Dining Adventure – Levant

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My delightful dining companion, Ms. A, was in town recently for a visit so we had a chance to try out another Portland restaurant. Our first choice was booked solid until 9:30 but Levant looked intriguing and had an earlier reservation, so we decided to check it out. What fortuitous luck – we had a wonderful adventure!

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I perused the menu online when I was investigating dinner options and was intrigued by the Middle Eastern slant with with wonderful sounding ingredients. Butternut squash soup with pomegranate relish? Yes, please! The restaurant has a number of small plates, cold and hot, as well as more substantive main dishes.

We arrived at the restaurant and were seated promptly by the window near the front. We started with sublime cocktails- I had one with violet liqueur and Ms. A had the Bacall; both were pretty to look out, refreshing, and not too sweet. I can’t remember the exact ingredients, alas…

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Not wanting to get too tipsy too quickly, we ordered the Fied garbanzo beans Za’art, which is an addictive little appetizer I could have just kept eating and eating. And eating. Our other starter was lamb cigars with Harissa yogurt. The Harissa sauce was thick, with a nice kick and the fried dough encrusted lamb cigars were quite good.

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We had a really hard time deciding whether to go with lots of small plates or the lamb cooked 4 ways or other entree but realized we could taste more things if we had smaller plates. We ordered the fried cauliflower with tahini, brussel sprouts with lamb bacon and preserved lime, and celeriac salad with hazelnuts and parmesan. The roasted flavor of the brussel sprouts with the lamb and date infusion was really interesting, the cauliflower was good, and the celeriac salad was beautifully presented and wonderfully tasty. Somewhere along the way we ordered wine – I had the Côtes de Gascogne, Domaine Chiroulet Gros Manseng/Sauvignon Blanc and Ms. A had the Touraine, Armance B ‘Ampelidae’. We were both pleased with our choices.

At this point our server asked us very nicely if we’d mind moving to a different table so folks with a reservation of four could use our table and the two-top next to us. It was a busy Friday night so I cut them some slack on this but I was surprised.

Once we finished our savory vegetables, we rested a bit before deciding on dessert. We were both curious about the lemon curd doughnuts with rose jam but the server’s description of the chocolate torte was too tempting to pass up. It was a flourless chocolate base with cardamon, caramel, and a pistachio crunch. It was sublime, truly sublime. We had a glass of old-style madeira with it, and enjoyed our dessert and each other’s company. What a great dinner!

This was one of my favorite meals since Ms. A and I started our dining adventures a few years ago. The flavors and tastes were fresh and interesting, and I’ll definitely go back. I found out later that our next door neighbors were celebrating a birthday there the same night but we didn’t see each other. They also enjoyed their meal very much.

I’ll definitely go back to Levant- I’m craving those garbanzo beans and want to try the lamb. In the meantime, I tried roasting some garbanzo beans with some spices and they were good but not addictively good like Levant’s.

Levant
2448 East Burnside
Portland, Oregon
503.954.2322

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Tastes of Mexico City

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I took a short jaunt to Mexico City recently and thought I’d share some foodie photos. It’s a very metropolitan city with myriad restaurants of all kinds scattered across the city. Here are just a few of the delights I tasted. Enjoy!

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Chile en nogado from Restaurante Escuela Zéfiro

French toast

French toast from Patisserie Dominique

Baguettes and treats at Patisserie Dominique

Baguettes and treats at Patisserie Dominique

Omelette at Patisserie Dominique

Omelette at Patisserie Dominique

Spring rolls from 123-Comida Tienda

Spring rolls from 123-Comida Tienda

Pad thai 123-Comida Tienda

Pad thai 123-Comida Tienda

Tacos and Negro Modelo

Tacos and Negro Modelo

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Mango pulque

Dreaming of Paris

I was daydreaming about Paris yesterday and dug out some photos taken by photographer Todd Mecklem  on our last trip. The food, the artful way they display their wares, and the beautiful old buildings are part of what I love about the city.

Todd Mecklem. Cider and galettes

Todd Mecklem. Cider and galettes

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Todd Mecklem. Croque monsieur and goat cheese salad for lunch

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Todd Mecklem. Patisserie

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Todd Mecklem. Details on old building

Bikes in Paris

Bikes in Paris

Lenoir market

Todd Mecklem. Richard Lenoir market

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Todd Mecklem. Cobbler’s shop (cordonnier)

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Todd Mecklem. Our favorite local wine store Nicolas

Department Store Lunching

I have fond memories of my grandmother Kinney taking us to the local department store, either Woodward & Lothrop (“Woodie’s”) or Hecht’s, when we went to visit. (Sadly, Hecht’s was bought by the May Co. and Woodie’s closed in 1995.) She usually bought us girls an outfit, and then took us to lunch in the cafe. My standard at the time was a grilled cheese sandwich and I’m sure I had a milkshake or root beer with it. I felt very special, indeed.

Fast forward a few decades, and for the most part, eating at lunch at a department store these days isn’t all that special. The salad bar at Meier and Frank, now closed, was fun because of the old furnishings but that food was just adequate. Nordstrom is close to my office but it takes a long while to get one’s food and it’s a bit pricey. Maybe being a kid full of wonder (and not having to pay my own way) has changed my perspective a bit. As a young woman, I worked at the Lord & Taylor cafe, which further tarnished my memory of the department store lunch. I did get to meet Scatman Crothers one day, which was fun.
 

© 2012 Todd Mecklem

Ah, but then there’s Galeries Lafayette in Paris. Just walking into the 1893 historic building is a treat. If you look up, there’s a beautiful Belle Epoque glass and domed ceiling. There are a number of restaurants but I like the self-serve cafe the best.


The food court is pretty amazing, as are the views of the Eiffel Tower and the rest of Paris. Todd and I had lunch there one day, and I was very happy with my prosciutto and cantaloupe plate. The cantaloupe was ripe and sweet, the perfect contrast to the prosciutto. Oh, and they have beer, wine, and good, strong cappuccino. It’s the perfect spot to relax, grab a bite to eat, watch the people, and gaze out over Paris rooftops.

Eating In – Paris

When planning our trip to Paris, my husband and I realized our favorite hotel, the family-owned Hotel de Blois, had been sold; Tripadvisor comments about the changes made us realize we didn’t want to stay in the new incarnation. I’d always thought staying in an apartment would be fun, and through the Alliance Française we found a small apartment in the 6th arrondisement, very close to Rue de Rennes and the Luxembourg Gardens.

Raspail organic market © Todd Mecklem

One of the best parts of our stay was having a kitchen to cook in. I love to eat out, but I also love to cook, and I had a wonderful time whipping up meals with lovely ingredients from the local food markets. The Raspail organic market was very close, and there were smaller ones other days of the week. It was a really enjoyable part of our trip. I definitely want to stay in places with a kitchen more often.

Tasty vegetables, eggs, and a baguette from the local market © Todd Mecklem

Wine from Nicolas; ripe tomatoes and buffalo mozzarella from Raspail market. © Todd Mecklem

Radishes with butter and salt; pasta with olives and tomatoes. © Todd Mecklem

The stove top and French press – nothing else really needed to make breakfast. © Todd Mecklem

Parmigiano-Reggiano stock


It’s officially autumn so I always start thinking about cooking. I’ve been intrigued by the idea of making a Parmigiano-Reggiano soup stock and have been saving the rinds for a few months. I’d made it once before but I didn’t let the stock simmer long enough, and I let the temperature get too high,  and then let it cool too much. The end result was a watery broth that left a nasty, gooey mess in the bottom of the pot that my poor husband had to clean. Just a few rinds tossed in water wasn’t very tasty at all.

This time I did my research and pored through my favorite Italian cookbooks and websites. They all said that the important part of having a tasty stock is to let the rinds cooks slowly for a few hours. Obviously this had to be a weekend project.

I’m happy to report that this second batch of Parmigiano stock was much tastier.I used it in a risotto – it was sublime.

To make the stock successfully, here’s my method. I don’t really measure my ingredients, except for baking – I cook by taste, or as the French say au pif (by smell or instinct.)

First, I sauteed a chopped onion until it was very soft but not caramelized. I put in the cheese rinds, and then poured in enough water to cover them plus an extra couple of inches. I let the whole thing barely simmer for three hours. The smell of the stock wafting through the house was wonderful – it’d be great to make on a chilly winter day.

Once the rinds are very soft and the bits of cheese have come off, taste the stock. I was surprised that it needed some salt – I added some and let it simmer for another five minutes. Next, while the stock is still hot, remove the rinds and large pieces of cheese – if you wait until the stock is cool, you will regret the mess in the bottom of your pot. The melted cheese bits are the cook’s reward…delish!

The last step is to pour the stock through a piece of cheesecloth. Your end result is a lovely, rich stock ready to be used in risotto or soup or a sauce.

I can imagine lots of variations. One thing I want to try is caramelizing the onions before adding the water – I bet it would be really rich and tasty. You could add herbs or saffron or a bit of ham -there are lots of possibilities. Just don’t let the rinds cool down in the pot…!