willing to get over it.

Overall, if I had to give it a rating out of 5 stars, it would only be 3. The food and drink were well above average (especially the beer), but the atmosphere really affected my experience. Next time (and I think there will be a next time), we'll just try the bar.

05 December 2008

Eat Here: Pause

Last year I moved from downtown to North Portland. One of my main concerns about leaving downtown was that there wouldn't be very many good restaurants within walking distance. I was grateful to be wrong. Besides Roux and breakfast-staple Beaterville, we were delighted to stumble upon, what I consider to be, the perfect neighborhood restaurant, Pause.

Shawn and I took my aunt there for dinner last night. In our 16 months in North Portland, I'd say we've been there about 30 times. Maybe more. What's so special about this place is that not only do they serve the best burgers in town, but those burgers are made from meat ground right there in the kitchen, the fries are house-cut, the pickles that come on the side are pickled there...you see where I'm going? Last night I had the cuban sandwich with the house-cured ham and mounds of perfectly cooked pork. What's even more ridiculous are the prices. That delicious sandwich and fries cost $8. $8. Same with the Tillamook cheeseburger. I can spend that at Baja Fresh and not feel nearly as satisfied. In fact, this summer I celebrated my birthday there (out on the great enclosed, grassy patio) and our grand total for 13 of us, including drinks, appetizers, dinner, and 20% included gratuity was....$270. The one downside is that I wouldn't recommend it for vegetarians. However, the mac and cheese is quite delicious as are many of their appetizers. It blows my mind that this place is owned by the same people who brough us the Low Brow. Although I do like that bar, I try my best not to end up there when I'm hungry.

Open 11:30am-1am M-Sat, 12pm-midnight Sun.
Happy hour runs from 4-6pm, I believe...that means your $3.50 micro is now $2.50. Sweet.

PS...order the pickle plate