Friday, October 8, 2010

Brunch @ Bar Carlo on Foster

"Specials" Board
Not too long ago Rob and I were trying to decide where to go for brunch, and I realized I hadn't written about Bar Carlo yet.  I discovered it late last year when trying to find a nice brunch place to go for a big family gathering (including my parents, siblings, their families, mine, you get the picture).  I walked in to check the joint out and peep their menu.  I quickly came to the conclusion that it was a bit too small for such a large party, but was intrigued by the place's menu, vibe, and the fact that they have both a piano and a movie theater/screening area.

Since then, I've frequented Bar Carlo for brunch on several occasions, and have never been disappointed.  First off, they have a lovely bar and I have been known to enjoy either a bloody mary or a mimosa with a lazy weekend brunch.  What I really appreciate about this place are the daily specials.  Delicious savory/sweet crepes, for example, are nowhere on the menu, but can often be found on the "specials" board.  So the other day, we headed over there and I made Rob promise to remind me to take pictures of the food before digging in.

First I ordered a mimosa.  Though it doesn't look as elegant as one that's served in a flute, Bar Carlo's OJ mimosa is not for the faint-hearted.  It is not only generous portion-wise, but also extremely champagney if you know what I mean.

We decided to order the Breakfast Carnitas plate and the (special) Savory Crepes.  Let me start with the Carnitas plate.  Piled on the plate were 2 eggs, Bar Carlo's take on Mexican rice, black beans, carnitas with salsa verde, fresh pico de gallo and warm corn tortillas.  The highlights of the dish were the carnitas and the black beans.  The carnitas were saucy and flavorful, and the beans had both an intriguing taste and texture (like a cross between whole and refried).  The beans truly knocked my socks off, and the pico de gallo provided the perfect cool and fresh balance to the entire meal.  (It may not sound like it, but I only ate half).

Now, in my opinion, the crepes at Bar Carlo are always perfect in texture, and perfectly artistic in content.  The ones we ordered this time had well-cooked proscuitto, roasted red onion, spinach and Swiss cheese.  They were covered in a swiss cheese cream sauce that exuded a hint of white wine.  The combination resulted in a salty, creamy, fresh and fulfilling experience.  I would order these every day.  And at $10.50 a pop, I could.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Tamales & Fish Tacos at Por Que No?

About a week and a half ago I had a mom/daughter date with my 10-year-old girl.  The plan was to go hang out at Powell's on Hawthorne, maybe get some good reads, then find somewhere to grab a bite for dinner.

After helping each other find good books and window-shopping around Hawthorne street for a while, we started to get hungry and headed up the street to Por Que No.  When we entered, the place was very crowded and there was quite a line to order.  We looked at the menu and quickly decided to share a tamale plate and two fish tacos.  We grabbed out number and headed out to the back, where the makeshift covered seating (think corrugated plastic roofs) and decoration was quaintly reminiscent of Dia de los Muertos kitsch.

Our food arrived, and the tamale plate looked AMAZING.  It was artistically arranged over banana leaves, and included two sauce-topped pork tamales garnished with crema, a small side of Mexican rice and pinto beans to boot.  The shredded cabbage, cilantro and fresh pico de gallo on the side were a tasty touch and the perfect cool/fresh contrast to the hearty meal.  The tamales themselves may have been delicious to someone NOT intimately familiar with authentic Mexican tamales (not to mention Nicaraguan Nacatamales, Peruvian tamales and other varieties).  To me, however, the masa resembled more of a spiced polenta than a true tamale dough.  The meat was tender, but lacked some spice.  Unfortunately, the sauce served over the top did not make up for this.  The true highlight of this combo was the rice.  It was like Mexican rice on garlic steroids.  The garlic flavor was strong and aromatic, and made up for the lack of flavor of the tamales.  It made me wish I'd ordered a bowl of rice rather than this pretty ensemble.

The fish tacos, on the other hand were definitely something to write home about.  The small, soft tortillas had a real homemade maiz flavor.  They were so fresh, I expected to see an abuelita grinding corn in a molcajete.  Instead, I got a forward-thinking flavor combination that fused a crispy cornmeal crust on flaky Alaskan cod topped with salsa verde, crema, shredded cabbage, pineapple, and of course - onion and cilantro. The effect was a gourmet twist on the island tacos I'd had in in Maui this past May.  ANYTHING that brings me back to those days is A-Okay in my book.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Portland's 59th Annual Greek Festival

First: an apology to my readers.  It's been a while since I've had a chance to post.  I know it's cliche, but I've been super-busy, and unfortunately not only with cooking and eating alone.  We do have some catching up to do.....I need to tell you about:

  • Tamales & Fish Tacos at Por Que No?
  • My new food processor and resulting rustic fruit pies
  • Brunch at Bar Carlo on Foster
BUT......since Greek Festival was this past weekend, I feel it's important to get this out so that you'll feel compelled to set a calendar reminder for yourself for fall of 2011.  (Our friend Matt was chuckling about this sign - I thought some of you might get a kick out of it...)

Portland's 59th annual Greek Festival took place October 1, 2 and 3 at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral on NE Glisan and 31st(ish).  Luckily, on Saturday morning Matt & Juanita told/reminded us that it was going on.  We'd been there two years ago, but it sort of fell off my radar.  We arrived just in time to witness a traditional Greek dance/celebration.  We then made our way over to buy some talents to trade in for the divine-smelling delicacies.

Our strategy at the festival was to try as many different things as possible, sharing everything with the kids.  Below is a rundown of what we tasted.

1. Souvlaki
Souvlaki, sometimes referred to as "the hamburger of Greece" consists of spiced, marinated meat on a stick grilled over an open flame.  The most common type of meat used for Souvlaki is lamb, though both chicken and pork are used as well.  I believe the one I tasted at the Greek festival yesterday was chicken and it was perfectly spiced and a bit lemony (which I LOVE), but was unfortunately a bit cold and dry by the time I got to it.  Sadly, I was not heartbroken that we'd only gotten one.

2. Greek Sausage
The Greek sausage, on the other hand, was juicy beyond belief.  It was so flavorful, that it reminded me of the Argentine sausages that are served up on French rolls out of food carts all over Buenos Aires.  The similarity was in the flavor and saltiness - the difference was that the Greek sausage seemed to contain a hint of nutmeg that added a layer of calculated complexity.

3. Pastitsio
Let me start off by saying that my kids adored the pastitisio.  To them, it was a cross between lasagna and "mac n' cheese."  Macaroni, spiced beef, creamy bechamel and cheese come together to create a scrumptious yet exotic Greek comfort food.  The exoticness (at least in my opinion) comes from flavors like cinnamon and allspice thrown into a context that is so unexpected (unless you are Greek of course).

4. Gyro
This is always a favorite.  I have had gyros all over the U.S. good and bad.  The gyros served at the Greek festival were delicious and authentic.  The pita was soft and warm.  The tzatziki sauce was neither too thick nor too thin.  The meat was tender and juicy.  The chopped tomatoes and onions offered the perfect fresh balance.  My son devoured an entire one and was begging for more.  Rob ended up going back for another one so we could share it.

5. Loukoumades
Now this is the sweet stuff.  Juanita recommended these on Saturday morning and then mentioned them again Sunday evening when we ran into her at the festival.  Of course we sought them out.  Loukoumades are like tiny little doughnuts, drenched in aromatic honey and dusted with cinnamon.  They absolutely melt in your mouth.  When you pop one in your mouth that has soaked up more of honey than others, you feel like God is smiling at you.  As I learned last night with leftovers, however, these are best enjoyed hot.