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graduation dinners

gastronaut 21

Graduation dinners. The last chance you get to fleece your parents and well-wishing family members out of every dime you can. I’ll spare you on the rhetoric, and get down to cases.

I wrote to an acquaintance of mine, the venerable Jim Dixon (a.k.a the only food writer in Portland worth reading. Yes Roger, that includes you) and this is what he sent me:

Gotham Building Tavern (ripe’s new spot, open next week, reservations online at, I think)
Navarre (a little more casual)
Paley’s Place
Genoa (for the serious eater)
The Heathman
Caprial’s (close to Reed, too)
Gino’s (good and big quantities, and I know that appeals to the post-grad)
Rivers (in the Avalon Hotel, or whatever it’s called now, off Macadam…Rollie Weisen is very good)
Basta’s (a perennially overlooked favorite)

Jim’s hasty e-mail is full of good recommendations, but short on descriptors. For some descriptions, lets turn to the equally venerable Lindsey West:
Higgins is very good and has delicious local northwesty food but is probably not a good place to take your family for graduation if you have rowdy relatives and or small children in the group. It does have good vegetarian options though.
Portland City Grill-
Portland City Grill offers a fantastic view of Portland and really good drinks (helpful for family visits) The food is good but not good enough for how much it costs and the ambience, while elegant is fairly bland. One of my friends, who works at another restaurant in town said they hire hot girls to sit in the lobby to attract customers. If this is true i missed them. Not so much for vegetarians since they focus on steak and seafood.
I really like Southpark. They have wonderful seafood and a really cool space. It is more casual (in that yuppie kind of way) than higgins and would be fine for rowdy relatives or small children, not so good for vegetarians, although I think they do have options.
Rivers is right on the edge of the west side of the river and looks onto Ross island. Their food is very good and all local and organicky. They have a 12 person semi-private dining room for big groups and the service is really friendly. It is also attached to the Avalon hotel and spa, which parents might be excited about.

I (we’re back to the gastronaut here) wholeheartedly endorse all these recommendations. All of these places take reservations for large groups, however many of the smaller ones will turn you down if you have a Mormon sized extended family (unless you want to rent the whole joint- it’s not unheard of). Many families have strange eaters, funky needs, etc. so I’m offering my services case by case. If you need help picking a spot, e-mail and I’ll give advice.

on another note, i’d like to thank you readers and the Quest for hosting my column all year. It has been a truly strange experience to have readers for my diatribes- I hope i’ve done a wisp of good for someone, somewhere, somehow. If not, fuck it. I had a good time. Eat well, live well, and love each other.

make sure you tip well, I may well be making your food.

peace out.

coffeeshops and portland. = chicken and egg?

gastronaut 20.

I continue to amaze myself, because this is my twentieth column. You know how I manage to write a thesis, do my classwork, and contribute to the Quest each week? Coffee. it’s the breakfast of champions, yo. We run on it. If we, as a generation, hadn’t been named a thousand times over, we could be the starbucks generation. Coffee has been surfing the wave of gourmet revolution that has been sweeping the nation. Remember the good old days when you didn’t know Emeril Lagasse and Martha Stewart was confined to a magazine, not a minimum-security prison? It all really started with grunge and the Seattle Latte.

Now, it’s easier to find a latte than a burger. What was once NescafĂ© nation is now rife with roasteries, coffee shops, and those annoying little roadside stands that look like overgrown port-o-johns.

The best part of coffee culture is that save the green-headed monster and a few others, coffee shops tend to be local operations. Coffee-culture is a big part of Portland, and a really fun way to see the city. Neighborhood coffeeshops are great ways to get the feel for different neighborhoods here. Portland is, at its core, a city of neighborhoods. They are also often great places to study, hang out, apply for jobs, and neutral places for all you crazies who do that friendster-dating thing. Of course, this list will be incomplete. Nevertheless, here are some places that serve up a mean cuppa joe:
K & F cafe: 2706 SE 26TH Ave. K & F is in the heart of the tiny Clinton St. district. They make great coffee in a really funky neighborhood. Spitting distance away is the Red and Black Cafe, which is there just for you crazy anarchists. There is even a starbucks across the street towards which you can channel you anger while you sip your joe.
Just up division is the closest outpost of the Stumptown variety, on 45th and Division. (there is another on 3rd and Belmont) If there were a Nobel Prize for coffee, they’d win it. Damn fine coffee, it is. Hipster-filled to the point of nausea, it is. Worth it anyway? yes. Tiny’s, on the corner of 12th and Hawthorne, is a great little place, with free Wi-fi and pinball. PINBALL. There are a ton of other places on Hawthorne as well. There is the Pied Cow, which is a hooka-coffee-date place, so i wouldn’t try studying there.

There is Beulahland on NE 28th, just off Burnside. When you go there, ask about the name. Speaking of Burnside, on the corner at 23rd is the Burnside Bean coffee club. Another dessert and coffee place is Marsee baking, 935 NE Broadway St. There is the Fresh Pot, on Mississippi, and a really funky one on Alberta and 30th that I can’t find in the yellow pages anywhere.

I’d go on to the other side of the river, but no one needs more than 500 words on coffee. least of all me. I’ve got an ulcer.

so you're out of a dorm… now you need a kitchen (april 2005)

gastro 19

So kids, some of you are moving out of your dorms and into the scaaaaaary world of communal living in a house you can’t burn down without terrible consequences. The problem is, you don’t have a damn thing to put in all those clean new cabinets, and the once common practice of assuming leases from exiting seniors is less common, so inheriting cut-rate kitchen supplies doesn’t happen as much as you’d like. I have led many a startled sophomore through the process of outfitting a kitchen, so I’ll bestow a little advice upon you youngsters.
Things you absolutely positively need to feed yourself:
1) A large cheap stockpot. You need this because you will be eating pasta and noodles for most of your college career. You need a large one because noodles need more space to cook than things like Ramen. Italian pasta people have a simple formula: 1lb dry noodles to 4 qts of water. Pasta needs space (p.s. salty water is good. It should ‘taste like the sea’ but only in the abstract sense of being salty, not full of trash and fecal matter.) Also, once you get old and wise, you’ll realize that large batches of soup will save your life.

2) A cast iron pan. I warned all of you about Teflon many moons ago. A cast iron pan will put up with your neglect and misuse, and none of you are going to drop the coin necessary to get a worthwhile non-stick pan. Plus, cast iron can be found at any garage sale, thrift store, or better yet, in the back of your parent’s cupboards.

3) Knife. You only really need one knife, if you’re good with a blade. I’m going to assume none of you are, (even those of you who think you may be) so you actually need 3: a chefs knife, or something with a large enough blade so that you don’t bank your knuckles slicing onions, a serrated blade for bagels and bread, and a paring knife for the small stuff. Only one of these need be quality, the chef’s knife, because it’s the only one you’re not going to throw away when it gets dull. Knife sharpening is complicated, and much too much of a task to cover in a column, so I’ll dig up some web sources for next week.

4) A peeler: you thought you’d never forget a peeler. But chances are if I hadn’t reminded you, you’d be wasting your life peeling potatoes with a bird’s beak.

5) Can opener, corkscrew and cutting board: duh… I suggest plastic cutting boards: they’re easier to clean and nicer to your knife-edge, which translates to less sharpening.

6) Rice cooker: rice is a finicky thing to master. Take the worry out of it and buy a cheap one.

Things you don’t need, but think you do:
1) A Wok. Unless you have a natural gas jet engine, there ain’t no point. The appeal of a wok is that the curves surface is uniformly hot, and thus no matter where the food touches the surface, it’s exposed to the same heat. This does not compute on an electric stove, or on a low BTU gas stove. Trust me; just use your cast iron. You can make Asian food in a normal pan
2) A food processor: trust me. If you’ve got the time to put one to good use, you’re not doing your homework. If you really want something that ‘only a food processor can do,’ remind yourself that whatever recipe you want to make is a lot older than plastics and electricity. Get a mortar and pestle from an Asian market (around $20) and take your aggression out by doing it the old fashion way.

3) Anything smaller than a 1qt saucepan: what are you going to do, make a delicate saffron butter sauce? Fuck off and save your money.

Places to go:
Pans: thrift stores
knives: George and Son cutlery, Anzen, or Freddy”s if you’re really not picky. The internet is a possibility, but DONT BUY SOMETHING YOU HAVEN”T HELD IN YOUR HAND. That’s a great way to end up with a dangerous knife.
Remember, this is stuff that is supposed to wear out or be given away in 3 years. There is no reason to lug a $10 rice cooker cross-country.