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Monthly Archives: August 2007

Dining Celebrity, But Casual, in NYC

Capasso 1I’ve been in New York City for the past few days for Daddy Salmon’s joint birthday party with his uncle and my grandma. (This year they are turning 60, 70 and 80, respectively.) When I’m in NYC I always stay with one of my many sets of relatives and dine at one of their homes. So, even though it’s one of the culinary capitals of the world, I almost never get the chance to try them. On this trip, I decided to make the effort to get out more. Armed with a list of suggestions from a friend, I made a lunch reservation at Otto, celebrity chef Mario Batali’s new enoteca and pizzeria. And yes, it fits my Mango Lassie price guide!

AntipastiI went with Daddy Salmon, Mango Mama, Flava Flav and Daddy Salmon’s second cousin Maple Syrup. We wanted to try as many antipasti as we could, but it was difficult for us to get past the awesome selection of vegetable choices. (Cheeses and meats will have to wait until next time.) Eggplant Caponatina was rich with excellent spicing. Summer squash with delicious, crumbly fresh pecorino was enhanced with lemony zest. Roasted beets and saba were sweet and earthy. I also loved the three varieties of house-cured olives. The Tuscan lentils were the only thing item that was a little bland, but for $4 apiece, I can’t complain. We also tried a simply-dressed, pretty little salad of cucumber, fennel fronds and radishes. Finally there was a fish dish—kingfish “in Soar”— composed of large chunks of the meaty fish with a sweet sauce and sautéed onions. Delicious! I could have eaten only antipasti along with a few sips of our delightful bottle of Kerner Abbazia di novacella and walked away happy.

BottargaBut there was still the pizza course. Pizzas here are made in the Roman style with thin crusts and without an excess of cheese or other toppings. We tried two kinds. One was topped with a stunning combination of mozzarella di bufala, artichokes, roasted peppers, tomatoes, fresh chilies and basil leaves. It was creamy and flavorful with just the right zing. Our second pizza— made with tomato, fennel, bottarga (monkfish roe), pecorino and mozzarella— sounded more interesting that it actually was. The bottarga was spread into strips across the pie, but it wasn’t as salty and pungent as I had hoped it would be. I ended up tasting tomato and fennel, but not enough of the other flavors.

TicketWe were getting pretty full by this point, but the desserts sounded too interesting to pass up. Plus, Otto makes its own gelato. Ever the chocolate lover, Daddy Salmon ordered a scoop of coffee cacao crunch gelato served inside a brioche bun. We also tried a ricotta gelato atop lemon curd with a tomato jam, pignoli-rosemary brittle and candied lemon peel. Being the family gelato connoisseur Flava selected three that sounded original and interesting: olive oil, sweet corn and mascarpone. Mango Mama was turned off by most of the desserts, but she liked Daddy Salmon’s more traditional selection. I actually enjoyed all of the gelato selections, but I think I could get tired of sweet corn after a time. It really tastes like corn! Certain elements of the ricotta dish, including the tomato and pistachio brittle were also a little unappealing, but I’m glad I tried them.

Otto was a huge success. It just goes to show you that five people can dine well at the New York restaurant of a celebrity chef, while still keeping budget in mind.

Otto
One Fifth Ave.
New York, NY 10003
212.995.9559

Otto in New York

In a (Garlic-Dill) Pickle

PicklesI rode my bike over to Chicago’s Green City Market on Saturday with one goal in mind: to find the makings for homemade pickles. That meant 4lbs. of pickling cucumbers, dill heads and a bunch of garlic. I ended up getting three different varieties, including round, white globe cucumbers.

That I am a serious pickle lover has never been in doubt. Mango Mama sometimes tells the story of when she took me to the fireman’s benefit dinner in Cannon Beach as a little kid. There were bowls of pickles on the tables, and I ended up eating all of the pickles from the dish in front of us. From then on, I have always been convinced that I could live on pickles alone if necessary.

Unfortunately, it’s tough to get good half-sours most places outside New York. Harvestime, our local Mexican grocery, which also caters to Eastern Europeans, has some pretty good ones in a vat above the deli case. But these don’t come anywhere near the crunchy deliciousness that I get from making my own refrigerator dills.

Mango Mama and I got the idea to make our own pickles from an article in The Oregonian food section two years ago. The recipe printed there was adapted from Portland’s own father of local and organic, Greg Higgins. He makes these at his excellent restaurant Higgins. I don’t can mine because I think they lose their crunch. I just leave them in the fridge until I’m ready to eat. If you like pickles, you should try making these at home. The only drawback is that you have to wait a few weeks before you can actually eat them.

Damn Good Dills

Ingredients
4qt. pickling cucumbers rinsed well
16 lrg. garlic cloves peeled, sliced
4 fresh dill heads halved
1/2 tsp. dried red pepper flakes

Brine

1 qt. cider vinegar
1 qt. water
1/4 cup pickling spices
1/3 cup pickling salt
2 tblsp. granulated sugar
1/2 tsp. ground turmeric
1 cup. chopped fresh dill heads

Method

* Note: Do not use aluminum or iron cookware for this recipe. The acids in the ingredients could react with the metal, giving the food an off-taste.
* Wash 4 quart or 8 pint jars. Keep hot until needed. Prepare lids as manufacturer directs.
* Pack the cucumbers into the jars, leaving 1/2-inch head space. Divide the sliced pieces of garlic and halved heads of fresh dill among the jars. Add a pinch (about 1/8 teaspoon) of the dried red pepper flakes to each jar.
* To make the brine: Combine vinegar, water, pickling spices, salt, sugar, turmeric and 1 cup chopped fresh dill in a pot (see note). Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes.
* Put 4 cloves of garlic into each jar. Strain off the seasonings from the brine then ladle the hot brine into 1 jar at a time, leaving 1/4-inch head space. Wipe jar rim with a clean, damp cloth. Attach lid. Fill and close remaining jars. Let cool to room temperature, then store in the refrigerator.
* The pickles are ready to use after 3 to 4 days of aging, but they will continue to improve for several weeks. They keep, refrigerated, for about 1 year.
* For storage at room temperature: Process the filled jars in a boiling-water canner 10 minutes for pints, 15 minutes for quarts (15 minutes for pints, 20 minutes for quarts at 1,000 to 6,000 feet; 20 minutes for pints, 25 minutes for quarts above 6,000 feet).
* This recipe yields 4 quarts or 8 pints.

Empanada Boy’s Surprise

Fork and Spoon ringEmpanada Boy and I returned from a trip to Portland yesterday at a new stage in our relationship. While we were out on a walk in Cannon Beach last week, he asked me to marry him. I was completely surprised and a bit scared by the notion, but the thought of sharing my future trials, achievements, travels and meals with anyone else just doesn’t seem right. In short, I accepted his proposal with the condition that we would wait a couple of years before actually going through the ceremony.

It will take me at least that long to get used to the idea of being married. (It has taken me a week just to decide to write this post.) The ring pictured here is the one he used when he asked me. And no— he did not get down on one knee. We were standing in a tide pool after all. So, dear readers raise a glass to the successful future of The Mango Lassie and her Empanada Boy!

A Piece of Paris in Portland

tartletsLike most people who’ve been there, I love Paris. And, like many food-loving Europhiles, I have found little in life to compare to than a simple, fresh, bistro lunch. The mere bread in a sandwich served at any random sidewalk café is enough to make me consider a trans-Atlantic move. Empanada Boy has not been to Paris, or even to Europe, which makes me all the more eager to show him how much better than average American fare everyday French food can taste.

We were thinking of taking a trip there this year, but the exchange rate combined with EB’s use of his vacation days on our trip to Portland make that more and more unlikely. Luckily, all was not lost in my quest to show him what makes French food so exceptional. While we were in Portland, we went out to lunch at Boulangerie St. Honoré, a bakery and bistro that truly looks, feels and tastes like Paris.

LyonaiseA wall of beautifully crafted loaves and cases of exquisite, butter-filled pastries greet you as you walk in the door. Indoor wooden tables seat coffee drinkers and the lunch crowd throughout the day. A large window opens onto outdoor tables, making the place seem all the more French. The lunch menu consists of hearty quiches, warm and cold sandwiches and some of the most attractive and delicious salads I’ve tried.

NiçoiseFlav, Mango Mama and I all had salads, which come with slices of rustic bread. Now, don’t think we were being virtuous and ordering the low calorie option. The salads here are massive and very filling. I enjoyed this tasty salade Niçoise complete with green beans, potatoes, hard-boiled eggs, tuna fish and Niçoise olives. This is a perfect summertime salad because it’s filling, while also tasting deceptively light. Flav had the salad I prefer to order during the winter months. It’s made with sweet, earthy red beets, green apples, walnuts and a wedge of pungent blue cheese. Mango Mama tried the salade Lyonnaise (pictured above) with tomatoes, bacon, homemade croutons and a fried egg. It’s best to break the egg before eating the rest of the salad to allow the yolk to run all over.

CroqueAs for EB, he got his first taste of croque monsieur. St. Honore’s version is rich with crackling, melted Gruyere, Dijon and smoky ham and came paired with a pretty little salad. “Now that is a grilled cheese,” I said after I took a bite. EB agreed.

We finished off the meal with a bag of chouquettes. ChouquetteThese are little, fried, egg-based puffs reminiscent of popovers. The come topped with large sugar granules. Though they may not be as pretty as some of the other desserts in the display case, they are
delicious, and most importantly small. An air-filled puff is about all I can fit into my stomach after lunch here. All in all, I think EB got a pretty good sense of what I mean when I rave about France. Hopefully that can tide us over until we finally make it to Paris.

Boulangerie St. Honoré
2335 NW Thurman St.
Portland, OR 97210
503.445.4342

St. Honoré Boulangerie in Portland

PDX Voodoo

Voodoo signEmpanada Boy and I flew into Portland on Friday night. We were supposed to get in at 10:30 pm. To make a long and familiar story short, we ended up getting in at 1:45 am. Luckily, the devoted Flava Flav was there to meet us. I was ready to climb into bed and sleep for a long, long time, but true to form, Empanada Boy was hungry for a past midnight snack. And there are few better places for that than Voodoo Doughnut.

Since opening in 2003, Voodoo Doughnut has achieved cult status, attracting late-night revelers in all states of inebriation. There is often live music in the tiny loft inside the tiny restaurant space. The owners have been licensed to marry people in the shop, and they offer Swahili lessons there every Monday night. Ever the socialite, Flava Flav has been there many a time. Thanks to his own Portland relatives, EB has eaten there on all of his previous visits. I, however, had never been, so I volunteered to forsake another hour of sleep for some caloric indulgence.

Dirty BastardThe line was out the door when we arrived at around 2:15 am. Empanada Boy ordered a messy-looking concoction known as the “Old Dirty Bastard.” It’s a regular doughnut topped with chocolate, Oreo cookie crumbs and a peanut butter glaze. Flava Flav is not much of a doughnut adventurist. She ordered a regular glazed doughnut. Not bad, but nothing special.

BluntMy selection was called “The Blunt” because it’s supposed to look like a lit cigarette— made of tobacco, of course… It was a cinnamon sugar-coated wedge dipped in maple and red sprinkles. I thought it could just as easily be a French fry dipped in ketchup. Other menu items include such selections like “Grape Ape,” a raised doughnut with vanilla frosting and grape powder; the “Arnold Palmer,” a cake doughnut covered with lemon and tea powder; and the “Cock-n-Balls” a triple cream filled selection shaped like you know what. It comes in a pink box with your favorite saying written on it.

Wall doughnutVoodoo Doughnuts is a clever idea, and I’m sure its innovative owners deserve a lot of credit for coming up with it. Still, I have to say that I didn’t think the doughnuts were anything special. Apart from the silly toppings, they tasted much like other doughnuts I’ve had. Maybe I need to try more of them, or maybe I’m just not sufficiently appreciative. Or maybe it’s just the high percentage of drunk people assembled in a relatively small space that turns me off. In short, I’m glad Voodoo exists and has brought Portland much-deserved fame and glory, but I think I could wait a few years before I feel the need to go back again.

Voodoo Doughnut
22 SW 3rd Ave.
Portland, OR 97204
503.241.4704

Voodoo Doughnut in Portland