Archive for September, 2009

30th September
2009
written by spd
Eight-braid Challah (img: Sean Patrick Doyle)

Eight-braid Challah (img: Sean Patrick Doyle)

Two of the holiest days of the Jewish calender fell during our three week layoff from Fiddler. My boyfriend David is Jewish, and if you haven’t gathered by now, he is quite the baker. So we made traditional challah for his family’s break fast on Yom Kippur (read: David made the dough, I helped with the braiding). He follows this recipe from the New York Times Magazine, and omits the sesame seeds.  Challah is normally formed into rounds at this time of the year, to represent it’s cyclical nature, but we were happy enough to get the eight braids right!

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26th September
2009
written by spd
Our breakfast this morning: Fresh Corn Pancakes with Crispy Bacon and French Press Coffee.  (img: Sean Patrick Doyle)

Our breakfast this morning! Fresh Corn Pancakes with Crispy Bacon and French Press Coffee. (img: Sean Patrick Doyle)

These were really wonderful.  I can only take credit for the bacon and for finding the recipe in Gourmet; It was David who fought the husks and slaved over the griddle.  I’m a lucky man :)

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22nd September
2009
written by spd
Foie Gras Entier carving station.  (img: David Kaley)

Foie Gras Entier carving station. (img: David Kaley)

My boyfriend, David, recently returned from his cousin’s wedding in Paris.  While looking through his photos, my jaw dropped when we came to this picture of the hors d’œuvre line.  Look at that mammoth piece of whole foie! Given that most of his family is from France and Hungary, the two largest producers and consumers of foie gras, I suppose it should come as no surprise that they had a foie gras carving station at the reception.  Generous chunks sprinkled with a little fleur de sel and served on crustini… can you even?

10th September
2009
written by spd
(img: Sean Patrick Doyle)

(img: Sean Patrick Doyle)

I’m back in New York… with a kitchen to cook in, and a boyfriend to feed!  ‘Tis tomato season, so I have to take advantage.  Found some lovely heirlooms yesterday at the Farmer’s Market in Union Square, along with the greens for the pesto.  But I had to trek to Agata and Valentina for the burrata!  It’s not easy to find burrata in Manhattan, and I’d probably still be looking if it weren’t for ChowHound.  Don’t be fooled by the picture; this ball of goodness was the size of my two firsts clasped together… and we devoured it in minutes.  Then we moved on to our entree – generous filets of Halibut served with White Beans, Wilted Arugula, with White Wine Caper Sauce, and Grilled Bread (an altered version of this recipe from Epicurious.) We couldn’t roll out of our seats when we finished.  It’s very possible that I will be fat one day… and then I’ll finally get to play those coveted character roles.

(img: Sean Patrick Doyle)

(img: Sean Patrick Doyle)

10th September
2009
written by spd

Something funny’s going on in Old Town, and it’s no secret. The line out the door at Voodoo Donuts is populated with camera-carting tourists, locals sipping Stumptown coffee, and giggly girls waiting to pick up an order of “Cock-n-Balls” Donuts for a bachelorette party. Yes, you read that correctly. And, surprisingly, the donuts get even more outlandish. They were out of the Nyquil Glazed Pepto-Bismo donuts this particular afternoon, which is probably a good thing, as I’d be tempted to try them. It was early enough that the cereal-inspired donuts seemed appropriate: The Captain Crunch and the Triple Chocolate Penetration, covered in Cocoa Puffs. NOT to be missed are the Bacon Maple Bars, which might look off-putting with two slabs of bacon nestled in the frosting, but pack an entire pancake breakfast into one bite – to die for! Skip the Grape Ape, as we suspect cough syrup might be an ingredient here as well (blech).

Voodoo Donuts. 22 SW 3rd Ave.  Portland, OR 97204-2713. ph. (503) 241-4704

Colorful confections at VooDoo Donuts (img: Sean Patrick Doyle)

Colorful confections at VooDoo Donuts (img: Sean Patrick Doyle)

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10th September
2009
written by spd

YAY!

  • In the past two weeks, I’ve eaten many meals while standing. And I’m not complaining! Portland’s food cart culture has been written about in every food rag there is, but somehow, I never gathered just how many carts there are in Portland, or what a fine product they turn out. Restaurants must surely loath them, because they have a miniscule overhead and can, therefore, provide a hefty meal for a fraction of the cost. During my time there, I had some mean Carne Asada Tacos, stellar Pad Thai (and not-so-stellar Pad Thai), Crab Rangoon the size of a burrito, the list goes on. The most I ever spent in one sitting (standing?) was $7.50. I was most impressed, however, by the array of vegan and vegetarian booths. You may have gathered by now that I’m certainly not opposed to eating a little meat! But I was blown away by the vegan rice bowls at Sonny’s Bowl at Stark and 3rd. Their very own BBQ Soy Curls sit atop Green and Yellow String Beans and Brown Rice with Citrus Ginger Sauce. Also at Stark at 3rd, DC Vegetarian serves up a filling “Steak” and Cheese, made with their own seitan. My only complaint is that most carts they aren’t open on the weekend, and most close before 5pm.
  • The weekend, however, is a great chance to visit numerous Farmers Markets around town. The Saturday Market at Portland State University’s South Park (between SW Harrison and SW Montgomery) is open from 8:30am-2pm. I didn’t give myself nearly enough time to take in the stands featuring picture-perfect produce, locally caught seafood, artisan charcuterie… I just ran manically through the place looking for a pre-show meal. I have to pat myself on the shoulder for my choices: Buttermilk fried chicken and Biscuits, and an Heirloom tomato sandwich on a Sesame Bagel with Cream Cheese, Basil Pesto and Bacon. The tomatoes were so incredible, and packed such an intense punch of flavor. That’s what happens when produce is allowed to ripen on the vine, instead of being picked green and packaged for sale one week later. I didn’t want to leave!

NAY!

  • Perhaps we were spoiled by Portland’s table-less eats, but the yearly Festa-Italiana offered up a pretty lackluster meal in between shows. We scoured stands, and found mostly dried out pasta slopped out of heating trays. I went for one stand’s calamari, which was heavily breaded and served with a watery marinara. The caesar salad was overdressed and missing parmesan cheese. My castmate Trevor had a doughy calzone. Are these people Italian or wha? So… stick to the carts, I say!
  • When we first arrived in Spokane, I was delighted to hear that we were visiting during the 30th Annual Pig Out in the Park. Over forty food stands conveniently located one block from our theatre? Yesplease. Unfortunately, these stands weren’t set up by restaurants selling their signature dishes… most were glorified Fair Food. Sure, the elephant ears were fantastic, and you could pick up a deep fried twinkie if you dared to. But the Asian carts are pretty run-of-the-mill and the $4 lemonade is… get this… Countrytime. Not a lemon in sight, and boxes of Countrytime in an adjacent trash can. The soba noodles at the Island Noodle stand make the fest worth a trip. Over twenty vegetables go into the wok, and they are as fresh as can be. Served with Ginger chicken and crumbled macadamia nuts for $8? One visit wasn’t enough… they were my pre-show meal on-the-go three times that week!
The nutritious soba noodles at Island Noodle, Spokane, WA (img: Sean Patrick Doyle)

The nutritious soba noodles at Island Noodle, Spokane, WA (img: Sean Patrick Doyle)

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7th September
2009
written by spd
View of Park Kitchen from the window.  (img: New York Times)

View of Park Kitchen from the window. (img: New York Times)

Once again, the New York Times has led me to a food find! On our first night in Portland, Oregon, I decided to give a two-year old recommendation a go. In David Laskin’s April 2007 article in the NYT Travel Section, he writes of Park Kitchen: “In a former garage, the restaurant has a warren of dark and cozy rooms that faces an open kitchen, where the chef and owner, Scott Dolich, combines elements of French, Italian and Northwestern cooking in an imaginative fusion all his own… The food may sound fussy, but the results are subtly superb.”

Well, my friends, his words were well chosen! Dolich’s modus operandi has Pacific Northwest written all over it… even if his cooking techniques are French or Italian. He routinely checks with local purveyors, and conceives dishes based on what seasonal ingredients are available. Apples and stone fruit grow here in abundance, and you’ll find them in many dishes. Heavy rainfall makes Oregon an ideal environment for growing mushrooms, another ingredient that surfaces here.

There were many ingredients that raised questions at the table… What’s purslane? Hyssop? Amaranth? Nasturtiums? (Most are greens that appear in lovely salads, like the Peach and Blackberry salad, with Pecans, Purslane and Crumbled Feta.) Fear not. If your dish sounds like a Top Chef challenge, it will arrive and taste like artfully prepared comfort food!

One of the most comforting dishes we tried was the Semolina dumplings, Piperade and Lobster Mushroom Succotash. The same lobster mushrooms were used to make a sauce for our Gnocci with Grilled Corn. Unlike the pillowy gnocchi you’d find at Becco or the like, these were quite dense and pan fried after being boiled, much like Polish pierogi. With the sweet grilled corn, the dish resisted becoming unseasonally heavy and was a nice prelude to our entree, Roast Pork with Beans, Fennel, and Gooseberry salsa. The pork was quite lean and thinly sliced, so it’s even more impressive that the meat was deliciously moist. Unannounced clusters of house-made sausage added layers to the pork’s flavor, and the gooseberry salsa was like an invitation to Fall.

The best bites, however, bookended the evening. The Duck Confit Crepe with Basil, Feta was accompanied by heavenly grilled peaches, and the mind-blowing dessert that concluded our meal – The Plum and Tomato crisp with Basil Ice Cream – is a perfect example of sweet-and-savory done right! There wasn’t anything trying about the dish; Flavors that aren’t necessarily associated with dessert were not only harmonious, but bettered the dish.

Although Dolich and Co. have no shortcomings n the kitchen, the restaurant’s design leaves something to be desired. I think a rather charming meal can be had overlooking the park outside, or at one of two or three coveted tables up front, but once you pass the bar and step into the back dining room, you’re in a rather dull space. Not the most appetizing green on the walls, and the banquettes are sort of outdated. Perhaps, if they dimmed the bright pendant lighting, and put candles on the copper-top tables, they might save in renovation costs. Still, if it’s not a great setting for a candlelit date, it’s a great place for friends and eat, drink, and be merry. And save room for dessert!

Park Kitchen. 422 NW 8th Ave.  Portland, OR 97209-3529.  ph.  (503) 223-7275

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2nd September
2009
written by spd
The ever-changing chalkboard menu at Bunk Sandwiches.

The ever-changing chalkboard menu at Bunk Sandwiches. (img: Sean Patrick Doyle)

On a recent overcast afternoon in Portland, I waited for a drawbridge and walked 25 minutes through a cluster of half-abandoned warehouses to land at a nondescript awning in the middle of the Hawthorne district. Had it not been for the line of twenty people stretching out the door, I might have missed it! What was I searching for? A killer sandwich. I know… what I am I thinking?! I don’t even care for sandwiches half the time. I usually feel that the bun is muffling the taste of the inner stackings, or, worse yet, that the inner stackings wouldn’t even be worthy of a salad if they were stripped of the sauce slathered all over them.

BUT… I was curious to see what the fuss was all about. The rock stars who run Bunk Sandwiches have been plugged in nearly every Portland foodie blog, the NY Times travel section, Diners, Drive-ins and Dives on the Food Network, et al. There’s nothing overly appealing about the setting, and all of there heros are served on pedestrian, brown butcher paper. The ‘Open’ sign doesn’t even hang at a right angle. The sandwiches are allowed to speak for themselves, and, OH, what a fine job they do!

When I first arrived and inspected the ever-changing chalk board menu, I was disappointed that some of the more unorthodox options were absent. What of the Roman-style Tripe with Pecorino? The Bone Marrow and Snails on Toast? The Salt Cod with Chorizo and Black Olive? Still, there were several others to fuel my indecision. I opted for the Pulled Pork Shoulder with Apple-Cabbage Slaw, Pickles and Whole-grain Mustard on a Poppy Bun. Sweet and Sour Perfection! Served with house-made kettle chips and washed down with a lovely iced tea with mint (and yes, they thought to put out simple syrup!). One of the better sandwiches I’ve had in my life. I devoured it in under five minutes, while a friend waiting for her local Albacore Tuna Melt stared in awe. From my outdoor table, I could see a lonely Subway on the next block, and had a hearty chuckle. They really know what they are doing here… and it’s worth the walk.

Pulled Pork with Apple-Cabbage Slaw and Pickles on a Poppy Bun (img: Sean Patrick Doyle

Pulled Pork with Apple-Cabbage Slaw and Pickles on a Poppy Bun (img: Sean Patrick Doyle

Bunk Sandwiches. 621 SE Morrison St., Portland, OR 97214.  ph.  (503) 477-9515

1st September
2009
written by spd
"Founded in 1917, Portland’s International Rose Test Garden is the oldest official, continuously operated public rose test garden in the United States. In the beginning, even though World War I was raging in Europe, hybridists sent roses from around the world to Portland’s garden for testing and to keep the new hybrids safe from being destroyed by the bombing in Europe."  Here, among these lovely blooms, I spotted this little guy diggin for gold!  Since picking the roses is forbidden, I guess he found a worthy alternate!

"Founded in 1917, Portland’s International Rose Test Garden is the oldest official, continuously operated public rose test garden in the United States. In the beginning, even though World War I was raging in Europe, hybridists sent roses from around the world to Portland’s garden for testing and to keep the new hybrids safe from being destroyed by the bombing in Europe." Here, among these lovely blooms, I spotted this little guy diggin' for gold! Since picking the roses is forbidden, I guess he found a worthy alternate!

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1st September
2009
written by spd
The front lounge at Charlie Palmers at Bloomingdale's South Coast Plaza.  We agree that the artwork is a little awkward... :)

The front lounge at Charlie Palmers at Bloomingdale's South Coast Plaza. We agree that the artwork is a little awkward...

Our time in Costa Mesa was dominated by drives to Laguna Beach, splurges at South Coast Plaza, afternoon dips at The Spa (a comp membership from the Wydham made the sad internet connection a bit more bearable!), and post-show trips to Charlie Palmer at Bloomingdale’s South Coast Plaza. Bloomingdales, you ask? A Charlie Palmer restaurant in a Bloomingdales? I raised my eyebrows as well; but, rest assured that this separated setting is infectiously chic and the food deserving of the Charlie Palmer brand.

Executive Chef Amar Santana was plucked from Aureole (where he served as sous chef) by Charlie Palmer. A native of the Dominican Republic, Santana entered Careers through Culinary Arts Program competition and won a trip to London’s prestigious Le Cordon Bleu where he trained with some of the world’s most talented rising star chefs. Oh-so-fortunately for us, the father of our cast’s most recent addition (Deb Grausman, who plays Chava) operates the very program that awarded Santana his scholarship. The world gets smaller and smaller… and as a result, tastier! We made four or five trips to Charlie Palmer’s during our two week stint in Costa Mesa, during which I tasted over twenty of Santana’s creations and paid for only about a third of them. Sure, in a one-on-one match with Aureole’s Christopher Lee, Santana might go down… but that is in no way meant to imply that his food isn’t stellar. I don’t want to bite the hand that feeds me (literally) by picking apart the dishes that I didn’t enjoy, but do I want to steer your tongue to the right direction.

The happy hour menu of small plates is a grrrreeat value, with not one of the plates surpassing the ten buck mark. There are expected upscale riffs on American bar food such as the Kobe Beef Sliders with Truffle Mayo ($10). His ‘hot wings’ are coated with Siracha BBQ Sauce and the bones are frenched ($9). Skip these and stretch your comfort zone without stretching your budget (You are forgiven, however, for ordering the twice fried French Fries with Chipotle Aioli… they are quite amazing!) The Crispy Veal Sweetbreads, served with Fennel Caper Relish ($10) are perfectly cooked (when I ordered the Braised Veal Tortellini with Chinese Long Beans at lunch, the Tortellini were topped with sweetbreads that were obliterated in the fryer! Clearly a mistake, as these were fantastic.) and the Blistered Shishito Peppers with Course Salt and Yuzu ($7) are bright, tangy and occasionally pack a punch of spice. The citrus here really makes the dish.

Blue Cheese Stuffed, Bacon Wrapped Dates ($6) and Burrata Cheese with Roasted Tomatoes and Arugula Pesto ($8) are certainly no revelation, but oh-so-good. I never thought I’d type this, but you can skip the Roasted Bone Marrow with Raisin Marmalade and Grilled Bread ($10). The buttery taste of marrow is completely overshadowed by the raisin marmalade, which tastes even more of red wine and onions than raisin. The Grilled Baby Octopus with Celery Root and Verjus Vinaigrette ($9) arrived and was a little tough from the grilling, and the celery root was pureed instead of braised. Wah, wah.

Do NOT skip the Sunny Side Up Egg over Tuna Ham, Fingerling Potatoes and Salsa Tartufara. ($10) The tuna is cured like ham and thinly sliced (a preparation I haven’t seen before) and the tartufara tastes so irresistibly of truffles, you’ll lick your fork. Pair any of the above with half-priced wine and cocktails like the Blood Orange Mojito or the Sexy Seduction with Ketel One and candied jalepenos.

Santana does not employ a pastry chef, which is surprising, since the deserts are rather complicated. For the most part, I loved all of them, with the exception of the Peanut Butter tart, which is paired with a cough-syrupy Grape Sorbet. The sugar and cinnamon-dusted Churros with Smoked Chocolate are perfection ($9) – you feel as if you are sitting around a campfire!

All in all, the small plates constitute one of the finest bar menus I’ve seen. And with half-price booze, how can you loose?

Charlie Palmer at South Coast Plaza. 3333 Bristol St, Costa Mesa, CA 92626. ph. 714.352.2525

Post-show outing with the cast!  I'm in the white polo next to Executive Chef Santana.

Post-show outing with the cast! (I'm in the white polo next to Executive Chef Santana.)

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