Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Restaurant Review: Kin

Kin on Urbanspoon“That is excellent!” “Wow!” “I can’t think of better food in Portland.” Those were among the spontaneous reviews coming out of our mouths after the food went in at Kin.

Kin is a chef-owned restaurant, and chef Kevin Shikami has a top reputation, having worked in Paris and San Francisco and having owned restaurants in Chicago. Maybe being the first diners on a quiet Tuesday evening gave us his undivided attention and best efforts. Although the menu changes daily, we had some of the regular items: tuna tartar, steamed buns with pork, salmon, and deserts. All five items exceeded expectation.

I’ll skip to the buns. The last time I had steamed buns was in a Chinese restaurant, which were baseball-sized bread with a speck of something inside. By contrast, the “buns” at Kin are better called pork belly burgers. The buns have a softer and more porous texture and much better flavor than those buns we get at Chinese restaurants. Also, they were cut like a hamburger bun. Inside was a thick cut of pork, which, again, was flavorful and cooked to perfection. We were tempted to pick up the plate to lick every drop of sauce, but, instead, I used some bread. I can imagine returning to Kin after work for a drink and the buns / sliders.

Yes, we’ve all eaten salmon 5,000 times in Portland. There were other more adventurous items on the menu. But despite this, the salmon did not just provide us food on a “school night.” It was a real treat. Unfortunately, I do not have the vocabulary to tell you how or why the sauce was a cut above. I can tell you that it was very tender inside and firm outside. I can tell you that the greens underneath were flavorful, and the little side of a so-called spring roll looked and tasted better than any spring roll I’d had before. It was indisputably fresh, not hard-packed, and filled with chunks of salmon.

The two deserts we had were also top-flight: artful, creative and delicious.

Just go to Kin. Keep this chef happy so he does not leave us in Portland like he left Chicago. I suspect his departure disappointed many Chicagoans.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Restaurant Review: Bamboo Sushi

Culinary correctness. Portland Kosher. Taliban sushi.

Maybe none of the above is a fair summary of Bamboo Sushi, but the terms come to mind when every other page of its menu notes another certification Bamboo Sushi has earned. These are not awards for culinary skill. Bamboo Sushi does not brag about James Beard Awards or kudos from the Oregonian or Willamette Week. Instead, it is all about culinary correctness, Portland's version of Kosher, including the first ever Marine Stewardship Council certified sushi restaurant in the world; Business for Environmentally Sustainable Tomorrow; Green Source Business; Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch; Salmon Nation; KidSafe Seafood; Green Restaurant Association; Blue Ocean Institute.

The menu also assumes that diners don’t know how to eat sushi. It contains a full page on “Sushi Etiquette,” with directions to eat fish from least fat content to most fat content, “don’t cross chopsticks when you set them down,” use fingers when eating nigiri and eat in one bite, “two at most.” Can you imagine Noble Rot instructing us on how to swirl and sniff wine?

Despite the pretentiousness, I really like Bamboo Sushi. The food and cocktails are very good. (Although, in contrast to its claim to sustainability, I did not see any Oregon vodka among the vodka bottles behind the bar.) It offers a variety of sakes, if you are into that. Eating off the happy hour menu is a delight. The ambience is great, as it gets a good mix of people, from hip and young to older people who appreciate the modern, cool, decor, which fits the Japanese and Japanese-inspired menu.

Seriously, I’m very happy to know that I’m not participating in the destruction of fisheries. (I'm less happy to be reminded about the problem when relaxing over dinner). I figure that any place that is so particular about what it purchases will provide me with fresh and healthful food. So far, after three visits to Bamboo Sushi, I think food is delicious and creative. Bamboo Sushi lives up to its slogan of “sustainable delectable possible.”

I’m not the only one who agrees that the food is delectable. One of my visits was on a quiet Sunday night. Yet, we still had to wait for a long time because others found the food and atmosphere compelling.

I mention all of the certifications and partnerships because the restaurant, itself, does. It is so "Portland" to aspire to be the number one, very best, top-of-the-heap environmental good citizen (in a very humble way, of course).Bamboo Sushi on Urbanspoon

Monday, October 10, 2011

Restaurant Review: Trout Lake Country Inn

Restaurant: Trout Lake Country Inn

Type of Food: American

Date: October 7, 2011

In 6 words or fewer: Good Food and Good People.

Review: Trout Lake, Washington is magically beautiful, no more so than at the Trout Lake Country Inn, with it's view of Mt. Adams to the East and Sleeping Beauty to the North. The Country Inn has gone through a variety of operators since I've been going there in 2005. Recently, the current operator, Danica, bought the historic hall, and the trend is in a very positive direction.

I had the roasted chicken, with garlic mashed potatoes and collards. The chicken was cooked to perfection and would have been very flavorful even without the one strip of bacon on top. The collards and potatoes also hit the spot. It was such a huge mound of food on a plate for $12 that I passed on the biscuit.

They can cook, and they are eager to please. Now that they are not just renting the Inn, I expect to see them improve it. Although, I, personally, have enjoyed the ambience of 104 year old walls, antique bar stools, and posters someone put up decades ago and never took down.

Trout Lake Country Inn on Urbanspoon

Sunday, October 9, 2011

A Hike in Indian Heaven

A muddy trail did not dampen our spirits on this cool, Autumn day in Heaven. Indian Heaven, that is. A wilderness area within the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, near Trout Lake, Washington. For my first time, we took the East Crater trail up. It's a gentle climb, without the steepness (or great vista) of the Cultus Creek approach to Junction Lake, our destination.

Dogs Molly and Henry joined Dale, Randi and me. The dogs thoroughly enjoyed the hike, too. The colors are coming in, and a few huckleberries clung on for whoever wanted them. A bit of scat on the trail indicates that the bears are loving the berries.

Here are a few photos.


Saturday, October 1, 2011

Bed & Breakfast & Dinner & Music at Kirkit Pension, Avanos, Turkey

Avanos, Turkey is not the number one place for tourists to stay when visiting the Cappadocia region. It is a normal small town, with appliance stores, markets, mosque, restaurants for locals, etc. Perhaps that's why we liked it. Avanos is known for its red clay soils, from which people have made pots for millenia. There is a concentration of such tourist stores in town, mostly for day-trippers. We lodged in Avanos for three nights, each time, we ate dinners right where we stayed, at Kirkit Pension.

The owners of Kirkit Pension have been in the travel business for over 20 years. Kirkit Voyage tailors tours or trips to a person's desires. Want a hiking guide? They can do it. For us, they arranged a rental car, signed us up on a balloon ride, and for a day tour of the underground city and other local sites. They are smart to vertically integrate: they get the tourists in on tours or other services, offer them a place to stay, try to sell them rugs in the store in town, sell them food and drinks, and will even do laundry in house instead of sending out the work. We had a chance to talk with two of the owners Yasim and Osman. Both are very accommodating in at least three languages: French, Turkish, and English.

During and after dinners, Kirkit Pension has classical Turkish musicians play, and the cook tries to get people to dance. Yasim explained that the musicians play as long as people stay around. The first night, a top drummer in the country was staying at the Pension, and he jammed with the regular trio. You could tell that the pro from Instanbul raised the level of performance for the group, which was quite good without him, as in the following video:

Here's a few seconds of the drummer:

Swimming in the Mediterranean Sea

Five years ago, Allyson hiked the Lycian Way and looked down upon the beautiful boats anchored in sheltered Mediterrean bays as people swam in the crystalline aquamarine waters. Last week, she finally stepped onto a boat, which motored up the shore from Cirali to one of those bays below the rocky cliffs.

Under bright, clear skies, we jumped and dove into the waters, enjoying the perfect water temperature. We marveled at the how pleasant a place can be.

More photos here.