12/28/2011

Third Draft Finally Finished

If there is one thing I've learned since I sat down to write a novel, it's the need for patience.

(Notice I said "the need for" and not that I learned patience. Still working on that.)

As I sit here and look at the date on my computer, I can't believe I started this novel a year ago. A freaking year?! Are you kidding me?! No wonder it takes even professional authors so damn long to put out a new book. Here I am toiling through it as a fourth priority (behind family, first job that pays the bills, and second job that also pays) and it's taken me a year to finish three drafts of a single novel.

Oh yes, the third draft is done. And it's better than the one before it, which is really all one can hope for, right?

For me, the third draft was the first real re-writing I had to do. The second draft was more cursory, but the third...a bomb went off in that one.

I completely wrote out one character and greatly minimized two others. I raised the profile of a fourth. The narrative changed, drastically, and it became a couple shades darker. The ending is completely different. My protagonist, for the lack of a better term, grew a pair. This version of the book, I feel, flows better.

Then again, I haven't read through it with a red pen yet - that will be the fourth draft, after the new year. I need some time to breathe, charge the batteries.

But back to the need for patience.

I always want to work on the book, because I want to finish it. I mean, doesn't everyone want to finish what they are working on? To be able to say "I did that"? Sure, but my stark reality is it has to fit into the schedule, and the schedule is pretty packed.

Perhaps I mentioned this before, but I'm not a student of the "write with any fraction of time you have" school. That works for some people, but all it does is frustrate me. Which, of course, leads directly to how it takes a year to get through the third draft of a 71,900 word novel.

Now I can check that step off the list and move on to the next one. Maybe someday someone will even get to read it.

12/27/2011

Mmm...Tacos at Mi Mero Mole

Sometimes you try out a new place and everything works. Mi Mero Mole, on SE 50th and Division, is that place.

Mi Mero Mole - with the awesome URL of mmmtacospdx.com - is owned by Nick Zukin, the same Nick who is the Zuke in Kenny and Zuke's Deli and Sandwichworks, and who also has gained quite a following in the Portland food scene via Twitter (@extramsg) and articles (like this one on burgers), plus the portlandfood.org messageboards.

However, his first love is Mexican food and Mi Mero Mole specializes in one thing: guisados. What is that, you may ask? It translates roughly as "stew," but there's more to it than that. In Mexico City guisados come in literally hundreds of different flavors and they are served on tortillas. (Don't kill me if this isn't 100% accurate, there isn't a lot of information out there about them.)

Mi Mero Mole (roughly translates as my own mole, or can be interpreted as the same sentiment but more forceful) has a menu that changes every so often, featuring a few of the different guisados at once. Check the menu link and you can see how many will be in rotation, plus others.

The building is not well signed, so unless you know where it is you may miss it. There is a sign in the window that says "Albierto," but not one that says "Mi Mero Mole" that either of us recall seeing. Mi Mero Mole is also not officially open yet; instead, until sometime in January this is considered their soft opening. Given the pedigree of the owner and the food involved it was already on our short list, but then they did a special where we could get a dozen tamales to take home for $24 (more on them later), so we figured we'd get dinner too and check it out.

The decor is minimalist, but still a little homey - think relaxed neighborhood hangout. The current menu is on a chalkboard on the left when you walk in and you order at the register, then your food is brought to you. All of the tortillas are made fresh and there is a small salsa bar if you feel like adding some to your meal. They serve beers, cocktails, and non-alcoholic drinks. Each guisada can be ordered as a taco, a burrito or as a plate, which comes with sides of beans and rice. Currently meat guisados are $2.75 each and vegetarian ones are $2.50, but that may change when the official opening comes.

Wifey and I started off with an order of chips and guacamole, just like we did at Mextiza. Mi Mero Mole's guac was more traditional, but still very creamy and quite tasty. The chips were excellent (perfectly salted!) - I could eat a bag of these without stopping. However, they seemed to be best fresh; we ate them throughout the meal and towards the end they got a little stale. Shrug. They were awesome.


Funny story: Nick actually took our order and brought us our food. We happened to sit at a table without ideal lighting and when he saw us getting ready to take some pictures, he asked us to wait, went behind the counter and grabbed a small light, and let us use it to take pictures. We need to get one of those - thanks Nick!

We ordered four guisados - the taco version - in all. Wifey and I split each one and as you can see by the pictures each taco was well-filled. The first two were albondigas (beed and pork meatballs stuffed with boiled egg and stewed in chipotle tomato sauce) and pollo con nopales en salsa verde (chicken and cactus paddle - prickly pear - stewed in tomatillo and serrano sauce.


Both of those were excellent, but the pollo con napales was on another level. Neither of us had ever eaten prickly pear before and the cactus added so much flavor - it was amazing. I could go back and eat four of just those.

The second plate was rajas con crema (roasted poblana chiles with sauteed onions in a sour cream and aged cheese sauce) and cerdo en adobo (pork in a sweet and sour chile sauce). Again, both of these introduced us to new flavor profiles and were outstanding.


It's a good thing we liked the cerdo en adobo, because that was the same flavor as the dozen tamales we ordered. They were still warm when Nick handed us the tray, and when we got home we opened them up.


Aren't they pretty? They looked so damn good I wanted to try them that night, but the four tacos and chips left both of us pretty full, so we had them for lunch the next day. Here's a look from the open end of the tamale.


And with it unwrapped and split down the middle.


Simply put, these are amazing. The masa used to wrap the filling is the best I've ever had. Neither of us claim to be experts in Mexican food, but we like it and did spend a week eating Oaxacan food in Huatulco a couple years back, so we'd like to think we can recognize good stuff - and this is fantastic.

Frankly, Mi Mero Mole is a must-visit - and it's not going to hurt your wallet. For a dozen tamales, four tacos, and the chips and guac my total bill was $37.75 plus tip - and $24 of that was the tamales. Where else can you get a fantastic meal for two people for $14?! Even if the prices do go up, Mi Mero Mole would  be considered steal.

Since I'm reviewing this place so close to Mextiza, I know a question that may come is how the two compare. They don't, actually. Both have excellent food and I'd go back to either one, but I'm getting a different kind of Mexican food at each one.

If I had to choose one though, it would be Mi Mero Mole. We'll be going back for sure.

12/23/2011

2011 Pac-12 Bowl Season Picks

I'm late. Arizona State played yesterday in the first bowl game of the year involving a Pac-12 team and I didn't make my picks. Whoops.

Between the day job, the second job, and trying to finish the third draft of my novel, things get forgotten. What can I say? Gotta prioritize.

After correctly choosing Oregon to win the inaugural Pac-12 title I'm 64-27 on the season heading into the bowl season, one that looks very, very rough for the conference.

For what it's worth, I would have picked Boise State to blow the Sun Devils out, so I'll take a W. After firing Dennis Erickson - well, actually before firing him - that team was a mess. A 6-6 mess of a team matching up with the #7 team in the nation and one of the best in recent history? My cat predicted the blowout.

This is also the first loss of a Pac-12 bowl team that left them with record below .500 on the season.

On to the rest of the bowl games (rankings in parentheses - AP, USA Today):

California v. Texas
Holiday Bowl
12/28/11, 5pm, ESPN

Cal has been up and down all year, as has Texas. Texas has more talent.

The pick: TEXAS

Washington v. Baylor (15, 16)
Alamo Bowl
12/29/11, 6pm, ESPN

Washington couldn't control the better teams of the Pac-12, how can they expect to do any better against Heisman winner Robert Griffin III?

The pick: BAYLOR

Utah v. Georgia Tech (30t, 29)
Sun Bowl
12/30/11, 11am, CBS

Utah got better as the season progressed, they should stand tall here.

The pick: UTAH

UCLA v. Illinois
Fight Hunger Bowl
12/31/11, 12:30pm, ESPN

UCLA does not deserve a bowl game, period. They will be 6-8 when this over.

The pick: ILLINOIS

Oregon (6, 5) v. Wisconsin (9, 8)
Rose Bowl
1/2/12, 2pm, ESPN

The Ducks need a win in a bowl game badly and should match up well with Wisconsin. I figure the Ducks defense will stop the Wisconsin offense more than vice versa.

The pick: OREGON

Stanford (4, 4) v. Oklahoma State (3, 3)
Fiesta Bowl
1/2/12, 5pm, ESPN

Stanford is a tough team and Andrew Luck is a great leader, but the defense will not be able to handle the high scoring Cowboys. Remember what Oregon did to them? OK State will do the same

The pick: OKLAHOMA STATE

---

Projecting a 2-5 record hurts, but can you really disagree? The only one I'm even on the fence about is the Cal pick, just because you have no idea what they will do in any given week. Rough, rough matchups for the conference. If USC had been bowl eligible then everyone would have moved down a notch and the matchups would look a little better, but they'd still be tough.

12/21/2011

Cookie, Cake AND Pie!

There is a blog I follow written by a Seattle artist who goes by the name of CakeSpy. Some of you may be familiar with it, but if you are not I urge you to check it out. She has fun with baking, trying all sorts of things I think would be interesting to have a bite of but usually wouldn't be willing to try myself.

Until now.

Everyone loves pie, right? And chocolate chip cookies? And who doesn't love a good cake? Well, what if you COMBINED THEM ALL INTO ONE MONUMENTAL DISH OF AWESOMENESS?! That would be good, right? You'd be interested?

Well then, let me introduce you to Cookie Cake Pie. No, I'm not kidding, and yes, it's exactly what you think it might be.


And the thing is, it's insanely easy to make. Ideally you make all the components on your own, but you don't have to and it will still be pretty dang tasty. We had one last frozen, 8-inch pie crust I bought at Immortal Pie and Larder's going out of business sale, plus we also had frozen homemade cookie dough balls (this is our favorite recipe, a Jacque Torres adaptation) and frozen homemade buttercream frosting. All I needed to do was buy a Betty Crocker rainbow chip cake mix and we were in business. The picture above is the finished product.


And with frosting.

I would like to point out that Wifey made this and surprised me when I came home from work one day. I love her so much. :)

Also, she differed from CakeSpy's recipe just a tad. The original recipe calls for putting the pie crust, cookie dough, and cake mix together and baking it at the same time, but if you look at the pictures the finished product seems exceedingly gooey (and I like gooey). Instead Wifey pre-baked the crust (about 12 minutes on 425 degrees), then added the cookie dough and baked it for another 20 minutes (at 350 degrees), then added the cake mix for a final 30 minutes (of course, actual times will depend on your oven).

That way when you cut out a slice you can see each of the elements is nicely baked, but not overdone. (By the way, click on the picture below so it fills up your entire computer screen. You're welcome.)


This. Was. Delicious! Yes, it was absolutely super sweet, but that's to be expected. Take a small slice at a time, share with friends who will be in awe of your baking cred, and freeze the rest for another day.

Now what does one do with half a box of cake mix? Make cupcakes of course! But wait, what if you have an odd amount of leftover cookie dough balls too? No worries, CakeSpy has you covered. Of course I mean cookie dough stuffed cupcakes - what else?!

Once again, these are super easy to make. You already have the cookie dough and if you just made the entire cake mix, you have that too. Just fill cupcake pans 2/3 full and drop roughly half the normal amount of dough to make a cookie into the middle of each. It should look like this:


(Those two on the top right didn't get a cookie dough ball - they ended up as boring normal cupcakes.)

Wait, can you not see clearly how it should look? This next picture should help you. (Click it and make it bigger! Impress you coworkers with the deliciousness!)


Cook them normal cupcake time (from the box) and they come out looking like...well, normal cupcakes.


Frost them up and they still look normal.


Then you take a bite or cut them in half - and EXPOSE THE AWESEOMENESS!


These, like the cookie cake pie, were excellent. Seriously, where the hell has this been my entire life?

We've eaten things similar to this from a bakery, but I was amazed at really how easy it was to make. Try it out on your own, you won't be sorry.

Hmm...maybe next time we use a Devil's food recipe...

12/14/2011

A Visit to Mextiza

Wifey and I decided to try out a new Mexican restaurant out in North Portland - Mextiza on North Killingsworth. Mextiza is owned and operated by the same chef who runs Autentica, generally regarded as one of the best Mexican restaurants in the city. This place is more casual than Autentica and boasts a very reasonably price lunch menu.


We started off with an appetizer: Guacamole with thick tortilla chips, topped with cheese


Look at that guac; doesn't it look smooth? It was - very, very smooth. And fantastic. Those chips were as thick as a pita chip, but with all the flavor of a tortilla chip. The cheese they were topped with was just sprinkled and made quite a mess. I'm not the tidiest eater anyway, but that cheese was all over the place.

My main dish was the Pollo Rostizado - Rotisserie chicken with pineapple, served with spicy potato salad refried beans and Oaxacan cheese.


I'm not real sure why I got the beans instead - the waitress wasn't clear on that - but they were good. The chicken had rich flavors with a nice amount of spice. There were a ton of onions (the darker strands are the pineapple, which I didn't figure out until I ate them), but it all worked. I'd definitely recommend this.

Wifey ordered the Zuisas - Green chile and tomatillo sauce enchiladas with chicken, Oaxacan melting chese and cream.


These were also very, very good, with plenty of onions as well. The sauce had a very fresh flavor to it and we both love Oaxacan cheese (since our trip to Huatulco a few years ago), so it was a winner.

Food was very good, prices were reasonable, and the service was, um, passable. Our waitress didn't seem very sure of herself or the dishes she was serving, but perhaps that's a byproduct of it being a new place. It wasn't bad, just a little confused.

We would definitely recommend Mextiza and would go back. It also made us more excited to check out Autentica, one of the many places On The List. (The list is quite long.)

12/02/2011

2011 Pac-12 College Football: Championship

Nothing like finishing the season on an uptick. If Colorado hadn't pulled off an amazing upset in Utah in a game that, had the Utes won, would have pushed them into the Pac-12 championship game I would have managed a 7-0 week. Instead I went 6-1, probably my best week since preseason, pushing me to 63-27 on the season.

And now, thanks to the aforementioned Colorado upset, we have unranked 6-6 UCLA - blown out 50-0 by USC last week - visiting Oregon tonight at Autzen Stadium in Eugene at 5pm Pacific on FOX. Yes, those same Ducks who are 10-2 overall, ranked 8th overall by the Associated Press, and ranked 7th overall by the ESPN Coach's Poll.

For everyone that was overly excited about USC being punished for whatever Reggie Bush did while a "student-athlete", this is the result. How bad are things at UCLA? Sure, they are technically the Pac-12 South champions because of SC's ineligibility, but 6-6 earned coach Rick Neuheisel a pink slip. He will coach tonight, but even if they win he's out and won't coach a bowl game. And if they lose? UCLA supposedly is a top team in the conference (snort) according to tonight's matchup, but a loss leaves them 6-7 and technically not even bowl-eligible. However, they applied for a waiver to the rule and the NCAA inexplicably said they could still go to a bowl even with a sub-.500 record.

Bet that game will be well attended.

The winner of this inaugural Pac-12 championship game, of course, goes to the Rose Bowl and will face the winner of the inaugural Big Ten (yes, that conference with 12 teams) championship game (Saturday at 5:17pm on FOX, Wisconsin at Michigan State in a matchup of 10-2 teams).

If UCLA wins... Wow. First off, that would be a monumental upset and, one could argue, a good reason Neuheisel should KEEP his job. Secondly...there is no second. The likelihood of that is pretty close to zero. The Bruins aren't fast enough to keep up with LaMichael James, Kenjon Barner and DeAnthony Thomas, but what the Ducks need to do is pounce quickly. UCLA has nothing to lose and will play that way, so all the pressure is on Oregon. In games like this the longer the favorite allows the underdog to stay close the more confidence the underdog gain and the more stress the favorite faces. Scoring first and second, quickly, could end this game very early.

Prediction: Oregon 56, UCLA 10

12/01/2011

Deschutes Abyss 2011

It's fall, so that means it's time for another installment of Deschutes Brewery's The Abyss. This beer, while a stout which I don't always love, has become an annual event on my beer calendar (as you can see by me also writing about the 2009 version here, and again here aged, and the 2010 version here).

All have been good, and the 2011 is no different. On the nose Abyss gives you coffee and licorice, then pours rich, thick, and dark into the glass. So dark, actually, that even the bubbles are caramel-toned, and the liquid leaves "legs" like a good wine.

I have no idea why it looks like a face is reflected in my glass. It's somewhat disturbing.

The flavor profile layers as the beer warms, giving molasses and a touch of chocolate with the coffee and licorice. I also felt I found the tiniest bit of tobacco.

As usual The Abyss is a very, very, very good beer. Grab it now, before they sell out. I picked up two bottles - one to drink and one to save - from the Deschutes pub in Portland's Pearl District ($12 each). Some of the local bottle shops placed limits of two and three bottles, but the pub has cases to spare. And, if you go there fairly soon, you may still be able to get Abyss poured for you on the nitro taps. I haven't tried that yet, but plan to eventually. (Oh, and another thing - Deschutes gift cards don't expire. I had one in my wallet for two years and it was still good, allowing me to get my two bottles for $8 out of pocket. Nice.)

Speaking of that bottle to save...here's some beer porn for you:


Who's up for a vertical?

11/29/2011

Visit Lovely Pacific City

Last week I posted about our Mother of All Storms trip to Pacific City, Oregon, but the trip wasn't all about the beer. Well, mostly, but not all.

We drove out on a Friday, which just happened to coincide with the first snow in the coast range, the hills/mountains dividing the coast from the Willamette Valley and the Interstate 5 corridor. The northern route, from Portland which heads to Tillamook, is a higher elevation and had snow on the ground, so we went south to Salem and headed west to Lincoln City, then north to Pacific City. We avoided any snow threats, but as you can see the clouds were pretty damn ominous at the coast. This is looking out at the ocean over Pelican Pub and Brewery.


And this is looking out at Haystack Rock.


Wait, I can hear you saying, isn't Haystack Rock in Cannon Beach? Yep, it sure is. And in Pacific City. And there is, apparently, another one further south in Bandon, Oregon. (Yeah, I didn't know that until I looked it up either.) These rocks are called sea stacks or offshore monoliths. They were created of basalt from volcanic eruptions in the Grande Ronde mountains 10-17 million years ago (thank you Wikipedia) and were once connected to the land, but years of erosion from the ocean now leave them standing as offshore sentinels.

Pacific City's Haystack Rock is actually taller than Cannon Beach's - and the second-tallest in the world - but doesn't get near the press as it's brethren to the north. Why? Our theory is because the Cannon Beach one is close enough to walk to at low tide, while this one is not. Or maybe it just had a better PR team.

This is looking north towards Cape Kiwanda. Just to the right of this picture are some towering dunes which would be very cool to explore were it not rainy and 40 degrees.


But you know what? It was Mother of All Storms weekend and this was a storm...it's impossible not to find some beauty. This picture below was taken just a little before sunset.


This is Misaki and I standing on the porch of Pelican Pub and Brewery the next day. It was still cold and windy, but the rain had let up. During the summer the pub has tables out here, right next to the beach, and dogs are allowed as long as they stay in the sand. When we went previously Misaki broke the rules and hid under the table on the concrete pad next to the stand, but she's so perfect no one cared.



The Wildlife

We found some unexpected wildlife near our hotel. I saw all these black shapes over in an RV park and though they were rocks. Until they moved.


Rabbits. Tons of them. And not the normal wild bunnies you see out here, but big, built bunnies that look like pets.


I asked the front desk at the hotel what the story was with all the rabbits. They seemed not exactly tame, but not as fearful as wild rabbits normally are. She laughed, which made me think they get this question a lot. Apparently there was a rabbit breeder in the area many years back who wanted to get out of the business and didn't know what else to do, so she released the bunnies to the wild.


Surprisingly to us, they have thrived. Usually released domestic animals don't do so hot with predators, but she said the population has gone up and down over the years and they have just always stuck around. Apparently they can be seen all over town as well.

And hey, we found the Easter Bunny!



The Hotel

Speaking of the hotel, we stayed at the Inn at Cape Kiwanda, which is right across the street from the brewery. Check out that link. It's interesting because the Inn, the brewery, and a few other businesses in that immediate area work together to build packages for tourists. I'm not sure if all are owned by the same people or if this is simply a mutually beneficial partnership, but it makes planning easy.


The room was nice and we'd stay there again. It was clean and well managed, and our only complaint was neighbors down the hall being loud around midnight. Then again, we stayed at an inn across the street from a brewery on a Friday night...

Obviously dogs are allowed for $20 extra per night. That fee got Misaki a blanket so she could chill on the couch - which she doesn't get to do at home - and a bag of local dog biscuits, which she liked.

Food

Only being in the town for one night and having Misaki with us limited our food options, but we still had some good meals.

Stimulus Cafe - See the hotel pic above? This is the business in the lower right corner of the building. We had a few espresso drinks from there - eggnog latte, mocha, and caramel macchiato - and each one of them was a tad too sweet. I want to like them because they use Stumptown beans, but the sugaryness was just too much.

Pelican Pub and Brewery - The pub takes orders over the phone and does take out, so given the weather and the proximity we ordered dinner Friday night and breakfast Saturday morning from here.

Dinner (menu link) was fish and chips, made with cod, that came with beer battered fries, coleslaw, and tartar sauce. I'm not usually one for tartar sauce, but this one had a great dill flavor. The fish was solid, not too greasy, but those fries were damn excellent. We'd order this again. We also ordered the risotto cakes, which came with a red pepper coulis, sauteed chard, and topped with a mushroom and fennel salad. The cakes, which sounded like an arancini, really didn't have much flavor and were a tad too oily for me.

For breakfast (menu link) we split an order of the crab cake eggs Benedict, served with hash browns. This was hands down the best thing we've had from Pelican (well, apart from Mother of All Storms, at least for me). The crab cakes were hearty and well done, the eggs cooked perfectly, the Hollandaise creamy goodness, and the hash browns crunched perfectly.

Greatful Bread Bakery - On the way out of town we stopped here to check out a bakery many people had good things to say about. I picked out a pesto baguette, an apricot and sour cream scone, and a cinnamon twist. All of them were okay and we'd go back if we were staying in Pacific City again, but it's not a destination type of bakery for us. The scone I personally didn't think worked very well, but that's probably just me.

TILLAMOOK

We reached the coast really early on Friday, way too early to check in, so we drove up 101 to Tillamook to check out the Tillamook Cheese Factory.


Dogs are not allowed inside - which made cheese lover Misaki a tad sad - but she was a good girl in crate for a few minutes while we grabbed some nibbles.


We bought a bag of cheese curds (squeaky cheese) mostly for her, but we like them too. Also picked up some fudge (dreamsicle - interesting) and some smoked white cheddar, which is excellent. Since it was lunch time we grabbed some ice cream - vacation calories don't count, remember? I ordered a scoop of the new pumpkin and one of Grandma's Cake Batter. Neither of them, in our opinion, are keepers (last summer they had a Birthday Cake flavor that was much better). Wifey ordered a scoop of French vanilla with a scoop of orange sherbet. That was predictably fantastic - it's sad the orange sherbet is a Cheese Factory exclusive, because it would always be in our freezer.

LINCOLN CITY

On the way home on Saturday we headed into Lincoln City, but stopped first at a random viewpoint just south of Pacific City. Misaki hopped up on the stone wall to check out the view.


We basically hit Lincoln City for three things: coffee, caramel corn and a bathroom.

Mojo Coffee - Here I just ordered a large mocha, which comes with four shots. Really? They understand that if I want a larger size that doesn't mean I want it sweeter and need more espresso without having to order extra shots? (This is sarcasm - I totally agree with this practice.) Starbucks, take note. I enjoyed it and I'd go back (they also use Stumptown beans).


Candyland - One thing we must always get when we go to the beach is caramel corn. It just seems right. This trip we stopped at Candyland, some place I hadn't been for years. It's right in the old "downtown" part of Lincoln City on Highway 101. The caramel corn was okay - it had this odd flavor we still can't place (and oddly dissipated over time). But hey, caramel corn is still caramel corn. We might go back here, we might not. The woman behind the counter could see Misaki and Wifey in the car from inside the shop and asked me about the dog, what breed she was, etc. Then she offered to dog sit if we needed it. I'm not sure if she was serious or not, but, um, thanks?


We stopped at the beach access at the mouth of the D River (I guess they don't like saying "Devil's") for a bathroom break. Misaki took a liking to the beach grass.

CUBANISIMO

And then it was time to head home. At the last minute, just east of Rickreall, Oregon on Highway 22, we decided to take a quick side trip to Cubanisimo Vineyards for wine tasting. A while back another winery had recommended their rosé, so we were in the area and figured what the heck.

Our tasting that day was for six wines, which costs $5 (or nothing if you buy a bottle). As it turned out we liked five of the six, something that has never happened at any other winery we have visited. Usually we like at most one or two, but at Cubanismo we even like the pinot noir, something else we don't usually go for (despite Oregon being so well known for them). It was just before Thanksgiving so they had already started their specials for the very popular wine weekend, and since we liked so many of the bottles we went with the 2010 Rosado de Pinot Noir, the 2008 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir (a blend), and the 2008 Estate Pinot Noir. That last one will go very, very well with a nice steak, but all of them were excellent. I urge you to check out the photos of the vineyard and if you are in the area to check them out. The grounds are beautiful and their people very down to earth and knowledgeable.

We came home with three bottles of wine, a case of beer, baked goods, and a ton of great pictures. What else could you ask for from a weekend away? We definitely want to go back to Pacific City and next time may rent a house and stay longer.

11/27/2011

Thanksgiving at The Country Cat

Wifey and I decided to buck tradition a bit this year and eat our big Thanksgiving meal out. We decided on The Country Cat, one of our favorites in Portland and a place we tried to get a reservation at last year but they filled up too fast. I got us a reservation for 2pm on Thanksgiving Day and this is what we got to eat ($45 each for an amuse bouche, salad, entree, and dessert).

First up, the amuse bouche. Starting at the top and going clockwise: truffled deviled egg; whole wheat cracker with beer cheese spread and a housemade pickle; and a toast topped with chopped crab and grilled shrimp.


The egg was nothing special, but the other two were quite tasty. They call the beer cheese "Judy" according to the menu - I'm sure there is a story behind that, but I don't know it. That was our favorite of the three.

For my salad course I chose the red wine marinated beets with blue cheese, candied bacon and rosemary toasted walnuts.


I don't even really like walnuts, but these were excellent. The beets had great flavor and worked well with everything else. I love the blue cheese, but see that huge chunk? Either it was too much or I didn't distribute it evenly enough in my bites, because I had a big chunk left at the end. No, that's not a problem.

Wifey chose the mixed field greens with blue cheese dressing.


This was...a salad. Because of the "field"ness of the greens it was a tad bitter, but the blue cheese handled that nicely. Nothing special.

For my entree I chose the double cut pork chop and rosemary mashed yams with whole grain mustard plum sauce. The chop was served on a bed of braised collard greens and topped with two roasted figs (that's what's on top of the chop in the pic below).


Everything on this plate was excellent. The pork was cooked through evenly with a very tasty crust, and the yams and collards provided great flavor contrasts. The figs felt a tad out of the place just because they were so far to the sweet side of things, but still tasty. I can't wait to go back to Country Cat for their normal dinner menu to try out The Whole Hog.

Wifey chose the more traditional meal as her entree: brined, smoked and braised turkey, Granny Criss's stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, honey glazed carrots, and cranberry sauce.


Both light and dark meat came on the plate. You can see the dark meat in the top left of the picture; it had been shredded and tasted almost like pulled pork. Each of these items were fantastic on their own, and together it was like a perfect symphony of flavors.

I should note, we were also served biscuits to go with our meal and as usual, The Country Cat nailed them. Love those biscuits.

Both of us, trying not to stuff ourselves too much, barely ate half of our entrees to ensure leftovers and to leave room for dessert. My dessert was an apple-cranberry crisp with vanilla ice cream (menu said caramel, but it was definitely just vanilla).


I wasn't sure about the cranberries, but they turned out to be well cooked and not tart at all. Considering it takes much longer to bring a cranberry to the same consistency as a cooked apple that means this crisp wasn't nearly as simple as it seems. The flavors blended nicely, but that caramel ice cream would have added a nice layer of decadence to the dish. Still, really enjoyed it.

Wifey chose the chocolate pecan pie.


We weren't really sure what form the chocolate would take in contrast to a regular pecan pie, but apparently it was mixed in with the normal pecan pie innards, large drops on top of the pie, and then a sauce drizzled over the plate. (This is where I note chocolate pecan pie slices that came out of the kitchen after ours also had whip cream. It wasn't on the menu so I wouldn't think of complaining - not our style - but it's noteworthy.)

Both of the desserts were solid, but not up to the same level as greatness of the rest of the meal. To be honest, were it not included in the set price I'm not sure I would have ordered them - it depends on what the price would be.

Service was generally prompt and not as chaotic as it sometimes can be. Overall we had a great time and a great meal and we'd recommend the Thanksgiving meal to anyone who is interested (you know, next year). Would we go back? Yes, but there are also other places around town who do their own Thanksgiving specials we'd like to try out.

11/24/2011

2011 Pacific-12 Football: Week 13

Another weak week for me last Saturday with my picks going only 3-3 to make me 57-26 on the season. Maybe Civil War week will be nicer to me.

There's some interesting dynamics this week. With USC's upset of Oregon, ending their slim nation title game hopes, the Trojans can end UCLA's season with a win this week. A loss by the Bruins (very probable) and the Sun Devils (less likely, but possible as the Devils downward spiral continues) and a win by Utah (also very probable) would send the Utes to the Pac-12 title game as the South Division champion. A UCLA upset and they win the south. If ASU wins and UCLA loses, ASU wins the south.

In the North Oregon takes the division with a Civil War win. If they lose, Stanford plays for the Pac-12 title and a shot at the Rose Bowl.

I think the Beavers will play tough against the Ducks, but the only way they have a chance for an upset is if they make zero turnovers. If they play the Ducks even in that category or if they come up negative, they will get beat. Next year when this freshmen-heavy squad is a year older and the game is at Reser, the Ducks better be ready.

And with that, on to this week's picks! Rankings in parentheses (AP, ESPN). All times Pacific.
(Time - Matchup - Network - Pick)

FRIDAY

12:30pm - Colorado at Utah (NR, 35) - ROOT Sports - UTAH
7:15pm - California at Arizona State - ESPN - ARIZONA STATE

SATURDAY

12:30pm - Oregon State at Oregon (9, 9) - ABC - OREGON
1pm - Louisiana-Lafayette at Arizona - No TV? - ARIZONA
4:30pm - Washington State at Washington - Versus - WASHINGTON
5pm - Notre Dame (22, 24) at Stanford (4, 5) - ABC - STANFORD
7pm - UCLA at USC (10, NR) - ROOT Sports - USC


Stanford, Washington, Arizona State, Oregon, California, Utah and UCLA are bowl-eligible. USC has enough wins, but is not eligible for the postseason. That will do it for the conference, who won't fill all their bowl obligations, especially when Stanford is chosen for the Fiesta Bowl.

Who do you pick?

11/22/2011

Mother Of All Storms

Last summer Wifey and I stopped in Pacific City for a quick bite on our way up the coast and ate on the patio of the Pelican Pub & Brewery. I had never been there before or tried their beer, but after a solid meal and a tasty Kiwanda Cream Ale, I was ready to try some more.


I had heard stories about the Mother of All Storms, a bourbon-barrel aged barleywine released in the fall bringing scores of visitors from the Willamette Valley into this small beach town. The beer only makes it to a select valley locations, and even then that's if the small run doesn't sell out at the brewery itself. And the taste? It's legendary.

So fall came and we wanted to get out of town for a night, and we came across this deal, a combination deal with Pelican and the Inn at Cape Kiwanda, situated right across the street from the brewery. Keep in mind, I've never even tried this beer, but decided what the hell. I mean, who doesn't need an entire case? They even threw in a free T-shirt with the beer's logo (it says 2010, but who am I to quibble?). Plus, if we got to see an actual storm, that would be nice too.

And it was pretty stormy, at least on Friday. The rain was heavy, the clouds dark, and the wind viciously cold.


The next day the sun broke out of the clouds a bit, and as promised a case of 22-ounce bottles and a T-shirt were waiting for me at the front desk. A case!


Yes, of course I opened one when we got home that evening. I mean, how could I not, since we spent the night and drove to the coast and back for it. Plus, I have quite a few of them - might as well get started, right?


This beer has a very nice nose if you are a bourbon fan (I am, as you can see in my comments about Goose Island's Bourbon County Stout, Full Sail's Top Sail, and Boulevard's Bourbon Barrel Quad). It pours a very, very dark amber, but isn't nearly as viscous or syrupy as some other beers. As the beer warms in various turns you will get flavors of malt, caramel, vanilla, and oak.

And it should be allowed to warm a bit, for this is a sipper if there ever was one. Why? At the time of bottling this beer is a 13.5% alcohol and as it ages - as it should age well in the bottle if stored correctly - that number will go up. To be real honest, half a bottle of this is plenty. Unless you really don't have any other plans that night, it's best to share with someone or even stick half in the fridge, where it will be fine for a couple days.

All of that adds up to a ringing endorsement from me. I'm glad we went out there and I'm glad I have so many of these, but it probably wasn't necessary. I'd go back next year to pick up a couple bottles on release day, but I don't drink enough beer - and like variety - to justify an entire case. Maybe splitting it with someone.


Either way, if you find yourself driving north from Lincoln City and want to stop for a bite and a beer, Pelican Brewery is the place to go. And, if it's November and you want one of the most exclusive and well-balanced beers in the state of Oregon, pick yourself up a Mother of All Storms. Or a case.

11/21/2011

Pizza At Via Tribunali

If you've been coming to this blog for awhile now you know we love pizza. All kinds. American style, northern Italian, New York, Napoletana - anything. And between places like Ken's Artisan, Apizza Scholls, Dove Vivi, Nostrana and Lovely's 50-50 Portland has quite a nice mix of pizza varieties.

But until now Portland did not have a pizzeria with a pizzialo certified by the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana. What is that? The short version is they train and certify pizza makers (pizziali) in the making of pizza Napoletana - that is, pizza styled in the history of Napoli (Naples). Why there? Because, it's the best in the world. Anyone who tells you differently simply has not been there to experience it. (Full disclosure: I have. I spent the summer between my junior and senior years at the University of Oregon study at the Universita di Perugia per Stranieri (University of Perugia for Foreigners) and on one weekend trip we took the train all the way down to Napoli where one of my roommates, who had been to Italy before, took us to this tiny whole in the wall pizza place that was simply amazing. I don't know the name, I could never find it again, and I have no idea how it compares to what is considered the best in Napoli, but I will tell you the quality was simply amazing. It's difficult to put into words, to be honest. It's one of those things that when you put it in your mouth you just know you are having a transcendent experience. So yes, I'm a big fan of anyone who gets certified and will never say it's just another certificate. Well, maybe it is - a certificate of being awesome.)

Enter Via Tribunali. Via Tribunali started in Seattle and just a couple weeks back opened their first restaurant outside of Washington with a spot in downtown Portland next door to VooDoo Doughnuts on Second Avenue.

We tried Via Tribunali a while back on a food tour through Belltown in Seattle and really enjoyed it, so when the rumors started up almost two years ago about Portland getting their own outpost, we were of course excited, so on a recent weeknight when we didn't want to cook we checked it out.

First impression? Via Tribunali Portland is dark. Very dark. You walk in off the street and the building is long and narrow, with a bar to the right and booths on the left. At the far end of the bar sits the legendary pizza oven and a few more tables are to the left. In the very back is a stairway that leads up to more tables in a balcony (this is very similar to the setup at Little Bird Bistro and Mucca Osteria, so apparently this style of buildings is common in the older part of downtown Portland).

The tables are lit with candles and are the only thing with which to light the menu. I get the vibe they are going for, but it could be just a tiny bit brighter.

On to the food. We ordered two pizzas (sadly, no pictures since we forgot the camera, but the lack of light would have made it problematic). First was the MARGHERITA (pomodoro, fresh mozzarella, grana padano, olive oil, basil) for $13 (grana padano is a hard cheese, comparable to parmesan, and pomodoro is Italian for tomato, which in this case refers to the sauce).

To be blunt, this is one of the absolute best pizzas we've ever had. It's simple, but perfect. The crust had a nice char, thicker around the edges and thinner, almost soft, in the middle. The sauce also was perfectly seasoned and the cheese was spectacular. We'd get this again in a heartbeat.

Our other pizza was the VIA TRIBUNALI (pomodoro, smoked mozzarella, cherry tomato, ricotta, bufala mozzarella, grana, basil) for $17. This has an interesting presentation. Imagine a normal pizza with toppings. Now, imagine a quarter of it folded to the middle on each side. Then, sprinkle down the middle with bitter greens - that's the Via Tribunali namesake.

Just like with the other, the flavors were were very, very well done. If we had one beef it was with the topping distribution. The sausage and tomatoes didn't make it all over and clumped in spots. Again, the crust was nicely charred and hit the perfect amount of chewiness.

That crust...it's perfect. I told Wifey it transported me straight back to Napoli, it was that good. And really, that's the key to a real Italian pizza - the crust. Toppings are just there for flavor, not as the focus, and at Via Tribunali they take that to heart and execute it very, very well. It's no surprise their pizziali have the Napoletana certification.

Is this our favorite in Portland? Well...who knows, really? I tend to be most excited about whichever I've had last and each one of our favorites (mentioned at the top of the post) has something that is unique about them. This one, I will say, is closest to Italy and brings back those memories of a great two-month stay back in college. I really, really need to return so I can bring Wifey and so we can experience the flavors of Italy together. Until then, Via Tribunali, Nostrana and Mucca Osteria are going to have to be good enough.

We will absolutely be returning and can't wait to go back.

Oh, and one more thing. Keep in mind a key piece of physics if you sit in the balcony as we did: heat rises. And that pizza oven? Super freaking hot. I was wearing a sweatshirt because it was cold outside and by the end of the meal I was sweating. Not good or bad, just something to keep in mind. If you wear something warm, make sure it's a layer and you can take it off. I wasn't comfortable with the shirt under my sweatshirt, so I just suffered.

Have to Mention

If you order a pizza and don't finish it, or take your leftovers to go, they will be boxed in this:

(Photo via Scott's Pizza Tours)

Apparently these boxes are made by a company in Italy and Via Tribunali buys them for their stores. Their logo is nowhere on the box (a sharp departure from any pizza place I'm familiar with), but it definitely is...memorable, isn't it?

11/20/2011

Another Visit to Bakery Bar

Wifey and I have a place we really like to hit up for brunch on a Saturday or Sunday morning. It's a small place out on NE Glisan called Bakery Bar, just a block up from Cuban restaurant Pambiche between 29th and 30th. They have a wide array of baked goods, an espresso bar, small and tasty breakfast and lunch plates, make cakes and things for special events, and also serve drinks.

Bakery Bar is in a bright, orange-red building set back from the road with picnic tables and plenty of outdoor seating where one can bring a well-behaved dog (Misaki hasn't been...yet). Service can be a little chaotic. Closer to noon on the weekend there may be a line out the door to sit and eat, though anything can be ordered to go. Inside they have seating for around 35-40 people. (Apparently I wrote about them two years ago...well, they are still yummy.)

We've been enough times now I think I can make some more comments on them. The service is, just about always, not in a hurry. It takes time to be seated, time for a waiter to take your order, time for your food to come, time for boxes and the bill to come, and time for payments to be processed. This is, of course, normal, but at Bakery Bar it's always twice as long as necessary - or more.

So if you are in a hurry and want a quick bite, Bakery Bar is not the place for you. However, if you want to sit back, relax, and enjoy some good conversation because you don't have much planned that day - or nothing planned at all - this is a great place. The atmosphere is lively, the service is friendly, and the food is pretty dang good.

On our last visit I ordered the D-Bear Bowl. I have no idea where the name comes from, but it's their tasty rosemary hash browns topped with sausage gravy, two eggs, and two strips of bacon (optional add-on - of course I said yes). I ordered my eggs over easy (why I'm not sure, since I prefer medium).


All of this together I enjoyed, but by itself some of the elements weren't great. The eggs, for example, didn't have much flavor. Maybe they aren't cage free and the chickens don't enjoy a well-rounded, healthy diet? I have no idea, but they just tasted a tad weak for me. The bacon, also, wasn't anything to write home about, and I would have liked a tad more rosemary in my hash browns (I think they have started using less than they used to). 

But when all of the elements are mixed with the sausage gravy, which is always super damn fantastic...let's just say it's a satisfying meal.

Wifey ordered a special, the eggs Benedict with ham with a side of the rosemary hashbrowns.


This was also a solid dish. The Hollondaise was well done, the eggs cooked well, and their English muffins are always pretty tasty. However, like with my plate it needed a little more...something. Seasoning? Salt and pepper? Not sure.

Also, if you ever go, always order a bourbon caramel latte (which you can add an actual shot of bourbon if you like) - you will never, ever regret that.

We'll go back despite the little things, but I think it's slipped just a bit on our list of places we love in Portland.