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Old Haunts, Tasty New Friends

Friday 16 September 2011

On our second day in Portland, we planned one new dining venue and one familiar from our last trip.

The motto of Wheaties™ is “The Breakfast of Champions”. I think the motto of Pine State Biscuits is probably “The Breakfast of Future Quadruple-Bypass Candidates”. Last year, I tried their Reggie sandwich; to recap, it’s a buttery biscuit with a slab of fried chicken, sausage gravy, and bacon. Here’s a photo of one:

It’s shown here with a pot of honey butter for a second, off-camera biscuit. Yes, another biscuit, as a sort of dessert that Herself and I split.

I went with the one-up version of the Reggie, the Reggie Deluxe, which adds a fried egg between the bacon and top half of the biscuit for an extra layer of protein. It doesn’t look that much different from the regular model:

You can see the yolk of the egg as a bulge in the cheese (oh yeah, forgot to mention the cheese. Yes, there is cheese 😀 )

For a bit of digestif after this feast, once we were ambulatory again, we wandered through a car show at the Portland Art Museum. They had two exhibits this day: “The Allure of the Automobile” in their inside galleries, which we skipped because it sounded poncy (I’ve been watching a lot of Kitchen Nightmares reruns lately); and the exhibit outside, Cars in the Park, on its penultimate day. The theme of that day was supposedly “Green Cars”, but what we saw were not particularly green: a couple of Porsches, a hash of roadsters, an entire block of Volvos (hey, it’s Portland), and this thing:

We had the same reaction as Valentine (Kevin Bacon) in Tremors on seeing the remains of Old Fred:

“What the hell is going on? I mean, what the hell is going on?”

It looks like it should be in a 1930s film adaptation of a Jules Verne story; like one of the subs from the (original!) 20,000 Leagues ride at Disney World had crawled out of the lagoon and gone for a spin.

Turns out that it’s the work of these guys. They were also presenting a number of other vehicles, all “green” only in the sense that they would make any car or metalwork fan green with envy (note the functional cabin cruiser top in the photos).

What else did we do that day? Sat around in the hotel lounge for a while while they moved us from one room to another, because the room we were in had a family with a very vocal young child, who liked to be up at 6:30AM and thought everyone else should do the same. Since we are not morning people (okay, maybe we are, we are regularly up before noon), that was not going to work. But there was a snafu in moving us–we were out, they called us to say the room was ready, then, when we got to the front desk, tried to put us back in the same room–so we did the “30 minutes more” dance in the lounge for a while. Meh. At least the next room was much quieter (or the neighbors shared the same concepts of when to sleep and when not to as us), and was on the outside instead of the atrium, so we didn’t have the boom-boom-thud of the hotel bar’s music coming at us.

We were also doing a little geocaching this trip, which I enjoy as an artifice to get me out of the hotel and wandering around a town, and Herself tolerates because it gets me out of the hotel… Anyway, we hit our first cache while wandering around looking at cars. It turns out that geocaching started in Beavercreek, Oregon, about 30 miles south of Portland; Portland has a large number of caches (geeks who are into the outdoors, of course!)

One thing that has changed since I stopped geocaching a few years ago and restarted just again this trip is the emergence of smartphones with reasonably good GPS receivers. When I started the hobby, GPSes were all special little boxes from the likes of Garmin, Magellan, and Trimble that one bought at REI and had to load with special (and expensive!) maps. Now, every iPhone (well, the 3G and later, maybe) in the world is suitable for geocaching, with built-in GPS (good enough for urban and suburban geocaching) and cell data access to Google’s (yeah, like you need a link to them!) maps. Plus the ability to run apps that let one look up new cache locations in the field…it’s just not the same as it was even a few years ago.

But the biggest difference is this: since one is supposed to “act casual” and not reveal the location–or even presence–of a cache to muggles (non-geocachers), in a pre-smartphone world, using a GPS but not being spotted took some work (“what is that box in your hand?”). Now, no one thinks twice about a guy walking along staring intently at a box in his hand, poking at it every so often. The smartphone actually enhances one’s cover when geocaching.

So we found one quick cache (Coffee Cat) right after the car show. A nice, quick find to get back into it. After the room change scramble, we went looking for another cache, but our target of opportunity was rumored to be up in a public parking lot run by an unfriendly manager, so we passed and headed out to dinner.

Before we go on one of these trips, I spend days researching the possible things to do and particularly where to eat. One place that was showing up on a lot of radars is out in a residential area in northwest Portland, the sort of place where I would look for a really good neighborhood restaurant but probably not for a top-flight restaurant.

But this restaurant is Beast. It was opened in 2007 by Naomi Pomeroy, and has an unusual prix fixe format. It’s like this:

– You show up for your seating (6PM or 8:45PM; reserve well in advance) and are one of two communal tables (24 diners per seating)

– You eat what is put in front of you–the menu is only a guide to what you will be served later. You have a choice of drinks (good wine list)

– You try to keep from swooning as you dig into each course.

Each course is prepared and plated at the open kitchen in the room; every seat is a chef’s table seat. Ms. Pomeroy, her sous chef Ms. Paredes, and a couple of waiters and bussers run the whole show from there (okay, the sinks are in the back). Every plate is plated on the big island butcher table in the middle of the room.

The food, of course, is the main show. It changes every week, so any menu you see online is just a view into how Ms. Pomeroy and her staff think about food. They are all-in to the slow-food, locally-sourced, snout-to-tail philosophies.

Our dinner started with a carrot veloute and a pickled oyster served as a large shot. We are not normally oyster people–usually I find them bitter, and Herself is just not into raw bivalves. But in this case, the shiso pickling rendered the oyster exquisitely sweet and tangy; with the carrot veloute, it was a real treat as a starter.

The next course was a charcuterie plate. Herself has gotten into minced organ meats in a big way of late; see the prior night’s dinner for a sample. I will admit that I am still on the “eew! liver” side of the equation in most cases, especially when it’s a big slab on a plate with toasts. But in this case, the course was five individual and different tastes of bits of raw and cooked meats. In this case:

  • Chicken liver mouse, on a cracker made with leaf lard
  • A bit of salami
  • Steak tartare, perched on the same toast as a poached quail egg
  • Pork rillettes
  • A foie gras truffle–a tender ball of foie gras, almost a mousse–with a tiny cube of gelled Sauternes
Plus little dabs of mustard as seasoning. You’re supposed to eat the foie gras last, as the texture and the Sauternes cube have a dessert-like sweetness. It’s good advice, as is eating the tartare and egg toast in one bite.
The main course was roast quail stuffed with bread, herbs, and–get this–rabbit hearts. Yes, there were these little lumps that really did look like this (second row). Where do you even get rabbit hearts? This is truly hard-core omnivorism, or maybe omnivoraciousness, in the sense of eating every bit of an animal. The quail was served with tomatoes, caramelized cauliflower, and a demi glaçe that had us polishing the plates with the last of our bread.
There was a salad at this point, very Continental. It turns out that salad is apparently an aid to digestion, and eating it after the main protein course seems to make more sense that up front. I have no idea, but it does work well as a palate cleanser and refresher after the main course.
Thence to a selection of cheeses. I remember a blue, and Irish cheese, and a Manchego, with almonds and quince paste and figs. Is one supposed to clean an offering of cheese, down to the last bit of almond and quince? I have no idea what the protocol is, but we cleaned this one.
The dessert was a brown butter pecan tart with ice cream and caramel, all made in-house, of course. A great finish to the meal.
Really cool touch: once the salad had been served, the chef took a big pitcher of water and went out side, several trips, to water the flowers and trees out front. That’s a small crew.
With the 8:45 seating crowding the door, it was time to go. The kitchen has been cleared down as though they were shutting down for the night, but that was just their own form of a palate cleanser in-between seating. We were bound and determined not to take a cab, but the bus routing from here back into downtown was getting somewhat sketchy this late at night. Unlike most areas, this part of Portland had no direct service (or at least PDX Bus wasn’t showing it to me) and I didn’t want to hang around a bus stop for 15 or 20 minutes waiting for a transfer. PDX Bus is generally a good app, but it could definitely use a “get me to the nearest Max station” feature. After a lot of going back and forth over which bus to take where (72 to the Airport? 72 into town? Something else?) we found ourselves on the Yellow Max line headed back into town, serendipitously arriving just in time for the 10PM show of Rise of the Planet of Apes at the Pioneer Place movie theaters.
I have to say, having seen all of the original Planet of the Apes series, and being one of twelve people living to have actually read the original novel by Pierre Boulle, I can say with some certainty that this is an okay interpretation, maybe fourth or fifth in plotting, acting, and generally filmic goodness. It’s ahead of Battle for the Planet of the Apes and Beneath the Planet of the Apes, but not as good as Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, of which this is not exactly a remake, but close enough. I’ve come to the conclusion that unconvincing CGI (which this film has in spades, especially in close-ups of the apes) is more distracting than latex over a human actor. And the plot holes are so large that it’s hard to take the premise and plot development as being at all plausible, where Conquest at least has that sheen. At least the Pioneer Place theaters are nice–big arena seats, and at that time of night, very sparsely occupied.
That was is for day two. Day three to come…
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