impromptu june dinner


All hail the food processor, who makes an impromptu summer meal something special in a flash.

I had steamed some artichokes earlier in the day, and invited friends over for razor clam pasta, which I was going to dress with razor clams, the artichoke bottoms, and breadcrumbs.  But since I was out in the garden anyway, I cleared out my garlic scapes, errant wild arugula, some ill-placed kale, and colonizing mint, which went into the food processor with olive oil, almonds, and parmesan to become a sturdy pesto sauce. I sauteed the razor clams in butter with capers and olives, then added the pesto and linguine.

The artichokes looked so tired; I thought they might want a pillow of homemade aioli, so I threw an egg yolk, salt, newly picked garlic, and mustard into the processor, then drizzled in olive and salad oil until the sauce thickened.

An arugula salad and some rosé and we were good to go.

nose-to-tail eating in eugene

IMG_3012Surely not for the faint of heart, but a great pleasure for adventurous eaters: nose-to-tail cooking.  Popularized by British Chef Fergus Henderson, the concept asks cooks to honor the animal by consuming as much of it as possible.  This usually translates into sausages and terrines and soups, many European specialties, but there are also some wonderful options in Asian and Central American restaurants, too.  Many Americans find the idea of eating “the nasty bits,” as Anthony Bourdain calls them, revolting, but I think it’s worth our consideration as meat-eaters and ethical diners.

The duck chins, above, are Exhibit A.

IMG_3018At least with the larger mammals.  Tiny squid?  Well, it’s just pleasure to eat them whole.  Above, hotaru ika sushi at Kamitori, one of the finest preparations of squid I’ve ever eaten in my life.  Hotaru means firefly, and these little guys, about an inch or two long, bioluminesce in the dark water.  And since I’ve long suspected that squid were ruined for me after the most exquisite experience eating ika sashimi on a boat in the middle of the Sea of Japan, freshly hauled from the water, I’m so grateful.  Once again Chef Masa has filled me with unspeakable joy by serving sea creatures with respect and craft.  And no eyeballs, which were kindly removed.

Also, I was honored to join some of my students for an adventure this week at Spring Garden restaurant in Springfield, where we tried some of the more unusual items on the menu, including rabbit in a clay pot with ginger, salt-and-pepper fried chicken cartilage, stir-fried elk with onions and peppers, “saliva” chicken in a spicy sauce, and a dish that will horrify the local sportsfans among us, spicy duck chins with their little tongues a-waggin’ (top photo).  Below, you can see the English translation of the menu and the other dishes we enjoyed.

Spring Garden is a challenge, but it also has great possibilities on the Chinese menu even if you’re not into nose-to-tail cooking or exotic birds and reptiles.  You might also, if you must, order from the American menu with all the standards.  If you’re curious about the duck chins, which are of course the lower part of the duck bill, they are crunchy on the tip, and you eat the tongue, then pick at the meat at the base of the bill.  The chicken cartilage was crunchy, as expected; it was chopped into chunks and deep-fried in a batter lively with salt and Sichuan peppercorn, and decorated with chiles. Saliva chicken seemed to be steamed chicken in a spicy sauce — probably my favorite of all the dishes of the night.

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Spring Garden Chinese Restaurant on Urbanspoon

new year’s eve experiments in asian fusion


The year ended for us with some food play — a joint special dinner with the new Asian fusion restaurant Mame and our local favorites, the PartyCart duo.  The green interior, unfortunately, makes the light less than appetizing in photos, but I could save a few, and I think the others adjusted pretty well in black and white.

My favorite dishes were cured yellowtail nigiri sushi; a version of chicken Kiev by way of Buffalo and Paris, with blue cheese mousse and celeriac; Thai deep-fried “son in law egg” with quince caramel and fried shallots; and the lovely, tender raw scallop with “shaved scallop bacon” and a jalapeno vinaigrette.  Retrogrouch models the scotch quail egg with chorizo and a miso honey mustard sauce, above.  The courses were paired with a range of intriguing beverages, each wholly different from the next: a pink bubbly, peach mead, beers dark and white, and one flavored with saffron.

I’ve posted a few of the more intriguing specialties here, and a full set on my Facebook page.

Top to bottom: most of menu, skewered chicken skin with “weird sauce,” fried chicken, son-in-law eggs, toro nigiri with black truffle, soba with greens, scallop.


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Hope you had as many delights and more as 2012 drew to a close!

niblet ideas for new year’s eve

As we did the rest of the holidays in this dread year 2011, we’ll be celebrating its good riddance quietly, with a few friends.  If you are in need of inspiration, however, consider the links that make up my fantasy NYE party:

  • Blini made with local buckwheat flour, with a simple topping of caviar and crème fraîche.
  • Deep-fried braised octopus exactly like the one at Izakaya Meiji, dusted with salt and Sichuan pepper.
  • Tiny kale, pecorino, and anchovy crostini (extra garlic, please).
  • Pickled salmon, using a fattier Pacific (vs. Atlantic) salmon like king, and served with the onions in a big jar.
  • Ruby red shredded raw beet and carrot salad (I’d add an apple).
  • Warm, simple lentil salad served with either ham or salmon and red sauerkraut.
  • Cracked crab done with Ryan’s method of very hot roasting after pouring a vinaigrette over the meat (I’d use champagne vinaigrette with just a tiny bit of shallots).
  • Mont-blanc chestnut squiggles with mounds of whipped cream (or perhaps more elegantly served, comme ça).
  • Supremed oranges macerated in Grand Marnier, or even better, Lapsang Souchong-smoky orange Qi liqueur.
  • Gougères or Stilton walnut crackers with glasses of port.

benefit dinner at rabbit serves up boondockers and creative growers

Lovely fundraiser dinner for WFFC last night at The Rabbit. I got a chance to catch up with my friend and fellow Master Food Preserver Amy, of WFFC and Eugene Local Foods fame, and her husband Matt.  I met a tableful of new people, too.  I’ve been feeling a bit too cloistered, so it was nice to get out and talk to people from the community.

We started out with rabbit pâté bonbons, a fat cube of pâté frosted with foie gras, goat cheese, and some kind of delicious crunchies that may very well have been cracklins.  I am not ashamed to admit I ate about six of them.  Because seriously, WFFC dinner guests, I was NOT going to let those go back to the kitchen if you weren’t gonna eat them.

The tuna was seared and placed atop a nice little salad.  It wasn’t as good as, say, the silky watermelon gazpacho I had last week (and Chef Gil is letting me post the recipe — on to do list).  But it was bright and had enough nice acid to hold its own against the fresh albacore.

The Delaware chicken and Ancona duck were from Boondockers farm.  I had the pleasure of talking to Evan and Rachel, the farmers, and was really blown away by the conservation work they’re doing with the heritage breeds.  They actually breed the ducks on their farm instead of buying ducklings, and they’ve received a grant for an incubator and stock from venerable breeders.  Go ducks!  It’s really impressive and industrious.  They have been also working on other poultry species, including the chicken our chef served in a gallantine with an absolutely beautiful verjus mayo-ish concoction made with verjus, oil, and xanthan.  I was so happy to see the bed of red sweet and sour cabbage with the gallantine, what with my Eastern European fetish and all.

The duck was surrounded by small, jeweled vegetables from the other farm featured that night, Creative Growers, who provided most if not all of the produce.  I liked the addition of the slightly glazed chanterelle — it was like watching summer turn to fall right before our very eyes.  And don’t think we didn’t notice the various gizzardy bits in the sauce.  Pretty sneaky, delish!

The lamb, from Anderson Ranch at Long’s, was also delicious, a swirl of smoked jus jealously lurking around the real star of the show: a blackened, thick, smoked eggplant paste that set off the lamb perfectly. Oh, and the wines were really terrific, too, especially the Riesling matched with the gallantine.  The Lemelson was nothing to sneeze at, either.

And dessert was my fantasy, for the most part.  The pale rose caramel and glazed walnut were the only hint of sweetness.  A walnut cake and underripe seared peach were served with a peeled, marinated (I think) cherry tomato, like a full stop.

Thanks, Rabbit, Boondockers, and Creative Growers!  It was a wonderful meal and I so appreciate your efforts to improve the Eugene dining scene.  You’re doing fantastic work.


I was among the fortunate few who were able to try Hideaway Bakery‘s very first wood oven tasting menu earlier this week.  They’re thinking about serving similar menus in the future.  I have to admit that the weekly kid-friendly pizza night is way too crowded and well, kid-friendly for me.  The one time I went I couldn’t handle it and left before ordering the pizza.

The tasting menu, however, was rather more for adult contemporary (from the food to the music) and I enjoyed it.  Hope they do it again soon, and often, and bravo to Chef Alex.

I started off with a plate of three nicely paired appetizers:

  • fig, honey, and prosciutto San Daniele, a cured ham from my favorite Italian region, Friuli-Venezia Giulia;
  • pork loin tonnato, another classic Italian dish that’s usually served with veal, but our mild pork tenderloin fits the bill nicely.  It had a slightly grainy albacore aioli, plus caperberries to provide contrast in color to the otherwise white dish (which suffers looking like cold cuts drowned in mayo, unfortunately); and
  • a bruschetta with beautiful late-summer charred tomatoes, pesto, and an unnecessary but still good swipe of chèvre.

Next, an excellent mixed mushroom ravioli swimming in butter.  For an entrée, I chose, among other options of skirt steak salad and vegetable terrine, the albacore tuna with caponata and buttered corn.  The corn was really the star of the show and there was a lot of it.  The albacore was a bit undersalted and tough, and as I was the last ticket the kitchen seemed to have lost it in the dark, so I waited some time.  But I’m willing to forgive them, as this was clearly a new experiment and there are kinks to be worked out in the service.

I like the idea of tasting menus VERY MUCH, and wish more restaurants would do them.

*~%~~~~Your wish is my command, Mistress~~~~%~*

Whoa, what was that!?  And what do I see before my very eyes?  Several local outfits offering tasting menus in the near future!

(1)  Chef Kevin Hyland of the new Cozmic Pizza (formerly of Koho Bistro) plans to wow us with his first of many Farmer Dinners on Friday, October 7 at 6 p.m.  It is by reservation only and very affordable, so give them a call at 541-338-9333 to make your reservation. Only $25 for four courses! The menu is subject to change, but here’s the plan:

  • Packets of Mountain Goodness – braised wild mushrooms, huckleberries, cream cheese in Swiss chard;
  • Caesar Salad with Aqua Nova alderwood smoked lox;
  • “Surf ‘n’ Turf” — Almost Cattail Creek Lamb Stew over salt-cod brandade mashed potatoes;
  • Sweet Pizzetta Pie —  River Bend Farm‘s Elberta peaches on flatbread with lightly sweetened ricotta and Meyers rum dark rum syrup; and
  • Local wines and homemade sodas.

(2) There’s also a very exciting event this week:  Osteria Sfizio’s molecular gastronomy dinner in two days.  Yes, that’s Monday, September 19 at 6 p.m.!

The talented Sfizio kitchen staff has comprised a menu that will explore new cooking techniques with traditional Italian flavors. Please join us for a fun and inventive tasting menu on the night of September 19th. $45 per person. Reservations can be made on our website or by calling (541) 302-3000.

Deconstructed capase [ed: caprese?]
Anchovy with bread & butter foam
Sea scallop with tomato & cured egg yolk

Olive oil filled ravioli

Beef short rib with malt puffs & beetroot

Wild blackberries with sweetcorn ice cream


(3) Boondockers Farm is planning tasting dinners in October, too.  They reported on Food for Thought on KLCC’s Facebook page and elsewhere:

We are having an October dinners at our farm, part of Boondockers Farm Heritage Dinner Series this season… two of the four dinners are under $30 too! Keep you posted!

(4) And…I already reported that Rabbit Bistro is doing a local food philanthropic event with Willamette Farm & Food Coalition, Creative Growers, Boondockers Farm, and a number of Willamette Valley wineries, on Tuesday, September 20 at 6 p.m. (n.b., one seating only) for $80 (50% of which goes to WF&FC).  It should be fabulous.  Order your tickets ASAP: online at Brown Paper Tickets.

on the eugene restaurant scene

It’s been a few days now since the Iron Chef Eugene 2011 competition, and I’ve been thinking of the restaurant scene in Eugene in general. It has really improved since I’ve been here, and for that I’m thankful, but it still has a long way to go.  It seems that the Bite of Eugene was a big hit this  year, both with the crowd and the vendors, and I’m still floaty-happy with what I saw and ate, especially the dishes in the competition.  I’m still planning to write out my thoughts on the competition, but first I have to rant about restaurants I *don’t* like.

Folks who have taken my Changes to Culinaria Eugenius poll so far have overwhelmingly indicated their desire to have me write more restaurant reviews (but I must add that “keep the CE mix it is now” is a close second, thanks!).

I don’t like writing restaurant reviews for several reasons.  I will certainly share when I find a restaurant or dish I like, but I’m not out for comprehensive coverage. First, we don’t have many good restaurants here, so my reviews would be overwhelmingly negative.  Second, to write a good restaurant review takes a great deal of time and effort.  One needs to visit the place on several occasions to do the review justice. I don’t, frankly, have the stomach (or budget) for that if the restaurant cuts corners with commercial produce and meats, and charges as if it doesn’t.  I also understand that we live in a small town, and small business owners can easily be ruined by bad press, and who wants that kind of bad karma?

Plus, many people are perfectly fine with family-owned, family-oriented restaurants — or expense account restaurants, for that matter — that cater to a quintessential “American” palate.  You can read their reviews on Yelp or Urbanspoon.

I’m not willing to apologize for elitist tastes, since you can eat like I do in many cities in very non-elitist places, but I’m very willing to acknowledge that my tastes are unusual.  We’re pushed to like certain kinds of food and many people don’t want to push back.  That’s fine for diabetes them.  And it would seem that many restaurateurs and chefs in Eugene don’t travel much and don’t explore different kinds of cooking, so we don’t even have a chance to broaden out our tastes in town.  Worse yet, the ethnic food in town is mostly sweetened up to American tastes so the places can stay in business.  Every Asian joint in town has to serve teriyaki to survive.  Ugh.  That’s a big downside to living here: the lack of diversity.

Robert Appelbaum posits that a restaurant is a unique place in society — it’s both public and private, individualized and generalized.  And the clash of expectations when something is private and individualized versus public and generalized offers perspective on why folks might react so strongly to dining in Eugene.  I’ve seen and heard of people actually becoming angry when confronted by a dish that isn’t familiar to them (and thus not the private, individualized experience THEY are seeking.  I use the term ‘confronted’ because that’s what people seem to feel is happening.  It’s as if any experience that doesn’t mimic one they have had at another restaurant (or, perhaps, at home) is an actual challenge to their way of life.

There seems to be a spectrum on which customers might be placed.  On one end, there are those who are seeking a familiar experience, and on the other, those who are looking to try new things that take one far out of one’s comfort zone. Every once in a while, someone will write to me and ask for a restaurant recommendation.  If they say, “I’m interested in a healthy lifestyle and we usually eat chicken breast and grilled veggies and salad at home,” I know they’re looking for the familiar.  Someone who says (often rudely) to a server, “I don’t even know that that is!” “Everyone likes hamburgers!” or “Where do they think up these things?” is also probably seeking the familiar.  These types of diners just want nourishment and not a challenge (to their eyes, tastebuds, or social milieu) while eating.  And that’s just fine, I suppose, as long as I don’t have to eat their food.

But I — we — do.  There is a very serious down side to exclusively eating familiarly, and you can see it in our growing problems with Big Ag.  Standardization means less variety.  You want a tomato that looks like a round, perfectly red tomato?  One that fits on your burger?  And all you eat is burgers, and therefore all you want to buy is that perfectly round red tomato?  Then the market will give you that and only that.

My blog is more for the person for whom “make it new” appeals, and I hope that Eugene’s dining scene continues to improve in providing for those customers.

For now, however, if you’re interested in change and culinary diversity, go forth, young people!  Stop settling for sugary meals.  Explore small, excellent, family-owned restaurants in Portland.  Better yet, go to Woodburn and try some of the Mexican places there.  There’s great, non-teriyakified Chinese food in Seattle.  At the very least, go up to lunch at Gathering Together Farm in Philomath, where they serve Frank Morton’s healthy farm-bred lettuce hybrids selected for flavor, not storage capacity.  You’ll never eat commercial mesclun again.

But, if you want to know what I’d say if I were willing to write more restaurant reviews, I’d come down hard on my least favorite kinds of menus:

  1. big chain restaurants: salty, low quality meats, vaguely Asian sweet sauces, steamed vegetables, overpriced frozen seafood, achingly sweet cocktails and desserts featuring ice cream and chocolate, and mesclun salads;
  2. sandwich shops: sandwiches made of subpar cold cuts and big, dusty, sweetened wheat bread (or the alternative, tortilla “wraps,” ugh), sweet mayonnaise, and mesclun salads;
  3. hippie joints: bowls of goop, including some kind of soy product and vegetables, then drowned in a too-sweet sauce, and mesclun salads;
  4. “comfort food” places: see #1, plus an obsession with bland, white foods.  For me, comfort isn’t bland, and it certainly is not macaroni ‘n’ cheese or mesclun salads; and
  5. mesclun salads.

That encompasses about 75% of Eugene dining.  Another 20 percent is BBQ places (all with sweet sauces) and fast food (burgers and pizza).  Honestly, I’d rather eat at a fast food place where I can get dill pickles on my burger and fries without ketchup than at a place that non-consensually coats me in sugar.  Even the vegetables at these places are at best, uninteresting, and at worse, befouled with sugar.

And I just hate mesclun.  It’s the new fast food — standardized, bred for longevity, not taste, and dull.  Look at your salad.  There are several greens in there.  Why do they all taste the same?

When I go to a restaurant, I look for the dishes that have the best balance in flavors.  If anything, I tilt toward vinegar.  Strong flavors are better than bland ones.  Pickles, sour sauces, garlic, tomato, chili, sesame, lemon, mustard. I’m not a huge fan of organ meats, but I’ll take something with the slight bitterness of liver, say, than a dish that presents as five kinds of sweetness.

That’s me.  What about you?

Photos from top to bottom: dessert wines at King Estates Food Justice Conference dinner; lunch at Montana food conference; Iron Chef Eugene 2011 Heidi Tunnell’s chicken-under-a-brick and Chef Mike Meyer’s almond cake with chicken liver mousse; Tunnell’s grilled radishes.