Kirk kindly lets Cathy and even Ed (from Yuma) blog here, so today Ed wants to share a meal with you electronically that he shared with Tina actually.
To get to The Wine Vault, we went to the last block at the northwest end of India Street (just off Washington), looked just to the right of Saffron, the Thai roast chicken place, and climbed a bunch of steps that switch back and forth up to a nearly hidden loft. Finding it was worth the trouble.
On this evening, we were seated in the restaurant’s upper level with simple decor, plain white walls and good lighting:
As soon as we were seated, a large bottle of chilled water was placed on the table:
As well as a basket of fresh sliced salt bread:
Served with creamy unsalted butter and a small salt cellar, the bread had crunchy bits of coarse salt in its crust.
The cutlery, wrapped in a cloth napkin on the table, was perfect for a five course meal:
On this evening, the first course was halibut crudo with castelvetrano olives, deep-fried garbanzos, preserved lemon, garlic confit, and paprika oil:
The halibut tasted very fresh and was firm and mild – allowing the accent flavors of the other items to shine. The firm almost crunchy olives were a different and interesting companion to the fish. A good starter.
It was accompanied by a glass of Gerard Bertrand sparkling wine from Limoux, which is close to Carcassonne in the South of France. The wine, called Thomas Jefferson because Limoux sparklers were a special favorite of his, was dry, bubbly, and pale salmon color:
The next dish was amazingly good. It was centered on marscarpone topped creamy polenta with fresh spring peas, pea shoots, and fried shallot rings:
But there was more – wild mushroom strips and green garlic tops and bulb slices:
Amazingly complex and subtle layers of flavor and texture. Not like anything I can remember having before.
The wine pour was a Chiarlo Barbaresco, a northern Italian wine made from the same nebbiolo grape as Barolo:
Not a powerful wine like Barolo, but very smooth, so it went well with the flavors of the polenta.
The next course centered on Lebanese style chicken meatballs drizzled with piri piri sauce, accompanied by a mixed vegetable bulgur pilaf and a smear of smoked eggplant:
Here's a close-up:
The chicken balls were firm and meaty but certainly not rubbery. The Mediterranean spicing seemed fine and the bulgur pilaf was a nice touch.
Sometimes chicken is difficult to pair with wine because a lot of reds are too tannic and powerful and overwhelm the chicken and some whites come across as sharp and sour. So the chicken course was matched perfectly by the Stolpman Combe Trousseau:
This extremely rare red wine varietal results in a dry wine that looks almost like a rosé or like the rhubarb wine your cousin makes, but it has a distinct cherry/fruity flavor with some depth, a silky finish and virtually no tannins. Who knew?
Arriving next were four thick slices of sous-vide hanger steak, poached in butter and flavored with chimichurri sauce. Two slices angled toward me, two slices angled away. They topped baby purple potatoes and halves of fire roasted yellow and red tomatoes:
I liked the presentation; I could see both meat and vegetables. And that hanger steak was cooked perfect – tender, buttery, and meaty:
The wine, a malbec/syrah blend by Tikal in Argentina, was full flavored and great with the steak:
Before our dessert course showed up, we were given a mojito cocktail with its sweet/tart flavors of white rum, lime juice and mint:
Followed by a deconstructed key lime tart:
I liked it a lot. The thick and crunchy graham cracker crust was the central focus, and who doesn't like graham cracker crust? The sweet/tart lime pudding matched the flavor range of the mojito and contrasted with the texture and tastes of the crust.
It had been a couple of years since we'd been at The Wine Vault, (and my 2010 post about our first visit is here), so we were delighted to find that the restaurant had not grown stale. Our palates were challenged and pleased. At $36 for the food and $20 for the beverages, our credit card was pleased, but not challenged.
It was our last evening in Madrid and we were feeling a bit, well, sad. The city was definitely much better the second time around. During our first pass through Madrid, we thought it, hot, loud, gritty, somewhat dirty....the second time around we took to the city, it seemed so vibrant, alive, for some reason it reminded me of China. Folks really seemed to have a good time and enjoy life. Perhaps it was the apartment right on Tirso de Molina, where we took such watching folks out socializing. At 630 in the evening, most folks weren't even thinking about eating.
Instead of having the obvious (tapas) for dinner, we decided to go with another recommendation from Emilio, a rather new (at the time), modern-fusion place named Metro Bistro. We even dropped by during lunch to make reservations for dinner.
They even started dinner service at the ungodly hour of 7pm! Our reservations were for 8pm and we were happy to not be the first customers of the evening.
The interior is quite modern, the staff, very nice, friendly, though some of the folks were somewhat eccentric and the service was a bit spotty as the pacing seemed a bit off.
Things started off quite nicely as we were brought a nice aperitif, a celery based cocktail that was like a celery mojito. Very nice, quite refreshing.
The menu itself was quite interesting, classic dishes with fusion-y touches. Braised butterfish with ponzu, Sweet and sour IberianPork, Salmorejo with Olive Oil "Ice Cream", stuff like that.
The bread was nice and made even better by the nice herb butters provided.
We started things off with Metro Bistro's take on the classic Catalan roasted vegetable dish, Escalibada (9,40 €). This version was topped with cold smoked eel, which added a nice savory-smokey flavor to the dish.
We were less impressed with the vegetables which were underseasoned and could have used a bit of color.....the vegetables were basically limp and flavorless.
The Steak Tartare (19 €) however, was excellent.
The wonderfully tender beef, which was rather lean was bolstered by having minced foie gras mixed in. The minced capers and more so the mustard seed gave the dish zest and a nice finish. The egg yolk added even more velvety texture, possibly overkill. The micro greens balanced out things with a touch of bitter and a nice crunchy texture. This was really, really, good.
What was delici-yoso was the wonderfully Roasted Mushroom topped with 65 Degree Egg (10,80 €).
Man, egg porn. The flavor of that egg was so pure, the yolk so rich and runny, you'd think it was the star of the dish. But for me, it was the intense, earthy flavors and meaty texture of the mushroom base and the crunchy and earthy fried trumpet mushrooms that really made this stand out for me. The Missus? Well, She's a big time egg lover.....'nuff said
The pseudo sousvidish Lamb Gigot (18€) was solid if not outstanding.
The truffle potatoes seemed a bit out of place in this dish and for some reason clashed with the gamey lamb. Still, eaten separately, each was tasty.
We had a nice Cava with dinner and the Missus destroyed the dessert.
In what ended up being the evening's entertainment, we watched one of the Server's struggle with opening a bottle of wine....first breaking the cork and then fiddling with whatever was left, pushing the cork into the bottle. He should have just quit and gotten a fresh bottle. It was somewhat painful watching him struggle.....I felt like standing up and grabbing the bottle away from him.....it was like passing that accident scene....you just can't help but looky-loo. Still, we enjoyed our dinner. When the flavors and textures "clicked" it was really good. We found the prices to be not too bad. It was nice finding a place like this around tourist Plaza Mayor. We'd gladly return.
Metro Bistro Calle Imperial 3 Madrid, Spain
We picked up a nice bottle of Crianza on the way back to the apartment. Popping it open, we opened the window and watched the action below.....this is Tirso de Molina at 1030pm. Notice the kids playing......
Some folks are just starting to eat dinner....this was a Thursday mind you.....
At midnight, folks were just starting to eat at the place further down the block!
Talk about really knowing how to enjoy life! Of course, at 8am the place looks like a ghost town.
The next morning we walked the mile or so down to Atocha Station and caught the airport express. Remember the Jamon we bought at Ferpal? It came in real handy. The international gates at Madrid-Barajas Airport is like a cattle pen. There's no place to buy snacks, coffee....just vending machines. That package of Jamon Bellotta Pata Negra was sweating away in my bag. Man, it was delicious. Just looking at the photo makes me want to head back to Spain.
We really only had one full day in Bruges. And in the end it worked out well for us. The place was beautiful in the morning and later evening, when day-trippers left, but it was still rather crowded, and like I mentioned in a earlier post, you pretty much needed reservations for the better dinner locales. Luckily, the wonderful owner of our B&B managed to get us reservations at one of the restaurants that she said were among her favorites in Bruges. A place named Rock Fort. The reservations were for two bar seats which was fine with us. We were just happy to find a place to have a nice dinner.
We headed out early, happy to meander along the side streets, watching the ducks waddling along the sidewalks.
We soon found ourselves back at the City Hall Building. And decided to take a rest as the slow drizzle had petered out.
I noticed something a bit odd and pointed out these four young ladies in various costumes standing in the square.
I wasn't quite sure what this was all about, but we just had to stay and watch. Out popped another young lady with a video recorder and they did several takes of the four of them doing sort of a choreographed strut toward the camera. After finally getting it right, they celebrated with a group hug! What the objective was, who knows.....perhaps only they do? I won't even try to explain this one. Sometimes you see the oddest things.
Rock Fort is located not quite in the center of things, but just across one of the canals; where Hoogstrat turns into Langenstraat.
The façade is subdued and unassuming.
But the interior looks quite hip and very bright white. We entered and the very nice host said that since we were the first customers of the evening, if we thought we'd be done in 2 hours, they'd like to give us a table. Very gracious, the servers hit that balance between not being too stiff, yet professional and amiable.
As the evening passed, we saw quite a few "beautiful people, on several tables there were college aged young men with older women......a middle aged gentleman, dressed to the nines arrived with an entourage, sans reservations, one of the chefs came out to greet them. Apparently they had no reservations. After a short discussion, or should I say negotiation, they ended up sitting at the bar.
As we often will do when confronted with Tasting Menus; we'd work with the staff to get both menu items and the tasting menu, which was no problem here. The Missus had some wine, while I went for a beer....as I went down the menu, looking for something suitable, the cheerful young lady would nod a slight "no"....apparently she did not approve! Finally, I asked "La Chouffe".....she smiled brightly and said; "good choice". I loved this place!
I did think the buttery popcorn that came along with the cheese and bread was fun and different.
Instead of going thru the entire dinner. I'll go over the highlights. It was actually two choices from the menu that were really outstanding.
The Entrecote of Flemish Beef - wet aged for a month, cured for a month, then dry aged for a month was outstanding.
Topped with pine nuts; this aged rib eye served raw was amazingly flavored, a deep, yet clean beef flavor. The pine nuts added a nutty and slightly sweet flavor to the dish.
The Beef Tartar was also outstanding.
Loved the scallions in this, which added just the right pungency as did the roasted garlic, balancing the wonderful clean flavors. The watercress gave just the right amount of bitterness.
The Chef's menu was no slouch...I mean; there's foie gras, well prepared seafood, and pork belly.
And yes, touches of molecular gastronomy; foams, powders, and such, but nothing got in the way.
The presentation was nice....but nothing could top the two dishes ordered off the menu.
It was by far the best meal we had in Belgium.
Rock Fort Langestraat 15 Bruges, Belgium
As we took a stroll after dinner, we noticed groups of people making their way up one of the streets.
There was some kind of fair taking place.
After wandering about for a bit; we headed back to the warmth of our room at the B&B.
Our time in Bruges was coming to a close. While I'm not sure if we'll ever return; I can say that B&B B Guest was one of our favorite B&B's we've stayed at; just two rooms, close to everything, but with enough privacy, and a nice breakfast. We took away another thing from our trip. It seemed that just about every place we stayed at had a Nespresso machine. It was nice having a little pick-me-up in the morning or afternoon. We ended up buying one when we got home. Yes, the Missus is a coffee snob, but sometimes She just needs a nice shot of espresso.
We headed off to sleep rather early. The next day, we'd be headed back to Brussels.
We did make one more stop in the late afternoon; Petaluma Creamery.
The focus of this shop is more geared toward ice cream and the café.
After our afternoon nap, we strolled back to downtown Petaluma, passing all those lovely Victorian houses.
Where D street meets 4th street is Walnut Park. We were visiting in October and from May thru November, Walnut Park hosts a Farmer's Market.
We had made the mile-and-a-half walk in record time....thanks to the ahem, the Missus's encouragement. So we took a nice break.
Would you believe that the Missus bought 2 pounds of apples? Which we brought back with us to San Diego?
We also saw what might be the cutest and most chubby, little pony.....
Petaluma Saturday Afternoon Farmer's Market Saturday from 2:00 pm-5:30 pm May though November Walnut Park Petaluma Blvd and D Street Petaluma, CA
We were still early for dinner, so we walked around Petaluma for a while.
Our dinner destination? A restaurant named Risibisi. I liked the menu, Italian with regional NoCal touches, which uses local ingredients.
We were seated in a cozy corner. The place filled up really quickly!
The service was polished and very professional, no complaints from us.
I sent Candice a text after ordering my Aperitif, joking that I must have been channeling her when I ordered a Negroni. The Missus had a Pinot Noir.
We started with the Tomato and Burrata.
The tomatoes were very good; nice acid, the flavor textbook perfect. The Burrata was creamy, slightly milky, walking arm in arm with the tomato and the flavor of the Olive Oil. The Missus actually preferred this version to what we had at Central Market the night before. She believed that the flavors were more on target and true to the ingredients. I was on the fence. The tomatoes in this dish had much more flavor, but I enjoyed the umph the anchovy and the peppery olive oil added to the dish at CM. Still, there's no denying, this was quite good.
The Watermelon Salad ($12) was a wonderful combination of flavors and textures.
The Hazelnut Vinaigrette was mild, but added just blended in nicely into the symphony of flavors. Watermelon and arugula playing well together! If anything, I'd have enjoyed a bit more pecorino to add a bit more savory-milky-salty tones to the salad. But this was very enjoyable.
Sweet Corn Risotto ($18).
I'm still looking for "that" risotto.....the usual restaurant style par cooked version, that excels. This one really didn't have the texture I enjoy. The corn added a nice sweetness, the pancetta and pecorino adding the salty tones to balance things out.
The Gnocchi Wild Boar ($18) was delicious. While the risotto fell short in texture, this was so good. The gnocchi was just firm enough, waiting to be eaten to start melting into the ether.
The wild boar was tasty, adding a nice richness to the ragu, which seemed simple, but full of flavor. An excellent dish!
The Missus had Her new favorite dessert; an Affogato. She asked if they would replace the vanilla ice cream with hazelnut ice cream which they gladly did. I had a Tawny Port, which proved to be a nice digestif. Man, we got get back to Porto one of these days.
We had a very nice meal at Risibisi. In fact, the Missus said that while the best dish of the trip was the Pork Confit from Central Market, She thought that our meal at Risibisi was better overall. It's a nice dilemma to have and one I'd gladly like to repeat again....have a dinner at Central Market, then at Risibisi....
Risibisi Restaurant 154 Petaluma Blvd N Petaluma, CA 94952
We really enjoyed our time in Petaluma and I'm sure we'll return someday...especially when the Missus is itching for some cheese! I do have one more post from this trip coming up....I'll try to get it done soon.
Kirk is recuperating and readjusting to San Diego. Cathy (who is already well adjusted) is just recuperating. That means this post about travels through the vineyards of Oregon was written by Ed (from Yuma) with some photos by Tina.
Tina snapped that picture of my camera and stemware sitting on a wine cask table, the window showing a fringe of vineyards and the beautiful Oregon countryside beyond. Seems like a good place to start this post of our adventures in the heart of the Oregon wine country. I promise it’ll focus mostly on beautiful scenery and food, and I hope you enjoy reading it and looking at the pictures.
Proximity to the best Oregon wine regions was one reason Tina and I stayed in Hillsboro for part of our Oregon vacation. While most of the state’s wineries are located in the large area called the "Willamette Valley," most of the best wineries in that valley, the ones that make the best pinot noirs, are actually located in rolling hills west and south from Portland.
So we drove past hilly vineyards amidst forests:
And viewed hilltop wineries:
From the Raptor Ridge parking lot, the juxtaposition of vineyards and countryside was quite nice:
The tasting room looked fairly ordinary from a distance:
but this view from the deck is far from ordinary:
At every tasting room we went to, we were handed a tasting list, so we would know what wines were being tasted and how much the tasting would cost:
After that tasting, we were hungry so we sought out the Red Hills Market in nearby Dundee. It had a nice selection of sandwiches or pizzas (and of course wine or coffee etc.). You just go up and order at the counter:
Since the weather was nice, we sat outside on the deck, not far from the condiments and water dispenser:
Tina had the olive tapenade and cheese sandwich, which was served onan artisan baguette with abundant fresh baby lettuces:
Wonderful, savory Mediterranean flavors.
And look at my basic Carlton ham and Gruyere sandwich:
Simple, focused, flavorful, and crunchy. Yum.
And Red Hills Market also had a deli case for food to go:
So that night we stayed put in the motel room and feasted on part of our purchases from the market:
The baguette was perfect with a crispy crust and a fresh firm crumb. We loved the pheasant pâté, which disappeared that evening. We only opened one of the Olympia Provisions salamis, but they all were good and distinctive. While the Oregon Gouda was just okay, the Mt. Townsend Creamery Haystack was a perfect soft ripened cheese – rich mild dairy flavors and all gooey inside.
Of course the dinner couldn't be complete without a bottle of Raptor Ridge Reserve Pinot Noir:
If you look carefully at that picture, you will also see a small marionberry pie that we purchased along with some salad at a Whole Foods in the area. The sort of alfresco dinner that we just can't throw together back in Yuma for sure.
The next day, my Auntie Marilyn and her charming beau, Ron, came by in the afternoon to take us out wine tasting. We had a good time talking and driving around and we made it to a couple of different wineries, our favorite being Blakeslee, where we tasted several wines (all of them good) and then bought glasses of our favorites and took them out to the beautiful patio area, a great place to sip, chat, and relax:
Since Blakeslee is located at the Eastern edge of the Chehalem Mountains AVA, we could look across the lovely grounds and vineyards and see Mt. Hood in the distance:
Beautiful, but also kind of sad to see Mt. Hood without most of its snow-covered cap.
That day concluded nicely when Ron and Marilyn took us out to a tasty dinner at the Rock Creek Tavern, one of the many interesting McMenamins’ locations. When I went to their first brewpub in Portland back in 1983, I had no idea that I was witnessing the humble birth of a beverage/dining/lodging empire.
A couple of days later, Steve and Helen joined us for a leisurely day of eating, talking, and wine tasting as we drove around enjoying the wonderful scenery:
Our first stop was one of my favorites, Elk Cove Vineyards, which has been making good wine in the Yamhill Carlton AVA since the late 1970s at a strikingly beautiful location:
Very flavorful Pinot Noirs:
Here's a photo of some relaxed guests enjoying the beautiful weather out on the patio:
Since we were in no hurry, we walked out to Elk Cove’s beautiful garden area:
which includes exotic plants:
and provides some striking views of the surrounding vineyards:
All that tasting and talking left Steve and Helen and Tina and I very hungry, so we headed into Carlton for lunch at Horse Radish:
We all decided to have one of the half sandwich/salad combinations. Tina opted for the BLT, but this version of that classic sandwich was clearly something special:
An abundance of fresh lettuce, sliced tomatoes and Carlton Farms bacon, all tucked inside of extremely good bread.
And this, believe it or not, is the half salad that came with each sandwich:
The house made balsamic fig dressing, dried cranberries, and local goat cheese all sat atop wondrously fresh organic mixed greens.
Steve and I ordered the half sandwich with roast beef:
Just look at that real roasted beef. Each sandwich also had pickled onions, a blue cheese spread, and horseradish mayo. Wonderfully good bread again. Great sandwich overall.
Refreshed, we headed off to another beautiful winery location, Anne Amie. Situated at the top of a south facing hillside, the winery offered some outstanding views from its deck: It also had a nice garden with some unusual vegetation:
and the best label we saw on the trip, which I believe shows the winery’s owners clad in Victorian costume at the edge of vast vineyards stretching out to the horizon:
Ordinary building on Highway 99 in Dundee – easy to miss with no scenic view:
But excellent tasting Pinots.
Then we continued northeast on Highway 99 into Newburg where we found Subterra restaurant:
It was not easy to locate because most of it is literally underground.
Inside, the decor was understated and the ambience comfortable:
It was also a little dim, so my photos from Subterra are unfortunately subpar. The dinner, however, was not. We began with sautéed chanterelle mushrooms atop a mound of cheesy polenta:
We were all impressed. The mushrooms had a mild woodsy flavor and a firm texture. The soft polenta matched perfectly.
A bread basket of lightly toasted rustic breads showed up next:
accompanied with two different spreads:
All entrées include both soup and salad. Tina chose the spicy black bean soup:
To be honest, I thought it was pretty ordinary.
As was my Thai Curry chicken soup:
The salads, on the other hand, were (imho) magnificent: What's not to love here? Incredible fresh greens. Plump blueberries. Crumbled goat cheese. And I can't remember ever having better tasting hazelnuts. The whole thing lightly touched with a clean tasting, extra-virgin dressing.
For once, the four of us had a range of different dishes. Helen opted for the rich short rib:
The meat was melt in your mouth tender and the mashed potatoes underneath had flavors of garlic and goat cheese with a hint of truffle. I believe those are braised greens at the back of the plate.
Steve chose the pistachio crusted scallops:
There were enough nuts on each of the scallops so that both flavors came through in every bite. The large hillock on the left was sort of like a charred brussels sprout risotto with bits of other veggies and wild rice added for flavor and color.
Tina wanted the seafood zarzuela, a stew of clams, shrimp, fish, and scallops in a complex saffron/almond flavored sofrito:
My picture does not do the dish justice. Tina loved the mix of seafood and enjoyed the rounds of sausage, slices of peppers, and chunks of fennel. The accompanying bread slices were slightly burnt, but she happily dipped them into the sauce and wolfed them down.
I was also delighted with my duck confit:
The honey drizzled confit tasted great and I appreciated the sweet/sour red cabbage and the fresh broccolini, both visible in this picture, and roasted baby potato wedges that were hiding behind the duck.
We'd had a good time that day, and Tina and I loved all of our excursions out into some of the best AVAs in Oregon. But we have only begun to sample what the area has to offer. I guess it's a good sign – leaving somewhere and already hoping for a return trip.
While Tina contributed a lot of photos, today's post was written by Ed (from Yuma) about explorating parts of Portland with some old friends. Tomorrow's post will be from Kirk or Cathy. Now you know.
We were looking forward to a couple of days with Steve and Helen, friends who live in Monterey CA. They had been visiting Steve's sister in Vancouver WA, so we picked them up and descended on downtown Portland.
It was lunchtime, and we were looking for interesting and inexpensive food. The food carts around SW10th Ave and Alder fit the bill:
All kinds of choices:
Tina, Helen, and I decided on Eurodish – street cart Polish food:
The Polish sausage (on a bun) was grilled only after it was ordered, placed on a nice large bun, and (since Tina asked for everything on it) looked like this:
Seriously, there is a Polish sausage hiding under the profusion of condiments. Much yumminess. What a hot dog aspires to become when it grows up.
I chose combination #2, a cabbage roll and dumplings:
The dumplings had a soft chew and were cheesy, creamy, and pleasantly bland; the onion and red pepper slices a nice contrast. The cabbage roll was a pretty good rendition. The tomato sauce was pretty straightforward, but there was a nice picante touch. The beefy rice filling was flavorful, and I loved the triple layers of cabbage – the roll tasted like cabbage:
Steve, being a Philly boy, had to have a cheese steak which came with curly fries. He pronounced it very good, considering it was Portland Oregon and not South Philly:
One advantage/disadvantage of the carts is that there is no seating provided, so we and a lot of other folks found impromptu spots to set ourselves and eat around the fountains in Director Park at Ninth and Yamhill.
After lunch, we started strolling south by southwest through the South Park Blocks. This picture shows the basic layout – a small park area flanked by two city streets:
But that small park area extends for 14 blocks. It is a beautiful walk with a variety of people – tourists, students, and the homeless:
Canopies of leaves above people hurrying somewhere or just sitting on a bench and talking:
A guitar and accordion duet:
There is also some old-school statuary. A classical water bearer, probably a Naiad:
A pensive Abraham Lincoln:
In the distance, an equestrian statue of Theodore Roosevelt in the beautiful park setting:
And here is good ol’ Teddy, ready to charge up San Juan Hill:
The Portland Art Museum, adjacent to the park, has some public statuary of its own, such as this beautiful intertwined couple:
Or this striking female who perfectly matches her surroundings:
Most of the time we were walking slightly uphill as the Park comes closer to the hills that flank the west side of Portland:
The southwestern end of the linear park extends into Portland State University. In that area there is a nice rose garden:
So Tina stopped to photograph one of the roses:
Then the elongated park transforms into a campus: A very pleasant walk, but we had to turn around and walk 14 blocks back in the direction of our car. As we approached the northeast end of the Park, we were all feeling a bit peckish, and I for one was looking for somewhere I could sit down for a while. I looked over my restaurant list to see if anything was nearby. I mentioned Veritable Quandary at 1220 SW 1st, and Steve said, "Oh, that's close – only eight or nine blocks away." So off we marched.
We sat down at the bar and each ordered a glass of wine. I had Elk Cove Pinot Gris, but I'm not sure about the others. We liked the atmosphere and the menu was sufficiently interesting, but when we asked about dinner, they told us that the dining room was booked up until 8:30 that night. By then, I would have starved, I'm afraid, or drunk myself to complete silliness. Fortunately our helpful server suggested that we eat in the bar area; in fact, she said, that she would put together two small tables at the window for us. Wow, sure, yeah, thanks!
While there was a television with some game on, no one would confuse this place with a sports bar:
Considering we were stuck at the end of the bar area, the service was outstanding throughout the meal, so here's a shout out for Sasha who was a perfect server (and she does not look this fuzzy in person):
The bread that was placed on the table was probably the most impressive I had on the trip. The dark rustic crust and the firm flavorful crumb reminded me of the breads of central Europe:
Sasha also helped us choose a wine, a reasonably priced Pinot Blanc from Elk Cove. Usually a glass of wine looks pretty much like any other glass, but for me, this glass weirdly reflects the ambience of the evening:
Or maybe it's just a bad photo.
We chose the rabbit pâté for our appetizer:
Fortunately Tina took a much better shot of the appetizer:
The pâté itself, wrapped in bacon, was smooth, savory, and rich. The brioche was light and crunchy, and we liked it so much that Sasha brought us extra.
While the two different mustards were nothing special, the prune jam was an unusual sweet complement, the watercress added a green and mildly bitter touch, and I nearly swooned over the pickled pear.
For their main courses, Steve and Helen decided to share, so Helen ordered the Caesar salad:
It certainly looked nice – an attractive pile of romaine lettuce fancied up with Parmesan cheese, black pepper, and a Caesar dressing.
Tina chose the house made brie ravioli:
The two giant pasta pouches lay atop wedges of roasted hubbard squash, the whole thing covered with grated cheese (Pecorino?) and fresh frisee. In a way, a really unusual pasta salad. The firm autumnal squash so different in texture and flavors to the richly melty cheesy ravioli and both set off by the crunchy lettuce and slightly tart, oil based dressing.
Steve and I had decided on the same thing, the fish special of the evening, something called Blackened Hawaiian Walu:
The large fish steaks that perched on roasted sweet potato wedges were accompanied by radicchio, micro greens, and a tangy sauce.
And the fish tasted very good. It was extremely rich and had a distinctive almost waxy texture. The blackening added a spicy note, and both Steve and I appreciated that the fish had not been over cooked:
Luckily, none of us had a bad digestive reaction to the fish, which we have since learned is more commonly called escolar and is banned in Japan, a country that happily devours fugu and chicken sashimi. It’s good to be lucky sometimes.
For dessert, we shared two items. First, a scoop of house made vanilla bean ice cream:
It was decent and the cookie added a contrastive crunch.
The chocolate soufflé was the highlight of the desserts:
Warm and puffy chocolate pillow with gooey chocolate sauce. More proof that the best thing you can eat with chocolate is more chocolate.
For the quality of the meal and service overall, the bill seemed reasonable:
As we walked another 10 blocks back to the car through the pleasantly cool evening, we all thought it'd been a pretty good day adventuring in Portland, though I'm sure Steve and Helen felt we hadn't walked quite enough.
Call it unfinished business. You know how that goes....we really need to close that circle; like returning to Istanbul twice to get things right. After our meal at Little Bird Bistro, the Missus really wanted to return to Portland. Which is how we ended up on the Red Line to Downtown PDX watching this couple and their ferret. He, smelling like he'd been knocking back a few....as if to confirm this, taking a "48" out of his bag and having a couple of swigs. She meanwhile, was going goo-goo and gaa-gaa over the little guy. As soon as they told the person sitting across the way from them how sweet the little fellow was, he dropped a huge load on her bag. Life is funny that way.
Anyway, we had caught the late afternoon flight to Portland, took the Red Line...a bargain at $2.50 a person downtown and to our hotel; the Paramount. I'd made late reservations at Le Pigeon....late enough that the Missus decided that we should walk the mile and a half or so to the restaurant.
Which was actually a pretty nice walk, in spite of having to pass all the street folks along the way. It was also quite warm.....and it would get much hotter, though not quite as bad as it was in San Diego at the time.
Since it was late in the evening, Le Pigeon wasn't too crowded and we got in a bit early.
The staff were very professional though I'm not a big fan of the communal seating. Call me anti-social, but we can really do without the fake cheer and really don't want to know your business, whether it's your prostate problem, or how you're getting sued by your patients and can't find a job on the West Coast anymore....and even more so all of your food allergies. The long suffering young lady put on a cheerful front when the guy sitting next to us insisted upon getting the tasting menu...then went down the list of all his allergies...tomatoes, avocados, carrots, garlic, this type of milk product, that type of milk product, gluten, blah, blah, blah.....I really, really don't want to know that the only thing in the world you can consume is breast milk. Why in the world are you getting the tasting menu when you can't eat anything except cardboard?
Meanwhile, our meal was excellent.
From the Foie Gras "Hot Brown" ($25), a wonderful piece of nicely seared foie gras that just melted in your mouth. The turkey, which tasted smoked was full of flavor as was the bacon.....
The egg was a wonderful runny joy, we loved the acid from the tomatoes, and the toast was light and quite crisp. Tell you what....I'll take a slice of foie gras over Mornay sauce on my Hot Brown any day of the week.
And while the Ricotta Gnocchi ($16) was a bit too "squeaky" for our tastes, the cheese and the sauce were wonderful.
Perfect garlic, salt, milky flavors in harmony....the wonderfully beefy beef tongue in the dish just topped things off.
The best overall dish of our trip (not necessarily the best bite...more on that later) in my opinion was the Grilled Short Rib ($29).
The short rib was amazing. Ever had medium rare, thick cut short rib that wasn't on the tough side? This was just toothful enough, nicely seared, beefy, and yes, medium rare. I'm thinking sous vide? And yet, my favorite component was the wonderful mashed potatoes....it had a mild sweetness and I swear, there was a familiar umami flavor to it. We were told that sweet corn and miso was pureed with the potatoes. The smoked corn and tomato salad with soy braised oxtail was excellent. I'd go back to Le Pigeon just for those potatoes.
Our least favorite dish of the night was the Beef Cheek Bourguinon ($28).
While the texture of the braised beef cheek was just perfect; fork tender without being mushy. The sauce was just plain overkill; much too sour and bitter for our taste. The risotto, made with that wonderful, ripe, epoisses cheese, would seem to be just up our alley, but the rice was on the tough side with a hard core and that sauce just killed any other flavors.
While I considered ordering the signature foie gras profiteroles, there was just no way I could put away anything more after all this rich food. We went with the Cucumber-Watermelon sorbet ($6) instead, which was still way too much for us to finish.
The service was friendly, professional, and the timing excellent.
I'm thinking Le Pigeon will be a regular stop on future visits to Portland.
Le Pigeon 738 E Burnside St Portland, OR 97214
We enjoyed a nice walk back to the hotel after dinner down "colorful" Burnside. It was a warm evening. We'd had a wonderful dinner and this was just our first evening in Portland!
I had just finished what could perhaps be the best single bite I'd ever had. So how would the rest of our dinner at Azurmendi line up?
We were given several different bread courses during our meal. Our favorite was by far were the "steamed rolls"; yeasty, puffy, light as air. The olive oil was delicious, very grassy-peppery. Though the thing that the Missus loved the most was the stylish cruet. She would hunt for these in various shops, finally finding them in San Sebastian, only to shy away at the 60 Euro price tag. I think she'll be getting it next time.
The dish we unanimously enjoyed the least was the Oyster, Tartar, and Gelee. The seaweed tempura was very nice, but for some reason the raw oyster tasted a bit off and it was a bunch of mushy-gummy textures, with too much brine flavors going on.
The Spider Crab and Sea Urchin was a beautifully composed dish.
I'd been wanting a taste of Txangurro, the region's Spider Crab. Here it was sweet, with nice texture, but the Missus wasn't impressed as She declared the crab She grew up eating in Qingdao was much sweeter. The sea urchin is actually infused in a tomato "jus" and it works rather well, adding a nice briney flavor (think of it as the celery in a Bloody Mary). The two items did not go well combined as the crab flavor was totally cancelled out.
So this next item was simply called "Tomato and Eel"....three words....
Take a look at this dish! The pieces of smoked eel were just fantastic; they melted in your mouth with a very clean smoke flavor coming through. The "tomato" was quite a bite! I'm glad I ate it after the eel as it basically exploded, a huge burst of sour and tart flavor.
This one is called "Roasted Lobster Out of the Shell on Oil Herbs and Sweet Chives".
Let me just say; every single piece of seafood here was cooked to perfection. The lobster was just perfect....perfect. It was so perfect that it really didn't need all the pureed herb spheres...or anything else for that matter.
"Stewed Wheat with Farmhouse Milk Emulsion and Oxtail".......figure out what this would look like?
Basically wheat berries in a beef reduction, the milk emulsion tasted like a farmer's cheese, not sold on how it went with the dish. The most interesting thing was the little "bites" of oxtail wrapped in a layer of crisp bread.....sort of Azurmendi's Beef Wellington. The wheat berries seemed to play havoc with the Missus's stomach a bit. A bit too salty overall.
"Pigeon, artichokes, and fried egg".
Really nice, great textures, the flavors went really well together. Now think about this......this was basically the second egg we'd had during this meal so far......along with all the other dishes.
"Hake, Red Pepper Infusion, Idiazabal Bon Bons".
Oh my; that fish, the red pepper sauce, the sauce....even the milky Idiazabal cheese......all working together.
We were given a nice intermezzo to help us recover......
Along with some almond scented "fragrance".......which sounds cheesy, but aromatherapy, what fun!
Such drama on the table!
It was all to refresh and set-up the Foie Gras dish......
This was such a beautiful piece of seared foie gras....not a mousse, but actual foie. It was also quite large considering what we had already put away........this would have been enough for the both of us as part of a 3-4 course meal! I could tell that fatigue was setting in for the Missus.
I hoped that She would recover for the (4) dessert courses. The first being the Apple, Caramel, and Yogurt.
At this point, I knew the Missus wouldn't make it, so I called it. After two bottles of wine and all those courses....we'd had a fantastic experience and it was time.
This was also when Chef Eneko Atxa started coming around to each table.
He seemed such a rather soft spoken, humble, and amazingly youthful looking guy. When the Missus thanked him for all the hard work that went into our meal, he replied; "oh no......it is not work....it is a passion...from here" while touching his heart. I mentioned how much I enjoyed this:
And he went into detail, with times and temps of how it is made..........
Waiting for our cab back to Bilbao, I had a few moments to contemplate our meal at Azurmendi. Disfrutar gave me insight into molecular gastronomy with soul and how fantastically well service can be, skillfully paced, without being stuffy. Etxanobe displayed how a chef driven restaurant can use various traditional flavors and modern techniques together. It also displayed how a Chef's personality and presence can drive an experience. At Azurmendi, I got to understand, how a mission, combined with technique that does not disregard the heart and soul of the product would mean the "sky's the limit". While our meal here was by no means totally suited to our tastes, there were some items that we didn't enjoy, the "highs" were much higher than everywhere else. I believe that Azurmendi takes risks......not everything works for us....but those items that do...oh my, the reward.
I would easily say; this has been the best eating experience I've ever had. And that's what came into play when deciding between the 1-2 Michelin star places and a 3 star place....the experience. Azurmendi will give you that.....
Azurmendi Gastronomico Corredor del Txorierri Salida 25 Larrabetzu, Spain
Our cab driver was a rather serious looking chap. But as we entered the city he asked me, "how do you like?" I told him; "Euskadi is great and Bilbao is wonderful......" Which brought a big smile to his face. And I wasn't lying......
As we left Azurmendi, I was handed something........
It's the tasting menu for our meal. I took this photo right before starting this post. I still haven't opened it yet. Maybe someday I will........
For the crown jewel of our "trifecta" of planned dinners in Spain, I chose Azurmendi. Not because of the three Michelin Stars, but because of the set-up of the restaurant. The location is actually in Larrabetzu, about a 20 minute cab ride from Bilbao. The all glass building, designed by architect Naia Eguino sits on top of a hill via a single lane winding road, with wonderful views.
On the grounds sits a winery, greenhouse (more on that in a few), and the pret-a-porter, which is more of a bistro.
And it's not just the looks. The restaurant itself is totally sustainable; waste is recycled, rainfall is collected; I think the term is "harvested" and recycled, heating, cooling, and other energy needs is done using geo-thermal energy. It's own little eco-system.
For our blow-out meal; I wanted something special....heck, the Missus bought Valentino Flats and backpacked them for the whole trip just for this dinner! The Missus birthday had just passed a few days previous and I'd promised the Missus years ago that She'd never spend it sitting at home and it's a promise I aim to keep for as long as I am able.......we didn't want to be just sitting in a stuffy restaurant behind a white tablecloth; we wanted an experience. And that's just what we got at Azurmendi.
Arriving at the reception area, we were greeted and asked to wait for just a moment. A few minutes later, a young lady in Chef's whites greeted us with a smile. She explained that before dinner she would like to take us on a tour of the greenhouse area and also "forage" for some snacks....forage is used in the loosest of all terms.
The garden is so orderly that it puts our scraggly back yard pot and dirt collection to shame.
We entered the greenhouse and were given the first aperitif.
This is where the fun starts as not everything is as it seems. Beyond that, it is an impressive set-up. Like the rest of the place; very sleek, very clean, looking deceptively simple.
It is obviously not.....
The very nice young lady, a pastry chef, is from Italy. I asked her why she was here. Her answer, "I want to be and work with the best!" She had a great sense of humor as well. When I mentioned how good her English was, she was quick to tell me, "oh, but my Spanish is sooooo bad!"
She guided us around the greenhouse pointing out the various plants...often pointing out the little basket hanging; say, on a branch, loaded with what looked like tree bark. It would turn out to Jerusalem Artichoke made to look like tree bark with a citrus gel........a bit too strong and somewhat bitter for us.
So was the "peanut" made from peanut butter and cocoa with a pulverized dried mushroom coating. It struck me as somewhat odd in flavor and was quite salty.
And so we explored.........with stops for cotton candy and such.....
The best of the lot was the Pumpkin and Sheep Cheese biscuit, which was also kind of salty, but had a really nice flavor.
And this....the avocado pit, which was a delicious chocolate and liquid avocado (think guacamole) bonbon.
It can be quite overwhelming. Like when we returned to the reception area and were asked for a moments pause while our table was readied for us. And out came a picnic basket....it was time for a picnic!
It was Anchovy Mille-feuille....think of it as a anchovy flavored 'nilla wafer. Too much for the Missus, good for me! The roe and dill positioned on a cracker was again a bit high on the sodium scale for me. The most amazing thing was the "CalpiriTxa". We'd heard about Txacoli, the acidic sparkling wine of the region (we'd have our share in San Sebastian) and this was our first encounter. Azurmendi produces its own Txacoli and that is encased in cordial. It had that wonderful sweet citrus punch of a caparinha and was an amazing bite! Simply fantastic, perking up your tastebuds, leaving you wanting more......
Soon a small glass of an hibiscus infusion, tart and palate cleansing arrived.
Followed by a box of leaves? Leaves?
That's right, this is Azurmendi.....
The two "leaves" on the edges were made from walnut and mushroom, two disparate "earthy" flavors that worked really well in crisp form.
After finishing up, we were taken to the kitchen en route to our table.
The Chefs were hard at work....and they scared the crap out of me when they all suddenly turned and greeted us!
The décor of the room is simple, pleasant, and unpretentious, perfect for our needs. The service was excellent, timing perhaps not quite as good as, though more formal than Disfrutar...but all the basics were well taken care of. The Maitre'd; I believe his name is Jon was a joy. As was the view from our table.
Would you believe our table service hadn't even started yet? We chose a bottle of wine from Azurmendi's winery and things got off to a nice start with the Frozen Olive and Vermouth.
Spherification. We'd had the Disfruta de la Aceituna at Disfrutar, but this was even a larger explosion of flavor. The grassy, peppery olive flavors offset by the sweet vermouth....I'm thinking it would have even more intense if this wasn't still partially frozen.
That was followed by possibly the best bite I've ever had in my life....truly. They call this Egg from our Hens, Cooked Inside Out and Truffled.
I love the flavor of eggs, I love onsen tamago, truffle? C'mon, the earthy and savory flavors are among my favorites. Basically an egg yolk that has been infused with warm truffle broth, causing it to cook from the inside out. Oh my.........such wonderful flavors and textures, richness, savory-earthiness, all the best of both eggs and truffles. At the end of our meal, the Chef came around and visited each table. When I mentioned how amazing this one bite was, he told me how it was made in detail.....I don't remember it all, but I will never forget this. Never.
I'm thinking this is getting mighty long. I'll stop here and pick it up in another post.
Waking refreshed after a short nap, we relaxed for a bit, then got dressed and headed off to dinner. While we were told that the best way to get to our destination; located on the top floor of the Euskalduna Conference Centre and Concert Hall was to catch the tram. The Missus decided (of course) that we should walk. And in all honesty, it was a nice walk.
And of course we just had to stop and take yet another photo of the topiary canine, I nicknamed "Fred".
And while finding our way around downtown Bilbao was kind of confusing to us, this walk was a breeze. We walked through Parque de Doña Casilda de Iturrizar, a very nice green space.
I read that Bilbao was once a rather gritty industrial port city and this park was once the only green space in the city.
And while we were just passing through, we had a great time watching Bilbao's four-legged citizens cutting loose.
I wish I took a photo of an amazing border collie. The owner was sitting on a bench and would whistle and the dog would come running and eagerly vault over the bench! We saw the dog do this, with great joy I might add, several times!
The Conference Center is located across the street from the west end of the park. Built on the former site of the Euskalduna Shipyards, it looks quite nice. Off to the right side are some rather discreet elevators.
Getting off the elevators, we realized, having left with a nice time "buffer"(the really nice folks at the hotel told us it would take 30 minutes - but it took us about 15), we had arrived for our already ungodly early dinner reservations (830), a bit too soon. So we just took in the view.......
We walked in right at 830 pm....the place was totally empty! Yikes.... A very nice gentleman in chef's whites greeted us, "hello...welcome.....my name is Fernando." And he led us to our table while the Maître D' was elsewhere.
The restaurant looks quite formal, but the atmosphere is far from that. We were given a nice table with a view and the really nice gentleman started up a short conversation...whereupon I put two and two together. "Fernando" is Fernando Canales Etxanobe, the Chef/Owner of Michelin starred Etxanobe. He was quite amiable and talked about the culinary "gifts" of the Basque region.
We had ordered the Chef's tasting menu and soon enough the first amuse arrived...delivered by who else, the chef of course.
I really didn't do much research on Etxanobe. In fact, I made reservations at pretty much the last minute; a week before leaving on our trip. I had gotten the feeling that it would be a nice addition to the two other Michelin worthy meals on the trip having a more traditional Basque influence. So imagine my amazement when these tubes of "lipstick" arrived....Sardine Lipstick actually. Very tasty sardine mousse, just enough oil and fish flavor, and quite delicious....so delicious that I don't even remember the other amuse!
And then things really got going......
Ajo Blanco is a traditional cold almond and garlic soup....this version had the amazing flavor of truffles as well.
The flavor of the almonds came through clearly, the truffle flavor was balanced and not over-powering. The garlic flavor was restrained and that olive oil-pesto like drizzle was delicious.
We let the Sommolier pick our wine, a very pleasant and drinkable three grape blend.
Next up was what they called a "Txangurro of prawns and gel".
More of a very shrimp-y croquette than what I understand traditional Txangurro is supposed to be, if you like the true taste of shrimp/prawns/langoustine you'll like this. Even the condensed flavor of the aspic.
One of the strangest sounding items on the menu turned out to be perhaps the best - "Anchovy Lasagna with Tomato Soup".
The tomato soup was basically a very elegant salmorejo, and in spite of the Missus dislike of anchovies; these were very nice, great oil, not too fishy...nice texture. Topped with a nice slightly smokey and sweet red pepper sauce which added to the dish. And then there was that really al dente, just pillowy enough noodle in the bottom which the Missus really took to. Without a doubt, Her favorite dish.
The "Grilled Scallops with Ragout" was nice....the scallops quite sweet and perfectly prepared.
The sauces were curious as I didn't think they added to the dish. Perhaps the cauliflower was the most interesting. Still, just the scallops with nice sea salt alone tasted the best.
The Scampi with Sautéed Vegetables and Fresh Pasta was a nice dish.
The scampi was very moist; the pasta nice and tender, good overall.
By this time, we were done with our bottle; I still wanted something to pair with the last couple of dishes. The sommelier told me the dishes would be a bit more flavor forward and suggested a half bottle of the Vina Ardanza 2004, a nice wine, with a nice acidity and dried cherry notes.
Though it did not pair well with the Hake in Mussel Juice.
While the gravy-like reduced shellfish juice was full of flavor; I thought the mild sweetness of the hake still came through. As expected; the fish was cooked to tender perfection.
When the Tuna with Sumac arrived, I wasn't particularly thrilled as it looked grey and "dead"......
I think they did a sous-vide job on this as it was so moist, literally melting in your mouth....the sumac really added a bit of punch to the dish. The spinach-mustard puree was fine; but this was all about the tuna.
The last non-dessert item was the Suckling Lamb with Sweetbreads.
For me; the most interesting thing was that thin and transparent potato galette, light, with the texture of fried pork skin. The lamb was very moist and tender and the demi glace quite tasty, but it really didn't have the "flavor of the pasture" we both enjoy.
I'm not much of a dessert guy; but I really enjoyed what we had here. The Caprice of Fennel, Strawberry, and Tomato added the right amounts of sweet, savory, and acid to balance things out for me.
If the thought of anise ice cream scares you; in this case it should not as the ice cream had those licorice tones (not my favorite flavor) but nicely balanced with the milkiness and sweet. The strawberry galette and the tomato crumbles really balanced things out.
By this time, the place was packed....every table and seat filled (there's actually a funny story about the folks on the table next to us which I'll reveal in a later post).
But then, Chef reappeared from the kitchen.
Apparently, if you ordered the Chef's Tasting Menu, the finale was prepared by the Chef tableside.
Orange Cream with Liquid Nitrogen...........I was in food geek heaven.
A dollop of orange flavored heavy cream placed in liquid nitrogen.......yielding flavors that took me back to "small kid time"......
Think of it as the best creamsicle bite you ever had...........
In the end, making comparisons with the other fine dining options we had meals at was like choosing your favorite child. While we thought the pacing and service at Disfrutar was better; the food here spoke to us in a different way. And while the highs weren't quite as high as what we had at a three Michelin Star Restaurant the next night; the lows weren't as low. This place really fits that gap.....not too crazy in terms of technology and familiar flavors. Plus, we really enjoyed the intangible....the chef. We asked for a copy of our menu to remember our meal. Our Server smiled and said he would get it for us. What we ended up with was a copy of the menu with a nice note from the Chef. A nice touch. When I got home I did a search on Fernando Canales and was quite surprised. He's a quite the television/celebrity chef in Spain with his own television show and such. So think about it this way; when was the last time you had Emeril or Mario Batali walk you to your table and talk about what they're serving......did they make your dessert table-side? What's up with these really cool Michelin Star Chefs? I got one flashing the peace sign and another seating us at our table....... In terms of price, it was about 220€
Etxanobe Avenida de Abandoibarra 4 Bilbao, Spain
We had a nice relaxing stroll back to the hotel taking the path along the Nervión River.
The "Nana's" were still dancing outside the Guggenheim.
The Arcos Rojos (Red Arches) really catches your eye at night. Bilbao seems to be filled with public art. If you'd like to read the story about this, here's a link
The Maman Spider looks really creepy at night. In a really cool way.
Bilbao was quite a fascinating city. If you'd like to read about how it evolved from industrial city to now (named the Bilbao Effect); here's a nice article.
For us, it was off to bed. We had a day trip planned for the next day.