10 great pacific northwest cookbooks, plus extras


I’ve done some thinking on Oregon and greater Northwest cookbooks and other food books after receiving such interest in the cookbooks section of my annual holiday food gifts post.  I thought I’d share them for you, my dear last-minute gifters.  These are books that are not just local, but actually provide singular and excellent recipes and/or comprehensive techniques (not the case with the still-in-print for its baffling popularity, A Taste of Oregon cookbook).

If you can’t get your hands on The Oregonian from 1942 or some of our earliest and most rare cookbooks from the 19th and early 20th century — like the Web-Foot Cook Book (1885), A Portland Girl at the Chafing Dish (1890), or the Washington Women’s suffrage fundraising cookbook (1909) — and you can’t make a visit to the UO Knight Library Special Collections, might I suggest:

  • Ken Forkish’s Flour Water Salt Yeast is a comprehensive system from the esteemed Portland (and former Eugenius) baker/restaurateur.  It provides the intermediate-and-above home baker with techniques to make various starters and big, beautiful loaves.
  • The Paley Place Cookbook by Vitaly and Kimberly Paley is one of the classics of PNW regional cooking.  As I wrote in a review in 2009 for Eugene Weekly, “The gorgeous photos and high quality paper make the coffee table-sized [book] a visual treat. […] Some fabulous dishes that can be recreated by the creative home cook, like lamb shoulder on hay and lavender, are just the beginning. I found myself marking so many pages: homemade cranberry juice, ricotta cheese, summer corncob stock for light soups … wow. A section called “Hazelnuts Make Everything Taste Better” and portraits of wild salmon fishermen and mushroom foraging stamp this book as a PNW classic. Some very complex dishes, such as the elk shoulder, are interspersed with simpler preparations, like a mint and fava bean pappardelle or a side of peas and carrots with bacon.”
  • The Grand Central Baking Book, from the same review: “I had to wrestle it out of my editor’s floury fingers. She was muttering something about gingerbread, so I thought quick and baked up some delectable oatmeal chocolate chip cookies and a rosemary bread pudding before she could renew her strength and overtake me. This one’s a delight. Piper Davis, the co-owner of Portland’s celebrated Grand Central Baking Company, has partnered with pastry chef Ellen Jackson in a beautifully produced collection of breads, cakes and sweet and savory projects, all outlined with clear instructions and images on beautiful paper.”
  • James Beard’s tome, American Cookery, is not exactly a PNW cookbook, but it includes recipes distilled from years of writing a column in The Oregonian.  One might likewise check out The Oregonian Cookbook, which has a full chapter on Beard’s recipes, plus another good chapter on recipes by local chefs.
  • Beard’s good friend Helen Evans Brown’s West Coast Cook Book, is the best cookbook from the 1950s I’ve seen and perhaps the only truly regional/locavore one from ’round these parts written in that era, full of historical sources and then-contemporary recipes from up and down the left coast.  She’s witty and has a good palate, too.
  • Scio, Oregon-based Linda Ziedrich’s twin preservation cookbooks, The Joy of Jams, Jellies and Preserves and The Joy of Pickling, are undoubtedly the two books I turn to most often for preserving local produce.  Everything from rosehips to peas to prunes, with most techniques based on her Master Food Preserver training, are covered in the books.  I had the pleasure of interviewing Linda for the Register-Guard a few years ago.
  • Modernist Cuisine at Home, by a massive team led by former Microsoft CTO Nathan Myhrvold, will delight the science/molecular gastronomists in your home.  This isn’t really my style of cooking, but everyone who enjoys it seems to be thrilled by this giant handbook.  It’s a less giant and more home-oriented version of the 6-volume monster version for the professional cook, which I have perused and written about and exhibited and pondered at length, so I can predict with some authority that the little brother is likely beautiful and precise and gel-dust-sous vide-foamy.

And here are two more for your consideration, not cookbooks but still excellent for the PNW food and bev lover:

  • Lisa Morrison’s Craft Beers of the Pacific Northwest came to my attention after taking her class on beer glasses in Astoria, and I did a tiny interview with her for AAA’s Via magazine.  She’s part owner of Portland’s Belmont Station, and knows the PNW beer scene better than almost anyone.  The book provides breweries, beer lists, and pub crawls.
  • The Resilient Gardener by Carol Deppe, a seed steward, agricultural activist, and Harvard-trained scientist whose vegetable lines are grown by local Willamette Valley farmers to great acclaim.  The book sets out a plan for improving your garden’s health and heartiness by cultivating the most nutrient-enriched foods, like squash (Carol’s own breed of ‘Oregon Homestead’ sweet meat squash, which I wrote about in Eugene Magazine this fall), beans, potatoes, corn, and reaping the best from small livestock, like her heritage Ancona ducks.

And these were the cookbooks I mentioned earlier, just for completion’s sake:

  • Jeffrey Morgenthaler’s The Bar Book, one of the only cocktail books out there to offer a solid, technique-based guide for the home bartender.  Expect to understand principles and classics, not fancy trends.
  •  Boat, a Whale & a Walrus by Seattle chef Renee Erickson, whose restaurants — modern, chic, vibrant, briny — embody perhaps the epitome of contemporary PNW cuisine.
  • Not a cookbook, quite, but Heather Arndt Anderson’s new book about the food history of our fair City of Roses to the north, Portland: A Food Biography, promises to be filled with fun facts and even some descriptive recipes.  Her Tumblr page is fascinating and reflects her research acumen; be sure to click through to buy the book directly from her or the publisher. It also has a chapter on vintage Portland and Oregon cookbooks.
  • Anthony Boutard’s Beautiful Corn, the best treatment I’ve seen on the science and culinary merit of corn from a mellifluous farmer/writer in the tradition of Wendell Berry.
  • Beans, Grains, Nuts and Seeds: Further Adventures in Eating Close to Home by my fellow Eugene locavore, Elin England, whose second book concentrates on the local Renaissance of staple crops we’ve been experiencing.

Disclaimer:  Apart from the two books I reviewed for EW, I didn’t get any of these books for free, dang it.  Doing it wrong, as usual.  But the pleasure in the purchase is all mine.


farm to table in this glorious fall

IMG_4266Planted garlic for next year, trying to keep my spirits up as the rain started to fall and fall started to reign. We must remember and celebrate the ways we put seeds in the dark earth so they’ll wake with time and water and love.  Because if we forget that, there’s not much point.

I’m going for ‘Keith Red’ and ‘Silver Rose’ again because they were all I wanted.  Keith continues to delight with his big delicious cloves, and Rose is a softneck that lasts longer and still tastes great.  Maybe I’ll remember the onion sets this spring, too!

Also hopeful: great meals this week at downtown Soubise and Grit Kitchen and Wine, a brand new farm-to-table place kittycorner from Ninkasi in the Whiteaker.

IMG_4268 I’m thrilled Soubise is open on Mondays, when most other restaurants in town worth eating at are closed.  It’s a good place for a quiet dinner, hopefully shared with someone who loves food, and it’s a romantic and sophisticated setting.  Perhaps the only one in town.  The combinations, as usual, were fascinating and subtle.  It’s really unlike anything else around, and I mean that to extend far beyond Eugene.  The fall menu is completely accessible and at a lower price point than earlier menus, too.  Definitely a place you can take your parents or a visiting speaker.  Standards like chicken with savory bread pudding and salmon with delicata squash.  Or their handmade smoked pasta with a poached egg and pecorino with green onion purée, above. There are still wonderful surprises, like perfect micro bits of celery leaf and pear on the oysters, and Japanese tamago omelette that provides a perfect sweet little pillow for the strong taste of seared albacore and slight bitterness of lemon cucumber in another small plate.  And ALWAYS order the farm vegetable composed salad, which features an everchanging melange of whatever produce is in season, served with simple buttermilk dressing.


Grit is housed in a little historic cottage and they’ll need to get better signage at some point, so you might miss it, but it’s right on the corner of W. 3rd and Van Buren.  The kitchen is still experimenting and service is a little timid, but it’s fun to watch the chaotic dance as the staff gets to know the space and the flow and the clientele.  It’s all about the local and the warm and comforting: braises, soups, buttery custardy creamy details.  We opted for the prix-fixe four-course meal, with a stellar carrot and fresh turmeric salad, turnip soup with greens, duck over mash and chantrelles, and a fig tarte, above.  Corn chowder with pork jowl was good too; more pork would have been even better.  The charcuterie plate and gizzard confit app looked so good I almost regret I didn’t partake.  Oh well.  Another visit!  I expect this place will just get better and better, and I’m happy to go along on the journey.

the best in donut shop thai food

Cashew chicken at It’s Thai Food

Thai food in a donut shop seems to be the new Thing, since we’re largely ignoring the supermarket-donut-quality ridiculous sugarbombs at Voodoo and the “cronut,” which I simply don’t have the heart to Google and understand. Yelp tells me that they’re selling Thai food at donut shops in Santa Barbara, CA, Lawton, OK, and Annapolis, MD, so something cool is sneaking around urban centers and infiltrating small towns.  I love it.

And being on top of trends, I’m pleased to report that we have not one but TWO donut shop Thai places, and one of them is actually good.

I taste-tested both of them in a quick and dirty fashion, ordering a classic dish at each, Chicken Cashew stirfry (or perhaps pork, if I was scared to order chicken).

IMG_3684Master Donuts in Springfield (3177 Gateway), is in a little strip mall across the street from the big box annexes fringing the mall on Gateway.  The dish came out heavy with salt and very little flavor I could identify as Thai, including the taste of fish sauce.  There were a few tiny, broken pieces of raw cashew sprinkled on top of steamed low quality, tasteless pork swimming in soupy liquid and some tired steamed vegetables.  The rice wasn’t good, either, a cheap Chinese variety.  Although everyone was polite to me, the place was silent and heavy and almost sterile and cold. Neither the cook nor the clerk could care less about the food or their work, it seems, and the atmosphere was so toxic with unhappiness I left as soon as I could.  Avoid.  Not even worth the $6 an entree price.

IMG_3688IMG_3675It’s Thai Food was a different story. Inside Lee’s Donuts (1950 Echo Hollow Rd Ste A) in the same mall as Big Lots, it used to be a food cart in the parking lot, but they moved inside the restaurant.  It’s Thai Food is run by a couple, with the wife as cook and the husband as extroverted front of house.  A cute kid shows up now and again, playing quietly in the back. It’s an extremely modest place with no ambiance and a TV in the corner, with a constant stream of customers.

Here’s the difference between the two donut shop Thai places: It’s Thai Food is actually a real neighborhood joint, with pictures of customers and letters on the walls, a menu that aims to educate with photos, and kind service-oriented ownership.  I overheard the owner talking about the increase in overhead for donut supplies to a regular customer, and it seems times are tough.  But then I heard him saying that when neighborhood kids come in for a donut and they don’t quite have enough cash, he gives them the donut because they clearly want it.  (And just a note to the few people who are excited by that: don’t be a dick and try to take advantage.  Instead, do what the customer did, give an extra buck or two in tips to offset the cost of this kind man’s charity.)

Anyway, wow, I’m getting grumpier and grumpier writing this.  Sorry.  The food at It’s Thai Food (top picture) is really the most appetizing of all the low-budget Thai I’ve tried in the past couple of weeks.  The cook uses dark soy to help caramelize the chicken, and the dish boasts an appetizing array of peppers and mushrooms.  It was too salty, a common problem for Thai food, but it tasted quite good, better than many of the more standard Thai places in town.

There were a number of less common dishes being served that didn’t appear on the written menu, especially noodle dishes, so I’ll be back.  I really appreciated little touches like the kind of odd aluminium foil boat in which my meal was served, clearly added so the sauce wouldn’t soak into the paper plate below, and the little cone full of fried tofu which helped keep it crisp.  The peanut sauce, something I don’t love, was actually notably better than average so I took it home to use as a dip with green beans. Also served: Eugene’s heroine, aka teriyaki chicken, and a few common dishes that would draw the same crowd: yakisoba noodles and orange chicken and kung pao. Prices were a skosh higher than at Master’s but still cheap — my entree was $7.50.

On a slightly different trend-spotting note, please be aware of our two Thai food carts.

I found Drumrong Thai to be adequate when I went a few years ago, and found the atmosphere in the middle of a hot triangle in the middle of two busy streets in the Whiteaker stifling and loud, plus it took forever to get my food, so I haven’t been back.  It may be better now; it’s been a few years.  Let me know.

Cashew pork at Ubon Thai

Ubon Thai out on Highway 99 (670 Hwy 99) — a joint that many people swear by as authentic and wonderful — was ok.  It was, contrary to popular belief, not a rare outpost of different types of Thai food but the same stuff you get elsewhere in Eugene, a collection of Americanized standards using packaged shortcuts just like every other place uses.  It’s cheap, fast food, really, and there’s nothing wrong with that.  And it must be a great relief to the neighborhood, which is a depressed area way out on the way to the airport.  And to their credit, they’re honest about the prefab nature of the curries; you can see the plastic tubs of Mae Ploy curry pastes lined up above the prep space.  If you want to taste the difference that homemade curry pastes make in a final dish, go to Noodle N Thai in Springfield on Main around 5th.  There, you’ll start to learn about the wonders of authentic Thai food.

The vegetables in the stirfries are all a melange of pre-cut carrot, onion, broccoli, peppers, and snow peas, and they serve really standard dishes and the usual yakisoba.  They really need to remove the broccoli from the mix. Broccoli, a substitute for gai lan, has no place in Thai food and it’s revolting once overcooked and soggy in sauce.

Nevertheless, the cook has a pretty good palate, if my single dish (the same cashew stirfry with pork I ordered elsewhere, hold the broccoli) is a guide.  Way too much liquid pooled up on my plate and waterlogged my rice, but the dish was good enough, cooked at too low a temperature but still decent.  The fresh spring rolls had larger-than-average rice noodles in the stuffing, which was odd but not a dealbreaker, and the spicy peanut sauce was peanut sauce with spice in it.  Nothing unusual and a bit of a disappointment, given how much it was talked up. Oh well.

The atmosphere I did find oddly charming, mostly the outdoor plaza space surrounded by plants and tinkly sparkly things than the somewhat claustrophobic attached house interior, but they’re welcoming spaces.  Ubon is run by a couple, she of Thai extraction and he not, and they’re terribly nice.  I’d probably go again if I were in the neighborhood, and I’d urge them to branch out into more interesting territory in the specials, at least.  Different vegetables and not so many in one dish would be really welcome, as would be regional delights.

niblets: here comes the sun edition


Niblets is an all-too-occasional feature on the ins and outs of the Eugene food scene.

In an inestimable loss for Eugene, Marché Provisions and wine expert Ryan Stotz have parted ways.  I can’t really express politely how I feel about this, since Ryan is my friend and co-host on the radio show, and more importantly he taught me and continues to teach me about wine.  But I will say this: as a literature professor, I know a natural writer when I see one, and I look everywhere for his kind of talent.

Why is he not writing a wine column in a national magazine?  I’ll even confess that I would occasionally — just occasionally — go and sneak photos of his signs in the shop.  For me, it was less about which wines were good, but more about the exuberance with which he expressed his love of the chase, the capture of weird flavors, and elusive bargains.  And he can tease out flavors and scents that you and I have only fantasized of tasting and smelling in the barnyard of meadow flowers set with a picnic table smorgasbord crowned with orange blossoms and Twizzlers of our dreams.  I always felt he was at his best, in fact, when he was waxing about the lime zest or blood or asphalt or cascading honeysuckle in a $12 bottle than in the $89 Austrian chardonnay, which he didn’t need to sell other than to say look, you need to buy this.  At Provisions, he fought the good fight to expand our palates — pick Chiroubles instead of that insipid Oregon Pinot Noir everyone else will bring to the potluck.  Chablis instead of Pinot Gris with our crab: just try it, give it a chance. Germany and Northern Italy and Portugal and weird Central European biodynamic producers!  See for yourself:

IMG_0750IMG_0748IMG_0757    IMG_0744 IMG_0741IMG_0745I suppose I should see this event, and Ryan’s inevitable departure, as one really must view the brain drain of Eugene’s Generation Xers.  Unfortunately, for the children of the Summer of Love, Eugene is a stopover, not a destination, and I’ve watched so many of my friends leave when they can’t make a living for themselves and their families here.  Joyce would have been paralyzed had he stayed in Dublin, right?  Change is good.  But it still hurts like hell.  Pass the wine.

If 5th Street is having some rocky moments, Downtown ascends.  I worry a little bit about the above, plus the long rollercoaster of downtown history and the boom-and-bust experiences of Eugene restaurants, so let’s make sure we support the emerging food venues downtown.  Among them, I’m particularly excited about Kamitori; Noisette Pastry Kitchen; Soubise (opening May 12 for Mother’s Day brunch, follow news on the former Rabbit Bistro page); and the Party Downtown/Red Wagon Creamery joint effort, opening WHAT?! TODAY!

IMG_3173Kamitori, which continues to provide the best Japanese-style sushi in the area, will be expanding its saké selection dramatically as of this week.  I counted 73 offerings on the new menu, with great descriptions and prices to match.  Many of the sakés are ones rarely available in the U.S.  Chef Masa also told me he’s planning to hold sushi-making classes, most likely on a Sunday or Monday evening.  I’d be happy enough just to eat his uni from Maine, which is sweeter and creamier, and somehow even fresher than the standard uni available from California.

IMG_3177I managed to shoot a single photo of the interior of Soubise (above) on First Friday, after they took down some of the paper covering the windows facing Broadway (just west of Willamette).  They’ll probably be mad at me, but I’m so excited for them and couldn’t help but spread the word.  Still finishing up the details, but it looks great so far, huh?


IMG_3205Across the street from Soubise and next to the new Bijou and the already-crowded-and-weirdly-reminiscent-of-a-high-end Irish pub First National Brewery, Party Downtown and Red Wagon Creamery held an open house a few days ago.  I was off my photo game, but allow me to assure you that the interior in the ice cream parlour in the front, and the Party business in the back are gorgeous, unlike anything in town.  Visit yourself this week and see the already-famous penny floors in the Ladies and Gents.  Canners may enjoy the mason jar light fixtures at Red Wagon.  And you all better appreciate the cool old wood floors that the team refinished and installed in the hallway separating the two businesses.

The ceramic fixtures at Party Downtown were made by a local artist.  I especially like the one above the new bar, which is headed up by former Marché bartender James West.  (He made me promise not to write a review yet, so I will not tell you his white negroni is fabulous.  You will have to wait to hear that from me.)  But I also like the mid-century mis-matched dinnerware that the team dug up at a local restaurant supplier.

IMG_3210IMG_3206IMG_3193Surely, you need not listen to me go on yet again about how good I think chefs Tiffany Norton (below, with savory greens slab pie) and Mark Kosmicki’s food is, especially the savory donut with pickled spiced garlic dust filled with a pimento cheese-like spread, or the garlic chive custard spread with “wheat thins,” below.

IMG_3197IMG_3199IMG_3208But another matter altogether is the bar mix (below).  It’s dehydrated and deep-fried dent corn and beans, made salty and spicy and over the top good.  It was extremely difficult not to make off with the bowl and bury it in my yard like a squirrel.

IMG_3189Luckily, I am not a squirrel.  So I stayed for dessert, and had a mini pavlova with beet syrup and tarragon and dandelion wine-infused whipped cream.  It seems that Red Wagon will have a similar pavlova as an introductory special with the ice creams you’ve grown to love.  Aren’t they lovely?

IMG_3180In other downtown news, Davis has reopened, with the bar rather awkwardly moved to the side of the dining area to accommodate a band/DJ area where the old bar used to be.  I understand that they are trying to increase the late night club business, but I kind of wish they hadn’t dumbed down the menu.  Oh well.

Oakshire Brewing will be hosting Track Town brewmaster Christina Canto for an intimate class on malt with the women’s beer group Barley’s Angels.  Learn the process of malting, the different malt types and how it affects the overall flavor in beer. Sample 5 different Oakshire beers and enjoy food from Sammitch Food Truck. $15/person. For reservations email amanda@oakbrew.com.  Tuesday, May 21, 6:30pm until 8:00pm.

Missing your favorite local chefs Mike Meyer of the dearly departed Red Agave restaurant or Shane Tracey of Nib?  The great news is that you can have their food again: Chef Mike at Ox & Fin, and Chef Shane at Excelsior Inn, where he is the pastry chef.

Tokyo Tonkatsu, another downtown offering, needs improvement.  I found the ingredients extremely low quality, difficult to make evident in a restaurant that is basically all fried food.  And a lack of salt and lackluster service make it difficult to recommend.  Remind employees they shouldn’t be chatting loudly about their impressions of the restaurant trade while the dining room has customers in it, please.

Meanwhile, in Springfield…

Plank Town Brewing Company is off and running, and truly a reason to head out to the other downtown. The decor is inviting, showcasing wood grains in a slightly strange vast space formerly housing a rambling antiques store.  It’s probably the area’s only true “gastropub,” with a menu that is developing but trying to reach the gourmand and the burger lover at once.  This might prove too big a challenge, but it’s cool that the chef clearly takes pride in the food and I’m willing to support them as they play.

Whew, that was long!  No more of these for a while…

jesus is a biscuit

I spied with my little eye a biscuits-and-gravy food cart on my way home from physical therapy, and I’m so glad I stopped.  Why?  Because I ate the most deliciously huge egg and sausage sandwich on a cheesy biscuit that I ever did see.


The cheery red Streets cart on Sixth between Lincoln and Lawrence specializes in biscuits and gravy, but has full breakfast offerings, including waffles and fruit with freshly whipped cream, Greek yogurt and freshly made granola dishes, eggs with ham and sausage, and massive cinnamon buns bursting their spirals with a crust of crunchy cinnamon sugar — so appealing I almost bought one for dessert.

And thank goodness (sort of) I didn’t, since the breakfast sandwich ($5.00) was difficult to hold in my admittedly small hand. It was made freshly as I waited and drank a cup of coffee (no fancy espresso drinks, but the coffee was excellent, only one size available).  An overhard egg, cooked perfectly, a fat sausage patty that could have been seared on a slightly hotter fire, and that marvelous biscuit, buttered up with love.  Sigh.

I’ve always been a bit baffled by Oregon’s unofficial state dish, biscuits and sausage gravy, but I’ll admit to an anti-white mushy monochromatic foods prejudice.  This sausage gravy, I suspect, will be different.  They have two versions, spicy and regular.  The cheesy biscuits are f$*&% fantastic, moist and flavorful, shot through with cheddar.  I don’t have a menu and can’t find one online, but I believe you could choose from buttermilk or cheesy options.

And this food is cheap for what it is: high quality breakfast items, made freshly and quickly.  They serve breakfast until 2 p.m.  I only recall seeing one chair, so it’s more of a takeout place than anything else.

Photo courtesy of Street Ministry Eugene’s website.

By patronizing the cart, you’re also helping former convicts rehab and gain needed job experience.  A project of Street Ministry Eugene, the cart is based on the famous Delancey Street Foundation Restaurant in San Francisco.  It’s run by the Swan family, who have made helping the homeless and downtrodden their lives’ work through their ministry.  The food cart is staffed by ex-offenders, people who need the training and skills to rebuild their lives.  It’s really a great cause.  Read more about it here.

back to school, with new and improved dining options!

Happy first day of school, everyone!  Those of you reading who aren’t from these parts probably think I’m a little late, but we’re on the quarter system at the University of Oregon, so school starts at the end of September.

And just to make things a bit more challenging, tomorrow will rainy and construction is still going on near the university.

But rest assured that if you make it, you’ll be able to eat on campus.

Eugene was recently chosen as one of the ten best college dining towns by a group of people who have not been to very many college towns, evidently.  (Eugene over Berkeley?  Are you kidding me?!)

Anyone who has been stuck on campus on a regular basis and has been to other college towns will protest, I am sure.  True, it’s hard to do much with only a few blocks, and we haven’t even maximized that.  Indeed, we’re trying as hard as we can to make 13th a nightmare with the new which-end-is-up, parallel back-in parking arrangement.   But we do have some new dining options that improve the your post traffic jam/bike accident meal.

Choose from not one but TWO new decent pan-Asian restaurants in the block of 13th Ave. that’s next to campus.

Noodle Head offers Thai, Korean, Japanese and more, but stick with the Thai noodles and rice bowls, since the owner hails from Thailand and it’s clearly her specialty.  I had a passable pad ka prow and good but oily gyoza, and a friend had good drunken noodles. The dishes are cheap as heck and will prove a popular lunch.

Banzai Sushi Bar and Grill isn’t quite as good, but they’ve thankfully thoroughly modernized the old space that held Sakura for years and an Indian buffet for a few short months.  They’ve added a section for traditional seating (on pillows on a tatami mat).  The owners are nice, and it’s their first place, so they’re being extremely conservative and giving us what they think we like, e.g., all those deep-fried multi-fish sushi rolls that I dislike so much.  But there’s promise.  The owners are Korean and Japanese (and hail from Hawaii, so you can get your spam musubi fix at Banzai) so they serve Korean food as well as Japanese.  I opted for a perfectly acceptable tempura udon with two pieces of shrimp thicker than average and some vegetables added to the broth.  The spicy tuna roll was average.  I’d probably choose, on a return visit, the katsu dishes or Korean specialties, including two rather nice-sounding traditional entree-sized salads with spicy sauce, raw fish, and fish eggs.  I’m a fan of cheap, traditional, standard Japanese food, I’ll just say it now, so I’m glad to see a Japanese place in that locale again.

The bad news?  We lost both of the Indian places, situated inexplicably next to each other.  But given what they were like, that’s probably a good thing.

More cheap ethnic food around campus, please!  A Cal-Mex style burrito place that’s not a chain, a Vietnamese pho house, another nice place to take visitors besides Excelsior, and an Ethiopian restaurant would be nice, Santa.

There are also not one but two newish yogurt places, if you’re into that kind of thing.

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 http://www.sfizioeugene.com/ 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.

sardinian regional menu night at osteria sfizio

It all began so well / but what an end.

I am resolutely sure Eugene needs more tasting menus, and the Marché/Osteria Sfizio empire does its part in that campaign, offering regional menus once a month.  Marché presents meals from the regions of France, natch, and Sfizio regions of Italy.  I often find that they don’t stick their collective neck out far enough for me, though, and that means I choose which dinners to attend very selectively because they’re pricey for what they are, usually very simple preparations of un-daring foods.

For example, I was hoping for more bottarga (salted mullet roe) at the Sfizio regional dinner for Sardinia last night, but understand why it could not be in our little town.  One of my favorite pasta dishes is Japanese tarako (salted cod roe) spaghetti with little enoki mushrooms, and there’s a traditional Sardinian pasta dish dressed simply and similarly with salted mullet roe and olive oil, so I was hoping Sfizio would at least sneak in some bottarga into their pasta dish.  But alas.

Here is the menu, with my pictures:

Food of Sardinia
8/28/11 – $45

insalata di polpo alla marceddiese (right)
octopus salad marceddi-style
recipe from ristorante da lucio, marceddi di terralba (oristano)
melanzane in scapece (left)
marinated eggplant
recipe from ristorante letizia, nuxis (carbonia iglesias)

fregola con cocciua niedda (above top)
fregola sarda with clams
recipe from ristorante da lucio, marceddi di terralba (oristano)
culurzones di patate e menta (above bottom)
pasta filled with potaoes & mint
recipe from trattoria pisturri, magomadas (nouro)

casca alla calasettana (above)
fish and shell fish couscous calasetta-style
recipe from Trattoria da pasqalino, calastta (cagliari)
panada di vitello, maiale e verdure
veal, pork and vegetable pie
recipe from trattoria desogos, cugliere (oristano)

millefoglie di carasau
puff pastry filled with pastry cream and blackberries
recipe from ristorante letizia, nuxis (carbonia Iglesias)

Argiolas Costamolino Vermentino 2009 $8
Argiolas Cannonau Costera 2008 $9
Argiolas Korem Bovale 2006 $12
flight of all three for $15

The antipasti was quite nice, and matched very well with the pretty gold Vermentino.  Indeed, I would have been happy if I had stuck with a half-bottle of this wine instead of the flight of the three wines of the night, since the Vermentino was by far the best match for the seafood-heavy menu.  The Bovale, in particular, a big red, lost its austerity and character in the heavily salted tomato sauce with the couscous, and was left just harsh.

I enjoyed the classic caponata-like melanzane in scapece, an eggplant relish studded with sundried tomatoes, carrots, and celery, and finished with mint.  The slivers of fried eggplant skin were a beautiful and necessary touch.

Sfizio excels at cephalopods, in particular with octopus, and I’d advise anyone who goes to order at least one polpo dish.  The insalata di polpo alla marceddiese was no exception to this rule.  It was a simple cold antipasto of roasted red peppers, slivers of green olives, and fat chunks of octopus arms.

But the issue with these apps, and the menu as a whole, was its repetition.  Both in terms of visuality and taste, the menu didn’t offer much in contrast.  The antipasti, one of the two primi, and the secondo we ordered were all richly sauced in red.  Where were any green — or for that matter — fresh vegetables?  The veg in the antipasti was a great beginning, but then it was all tomatoes.

Knowing I’d be having the seafood couscous as a secondo, I was met with a dilemma: two couscous-like grain dishes in a row?  Retrogrouch wisely went for it, but since we had had Israeli couscous the night before, which is a like a combination of fregola and regular couscous, I opted for the potato and mint-stuffed ravioli, which ended up being the mistake of the night.  Dear Rocky and all the fine people of Sardinia, potatoes do NOT match well with red sauce.  Period. This isn’t really Sfizio’s fault, since they were trying for authenticity on this dish, but ugh.  And immediately preceding another tomato sauced dish?  Bah.  If I had known the ravioli would be sauced with tomato, I would have avoided it, but the menu was tightlipped and I didn’t ask.

The fregola sarda with the clams, however, was a bracing, buttery delight.  Had I had an entree-sized dish of that with some kale/golden raisins/pignoli on the side and a glass of the Vermentino, you could have called me a Sardinian for life.

Ah well.  Regardless of the repetition, I enjoyed the casca alla calasettana, especially the perfectly tender and generously portioned squid rings.

The dessert was inoffensive — triangles of crisp puff pastry laid nonchalantly atop a mound of pastry cream and a few blackberries strewn around the plate for decoration.  No Sardinian honey?  Again, ah well.  Luckily, we were able to eat quickly enough (and go early enough, thanks to an engagement afterward) to avoid the real problem of the evening, the truly horrible wedding/fashion show/dance party in the common square at Oakway that faces the restaurant.  To wit:

As my husband said to our charming (and certainly suffering) waiter, “when the Hall & Oates starts, I end.”  I don’t think Sfizio can do anything about the common space, but it’s really awful — like I won’t go there awful — to ruin such an open, airy, lovely indoor-outdoor restaurant on Wednesday evenings when the cover bands play.  Special events, we discovered last night, are worse, turning a breezy Sardinian evening on a patio into a cruise ship dance party.  Is there any way to force groups booking the square to turn the volume down?  Tell ’em a cantankerous old lady food snob sent you.

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.