iron chef eugene 2015: allez cuisine!


WHO WON HEAT 2?  See my post here

Iron Chef Eugene is one of my favorite events, as longtime readers of this blog know.  I’ve had the privilege of serving as judge and/or emcee multiple times in its short, sweet history.   Our best chefs get to play with dishes and engage in friendly competition with their colleagues, and the winner gets to go on to Portland for Iron Chef PDX.  It’s like our locavore version of a sport state finals.  We’ve done very well at the state level in the past, in fact, with Chefs Gabriel Gil and Jeff Strom coming home victorious (Jeff twice!).

This year, the competition has shifted management into the able hands of Prof. Lisa Benson Aherin and her team in the hospitality and culinary schools at Lane Community College.  She and her right-hand woman, Shelly Kane of Moxie Events, have created a dining extravaganza for guests and judges alike.

Another cool thing about this year’s Iron Chef Eugene is that it is done in three heats on three different days.  The first heat already happened.  Read on and you will see what’s to come.  I’ll be judging Heat 2, coming up on Tuesday, June 16, alongside Chefs Karl Zenk of Marché and Heidi Tunnell of Heidi Tunnell Catering, who won Iron Chef Eugene a few years ago but couldn’t compete in Iron Chef PDX because she was NINE MONTHS PREGNANT at the time (she totally would have smashed the competition otherwise).

For $75, guests will enjoy a multi-course meal prepared and served by LCC culinary students and paired with some of the best wines in Eugene from William Rose Wines.  The winemaker, Mark Nicholl, also of Oregon Wine Lab, and the inimitable Chef Clive of LCC will emcee the competition for your entertainment and edification.  Proceeds help support the LCC culinary program.

While you eat, this is what will be unfolding:  “Each chef will have an identical kitchen, tools and pantry. Each chef will have sixty minutes to plan, prepare and plate a delectable entrée for the judges. Each chef will have no idea what the “secret ingredients” are until they are unveiled at the beginning of the competition for all to see. The secret ingredients must be used in preparing the dish. The chefs will race the clock and each other to create a masterpiece on stage in front of the audience, commentators and judges.  Our emcees for the competition will interview the chefs and judges while the food flies with the action in front of guests. Oregon grown and raised specialties will be featured in identical pantries the chefs will have available for their use during the competition. At the end of the sixty minute competition, the chefs will present their creations to each judge.”

If you’re interested in signing up for a seat at Heat 2 (or the final), don’t hesitate.  Tickets are going fast!  Each heat is ticketed separately. Due to the nature of the event, dietary restrictions cannot be accommodated.  For tickets, please click this link.  If you have any questions, please click this link and ask the organizers on the event page.  Comments on this blog may not be seen by organizers.

~~~~ ALLEZ CUISINE! ~~~~~

The Competition

  • May 31 – 1st Heat.  Guests enjoyed a four-course meal paired with wine from Oregon Wine Lab, prepared by students from Lane’s Culinary program along side of Chef Adam and Chef Tim Hill. Chefs Mikey & Brendan from Belly and Taro & Patrick from Mame competed in an OREGON LAMB BATTLE, and Belly reigned supreme!  Mikey and Brendan will go on to the final.
  • June 16 – 2nd Heat.  Guests will enjoy a four-course meal, prepared by students from Lane’s Culinary program along side of Chef Adam and Chef Tim Hill, paired with wine from Oregon Wine Lab, while they watch Chefs Mark & Tiffany from Party Downtown vs. Ryk & Dunkin from WildCraft Cider Works.
  • July 6 – Final.  Chefs Mikey and Brendan of Belly will battle the winner of Heat 2. Guests will enjoy a four-course meal prepared by students from Lane’s Culinary program alongside a celebrity, Iron Chef Oregon winner Jeff Strom of Koho Bistro! The meals will be paired with wines from Oregon Wine Lab.

eugene restaurants open on thanksgiving 2014

IMG_6828It’s that time again!  If you forgot the turkey, or these magnificent fellows from Boondockers Farm managed to intimidate you, you might be interested in Eugene restaurants open on Thanksgiving, a range for every taste:

  • Marché (brunch)
  • Oregon Electric Station (dinner)
  • Keystone Café (breakfast/lunch)
  • King Estate (family style dinner)
  • Govinda’s (vegan buffet dinner)
  • Excelsior (buffet dinner)
  • All Shari’s locations
  • Hacienda Amigo Mio (Gateway)
  • Amici (Holiday Inn-Eugene/Springfield)
  • Kung Fu Bistro (lunch and dinner, 11-3:00 and 5-9:30)

This link has more details on the offerings at some of these restaurants.  It would be highly advised to call and reserve a table, as I’ve noticed some places are quickly filling up.

Did I miss your favorite Thanksgiving spot?  Let me know (with as many details as possible, including contact information) what else is on offer for Thanksgiving in Lane County.

new regional chinese restaurants in eugene!

IMG_9294In 221 B.C.E., warring states were unified into what became the nation of China.  In 2014 C.E., two new regional Chinese restaurants were opened in the People’s Republic of Eugene.

Joining Kung Fu Bistro, the Sichuan spot which continues to get raves for its cumin-fried fish on Willamette, and the odd Teriyaki Boy on 13th with its special Chinese menu, are two exciting new places.

IMG_9298IMG_9295Tasty Chongqing (Broadway near the Ferry Street Bridge in the building formerly occupied by Café Arirang) is a modest student eatery that is named after a relatively new province to the east of Sichuan province, which which it shares many culinary traditions.  The restaurant specializes in hot and cold snacks, hot pots, noodle dishes, and yes, FINALLY, Sichuan-style spicy steamed dumplings (above).

IMG_9305 IMG_9306221 B.C.E. has an unusual name that points to a significant date in Chinese history.  The owners hail from Shaanxi province, which lies north of Chongqing and is famous for the terra cotta army buried with Emperor Qin Shi Huang, who unified China in that fateful year. This little modern two-storied noodle shop has just opened in a new building at 13th and Patterson (which might be the hottest restaurant corner in town, with two new restaurants opened and a Sushi Island in the works).

The restaurant is currently serving a limited menu as they work the kinks out, but already popular for its thick, chewy hand-shaved wheat noodles, served in a bowl with simple toppings like egg and tomato or more rich and decadent, like the braised pork chunks with spicy chile flakes.  In my opinion, these are the best noodles in town.  Also available are rou jia mo, sometimes called a “hamburger” of fillings like cumin beef on a steamed bun, and more creative offerings like snacks of duck necks and pork bungs.  I didn’t ask.

Neither restaurant seems to have a website or Facebook page, but I did chat with the owners and they told me they’ve had success with restaurants in Washington (Tasty Chongqing) and on the East Coast (221 B.C.E.).  Both joints were already stuffed with Chinese UO students.  I’m looking forward to spending many more meals there.

Welcome to Eugene!  We’ve been waiting!

P.S. As the cuisine in Eugene gets more diverse and sophisticated, it’s worth your while to learn more about the dishes of central China and their wheat-based noodle-y cuisine to enjoy these spots.  Read up on the food of Sichuan province and Shaanxi province before checking them out.  Very helpful articles!


niblets: the more things change, the more things stay the same edition

IMG_8671Niblets is an all-too-occasional feature on the ins and outs of the Eugene food scene. Syndicate me?  You know you want to.  Or, if you don’t own a magazine or newspaper or media outlet, join Facebook and friend me there for updates about many more local events than I can post here on the blog.

Today, it’s all about Olivo Tapas.  We had an achingly delicious meal there yesterday, reminiscent of times past at Soubise and Rabbit Bistro.  Chef Alejandro Cruz was trained by Chef Gabe Gil, and it shows in his flavors, presentation, details, and sheer joy in the kitchen.  We opted for the chef’s tasting menu and watched him in the open kitchen smiling his way through the service.  Such a lovely thing to behold, a man who loves to cook and does it well.

The menu was at once unusual and comforting, “relateable,” as my students might say.  We had two oysters with a slightly spicy lemon-tabasco granita to start that were delicious but could have been even colder.  I’ve grown obsessed with icy oysters in my old age; not sure what’s up with that.  The oysters were followed by that sublime combination of watermelon and tomato, kept lively by little bits of cured salmon and pecorino and basil, then a perfectly fresh medium rare fan of albacore with a green olive sauce on squash succotash (corn, tomatoes, and a surprise of summer chanterelles).  Colors and flavors popped all over the place. Pork belly over slightly too al dente white beans was utterly enchanted by cilantro; I didn’t want the plate to end.  As my dining companion said, “I could go for a do-over on this!”

And the best of all?  The pictured dessert.  Like a molecular gastronomist’s dream of a deconstructed crisp with cream, oh my.  Pecorino custard with charred peaches and crumbled cinnamon Japanese-pan churros (which I happened to recognize because Masa gave me a taste last time I was there).  So. Good. Sigh.

The menu’s available all weekend, so hurry down and try it.  Nice, simple wine list, too (we sampled very different but equally good glasses of white bordeaux and pinot gris.  Maybe when it’s ready they’ll add this year’s William Rose rosé?

Check out my photo album for more snaps of the fabulous food and more information about the restaurant.

We also stopped by the new Oregon Electric Station for a quick cocktail before dinner. Charming host and barkeeps trying hard. I was delighted to run into bartender James West there, who will be presiding over the smaller bar with a specialty menu in the east room off the main dining hall, open officially on Monday.  I’ll be glad to see him back in action.  Food menu for the OES?  Well, it’s large and varied, with an unfortunate collection of customer favorites from the old OES (think coconut shrimp, or rather don’t).  Happy to see several varieties of ‘carpaccio’ offered, including beef, salmon, beet, and lobster.  And more types of fettucine alfredo than one can shake a stick at.  Way too much Maine lobster for a local restaurant with access to Dungeness crab, IMO, and ahi instead of albacore tuna (egads, in season!) but let’s give them a chance to learn our local.

I haven’t had the chance to patronize the new Elk Horn Brewery, run by Chef Stephen Sheehan of Delacata, because it was overrun by fans in its first few days of business.  I’ll wait for the chaos to settle, but I admire them for putting an elk burger on the menu with all their fried delicacies.

IMG_8569I *have* had the chance to eat sweet corn honey butter ice cream in this neverending-nineties weather.  The patio at Friendly Street Market is the nicest casual outdoor dining space I’ve seen in a while in this little ol’ town, and Red Wagon Creamery’s new scoopery inside the market is perfect.

And last but not least: I’ve urged you to always get the specials, especially the fish tacos, but the sangria special at Tacovore is a must-try.  It’s the best sangria I’ve had in a long time.  Thanks, bartender Amy Hand!

herring under a fur coat, or, a portrait in damnation, or, russian food is the greatest

IMG_8210Russian food is the latest and greatest trend.  OK, I don’t really care what the latest and greatest trend is.  But I am gaga over Russian food right now in this, the endless Oregon summer…

It must be, I think dreamily, like an endless Russian summer, so impossibly short and crammed with fresh berries and beets and onions and herring and sweet new potatoes and greens that one can’t believe it will ever be dark and cold and time for fur hats again…

…then I’m off to St. Petersburg and I’m Anna Karenina, pining with love.  The injustice.  The peasants in the fields drinking kvass.  And I’m Orlando on the ice, spinning, spinning…

Oh wait, that’s not summer.  Or happy.  Nvrmnd.

I’m a dacha garden, smartly lined rows, outgreening my brethren in the smiling sun.  And I’m a yellow kvass truck, chugging down the thoroughfare, children chasing me.  And I’m billows of rich, sour cream.  And I’m a squat dumpling filled with beef and veal and chives, waiting to be bitten and my juices drunk. And I’m soft loose berry preserves, waiting for tea.


IMG_7883 IMG_7864I have taken the opportunity to indulge in Portland’s trifecta of Russian eateries (as reported by my dinner companion, ex-Eugenius and current Merc food critic Andrea Damewood here): Chef Vitaly Paley’s glorious pop-up, DaNet; the Sellwood food cart Russian Horse; and the truly marvelous Kachka.  And I can’t get enough. (Above, pirogies at Russian Horse and a cocktail featuring a fur coat of olive oil and smoked trout salad at DaNet.)

A quick Russian luncheon dish, then, a 20th century working man’s classic, Seledka pod Shuboi, or more familiarly, “Herring Under a Fur Coat.”  According to legend (and the link above), salted herring symbolizes the proletariat, potatoes symbolizes the peasantry, beets symbolize Bolshevik blood and the mayonnaise symbolizes, um, French people who also did that whole Revolution thing.  Shuba is not only the acronym for “Shovinismu i Upadku – Boikot i Anafema,” or familiarly, “Death and Damnation to Chauvinism and Degradation,” but also the word for fur coat.

Death and Damnation to Chauvinism and Degradation!!!!!


Luckily, I happened to have on hand some salted herring in oil, purchased at the Good Neighbor Market in Portland after being yelled at by a little old Russian man for my idiocy in not understanding that he wanted me to help him thread his arms with his grocery sac so he could carry it like a backpack.  I’ve bought salted herring at Newman’s in Eugene, but not in oil — perhaps you’d need to oil it yourself.  (Above is the market’s sign and some beautifully burnished metallic-hued smoked mackerel).

My version of death and damnation contains yellow beets, since I didn’t have any Bolshevik blood handy, and it substitutes homemade sour cream with just a touch of Hellman’s for the mayo.  Vive la Résistance!

You might think of this as a herring-laced version of the midwestern modern classic, 24-hour salad.  It’s a pressed, molded savory cake of love.

Herring Under a Fur Coat

Using a plate as a base, mound up layers of cooked grated veg and chopped salted herring in oil:  potatoes on the bottom, then herring, then onion.  Rest.

Pour a little sour cream over.  And a little dill?  Or a grated dill pickle?  Then add carrot, beet, and the rest of the sour cream.

Grate some hardboiled egg on top and add a bit more dill.

Carefully mold into a cake shape, pressing with your hands to solidify the shape, and wrap in saran wrap then refrigerate overnight to let the layers combine.

Eat as a crowning achievement, or as a centerpiece to a workaday zakuski party.


niblets: summer days driftin’ away edition

IMG_7539Niblets is an all-too-occasional feature on the ins and outs of the Eugene food scene. Syndicate me?  You know you want to.

Get your last meals in at your faves soon: behold the imminent closure of a long-time Eugene fixture, Keystone Café, who will be shutting the doors for a long-deserved retirement; Kopi-O, on what we hope is a temporary stoppage due to the sale of the building; and the latest venture of Eugene restaurateur Sara Willis, Carmelita Spats, who has “decided to simplify and only do dinners when I can personally work every aspect of the dinner/event,” according to the Facebook page.  She plans to do catering and other events, including a project slated for fall.

Catering seems to be the way to go in this town.  The Party Downtown duo has put their lunch service on hiatus for the summer months due to an upswell of catering gigs.  They still serve brunch on Sundays, though!  Look for more changes and upgrades as the dog days saunter on.  They recently celebrated their first year anniversary, I’m happy to say.  And Belly is 6 years old!  Congratulations to two fine establishments.

Kamitori is agonizingly no longer serving sushi, as previously reported, but the new incarnation, open Tues-Sat until 3 p.m., is actually quite lovely.  And that’s saying a lot from a person who doesn’t like dining out for breakfast.  Eugene so desperately needs a full service, non-greasy-spoon-diner breakfast place, and Kamitori may just be that place.  It’s a rare treat to have an expertly trained, internationally experienced chef serving breakfast and lunch with an eye for quality, and the standards show it.

Our baked goods and pancakes are all hand-made from scratch, made from fresh eggs and fresh milk to make them very soft and milky.  NO water added.  So please stop by and try our new menu including Thick & Fluffy Pancakes and Soft & Juicy French Toast, both are served with lots of fruit toppings to your taste, French-style Omelets, Japanese style Sandwiches, and Japanese breakfast & lunch, including Tonkatsu, Curry Rice, Udon and Soba Noodles.  Also please try our very creamy milk-brewed Cafe au Lait, Tea au Lait, and Matcha au Lait.  We sell some Japanese style Bread, too, such as Shoku-pan (milk bread), Zenryu-pan (whole wheat milk bread), An-pan (sweet red bean filling), Jam-pan (homemade jam filling), and more.

And although I had my doubts at first, having tasted Masa’s zenryu-pan, a milk-based soft wheat bread very popular in Japan for breakfast, and melon-pan, which doesn’t include melons but is a soft cakelike bun with a crunchy slightly sweet topping that resembles the netting on a melon skin, and seeing photos of the thick & fluffy pancakes with a mountain of fruit and whipped cream, I was convinced that he has an idea that will draw not only locals but visitors from afar.  They also serve some Japanese lunch set standards like curry rice and shio-saba yaki (salt-grilled mackerel) and even, if they have it, sashimi teishoku.

So listen up:  this is the perfect place for brunch with a mixed crowd, as most can enjoy a great American breakfast, some can enjoy more adventurous Japanese pastries, and the freaks like me can enjoy a real Japanese breakfast set with green tea, miso soup, rice, egg, and pickles.  Yes, as in a Japanese breakfast that you can only get in a U.S. restaurant in places like San Francisco or New York, and even then only in a couple hotels in Japantown. !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Told ya it was going to put us on the map.

Even better: Olivo Tapas, the first solo venture of former Executive Chef of Ox & Fin and Sous Chef of Soubise Alejandro Cruz, will be operating soon out of Kamitori’s space at 1044 Willamette in the evenings.  Click here for updates on opening times and a menu that’s heavy on seafood and light, sophisticated fare.

IMG_7690 IMG_7573 IMG_7834Other up-and-coming dining ventures in town are all excellent food carts:  Tam’s Place Vietnamese in the former Party Cart space at 28th and Friendly, nearby Green Plow Juicery (both pictured above), across the way from a sort-of interior food cart: Red Wagon Creamery’s new ice cream scoopery at the Friendly Street Market. Two particularly good carts that service Oregon Wine Lab on various days of the week for the welcome experience of having a glass of crisp Riesling on the patio with your meal: DaNang Vietnamese Eatery and Twisted Tako, a fusion taco cart.  I’ve yet to try Whapping, a Costa Rican Afro-Carribean-focused cart that looks promising.  Check their pages for locations and times.  Also look for Taco Next, a new venture with an excellent cook, on Main Street in Springfield soon (see details above on card!).

Join Facebook and friend me there for updates about many more local events than I can post here on the blog.

kamitori sushi is dead, long live kamitori sushi!

IMG_7815 IMG_7814Had my last delicious sushi at Kamitori last night, on Chef Masa Itai’s last night before the joint closes for personal health reasons. Since it’s summer, I had to nibble on eggplant tempura, and I opted for the chef’s choice and a side of rather glorious silvery aji (horse mackerel) whose name I remember from a Japanese friend swooning about it: aji wa aji (horse mackerel is tasty)!

The chef has been battling hand problems for quite some time that make it very hard to press and turn sushi.  Without hesitation, I agree that he’s making the right decision, but it’s such a loss for Eugene it’s hard not to mourn.

The good news is that he’s decided to reopen after some rest and reconfiguration of the space as a coffee shop featuring Japanese breakfast pastries.  The planned opening is in the second week of July.  This, too, is sure to be excellent.  Masa has been trained in a number of cuisines and stations, so be sure to sample his wares.  The location next to the bus station at 11th and Willamette will prove to be advantageous for morning commuters, I think.  He’ll be open in the morning and afternoons six days a week.  Try the Kamitori website soon for more information (nothing’s up yet).

I’m deeply grateful for the quality and purist style of sushi Masa brought to town.  It was a wake-up call for many of us that Eugene can have nice things, and that there are enough people in town to appreciate excellent quality and simple and traditional Japanese food, and restaurateurs who forge forward with their principles for good clean high-quality food, even though it’s not the moneymaker of the masses.

Masa taught many new diners how much different sushi can be if we just experience the flavors of the sea and hold back on the garish rainbow rolls with fried bits and sweet sauce, but he also taught more experienced sushi lovers how to appreciate rice that didn’t have the compacted life squeezed out of it and soup that was freshly made from real ingredients.  I’ve sampled his homemade pickles and herbs and we’ve chatted many times about Japanese preservation and particular kinds of special fish that he endeavored to bring to the restaurant.  I’ll miss it very much and hope someone will come to fill the niche, even if they won’t be able to fill his shoes!

Masa did mention to me that he’s thinking of occasionally — perhaps monthly — hosting sushi nights once his hand has a chance to heal a bit.  So for those of you who are fans of mackerel, firefly squid, cod milt, and all the squirmy bits have no fear.

Good luck and thanks for everything, Chef!