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The Return of Monday Fried Chicken

Monday 12 January 2015

When last we met–really, the last post before the hiatus–our favorite Monday restaurant in Ashland (Larks) had removed their quite good fried chicken from their lunch menu. This was cause for wailing and gnashing of teeth (without even good fried chicken on which to gnash!), so we stopped going there, which probably wasn’t a hugely bad idea anyway.

Several months later they came to their senses and re-instated the fried chicken at lunch, which Herself again orders, although now as a Caesar salad with fried chicken on top–call it the Atkins version of Portlandia’s Put A Bird On It. I am going for the house salad, which involves not-so-bitter greens, hazelnuts, dried cranberries, and a slightly sweet vinaigrette. With some grilled chicken, it’s three courses in a single bowl.

But now we are spending a bunch more time in PDX. I wrote about this
several times before, but we have been staying up in the great rainy northern end of the state even more since then. Let’s say that the transition from the Bay Area to Ashland full-time was a little more of a unit step function that we had anticipated, and the ringing after the impulse was causing settling problems. PDX is a forty minute flight from Ashland, so we were singing “only forty-five minutes from Nordstrom” faster than you can say TSA Pre√.

We carry our traditions with us. Eastern Europeans brought bialy and bagels, Chinese railroad laborers brought what they thought was mom’s home cooking, barbecue has its meaty tendrils all the way back to Neanderthals.

We being people who mostly eat bagels, not boil them; eat dim sum, not push the carts; eat barbecue, not…well, we do smoke a fair amount of pork shoulder…the point remains, we bring the tradition of what we eat with us and seek out the local variant. So we had to seek out a local version of Monday Fried Chicken Lunch.

PDX has a lot of fried chicken, almost all of it boneless, some of it quite good, so the problem came down more to choosing the best from the rest than separating the fowl from the foul (yeah, I really did that). Key criteria are close to downtown to minimize travel during the Monday lunch window, inside seating to avoid being rained on while eating, and a reasonable price.

After sending many chickens to their oily, crispy demise in the search, we finally settled on one winner: Vitaly Paley’s Imperial. Like Larks, this is a restaurant in a hotel, but being a Paley product, goes way beyond the usual diner-in-a-dorm. High-end full bar, amazing exec chef, and the occasional Russian-themed pop-up dinner set this apart from many hotel restaurants.

So here’s a picture of the same fried chicken, as served at the 2014 Portland Feast event this past September. It was served by Chef Paley himself, and was a reminder that sometimes the best things are the simplest.

Imperial also does a nice sausage du jour, made in house. Charcuterie and similar meat products are a big deal in PDX, where half of restaurant menus are vegan and the other half have bacon in everything (same restaurants, same menus; facing pages). Today’s was a really nice kielbasa, just a little spicy and properly smoky; somewhat of a departure from the watery, bland kielbasa I remember from my childhood, and much, much better.

Fried chicken at Imperial keeps us on familiar ground at the start of the week.

Stay dry.

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