Review: Pine Shed Ribs

16 September 2017

Ugh…a hangover from hell thanks to yesterday’s unpleasantness. I tried to get a bit extra rest as today’s agenda is very thin. Made a few stops en route back to Portland, and of course got stuck in traffic in the middle of nowhere on I-5…do people know how to drive in the Pacific Northwest? THEY CANNOT MERGE.

Frustrated as heck I decided to just blow off any efforts at finding a new place for dinner. The place I had booked, which I shall not name, had offended me pretty badly when I looked at their Instagram feed. I’m sorry, there is no business posting anything that has a hammer and sickle on it, and my ethics and beliefs are far more valuable than any meal. So I cancelled the booking.

With traffic going up I-5 looking so bad I decided to go to another BBQ place to get some take-away, instead of the place I was originally looking at (Podnah’s). I hopped off the snail-pace “freeway” and drove up Lake Oswego, also managing to visit the grave of the great Linus Pauling, recipient of 2 Nobel prizes. Then I got to my destination, Pine Shed Ribs.

Seemingly in the middle of nowhere in the southern wealthy suburb of Lake Oswego, the aroma was tantalising. Luckily I got there after the lunch rush and took an order to go while enjoying a local cider…and listening on the convo of the entitled locals rushing in trying to dress down despite driving their Escalades…such poseurs…so typical of the region.

I’m sorry, there’s nothing progressive or liberal about the Pacific Northwest when you dig deeper. At the end it’s still about the wealthy running shop, despite their “caring” side — but they’ll only do it if there’s attention. When ego trumps real goodwill… And the underlying racism is far worse here than elsewhere. And the idiotic driving! Sorry, bad time for a rant…

I took my food and jumped into my car, blasting music so I can drown out all the voices that have been driving me mad from the locals… Used mostly local roads to bypass I-5 and fought my way north back to my hotel near the Washington border. Opened up my food and I smiled…

B

These small beef ribs were good, with wonderful aroma that quickly filled the room. Maybe a little on the dry side, but they were good. Then I opened the pork ribs…

p

Oh my these were fantastic, some of the best ribs I’ve had this year — and I’ve had a lot. Excellent stuff from a little place in the burbs.

I kept myself locked in my room all evening, finishing off these bones of joy, but mostly too mentally tired from going out for anything else. Oregon has drained me of energy and patience, and I really cannot wait to head to Alaska tomorrow morning — my 50th state.

Anyone reading this blog managed to do all 50 states?

Pine Shed Ribs
17730 Pilkington Road
Lake Oswego, Oregon

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A Total Cluster**** in Oregon…

15 September 2017

I woke up early the next day knowing I need to beat the terrible traffic through Portland, since I was heading south and my hotel was north of the city. Luckily I got out in time, just as it was starting to get thick. I got through and my rental jalopy was giving me issues.

I spent the morning in Salem, the state capital. Then I pushed south. By the time I got to Eugene the signs of the ugly wildfires were all over the place. The haze was terrible — and heartbreaking. But I was shocked to see farmers burning fields despite the already horrible air quality…

I got all the way down to Roseburg for the early afternoon before heading back north back to Eugene — just to be stuck in traffic in the middle of the day in the middle of nowhere…you gotta be kidding, Oregon… But I got to Eugene and I was a bit taken aback. I thought I was entering a busy college town, but I didn’t realise the students aren’t back yet! Wow, how late do they start out here? Students were already headed back when I was in Ithaca a month ago!

So I guess booking my dinner at Belly was not really necessary. I got there and it was empty…and the staff seems to treat it as so. Very relaxed, almost too relaxed…

I chilled out with a cocktail and looked over the menu. Couldn’t decide, so I just started with an order of gougères

gougères

I usually wouldn’t go with these, but the stuff I was interested in was not available… These were on the boring side to be honest, lacking in any flavour. Could have been a normal bread order really… Oh well. After one of them I needed something substantial, so I ordered the pork chop.

I had another drink and the clock just kept ticking. What’s going on, this restaurant is nearly empty, are they not prepared? Then after about 40 minutes I see the bartender having an animated discussion in the kitchen and when he came out I asked if there was a problem with my order…

Well, it seems he didn’t put the order in right and it never went through…

Oh, goody…

I did not want to reward incompetence at this point, so I cancelled the order that was never put in, took the bill, and headed out pretty pissed off. This is a joke…

Okay, Eugene, you just did yourself a huge disfavour in my book…what a disastrous Friday night…

Belly
30 East Broadway
Eugene, Oregon

*PS Of course I ended up back at my hotel and drank myself stupid, no thanks to my empty stomach… Took some food upstairs and just ate it and collapsed…a shitty way to start the weekend leading into the b’day…

Review: St Jack

14 September 2017

I left Utah early in the morning, a little sad I didn’t have more time to enjoy this beautiful state. I really got to enjoy this place. Nevertheless I landed in a hazy Portland later in the morning. Though the smoke from the horrible wildfires did not appear dense in and west of the city, it was everpresent each breath you take. I felt it almost immediately…

So going hiking in Columbia City was probably not a great idea, but some wonderful views of the region from a small cemetery on the plateau. I hiked up there not just for the view, but there’s a bit of Hawai’ian history buried there that I wanted to see. I headed down and fought my way through Portland’s ugly traffic — exacerbated by some horrific civil planning…

Who in the world designed the road system in this city?

Unfortunately I had a bit of a trying and long afternoon, and I desperately needed a good dinner. PDX has a huge reputation in the food world, and I always take that with a bit of caution, as hype has a way of hyping itself… Tonight’s destination has been one of the more hyped places, St Jack.

I got there after finding a parking space a few blocks away — never an easy thing to do in this town. I happily took a seat at the kitchen counter so got to see the kitchen work. I ordered a cocktail, looked through the menu, and made my order. I chilled out until the starter arrived…

01-tripe_edited

Tablier de sapeur — fried breaded tripe. Not had this Lyonnais treat in ages. Not bad, though the gribiche sauce was way too heavy (tasted more like Filet-o-fish tartar…) and took away from the delicate flavour of the tripe. otherwise not bad. Then next up the proper starter, sardines.

02-sardines

These were the day’s special and they were pretty good, albeit way overseasoned. The saltiness really took something away, almost to the point that I needed 2 drinks to get these 2 fish down… Good quality, but just too salty…

I had another drink to deal with the salinity and then the main course arrived — the lamb.

03-lamb

Now this was fabulous, wonderful quality meat and cooked to just the right temperature. Lovely, rich flavour, again a lamb that’s sourced right — that tasted like lamb, like at Pallet in Salt Lake City the other night. An excellent dish!

I chilled out a little with one more drink as I ordered a simple dessert of sorbet.

04-apricot sorbet_edited

This evening’s choice was apricot. The flavour was not bad, but the texture was all over the place. There were parts that were frozen solid, some parts tasted mushy, and there was a lot of stray flavourless ice everywhere — including a huge piece in the middle of one of these scoops. Poorly made to be honest…

And service, which has been good up to this point, totally collapsed for some reason at this stage. So I didn’t bother with a last drink and just drained my coffee and headed out.

Overall not bad, but still think it’s a little overhyped. Too many inconsistencies to make this a great dinner, despite the awesome lamb, but I can see why this place is popular with locals and visitors. I hiked back to my car and drove on back to my hotel next to the Washington border…

St Jack
1610 Northwest 23rd Avenue
Portland, Oregon

Review: Log Haven

13 September 2017

Despite being ill overnight, I was pretty much okay in the morning, despite the hangover from the sake… I had a few things to do in town, including a hike in the rather hilly main city cemetery. Beautiful views over the city certainly, even with a headache…

I grabbed some lunch at the highly-rated R&R Barbeque, but it didn’t justify the lines. Ribs were dry, sausage was awful. Not worth any further mention…

It was my last day in Utah, so I had to do some packing and planning for the next destination. Then I headed out for an early dinner. I was a little concerned as this destination is huge about the location and view…and that often is at the expense of good food. And it was a long drive up a narrow mountain road east of the city…

I eventually reached Log Haven after a spectacular wee drive up there. A beautiful place certainly, and I sat outside on the cool evening.

Log Haven

No signal up there, so that was a reprieve from looking at the ol’ phone all night. With cocktail in hand I ordered and chilled out, enjoying the scenery and fresh air. Quickly my starter arrived, arancini.

01-arancini

Not bad, nothing special. The sauce was good for the bread… But the glass of Czech white was a nice surprise and that really held things together. Then the main course, the bison.

02-bison

A bit underseasoned and plain, but not bad. The corn was a really good add to this dish. It did its job. Then I just had a tipple for a liquid dessert before I headed back down the hill.

Another beautiful drive in the fading lights of early evening before getting down the mountain and headed to my hotel. I’ve really come to like Utah from this short stay, and I can see myself coming back pretty soon. So much going for this town, especially its dining scene. Everyone already knows how beautiful it is, but with the addition of fabulous bars and excellent restaurants, Utah will attract even more people. Glad to have made this visit!

Log Haven
6451 East Millcreek Canyon Road
Salt Lake City, Utah

Review: Copper Onion

12 September 2017

I had a very long first full day in Utah (and a bit of nearby Idaho and Wyoming), taking in the amazing scenery in this part of the country as I hopped into my rental and drove to see some beautiful scenery. From winding roads around the mountains to stunning waterfronts, it was a fantastic day. Hung out a little near Bear Lake, which is stunningly blue and beautiful. Eventually I winded my way back to SLC and tried to relax a little before dinner.

Dinner tonight is at Copper Onion, one of the vanguards of SLC dining that led the current revolution of excellent food in this really up-and-coming food town. The owner/chef is someone I’ve known for a long time since my NYC/Elettaria days, Ryan Lowder. Unfortunately due to some scheduling issues we didn’t get to catch up in person.

I got to Copper Onion on the busy evening and took a space at the bar; they could use the two-top for walk-ins. I usually always do this for restaurants. I relaxed with a cocktail and looked over the menu. I ordered and chilled out. Chatted a bit with the bartender but he was rather busy for the very busy restaurant — good to see it doing so well even having been around for so many years. Soon my first item arrived, the octopus.

01-octopus

Now I can see why people here like it, but for me a total miss. The texture is way, way too soft. But considering this isn’t prime octopus-eating territory, I can see why Chef would work this ingredient this way. Great for those who have had their first (and nearly last) octopus experience with an indedible piece of rubber at a cheap sushi joint, bad for those of us who love this creature and all its texture challenges.

And sadly, the plating was a little sloppy, no wiping of food stuck to the side of the plate… Busy place, but a little messy. And as I had another drink my side for my main course arrived…

02-shishito

The shishito worked almost like a snack anyway. I was not a fan of the cheesy addition but they did their job. Didn’t find a spicy one tho, even after the main course arrived.

03-wagyu_edited

I usually avoid US or Australian “wagyu” like the plague but this looked good, and knowing Chef he wouldn’t skimp on these things. Excellent beef and cooked perfectly, fabulous dish. Just melted in my mouth. Probably one of the best non-Japanese “wagyu” dishes I’ve had in years.

I decided to call it a night since it was so busy and I was tired from this long day, so I headed out…and just missed the validated parking limit. Ugh… Oh well. Not as good as last night, but again, SLC food is impressing! I can see why people are discovering this town for more than scenery and winter sports. This and Denver together are creating a huge oasis for food folks to explore between the coasts!

Copper Onion
111 East Broadway
Salt Lake City, Utah

*PS Stupid me I ended up at a “sushi” joint next to my hotel and drank too much sake…and I think a piece of fish I had (they weren’t a bar and needed food order to allow drinking…) made me ill, so…ugh…

Review: Pallet

11 September 2017

I headed out to Salt Lake City for the first time since the early 1990s…it’s been way, way too long. I arrived on a balmy evening, thanking the fates my rental car had AC. The last time I was here was a 100F+ summer day in a car with no air conditioning, with Lake Stink on full blast…

I had looked at a few options for dinner, but not knowing flight delay or car issues I didn’t book in advance. I called Pallet, one of the place I wanted to check out, and they were good so I drove there. It was half way to my hotel anyway.

I got to the dark eatery and took a place at the bar. Already I like it, and breaks every stereotype of a Utah bar you may have. Once I got a cocktail into my hands I felt relaxed, and Bijan, who does the bar programme there, took good care of my drinking needs all night.

I enjoyed my drink and ordered some food, and chilled out. Good to be here on the first leg of a multi-leg birthday trip that will take me across the threshold to visit all 50 states. Just as I got into my second drink my starter arrived, the pea gazpacho.

01-pea gazpacho_edited

Well, it’s deconstructed to say the least, and Bijan told me the same. Very tasty, though I wish there was a little more of the gazpacho itself as it needed a little more moisture. The pickled roots were nice but the peas were just wonderful. The acid balance worked, so I was pretty happy. Good start!

With my main I asked my bartender to make me something off the menu, so he obliged — and it arrived with this beauty, the lamb ribs.

02-lamb ribs

I love it when lamb tasted of lamb, not some watered-down version that taste like mystery meat that most producers seem to want to do. Lovely, rich lamb here, with some nice cauliflower and radish, all over a bed of very nicely done couscous. An excellent dish!

I chilled out, reflecting on a very good first meal in Utah since 1993, and sipped on a local amaro of all things. Yes, there’s a local amaro maker, to my surprise. The cocktails have all been excellent, and that obviously dispels one of the first misconceptions of Utah — bad drinks. Awesome dinner.

I headed out really happy, but tired and starting to feel the elevation. I always do once I have a bit of booze. I have a long, long day tomorrow so just need to collapse… But it’s good to be back, hello Utah!

Pallet
237 South 400 West
Salt Lake City, Utah

Review: Bluebeard

2 September 2017

I drove through some parts of Ohio and Indiana I missed before rolling into Indianapolis, dealing with the annoying Labor Day weekend traffic. Got to my hotel near the airport as my flight home tomorrow leaves bright and early… I dropped my stuff off and drove back into downtown to return my rental car.

I decided to hang out in downtown on this sunny but nice day. First stop was somewhere I wanted to check out for awhile, Tapper’s Arcade Bar. Oh my goodness this is like my happy place… Grabbed a beer and started hitting the games of my youth… From trying to remember the patters on Punch Out to the rhythm in Donkey Kong, from hitting the high score 30 years later on Tron to the dizzying attempt to play multiple players on Gauntlet (I couldn’t afford that in the early 80s), it was like a little paradise from this hellish earth for a few hours… The beers were excellent as well, and I drank more than I should have knowing my recent issues with beer and stomach…

After a few hours I sadly decided I had to go, or else I would never leave. It’s bad that I had set high scores on a few different machines on games I have not touched since the 1980s… I headed out and walked down the street to a highly-rated place called Bluebeard.

I plopped down at the bar and enjoyed some nice cocktails from the excellent bar team. Nice folks, another reason I so love Indianapolis. Then I ordered some food and soon the first item arrived — herring.

01-herring

Not bad, a good little start. A taste of a former home really… Enjoyed that. Next up some octopus.

02-octopus

Hmmm, is this a salad or is this a starter? Bit of a mix. Not bad, but there was a little too much on this plate that was not too necessary. The octopus did its job tho. Then as I enjoyed another cocktail I ordered one more dish, and it came soon…

03-shrimp

Okay, they warned us this was spicy, but when it’s spicy to the extent that you can’t enjoy any other flavour? This is the please-Guy-Fieri level of cooking that is really annoying to be honest. I did finish them, much to everyone’s surprise. I didn’t enjoy it. I love it when spicy is used to bring out the flavour of the ingredients, but this was just for shock value. Sigh…

In any case, this was a really good bar — better than the kitchen — so I just hung out and drank for a bit before I hopped on a cab back to my hotel at the airport. Thank goodness I’m there as my alarm is for 5am for a stupid o’clock flight home…

Bluebeard
653 Virginia Avenue
Indianapolis, Indiana