Monday, February 23, 2009

An Afternoon in Portland: Walking Across Town

Portland is full of food carts--trailers that are located in downtown parking lots and offer all ilks of food. Mexican, Thai, Vietnamese, Czech, Polish, Middleastern, Greek, Indian, Chinese, Japanese, why there's even a place that does "American."

Some call them Roach Coaches, but to tell the truth, it's some of the finest lunch food in Portland. I call Tabor--the Czech food--the Czech Wagon, get it? Like the Chuck wagon...And Thai Basil, well, read the review.

One nationality is missing and it's a niche that needs filling so badly I can't believe it will be long. Where are our Neighbours to the North. Or as Richard would say, "The lads up the line are missin' a big chance there, don't ya know, eh?" Recently, Beaver Tails were featured on a popular blog. But Portland has no poutine. Pas de poutine, eh? There claims to be a place that serves poutine, but it's the Belgian fry cart and they offer a vegan poutine. Please...s'il vous plait...vegan poutine?

Now, there's a food cart for sale in Portland. If ever a business chance existed in an economy gone awry, it's to sell fries, covered with gravy, salt, and cheese curds to a epidemically-overweight population (including yours truly). "I'll have the sausage poutine special please, and add a Lipator if you will...see if you can get it from Canada--it's cheaper up dare..."

Monday, February 9, 2009

A Sunday Evening in Portland: Dinner at Authentica

Dolly-girl and me usually stick pretty close to home on Sunday--it's the day that the blower goes off and I'm not answering. We get up, put the percolator on the Tappan, maybe sizzle up some Mr. Mayer in the Grillavator, flop a couple for me and wreck two for Dolly-girl. We peruse the broadsheets, I work a Rex Parker or two, and then we go out on shank's mare with no particular anywhere in mind. Of course, it's not so relaxed that we don't take Messrs. Smith&Wesson on the trip. But this Sunday was special.

We had struck up a friendship with a young betty, used to live across the street from us. She's been in Stumptown for about a year, looking for work in a time that work's hard to come by. She's been hustling tips as a Missy in a local bread mill, but been on the lookout for better times. Turns out I tipped off a tipster who passed the word that AC was OK. The tip hit paydirt for AC and she's headed up to the Emerald City, you know, the place where they burn the java and might have been known for grunge if Neil had been there. Anyway, the kid's on her way. We'll miss her, but she's only a couple hours away on the Union Pacific. Besides, she's leaving pals-o-hers behind down here. We'll see AC southbound again.

But, the short and long of it is that AC's old lady was in from The Coast--yep, that Coast where they call The Coast The Shore--and they were looking for some good company, some great food, and some cold wine. They called Saturday and they called the right exchange. A quick talk-it-over and we settled on Authentica, a Mexican joint in Gourmet Gulch over in the flat part of town. Let me tell you, this ain't no Taco Bell. Dolly-girl and me had been there once before and we left feeling south of some border other than Stumptown and the River.

The place was close to empty when we came through the door. I'd made the call for a table and we were right on time. Missy put us in the back, up against the bar that didn't look like it was going to see any bust-ups this night, but hey, if trouble didn't prowl Stumptown, neither would I, and Dolly-girl would be selling flowers in Pioneer Courthouse Square. The hashslinger and his helpers were working the range in a corner of the room, with the we're-getting-it-ready in a room behind them.

We were looking at the whadda-ya-drinkin' when AC and the Lady from The Coast walked in. If she had Stumptown written on her, someone had erased it. We did the how-do-ya-dos and hit it off over some cold skidrow for the girls and an agave cocktail--follow?--for me. We picked a couple let's-get-starteds, like the swimmers-in-sour and some Shell Oils. We looked at the whadda-ya-want while Missy gave us the run down on the hashslinger's what-I'm-feeling-like-cookings. We needed time to scratch our lids.

Missy served the start-ups up pronto. "Here's the ceviche and the scallops--don't stab yourselves getting to 'em." She knew what she left us was going to hit spots, and she could see the spots in our eyes. "It's a slow night and youse are flappin' yer maws--give me the high sign when you want me back." Can't beat a Missy like that.

We got the long-distance-information from AC and the other three of us were doing the up and down. This kid is on her way. I caught Missy's eye in what was now a room three quarters full of drink drinkers and hash hounds. "What's yours?" she started with The Coast, moved to AC, then Dolly-girl, then me. "Carnitas. Double it." Dolly-girl was in the February spirit: "Give me the clucker swimming with Walt Whitman and Uncle Ben." I settled on the porker from the bush, with cook-em-slow bullets in the alley. "Got it." We went back to the chatter.

Missy brought the eats and the chat left the chatter. The carnitas must have been a hit seeing the smiles on the sun-rise side of the table. I asked Dolly-girl if the clucker crowed and got a look, wave of hair in the face, and her chew stopped mid-way. "Ya think?-what's not to like about mo-lei?" She went back to it. I was looking at three of the prettiest chops I'd ever seen since I went to a Supremes concert in the Motor City. "Wild Boar," Missy told me, "with a nice chile sauce and beans." "Yes, ma'am..."

"Lemon tart--that's it, that's my favorite." Missy came back to clean up and straight talk the girls into some make-it-a-night. "The rest are good, but this ain't no toaster tart, follow? Give it a try." They did. She was right. She'd been right all night.

Missy dropped the damage and quick as a whistle, The Coast picked it up. "It's on me--thanks for keeping an eye on the kid." I started to negotiate, but I'd been in these kinds of talks before. It's all talk and no listen. "Thanks, you shouldn't have." Best let it lie and wait for another day.

We said our see-yas and good-lucks, and headed down the street. Dolly-girl ran her arm through the hook of my elbow, past the heater jammed in my belt, and pulled close. "Authentica," she purred, "the real thing." You got that right, Dolly-girl. We walked home, feeling south of some border other than Stumptown and the River...

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

A Beautiful Evening in Portland: Dinner at DOC

I was between meetings with some Can-You-Help-Mes when my blower went off. Dolly-girl. “It’s our anniversary,” she purred. I panicked. “Ah-a-a” “It’s been one year in our dream cottage. Let’s celebrate!” Whew, I knew it wasn't that anniversary! “Sure, I remember, Dolly-girl.” Who could forget carrying all her damned books upstairs and then downstairs and downstairs and then upstairs. “Whatever you say. Pick a place. I'm there." I left business unfinished and headed home.

Dolly-girl was on her fifth or sixth redux of the once-over on a joint over in Gourmet Gulch. Said its name was DOC. “You mean like Doc’s Diner up in Whitehorse?” She and me had had a joe and a plate of blowout patches up there once-upon-a-time when I was chasing someone-who’d-gone-south-on-a-debt north. “No, like ‘Denominazione di Origine Controllata’, it’s about wine. It’s Ehtalian.” Dolly-girl is real good with words and such—she tells me Eye-talian is supposed to have a "soft-eye". I tell her the only soft eyes I see are hers. That gets me a smile and a wave of hair over the face, know what I mean?

We perambulated over to DOC, a small store-front looking place on the northeast side of Stumptown—30th at Killingsworth. I looked in the window and thought, what the—you go in through the kitchen! We walked in and I gave it the wall-to-wall. There was something off, but what was it? It smelled like heaven might if heaven's a class joint. It looked like what it claimed to be, a trattoria, narrow room with a few sit-downs sporting linen, but a long table on the side—just wood—for walk-ins. Low light, but no place for trouble to pop up that you couldn’t pop it. The hashslinger and his helper were working the range like rodeo cowboys on the right and the dishman was to the left. No chiquitas on this crew. What seemed to be the one and only soup jockey, who goes by the name Austin, gave us a nod and a what’s up. “Dolly-girl for 7. We’re early,” Dolly-girl told him. “No problem there, come on in.”

Missy put us at a table in the back—I couldn’t have picked it better if we’d had the run of the place. We sat down. He brought us some Bull Run and asked if we had something else in mind when it came to drinks. We did. The print on the whadda-ya-drinking was too fine for me and besides, there were dozens of brown bags and I have a hard time remembering my address. But it didn’t make a nevermind. Missy squatted down by the table and asked us what we liked. He got up, brought over a couple bottles. “Try these. If they don’t work, I’ll try again” He musta been a good listener, ‘cause the wine he poured hit the spots we were aiming at, you follow?

The whadda-ya-want is small, like it’s supposed to be in a joint like this. But even with small, the choice was tough. We sent Missy away for the sheaves and the martinis-hold-the-gin opener while we scratched our lids. I could tell Dolly-girl was headed for the rice-a-roni, one of her favorites. The fish were swimming towards me—Lucky Stars on the first take and Ferdinand and Cantharellus for the follow-up. Missy comes back and sets down the pane e olive. We talk blue plates. “Yeah, the sardines are good, but I wouldn’t miss the veal with pancetta and bread crumbs.” “Sounds like our song,” I said and Dolly-girl gave it the up and down.

We said here’s-looking-at-you with our skid row and set into the bread and olives. No doubt about it, these eats were speaking to us, and in the old-world way. The olives and the oil they were in would take you back to Italy like Dean Martin on a Zenith, capiche? Missy brought the sardines and veal. These Lucky Stars had never seen a can, I’ll tell you, and instead of mustard and oil, they were lazing around on some murphies and pepos. The youngster was fried up with day-old sheaves and bacon and couldn’t be beat.

Missy came back with round two and gave us the nod on some different skid row. “Dolly-girl, yours was the risotto with artichoke and pancetta, and it’s black cod with yellowfoot mushrooms and lemon for you, pal-o-mine. Drink these." That hashslinger's got it, I'll tell you. The Ferdinand was done just right and was sea salty. The rice-a-roni left Dolly-girl's eyes spinning. She saved room and finished the meal with something sweeter than me.

Just short of three Grants paid what we owed plus our thanks-very-much for Missy and the boys. We walked into the night with me still musing about what was off. Must have been remains of the day ‘cause there’s sure nothing off at DOC, follow pal-o-mine?