Monday, July 13, 2009
The “Outstanding” concept is the wildly successful roving culinary adventure that travels North America during the harvest season. The experience begins with a tour of the location – typically a local farm – then guests join farmers, producers, culinary artisans, and share the seasonally fresh meal set at a long table. While I fully expected to love the food and the experience, my high expectations were far exceeded as I discovered a new reverence for everyone and everything involved in creating this meal (and hopefully all meals). I suppose this is what the sustainable food movement is all about, but I thought I got that already. Spending time on the Ford Farm , with the Highland herd from which our main course was obtained, listening to the chef and the owner of the ranch talking about the selection of the cow for the dinner, along with the area farmers who brought the absolute most beautiful beets, carrots, potatoes, onions, greens and lettuces you could ever imagine … not to mention the amazing sense of community surrounding it all (including our fantastic tablemates) made this a downright emotional and beautiful experience I will never forget. Somehow among the 75 diners who attended, two additional Texas natives (no longer living in Texas) were serendipitously seated next to us!
My fabulous friend Jenny and I have a bond born of our two mutual loves – live music and food. So, pretty much we each have an automatic partner in crime for any crazy-sounding idea that involves driving or flying someplace others might find unreasonable for some particular music we need to hear or food we need to eat. She’s up for anything; God love her. She eagerly agreed to join me for the Portland adventure and as soon as we got to town (lunchtime on Friday) we headed straight for some good local grub at Park Kitchen. Excellent soups (hers a chilled cucumber and mine a vegetable with bacon) were a fresh wonderful start to a terrific meal on the patio overlooking one of the many city parks. My banh mi sandwich was divine, spicy, pickly, meaty on a crispy/chewy French roll with house-made potato chips while Jenny enjoyed a crisp breaded pork cutlet and thinly sliced gorgeous zucchini. We finished our apricot sorbet and house-made cookies while Willie Nelson played in the background and we figured it was a sure sign that it was all meant to be.
We encountered the most charming bakery – Two Tarts during an afternoon of exploring the 23rd street shopping area on the NW side of town. Their tagline is “artisan sweets for the soul” and my soul was certainly stirred as I devoured the most delicate and delicious bite-sized lavender macaroon, a lavender shortbread (there are numerous lavender farms in the area) and a chocolate sandwich cookie with vanilla buttercream. I knew I needed to stop myself so that I would be hungry for dinner (but then I remembered dinner wasn’t until 8:45 - yay!). Wow – these cookies are really special and I wish I had bought some to bring home (really).
A friend’s brother lives in the area and met us for a drink at the Secret Society lounge – a really cool bar on the NE side - where classic cocktails are served with aplomb. We were sold on “Mules” (hers Kentucky and mine Moscow) for a wonderful beginning to an incredible evening.
Onward to Beast – the highly regarded, weekly changing menu, 6-course- prix fixe “nose to tail/communal table” restaurant in the cool “Alberta Arts” neighborhood of Portland, using all local/seasonal ingredients (of course). The menu was as follows:
CURRIED CARROT VELOUTE
NASTURSHUM AND SUMMER HERB SALSA VERDE
SYNCLINE UNDERWOOD MOUNTAIN VINEYARD GRUNER VELTLINER-2008
FOIE-GRAS BON-BON, SAUTERNES GELEÉ
STEAK TARTARE & QUAIL EGG TOAST
PORK, PORK LIVER, SOUR CHERRY & PISTACHIO PATE
CHICKEN LIVER MOUSSE, PICKLED SHALLOT
COR CELLARS COLUMBIA VIEW SAUVIGNON BLANC-2008
BAGUETTE, FENNEL AND SWEET ONION STUFFED
CARLTON FARMS PORK LOIN
LOCAL SOUR-CHERRY DEMI GLACE
SYNCLINE CELILO VINEYARD PINOT NOIR-2007
STRAWBERRY, ARUGULA & ICE PLANT SALAD
BANYULS VINAIGRETTE & SHAVED SHEEPS CHEESE
~SELECTION OF STEVE’S CHEESE~
ANISE & FLEUR DE SEL SHORTBREAD
POACHED FRUIT, CANDIED HAZELNUTS
COR CELLARS CELILO VINEYARD ALBA-2008
CURRANT BROWN BUTTER TARTS
LEMON VERBENA ICE CREAM, CASSIS CARAMEL
TEXIER O PALE VIOGNIER-2007
Each course was a revelation, beginning with the soup which had such an amazing velvety texture (aptly named “veloute”) - yet all flavors remained distinct and perfectly balanced, the crunch of the fried shallots and just a hint of heat at the end were just the right accents. Splendid.
On to the charcuterie … lord have mercy … where to begin. The bon bon we saved for last and it was, the most magnificent incarnation of foie-gras I’ve yet encountered. What a combination of flavor and texture. The buttery crunch of the cracker brought out by the fattiness of the foie-gras along with the sauternes gelee and crunchy fleur de sel was simply ideal. Other highlights of this plate included the pork, pork liver, sour cherry and pistachio pate and the chicken liver mousse. A sorbet was served after this course – the flavor now escapes me – but it was unusual and wonderful prepare the palate for what was yet to come.
The pork loin entrée was incredibly flavorful (natural pork is so different in such a good way!). The stuffing was sweet with a spicy finish from the fennel and the sour cherry demi-glace was a divine accompaniment (especially with a bite of the actual cherry and some sauce with a bit of the stuffed pork – mmmmm)and I absolutely must mention the "romano beans" which were absolutely scrumptious - where have you been all my life, romano bean?
Next came a lovely salad which was nice after the entrée. We often do this at home and I was happy to see how forward thinking I am for this (ha!). Beautiful, fresh arugula was peppery alongside the sweet and wonderful local strawberries and the shaved sheep’s cheese lightly dressed with a pungent vinaigrette made from Banyuls wine (a French red).
The local cheese plate was fantastic, especially with the candied hazelnuts (grown nearby), local honey and figs. Really very nice.
Finally, the dessert … the brown butter tart – not at all too sweet and so well complimented by the subtle lemon verbena cream and the intense cassis caramel sauce below. This was probably my favorite course (big surprise, I know).
THEN when they came with the check, they presented some gorgeous thick-cut bacon dipped in bittersweet chocolate on one end. We might have clapped … I was dizzily thrilled at that point.
Wine pairings were lovely, service was wonderful, laid-back and sweet. It was a joy to watch these plates come together on the large counter behind our communal table where we met the most lovely guests from Australia and Manhattan. Our new Manhattan friends, Sarah and Julie were so intrigued about our farm dinner on Saturday, they checked availability on their I-Phone and signed up on the spot!
We decided that Saturday called for a big brunch and little else so that we’d be nice and starving for the farm dinner. We thoroughly enjoyed brunch at the counter of Bijou Cafe.
Chef Jason French of Ned Ludd Restaurant in Portland was the guest chef for the evening's dinner. Here was the menu for the evening:
Slaw of Sauvie Island Organics carrots, fennel, cottaged cheese, volkhorn brot
Beef bites & beets, sweet vinegar
The above was served with Cyderworks Hard Cider
Bruschetta of early summer vegetables
2007 Love and Squalor Riesling
Grilled salmon, smoked salmon hash
2006 Brooks Janus Pinot Noir
Ford Farm smoked beef shoulder and grilled midsection
Red Truck Farm creamed collards & kale
Grilled red torpedo onions
2006 Big Table Farm Syrah
Mixed island berries & their muffins
mit schlag ("with whipped cream")
Farmers/Winemakers ...Clare Carver & Brian Marcy, Big Table Farm
Chris Williams, Brooks Winery
Matt Berson, Love and Squalor
Wealth Underground Farm
Jason & Amber Karnezis, Red Truck Farm
Shari Raider, Sauvie Island Organics
Each course was thoughtfully paired with fantastic wines from Oregon and it was such fun to talk with the winemakers about their product, which has received a lot of well-deserved attention of late (beyond the Pinot Noir even).
Of everything served (and it was all beyond delicious) I was most struck by - and can’t stop thinking about - the creamed collards/kale and those delicious sweet onions grilled over the hot coals. This is one dish I’m determined to replicate. The flavor and texture of this dish was something everyone should savor at some point in their lives! And as much as the locals raved about their onions, I figure a solid 1015 onion should do justice – they were more of a compliment than an ingredient but I made sure to add a bit of the onion to every bite.
The bruschetta was the epitome of simple, beautiful food as it was meant to be eaten. Fresh roasted vegetables (including gorgeous beets) atop gorgeous grilled bread. Hell yes.
The salmon hash convinced me once and for all that I only want to eat salmon when I’m in the NW, because it’s just so damn good there. The hash was actually rich with its sublime vegetable concoction of potatoes, carrot and onion along with the smoked salmon mixed into the hash beneath the grilled salmon on top.
The beef was excellent and I respect what Chef was up against, serving 75 guests from one cow - so smoking the shoulder for 15 hours (in a huge buoy on a trailer, nonetheless) was a good plan. They even used mesquite so the Texas girls were impressed. The grilled mid-section had a completely different texture and the grass-fed beef flavor was able to shine through. Again, simple and delicious.
The local berry muffins were amazing and savory-ish – the cornmeal-type muffin made for a unique flavor. Along with the not-too-sweet whipped cream, it was a shortcake of the stars kind of thing emphasizing the tart berries and leaving us all sad that the end had come. Chef came to speak along each section of the table (to rousing applause) along with Outstanding in the Field founder Jim Deneven on their feelings about the experience. Their words were significant and profound, prompting a few tears from farm owner Kristin Ford and some of the diners including yours truly. After a few final photos with our new buds from Manhattan (and a vow to visit and dine with them in NYC soon!) we drove back to the city.
But it wasn’t over. We hit Voodoo Dougnut because … well, because we heard they had a doughnut with maple and bacon and we wanted one. There it was – a rectangular glazed donut topped with creamy maple icing and two sections of perfectly cooked bacon. Go figure. It was hot and fresh and freakin’ awesome. We also tried the Portland Crème which had incredible good cream filling and quality chocolate glaze. Yeesh. Okay, we were finally full.
Our final meal in Portland was at The Original where we enjoyed some pretty good breakfast fare (though not nearly as good as Bijou). The highlight was a house-made pop-tart - an appropriate end to our trip.
Portland rocks – what a fantastic city full of sincerely friendly people, amazing food and natural beauty. We were blown away and can’t wait to return.
Posted by Jodie Eisenhardt at Monday, July 13, 2009