drunken noodles, pad thai, thai, Thai-o-rama

Thai-O-Rama pt. 10: Vientiane

When I first started visiting, then subsequently moving to, Portland I quickly became familiarized with a few places around. Places like Benkay, Portland Public Market and Vientiane became my ‘go-to’s’ when ever I was up for a weekend. But, a lot changes in six years. Portland Public Market has been relocated and renamed. Benkay has long been replaced by King of the Roll as our place for inexpensive and tasty sushi. Yet, for a while, Vientiane remained a sentimental favorite for us. For me, while the food was filling and inexpensive, it was the smile of the owner–a woman whose name I can’t remember–and who was always dressed nicer than the interior called for. She was always very kind, very engaging and very thankful. So, it’s easy to understand why we went there so often, she made me feel familiar in a town that I was a complete stranger in.

But, again, a lot changes. I had heard from the Missus that the owner retired and passed the establishment onto her son and/or daughter over a year ago. Truthfully, until June, it had been over a year and a half since we had gotten take out from here and my last venture, completely on a whim and feeling sentimental, wasn’t that fantastic. Two stars, to both the Drunken Noodles and Laab Gai, left my mouth uncomfortably burned and unable to enjoy the meal. But, because I loved this place so much, I chalked it up to my own fault for not ordering one star. Duly noted and not a mistake I would repeat again.

So, when the heat index on Monday reached well into the low 90’s, I was so thankful that we would be picking up Vientiane for dinner. Thankful that I didn’t have to cook and looking forward to our first Thai–outside of Boda–in a while.

The Missus opted for the Pad Thai, minus shrimp as she’s adverse to the shellfish since a bad experience back in March at Vietbangkok Thai. This use to be her favorite Pad Thai, but when I asked her for her opinion of it after she started digging in she replied, “Oddly sweet.”

“Do you want any of my Noodles?” I asked.
“No, thanks, they look like a volcanic bed of fire,” she replied


She was right. My trying to undo the last experience I had with the dish, knocking down the heat level from two stars to one, didn’t quite work. It was, it seemed, as hot as it had been in June. Thankfully, though, the nuoc mam sauce that came with our standard issue non-Thai Rangoon, was just sweet and acidic enough to cut into the heat. I’m sure it was also helped by the fact that I stirred in some of her Pad Thai to lower the temperature a bit. Otherwise, the flavors and ingredients were wonderful and, as it has always been, the portion was generous for the price. But, a short time after the meal, I reflected that it didn’t ‘Wow’ me as it once had.

Later on that evening we talked about our dishes and I came to a conclusion: Perhaps, over the past six years of trying other places in town, it wasn’t really Vientiane that had changed but us. The meal was still enjoyable, just not the best we’ve had. Our tastes and preferences now lie elsewhere in the Thai spectrum offered in and around Portland. Like any relationship that fades away because people change I have this to say to Vientiane, “I’m sorry, it’s not you–it’s me.”

Vientiane Market on Urbanspoon

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american cheese society, appleton creamery, maine cheese, maine cheese guild, pineland farms

Maine Cheeses at 2010 American Cheese Society Awards

While it wasn’t as fancy as the Emmy’s, though I’m sure the food and drinks were better, the American Cheese Society held it’s awards this past weekend in Seattle, WA. Because I’m obsessive turophile that I am, I’ve been waiting for the past 24 hours for the results to be posted.
The big winners this year were from Wisconsin and Vermont in the ‘Best in Show’ Category (Uplands Cheese Company’s ‘Pleasant Ridge Reserve’ placed 1st; ‘Bonne Bouche’ from Vermont Butter and Cheese Company 2nd; and Farm for City Kids Springbrook Farm’s Tarentaise’took 3rd), Maine did have a small representation.
Winners from the state were:

  • Appleton Creamery’s ‘Camella’ took first place, while besting Cypress Grove Creamery’s ‘Truffle Tremor’ in the “Soft Ripened, flavor added” Goat’s Cheese category.
  • Appleton also topped the “Feta from Sheep or Mixed Milk” category for their ‘Sophia’ Feta.
  • Pineland Farms Feta won 3rd in the “Feta from Cow’s Milk” category.
  • Pineland also garnered 3rd for their Salsa Jack in the “Flavor Added–Monterey Jack” category.
  • Pineland’s Salsa Jack, this time in spreadable form, placed second in the interestingly titled “Cold Pack Cheese Food and Cheese Spreads With Flavor Added.”

Both are repeat winners from last year but Maine still hasn’t repeated the showing it had back in 2007, when 17 Maine cheeses took home awards. But, as it goes with award ceremonies, there’s always next year.

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crack pie, desserts

Crack Pie

I had my first hit of Crack a few months ago when a co-worker was more than kind enough to bring a piece back from her trip to NYC, which included a stop at Momofuku Milk Bar. I was hard pressed to share it with other co-workers, hell the Missus didn’t even get a bit of it, but didn’t want to come off as selfish even though I cringed at every bite they took. It was unlike any other pie I’d had before.

Fast forward to last week and me sitting down on the couch flipping through the latest Bon Appetit. When I reached the profile on Momofuku’s Pastry Chef, Christina Toshi, I nearly squealed when the recipe for the pie glared back at me from page 117.

Little time was wasted before I gathered up the ingredients, made a mess of my kitchen and tried my hand at my first batch o’ crack.





Because the recipe required the pie to set overnight, we enjoyed it as a wonderful Anniversary (#6) breakfast treat the next morning with coffee. My only complaint was a lack of light brown sugar in my house, for which I had to sub dark for. It did make a noticeable difference in color, flavor and texture but the pie was still enjoyable and, as the name implies, painfully addictive.

Crack Pie

Oat Cookie Crust

  • Nonstick vegetable oil spray
  • 9 tablespoons (1 stick plus 1 tablespoon) unsalted butter, room temperature, divided
  • 5 1/2 tablespoons (packed) golden brown sugar, divided
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons old-fashioned oats
  • 1/2 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/8 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon (generous) salt

Filling

  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon nonfat dry milk powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted, cooled slightly
  • 6 1/2 tablespoons heavy whipping cream
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Powdered sugar (for dusting)

Oat Cookie Crust

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 13x9x2-inch metal baking pan with parchment paper; coat with nonstick spray. Combine 6 tablespoons butter, 4 tablespoons brown sugar, and 2 tablespoons sugar in medium bowl. Using electric mixer, beat mixture until light and fluffy, occasionally scraping down sides of bowl, about 2 minutes. Add egg; beat until pale and fluffy.

Add oats, flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt and beat until well blended, about 1 minute.



Turn oat mixture out onto prepared baking pan; press out evenly to edges of pan.



Bake until light golden on top, 17 to 18 minutes. Transfer baking pan to rack and cool cookie completely.



Using hands, crumble oat cookie into large bowl; add 3 tablespoons butter and 1 1/2 tablespoons brown sugar. Rub in with fingertips until mixture is moist enough to stick together.



Transfer cookie crust mixture to 9-inch-diameter glass pie dish. Using fingers, press mixture evenly onto bottom and up sides of pie dish. Place pie dish with crust on rimmed baking sheet.

Filling

Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350°F.



Whisk both sugars, milk powder, and salt in medium bowl to blend. Add melted butter and whisk until blended. Add cream, then egg yolks and vanilla and whisk until well blended.



Pour filling into crust. Bake pie 30 minutes (filling may begin to bubble). Reduce oven temperature to 325°F.

Continue to bake pie until filling is brown in spots and set around edges but center still moves slightly when pie dish is gently shaken, about 20 minutes longer. Cool pie 2 hours in pie dish on rack.



Chill uncovered overnight. DO AHEAD Can be made 2 days ahead. Cover; keep chilled.

crack pie on Foodista

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belly full, brothy goodness, caiola's

Comfort at Caiola’s

I am going to start simply by laying out the fact that I am undeniably and absolutely in love with Caiola’s. I am biased from the second my hands hit the keyboard and I am more than ok with that. Truth be told, in spite of what my friend Kate says, they serve up the best brunch in town (or within at least a 50-mile radius) and we haven’t gone to another spot since they started serving it over two years ago.

  • Coffee
  • Warm Lost Bread
  • Homemade Cinnamon and Sugar Poptart
  • Eggs Nest with Sausage Gravy

My order NEVER waivers unless there is a very tempting Eggs Benedict to be offered (I still lament being there too late to order the Pork Jowl Benedict a while back). But, because this summer has been unusually hectic we have not been able to pay a visit for several months. Then a little reminder came in the form of the NY Times and their ‘36 Hours in Portland, ME‘ article. While, overall, I thought the article and it’s choices were questionable, it’s mention of Caiola’s did remind me that we had been neglectful this past summer and I was prompted to call to make a reservation at the end of an especially atrocious week (F-U Mercury in Retrograde!!).

In need of instant gratification, and because scheduling would (again) prevent us from going for our Sunday usual, I called and hoped that they would have something available for later that evening. By luck they did–which was not the case by the time we were seated at 5:30 that evening.

There is always a sense of comfort when I cross the threshold of Caiola’s. Larger than Bresca, smaller than Sonny’s, it seems to seat as many as the Front Room–if you count the back room area and patio–but lacks the feeling of being packed in on top of other diners. Maybe it’s the airiness of the room, the Jazz or Bossanova music that always seems to be playing when we’re there or the look of recognition in the hostess’ face when she sees us enter but there is always a sense of ease when we go. Not once have we ever felt rushed through a meal just so they could turn a table and that, to me, speaks volumes on the type of dining experience they want you to have.

But, you’re not reading this to see me swoon over the ambiance (or are you?), you’re here to hear about the food. So, let’s get on with it then.

Drinks:
2008 Vigneti del sole pinot grigio
Maine Root Ginger Beer

Apps:


Crab cakes with Lime Aioli, Pickled Red Onion and Greens


Polenta Fries with Smoked Paprika, Cheddar Cheese and a Tomato and Red Pepper Relish

The Missus ordered the Crab Cakes and, after her first bite found herself not in a sharing mood. But, able to steal the slightest taste from her plate, I found the Crab Cakes to be extremely creamy and full of the main ingredient and lacking in the fillers that you tend to muck them up and weigh them down. My only complaint: make the order 3 cakes so people like myself can actually score a full one from their partners plate.

Now, the last time we had dinner here we split the Polenta Fries and the cheddar sauce–for lack of a better word–and enjoyed them immensely. I find it hard to describe the cheddar side on the dish because it’s not thin enough to be a sauce yet it’s not quite a spread, though it very well could be used as such. Call it what you want but it is simply addictive. Actually the entire composed plate is hard to stop gourging on once you start eating. The fries are a texture freaks dream, crunchy on the outside and smooth and buttery on the inside. Both my partner and I remarked that one would be hard pressed to identify they were polenta if not told about it beforehand. Then you have the salt of the cheddar saucespread and the sweetness of the tomato and red pepper relish and it’s just about all over for me after that. I would say, easily, the full dish hovers around 3/4’s of a pound and I ate the whole thing after sacrificing one of the fries to my partner. I even have evidence of what little was left, compared to how the dish arrived:

Yup, pure gluttony.

Yet, that wasn’t even the best dish that we ordered. That would come in the form of our entrees, which we both ordered the same thing:

Roast Cod with Yukon Gold cream poatoes, Mussels, Spinach and Herbs.

While the presentation was not what I had anticipated–I think my mind envisioned a less brothy dish–it was quite simply the best seafood dish, not including sushi/sashimi at Miyake, I’ve eaten in a long while. Lightly breaded and roasted, accompanied with a small dice of potatoes and wee mussels, the cod was cooked perfectly. It was topped with an unnecessary herbed mayonnaise, which I removed as I felt it got in the way of the overall flavor of the dish and added it to the unused lemon that sat on my bread plate, but otherwise seasoned flawlessly. And funny enough, it was the unexpected broth that we could not stop raving about. Creamy, buttery, slightly fishy and dotted with a few leaves of wilted spinach it was enjoyed so much that we asked for a second basket of bread to soak up as much of it as our bellies could handle. But, at this point we were reaching maximum capacity and, yet, that did not stop us from ordering one more dish.

Panna Cotta with Raspberry sauce and fresh berries

Because I sometimes have the maturity of a 12 year old boy, my first thought when the plate was set down was “Boobie Cotta!” My apologies now to the person who plated this, as I mean no offense, but my partner and I had a good chuckle before we delved in. I wouldn’t compare it to the Panna Cotta that Bresca is known for, as it seems a different beast all together. Their version is thicker, denser and flecked with a fresh vanilla bean, more custardy, like a version you would make at home. It, like the other parts of our meal, was satisfying and pushed us well beyond the point of being satiated.

With cost of living having gone up for us over the past few months, our trips out for dinner are becoming fewer and farther between. We’re becoming even more selective on where our meager amounts of money is spent but this meal was more than worth the $95 that the bill totaled to. Caiola’s has definitely moved itself out of being a mainly brunch place for us and we will be back soon to dine in for dinner again.

Oh, but I would be remiss if I did not include one thing that made us smile as it caught our eye when we got into our car that evening, hanging from the back patio area of the restaurant:

Caiola's on Urbanspoon

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