niblets: here comes the sun edition

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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?

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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…

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ryan’s resurrection: a tale of lovage and a bloody mary worth your suffering

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What’s not to love about the unmistakable, vibrantly herbal blast of lovage?  It’s as if a posh designer got hold of celery and added psychedelic green flowers to the scent, and thinned out the stalks into slender hollow tubes, coiffed by fringed leaves. Growing perennially over six feet high in the garden, and in unimproved clay-dense soil in the shade yet, it’s one of the first plants up in the spring and a Willamette Valley gardener’s dream.  It can easily get out of hand once established, so you’ll have to plan well and use the leaves and stalks in many culinary preparations.  The tender shoots that emerge in the spring are particularly good, and lack the bitterness of the older leaves.

Lovage, with its aggressive parsley, celery seed, and lemon zest notes, marries well with egg, lemon, cucumber, potatoes, chicken, and beef.  Although it’s been a garden favorite for several thousands of years and considered an aphrodisiac, it was much more of a staple for the Romans who used the seeds and dried leaves, and the kitchen staff of Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne, who were directed to plant it in all his gardens.  Indeed, its dramatic stage presence and tendency to bulldoze other flavors in a recipe has frightened off the timid.

Read more about the ancient connections and do sample my own recipes for Roman stuffed eggs influenced by Apicius, or a potato salad with lovage and pine nuts.  You might also try a beef stroganoff with lovage, sunchokes and celery, a Romanian meatball and lovage soup called ciorba de perisoare, a mackerel and lovage tart from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall for your boldest companions and a petits pois/lettuce/lovage soup for the others, or even lovage in a Scottish breakfast sandwich described by vegetarian culinarian Deborah Madison in her homage to the herb.

As pictured above, one can serve hollow lovage stalks as a straw in any suitable drink, even water, topped with a jaunty leaf hat.  It makes for a refreshing afternoon delight after weeding your back 40.

Or you might just enjoy lovage in a cocktail, a spicy Bloody Mary of epic proportions from my colleague and co-host on Food for Thought on KLCC, Ryan Stotz.  It’s a perfect drink for Easter brunch, surely a hell of a lot better than nasty jelly beans and low-quality chocolate hollow eggs made tinny by foil.  You might try it with a rabbit porcetta and salad of wild arugula and little Western bittercress with roasted beet.  Or just a liquid lunch?  In any case, if you’re as much of a fan of Ryan’s as I am, you’ll immediately recognize his almost freakishly honed wine professional nose and palate at work here, like a little devious bunny rabbit.  And don’t fret too much about the ingredient list — even Ryan admits it can be flexible with what you’ve got on hand.  But do try the original when you’re feeling the need for an extravagant and special sunny March morning with your own fine self.

Happy Easter!

Ryan’s Resurrection

Makes one pint.

In a metal tumbler, aggressively muddle the following into a coarse paste. This will take fucking forever and ruin your muddling hand for the day:

  • 1 tablespoon black peppercorns (it’s worth getting Penzey’s Whole Special Extra Bold Indian Peppercorns for this)
  • 1 tablespoon Sarawak white peppercorns
  • 1 healthy dash celery seed
  • 1 teaspoon dill seed
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 Piquin chili peppers
  • 1/2 teaspoon horseradish powder (again, it’s worth getting Penzey’s for this)
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1 fresh bay leaf
  • 4 or 5 large lovage leaves
  • 2″ length lemongrass, finely minced
  • Zest of 2 key limes (or just juice the limes, reserve the juice and toss in the peels)

Add the following and stir:

  • Juice of 2 key limes
  • 2 tablespoons prepared horseradish (at least; I usually add more)
  • 1 teaspoon tomato paste
  • 10 dashes Worcestershire sauce
  • 5 dashes Red Boat fish sauce (I used and loved Three Crabs brand for years, but seriously, the difference between that and Red Boat is like the difference between Cook’s and vintage Krug)
  • 20 dashes Crystal Hot Sauce
  • 10 dashes Tabasco regular
  • 3 dashes Tabasco habanero sauce
  • 5 dashes Bittermens or Scrappy’s celery bitters
  • 2 tablespoons home-fermented pepper sauce (Culinaria Eugenius’ recipe) or Korean red pepper paste (ssamjang)
  • 1 teaspoon Pickapeppa sauce
  • 1 teaspoon Datu Puti spiced vinegar

Add ice, the following, and shake:

  • 3 oz. Tabasco Spicy Bloody Mary mix
  • 3 oz. Spicy V8 or Spicy Clamato
  • 3 oz. vodka (who cares what brand, it’s vodka)

Strain into an ice-filled pint glass. Sprinkle on some celery salt,
add a couple dashes more celery bitters, garnish the ever-loving shit
out of it, and drink.

(Recipe courtesy of Ryan Stotz.)