Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Join Me on a Riverboat Cruise Through Pacific Northwest Wine Country This November

Care to join me for a glass of wine... on a 7-night river cruise through the Columbia River Gorge?

This November, I'm teaming up with UnCruise Adventures to host the Rivers of Wine cruise along the Columbia River. We'll sail a classic coastal steamer from Portland to Walla Walla, exploring the many Oregon and Washington wine countries in between.

Each evening, we'll sip hand-picked wines to further highlight the regions we just visited, and I'll share the stories behind them, answer questions, and otherwise make sure you have a blast. I've been a full-time culinary travel writer for more than a decade, so count on lots of wild tales from foreign wine countries, too, from Italy to South Africa.

Grab the discount code below. View the full itinerary here.

UnCruise's S.S. Legacy, a replica of an 1898 coastal gold rush steamer, replete with Victorian-style decor. [Photo Credit: Uncruise Adventures]

Thursday, May 24, 2018

New Review: Gabriel Rucker's Canard

Canard's Duck Stack: pancakes, duck gravy, Tabasco onions, and a fried duck egg [Photo: Mattie John Bamman]

My latest Portland restaurant review features Le Pigeon sister-restaurant Canard and is now on newsstands.  You don't want to miss this one: Canard turns fine-dining on its head—and even makes it accessible. 
Originally published in WWeek:
With Canard, Star Chef Gabriel Rucker Unleashes the Full Breadth of His Creativity
"Canard is the third restaurant by Gabriel Rucker, the Portland chef WWhas called the most talented of his generation. At his other two restaurants, Le Pigeon and Little Bird Bistro, Rucker's innovative menus are equally inspired by Americana junk food and French fine dining. Canard's is no less shocking.
There's foie gras-infused bourbon ($15), foie gras dumplings ($18) and the Duck Stack—fluffy pancakes with Tabasco onions, duck gravy and a fried duck egg—with optional foie gras for $15. Most dishes take equally bold chances: steak tartare ($16) with Chinese sausage and cashews, uni "Texas toast" ($14), dry-aged petite New York steak with French onion soup sauce ($20)..."

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Portland's New Pelmeni Food Cart Is Now Open

Serving the quintessential Russia dumpling, pelmeni, the Pelmeni Pelmeni/Slavic Eats food truck is now open at the new FoPo Food Carts, at 7337 SE Foster Rd. (a block from Portland Mercado). Pelmeni Pelmeni co-owner Andrey Georgiyev tells RavTrav it currently operates Monday through Saturday, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., with plans to expand hours soon. See the full Pelmeni Pelmeni menu below.

Pelmeni Pelmeni landed in Portland in December 2017 but has only popped up a few times around the city, including an appearance at the Portland Night Market. It serves chicken pelmeni with sour cream and Russian ketchup, vegetarian potato vareniki, and sweet cheese vareniki (vareniki are another type of Russian dumpling and similar to pelmeni).

"We will also be serving vegan Ukrainian borsch and tea soon, too," says Andrey.

Regional Russian food rulers Bonnie and Israel Morales of Kachka are responsible for making pelmeni a huge hit in Portland — at Kachka, make sure to order them with "Fancy Sauce," a silky broth involving sour cream — but I don't know of many other restaurants that serve them, aside from NE Sandy's Traditional Russian Cuisine and Vitaly Paley's DaNet pop-up when it's on.

Pelmeni Pelmeni food cart [Photo: Mattie John Bamman]
Two other food carts are gearing up to open with regular hours in the new FoPo Food Carts pod: Hapa Ramen PDX and Los Tamales Locos. With only three food carts on-site, the pod is still getting off the ground, and it'll be interested to see how it does, located just one block from the Portland Mercado, with its 11 or so Latino food trucks.

Here's the current Pelmeni Pelmeni menu:

[Photo: Mattie John Bamman]

Thursday, March 29, 2018

The American Local Will Close on SE Division on April 7

The American Local, one of SE Division's best restaurants, is closing after a four-year run. Owners Jenny Nickolaus and Chris Whaley tell Ravenous Traveler they will turn off the lights after service on April 7.

"We just got slower and slower after the election and never really got our balance back," Jenny says.

The American Local has been one of my favorite restaurants in Portland since the get-go (so much so I placed it on the Eater PDX 38 in 2016). Serving playful, izakaya-inspired dishes, it's a place where you can really enjoy eating vegetables, as well as bacon. Those sleek cumin roasted carrots came with creamy avocado and smoked yogurt spiked with crunchy sunflower seeds, every ingredient playing a supporting role in honor of the carrot. Those bacon beignets, when on point, made Voodoo Doughnut's maple-bacon bar look like a snack for children.

But what I'll really miss about the space was Chris's melding of flavors and seasonings within a party-forward atmosphere all of Jenny's making. Slightly smoked trout "tartare" comes atop a crispy grit cake with creme fraiche, reminding me of both the American South and Russian caviar with blini. For the sweet-spicy knockout, skewers come puncturing smoky pork belly glazed with maple syrup and finished with sriracha. On-tap saké and a solid cocktail program washed it all down.

Chris had opened seven restaurants before The American Local, but The American Local was the first he owned and operated. During their run, Chris and Jenny embraced Oregon's farming community and Portland's crafty fleet of artisan products, like Ota tofu and Forest Grove's Momokawa saké by SakéOne. Until April 7, the 50-seat restaurant will maintain regular hours, operating Tuesday through Saturday, from 5:30 to 10 p.m., at 3003 SE Division St.

Cumin roasted carrots at The American Local [Photo: American Local]

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Prince Coffee Brings Dutch Stroopwafels to Beaumont Tomorrow

Armed with great coffee and house-made ooey-gooey stroopwafels to dip in it, Katie Prinsen seriously won hearts when she opened Prince Coffee in Portland's Kenton neighborhood in 2016. Now Katie tells RavTrav her second Prince Coffee will fire up the espresso machine in the Beaumont neighborhood this Thursday, March 29. 

The new location will set up at 4523 NE Fremont St., near Pip's Original Doughnuts & Chai. Katie says the 1300-square-foot coffee shop leaves lots of space for people to spread out, and along with its lineup of espresso-based coffees, it adds some drink options, including on-tap cold brew and kombucha. 

"I went to college in the Concordia neighborhood," says Katie, "and I'd go to the Beaumont neighborhood a lot just to walk around. It's super charming. It's like its own little pocket."

Food options remained focused on stroopwafels, crispy-bendy disc-shaped dough with caramel sauce in the middle. But the venue includes a kitchen area, and a small food menu may someday develop.

When I spoke with Katie in 2016 for Eater PDX, she said, "The goal is just to do the basic stuff really, really well." I'm happy to see she not only delivered on the promise but received recognition for it. In a rapidly changing city, it's awesome to see a novel coffee shop with a stroopwafel obsession succeed.

This week, Prince Coffee Beaumont will have limited hours Thursday through Sunday (7 a.m. to 4 p.m.). Starting Monday, the new Prince Coffee will operate 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday, and 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekends, for maxim stroopwafel consumption.

A post shared by Prince Coffee (@princecoffeepdx) on

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Watch Party Downtown Make Pull-Apart Cheese Bread with Oregon White Truffles

Each year, Oregonians forage for an estimated 2 to10 tons of wild white and black truffles, and Eugene is the epicenter for eating the rare, highly prized aromatic fungi: Local chefs regularly serve the truffles throughout harvest (December through March), and they actually know how to use them (too many chefs obscure their flavors by combining them with bold ingredients). As the video shows below, Party Downtown is one of the best places to eat truffles in Eugene (and one of the few places to eat American-grown truffles in America).

I had the ultimate Oregon truffle experience at Eugene's Party Downtown restaurant while visiting for the 2017 Oregon Truffle Festival. It's owned by husband and wife team, Mark Kosmicki (manger) and Tiffany Norton (head chef), and they gave me my first real Oregon truffle moment: pull-apart cheese bread touting Oregon white truffle-infused Saint Angel triple-cream cheese. I visited again in January 2018 to recreate the moment, and it was everything and more — buttery challah, heroic creaminess, and heady, punch-in-the-gut-pungent musk from the white truffle. And I didn't even need to visit Italy or Croatia for my Tuber-magnatum hookup this time.

Mark says foragers sometimes find truffles year round near Eugene, and he'll put truffles on the menu whenever a forager shows up at his back door with a fresh crop. If you want to eat Oregon truffles, I highly recommend starting in Eugene, visiting in January or February for the very peak of the harvest. Call Party Downtown to see if they have truffles on the menu, and then maybe slip them a fifty to make sure that cheese bread's involved.

And if you want to learn the ins and outs of American truffle farming, check out my article on Eater.com, Why Haven’t American Truffles Taken Root Yet?

Here's the video:

Music: Voltaic - Kevin Macleod - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fDcX23Rwrzo

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Urdaneta Becomes a Basque Txoko on April 8, a Sort of Spanish Gastronomic Society

I am a sucker for rare culinary experiences from far-away places. That's why I'm excited to hear Urdaneta is replicating a txoko, a private gastronomic society that's traditional to Spain's Basque population. While it takes place at Urdaneta on NE Alberta on April 8, the one-time event is technically a "special edition" of Basque Supper Club, the pop-up run by Urdaneta chef-owner Javier Canteras. RavTrav caught up with Javier to get the 411 on txoko.

"Back in the old, old days, only men were allowed in txokos," Javier says. "They could be held anywhere from a personal home to a shop basement, and the idea was, these guys got together and ate this fresh, fresh food — like right-off-the-boat. It was usually done right before lunch, and then they went home and ate again."

Today, txoko are run by men and women to keep the txoko tradition and historic Basque dishes alive. "You see a lot of wine being opened, a lot of singing," says Javier. "And the whole thing is about food and maybe even more importantly, the company that you're with."

A rarity: 4-year-aged Spanish jamon, bursting with meaty umami, at Urdaneta. [Photo: Mattie John Bamman]

The impetus for this special edition of Javier's Basque Supper Club is the documentary film, The Txoko Experience: The Secret Culinary Space of the Basques. Part of a larger film tour, the night includes a screening, a Q&A with scriptwriter Marcela Garces and Javier, and, naturally, a txoko-style meal inspired by Javier's childhood trips to his grandfather's txoko (tickets cost $120, including drink pairings; three-fourths sold out at last check).

"On my trips to Spain as a kid, my grandpa would always be banging on my door at 10 a.m. saying, 'Let's go.' We'd walk around town, have a couple pintxos and maybe a coffee, and then we'd arrive at his txoko to this enormous feast. It was right on the ocean near this huge fish dock, so they'd buy everything right there. We'd eat for at least a couple hours. Then we'd go home and eat the lunch my grandmother had prepared."

Javier admits his grandmother wasn't the biggest fan of txokos, for obvious reasons.

Javier says two dishes are set in stone for the April 8 dinner. There's a meaty, stew-like cazuela, featuring cider-braised chorizo, pork ribs, and blood sausage, served with talo (Javier says Basque talo resemble Mexican corn tortillas). Javier is also riffing on a traditional dish of calamari and onions, overhauling it in the form of calamari noodles with burned onion broth and caramelized onions, topped with uni, walnuts, and lime zest. The full meal will run six courses.

Pretty pintxos at Urdaneta [Photo: Facebook/Urdaneta]

"I actually met with the filmmakers during a trip to Spain a few weeks ago," says Javier. "I was inspired by some really rustic, Basque dishes."

Also, Portland food rules all: Javier notes this will be the only leg of the film tour held in an actual txoko-style environment. Indeed, with Urdaneta's intimate space, you're basically eating in the kitchen.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Watch: Sammich PDX Reveals the Art of 7-Day Pastrami

Moving to Portland after opening her flagship Sammich sandwich shop in Ashland, Oregon, Melissa McMillan can smoke meats with the best of them, and at the heart of the menu is her seven-day, Montreal-style pastrami sandwich, utilizing beef brisket. In the video below, Melissa shows RavTrav what goes into the sandwich — the one I loved cramming into my face so much I gave her the title, Portland Sandwich Queen.

Sammich PDX opened summer 2016 at 2137 East Burnside St., following on the heels of Melissa's Portland-based Pastrami Zombie food truck, now located in the Mississippi Marketplace pod. Beyond the pastrami, you can't go wrong with anything else on the menu (aside for the grilled cheese; that's for kids, silly).

Speaking of kids, outside of work Melissa coaches baseball for boys ages 10 to 14. But watch out boys: We shot the video right after Melissa returned from her niece's basketball game in Seattle, and she says the game was so fierce she may one day switch to coaching girls basketball.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Updated: Teote's Mezcaleria Is Now Pouring on NE Alberta [MENUS]

Updated: Teote Mezcaleria just shared its expansive list of mezcals, tequilas, and rare agave spirits with RavTrav. Check out its food and drink menus below!

Original coverage: Teote Mezcaleria is now open with abbreviated hours at 2700 NE Alberta. It is sister restaurant to the absolutely killer arepas spot in Portland's Hawthorne neighborhood, Teote. While it will serve some food, it's really a gamechanger for lovers of mezcal, tequila, and rare Mexican spirits.

"Currently we have 106 Mexican spirits," Teote Mezcalaria manager, Diego Bañuelos Enríquez, tells RavTrav. "We have 77 mezcals from 42 brands, featuring 31 maguey varietals, from 31 Mexican municipalities."

The extensive bottle selection means you can try the many different flavors of the agave plant — and get away from the more one-dimensionally smoky mezcals that usually cross the Mexico-U.S. border. Just like wine grapes, different agave species have different aromas and flavors, and small-production mezcals let those inherent, nuanced flavors shine. Mezcal is the only spirit I can think of that features varietal distinctions, from tropical fruits to different weights and textures.
Watch: See an agave harvest in Mexico on Ravenous Traveler
Supporting small-production mezcals also makes a big environmental and socioeconomic difference in small Mexican cities and villages: A single distillery can fuel an entire village's economy. With the mezcal trend only getting hotter, the future of these small distilleries is in jeopardy, as more and more large businesses try to buy them out — often internationally owned.

Mezcal master Eduardo Ángeles of Lalocura Mescalaria dropping agave knowledge. That's the heart of the agave plant, which is fermented as part of the process of making mezcal. Photo: Mattie John Bamman

Teote Mezcaleria currently operates Thursday Wednesday through Saturday Sunday, from 5 to 11 p.m. It has featured a DJ every night it's been open, with several DJ-fueled nights on the books for March and April. The bar is already pouring mezcal, as well as related libations like comiteco. I personally cannot wait to see the full mezcal bottle list.

Here's Teote Mezcaleria's food and drink menu [3.9.18]:

An agave field outside Oaxaca, Mexico. Photo: Mattie John Bamman

A harvest worker slices off agave leaves to reveal the pina, or the heart of the agave plant. Photo: Mattie John Bamman

Monday, March 5, 2018

Another Free Meal Giveaway for Portland Dining Month 2018

Didn't win the first round? Head to the Ravenous Traveler Facebook page for another chance.

Full details: Ravenous Traveler is giving away a free gift card for dinner for two to Andina Restaurant (a $70 value) as part of Portland Dining Month. Travel Portland thoughtfully donated the gift card. To enter the sweepstakes, 1) like the Ravenous Traveler Facebook page (if you haven't already) and 2) answer this question in the comments on the post: Who is one of your favorite Portland chefs? The sweepstakes close at 12:01 a.m. (PST), March 8, 2018.

I will choose a lucky winner at random on March 8 and contact the winner via Facebook message. You must respond with a mailing address within 48 hours. I will immediately mail out the gift card, good for two Portland Dining Month menus at Andina (excluding tip and beverages).

Empanadas and stuffed piquillo peppers at Andina
The promotional value of the gift card is based on Portland Dining Month menu pricing for two guests (excluding beverages and tip). The gift card is only guaranteed to be valid during Portland Dining Month (March 1-31). I strongly encourage making reservations through OpenTable.com because 1) a donation will be made to the Oregon Food Bank, and 2) Portland Dining Month gets busy, and a reservation ensures you a seat. This promotion is in no way sponsored, endorsed, or administered by, or associated with, Facebook. By entering this contest, you agree to a complete release of Facebook from any or all liability in connection with this contest. By entering this contest, you agree to a complete release of Ravenous Traveler from any or all liability in connection with this contest.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Win a Free Dinner for Two for Portland Dining Month 2018

Get the chance to experience Portland Dining Month for free by entering the 2018 Ravenous Traveler Portland Dining Month giveaway. One lucky winner will walk away with a free gift card for two Portland Dining Month menus at The Country Cat Dinnerhouse and Bar (a $70 value). Helmed by Adam and Jackie Sappington, The Country Cat always has a fun atmosphere and serves Southern plates in the Montavilla neighborhood. Travel Portland was kind enough to donated the gift card to Ravenous Traveler.

Here's how to enter:

—Head to the Ravenous Traveler Facebook page and find this post to enter the sweepstakes
—Like Ravenous Traveler on Facebook
—Answer this question in the comments on the post: What is one of your favorite Portland restaurants?

The sweepstakes close at 12:01 a.m. (PST), March 1, 2018. I will choose a lucky winner at random on March 1 and contact the winner via Facebook message. You must respond with a mailing address within 24 hours. I will immediately mail out the gift card, good for two Portland Dining Month menus at The Country Cat (excluding tip and beverages) for two people. Visit PortlandDiningMonth.com to see all of the restaurants' menus online.

The Country Cat's fried chicken sandwich with Judy cheese and shoestring onion rings. Photo: Mattie John Bamman

More details: The promotional value of the gift card is based on Portland Dining Month menu pricing for two guests (excluding beverages and tip). The gift card is only guaranteed to be valid during Portland Dining Month (March 1-31). I strongly encourage making reservations through OpenTable.com because 1) a donation will be made to the Oregon Food Bank, and 2) Portland Dining Month gets busy, and a reservation ensures you a seat. This promotion is in no way sponsored, endorsed, or administered by, or associated with, Facebook. By entering this contest, you agree to a complete release of Facebook from any or all liability in connection with this contest. By entering this contest, you agree to a complete release of Ravenous Traveler from any or all liability in connection with this contest.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Portland's Laundromat for Singles Opens Second Location

Within the sultry labyrinth of Portland dating, my single friends say spic-and-span Spin Laundry Lounge sits at the center: A place where you can not only buy someone a beer, but a round of laundry, with the added benefit they have nowhere to be for the next hour.

Following up on the North Mississippi/North Williams location, Spin Laundry Lounge 2.0 is opening at 2326 NE Broadway, right next door to the Rose & Thistle English pub, and on the same block as Ataula spinoff 180 xurros. Owner Morgan Gary tells Ravenous Traveler the new laundromat and lounge will be a little different.

There will still be an indoor lounge area, but customers can bring in food and drink from nearby businesses. Come spring, Spin Laundry 2.0 will start serving coffee and light food from its Coffee Bus, with patio seating. Pop-up parties are also in store.

"We're partnering with local businesses and doing food, drink, event, arts & crafts, and music pop ups in our lounge space," says Morgan. (Fingers crossed the nearby, all-female-run Nightwood Society, which just took over short-lived Chesa in September, will be involved.)

The new Spin sets up inside a former auto repair shop. [Photo: Mattie John Bamman]

So you'll be able to buy someone a beer  coffee along with a round of laundry at the new Spin Laundry Lounge. Or invite them to the bar in the wood-paneled Rose & Thistle next door.

The new spot could open as soon as next week, Morgan tells RavTrav. The team is waiting on final permits. Keep an eye on Spin Laundry Lounge's Facebook page for the latest.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Watch: Meet Portland's Heavy Metal Winery, Teutonic Wine Company

Avant garde winemaking is alive and well in Portland, Oregon. "The scientific wing of the natural wine movement," Teutonic Wine Company balances fine wine and personal style. It works mostly with Germanic grapes — all grown in Oregon. I'm a big fan, not only because I love metal and wine, but because Teutonic proves Oregon wine isn't just pinot noir.

In the below video, winemaker Barnaby Tuttle shares Teutonic Wine Company's latest projects, including a collaboration wine made with local metal band Red Fang; an MSG-packed wine tentatively named "Umami Tsunami"; and a fire-damaged riesling using fruit from the 2017 Columbia River Gorge wildfire.

Teutonic Wine Company's tasting room keeps regular hours and is located in central Portland, at 3303 SE 20th, just off Powell Boulevard. Time a visit with jazz night Wednesdays or one of the urban winery's many culinary events by chef Alex Bourgidu (Genoa, Porta). Events are announced on Teutonic's Facebook page (and definitely be on the lookout for its regular dollar-oyster nights).

Music: Jet Fueled Vixen - Kevin MacLeod: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=24mlwq_FG08

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Walk Inside The People's Pig, Now Open on East Burnside

The second location of Cliff Allen's barbecue restaurant, The People's Pig, is now open on East Burnside. Firing up at 3004 E Burnside inside of a former Subway, the new spot nearly rivals the original in character: It's like walking into a 1940s diner taken over by The Devil's Rejects. Take a tour in the video below.

The People's Pig opens daily at 11 a.m. and stays open for dinner until 9 p.m. (10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays). The full menu with additions from the former food cart days is up and running, including the much-touted porchetta sandwich: roasted pork belly and loin with fennel pollen, arugula, garlic, and lemon. See the full menu, including cocktails, below.

The barbecue restaurant threw open the doors in January. The neighborhood was already rivaling SE Division and NE Alberta as Portland's culinary epicenter, with Paadee/Langbaan, Laurelhurst Market, Tapalaya, Guero, Cheese & Crack Snack Shop, Fifty Licks, and many more excellent dining options. And The People's Pig is one of several barbecue restaurants to recently open, joining Clay's Smokehouse on Division and Russell St. Barbecue's second location, on Belmont.

The People's Pig on East Burnside [Photo: Mattie J. Bamman]

The People' Pig menu, 2.15.18 [Photo: Mattie John Bamman]

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

My Client's Book Comes Out Today on W. W. Norton

Writing a book is really hard. That's why I'm extremely excited to say that educator, writer, and somatic therapist David Treleaven has written an empowering book about trauma and mindfulness, Trauma-Sensitive Mindfulness: Practices for Safe and Transformative Healing, and it comes out today on W. W. Norton & Company. David's book hits home for anyone interested in the connection between trauma and meditation, or other mindfulness practices.

I'm not the only one helping to champion the book. David received some awesome book blurbs from powerhouse writers, including Rick Hanson, PhD., author of Buddha's Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom, and Babette Rothschild, MSW, who wrote The Body Remembers. W. W. Norton is one of the best publishers in America. It was the #1 new book release in psychology on Amazon earlier this year.

My work with David focused on streamlining the writing process. David is a true expert, and he already had all of the content under control. Working on deadline, I helped him put it together into six initial chapters, which he then perfected with his publisher.
Photo: W.W. Norton

I'm really impressed with David's work. I enjoyed learning from him as well as getting to know him personally over many long phone calls. He's a great guy, and he's dedicated his life to helping other people overcome intimate challenges. If only we could all lend such a meaningful helping hand to life's invisible struggles.

Pick up a copy of Trauma-Sensitive Mindfulness here (David says 60% of all proceeds will go to "three different social justice organizations challenging systemic conditions that create and perpetuate trauma").

David did a recent podcast with Shrink Rap radio that's worth checking, as well.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Watch: Xico Restaurant Is One of the Best Places to Drink Craft Mezcal in PDX

While most cheap mezcals are defined by their smokiness, the best mezcals can be fruity and grassy and in general have a huge depth of character. After touring a mezcal harvest in Oaxaca in January, I needed to find out where to drink great mezcal in Portland, Oregon.

Xico is one of the only places serving modern Mexican food in Portland, and in my search, it immediately stood out, both for its wide selection of 30+ mezcals and for its Mezcal Experiences, a flight of three mezcals served with three Mexican bites by chef Kelly Myers. When I reached out to Xico, Denis Lindsay, a man lucky enough to bear the title, Mezcal Manager, told me Xico had just updated its mezcal flights.

Mezcal is not just smoky tequila; in fact, tequila is a type of mezcal (like scotch is a type of whiskey), and mezcals can be made from 30 different types of agave — each with their own flavor profiles, much like different wine grapes. Tequila is only made with one: blue agave.

See what it's all about in the video:

Looking for more? Head to Oaxaca with me to tour a mezcal harvest and the Lalocura mezcal distillery.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Daddy D's Barbecue Opens Second Location and Announces Third

One of the Portland area's best barbecue spots, Daddy D's is on fire: It built its reputation while serving barbecue out of — of all places — a Shell gas station in Vancouver, Washington, and in fall 2017, it opened three locations inside the Moda Center. Now owner Donnie Vercher and his son Isaiah are up and running at 11817 NE 117th Ave., in — you guessed it — another Shell gas station. Isaiah's sister Karolyn Vercher manages the spot, so it's a true family-run business.

The new Daddy D's serves the exact menu as at the original location — only Isaiah rules the smoker. He says his dad taught him everything he knows, right down to peeling the potatoes, and serving a consistent product is what it's all about.

"My dad trained me, and he wouldn't even let me touch the pit for the first three years," Isaiah tells Ravenous Traveler. "I never saw myself doing this growing up. I thought I'd go to the NFL. But I fell in love with it. I view it like football: It's not just what you do, it's how you do it."

Isaiah says Daddy D's make its own "family style" of barbecue, with influence from his father's home state of Louisiana. On the menu are chopped beef brisket, chicken, pork ribs, pulled pork, cole slaw, potato salad, and more.

Isaiah and Karolyn Vercher [Photo: Daddy D's Southern-Style Barbecue]

The new Daddy D's opened at 11817 NE 117th Ave. in the last week of January. Like the original, it smokes its meats in a smoker beside the Shell station. Currently, there's some outdoor seating beneath the Shell station roof, and coming soon are picnic tables and a large tent for additional seats. It's open Tuesday through Saturday, from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., or until the meat sells out (if it's later in the day, you can check availability by calling 360 356 8357).

And Isaiah had some other big news to share: The first full-fledged brick-and-mortar location of Daddy D's is slated to open behind the Oak Tree Casino in Woodland, Washington, right off I-5. Isaiah says his father will finally have the restaurant he's always wanted, and the menu will definitely expand. Daddy D's first brick and mortar aims to open late spring 2018, at 1243 N Goerig St. (formerly Premium Smoked Meats).

Here are some more things to think about:

"I love the physical form of making barbecue," says Isaiah. "It's a craft, and I love the everyday learning. I don't think anyone could ever say, 'I mastered barbecue.' And barbecue also brings people together. I've met some of the coolest people in the world over barbecue, and while I know a lot of good things attract a lot of good people, I gotta say barbecue really brings great people together."

Some things to think about [Photo: Daddy D's Southern-Style Barbecue]

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Take a Tour of Puerto Escondido's Culinary Center, the Mercado

As I wrote last week, you'll find some of the best food in Puerto Escondido at Mercado Benito Juarez. Many travelers miss the Mercado because it is located away from the beach in Puerto Escondido's city center. This is where locals do their shopping and go out to eat. The video below shows how to catch a bus to the Mercado from Zicatela Beach.

This video is from January 2018. The bus took around five minutes and cost US$.50 each direction.  Buses ran regularly. I never had to wait longer than a couple minutes for a pick up.

At Mercado Benito Juarez, I found dozens of sit-down food stalls serving traditional Mexican food, from moles to chile rellenos. The concierge at our hotel said the best way to choose where to eat is to see which spot is the most popular. We settled on Los Tres Giresoles and the dishes were excellent.

Besides all the great food, the Mercado is the heart of Puerto Escondido. There's tons of shopping, so expect to pick up a souvenir or two. Don't miss the stands selling Oaxacan string cheese.

Here's how to get to Puerto Escondido's Mercado from Zicatela Beach:

Friday, February 2, 2018

Puerto Escondido's Best Mexican Restaurants, 2018

On its list of the best restaurants in Puerto Escondido, the LA Times recently wrote, "Pretty much everything is amazing" — a statement that truly confounds the mind.

Puerto Escondido is a tropical beach destination, and almost all of its restaurants along the beach are geared toward tourists: Italian pizzas and pastas, American breakfasts and burgers, Middle Eastern wraps, Thai curries. There's even a telling joke on Puerto Escondido's main beach, Zicatela: You can find any type of food you'd like, as long as it isn't Mexican. If you want traditional Mexican food, you have to go hunting.

Here are some of the best restaurants to get Mexican dishes in Puerto Escondido. Note this list focuses on Zicatela Beach and concludes with the mother of all mouthwatering musts, the Mercado in downtown Puerto Escondido:

Where to Eat in Puerto Escondido in 2018

El Cafecito's Takeout Window
Price: US$1.50 for un latte doble (latte with two shots of espresso)

The line. [Photo: Mattie J. Bamman]

I don't stand in lines, which is why I would never eat at El Cafecito, but there's a trick: The surfer-beloved cafe has a takeout window serving excellent espresso drinks to sip on the beach, right across the street.

Sativa Lounge
Price: Breakfast with coffee for US$5

Breakfast bowl at Sativa Lounge [Photo: Mattie J. Bamman]

This is a hip option at anytime of day, with second-story bar seating overlooking Calle El Morro and the beach, but I really love its breakfast: great espresso drinks, creative fruit juices blended to order, and humungous healthy breakfast bowls loaded with tropical fruits, nuts, and seeds.

Street/Beach Tacos and Taquitos
Price: US$.50

My favorite beach tacos are always potato, because of some sort of delicious seasoning. [Photo: Mattie J. Bamman]

You'll find people peddling deep-fried tacos stuffed with your choice of meats, fish, potatoes, or chile rellenos. They're a tasty, cheap snack or light meal. Make sure you get yours loaded with cheese and spicy salsa.

Santa Fe Restaurant 
Price: Around US$50 for a nice meal for two with tip
Perfectly grilled whole fish with sliced garlic [Photo: Mattie J. Bamman]

Located in the swank Hotel Santa Fe, this is probably the best option for a nice meal of Mexican plates on Zicatela Beach. You'll feel like royalty in the open-air dining room among columns and beneath a thatched roof, with views of the beach. Go for the margaritas, the gazpacho and Aztec soups, the chili rellenos, coconut shrimp, and whole roasted fish.

Costenito Cevicheria
Price: US$50 for a nice meal for two with tip

Grilling in style [Photo: Mattie J. Bamman]

Serving seafood prepared on a grill inside of a Volkswagen bus, this place vies with Santa Fe Restaurant for the best seafood in Puerto Escondido. Order whole fish by the kilo, and don't skip the ceviche.

Brisas del Mar
Price: US$30 for a nice meal for two with tip

Brisas del Mar [Photo: Facebook/Brisas del Mar]

This is the only spot near Zicatela Beach I found serving Mexican plates without tourist prices, and that's because it's located at the top of a stairway off of the beach. The family-run spot has a killer view. Go for the nachos with chicken and the garlic shrimp (camarones al ajillo).

Mercado Benito Juarez
Price: Varies; most plates around US$3.50

Chilaquiles rojo with crispy fried eggs [Photo: Mattie J. Bamman]

The Mercado is full of family-operated food stalls serving chilaquiles, moles, tacos, and more at normal Mexican prices. Personally, I loved Los Tres Girasoles for its chilaquiles rojo. And the Mercado is a sight unto itself, so plan to explore the vibrant marketplace as well as grab an excellent lunch. You'll have to catch a bus or taxi.

Find a killer restaurant not listed above? Share it in the comments!

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Thursday, February 1, 2018

Watch: Puerto Escondido Mini Travel Guide, Mexico

Puerto Escondido, Mexico, is my ideal tropical beach getaway: It's a tropical paradise and everything's so inexpensive you get to act like you're rich for a week or two. Watch the video below, offering an introduction and travel guide to Puerto Escondido. You'll see just how chill and comfortable the place is. You may even feel like you're in a John Grisham novel discussing how to hide your fortune in the Cayman Islands.

The video includes where to find the best coffee in Puerto Escondido, as well as a hip bar and restaurant for help finding long-term apartment rentals. The staff speaks English.

The rest of the video highlights Puerto Escondido's natural beauty and dedication to the do-nothing vacation. Bring a book. Soak it up.

My first major trip abroad was to Puerto Escondido, Mexico, in 2004. Coming from a frugal back-to-the-land family, I had no idea how easy and cheaply I could travel to Mexico. The flight cost around $500, and I spent three weeks traveling through Mexico for a grand total of $1000. Prices really haven't changed. We found hostel beds for $9/night, surf hotels for $30/night, and upscale hotels for as cheap as $50/night, proving you can choose the level of luxury to your taste. Let me know if you have any questions.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Watch: This Is How Small-Production Mezcal Is Made

I was in a van with an experienced crew, including Ava Gene's chef-owner, Joshua McFadden, and the CEO of Modern Adventure, Luis Vargas. The dirt road stretching through the arid Mexican landscape was so bumpy I was spilling mezcal everywhere. But it was in a bowl-shaped gourd: The mission was impossible by design.

Modern Adventure is a newly minted luxury tour company that racked up $1M in investments last fall, and I'd recently met Luis at a party Modern Adventure hosted in Portland in December. I was impressed with the quality of the tour offerings, and it was just good luck I happened to be in Oaxaca a few weeks later, when they were rolling through.

We spent the day touring Lalocura Mescalaria, a mezcal distillery in Santa Catarina Minas, near Oaxaca, Mexico. The owner, Eduardo Ángeles, took us into the fields to see the mezcal harvest and revealed the diversity of small-production mezcal, something I'd never experienced in the U.S. They weren't all smoky! And the best ones demonstrated the inherent flavors of the different agave varieties used to make them.

Step into Eduardo's world in the video below. Watch the visually mesmerizing agave harvest, and learn why you have to visit Oaxaca to taste the real deal. And a huge thank you to Modern Adventure for letting me tag along, and to Luis for serving as an impromptu translator.

A Real-Deal Mezcal Tour: From Agave Harvest to Heroic Sampling

The One Good Thing Trump Did for PDX Food

On the eve of Donald Trump's first State of the Union Address, there is one thing Portland eaters can actually be thankful for: the reversal of the law that made it illegal to pool tips at restaurants. In 2011, then-president Barack Obama made it illegal for restaurants to share tips among staff — waiters, cooks, hosts, dishwashers, etc. Many restaurateurs I've spoke to say this furthers the wage disparity between front-of-house and back-of-house restaurant workers: Waiters usually pocket all that dough from 20% tips, in addition to earning minimum wage, while line cooks often make around minimum wage.

The Trump Administration's Department of Labor has set a repeal in motion that will likely take effect February 5, 2018. This would allow restaurant owners to divide the total tips among staff as they please. The government is accepting comments from the public until that date.

Pooling tips and dividing them more evenly among restaurant workers does appear to fix, or lessen, many problems Portland restaurants are currently facing. In particular, Portland restaurants need to find a way to pay their staff more, as a result of rising minimum wage mandates in Oregon. Secondly, the shortage of cooks once mostly felt by New York City and San Francisco is now a reality in Portland.

Photo: Mattie John Bamman

Tip pooling could allow restaurant owners to pay their cooks more. This would reduce turnover in the kitchen, which majorly affects the quality of the food we're all served. Additionally, the hospitality industry employs a huge percentage of Portlanders, so reversing the law would improve the quality of life for thousands.

But there is one potential problem — one of the very reasons Obama made tip-pooling illegal in 2011: Some restaurant owners could choose to pocket all of the tips, and that would be totally legal.

For me, the real problem — the one at the root of all of this — is that waiters are paid minimum wage in addition to earning tips in Oregon. In other states, waiters make a tiny portion of minimum wage — at times, as low as $2.33/hour — with the tips making up the rest of their pay (note that if a waiter's tips do not equal minimum wage, which is uncommon, the employer must pay the difference.)

Because of Oregon's laws, restaurateurs have to dedicate more of their total operating fees to pay waiters, some of whom are already making bank with tips. It only seems fair cooks receive higher pay.

Monday, January 29, 2018

How to Book a Real-Deal Mezcal Tour in Oaxaca

The best mezcal tours always take you into the small villages around Oaxaca, where small producers make mezcal according to tradition. But there's something equally important to consider when booking a mezcal tour: Some mezcal distilleries in Oaxaca are the foundation of their entire village's economy, while others are owned by out-of-state or international investors, cashing in on the current mezcal trend.

Make sure to support Oaxaca's local citizens by knowing the difference and finding a locally minded tour company.

Unless you speak fluent Spanish and are willing to invest hours of research, the best way to tour Oaxaca's mescal distilleries is to hire an experienced guide. If there were a better DIY way to do this, I would definitely recommend it, but the expertise of these tour operators cannot be underestimated: They are already familiar with the best small-scale mezcal distilleries; they will arrange all of the tour appointments (many mezcal distilleries do not maintain regular hours); they'll translate so you can connect with the distillers; and finally, they will help you avoid mezcal distilleries owned by out-of-state and international investors.
Agave harvest worker at Lalocura Mescalaria [Photo: Mattie John Bamman]

Here are the mezcal tour operators I recommend in Oaxaca, Mexico:

There are many other mezcal tour operators out there, but these are the ones I trust. Know of another excellent mezcal tour company? Give it a shoutout in the comments or shoot me an email to get it on the list.

Friday, January 19, 2018

The Best Things I Just Ate In Oaxaca, Mexico

The Oaxacan food scene is getting a ton of attention right now — both from chefs and culinary travel writers — and here are the best things I tried during my three week trip in January 2018. 

I started in Puerto Escondido, a tropical beach town on Mexico's southern Pacific coast in the state of Oaxaca, and ended in Oaxaca City. This list of the top street foods and fine-dining dishes focuses on those two destinations.

After 10 years as a culinary travel writer, I don't shy away from food. During the trip, I tried crunchy, lime-seasoned worms and bustling taco stands serving meat carved straight from animal heads. I also ponied up to fine-dining restaurants to sample some modern Oaxacan plates, like those at Los Danzantes, recently highlighted by one of my favorite authors, Francine Prose.

Note this list is in a completely random order (not ranked).

1. Hamburguesa, Street Vendors, Oaxaca City ($1.50 each)

Photo by Mattie John Bamman

These are not typical hamburgers: Oaxaca City street vendors serve thin burger patties loaded with bologna, American cheese, Oaxacan string cheese (quesillo), salsa, diced pineapple, lettuce, and tomato (and the best come on a potato bun).

Based on a recommendation from Ava Gene's chef-owner Joshua McFadden, I skipped the ketchup but added mayo and mustard. The mustard and tangy string cheese balanced the pineapple.

2. Hierba Santa, Los Danzantes Restaurant, Oaxaca City ($4.50)

Photo by Mattie John Bamman

Native to Mesoamerica, hierba santa is an anis-y leaf, and while the flavor can be powerful, fine-dining restaurant Los Danzantes shows a light touch: A single long leaf is stuffed with Oaxacan string cheese and queso de cabra, served in a creamy and tangy tomatillo-based sauce.

3. Roasted Hearts of Agave Piñas, Santa Catarina Minas (45 minutes outside Oaxaca City), (Pricele$$)

Photo by Mattie John Bamman

Part of making mezcal is roasting the agave piñas — the hearts of the agave plant — in a giant pit for around five days. Afterward, the charred hunks look like burned pineapples, and the centers — revealed with a deft machete thwack — are caramelized and juicy, almost jammy. The owner of Lalocora Mezcal, Eduardo Angeles, told me it's considered a super food, especially by the workers of the agave harvest.

4. Hot Chocolate, Boulenc Bakery, Oaxaca City ($1.50)

Photo by Mattie John Bamman

I'll never forget stumbling upon bubbling cauldrons of hot chocolate at the Tlacolula Sunday Market in Oaxaca in 2004. Despite the warm weather, hot chocolate is Oaxaca's drink, and it's best made with water — not milk — to let the raw flavors of the chocolate shine. Boulenc probably had the best of this trip, but you can order it anywhere.

5. Chilaquiles Rojo, Tres Girasoles (inside Puerto Escondido Mercado) ($2.50)

Photo by Mattie John Bamman

Tropical beach paradise Puerto Escondido is all about maxing and relaxing, with a lot more freshly cracked coconuts and boozy drinks than great food. But in the town's heart is its Mercado, located far from the beach, with locals filling up the copious food stalls. My chilaquiles rojo included thick, freshly fried tortilla triangles topped with a surprisingly rich red sauce, as well as avocado, onion, cilantro, queso blanco, and perfectly crispy fried eggs.

6. Croissants, Boulenc Bakery, Oaxaca City ($1.50)

Photo by Mattie John Bamman

No joke: I can say Boulenc makes the best croissants I've ever had. This entire list could be filled with its other breakfast plates, too. Best food of the trip, outside of our cooking class.

7. Chile Rellenos, Santa Fe Restaurant, Puerto Escondido ($5)

Photo by Mattie John Bamman

This hulking plate of chile rellenos — roasted poblano peppers stuffed with cheese and served beneath tomato sauce —destroys all prior experiences: A deep, nourishing tomato sauce over meaty peppers gooing cheese. This restaurant was definitely the best in Puerto Escondido — by a long shot.

8. Tortas, Unknown Convenience Store in Unknown Town, Oaxaca ($1.50)

Photo by Mattie John Bamman

The telera bread I tasted in Mexico was markedly different than the stuff I've had in the U.S.: thin and crispy (and sometimes seemed to be grilled like panini), not fluffy. The crunch is where it's at — and the best one I had was at a convenience store in some town our bus stopped at between Puerto Escondido and Oaxaca City. It's a testament to the fact you should never shy away from an opportunity to try something new.

The torta came spread with black beans and stuffed with chicken, cheese, avocado, and a hulking wedge of pickled jalapeno [photo above is of a similar but different torta from the trip]. Tortas are definitely a great gateway street food for those trying new Mexican dishes.

9. Amarillo Mole, Casa della Abuela Restaurant, Oaxaca City ($10)

Photo by Mattie John Bamman

Famous for its chocolate, Oaxaca makes around seven varieties of mole, but this one is chocolate-free. The amarillo mole [top left in photo above] was light, creamy, and a little spicy, and the power came from a special blend of dried chiles (they seem to be guajillo chilieschilhuacle amarillo chiles, and additional dried chiles). This was my favorite mole of the trip (again, aside from our cooking class).

10. Fresh-Squeezed Tropical Fruit Juices, Puerto Escondido (but found throughout Oaxaca), ($2)
Photo by Mattie John Bamman
Growing up off the grid in Maine, tropical fruits were a pricy delicacy, but they're ubiquitous and mindbogglingly cheap in Central America. During my trip, I watched entire pineapples liquified before my very eyes for a dollar. The street-side stand at Bungalows Puerta del Sol on Puerto Escondido's main drag had the most interesting fruit combinations — if priced for tourists. Papaya, guava, passion fruit, star fruit, mango, banana, pineapple, and much more.

Join Me on a Riverboat Cruise Through Pacific Northwest Wine Country This November

Care to join me for a glass of wine... on a 7-night river cruise through the Columbia River Gorge? This November, I'm teaming up with ...