A Rebel Gourmet

Eat, Drink, Fuck…

LAX to PDX – SF or Bust

Day 5

Up at 4am. Feels like I’m headed to work. This sucks ass. Even worse I had to bid farewell to Shelley who is sleeping naked and wonderful and beautiful and awesome… I brush my teeth while mostly unconscious, pack the last of my things and jump back into bed for ten minutes. It’s astonishingly difficult to climb out of bed and grab my luggage, keys in hand, and walk out that door.

4:30am

Traffic is sparse in Newport but picks up on the 405. It could be 4pm in Vancouver given the traffic levels as I approach LA. Even with the traffic I make it to Hertz to drop off the car in about 45 minutes. Epic. I leave the car at the lot and hop the shuttle to LAX where my Amtrak ticket states a bus will take me to Bakersfield. You see there are no direct trains to SF out of LA. As I get off the shuttle I’m thinking, Where the fuck are the buses that would leave from here? I mean I don’t know LAX all that well but what it lacks in character it makes up in efficiency. There are a number of shuttle and cab pick up points but in my experience no buses other than a few city routes.

***thinking***

So, no bus here, it must be leaving from Union Station downtown. No problem. Flag a cab…

I go to flag a cab and a Supershuttle pulls up. “Where you going?” asks the fellow in the passenger seat. “Union station,” I reply. It’s sixteen dollars – not bad – but they can’t pick me up. I have to go to the stand. I go. A shuttle pulls up. “You got a reservation?”

“Nope”

“You need a reservation.”

Fucking Christ, I think. Back to the cab stand. I call a cab. It arrives and I pile in with my gear. “Union station please.”

“What train?” mumbles the driver. I can’t place his accent but it’s irritating. Somewhere between Russian and Israeli. He says “buddy” too much and I don’t care for it. I tell him I’m taking a bus to Bakersfield to catch my train.

“The bus? Buddy. You need to go to the bus station. Greyhound.”

“No,” I say, Amtrak, but first I need to transfer to Bakersfield.

“No, buddy. No buses there.”

“What? There aren’t any buses at the train station?”

“No buddy.”

“OK,” I say, genuinely confused as to what to do… “Take me to the bus station then.”

 

We drive. And drive. And drive.

 

Fifty six dollars on the metre later we arrive at the greyhound station.

“You go in and check,. I will wait for you buddy,” he drawls.

“Stop the metre then…”

He sighs audibly but stops the metre.

“One minute buddy.”

I go in and am duly informed I am in the wrong place.

“Fuck.”

Back to the cab I freak out a bit at him as my stress levels reach new highs.

“Just take me to Union Station…”

He starts going off about how it’s a train station and all this nonsense about what I should have done etc etc. I curse at him and say, “Just take me to the fucking train station.”

We arrive. Final meter: $65.

The goddam train to San Francisco cost me $58. I am not impressed.

Luckily I have no problem getting my ticket and the information provided by the attendant at the information booth is useful. Indeed there are a number of inter and intra-city buses that leave from here. I grab a coffee from Starbucks and try to calm down. The Starbucks counter girl is super friendly and her calm demeanour and smile help shift me back into a more easy-going state.

I drink my Americano on a central outdoor terrace where myself and an assortment of drug addicts and ne’er-do-wells shamble about. I’m asked by one fellow if i have a “weed pipe” and I tell him, “No. I do not.”

I get on the bus. I sleep.

Waking up in Bakersfield. It’s a hot dry dessert shithole of scrub-brush and bungalows; it’s existence defies logic. Why do people live here and what sort of benefit is derived from it’s existence. I try not to strain myself thinking about it.

The train arrives.

6 hours later I’m trapped on a bus on the side of the freeway. It seems we are unable to drive more than a quarter mile without the engine cutting out and the bus dying. During rush-hour. On a busy ass freeway? No es bueno.

So we sit… Waiting for a new bus to arrive. 3rd world problems in the first world. This is new.

Our bus arrives and drives us into the city. We stop outside he Hyatt in what seems to be a financial district. Many people get off, some I suspect don’t realize there are multiple stops. That said I have no idea where to get off. I have no map and have my hostels address but as per my call an hour previous I suspect they are full as my rezo never went through. I figure, I will head there and see if I can connive my way into a bed and if not expand my search outward from there.

I hop off at the next stop and incur some serious roaming debt as I turn my phone on and use the power of the internet to orient myself. Sacramento Street huh? OK. 12 blocks west and 6 blocks south. No problem. Half hour tops.

I seem to have forgotten that San Francisco is built on small mountain peaks. Nob Hill challenges me and I drag my suitcase up its 20 degree grade over 5 blocks. I’m sweating and gross. I hit Taylor and take a left heading… down. Fuck. I realize that if I had known the geography of the city I could have easily avoided the hill and circumnavigated around it. I reach the alley within which resides my hostel, above a, what I’m sure is legit, massage parlour by the name of Les Nuits de Paris – classy – there are two strung out masseuses sharing a smoke out front they don’t acknowledge my presence as I stroll past. Up a small flight of stairs and into The Union Square Backpackers hostel. I’m looking to keep SF pretty cheap as I know Portland will bankrupt me. $35 a night gets me a bed, washroom, a roof and free breakfast. Now each of these things on it’s own demonstrate what $35 get you in a big city. The bed is one of 4 bunks (8 beds) in a shared dorm, the mattress is spring-shot but I suppose if I drink enough I won’t notice. The sheets are indeed clean and in a first for me I have to make my own bed as I arrive. They lost my reservation but I lucked out that there’s a few beds left. I will have to move in the morning. The whole thing is one big Thai Operation to quote Sean Fidler and I believe the entire 3 floor building is help together by hope and duct tape. The washrooms are clean but ramshackle, the knob in the shower long gone, a screw has been twisted into the receptacle and you have to pull on it to turn on the shower. A high pressure stream of tepid water, no shower head per say, more like a hose nozzle. I know people who would hold their noses up at the thought of staying in a place like this. For me, it’s a great chance to meet some people and I will proudly call it home for a few days.

 

 

LAX to PDX – Day 3: Signs, Sweetbreads, and Sex

Saturday rolled around in that lazy way it often does. Shelley and I slept late, the light cotton top sheet draped loosely atop us as the mercury climbed. The heat of the early morning roused me from my sleep and I stumbled to the shower. A cold blast of high pressure water knocking the sleep from my very soul. What’s this? No hangover. Thank you beer. Thank you very much.

Shelley had roused herself by the time I was finished and was showering in her en suite washroom. I dressed for the heat and headed to the kitchen. The plan was to hit up Alta Cafe for breakfast before packing our bags for an over-nighter in West Hollywood which would include dinner at Animal. A meal I had been looking forward to for some time. But first, we wanted to get as close to the Hollywood sign as possible.

I knew that it was perched precariously just below the top of a steep ridge in the Hollywood Hills and that actually approaching the sign was an impossibility, but I wanted to try. Not just witness the damn thing from the Magic Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard.

First things first though. Breakfast.

Alta Coffee House is a quaint little cafe in Newport. Tucked away in the closest thing I could find to an arts district; a few converted warehouses and assorted hipster bikes dotted the landscape. We arrived and were seated quickly, the soy vanilla latte I ordered putting my head into a more viable and conscious state. Shelley ordered traditional Eggs Benedict and I had Huevos con frijoles. The Benny was huge but given the glazed look of the hollandaise it had sat on the pass for a bit. My meal was essentially an open face burrito with soft poached eggs on it. A large tortilla on top of which was a large smattering of refried black beans – Mmmmm, potato, salsa, sour cream, green onion and cheese with the eggs plopped on top. Similar to Lindsay’s Benny it must have sat for a bit as the beans had cooled noticeably and everything had a slightly congealed look. It tasted great though, especially with the addition of some Cholula hot sauce. It was amazing but it filled the void. My Arnold Palmer was all house-made and was wonderful. Not to tart, not to sweet. Just right.

Post-breakfast we hopped into Shelley’s car and headed to Hollywood. I was feeling the need to be touristy so we headed straight for Hollywood Boulevard to check out Mans Chinese theatre and the assorted stars that dot the sidewalk. This was a bad decision. Mid day, mid summer, height of tourist season. This equalled an unending sea of slack jawed tourists gawking and gaping and crowding every inch of space. What had I been thinking. And now I was one of them. A mindless automaton drawn to every tourist trap and shitty shitty souvenir store where half of China’s GDP was established. Borderline insane quasi-homeless “performers” dotted the landscape in a variety of heat stroke inducing costumes. The “sexy” cat woman frightening in her forward approach, a fully soiled ill fitting – I’m sure not licenced Donald Duck sent my paedophile radar off the chart. The no less than 3 guys drumming on over turned buckets (One of who was actually quite talented) and Jack Sparrow (Kinda cool actually) and a robot dancer… the list goes on. Suitably disturbed by this display of desperation – but what do I know, maybe the money’s great, it likely pays for a bottle or whatever pills these people are addicted to….

Screw this. We hopped in the car and headed for the hills. I’m a sucker for cool houses and architecture and this was a grand tour of nearly 100 years of various styles of home built in Hollywood, from old style bungalows, Spanish colonial mansions and uber-modern all wood and glass spaces and a whole lot more, long before I got to the sign I was having fun. The narrow roadway twisted and turned past luxury cars parked on the street and I thought of Hank Moodie, that Platonic ideal of debauchery, partying the night away in one of these posh homes. We kept getting glimpses of the sign and as we rounded a corner it came into view. We were still quite far away and as we looked down the street… more tourists. Parked at a small vista they crowded each other get a photo and we drove right past them without slowing. Across the valley there appeared to be people hiking a foot path and Shelley told me that it’s a popular hiking spot, but there’s no access to the sign. This, combined with the information from Ivan that indeed there was security that monitored the sign who would physically stop you from getting near it set my mind to rest on the idea of perhaps even getting anywhere near it. Oh well. I shot a couple pics from a side street and we continued our scenic drive.

Staying at The Chamberlain Hotel. Sheer design beauty. A gorgeous boutique hotel with a rooftop pool our suite featured art deco embellishments a fireplace and 2 big screen TVs. The sheets were like a billion thread count and the bed was perfect – not that we slept much. Cocktails were had poolside and my Mojito – which was too sweet at first was “freshened” up at the half way point by the bartender gratis. Awesome. Dinner rezos were at Animal at 8 so we headed back to the room to get ready.

Shelley looked stunning in a white tank with a gold sequined jacket and tight torn jeans. Sexy as fuck. Cab got us their quick and we entered the non-descript restaurant with no name outside. I like.

Smallish. Maybe 35 seats. Minimalist and intimate with a bar along the far end then long rows of small tables. The minimalist aesthetic was marred however by a very oddly hung piece of abstract art near the bar. No other art on the walls and the work did not fit the decor. I believe this was the one and only problem with my experience at this delightful place. I think I’ll let it slide…

We ordered drinks. I went with beer as I prefer it with food over wine. Shelley had the House Chardonnay which was amazing. I hate it when really nice eateries have poor house wines and poorer coffee. It can ruin an otherwise perfect meal.

The menu rotates constantly at Animal and there were around 35 options on the menu. All meat based, all of the animals, all of the parts, all of them. They are listed from smaller and cheaper to larger and pricier. Nothing over $30 was nice. This is the kinda place you wanna come with a few friends if you can get in. That way you can taste everything. We went with 6 plates and I figured that would fill us nicely.

To start, Chicken Liver Toast with balsamic onion confit. One large toasted french bread smeared liberally with creamy liver and a line of tar black sweet and tangy onion. 2 bites each. I wanted more. Hell, I want more right now as I’m typing in San Francisco 600+ kilometres away. As we finished our second plate arrived. Dungeness Crab, Heirloom Melon and Cucumber, lemon. Simplicity is something I am learning as I cook more and this dish nails that ethos. The richness of the crab and it’s subtly creamy flavour paired so well with the sweet melon crunchy almost sour cucumber unlike any I’d ever tasted and the light lemon juice tat had been drizzled over it. Each ingredient spoke for itself and played well with the others.

Next up. Tandoori octopus, tamarind, blood orange, raita. The octopus dominated this plate. Super smoky and spicy I mopped up the sour tamarind with the octo-bits and dipped them in the cool raita which cut the fire a bit. Not even close to chewy this slow roasted meat was tender and soft. I aspire to be able to cook octopus like this. The sweet spicy smokiness of the dish was being washed away by my ale as the Crispy Pig Ear arrived. Holy fucking fuck. The meat was chopped to a thin julienne and piled high on the plate, lime and chilies gave it some hellish kick and it was topped with a sunny side up egg. Once again. Simplicity itself. The dish was elegant to point of divinity. The rich egg and yolk off setting the salty bacon-y pork which was crunchy then chewy. So far my favourite dish and one I will be stealing to make into a breakfast special at Save On. Bring on the Ears!

In my post foodgasm state I was vulnerable and the arrival of the Chicken Fried Sweetbreads, Charred Romaine Hearts and Crawfish XO. I’d like to take a minute to thank Anthony Bourdain for his ongoing efforts to elevate the lowly misunderstood sweetbread. I understand peoples initial aversion to eating gallbladder and other glands but the flavour and texture of sweetbreads are unique and so goddamn good. Fried like chicken with charred romaine!? Hells yeah. I dragged the crunchy-soft morsels through the XO sauce and grinned.

Our final dish arrived. Braised Rabbit Legs, Matsutake, Green Beans, Potato puree, Mustard jus. Like a home cooked Sunday dinner. 2 perfectly cooked rabbit legs with meat that pulled gently off the bone with a mere nudge of the fork. I had never tried matsutake mushrooms as the $90 a kilo price and the relative rareness of them hinders my cooking with them. Fragrant and spicy smelling with the velvet potatoes and slightly crunchy beans they were the perfect end to a perfect meal…

Shelley was in a food coma so she ordered a coffee, which was as good as the house wine. It was then decided that we needed to share the berries, vanilla custard, lavender crumble, opal basil dessert. Every single thing about it was divine. Like I would set up a temple to worship this dessert which matched sweet sour soft crunchy aromatic herbal and a bit salty. Yet in and amongst that orgy of things that could go wrong nothing did. Like a symphony every ingredient played it’s part to perfection.

Overall one of the best meals in awhile and it definitely gave Beast a run for it’s money. Being a bit cheaper helped. If only it that damn painting wasn’t hanging in the corner. Fuck that painting.

Until Next Time,

Eat well.

LAX to PDX – Tapas and Perspectives

I arrived back at Shelley’s before she finished up at work. Some time with Albert Camus was in order so I sunned myself and fed my brain with the events in The Plague.

Plans for the evening are dinner at Lola Gaspar in Santa Ana. Shelley arrived home soon after me and we readied ourselves for a night out on the town. Called a cab. And were out the door around 8:30, both of us famished and an hour behind our reservations. Oops.

Located in an artists enclave in Santa Ana, a hip little area of basement bars, studios, galleries, and eateries Lola Gaspar is a tiny little space, dark and romantic. It’s 20 plus foot vaulted ceilings give it the feel of a tiny cathedral and candles light the brick and dark mottled walls. Ultra-hip, I hoped this tapas bar would live up to it’s charm and reputation.

As we were over an hour late and one short in our party (Shelley’s bff Rachel cancelled) we were unable to be seated quickly and the none-to-friendly hostess told us we could find a place at the bar. I had not expected our rezo to be held but I understand her frustration at holding a table. We shoulda called. Shelley sat and I stood and we perused the menu. European and Latin inspired with local ingredients. That great West Coast trope. It often works well and I was excited.

Our first drinks arrived. Tall refreshing vodka sodas, extra lime. Shelley and I have similar tastes in everything, music, drinks, food and fucking. It has been consistently mind-blowing our likenesses to each other, yet the disparities we have are also very intriguing to me. Atheist, slacker, artist, cook with a penchant for travel and debauchery meets hard working, career oriented, Catholic attorney with a penchant for travel and debauchery. Who knew we would make such a great team. Our shared love of all things awesome in gastronomy, beverages, hotels and life immediately gave us pause.

Back in the pub things were going from bad to better. We had ordered the flatbread with chorizo, roasted tomato, mozzarella and goat cheese. I know right?

They burnt it.

It was the last one.

Now, often times when such a tragedy happens the staff apologize and ask what you would prefer, maybe buy you drink for you. Nope, the manager apologized profusely and offered any item on the menu for free. I had barely taken more than a glance but immediately Housemade Chicken Terrine, Crispy Pig Ear with truffle butter toast, and Wild Boar Mac N’ Cheese all caught my eye. “What do you suggest?” I inquired.

The prawn chorizo potato tacos with lime and Russian relish obliterated my palate. In a good way. Holy fucking hell were these tasty. A far cry from authentic tacos along the lines of Sancho’s from 6 hours previous but who the hell cares about authenticity when a symphony – nay, an orgy – of flavours assaults you tongue. The textures of the prawn – a bit chewy, the chorizo – spicy and less chewy, and the potato – soft, alongside the creamy post-modern thousand island type dressing and the fresh acidity of the lime. Heaven. We consumed them in a frenzy, both of having not eaten in what felt like days.

Oh right… we also received a plate of complimentary bacon wrapped dates with bleu cheese. No complaints here. OK, minor complaint, I find bleu cheese to be a bit aggressive flavour wise in this mix and would prefer manchego or another medium hard cheese. But hey, that’s just the way I make ‘em.

We ordered another round of drinks and I was privileged to be served the best Old Fashioned of my life – apologies to The Diamond in Gastown. Ok… It’s as good as the Diamond. The perfect ratio of bitters sugar and orange perked up the Makers Mark bourbon and the whole thing just rocked. Often to boozy or too sweet this old fashion had neither and the orange notes floating in the background were spot on. Damn.

We ordered 2 plates to share after that. The braised beef cheeks on creamed yams with roasted purple potatoes, fresh onion and cilantro. As well as the Pork Ossobuco with Summer pesto. Both plates arrived around the same time. Smallish, but this was to be expected. Both proteins were cooked to the proper doneness. The ossobuco flaked of the leg bone but was never mushy in your mouth well spiced and overall quite pleasant as I had never seen it on a menu, let alone tried it. The only downside was that the shank bone was quite small and all the marrow had cooked out leaving me with nothing to scoop out as the final act of one of my favourite dishes. The Beef Cheeks Espanola were soft and tender juicy and delicious; and spicy as fuck. This was unexpected but delightful. I’d finished my Old Fashioned, not a drink to was down spicy tapas with anyhow and ordered a Deschutes IPA which I seem to be able to find at about any place with a beer list worth a damn.

My enjoyment of IPA’s is newly developed. I was never a fan of the floral perfumy hop and the flavours it not only brings to an IPA but movers in, sets up shop and takes over. I’ll never be a huge hop-head like some friends of mine but the more I try the more I am discovering there are a few out there I enjoy, piney and citrusy works for me, less of that marijuana perfume and I’m pretty good. Deschutes does it for me. Lindsay is not into the hops and doesn’t like the bitter finish so I ordered her an amber lager, smoother and with a sweet finish. She liked.

The IPA quenched the fire from the beef and we made quick work of our mains. Actually quite full from our four plates we opted out of dessert and decided to check out a neighbour hood bar called ther copper door.

Beer only with a few ciders on the menu I was excited to have a chance to try some new brews. The beer list reads with the following categories: Beer Connoisseurs, Beer Lovers, Beer Drinkers… with selections ranging from 25 dollar Trappist ales and obscure micro-brews to $4 cans of PBR and tall Tecate and a whole lotta in between. I like this. A lot, and the addition of three Unibroue choices from back home is nice. Nothing else Canadian that I can spot though. I guess we hold onto the good stuff.

Shelley’s asking me a ton of questions about beer and she’s really getting into it. I give her an informal run-down of the differences between lagers and ales and outline different flavours, ingredients and finishes that contribute to the wide ass rainbow of beer. She is enthused. This makes me happy. Fuck, I’m falling for this girl and all I want in the world is to make her happy.

We drink. We drink some more. All manner of beers in all manner of styles and they blend together in my mind. We talk of memories and experiences and in all this we are creating our own memories and experiences of and with each other. Tomorrow we will spend the whole day together before our first “date” that I asked her on a month previous and that which precipitated me going to LA in the first place. My second day in… Good food good drink and a great girl… and I couldn’t be happier.  

Until next time,

Love well.

LAX to PDX – On beauty, breakfasts and taco joints

July 20, 2012

I awoke beside beauty. Having travelled over 1000 kilometres to visit and stay with a girl I had only known previously for five passionate hours seemed a bit mad. But often times in life one must take a risk when something feels right. Even if it’s a long shot. So far this long shot was working out.

The night before I had cooked a dinner of marinated raw mozzarella with fresh basil, olive oil, and prosciutto on baguette. Followed by spinach salad with local bleu cheese, organic candied spiced pecans and crispy lardons. Dressed with a warm bacon vinaigrette it was divine. Marinated soy, pepper-lime flank steak cooked to medium rare rounded out a perfect meal for a hot summers eve. Shelley was suitably impressed. As we sipped Belgian ale on her balcony and the sun dipped low over the palms I felt an ease and comfort with her that caused a little anxious worry to well up inside of me.

What was I doing? Travelling all the way to Newport beach to be with someone for 3 days knowing full well a relationship, even if one arose, may be destined from the start to fail? I try not to look at the world like that though and I pushed the worry away with a few sips of the Doppel Ale content in the moment and happy I was in what seemed to be a near tropical paradise compared to back home.

Later that night it was as though we were two teenagers who had just discovered sex, except for the fact that we awesome at it from the get go. Passion and good hard fucking combined leaving me breathless and sweaty.

In the morning Shelley dressed and headed to work as it was only Friday and she had paper work from her depositions earlier in the week that need to be done. Leaving me to my own devices I listened to the unfolding tragedy in Colorado and wrote; sipping amazing Hawaiian coffee and pondering my plans for the day.

Haute Cakes. The name made me chuckle and my love of puns alongside Shelley’s recommendation sealed the deal. The cafe is located in a nondescript strip-mall (is there any other kind?) about a 10 minute drive from Lindsay’s. I found it easily enough, tucked in between a luxury gift store and an insurance broker. The space was around the side of the buildinf beside a spacious outdoor patio with a ping-pong table where two college types lazily volleyed the ball. I ordered at the front, cafeteria style. The menu was mostly breakfast with the standard fare, along side soup and sandwiches and some amazing looking salads. I thought briefly about a salad but I was here for brunch so I defaulted to my usual. Soft poached eggs, dry multi-grain toast, potatoes, and in this place… fruit. I love fruit with my breakfast so points there for Haute Cakes. Apparently they do have amazing hot cakes but alas I care not for pancakes, waffles, french toast or their ilk for breakfast (This would change in a day or so, however….) Having ordered I sat myself with my number – lucky 87 – and people-watched. The patio was quite full with older wealthy moms, retirees, young tanned women in astonishingly short shorts and small groups of 20-somethings with either a day off or a trust fund to keep them fed.

My food arrived after about ten minutes. My 3 poached eggs were a perfect soft poach but were improperly drained and as such sat in a small pool of water in their cup. I drained this out without much of a thought and scooped them out onto my toast (only one piece, hmmm….) The potatoes were wedge cut, roasted to perfection and well seasoned, the fruit was piece of melon and a whole strawberry, a bit chintzy but I was happy to have anything. Liberally doused in Tapatio hot sauce the whole meal was fully competent and for just over ten dollars with an iced coffee (which sucked as it was just hot coffee over ice) I was happy enough. There is a certain comfort to be found in breakfast and it’s odd that given my love of the meal – I cook it for a living – I rarely eat breakfast unless I am out. I fond breakfast to be a meal that is most easily screwed up. There are so many combining factors that go into a good breakfast plate that one or more of the component parts risks coming out to cold, too hot under cooked over cooked or with some other glaring error. As such and with my knowledge of cooking brekky I worship a place that does it right. Haute Cakes does it well. Not perfect by any means but truthfully I have yet to find the place that does. Perhaps I will have to go about opening it myself. Until then I contented my self in a full belly and a still heavy wallet.

Then I hit the beach. Hard. I lazed about like nobody’s business, read my book and lounged in the warm surf. All that slacking and lazing worked up a mighty appetite after a few hours so I headed up to the strip in search of beach nourishment. Taco joints in So-Cal are as ubiquitous as sushi restaurants are in Vancouver. Everywhere you look there’s a pinche taqueria or some such other Mexican eatery often with multiple restaurants on a block. Enter: Sancho’s Tacos. Amidst all the highly polished tourist trap eateries in Huntington Beach like the California Pizza Kitchen, and any number of Mexi-cali margarita and taco joints Sancho’s is a slightly dilapidated taco shack reeking of authenticity. The numerous heavily tattooed patrons and employees gave me hope as well. I ordered 3 of their most popular tacos as everything on the menu seemed to be of a special house variety mixing your basic meat and using sauces I wasn’t accustomed to. I sat outside and soon enough my tacos arrived.

The large corn tortilla had been flash fried which was new to me. This gave it a crisp chewiness that quite frankly i prefer over the steamed then grilled or pressed style which often ends up being too starchy or falling apart as soon as any moisture gets onto the shell. I examine my lunch. Carnitas, Carne Asada and the house Fish Taco. Well played counter girl. Well played. Other than Lengue, these are my usual taco trio and I was happy that they seemed to intuit that. Carnitas first. I really should have waited as it’s generally my favourite but I just dug in. Crispy bits of pork in and amongst soft heavily marinated sauced strands of pig flesh caused my salivary glands to flood my mouth, topped with a bit of onion jalapeno and cilantro the simplicity shone through and the pork did all the talking. Win. The Asada was next. I often don’t order carne asada because the beef cuts are usually over cooked and tough, as was the case with Sancho’s carne asada. The flavours were nice, spicy and salty, the guacamole was fresh and citrus-y as I like and the addition of black beans was top notch. Ton bad the beef was tough and chewy. Not my cup of tea. Lastly the fish taco, grilled, not breaded was nice but I switch hit on that all the time depending on my mood. The fish was a tad dry but the addition by me of more lime and the sour cream that topped the taco made up for it. Red cabbage lent some much need crunch and I inhaled the thing. Win. I sat back satisfied with my choice and watched two cops leave tacos in hand, edging their way around a couple of Latino gangsters, shirts off, tattoos blaring their affiliations and listing their dead and living relatives. The surfer girls beside me babbled on about their lives and I smiled wide sipping on my ice water. Hey. Everyone loves a good taco right?

Until Next time…

Eat Well.

 

LAX to PDX – The hardest part is getting where you need to be.

July 20,2012

In and out of consciousness for my two and one half hour flight I awoke groggy but excited as we made preparations for landing at LAX. I once billed LAX as the ugliest airport in the world – or at least the ugliest of the many I have passed through. I’m not sure if I arrived at the wrong ugly-terminal or perhaps it was my low blood sugar, but it seemed different. Nice-ish. Bright. Clean. Sanitized of the crud factor that used to hang like cigarette smoke in my grandparents curtains. I debarked quickly and picked up my luggage from the still wretched beige room containing the luggage-go-rounds. I have always since I was a child wanted to ride one of them but alas my fear of tasers and detainment keeps me grounded.

I had booked a car with Hertz the night before and I hopped aboard the shuttle driven by Edward and to the pounding sounds of “Call me Maybe.” Inescapable. The music was loud and there were those cool rope lights everywhere. I double checked to make sure I hadn’t hopped on some previously unbeknownst to me party-bus. Nope. Luggage and Japanese tourists confirmed I was in the right place.

At the Hertz compound (I love getting to use that term) behind the counter sat dozens of “quality care specialists” with a large banner proclaiming over 20 “Best” placings for service and care that Hertz had received from Zagat, who apparently hand our acclaims for pretty much every fucking thing now. “Best service provided by little person in the care of a zoo animal” and some such other insanity. Truth be told however, my QCS as I am now calling him – He had a name tag but I forgot what it said – was speedy, informative, friendly and provided me with a map. The map made my day as I had no data plan for my smart-phone and would be damned if I was gonna spend 5$ a MB on roaming data.

BTW, Dear Telus: Fuck you.

I signed and initialled where needed and sauntered out to the sprawling lot to pick up my chariot for the weekend. Now, I am not in the budget for anything fancy here but as someone who does not and has not ever owned a car that functions (more on that another time) I am generally in awe of any working vehicle I get the chance to drive. Even if it is a Nissan Sentra. OK kids! Get in the back. It’s time for soccer practice and if you win…. Ice cream!!! These words echoed through my head as I spied the gleaming white 4 door sedan.

Then I started the engine. No longer family sedan this was now “my car” if but only for the weekend and damned if wasn’t proud of her. Muscle would be a strong adjective to place anywhere near this car but she accelerated onto the 405 smoothly and without strain. I was happy I went “compact” over “economy” at this point and I drove south with a very limited idea of where I was headed except that a gnawing in my gut told me I would have to eat at some time in the future. I missed two exits in my spontaneous decision to drive the Coast Highway so said ‘fuck it’ and stayed on the hyper efficient 8 lane freeway that is the 405.

I knew my exit to get to Newport where Shelley resides (the whole reason for this crazy vacation in the first place) and as I pulled off I noticed the fuel gauge hadn’t moved a bit, well, changed as it is a completely digital system of 16 tiny blocks that surround a half circle. Not one block had turned off. Odd I thought, hope it isn’t broken. I kept driving.

I passed the turn off to Shelley’s, mentally noting it for my return later, and kept driving until I hit the ocean. Figuratively. As I passed by numerous luxury car dealerships it dawned on me that I had seen more Lexuses (Lexi?) Beamers, Mercedes, Land Rovers, Mustangs (They’re like mosquitoes here) and Porsches in 2 hours than I had seen in my entire life. Everyone in Newport drives a luxury car. But damned if I wasn’t proud of my hyper-fuel-efficient little Sentra. Costing me mere pennies a mile. My kinda car. I also figured out how to work the radio finally.

The Pacific Coast Highway is a beautiful road, hugging right up along the coastline from Sand Diego to Washington state, past marinas and yacht clubs and then onto the never ending stretch of Huntington Beach to Long Beach to Venice and beyond. It was here that I found The Big Belly Deli. The sign caught my eye. Big letters and what appeared to be a pregnant woman’s belly in silhouette. No matter. If it’s good enough for the pregger ladies it’s good enough for this kid. I parked. Easily. For free. Damn you LA and surrounding areas for your ease of access and cheap and/or free parking everywhere. Car city is good for cars, yes? As I approached the front door I saw a sign that says in large text: I’d Rather Be at the Big Belly Deli” Given that I was there already I had no argument. Inside however, I understood the motto. The walls are covered with framed 3×5′s of people at sites all over the world holding banners proclaiming the same thing, couples on tropical beaches, hiking the Great Wall, at Pisa, at weddings, funerals; damn the world and get back to this eatery they proclaim. Well then… I thought, expectations rising at the thought of a sandwich that breaks up a marriage before it’s begun. And now onto the most important question. What to eat. Salads? What is with Californians and their ability to turn the lowly salad into an amazing main dish? But that’s not why I’m here. I peruse. Standard classics such as a French Dip, Pastrami, and Meatball caught my eye but what it came down to was big and messy versus big and messy. Newport Cheese-steak or Rajun Cajun? A sucker for spicy southern I went Cajun. A hefty portion of grilled chicken breast cut into strips paired alongside spicy Cajun sausage, red onion, bell peppers and melted jalapeño jack cheese sauced with Tabasco ranch. Yes please. For a side I went macaroni salad mostly because it’s classic and I rarely see it on menus outside of my hated KFC. Fuck KFC. Seriously, fuck that whole fucking gross over-priced chain and everyone who does now, or has ever, or will ever work for it.

I made the correct choice.

The sandwich was on a lightly toasted french loaf type bun. By lightly toasted I mean just the outside was toasted which I feel is the best way. This allows the inner bread to stay soft and pliable, holding onto the ingredients and sauce when you bite in but crispifying the crust a little so it flakes. I bit in. Pretty damn good. Needed more sauce but had plenty of cheese and meat to satisfy the 8$ price. Oh yeah. It was 8$. With a 4oz side of mac salad. God bless America. The macaroni salad was underwhelming. The mayo based dressing was decent but it was warm. Warm mayo and macaroni. It needed a little crunch to it. Perhaps some celery or carrot and pepper and a pinch of cayenne or paprika in the dressing. I’m no expert, but colder would have been better. I ate it all though because well, I don’t like to waste food.

Satiated and content I headed out to the highway and discovered the surf mecca of Huntington Beach, Ca.

Surf City. I believe the Beach Boys wrote a song about it but they wrote a lot of songs about only one or two things so who knows. Huntington Beach is cool. And sexy. Everyone is either 15 to 28 or over 45 but still holding onto the surf thing. Everyone is golden and had flat stomachs and killer bodies. It is a very pretty town that seems to hold a population that wear very little clothing most of the year round. Bungalows dot the streets and palms shade open air cafes and taco joints. Every third store sells something to do with surfing and a massive pier juts out from the promenade. And it is here where they surf. The water teems with guys and girls all out looking for a wave and it’s amazing to watch from the pier as they catch one and ride. Fluid and fast it looks like a huge rush. But lacking in my knowledge and inability (read: poverty) to rent a board and instructions a boogie board would stand in and have to suffice.

So, it was that I joined the tourists, the pre-teens and indeed the elderly on my boogie board and made my way to the calmer side of the pier and swam out to catch my first wave.

Now I fully understand the physics of how this works. Ready ones self on the board facing out, see a wave, turn body, wait for wave, kick, catch wave, ride wave on belly into shore. I watched some teenagers who seemed to have it down but then also noticed the addition of fins strapped to their feet. Hmmm, I thought, wish I had thought of that. Alas, I was now 100 feet from shore, with the tow line strapped uncomfortably to my wrist (It kept getting sand in it and it was really scratchy) and I waited. And waited. And…. a swell! I turned, and started to kick. Nothing. The wave didn’t even crest. OK, I’m doing something wrong here… I wasn’t, the waves were just choosing to pass me by, or begin 50 feet alongside me. There were numerous other people around so like them I waited some more, enjoying just floating on my foam board.

And then it happened. I felt the water retreat and I dropped down into the base of the swell, it rose up behind me and I kicked for all I was worth. I briefly caught the top of the wave as it crested and it started to pull me along but then I slipped from it’s grasp falling behind it and found myself once again floating. I stayed out there for over an hour and yes, I did catch a few waves and had a blast riding them a short distance to shore. Once I even tried to jump up onto my board but this resulted in it dipping and pitching me head first into the wave, with much salt water up my nose and in my lungs I gave it up and headed to the comfort of Camus and my beach blanket.

I’d still like to give surfing a go sometime but it won’t be on this trip which is unfortunate given the conditions here. Waves, like opportunities in life often come with little or no timing. You have to jump on and kick as hard as you can but sometimes you are still left behind as the kid who was smart enough to throw fins on passes you by. Remember your fins.

LAX to PDX – West Coast 2012 – Day One

Day One – I’m Leavin’ on a Jet-plane…

I don’t much care for airports. I mean I appreciate the service they provide but as interstitial spaces between here and there, work and home, they feel uncomfortable and much too transitory. Except for one thing. The security check. At the security checkpoint I have the chance at the start of a long journey after having often already stood in line for an extended period of time, to take off my shoes. Take them off and place them along with all of my carry-on materials, change, wallet, belt, et al into a shallow grey bin which is scooted through a machine that works to keep evil at bay. In the mean time I get to rub my nearly bare feet on the soft industrial berber carpet and relax because I am not a terrorist, nor drug smuggler, nor person-of-any-sort-of-interest to the hard working security agents who toil at their respective posts.

This time though, perhaps the velvet touch of YVR’s mottled carpets wasn’t enough. I had just made my check-in by 2 minutes after going to the wrong airline counter due to a mix of excessive lager consumption during my one day layover at the Rumpus Room, lack of sleep and the early hour. Combined with the severe lack of caffeine that my body is used to by 7am my critical faculties were definitely “off.”

Knowing my plane was scheduled to leave at 8am I also seemed to have forgotten that this is when it should be taxiing onto a runway, thus boarding would be sooner. Much sooner.

I arrived at the line for security. It snaked lazily back in forth, one of those lines that defies you to guess how long and how many people are in it due to all the switchbacks, twists and turns. I checked the time. Oh, How bout that, I’m boarding in two minutes… Given my ability to remain calm in nearly any situation involving time – being a chef has it’s advantages – I chilled. However, given my hatred of being late I started to crunch the numbers. OK so the plane is on time, but the pre-boarding announcement goes out and the families, and the disabled, and the elderly, and the disabled elderly with families all trundle up first. This takes 7 to 10 minutes. Then Business Class gets to shuffle forth, noses in the air, the smell of scotch from the VIP lounge wafting from their lips, carry-on luggage larger than my checked bags… And they board. Another 7 to 10 minutes. This gives me 20 minutes to clear this line as large as one waiting for Bieber tickets, plus whatever is waiting through door number 2 at customs.

I digress.

I did however, progress. Forward in the line. As I was about 6 people back from the counter that housed the grey bins I surreptitiously removed my shoes… and then my socks. I was gonna go full pull on this one. The lady behind me noticed but didn’t say anything. I resisted the urge to look at my phone to check the time and instead revelled in my bare feet on the floor. The people ahead of me slowed their actions as if they knew I was running late, the gentleman ahead of me triple checking his pockets and struggling to remove his loafers, They have no laces man!!! Finally after almost falling over he succeeded. Finished he and his party passed unmolested through the check point.

OK! Game time. I took all my relevant material off and out and dropped them in the bins provided. Stripping down in near record time. I remembered my change and belt and wallet and I sauntered through the metal detector. And….. Cleared it! Whenever I pass through without that piercing electronic beep I feel like I personally accomplished something. Like I somehow won out of sheer will. The border agent however, eyed my feet. “Sir, you aren’t required to remove your socks…”

“I know,” I replied, scrunching my toes on the berber and smiling at the fellow.

Next level. Customs

Ah, the United States of America. I do love your idiosyncrasies. Such as the fact you seem to be the only country on the world that will deny you entry before you even step foot on their soil. Like a bouncer outside the club you have to pass muster to get anywhere near their dancefloor. Now, the thing about that is it actually makes more sense. Why travel all the way to a place just to have to turn around and find a way back when if you know you aren’t getting in? It would be like the bouncer letting you in and you get to the bar and the bartender looks at you and says “Nope, not gonna happen…” This system saves you an uncomfortable plane ride with crying babies and all other manner of cliched plane-travel issues that arise. I mean, have you tasted the food!?

Of course the line was just as long… Actually it somehow seemed longer. Like they had let extra travellers in from some side door in order to swell the numbers – keep that budget up right?. Thankfully 21 our of 25 – what would you call that little booth the customs fellow sits in? – I will go with Customs Cubicle because I like how it sounds. 21 of them are open and the line moves fast giving me a chance to check out my fellow travellers and play “tourist or Los Angeleno.” I feel I am good at this game which I base mostly on level of tan, quality of carry-on luggage and blonde-ness of hair. After congratulating myself on my insight and ability to stereotype people I hear that dreaded PA announcement: “This is the final boarding call for WestJet flight 1669 Vancouver to LA, would all passengers please continue to Gate E68 to finish boarding.”

I am at the Cubicle. Once again. I am not a smuggler nor do I have any dreams of bombing or otherwise harming my fellow passengers, no matter how slowly they remove their shoes, yet time and time again I approach the Customs Kiosk and I begin to stutter and sweat. “Why am I going to Newport Beach?” Um, I go blank… Don’t say drug deal… don’t say drug deal…. “Vacation,” I squeak…

“How long?”

“Um… 2 weeks, no. 12 days…”

The bored border guard eyes me as I expect fully to be hauled into the dreaded Secondary Search room that I assume is like a mini-Guantanamo bay where I can be held indefinitely without trial subject to all manner of transgressions against the Geneva Convention as I remain in limbo between Canada and the US.

Stamp. Stamp. “Have a nice trip sir.”

I pick up the pace. My gate is E68. I am swerving in and out of travellers looking at the Gate numbers. E88. Damn, 20 gates to go. I jog lightly, a this sheen of sweat building on top of the previous line-sheen and nervous-sheen. The sheen becomes more and I feel a drip of moisture trickle down my back and hover above my butt. Ew. Swass.

Then it happens. With 5 gates to go: “Would passenger Christopher Williams please go immediately to Gate E68 for boarding. This is a final call for Passenger Christopher Williams.” And every single person in the airport who sees me jogging knows that that’s me. Christopher Williams, the prick whose time is so much more important than everyone else he can just lollygag along and the plane will wait for him like it’s his own fucking private Leer Jet.

I approach my gate where the two boarding attendants greet me pleasantly and joke that I had plenty of time still. I chuckle and board the plane.

Every eye seems to be on me as I find my seat. But what’s this? Emergency exit row. Just me. 3 seats and legroom better than 1st class? Everything is coming up Willie! I settle in and get ready for take off. The flight attendants give us the rigamarole and we strap in and review the safety procedures. I assure them that in the case of an emergency landing I am fully capable of getting that door open. You better believe I will get that door open! When…. what’s this? 2 stragglers just boarding now? I wasn’t the last person to board the plane. Sweet Jesus! The attendants once again have to review the safety procedures and the lead attendant makes a point of letting the stragglers know this. Now it is I who gets to glare as they struggle to find space for their carry-ons and get seated. Geez… Some people just have no regard for other peoples time, I think to myself, settling in with my iPod falling into a light much needed sleep, missing the take-off altogether.

PDX – Day 5 — Sassy’s, Santeria, Biscuits, and More

Dear Reader,

Our last full day in Portland and the sun was out and back with a vengeance. The mercury rose to 26 degrees by noon and we found ourselves riding across town to find the farmers market. After a good hour of riding we asked for directions at two different places and after another 20 minutes with no luck we stopped at an intersection whereupon I saw a little tourist information sign that informed me that a) The farmers market was just down the street and b) It was only on Saturdays. Oops.

A little dismayed we biked back towards downtown and decided to go to the market along the river. It was packed with tourists and merchants selling their wares. It was kinda cool that all the items for sale had to be hand crafted and there were definitely some unique and interesting items. I own too much crap though and not looking to shop quickly grew bored. As the sun beat down upon us the urge to nap took over and we all headed over to a grassy stretch in the park to lay down and just chill.

***Sleep***

The sun began to set as it is want to do and a chill set in. We got up groggy and made our way back to the hotel. Tonight was gonna be our last night and we wanted to make it a good one. Strippers were the plan and the plan was good.

This was my second night at Sassy’s and upon arriving I was denied entry due to my expired out-of-state drivers licence not passing muster with the hulking doorman. Dismayed at his new found passion for valid identification I tried to figure out a new plan of attack. Jared had an idea. I could hop on his Nishiki and burn ass back downtown, grab my passport and then bike back. Drunk as fuck this seemed like the perfect idea. 28 minutes round trip I estimated. Riding another persons bike while drunk at break-neck speeds is not something I would recommend. I discovered on this trip that I really hate drop bars but I really love toe clips. Arriving safely back at Sassy’s, passport in hand I was allowed entry into what is probably my favorite strip club ever.

Now, I don’t really frequent strip clubs that often because I just can’t get into the fantasy of naked girls paying attention to you when really it’s all just a cash driven ruse… Also, the feminist in me is torn between the commodification of the female form, the power structures around patriarchal control over woman’s bodies and the instinctual(?) male drive in me for sex and the want to see beautiful naked women. That said; one’s body is one’s own to do with what you want so I just rolled with it. The athleticism of the girls was amazing and the ground level “stages” were really cool. There was a huge variety of dancers with a great deal of tattooed and kinda alternative looks happening, nerdy girls too. I had never seen a hot nerdy stripper until Portland. At this point I pretty much gave in and cash flowed as fast as the drinks pouring out of the well. I had my first private dance as well, and bought Jared and Megan one for his birthday. The intimacy of a private dance was pretty cool. Something I learned at Sassy’s, strippers smell good. Or at least these ones do. They night sped on by and 2am was edging in on me. I had wanted to go to Santeria for tacos as I had heard that it was amazing. I bailed from Sassy’s around 1:45 and hailed a cab. I let the driver know my urgency and she floored it to get me there in time. I walked into the little hole in the wall with barely 20 seats and was worried that I wouldn’t be able to have my tacos dreams fulfilled. The fellow who was working welcomed me in kindly. There was no one else eating and they looked mid way through closing the line. Despite this I was not only assured of a taco but was pleasantly engaged by someone who seemed genuinely happy to have me as a patron. I liked this. I ordered a beer and 4 tacos. My usual go-to’s for a first time trial. Asada, Pastor, Carnitas and Cochinita (suckling pig with pickled onion and habanero radish!) which I hadn’t tried before. Drunk or not, these were damn fucking good tacos. Likely the best I have ever had. On par with La Taqueria in Vancouver but surpassing them in size and therefore value. Ah fuck it. They were better.

Drunk on taco love… and hard liquor, I made my way back to the hotel whereupon trying to enter my room found the door barred. Jared came up and opened it. “Are you guys doing it?” I asked.
“Yeah, here’s two PBR, give me 20 minutes.”
“I need more than two PBR and you need more than 20 minutes….”
He handed me a third.
“That gets you at least 45,” I said turning and heading back downstairs. My initial plan was some PDX street drinking but then I figured, this beautiful lobby might be just the right setting so I asked the desk man if that was kosher. He figured yeah as long as I was chill. So I was. Chill.

20 minutes of dicking around on my phone and drinking PBR and the front door opened and my life changed. A statuesque blonde, her shorter brunette friend, and a guy walked in. The blonde looked at me.
“Where did you get that beer?” She asked, given that nowhere was selling booze after 2am.
“My room,” I replied, “You can join me if you like.”
They joined and I shared out the beers. Her name is Shelley and her friend had picked up the Russian fellow who had now come back with them to the hotel. We all chatted and had a merry old time until they needed to use the washroom. I could tell the Russian was a little agitated too as I was cutting into his “getting laid” time. They all headed upstairs and I told Shelleyto come back down. When 15 minutes went by I figured that was it… Until the elevator opened and the brunette and the Russian bee-lined out the door and into a cab. Odd, I thought… But no Shelley.
Until a few minutes later when she came and joined me on the couch. We made small talk and then larger talk which led to my intimating that perhaps we head upstairs to her room.

She hesitated, but after my assurances and reassurances that she would be safe from any sort of ravaging that was outside of her comfort level she conceded and we headed forth back to her room. Along the way I made a stop back at good ole room 320 to pick up more beer. I knocked on the door and entered… “Just picking up more beer met a girl in the lobby going back to her room it’s gonna be awesome….” Or some such quickly spoken nonsense spouted from my lips and I soon found myself in the warm mostly naked embrace of an amazing woman.

We spent an engaging evening, night and well into the morning together before, as I was about to fall asleep in her bed, her roomie and friend returned from her sojourn and I felt compelled to make my way forth back to my room forgetting my keys as I absconded.

* * *

Waking from a deep drunken post-coital sleep in the warm clean sheets of the Ace Hotel I trundled nude from my bed to the shower to enjoyu my last PBR wash down of the trip. Today we were to leave PDX and there was one thing I couldn’t get off of my mind…. Shelley… and,

Where were my damn keys?

Returning to bed to relax as Jared and Megan greeted the day, the phone rang.
“Hello,” Jared enquired… Pause -
“It’s for you…”
I took the phone, “Hello?”
“I found your keys…” A warm velvet voice over the cold analog lines.
“Can you drop them at my room?”
“They’ll be at the front desk….”
And with that we said our first goodbyes. It was ostensibly a one night stand, yet somehow that voice, that smile, those eyes, this woman had locked herself into my consciousness unlike any other. I was flabbergasted.
“She sounded hot,” Jared opined.
“She is,” I agreed…

* * *

With the lovely Shelley on my mind but a half a day in Portland to go we headed out onto the streets to live up our last day before we made way back to Vancouver and the work a day world that would welcome us home. First on the agenda: Pine State Biscuits!

I have a new found love of the biscuit as culinary endpoint since my experiences at Biscuit Bitch in Seattle and alongside the quality biscuit produced within the bakery of Save on Meats where I find gainful employment. Such as it is I felt it necessary to experience PDX’s take on the humble yet never subtle Southern delight that is the biscuit.

Offered in such heart-rending cardiac arresting concoctions such as: The Reggie: Featuring Fried chicken, bacon & cheese topped with gravy which in deluxe form comes with a fried egg. The BBQ Biscuit: with Podnah’s pulled pork, Carolina style bbq sauce and topped with slaw. Or, perhaps more to your liking, the simplicity of The Chatfield: Fried chicken, bacon and cheese topped with apple butter. These are merely three delectable delicacies that lie in wait to clog arteries and fatten midriffs. I decided on The Reggie as it seemed a tried and true classic take on fried chicken.

This dish came packaged to-go in a biodegradable recycled paper box that I was sure was going to melt under the weight and liquidity of the gravy that was oozing forth from within. I opened it up to find a monstrous tower of biscuit and chicken glaring out at me and daring me to attempt to stuff it’s wondrous contents down my gullet. Dare accepted I picked it up… The put it back down and like the sensible human being I sometime can be pulled out a set of utensils and got to the task of eating. Oh, and the eating was good. Peppery hot southern sausage gravy smothered a tender juicy chicken cutlet. The biscuit had a crunchy exterior that immediately gave way to cakey flaky divine awesome. Sorry Biscuit Bitch. You just got beat.

Once we had consumed our first 2000 calories of the day it was determined that we had best visit Laurelhurst Market on our way outta town, but that will necessitate another entry as the LA Kings have just won the cup and the liquor in my veins is begging for food before work in 7 hours…

Until then dear reader,

Adieu.

Cw

PDX – Day 4 — Clyde Common and Dig a Pony

Dear Eaters and Readers,

Day four and I was feeling quite at home in PortlandI had a chance to visit Clyde Commons twice while staying at the adjacent ACE hotel. And by adjacent I mean the entrance is in the lobby of the hotel. Easy.

We’d pulled into PDX around 11:30pm on a Thursday and of course I was ready to go out while everyone else needed time to decompress from the car ride and get refreshed. We agreed to meet downstairs where I would have a table.

I walked into a spacious room dim but not too dark, lit by small lamps on the communal tables. The server informed me last call was in 10 minutes so I took a quick look at the drink menu while pondering the logic of closing a hotel bar/restaurant at midnight. A medium selection of European ales like Boddingtons and lighter fare like Austria’s Stiegel. Nothing out of left field but some solid beers with a blonde and a Hef rounding it out. I went with the cheapest can. A half litre tallboy by the name of Old German Lager. I asked the server if it compared to say other cheap lager like PBR. He agreed it did and would. $2.50? You got it!

It arrived ice cold with a tall pilsner glass. (How considerate.) I played nice and poured the beer. Light and straw coloured, crisp and kinda nutty-bland as many basic lagers are. It was just fine for the price. I had enough time to order one more before last call and downed it before midnight in order to meet up with everyone just before the place closed down….

***Fast forward 3 days***

Megan and Jared had gone to LePigeon for dinner and I was jealous but I just couldn’t do another $75 meal. Although in hindsight the money I plunked into the pinball machines at Ground Kontrol would have covered it. ***yikes***

Anyhow, after an epic marathon of pinball madness I headed back to the hotel with a case of PBR for later in the evening and stopped in at the Common for a bite of nosh and some bevies.

I was seated at a long table with a few others seated opposite and beside me. They smiled a bit nervously but didn’t engage me. The place was pretty busy and it took awhile for the server to realize I wasn’t with the other party. Once she wandered over I placed my order for the Trout Rillette and another German tall can. But I wanted a cocktail first. Where the beer selection is a bit lacking the cocktail list shines and I would go back for cocktails here even if I wasn’t staying at the hotel.

I ordered a Bourbon Renewal which featured Maker’s Mark, lemon, cassis and bitters. I prefer scotch as far as whiskey goes but Bourbon is a great base for a nice cocktail I figure because it’s a bit sweeter. Anyhow this hit the Mark as it were. ***Zing*** Refreshingly tart and bitter with the lingering sweetness of the cassis and bourbon. I’m gonna replicate this at home.

My trout arrived looking very much like tuna salad. It did not taste like that though. It was a very nice. Creamy and flavourful. Not too fishy. I spread it on the crackers provided and washed it down with lager.

Next up was the blackened catfish on ciabatta. A simple sandwich with remoulade and crunchy iceberg lettuce. I learned a thing or two about sandwiches on this trip and I will elucidate it more when I write my review for Laurelhurst Market. The catfish was well cooked and not overdone, a nice char mixed with the heavy flavour of the catfish mixed well with the mayo-like remoulade and the crunchy lettuce. A very nice sandwich that I finished with another Old German.

After my very delightful meal I ordered a Spiced Dark and Stormy which used an in-house Chinese five-spiced dark rum, and blended it with a house brewed ginger beer and lime. I’m not usually a huge rum drinker but something about the five spice called to me as I was interested in how the Szechuan pepper aspect would play out – it was barely noticeable, but the anise and clove worked with the brown sugary sweet dark rum making the drink a bit of a dessert. The bit of lime lightened the whole affair and feeling well and truly good I paid for the whole shebang and headed across the bridge to meet the kids at the Doug Fir. Unfortunately I had to cab as my bike had a newly developed flat tire due to a pothole I had hit earlier in the day. The hotel provided me with a repair kit and a tire pump (Fuck yeah ACE hotel!) but the hole was more of a tear and the whole tube needed replacing.

Quick and dirty cab ride and I was outside the Doug Fir, and amazing retro-futurism 50′s lounge. Part log cabin and part straight line beautiful mid-century Modern architecture with a tiki-esque patio and a nice selection of booze. The Doug Fir is part of the Jupiter Hotel. A motel actually, it’s super retro and hip. Too hip for this kid I suppose. Jared and Megan had met up with Campy Draper and the 3 of them were sipping cocktails on the patio when I arrived. The sun had dipped low and fiery torch light created a really nice ambiance. I bought a vodka soda and sat down, thinking how the cast of Mad Men would fit right in here.

Our next destination was a pub called Dig a Pony. I don’t even claim to be close at guessing what the fuck that name means if anything at all. Probably not. (EDIT: It’s a Beatles song!) We took to the streets and walked our way toward DAP. Of course along the way we had to stop for shots of Jamesons at a dive bar whose name eludes me. But they had 4 player Pac-man! Oh hells yeah!

As we arrived at Dig A Pony there was a dust up happening outside. 2 fellows were in the process of fighting another guy to the ground, it seemed one sided and we thought about stepping in but then I saw the bar rag on one guys back pocket. Ah! Bartenders that bounce their own patrons. I was liking this place already. After subduing the drunk asshole who had been trying to start fights in the bar, the bartender welcomed us into the dark interior of Dig a Pony.

Great selection of cocktails and a nice simple menu of tasty sounding food… Unfortunately I was still quite full so Megan and I just decided to split some churros. I ordered a 96 Tears which featured ginger vodka, lime, fresh ginger and ginger beer. Motherfucker…. This thing was refreshing. So good. I switched back to beer after that slap in the face. The beer selection was great and this was becoming a common element in this city of amazing beer, food, and liquor. Our churros arrived and were still raw in the middle so I sent them back and asked for new ones. No problems. They re-arrived about 7 minutes later and were delicious with the habanero caramel sauce.

A long day was coming to a close and we had one more full day of excitement before we had to head back to Vancouver on Monday. The last day also happened to be one of the best so stay tuned…

Until then, be well.

Cw

PDX – Day 3 — Ground Kontrol

Hello readers and drinkers,

It’s midday on day 3 of our adventures in PDX and we’ve venturesd deep into the dark (yet kinda blinky!) recesses of Ground Kontrol. A licensed arcade in the heart of the Pearl District downtown, 80′s music, EBM and industrial pulse from hidden speakers as eye-shadowed young gentlemen and ladies serve you from the bar alongside tables lit bright white from below. Add a roller-skating track and a skate ramp and it’s the set from hackers. Featuring over a hundred classic and contemporary consoles and pinball tables this place is amazing.

Everything from Tron to Galaga and Dig Dug to House of the Dead, Crusin’ California and Mortal Kombat. One of the first things we noticed on our way in and something I haven’t seen before is 4 Player Competitive Pac-Man. So. Fucking. Fun. You play as one of up to 4 Pac-Men (?) eating power pellets and avoiding Ghosts, but the super-power pellets allow you to eat each other. Eat one. Chaos ensues. This game is probably one of the most fun multi-players I have played – proving that sometimes a basic concept is superior to needless bells and whistles.

Speaking of bells and whistles… Pinball. This is why I was here. Now, I’m not the best player, but I know a few tables and those tables I play very very well. Jurassic Park, Lord of the Rings, Twilight Zone, and Addams Family. These are for my money the top tables ever. At the very least the best I have ever played, and Addams Family tops ‘em all. Point of fact, it’s the top selling pinball machine since 1930 and featured one of the first intelligent response CPU driven flipper effects ever… Yup. So, needless to say I put a few quarters into this thing. 2 hours or so breezed by as i reminisced. Multi-ball after multi-ball I began to think back to the first time I played this table.

12 Years old. I wasn’t allowed to “hang out” at the arcade in my hometown because: “That’s where the drug dealers and gang members hung out.” according to my Mom. I’m not sure if she truly believed this or not, but regardless, I was banned. I was not, however, banned from the corner store. King street and First in Spruce Grove, Alberta, what is now a Money Mart used to be a hole in the wall convenience store featuring games such as Time Killers, Bad Dudes, Final Fight and… Addams Family pinball. And this is where I cut my teeth.. played Street Fighter 2 and Pit Fighter and Virtua Fighter and Mortal Combat and whiled away the hours of my youth. I still remember the weird musty bread-like smell of the back of this space where kids would gather at 3:15 post-school to challenge each other. And while they mashed the buttons and “Hadouken!” echoed from my left I focused on one thing. A small metallic sphere ricocheting off a number of glowing bumpers.

Pinball was and still is the superior game for your quarter. First of all, pinball has not ever been succesfully duplicated in the home digital realm like many classic arcade console games which indeed have been surpassed. Pinball requires a force feed back recognition from flippers, plungers, kickers and bumpers. It’s a stimulus inducing experience outside of the purely visual spectacle that an on-screen digital game provides. Also, most arcade style consoles were designed to be so difficult that on average you are putting a quarter in every 3 to 4 minutes. (Much faster on high levels in games like Shinobi and X-Men) Pinball rewards skill. You may get fucked over by the ball going down an outlane but you have the chance to win extra balls and replays.

Addams Family was one of the resurgence pinball tables in the late Eighties and early 90′s and featured a dot-matrix animated screen that enhanced play, as well as recorded voices of the actors and animatronic features such as ‘Thing,’ who would rise out of his box to lock a ball for the much vaunted Multi-ball. Truly this is what every kid on my block lived for. All of the problems at home would be forgotten as the table began to shake and the sound rose to a crescendo and Raul Julia’s digital voice would echo “MULTI—BALL!!!!” At which point our pre-diagnosed ADHD brains would flip out. Already jacked up on pure unadulterated high fructose corn syrup in every conceivable form we would slap maniacally at the flippers as the three balls in play ricochetted off each other and off the innards of the table. Once gone, our energy spent we would feed quarters with steady hands into the machines gaping maws and five-cent candy into our own. I revelled in the early rebellion. Escaping from an overprotective mother who worried I would fall in with the wrong crowd and just not dealing with the day to day problems that dog a twelve year old pre-adolescent. This was Heaven.

Fast forward 20 years and here I am. A grown Man. That’s weird to type, even at this age, $20 in quarters in hand. Wealthier by ten thousand times than myself at age 12 but grinning like a hyaena and smacking at that ball. Nostalgia overwhelms. I didn’t hit the scores I used to but every multi-ball brought a smile of sheer joy to my face. In fact, next time I have a spare $6K I think I might just have to order me an Addams Family machine for home. I don’t know what it is about the Addams Family table. It’s not the easiest table, but not the most frustrating. It doesn’t have the most ramps, kickers, holes and targets but the ones it has are mint. Like, the pay-off for some of the shots… It’s astounding. When you lock 3 balls with precision and make the ramp shot or a ‘Bear Kicker’, it defies description. I guess that’s it. I really learned to play pinball on this machine and not just try to smash at the ball with the flippers. Standing there in Ground Kontrol, PBR tallboy locked into the after-market drink holders installed alongside the tables I felt the pangs of a lost childhood but of an adulthood grounded in fun and vitality. In some ways I refuse to grow up and I refuse to apologize for wanting to always be young at heart. This simple game embodies that for me.

Until next time, play well…

Cw

Till next time, play well…

Cw

PDX – Day 3 — More Excess in Mimosa Form

Gang,

Waking at the crack of dawn after a night of well-whiskey and high-quality strippers does not lend itself to a rise-and-shine kinda feeling, but feelings be damned! We wanted to suck every last experience out of this town and leave it a dead dry husk when we left, our bodies saturated with the joie de vie of excess as we were run out of town by the locals. So, we were up and PBR showered by 9am. Astonishing.

We grabbed our bikes and cycled to the elevator

First things first. Food trucks. Ok, so yeah, everyone acts like Portland invented the fucking food truck/cart but this isn’t true, they just embraced it so wholeheartedly that it’s a part of their food culture now and like a weird cancer – an awesome cancer- it metathesizes across borders spreading the cheap greasy goodness. The ubiquitous carts/trucks/trailers don’t seem to do too much travelling and are parked semi-permanently in lots it seems until they go out of business at which point another truck leases the space and gives it a go. It’s a novelty sure, and just because it comes off a truck doesn’t make it better. Cheaper? It sure seems that way and some things like tacos and falafel and other quick bite items work well in the cart matrix, but eating a messy plate of Ukrainian food while standing on a side-walk leaves something to be desired. Namely a table chair and proper utensils. (To check out my reviews of a few of the Vancouver carts click Here.)

I ate a very competent bean and cheese burrito that may have had “meat” in it. It was good. Good and cheap.

Megan and Jared demanded Korean Tacos.
Like we don’t have those in Vancouver… so we headed up to the Art Museum where the truck was known to be parked. It wasn’t there so we went to grab coffees at the museum coffee shop. Stumptown? Yup. It’s pretty much ubiquitous down there and it’s sad that Sean Heather has an importation stranglehold on it, cause it’s damn good coffee and we could use a strong competitor up here. Coffee nerding aside I also saw some rad art by Deborah Butterfield. Here’s a pic. And some other sculptures in the garden. The truck arrived. We ate Korean Tacos. Yeah they are fucking amazing. That’s why everyone loves them. People don’t love shitty things. Generally.

Our plans for the after-noon involved meeting a shadowy character named Campy Draper – “Seriously? That’s his name? Like is he some sort of Don Draper of Portland dressed in a suit but wearing shorts and riding a fixie?” – at some little hole in the wall where upon we would be entertained and shenanigans would ensue. Always one for shenanigans I followed blindly as Jared led us once againd across the bridge – why did we stay downtown again? – and north north north until we happened upon a lovely little building sporting a broken neon sign that likely hadn’t been lit since 1973. Upon entering “Club 21″ I saw that when the neon died the restaurant(?) pub(?) froze in time. At a standstill nothing aged except the bartender and the carpet. Like some acid driven Elks Lodge paying homage to Dr. Thompson’s Woody Creek Lodge the various game stuffed and mounted on the wood panelled walls played well to the 1969 presidential campaign stickers and vintage stained-glass beer lamps. But this wasn’t retro kitsch; this was legit. The place was lit only by the beer lamps and the pinballs machines and the rare shaft of light that emenated from the side dooor that opened up ontop the patrio. Perfect. Hangover. Spot. (BTW Mr. Draper was the most amazing host and fit my above description to a tee. Amazing.)

This was echoed by the plethora of hip youngsters that crowded the patio and sat eating their brunch inside. Not one for brunch on a hangover stomach being attacked by street burritoo I opted for the Ten-Dollar-Bottomless-Mimosa option. Excuse me. “$10, you say? And, I can have… as many as I like?” Shit balls. “Can I get a pitcher please?”

Pitchers weren’t allowed.

I ordered and received a very nice Orange Mimosa, sat down and asked Jared, “So, what is it we are here to see?”
“Comedy.”
“What? Like stand-up?”
“Yup.”

***Facepalm***

I settled in and started chugging my mimosa which went down smoother than an unnamed ex of mine. Three deep and the “show” was about to start. I had been introduced briefly to Campy Draper who seemed really… nice. Whether he was funny remained to be seen. A commotion at the front of the room. Apparently the PA had crapped out, or the mic was dead, or some such other technical difficulty I know nothing about. Next mimosa then… It was at this point I learned that they also had Grapefruit Mimosas. Fuck me sideways what? Why had I not ever though of this? I love Greyhounds and Seabreezes with brunch, if vodka why not Champagne? Why the fuck not? Anyhow, all cursing aside I was very happy and cared not a whit that the show was delayed.

I think it was around drink number four that they acquired a new mic and the show started. And did it ever. This was by far and gone the single best amateur comedy performance I have ever seen in my life. I mean I’m a connoisseur of comedy but not quite an aficionado, so given my limited live amateur experience, these guys blew it away. Six comedians across three hours and I laughed. A lot. OK so the bottomless mimosas may have helped but I’m not a drooling idiot; I know humour. And they were funny. Although kinda sad. Sad funny. Like when a clown dies.

Long story longer, Ten mimosas and three hours later the sun had finally risen high enough in the sky to begin to warm the town and I had spent only 10 singles and gotten… well, inebriated. You know what ten singles gets you at Sassy’s? A nice free pour and a ringside seat. Comparable? Not really as I wouldn’t ever want to see these gentlemen nude. That said. If you live in Portland, or fall off a train on the outskirts on a Sunday morning… make your way to Club 21 around 1pm if this things keeps going because it is hilarious.

Three in the afternoon and drunk whats there to do? Get wings of course. Our next stop was Fire on the Mountain. A much lauded Wing place; the inside was a-bustle with patrons. We ordered beers, cider, and 24 wings. Bourbon chipotle, hot, and jerk were our choices. The wings arrived quickly and piping hot. Too hot actually. But once they cooled they were quite nice. The perfect crunch of well crisped skin cooked in hot enough oil and tender free range chicken meat beneath carried no consumer guilt for those who feel inclined to care about what chickens think and feel. The jerk sucked. Jamaican jerk should be left to Jamaican restaurants and put on the appropriate dishes. The chipotle was super spicy and sweet with a nice Bourbon sour mash finish; buttery. The hot… Ok, this is the wing that matters for me and this wing is competing with every hot wing I have ever had. It was good. Solid. Not Franks which on one hand is a venture out toward their own flavour but puts a double onus on the quality of the wing alongside the sauce. This was a real Buffalo wing. Cayenne hot sauce and butter, maybe a little vinegar. Punch, spicy, greasy and good. Not the best but far from the fucking worst. We demolished them.

Bulldog Recess!!!!


Finished and content from our wings and mimosas and comedians we ventured back to the Pearl District to check out Ground Kontrol.

Ground Kontrol: An arcade gamers wet dream meets the pulsing EBM and industrial world of the contemporary Goth kid. Mix in a very affordable bar and you have one of the more fun arcades I have ever visited. Now, my bias should be noted. Beside the fact it is licensed – which is a big plus, I was just hoping for one thing. Adams. Family. Pinball.

Post to follow soon on my love of pinball and the next amazing meal I consumed with gusto in the PDX.

Until then, play well.

Cw

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