Zesty Cuban Classics

pambiche
Arroz con Pollo, Pambiche

The Party gods own Spring Break on the West Coast; they demand a celebration of life in the form of bright colors, loud music and living it up. Naturally, when my friend Lee mentioned wanting to head up for her Spring Break vacation, I enthusiastically accepted. She flew up from the Southwest in the late morning and like any good out-of-towner she stepped off the plane hungry.

Lee had been here before but this time round we decided to stretch outside of our comfort zone and try places even I hadn’t been to. Cuban kept creeping into my mind, perhaps because the sun teased that day and reminded me of warmer times. We Google mapped around us and found a place called Pambiche nearby.

As we made our way up the street, a driving bass line pumped through the vibrantly painted exterior walls. “Yep, this is going to be good,” I predicted to my friend. The quaint restaurant makes sardine cans feel roomy. Crammed within its small walls are more tables than it should have; to further add to the frenetic atmosphere, lively paintings, wooden carvings, and musical instruments hang in the air as one-minded waiters bustle to and from the bar like bumbling bees.

I don’t say this as a critique. The setting seems natural or serendipitous and adds to the experience; its guests gather on this little island, sat close to strangers who become neighbors. You can’t avoid overhearing intimate conversations and smiling, sipping on mojitos and enjoying the feeling of “getting away” for the lunch hour.

Ropa vieja is arguably the most notable Cuban dish and my mouth watered for it, but in the spirit of new experiences, I ordered the Arroz con Pollo. For eight dollars I had enough for two gigantic meals. A big sprig of parsley sat atop Creole-style chicken sprinkled with paprika, saffron, and olives. Valencia saffron rice mingled with a healthy portion of fresh peas, cabbage and cilantro. There’s nothing quite like the flavor of saffron and the first bite confirmed that perfectly cooked rice consistency a Southern girl like me demands of jambalaya.

I was in my happy food place; where music, food and good company all intermingle to create the perfect dish.

 

Advertisements

Vegan Jambalaya in the PNW

IMG_5125
Vegan Jambalaya, Broken Top Bottle Shop, Bend, OR

My first memories center around my hometown of New Orleans; yet I wouldn’t say I love all Cajun cuisine. Grits hold a special place in my heart – every gooey mouthful transports me back to breakfast at my best friend’s house. I can remember the Summer sun bobbing in the thick air and the steaming gold blob of butter  running down the white mountain of food.

Crawfish were always a little bit too much effort for the pay-off, but I wouldn’t turn down a mouthful held out between my mama’s fingers, pecking at it like a baby bird and opening my trap back up for another round. Oysters were a slimy delicacy that I only dare attempt once I’d moved across the state line into Houston and came back for a routine visit to Kenner Seafood. I wouldn’t say oysters were my best friends; more acquaintances that could be called upon to impress a new friend in casual conversation.

I did love a good serving of jambalaya, even if it was a box (gasp!) of Zatarain’s. However, I never expected I’d be overtaken by an irrational need for jambalaya when I moved to Portland this year. I made it nearly 11 months without a thought of Southern cooking; then Mardi Gras rolled around and suddenly I could not shake the daydreams of cinnamon-loaded bites of Manny Randazzo’s King Cake, with the white frosting and sprinkles gushing out the corners of my mouth (Important note: not the stock cakes smattered with overly sugared dye you find at the grocery store).

Thankfully, I had a work trip to Bend and was absolutely delighted to see “Vegan jambalaya” on the daily special at Broken Top Bottle Shop. This place boasts food “for everyone,” and I agree; from the vegan/vegetarian plates to even a doggy rice bowl, you’re sure to find something to fit your dietary needs.

The Vegan jambalaya came out beautifully plated, with dashes of Cajun seasoning on the rim and a fresh splash of arugula and mixed greens. The topping added a healthy portion of veggies you probably wouldn’t find in an authentic New Orleans restaurant, but it married the traditionally Southern dish with the health-conscious Pacific Northwestern palate.

I would recommend a visit to Broken Top Bottle Shop and plan on returning there next time I’m in town. I usually don’t get dessert, but their vegan ice cream sandwich featured local dessert shop Bonta‘s coconut gelato and it would fool any vegan-cuisine scoffer (my dairy-loving co-worker approved).

Bon appetit!

London Street Food: L’Amuse Bouche

IMG_3960
Foodie beware: one must prepare mentally and physically for a visit to the world’s capital city. I never tire of being a repeat visitor of London and with family there I make sure to frequent its cobbled streets whenever watch [and wallet] permit. Don’t believe the gossip- London offers whatever sweet, savory or salty food your palette could dream up and if you’re hoping for guidance, you’ve come to the right place.

Don’t sweat the calories- I averaged a walk of about 10 miles daily and imagine you will do the same quite easily. It’s a city that begs exploration by foot but also hosts a quite navigable transportation system. I recommend strolling and letting the wanderlust guide you to your own food destinations. This is how I’ve found my favorite spots.

If you wander the area surrounding Southward Bridge you might eventually turn your gaze upward and be drawn towards the ancient dome of St. Paul’s. You might smell the sweet-laced yeast of French crêpes rising from a 5×5 striped tent and lose control of your salivary glands like I did.

The quaint pop-up coupled with the charming hand-written a-frame menu highlights the authenticity and the French natives pouring the batter as you watch completes the mood. Choices range from sweet to salty, but the La Goaty’s onion chutney offered a slightly unusual add-on that reeled me in.

After cooking the meal, the vendor folds the crêpe into a paper plate and thirds it neatly into a portable cone that makes it the perfect food for grab & go fare. As usual, I couldn’t wait to sit down to try a bite. The flesh of the pancake was pleasantly crisp with the sweetness of real butter used to lubricate the simplistic griddle. The meal married the tangy twinge of goat’s cheese with a faintly bitter but undeniably sweet onion chutney and the spinach soaked in both flavors perfectly.

I took my meal to the stone seating area steps from St. Paul’s and watched as the pigeons stayed near hoping for a fallen morsel.

IMG_3959

Morning Glory Cafe in Eugene, OR

IMG_3844

I joyfully found myself in Eugene on business once more this past weekend. I gave Morning Glory Cafe a visit last time around but wasn’t impressed- HOWEVER, I did get about the most healthy item on the menu so I figured I’d go back and try out a specialty and they did not disappoint.

The Happy Morning Sandwich is vegan, reasonably healthy, and chock full of southern comfort of its own twist. What makes Morning Glory Cafe’s dishes unique is a hint of dill. A scratch-made biscuit enfolds a soysage patty, tofu patty, and a cream cheese spread accentuates the savory bread with their signature herb. Sensuous gravy smothers the side of cubed breakfast potatoes yet remains subtly salty.

The portions at the cafe are hearty, leaving you with a satisfactory follow-up meal. If you’re looking for a meal in a rush, do not go here. The staff is laid back and not in a hurry to seat you (I waited about 15 minutes after being asked by almost every waiter whether I’d been helped or not). This however is the charming part about Eugene as a community and can be partially avoided by going on any other day except Sunday.

Bon appetit!

Veritable Quandary in Portland, OR

Chicken Crepes
Chicken Crepes

Preparing for my thirtieth birthday, naturally food was a main focus of the celebration! One of my favorite food stops in Portland was Veritable Quandry, a quaint downtown spot with a distinctly French Quarter vibe. We sat perched in the back seating area with a gorgeous view of the river outside.

I ordered the chicken crepes which paired subtly sweet butternut squash with spinach and shredded chicken in a spongy French pancake. I could not leave a piece behind, even though the trip fell at the end of our four-day long gluttony fest! I will be returning to this charming spot to explore the rest of the menu.