We spent our Labor Day weekend as usual, driving through the Yakima Valley ostensibly to play music at the Tumbleweed Festival in the Tri-Cities, but also (mostly?) to visit wine country. The weather was gorgeous and we hit all our usual favorite wineries, plus a few new ones. Continue reading
I don’t like all of the beer here (it tends towards the sweet and strong), but the Hop Chops IPA and the Bitter Rain ESB are really awesome.
I miss the funky British potato chips they used to have, but there’s nothing wrong with Kettle chips.
Or a big mess of lamb vindaloo from Pami’s down the road. Or a pizza from Sahara or Pacioni’s, or a burger from the Net, or a picnic from home.
It’s a fine place to spend a hot Sunday afternoon.
We did the drive home in two days.
The first morning, driving through the Central Valley, was bright and hot. We took a break in Winters, a really charming town we happened upon by chance last year. Iced lattes on the deck at Steady Eddy’s fortified us for the next leg.
Lunchtime hit as we were passing through Red Bluff. A study of Yelp and Chowhound reviews led us to the Countryside Cafe, which was a slightly strange place but was cool, dark, and had cold beer, really good corned beef sandwiches and macaroni salad. What more do you want during a hot drive?
We continued north past Mount Shasta, and felt compelled to stop in Weed for another break.
Just like last year, the Weed Alehouse was hot and muggy, but a really interesting place to sit and nurse a good IPA. The heat was enhanced by the fresh tarmac in the parking lot, unfortunately, so you really had to just resign yourself to roasting. Good thing we like their beer.
We stopped for the night in Medford, Oregon. Medford’s a bit of a food wasteland, and we had thought we’d need to drive back to Ashland for dinner, but then we discovered Elements, a tapas restaurant in downtown Medford. Their website said they were closed on Mondays but apparently they just decided not to tell anyone they were open.
We got some remarkably pleasant cocktails here, including a basil-cucumber gimlet that I liked a lot.
The ceviche was a small portion, cutely served in a scallop shell, and nicely flavored. I liked the black salt on top.
We got the calamari purely by accident – we had been discussing what to order next and the waitress misheard us. It was a lucky mistake, though, because it was really good – lots of spices on the squid, which was perfectly cooked and not at all rubbery, and a red pepper sauce for dipping.
Then there was a small tureen of mixed mushrooms in sauce, also extremely good.
And we finished ourselves off with an order of flatbread topped with lamb, Rogue blue cheese and sharp olives. Very strong flavors and very filling. We took the leftovers back to the motel and I ate them for breakfast, which was perhaps a little odd at 6:30 in the morning, but at least there was Dutch Brothers coffee to wash it down.
Our last stop before getting home the next day (unless you count the hour we spent sitting in Seattle-Tacoma traffic) was lunch at the Horse Brass pub in Portland. I’ve been hearing about this place for years but it’s not very handy to where we usually stay, so I’m glad we finally got to try it.
The beer list was astonishing, all the more so since July is Oregon Beer Month and they were featuring local brews of all sorts. I got a Walking Man IPA and Jon got an amazing Velocirapture rye ale from Prodigal Son Brewing, one of the best rye beers I’ve ever tried. I was also able to try a Green Flash pale I’d never seen before but it wasn’t as assertive as I was wanting.
The food at the Horse Brass is straight English pub style, so Jon tried the fish and chips. The chips and coleslaw were fine, but the fish was perfect – everything you’d want fried fish to be. The waitress said they’re a little irregular in their quality, so it must have been a good day.
I got a meat pie. It was full of fatty, tender steak and lots of mushrooms, and it was very good in a leaden sort of way, with lots of brown sauce. The potato chips were so delicious I accidentally ate them all. Possibly a good thing, since it took us hours and hours to get home after that. But we made it!
The object of our road trip (besides drinking a lot of good beer, obviously) was to spend a few days with family in Santa Cruz.
We had to have at least one breakfast at Kelly’s, of course.
Their pastries, poached eggs on polenta, and bagels with capers and lox would all be good any time, but eaten at an outdoor table as the Santa Cruz morning fog dissipates in the sun, everything tastes better.
We also went to breakfast at Hoffman’s in downtown Santa Cruz, a favorite of my brother-in-law’s.
The service was a touch flaky (note to waitstaff: when an allergic customer asks you what kinds of nuts are in something, don’t just say “I dunno” and wander off) but the food was excellent. Jon got a very fine crab and avocado eggs benedict, and I fell for the chilaquiles. The waffles with strawberries looked like they had a quart of berries on top. The basket of scones that arrived with our coffee was a nice touch, too. Nice place, I wouldn’t mind trying them for dinner some time.
For lunch one day we took advantage of the arrangement between Santa Cruz Mountain Brewery and Kelly’s Bakery. As with several other businesses in the Swift Street Courtyard business park, you can get a pint of beer at the taproom counter, then order from Kelly’s menu and have your food carried over by someone from the bakery.
Jon got their hamburger, which was surprisingly good.
I had fish tacos, which were fantastic: the fish was deep-fried and very crispy, and served in soft corn tortillas with lots of cabbage and cilantro aioli, plus a big salad.
We also had to visit a few wineries, of course. Vine Hill was a new addition to the building, so we stopped in to pet their dog and taste their wines. They had a nice chardonnay.
We always have to stop at Sones. When we went into the tasting room this visit, it was full of people who had just discovered the winery for the first time and were excitedly buying one of everything. We pretty much do the same thing whenever we go – you just can’t help yourselves. I don’t know of any Zinfandel I like better than theirs.
We also stopped into Quinta Cruz/Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard, and had a nice discussion with the server about how awesome Rock of Ages was. They make really lovely Old World-style wines, but unfortunately not everything is available for tasting. We’ve never gone wrong with any of their wines, though.
On Saturday we walked to the nearby farmer’s market. It was another beautiful day and everything looked wonderful.
We wanted to cook one dinner at my brother-in-law’s apartment, and when we found the pasta booth I knew what I wanted to do. We bought several tubs of the goat cheese-green onion ravioli, plus a container of basil-walnut pesto. Then we picked up a gorgeous bag of salad mix full of edible flowers, and some pink fingerling potatoes. Dinner was taken care of (along with a Sones Sauvignon Blanc and a pie that was brought from Emily’s Bakery).
Finally, our big splurge dinner for the trip was at Le Cigare Volant, the Bonny Doon winery restaurant.
The whole menu is done as small plates, so for four people we needed to order nearly one of everything. We started with a bread plate…
…and an adorable little container of grilled octopus.
When we ordered the ceviche, we didn’t really expect it to come looking like this…
…but the coconut milk dome just needed to be broken apart, at which point it began to melt over the seafood.
This unlikely-looking plate was a lovely, fresh cherry tomato salad with basil foam.
And this was an avocado corn dog, which I’m still not really sure about.
The waitress absolutely insisted that we get the fingerling potatoes, and she was not wrong. Crisp, seasoned wedges in a cute little pot, they were perfect potatoes – but what you don’t see is the big wodge of cream in the bottom of the pot. Yum.
I’m afraid this looks absolutely disgusting, but I’m told it was very good. Squash blossoms stuffed with hummus, served with couscous and harissa foam.
And I think this was arctic char with cornbread, but I have only the vaguest memory of tasting it.
I was a little distracted by my duck with snap peas and a lettuce roll. This was beautiful.
Jon was the only one who felt up to dessert, and got this cute creme brulee with lots of berries.
On the whole, it was lots of fun, but I thought much of the food wasn’t quite delicious enough to hold up to the level of fussiness. Very amusing presentations, though.
On Monday morning, as the fog burned off, we headed back north on the final leg of our trip.
After two great days in Portland we dragged ourselves back into the car and headed south. We drove across to Reedsport, then down the Oregon coast to Coos Bay.
At midday we took a small side trip over to Charleston and had lunch at the High Tide Cafe, which I had heard was reknowned for their clam chowder. It’s a cute place, very much a neighborhood diner sort of vibe, with windows looking over the bay and a fireplace for blustery days. They had some excellent beer on tap and were serving both breakfast and lunch.
I got clam chowder, of course. It wasn’t bad – creamy but not too rich, with herbs and plenty of clams and big chunks of potato. Not the best I’ve ever had but very decent. I was pleased that it came with oyster crackers because the slab of white bread that also came along was stale and dull.
Jon got jambalaya. It was pretty good – lots of seafood in a spicy tomato sauce, and a cone of rice in the middle. It did the job, anyway.
Onward! After a fun, upsy-downsy ride back to 101 on Seven Devils Road, we wound our way down through the redwoods and eventually arrived in Eureka.
Our dinner destination here was the Lost Coast Brewery, and as far as I could tell it was everyone else’s destination as well – it was packed.
I was impressed by the decor – lots of weird papier mache heads and monsters. Also a large spider that was attached to the door by a string, so if you look up while the door is closing behind you you’ll see a vast arachnid descending on your head. Fortunately, I never think to look up.
Our local grocery store carries a lot of Lost Coast beer, and there weren’t a lot of enticing specials. I had a glass of the Indica IPA, then found out that they also had a cask conditioned IPA which I liked quite a lot more. Wish they had mentioned it when we ordered, but oh well.
Food was unexciting. I got fish and chips, which would have been quite good if the fish hadn’t been allowed to sit in a big puddle of its own oil, but unfortunately by the time I got to it it was pretty soggy. The fries were dusted with Parmesan and were tasty but too squishy to be addictive.
Jon asked for the “Famous Hot Brown” sandwich, which sounded really amazing (bacon! ranch dressing!) but was sort of blah. Also rather small. It came with a tiny dish of coleslaw on the side. I’ve seldom seen such small portions in a brewpub, which was not at all what I was expecting.
We felt a little dissatisfied after our dinner, and downtown Eureka wasn’t really hopping (except for the brewery and a carnival down by the waterfront), so we headed back to the Red Lion, where we were staying, and actually had an extremely decent martini. Go figure.
The next morning we had a very motel sort of breakfast at the Red Lion, then continued down 101 to Healdsburg. It was a beautiful day and all of Sonoma seemed to be screaming out to us to spend lots of money. We avoided a large number of adorable boutiques and wine tasting rooms and eventually found what we were looking for: the Bear Republic brewpub.
Now this was more like it. The only Bear Republic beers I’ve had before were the Racer 5 and the Hop Rod Rye, both of which I adore. Their house beer list was long, with an equally long specials list, including some single-variety-hops brews that were really interesting. We tried the Aramis and Premiant Rebellions just for the hell of it, but then Jon discovered the Nor Cal Ale and was smitten. I tried the red, which was very good but a little heavy for my mood.
We each got a burger: Jon got a special that had brie, mushrooms and onions, while I got one with a whole grilled green chile and pepper jack cheese. He had green salad with his, while I tried the pasta salad side. We saw fries on neighboring tables and decided we weren’t missing anything, but the burgers and salads were fantastic.
This place has shot up into my top five brewpubs. We may have to come back someday!
That evening we made it to Santa Cruz. Stay tuned for the next installment…
We just got back from our yearly summer road trip to California, and it was a doozy! We decided to tack on a couple of extra days at the beginning of our trip and do some serious eating and drinking in Portland before heading down the coast.
Our first stop when we arrived in town was Hopworks. It wasn’t quite as much fun as the last time we were here – they didn’t have any seasonal IPAs and there wasn’t a major soccer game on – but they still beat most brewpubs we’ve been to for amazing beer and food. Jon got the sausage sandwich with mustard and kraut and a side salad.
I decided to spring for a veggie burger. I usually avoid these (I may have eaten too many Gardenburgers in the ’90s) but this was a really good one – mostly black beans, topped with lots of tomato and avocado and peppers and cheese. I also got blue cheese dressing on my salad, which at HUB means big chunks of Rogue Blue. It’s so good I may have hurt myself.
All that lunch filled us up for quite a while, so we approached dinner with caution. Fortunately the place we like to stay in Portland is right down the street from Pok Pok and its companion hangout, the Whiskey Soda Lounge. We started out at the lounge with cocktails and a couple of plates of Thai-style drinking food. We each tried cocktails made with Pok Pok’s signature drinking vinegars, and they were good.
Mine was the “Hunny,” made with tequila, grapefruit juice, lime and honey vinegar. Jon was impressed by the “Stone Fence” which had apple cider, applejack, apple vinegar, and bitters. Amazing new flavors in all of these.
We had a hard time picking food to go with our drinks, but we settled on pork riblets. These were sweet and nicely grilled, but oddly came with a large wedge of raw cabbage, as well as some whole raw Thai chiles, sliced fresh ginger and a handful of peanuts. We weren’t sure what the protocol here was so I just tore the cabbage apart with my fingers and we alternated bites of everything (except the chiles – a little of those goes a loooong way).
After that we ordered one of the specials: fritters of leftover grilled corn (which was on the Pok Pok dinner menu that week) with chiles and spices. Sweet, smoky, crunchy, hot and fabulous, with a side of cucumbers and green chiles in vinegar. This was almost dinner in itself. But we still had to go over to Pok Pok afterwards.
Much to our surprise, we got a table immediately (I had actually been hoping there would be the usual hour-long wait so we could walk around the neighborhood a bit). The outdoor dining spaces have been gussied up a little since we first started coming here, but it’s still casual and rustic.
We only got two dishes this time, since we were full of corn fritters: a flank steak salad and a wonderful dish of smoky grilled eggplants covered with dried shrimp, shallots and chopped boiled egg, served with plenty of sticky rice. I would love to make this at home, it was fantastic.
The next morning, after a run to work up our appetites again, we headed to Tasty & Sons for an early lunch. This was every bit as good as I’d heard, plus we had the fun of watching a photojournalist take glamour shots of the food just down the bar from us.
Since we were on vacation, we got cocktails: a raspberry-Lillet-sparkling wine concoction for me, and a gin rickey for Jon.
We ordered two dishes, which were brought out separately as they were prepared – probably a good thing, since we each might not have shared nicely otherwise. Our first dish was polenta with loads of cheese, sausage ragu, and a runny egg. It was like the best cheesy grits ever.
The other dish was couscous with “North African sausage”, roasted cauliflower, another runny egg, harissa, and (to our surprise) lots of dried cherries and apricots. Not as gooey as the other dish, but incredible. I only regret not being able to try everything on the menu – we’ll just have to wait until we come back to Portland.
That afternoon we walked on the esplanade, poked around shops, and had a beer at the Laurelwood Brewery (we love their Workhorse IPA but don’t often get to try their other beers), but didn’t feel the need to eat anything for a while – we were saving ourselves for Grüner.
Until this trip I hadn’t heard of Grüner at all, but thanks to the magic of Chowhound we made a last-minute decision to have dinner there and managed to snare a reservation. It’s alpine German food, wonderfully seasonal and well-executed. Unfortunately I took really crappy photographs, but it’s still worth showing them to you – sorry about the blur.
We started with cocktails, of course. I tried the “Austrian Monk,” which was an unlikely-sounding combo of yellow Chartreuse, gin, celery and lemon. The celery turned out to be a major player here – maybe an extract? I really liked it. Jon got the Albatros which was a bit more fruity than I cared for but it was fun.
Along with our drink order we asked for a plate of the cured salmon with horseradish cream and frisee with herbs. Nothing could have gone better with the celery flavor of my cocktail, it was perfect.
When the bread plate came it turned out to be a perfectly fresh pretzel with lots of salt. Probably the best pretzel I’ve ever eaten.
The salad we ordered was recommended by our waiter as being a perfect early summer creation: butter lettuce, radishes, strawberries, walnuts and chevre. It was brought to our table by a trembling server who seemed terrified that the whole concoction would go toppling off the plate, but it was great fun to whack the whole thing in half. And it was incredible to eat – the strawberries were perfectly, absolutely ripe, and the flavors of the fruit, cheese and nuts all worked together.
Finally we moved on to entrees. I got the golden trout, very simply prepared and served with asparagus, young potatoes, and a sauce grebiche. I thought it was lovely, but I ended up feeling rather covetous of Jon’s dinner…
…which was this fantastic Riesling-sauced chicken with morels and favas and quark spaetzle on the side. Damn, this was good. I mean, really good. Wow.
The wine we had with dinner was a very fresh, crisp, low-alcohol Riesling. Its faint apple flavor made a nice counterpoint to both our dishes.
The bill was brought tucked into a strange-looking German novel. I don’t know why.
After dinner we drove back to our lodgings, parked the car, then wandered back down Division to the ice cream cart we’d seen set up on the corner, called Salt & Straw. It had been a warm day, and even at 9:30 pm there was a line stretching down the sidewalk. Jon got a scoop of salt ice cream with a caramel ripple, and I had a cone of strawberry-balsamic-black pepper, with enormous swathes of strawberry jam running through it. It made an exciting end to our Portland visit.
Next: down the coast to California!
I had meant to post these pictures two weeks ago, but life sort of got in the way. Better late than never…
This was a farm-to-table brunch potluck out at Gothberg Farms on the Skagit flats. The weather was less than perfect (cold and windy with occasional gusts of rain), but we got by with great coffee, amazing food, good conversation, wine and beer and lots and lots of oysters.
Rhonda put together a cheese board with all of her fabulous handmade goat cheeses. I’m particularly fond of her “Woman of La Mancha” spiced aged cheese, but they really are all wonderful.
There was roasted asparagus wrapped with buttery phyllo…
…and lamb sliders.
Also several beautiful salads and what I believe were sweet potato cupcakes.
And I made a rhubarb custard pie with fresh-pulled rhubarb from my garden. The custard didn’t set up quite perfectly (it never does when I’m trying to impress people), but it was tasty.
And kumamoto oysters. The best.
Pretty much my favorite thing about coming here is watching the wok station in action. It’s a clever setup, with a hose that’s used to rinse out the woks after each stirfry, and drainage down the back, so the woks never need to be moved from their burners. Food frequently gets airborne, plus there are shooting flames all around. I love it.
What we ordered on our most recent visit:
Fried tofu. I love this stuff, I order it everywhere. I appreciated that this version wasn’t cooked to the point of having very sharp edges – you can hurt yourself on fried tofu, believe me.
Larb gai made with ground chicken. This was very tasty and an incredible vehicle for chile heat. I needed to alternate bites of it with the fried tofu.
Our favorite noodle dish, Phad ba mee. I love how smoky and savory this is. Our usual takeout order is one of these and one super-spicy eggplant with beef. And plenty of rice.
And, as always, it’s fun to watch your food getting cooked.
I recently wrote a review for Grow Northwest about a new place in Anacortes called A’Town Bistro (you can read my article here). With the help of various friends and relatives, I’ve been able to try about ten different dishes here, and there has not been a loser among the bunch. They’re trying to focus on local, seasonal produce as much as possible, which should pick up now that the farmer’s markets are opening. I’m really excited about this place and I can’t wait to see what they do as the season progresses!
First, let me tell you about their Sunday brunch. Good mimosas, great beer selection, and a lovely assortment of egg dishes and more lunchy things.
Such as the wild boar burger. This is already A’Town’s biggest hit, from what I’ve seen, and rightfully so. It’s thick and juicy, good condiments, good bread. And, apparently, made from wild boar knife-hunted in Texas. In case you were wondering how your wild boar was brought down.
They offer several types of eggs benedict – this one had ham shank. There was a nice pile of properly cooked vegetables on the side and the English muffins were exceptional.
Jon had to try their biscuits and gravy, and after eating for a while he declared it to be the best biscuits and gravy ever. This is really saying something. It was partly that the biscuit was fresh, tasted homemade and was full of cheese and herbs. The gravy also was excellent, with plenty of sausage. But the presentation took the cake, with one large biscuit with a hole punched out of it and filled with gravy, then a sausage sandwich made out of the removed circle of biscuit. This is a lot of food, and so good you might be inclined to do yourself a mischief. Be warned.
They also have pho on the brunch menu, which I thought was such a good idea I needed to try it. The broth was aromatic with star anise and the paper-thin slices of beef poaching in the bowl with the noodles, and there were all the right toppings: sprouts, cilantro, basil, jalapeños. A bottle of Sriracha and some hoisin sauce did very well for condiments. I love noodles for brunch, and this was perfect.
We’ve also visited for dinner. The wine list is nicely thought out with a mix of northwest, California and European bottles and, I thought, very reasonably priced. This muscadet was on special and we really liked it.
They have a lot of classic bistro dishes on the menu. I tried the moules frites, which were well cooked and brightly flavored with Spanish chorizo. The fries are small-cut, crispy and seasoned with truffled parmesan, which makes them smell fantastic. French onion soup was also a winner – I find that many places try to make up for a dull broth with too much salt, but this had lots of flavor and wasn’t too salty. We also tried the beet salad, which was a nice variation on the usual: golden beets, greens, and quenelles of soft pungent cheese, very prettily arranged (we had them hold the hazelnuts).
Halibut and chips were good, too. My father compared them favorably to the best fish and chips place we’ve been to. The tartar sauce was good, plus you get curry ketchup for your fries.
Jon got the steak. This was where we really became impressed, because it was perfect. Medium rare, absolutely delicious, tender and juicy. A nice amount of sauce, and a pile of Brussels sprouts and just a few smashed purple potatoes to go alongside. A really well-conceived entree – not many places do steak this well.
There were only three desserts on the menu: a cheese plate, crème brûlée, and gâteau au chocolat. We haven’t tried the cheese plate yet but we covered the rest. The crème brûlée was simple and perfect, nice and cold inside, with the sugar hot and crispy on top.
The gâteau was rather like the best fudge in the world, with whipped cream and a salted caramel sauce. Oh, and the coffee was good, too.
I look forward to many, many more meals here.
Last weekend involved two different trips down to Seattle to have dinner with friends. I only took a few pictures, but both dinners were notable.
The first night we started out with drinks at Canon (which was inexplicably empty despite the Cinco de Mayo madness going on in every other bar in town). I tried one of the aged cocktails, and was surprised to have it served in its own little flask. I felt rather foolish drinking from a bottle, but it was a great cocktail. Two of our party ordered the “shrouded roulette,” where you request your base spirit and the bartender makes up something for you. I hadn’t realized they wouldn’t tell you what was in it even after you were finished. Sneaky.
After drinks we walked down to Quinn’s for dinner, and the four of us shared a bunch of small plates. I’ve never gotten to try this many things at once at Quinn’s, and as usual it did not disappoint. We started with stewed oxtail with a bone marrow custard and a dish of excellent olives (not pictured), then had a green salad with scallion aioli, pig face nuggets, and a really delicious plate of sockeye salmon lox with steelhead roe and grilled bread. I would have been delighted to have a whole plate of the salmon to myself – the roe in particular was addictively good. The pig face nuggets sounded more exciting than they actually were, but they were unctuously porky and the sauce was delicious.
We had to get the wild boar sloppy joe, which was as wonderful as we remembered, and we also tried the cotechino sausage with cassoulet. It was very good, but maybe better suited for a cooler evening. I took a bite of the grilled fresno chile that came with the sloppy joe and nearly had the top of my head come off.
Some of our party had room for dessert. One of us got butterscotch custard, served in its own tiny jar, another ordered orange cake with Sichuan pepper ice cream, and the third got a chocolate peanut butter torte. I finished my beer and called it good.
The next night we found ourselves at Via Tribunali pizza in Fremont with a large party. I’d never been here before and it was excellent.
The pizza is nicely charred and very, very thin. It comes uncut, so you can make the slices any size or shape you want. I got the salsiccia rapini – tomato sauce, Italian sausage and rapini (broccoli rabe) – one of my favorite Italian flavor combos.
Jon got the Via Tribunali house special, which is sort of an Everything pizza with the edges folded in on itself. Just a hint of smoked cheese gave it a distinctive character.
Great place! We’ll definitely be back to try more pizza, some salads and perhaps some tiramisu. Soon.