Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The Country Cat Dinnerhouse

Hi everybody! Last Thursday I attended a dinner at the Country Cat with the Portland folks. I love getting together with these people. Finding this group of food-obsessed-even-for-foodies totally rocked my world, and now I have tons of willing dining partners whenever I need them. These people are like instant family, eating off my plate and offering bites of their own, dishing about new restaurants and favorite recipes. The family-oriented Country Cat was a hit with the group.

The owner/chef Adam Sappington dropped by to welcome us to the restaurant and sent out some starters for us to enjoy. The house made jerky was a spicy, sweet surprise, spicy wings crackled with flavor, and the heirloom tomatoes were fresh and summery drizzled with olive oil. After all those munchies, I decided to forgo a salad and just ordered the "Whole Hog" entree ($19). That featured a slab of pork belly, a brined pork chop and a nugget of deep fried head cheese atop a pool of grits. The head cheese was my favorite, although I admit I didn't know what I was eating. It tasted like liver or another organ or pate, all of which I really like. It was crispy and creamy and rich all at once. The grits were out of this world; I ate all of them first and took home a bit of pork belly and chop for bf. The chop was a little dry; I missed the little ring of fat that can juice it up a bit. I also prefer chops that are bone-in. Just a petty quibble, and it was quite enjoyable regardless. Someone ordered a plate of onion rings ($4) for the table and boy did I like those. Shoestring-skinny and piled on the plate, these were made for sharing. There's no way one or even two people could finish that plate.

Others tried the lamb ($22), beef roast, bacon-wrapped trout ($16), goat cheese and onion hand pie ($13), boneless fried chicken ($18) and duck leg ($18). The only bummers were the trout (needed salt) and the tarragon sauce on the fried chicken. The lamb got rave reviews, as did the whole hog for others that ordered it. I think we all appreciated the flawless service. My water glass was full the whole time and the servers were there when we needed them before we had to ask or look. Some have opined that the place is a little too upscale or expensive for the area, but I disagree. I lived 10 blocks from there last year and would have loved to have it as an option. It might not be what folks are used to as a "family restaurant" in the area, but the neighborhood can, I believe, support a quality eatery.

I had a great time overall and can't wait to return.

The Country Cat Dinnerhouse & Bar
7937 SE Stark
Portland, OR 97215

Open daily 5pm - close
Brunch Sat-Sun 9am-2pm

Tuesday, September 18, 2007


Who hasn't thought of a good title pun with Nutshell? Nutshell in a... , Nutty for Nutshell, Nutshell's Sweet Meat, Where's the Beef?, Nutshell Deshelled, etc, I could go on and on. It's a good name, not just for a vegan restaurant, but a Portland one, a Northwest one. Portland's more than a little nutty and the area is known for hazelnuts after all. More to the point, Nutshell fills a niche. A good vegan restaurant? There's Veganopolis, but I wouldn't call it good. Calendula was pretty well-liked, but they're out of business now. Tired of Old Wives' Tales and Kalga Kafe? Run, don't walk to Nutshell.

Of course, it's not all moonlight and roses. What would be the fun in that?

Spacious and slightly industrial, the place is personalized with giant renderings of the signature gorilla on one wall and some interesting art-on-vinyl kickin' it in the back along with an oversized, comfy couch. Booths line the wall opposite the very open and very small kitchen, and a good number of tables pile in front of the huge garage door opening (just above) to the street.

We picked a booth midway down with a good view of the action. Greetings from our red-haired server came quickly, with a request for drink orders. Bf and I both ordered Downtown Brown from Lost Coast Brewery. At that point we were waiting for our friend, so we sat back to explore the menu. This point was a little lost on our obviously new server (new to the food service biz, perhaps?) who came back multiple times to take our orders even though our friend had not arrived. (He was only about 8 minutes behind us.) The menu is broken into sections: Starters (2), Salads (5), Soup (2), Entrees (10), and Dessert (4). There's a list of Liasons (salad dressings) near the salad section and choices of vegetables and starches below the entrees. Many of the items are gluten-free or could easily be made gluten-free. There are no fake meats, tofu or soy anything. Hallelujah, praise Jesus! Also on the table was a slip of paper to tick off choices of bread, olive oils and salts. We picked an assortment of bread, along with a Spanish and a Chilean olive oil, a smoky volcanic salt, along with one I have no memory of, other than it was salty, which is good enough. The bread was good and I especially liked the rye. The olive oil pours were a little skimpy for $1. The smoky salt rocked - get it? Ha ha, Sean the Vegan would approve. (Chef Sean Coryell is a fan of lame puns.)

When it was time, we decided what to order. However, our server didn't tell us that the restaurant was out of many items. Six, to be exact. Both starters, the Vichyssoise, jamiacan barbeque, tandoor skewers, and the maple chocolate tart dessert. As we had been there for a good half hour, and she had been to our table like 10 times, it seems she would have mentioned that. Oops. So, it would have to be shots of creamy french lettuce & chervil soup, warm yukon gold potato pancakes, Nigerian akras, Bigfoot's raw living lasagna, and the imported spaghetti. Oh, and an order of 155-grain naan.

The soup shots came out quickly - cold, refreshing, and reminiscent of cucumber. It was what I would imagine a lettuce soup to taste, and it was delicious. I couldn't wait to try everything else.

Well, we chatted, saw some friends, talked, and waited...and waited....and waited. It says front and center on the menu "This is REAL slow food. So be patient, it might take a while." Or something like that, anyway. Boy, they weren't kidding. I was getting pissed when it was approaching 7:00 and we had been there for an hour and a half, had ordered an hour before, and still not even the naan had come out. I wasn't getting pissed; I was pissed. In fact I said to my friend and bf, "This is ridiculous, I'm never coming here again." Of course, then someone came and told us they were having problems with the tandoori oven, so sorry for the wait. They were very apologetic and sent over a special Bob Marley shot: Black Boss porter, sarsaparilla, brown sugar and peanut butter - a surprisingly yummy combination. But, only the naan is cooked in the tandoori oven, so wouldn't they send out the rest of our food and tell us the naan would come later, or maybe wouldn't be available at all? Seems like that would have been a more customer-oriented thing to do.

And then they had to make me eat my words. Never come back? Yeah, right, I want to return tomorrow, if not sooner! In one swoop, everything was laid in front of us. The naan, the bane of my visit, was spicy and grainy and dark - and delicious. I started with the potato pancakes ($11)in front of me. More like potato pillars than pancakes, each of the three supported kale and big, meaty mushrooms and there was caraway cream drizzled along the outside. Interesting flavor. The imported spaghetti ($12)was bathed in a generous porcini-cream sauce and sported fresh veggies and black & white truffle. I know it wasn't dairy cream, but there wasn't any difference in taste. The akras ($9) were chickpea fritters, quite tasty if a little heavy and filling. The lasagna ($12) was definitely the prizewinner. Stacks of heirloom tomatoes, pine nut ricotta, marinated mushrooms and sun dried tomatoes with a little salt, vinegar and olive oil. Served cold cause it's 'raw, living lasagna', meaning not cooked. Think of it like a hearty, stacked salad. Those of you readers who are counting might notice that we ordered 4 entrees for 3 people. Yes, yes we did. Take three bites, pass to the left. It worked out pretty well, except I might have snuck an extra bite or three of the lasagna.

After a while someone noticed a plate of one of the starters going to a table - Tunision brik, a phyllo-and-spinach dish that had been reported as "out". We checked, and it was available, so we ordered that, too. The menu described it as three-day spinach, which maybe accounted for the strong and slightly bitter spinach taste. It came as two big triangles, kinda like spanikopita with no cheese. The pastry's flaky butteriness perfectly offset the muscle of the spinach. Along side were two harissas of varying heat. Naturally, I liked the spicier one best.

Oh, yes, I have pictures. This is the best one, of the lasagna:

They're all really dark:

Imported Spaghetti with porcini cream and truffles.

Naan with olive oil. (So good I took the rest home. It was the only thing leftover!!)

Yeah, the pictures don't do it justice. Blame the cell phone camera, not the food.

We sampled two desserts as well. Pone ($6), a coconut-corn pudding with grilled pineapple, brown sugar sherbet and raisins, was very good if a little heavy, like a dessert oatmeal. Definitely need to share. The Argentine empanada was the favorite, a flaky, crispy crust filled with banana, coconut and quince, piping hot with a tangy lime sorbet.

Verdict: Service issues need to be addressed, but the creative, flavor-filled cuisine saves the day.

3808 N. Williams

Open for lunch and dinner.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Riley is Found!

He was stuck in the house across the street. He's hungry, but fine. Thanks for the (imagined) support.

Coming soon, a visit to Nutshell.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Help! Riley is missing!

This is not Riley, but a picture of an almost identical cat. I last saw him Wednesday, Sept. 12th. He is a neutered male, 4 years old, with a short, chocolate/cream colored coat and bright blue eyes. I'm posting flyers and talking to the neighbors. I posted a "lost cat" notice on the Dove Lewis site and the Multnomah County Animal Services site. He's never been gone from home before; he is very attached to me and our other cat Bella. Please wish me luck and I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Genie's Cafe

Woke up this morning with no water at our house, just air coming through the pipes. Turns out the people next door were having sewer work done, and they broke the water main. Good going, guys. I used this as an excuse to go out to breakfast. Milo's City Cafe is our usual haunt, but we were in the mood for something new. I tried Genie's a few months ago alone when my girlfriend stood me up. That time I went for the scrambled eggs with black truffle, potatoes, toast and a side of hollandaise. The eggs were blah, the truffle not very fragrant nor the flavor I expected, but I really liked the hollandaise.

This visit was more successful.

Bf and I ordered the same thing: a special of the day wild chanterelle mushroom frittata with bacon, spinach and topped with feta for $10.25. And of course a side of hollandaise. The frittata was very good, baked gently with lots o' mushrooms. The bacon was good and meaty, the feta plentiful. I did add just a touch of salt and a few shakes of Cholula. About 8 pieces of breakfast potatoes were artfully arranged around the frittata, giving it the appearance of a sunburst. I actually don't much like their potatoes. They are ones I wouldn't eat without something to dip them into, like ketchup or hollandaise. The hollandaise wasn't as good as last time. It had a flour-y mouthfeel to it that I didn't like and couldn't figure out where it came from. Maybe they switched to a mix? It was lemony enough, though, and I ate it all, so that tells you a lot about me. Genie's is good enough; I will return to try the benedicts and biscuits & gravy.

The coffee is Stumptown and sufficiently strong.

Genie's Cafe
1101 SE Division
Portland, OR 97202
Open 8-3. Coffee shop opens at 7. Long lines on the weekends for breakfast.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Hamachi and Scallops at Ten 01

Just a couple photos of my solo dinner last night at Ten 01's bar.

First, Sashimi of Hamachi:

Hamachi with green apple-celeriac vinaigrette. There's also some kind of tasty oil coating the fish. Soooo buttery is all I can say.

Next: Scallops

The scallops were slated to come with smoked salmon risotto, trambancino squash and whole-grain mustard aioli, but I was in the mood to change it up, so I ordered it with the quail set-up. Those are cranberry beans with melted cherry tomatoes and pieces of smoked ham hock. I was in *hog* heaven!