Tag Archives: quest column

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:

clarklewis
Gotham Building Tavern (ripe’s new spot, open next week, reservations online at ripepdx.com, I think)
Navarre (a little more casual)
Tabla
Higgins
Paley’s Place
Wildwood
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-
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.
Southpark-
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-
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 gastronaut@reed.edu 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.
Gastronaut

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 Nescafé 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:
southeast
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.

North/Northeast
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.

food porn, or how to teach yourself to cook (march 2005)

gastronaut 18

A few of you kind souls came to my rescue and sent in suggestions for things to cover, but first, i feel it necessary to address the ones that are not covered in this column. To the person who wants a review of Fat Albert’s, the next time I manage something other than 40oz of coffee for breakfast, it’s at the top of the list. To the person who wishes i’d leave food writing to the talented professionals, I know it’s you Roger: you have offended my honor and I challenge you to a duel. To the girl who sent me panties… as touching as that gesture is, it’s creepy, especially by e-mail.

One kind soul suggested I publish my bagel recipe. I’d love to, but that’d be plagiarism, since it isn’t really mine but from a fantastic cookbook called The Bread Baker’s Apprentice by Peter Reinhart. In order to make his bagels, you have to absorb a hundred pages of wheat wisdom and gluten grandeur from the sage of sourdough before even beginning the exhaustive process. This, however, is a great topic by itself: my columns are equivalent to culinary chicken scratch. What a lot of you need is good, structured advice from a professional. Enter books like Reinhart’s (actually he has 4 or 5, and they’re all good), the words of the experts. I know that the thought of intense lucubration preceding dinner will get Reedies more than angsty, so I’ve assembled some print and web sources that will help you answer all those questions you’ve never bothered to ask because you didn’t know where to look.

The Cookbook section of a bookstore is a strange experience: there are dog-eared copies of Fanny Farmer, a million copies of the Frugal Gourmet (his career nose-dived after his michael jackson-style sex scandal) and the antiquated advice of Reed reject James Beard (he was kicked out for being openly gay, of all things) to the newest celebrity cookbooks, which– like all products produced by celebrities– are shamelessly produced and are best evaluated on the ‘shill continuum’. Then there is the Food porn. Food porn belongs on Jan’s coffee table, not in a kitchen. I have a few food porn books, like Hot, Sour, Salty, Sweet by Jeff Alford. It is one hot book, but i’ve never made a recipe from it that i liked.

The really useful ones are hard to find: they are intermixed with the aforementioned poseurs and paperbacks. For those of you who have yet to master Top Ramen or kraft dinner, I recommend How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman. The name is self-explanatory. I’m not in love with this book; i actually disagree with a lot of it, but my problems are pedantic. Bittman has a food column in the New York Times called the Minimalist. He hasn’t been laughed off the page, so he can cut muster with the haute cuisinaires of Manhattan.

I am physically incapable of suggesting any bread books other than Reinhart. The man is a fucking genius, and his methods will make your grandma start calling you when her starter doesn’t rise right.

If you’re one of those people who won’t let it go until you understand the how and the why of every dietary debacle, head straight for On Food and Cooking by Howard McGee. It is the bible of food science. Yes, i see the irony in the last sentence.

As for sweeter baking methods, i’m not the person to ask. But Gastro, you’re thinking, what about good vegetarian cookbooks? There aren’t any. They’re worthless. how to make meatless cuisine is the dumbest thing ever. Want vegetarian food? leave out the meat. You don’t need your own cookbook. Vegetarian cookbooks are infamously poorly researched, and are pretty much guaranteed to leave you with unpalatable products. The Millennium Restaurant Cookbooks, however, are fabulous, but they have a steep learning curve, so they’re not recommended for people without a vita-mix and a food dehydrator, which none of you have.

I really can’t take more of the Quest’s precious inches with more specific recommendations, so i’ll point you to the internet experts:
http://www.egullet.org is an online community full of food-experts of all varieties, people who think they are, guest Q&A luminaries (most recently Eric Asimov) and foodies of all denominations. The moderators and management do a pretty good job of containing the floating ego-blimps, and their online ‘culinary institute’ is a great resource for learners.
http://www.epicurious.com: This is the base community of Gourmet Magazine. i hate them. you don’t have to.
I love cooking, at http://ilx.wh3rd.net/newquestions.php?board=98 is a nice, small place to ask silly questions. For restaurant reviews/recommendations, there are three places I go:
http://chowhound.com
http://portland.citysearch.com (a great source for the practicalities too, like directions)
http://portlandfood.org

Call for help: I am embarking on the rather exhaustive process of creating a good list of restaurants for those graduation dinners. Anyone with recommendations or opinions on restaurants that should (or shouldn’t) be on the list, send ’em all my way!
–gastronaut out

friends and food comas

Gastronaut 15 as usual, make up a better title.
Now is about the time that everyone stops cooking. Come on now admit it. You’ve been shopping less, eating things that either: cook in 5 minutes, are from the scrounge line, the bookstore, or if you are avoiding the last mess you left in your meager dorm kitchen. It happens to all of us. Coffee has returned to its status as your largest food group, and truth be told, most of us forget to eat pretty often.
Somewhere, in these painfully sunny days, which we forsake for the bowels of the library, you need to get the fuck outta dodge for a while.
Go eat somewhere you haven’t been to before. Go FAR away. Remember, if the joint is across town, your break is even longer. Lounging on a bus with a friend and a food coma is something grand that will improve anyone’s day.
If that isn’t enough, there are many interesting restaurant experiences to behold in this great city. Some of these are cheap and funky, some are a little pricey, but worth it, unless I’ve never been— I wouldn’t lie about it now, would I?
I’ve got some selected places that I’ve organized by travel time, one way, by bus.
1) Yoko’s sushi (2878 SE Gladstone St): It was once reported to me that Yoko, the owner, is Ween’s favorite person. Or at least she is their favorite sushimistress. Yes, sushimistress. There are so few female sushi chefs trained in Japan, I’m not sure English has made up a term for them. The Japanese Food machismo—which is strong and apparent if you’ve ever witnessed Iron Chef—decrees, among other things, that women ‘warm’ raw fish and destroy its ‘freshness.’ Sigh…. Anyway, her joint is funky, very newbie friendly, and it has an extensive list of cooked dishes for the squeamish and unadventurous. I personally think there should be a dunce hat for people who avoid raw things. Shame them into compliance, that’s what I say. Ha! Bus time: Walk, you lazy bastard. It’ll do you good.
Oh, if you live a vacuous existence, you will LOVE the C-bar next door. If you can stand it, wait for your table there, they’ll call you ‘a la’ the Delta/Lutz
2) The funny Buddhist vegetarian restaurant on 84th and Division. I don’t know it’s name, but that doesn’t matter. It’s in a house. The owners appear to be pretty hardcore Buddhists. The place makes Vietnamese Gluten-meat concoctions. The fun part is taking a vegetarian somewhere where they can safely be completely fucking bewildered by the menu, and then point at something. CHEAP LUNCH. Bus time: 30.
3)Dots – (2521 SE Clinton St) It’s like scrounging at the Lutz, as David Lynch would see it. Cheap but watery drinks, greasy French fries, funky black velvet art. Vegan options. Fuzzy wallpaper. Cash/check only. Bus time: maybe 20?
4 and 5) Vegans, heads up. There are two new vegetarian places open downtown. I have not been to either, but they are: Veganopolis (412 SW Fourth Street
Portland, Oregon 97205) which is on the internet: I have recon coming soon; I’ll get back to you. Blossoming Lotus café is inside the Yoga in the Pearl location on NW Davis between 9th and 10th. The Chef, and sole employee as far as I know, is a Reed alum, and one funny dude, who can cook to beat the band. Bus Time: 30-40 minutes.
6) Clarklewis (1001 SE Water Ave): Go nuts. 2004 restaurant of the year. Haven’t been myself, but I’ve heard it’s every hipster foodie’s dream. GUARD YOUR EARS, it is a very noisy joint. Bus Time: 40
7) MINT—I’ve heard nothing but good things. If you’re bussing it, call ahead, and go with someone whose company you truly enjoy, it’s a long one. Bus Time: 1 hour
8) A very funny person told me to suggest the Hooters in Beaverton. There. I did it. Happy? Mutter mutter mutter mutter mutter… damn kids….. mutter,,,think they’re so funny….. mutter
9) Syun Izakaya. This is the monster. If you need to diffuse the existential crisis with a long, meditative ride on a train and the best Japanese food in the state, head to Syun. The name literally means ‘fresh seasonal sake pub.’ Fish are flown from Tsukiji, the famous Tokyo market, EVERYDAY. It’s a two-hour train ride on the Red line, but it’s very little walking from the train. Hillsboro is a dose of suburbia, and if you watch Beaverton fly by, you return with a renewed appreciation that we do not live on the other side of those hills there yonder. Reservations are a MUST on weekends, but considering travel time, you’d be stupid not to call ahead. You can dooo iiiit! Bus/train time 90 min to 2 hr.