Recent Dishes Savoured: On The Road in Washington & Oregon

A road trip is remiss without roadside attractions. Besides the taco truck parked right across the street, this was Umatilla’s redeeming feature in the arid landscape. I do believe this is John Wayne supersized.

A monster Cobb Salad somewhere in The Dalles.

Saffron in Walla Walla was a find. Chef Chris Ainsworth features Mediterranean flavours with the expected local, regional, housemade precept, and is walking distance from most of the tasting rooms in the city. Saffron also makes their own breads, including flatbreads, served at table with garlic-infused olive oil.

Lamb tartare with warm housemade flat bread was luscious, mixed with bulgar wheat, sweet onions, nigella seeds, cilantro, mint and chiles. Exquisitely done, very balanced. And the flat bread was sturdy and smelled amazing. I’d like to see bakers and chefs in BC make their own flat breads. All of our pita and Med-style flatbreads are pre-made, bagged and frozen, and rather dull of flavour. Except for the Sangak breads coming out of North Van. But I digress.
Ricotta gnocchi were served with ripe tart cherry tomatoes, goat ragu (goat. the new kid on the block) lovage and pecorino. Exquisite. Melt in your mouth luscious.
The other winning dish at Saffron is the octopus, grilled and heaped on top of local greens, seabeans, heirloom tomatoes and zhoug, a chile and herb spice mix that livened up the whole dish. 
Saffron’s wine list also pays tribute to the Mediterranean and we found a refreshing bottle of Sigalas a crisp white hailing from Greece, something we last enjoyed in Chicago, at Taxim.
The amazingly convenient thing about a visit to Walla Walla wine country is that the winery’s tasting rooms are not just at the winery but contained in the city’s downtown core. Just pick a hotel or B&B and walk to each tasting room. Brilliant! I’d love to see this in Victoria.
We visited Charles Smith Wines with his hard edged and hip concept wines in an industrial setting.
And on our way to Portland, we stopped in at L’ecole for some of their luscious reds.
With a considerable wait for a seat at Pok Pok, owner and chef Andy Ricker opened the Whiskey Soda Lounge across the street. Specializing in drinks and aahaan kap klaam, the drinking food of Thailand, the vibe was boisterous and fun and less stressed than Pok Pok.
We saddled up to the bar and enjoyed a Tamarind Whiskey Sour and a Rhubarb Blush with aperol,gin fresh lime juice and rhubarb bitters served on the rocks. We took in the room while watching wacky Thai music videos.
The hearty plates came next: Vietnamese fish sauce wings, spicy. Oh my goddess! Tangy, crispy, hot, juicy and lashed with a slightly sweet and spicy sauce, these really are the wings that you’ve been looking for all your life.
Next came the nightly special of pig bits trio: charcoal grilled pork jowl, tongue and crispy tail with a delightful tangy chile dipping sauce ($10!)
Back at Pok Pok, where you never know where you’ll end up – they have seating everywhere within the warren-like space. We were in the basement area, and in retrospect should have stayed at Whiskey Soda Lounge. Regardless, the food is intriguing at both places (and the chef does have another 3 spots throughout Portland).
I enjoyed a dish of boar collars, served with sticky rice and an iced plate of mustard greens.
The Yam Samun Phrai was a refreshing Northern Thai herbal salad that topped off the night after the rich flavours enjoyed at Whiskey Soda Lounge. A mild coconut milk dressing smoothed the Thai chiles and the ingredients, ginger, peanuts, cashews, sesame seeds, carrots, parsnips, dry shrimp, ground pork, betel and lime leaf, sawtooth and fried shallots all played their distinctive roles: spicy, crunchy, bright, sour and soothing.
Lunch at Clyde Common. While the menu sounded enticing enough, the delivery kind of fell flat. Sliced pork sandwich with zataar spices, served with yogurt and cucumber was heavily salted, and the bun was your average white cheapie that added insult to injury. It made me sad.
Bill had the fried oysters with buttermilk dressing served with fries. The fries came with a noted dipping sauce of harissa and creme fraiche. (The leaning toward Middle Eastern spices I’ve encountered along the road has piqued my interest).
I will give Clyde Common this, they have an exciting cocktail program. We enjoyed barrel aged martinis done with beefeater and dry vermouth aged for two months in Tuthilltown whiskey barrels, and a Nasturtium done with Dolin Blanc vermouth, Domaine de Canton ginger licquer, Gentian, Quince and finished with lemon peel.

We enjoyed the cocktails even more at the tiny-sized Central in Chinatown. It’s a tiny place that takes inspiration from speakeasy concepts, no website, no address on the front of the building and the bar is tucked behind the equally pint sized kitchen which is visible from the front window. I’m trying to find the photos but the drinks were innovative: some made with Ransom Old Tom gin from a Portland distiller. Old Raj Negroni made with Cocchi vermouth. The Sensei Sip with Old Weller bourbon matched with gen matcha.

We also enjoyed classic steak tartare done with traditional garnishes.
On to Seattle, where the burgeoning South Lake Union neighbourhood is showing great promise with many new restaurants such as re:public where we popped in dinner. Service was swift and pleasant and the food expertly wrought. This arugula-topped pork shank was killer, served with gnocchi, peas and a hearty tomato sauce, and at $20, superb value.
Tom Douglas has also discovered the area, with 3 restaurants, including the dahlia Workshop where biscuits are king. “The Zach” is the hungry man special, a biscuit encompassing fried chicken, tabasco black pepper gravy with a fried egg and bacon. Be afraid. Very afraid.

Before heading home, we toured through Tacoma to get a feel for the city. There’s a small contingent of cool places, and Stink is one of them, boldly promoting ripe cheeses and cured meats. The saying goes, “We put the aroma in Tacoma.”

We then headed out South Tacoma Way for some more roadside attractions. We were not disappointed. Bob’s Java Jive.

The closed Chieftain with the adjoining Totem Room. Somebody’s got to buy this place and give it some love.

Intrigued with the use of Middle Eastern spices during our trip, I returned home and made a beeline to Mediterranean Specialty Foods (Lakehill Grocery) and into the hands of Yaseer Youseff who insisted on making me breakfast. Thick pita smeared with a mix of olive oil and zataar spices, baked and served hot with olives, thick pressed yogurt drizzled with a fragrant olive oil and sprinkled with dried mint. And a plate of cut green peppers, tomatoes and green onion, and a couple of espressos.
It was delicious and of course I left with tubs of zataar, sumac, cheeses, sangak and pita breads to create my own deliciousness at home.

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