Off the Top: Restaurant Entries
Joy and Will just got back from a quick trip to "the Mother Country", NYC. While there they found the cab drivers very helpful getting her and Will (including stroller) situated in the cab. She also had brunch at 212 Restaurant, which offers baby food on its brunch menu. Yes, the choice is Earth's Best or Gerber with a selection of each. It was the hit of the trip.
The trip to Portland, Oregon was wonderful. The city was not quite familiar at first and many things seemed to be about 90 degrees off. One night walking with Joy we came across a public square near the Bank of California building and it was very familiar as it was near (I believe) a building my dad worked in and I remembered the view. The problem was it all was facing the wrong direction.
Portland was rainy in that wonderful clean Oregon way. I spent nearly all of my time downtown. I had a great meal, with Joy, at Jake's Famous Crawfish on Thursday night. The bread at Jake's is an elastic sourdough with a perfect crust. I had the clam chowder, which seems to have a sweet smoked bacon and the hint of wine or sherry. Joy had cod and I had shark for our main course. Each of them was great.
Portland is a city that pays attention to the details. The street and public signage is very clear and easy to use. The city is filled with public art and ornamental iron works. Portland also has a great blend of older buildings which have kept their decorative elements and newer buildings designed with personality. The public transportation is some of the best in a U.S. city as it is easily accessible at street level. On the way out I took the street car to the airport and found it very easy and dropped me off right at the airport needing minimal walking to get inside (there was an issue with a quick door closing that could have been rather problematic, were it not for some friends).
I was very impressed with the PGE Park, a multi-purpose outdoor ballpark-stadium. I saw many Portland Maverick games (now the Beavers) in the 70s here as well as the Portland Timbers professional soccer team. The park has the true feel of a post-WWII ball park with retro signage and iron works. Much of the feel is it is an older park, but it feels new and clean at the same time. Portland is in contention to get a major league baseball team, as is Washington, DC. and from this trip and seeing the park, it has a true baseball feel to the area. The feel reminded me of Fenway Park in Boston, but much closer to the downtown. I know Portland is planning a new Portland ballpark, but PGE seems wonderful.
One of the best assets of Portland has to be Powell's Books. The book assets of the store are truely impressive. I wandered around on Thursday night for a while, but spent a couple hours and a few dollars (or so) there on Monday before leaving. I found great buys (they have used books next to the new books) on many books I had been looking for and picked up Douglas Hofstadter's Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies: Computer Models of the Fundamental Mechanisms of Thought, which has been of particular interest, but I had not been able to find a copy to see if it was what I had hoped it would entail. My book purchases caused me to have an overage charge for my bag I checked on the airline, but it could have been the Tully's Coffee.
I have many photos of Portland to download and post over the next few days.
The Washington Post provides an insight into the life of a line cook. This is a good peek at what goes on behind the scenes at a restaurant.
We has a wonderful weekend at a L'Academie de Cuisine French Cooking weekend held at the Mercersburg Inn in Mercersburg, Pennsylvania. The Inn was fantastic, with wonderful accommodations, great common rooms, caring innkeepers that are friendly and very helpful, and very good food.
The cooking portion of the weekend was great. It was a present from Joy and it turned out to be a wonderful gift. The weekend revolved around the founder of L'Academie, Francois Dionot guiding the 14 students through making a four course French meal each day. The 14 split into four teams that prep and cook their portion of the meal. The meals are prepared in the kitchen of the Inn, which is just large enough for the 14, the instructor and his wonderfully helpful wife, and one person helping clean-up. Saturday's meal was a Cream of Cauliflower and Roquefort Soup with a Roquefort Flan, Quennelle of Salmon with Saffron Butter Sauce (our dish we helped create), Beef Goulash with Mashed Potatoes, and a Caramelized Pear Cake with Calvados Creme Anglaise. Today's menu was a Bourride of Fish with Aioli, Quail Salad with Polenta and Porcini Dressing (our dish), Chicken Blanquette with Root Vegetables (including salsify), Phyllo Tart of Chocolate and Raspberry with Chocolate Sauce.
We had a lot of fun and learned a lot. Francios is a perfectionist as one would expect and hope for as it pushed us to expand beyond what we knew. We also learned about adding more salt, not table salt, but wonderful sea salt (Sel de Mer) and kosher salt (containing all the minerals that should be in salt). Everything that was made was wonderful and a glass of wine was raised to the team that helped create that course. We also met wonderful people also taking the course, which was an added blessing. We plan to make courses at L'Academie a regular part of our lives and hope the rest of them are as fulfilling as this weekend.
This has been a hectic and food filled holiday season. The highlights so far (still a week to go) include a trip across country to spend an early Christmas with my parents and Grandmother and one of Joy's sisters. Left Thursday after work and returned across country Sunday (yes we are still living in the US and not England or the Netherlands, which would make a cross country trip a little more sane).Tuesday after work (out at 1pm) it was a train up to NYC. Arrived in Manhattan's Penn station to 8 taxis and just three fares (asking myself if this was still New York). Arrive at Joy's sister and husbands apartment, change clothes and head to Bay Head Brooklyn for Christmas eve dinner. Dinner was great at the Joy's brother-in-law's sister's house, which included 6 or seven courses of stuffed mushrooms, seven layer eggplant parmesean (to die for), mussels in a dill cream sauce, jumbo shrimp in a tarragon vodka tomato cream sauce, marinated calimari and octopus salad, swordfish with a jerk rub and mango chutney, salmon en crote with a cream horseradish sauce with green salad, and Italian pastry assortment for dessert. We left in a new snow falling back for Manhattan after midnight.
We had a "toilet incident" that put us out on the streets of Manhattan at 1:30am Christmas morning looking for a plunger (the building could not locate the one they have for a 23 story building. We tried bodegas, one Duane Reed (wagged their finger at us for wanting a plunger and pointed us to the Liquid Plummer, which we purchased). We got back to the apartment to read, "Not for toilets" on the bottle. So we tried the building across the street, which had one for us to borrow and the maintenance guy would not take our $15 holiday gift offer (If we move to NYC we are going to look at the Mondrian just because of this graciousness, bless them). At 2:45am I was able to go to the bathroom, which I had been holding since Brooklyn as I thought I could hold it and I was being a gentleman and trying to be a gracious husband (this all may be reconsidered at a later date).
Christmas morning we woke at 9am or so and had coffee and eggs then opened gifts with in-laws. This was quite relaxing. We changed and went to go to church a couple blocks away. We prepared for the rain, but not completely for the torrential downpour, which had us soaked from the mid-thigh down upon arriving at the church. The services was nice and the modern architecture wonderful to look at as it cast great shadows and provided enjoyable plays with the light. After church we went back and changed to dry clothes and I helped a little with the rack of lamb (good to keep in mind it is 450 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 minutes not 325 as well as stronger encouragement to keep the oven door shut -- broad cookbook like Joy of Cooking is a needed gift for that house or even for me to travel with. We finally ate wonderful lamb and mashed potatoes (appearantly they had their own adventure the previous day).
We were catching the 6 o'clock train back to DC, which was now going to be in a serious snow storm. We left the building and the wonderful hospitality to hop into a cab (yes the subway is down one long block and down a short block, but there was one or two inches of snow and we had wheelie bags). The taxi did fine until the mid-forties going down 2nd Avenue where stopping and starting turned challenging. We finally made it to Madison Square Garden and Penn Station. The train ride was quiet, but we did have to stop to knock ice off the bottom of the train.
Once home we have had a brother-in-law staying with us as their house is still undergoing serious remodelling (he moved back home last night). On Friday we had a wonderful dinner with friends at Local 16 on U Street, NW in DC. The food was quite good (the white bean soup was a little too salty, but the jerk chicken pasta and mahi mahi were great. This weekend has been a weekend filled of more errands than one could dream of (although Sutton Gourmet in Bethesda had a wine, champagne, and port tasting in their store on Saturday covering 35 to 45 offerings and I found a couple to buy and a few to add to my wish list that will make great pairings). I did get to use my new KitchenAid stand mixer to make a thin pear pound cake (out of Patricia Wells Bistro cookbook), which turned out wonderfully with a dollop of whipped cream scented with pear brandy on top. This followed a potato leek soup, which I have been craving and not made for a few years now.
Soon we are back off heading south to meet up with more parents and three kids and a brand new puppy. I may have hide for the month of January to recover.