Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Ely's Restaurant - Ridgeland, MS

Now that I’ve finished up all of the major write ups from my vacation out west, it’s time to start the rounds at what Jackson has to offer. What better place to start than with Ely’s, a Ridgeland restaurant that Delta Magazine calls a “choice dining establishment” that “caters to guests who are looking to surpass their expectations”. Apparently writing for Delta Magazine gives people low expectations for their restaurants.

To begin, Ely’s is a little hard to find. There’s a sign on Jackson Street that juts out from the building, but you have to look upstairs in the middle of a seemingly empty building to find the place.

I’ve tried once before, and I had great expectations for their stuffed flounder. I was disappointed to find a flavorless meal. So this time I decided to try a different route. I ordered a bowl of their seafood bisque and the scallops appetizer.

A pleasant looking bisque was soon placed in front of me.

It did have a lovely and creamy flavor to it, but the seafood itself was another story. The shrimp had been on the burner for too long and were more than overdone. After a few spoonfuls I was struggling to find something besides shrimp that would make this a seafood bisque and not just shrimp bisque. After a few moments of searching, I got a few spoonfuls with texture. I decided that it tasted of scallops, granted they had been ground so fine they were almost a puree.

A few minutes later my scallop appetizer arrived as my entrée, even though I had asked for the bowl of bisque as an entrée


Thankfully Ely’s did avoid the pitfalls of scallops as these had been lightly cooked and not turned into slices of rubber. These scallops were a nice appetizer portion. Dusted with a little cayenne and laid on a bed of greens, I enjoyed them immensely.

I knew that I needed some sort of vegetation for the meal, so I had ordered a side of asparagus. Asparagus is one of my favorite vegetables, and I was pleased with what I received from Ely’s

They weren’t grilled, I suppose they had been sautéed, and sautéed well. Not overdone, and sprinkled with a pepper herb mixture, the asparagus were the best side I have had at Ely’s so far.

Overall, I don’t know if Ely’s deserves the accolades that they received from Delta Magazine, but it doesn’t hurt for them to feature the review on their homepage. Ely’s is a nice change of pace from the usual group of Jackson restaurants, but it needs to improve, especially on the flavor and texture of their seafood dishes. I’m sure that I’ll be back to Ely’s and will have another dish to pass judgment upon.

Ely's Restaurant & Bar on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Genoa - Portland, Oregon

Saturday night, our last night in Portland, I knew it would hard to top Higgins. We needed something special, so returned to the advice of the Patron Saint of Portland. He had heartily recommended a locals only place called Genoa, and since he hadn’t led us astray yet, I made reservations.

It was a long cab ride, across the Willamette River and deep into the neighborhoods of Portland. We pulled up to a rather inconspicuous location.

I was worried; this would either be a great meal or some cheesy Italian restaurant complete with red checkered tablecloths and candles in Chianti bottles. Thankfully, it was a tastefully decorated interior with barely a dozen tables.

Even though we arrived on time, the party at our table was in no hurry to leave, so we were shown to the lounge/private dining room, and enjoyed several glasses of nice spumanti.

Thanks to a talkative waiter from Georgia who noticed our accents, a conversation was quickly struck up and it ended up with us being invited to see the kitchen.

It seemed pretty small, and I’ve noticed that the chef seems to be glaring at me in every picture. But it’s like my grandma told me, if a restaurant won’t show off their kitchen, you shouldn’t eat there.

After a 30 minute wait, we were finally seated. We were delighted to hear that our drinks from before were on the house. With that behind us, we took a look at the menu, and it was a dozy, a six course menu. We started out simply enough.

A salad of roasted piquillo, smoked poblano, and yellow pepper-citrus puree with pepper cress sounds like a mouthful, but it was a little on the small side. However it was packed with a wonderful mélange of flavors. One of best things about the meal was that my dad and I couldn’t decide on a bottle of wine that would work with all the dishes. How was the problem resolved? The sommelier gave us individualized wine tours. For the salad we enjoyed a Coppo Brachetto D’Acqui “Pasione,” Piedmont, Italy 2006.

Needless to say, our waiter and sommelier were kind enough to give us a copy of the menu, but they went above and beyond the call of duty by giving me a menu with each of our course selections and the corresponding wine. Without the kindness of the wait staff, this review would have been useless.

The second course was a sweet meat pumpkin chowder with fresh Manilla clams and bacon.

I love good chowder though I was a little apprehensive about the pumpkin. However, my fears vanished when I had a taste of this chowder. I never thought that clams and bacon would go so well with pumpkin. The wine accompaniment was Reichsgraf von Kesselstat Riesling Kabinett “Josephshofer Monopole,” Germany 2003

Duck and potatoes were the focus of our third course, as we enjoyed a Yukon gold potato gnocchi with duck confit, figs, and prosciutto di parma

I was surprised that gnocchi was featured so early in the meal, as it is usually a dish that sits in your stomach like a brick. That was not the case at Genoa, as this was the lightest gnocchi I have ever eaten. I only wish there had been more of the crisped prosciutto. The wine continued to be a tour of Europe with a Saint Cosme Côtes du Rhône “Les Deux Albion,” France, 2006.

Now the fourth course is where we took our separate paths. I choose the pork belly, because I can’t resist pork belly. It’s a terrible weakness and one that I should really work on some other time.

A pan roasted black pomfret, carrots and braised pork belly dish, it was like all the others: a perfect combination of flavors. While the flavors combined so well, you could pick out each flavor and truly savor the craftsmanship. The wine went with this especially well, Schiopetto Tocai Friulano, Venezie-Giulia, Italy, 2004

As I said, armed with our forks, we had reached a fork in the road. While I went with the pork belly, my dad choose escolar, a delightful white fish.

This dish was called Hawaiian Escolar with pardon peppers, white and gold corn, and herb oil. The little bite that I snuck past my dad was superb. The fish was lightly cooked, and was perfectly complimented with the herb oil. My father enjoyed a Josef Schmid Grüner Veltliner “Alte Reben Priorissa,” Kremstal, Austria, 2005

By now you would think we would be rolling out of chairs, stuffed to the gills, and miserable, but that was from the case. The cooks at Genoa have learned the perfect portion for each course, and we were primed for the fifth course.

This was selection for the fifth course, Oregon Fallow venison with purple cauliflower, matsutakes, brussel sprouts, and smoked honey. I know I said that I love pork and its various incarnations but I’m really a fan of any meat, particularly game. That picture doesn’t like, this venison looked that good and tasted even better. Although I was a little perplexed by the smoked honey, I’m not really sure how you go about smoking honey, but it was a nice combination and went well with the venison. Our sommelier picked the perfect red for this dish, Chateau St- André Corbin St-Georges-St-Émilion, Bordeaux, France 2005

A Kookoolan Farm’s Guinea Hen with buttermilk-chestnut purée, apple, and foie gras greeted my father for his fifth course.

This was one of the few dishes on the Genoa menu that centered on fowl, and while it may not be done often, it was done well. I loved how succulent the meat was, and yet the skin was so crispy. My dad enjoyed the first domestic wine of the evening with the course, a St. Innocent Pinot Noir “Villages Cuvee,” Willamette Valley, Oregon, 2006. I know it seems odd to pair a dark red like pinot noir with the Guinea Hen, but we had trusted the sommelier for the entire meal, and he did not disappoint with this combination.

The planned menu culminated in a cheese plate, a plus in my book.

What we have here is pecorino sardo, a fleur vert, land haus, and gorgonzola cremosa dolce. I’m typically not a fan of gorgonzola or blue cheese in general, but I enjoyed every single one of these cheeses. They went delightfully well with the homemade raisin bread and the Felsina Vin Santo della Chianti Classico, Tuscany, Italy, 1999.

Now here’s the terrible truth, there were more courses to this meal. An amuse bouche, a delightful sorbet before the desert, the deserts that we just had to have. Unfortunately, I can’t remember enough to do them justice. You’ll just have to take my word that they were delicious.

Choice words for Genoa are hard to come by; unassuming, prepared, perfection, these could all be apt for Genoa and her wait staff. The bottom line is, had it not been for the wait, which was not bad at all, considering it included delightful wine, conversation, and a kitchen tour, this would be best meal on the trip. For now, I’ll say it was the best in Portland, while Lotus of Siam might be the best in Las Vegas. I honestly can’t laud the wait staff, the chef, the cooks, and particularly our sommelier enough. They were all engaging, loved their job, and made this a memorable meal and the perfect punctuation to our trip out west.

Genoa on Urbanspoon

Saturday Martket - Portland, Oregon

Saturday was our last day in Portland, and we had grand plans for the day. Dim sum in Chinatown, several hours at Powell’s bookstore, and wandering the Saturday market were all on the slate. We did make it to dim sum at the House of Louie, and I’m not even going to bother with a write up. The Portland Chinatown has suffered the fate of many Chinatowns across the country. The inhabitants have become more affluent and moved out, and with them the good restaurants.

Luckily, the Saturday market was full of surprises, mostly in the form of food kiosks. The first kiosk we tried was called Limey’s

I actually tried to get a cup of tea there, but the owner was nowhere to be found. My dad tried a few minutes later and came back with this nice beef and veggie pastie.

He picked it because it seemed to be the best thing for him to get down his morning pills. My dad lacks the…unique ability to swallow pills with water, and must use food to get his pills down. He thoroughly enjoyed this little pastry, as it defied the stereotype of bland British food

Behind Limey’s was a row of kiosks that immediately caught my eye.

Honestly, how often do you find African food next to European next to Himalayan? It started simply enough, with a cheap little sambusa.

It was a neat little parcel of flavorful chicken, punctuated with a hot green chili sauce. Now I’m not one to complain about heat, I relish the concept of hot food, but this sauce had me going. My mouth was on flame for a good five minutes after, but in a good way.

Next up was the Kathmandu Café. I knew I had to try this, mostly because I’ve never had Himalayan food. I settled on the Momos, which were a garlic & ginger dumpling made from Grandma Chancer’s recipe, whoever she is.

I didn’t know what to expect from these especially when they were covered with that interesting looking orange sauce, but we were all pleasantly surprised at the flavor. The ginger really shown through in this meat dumpling, and I wish I could tell you more about the dumplings and their origins, but the gentleman who ran the kiosk was too busy to deal with customers.

I had really planned to just get some substitutes for breakfast and save room for dim sum, but good plans often go by the wayside. I needed another tidbit, something in the form of a parcel of meat. Luckily, the fella that ran the Authentic European Food Kiosk was a talkative one and he lured me over.

I knew sausage was too much, but a pierogi would fit the bill nicely. He’s fixing the dish in the above picture.

I really only wanted the pierogi but he sold me on the plate.

Can you believe that plate of food was under $5? I’m usually more a fan of the fried pierogi, but this was food cart food at its finest.

If you’re planning to go to Portland, you really have to make time for the market. Go hungry, just because there will be enough variety to satisfy any discerning taste buds. Word to the wise, go early. If you try to go in the afternoon, the riff raff come out and the market is dominated by smell of patchouli and unwashed hair.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Higgins - Portland, Oregon

As I previously mentioned, Higgins was less than four blocks from our hotel. It came heavily recommended from the gentleman that I have dubbed the Patron Saint of Portland. That Friday night, we finally enjoyed a slice of culinary heaven in the heart of Portland.

Like many restaurants in the area, Higgins relies on seasonal produce. As a result the menu for that Friday featured a scant 15 items, but all appeared to be well focused to take advantage of the local flora and fauna.

My mother decided to give these a try

Totten Inlet mussels steamed in a green chili broth with garlic-pimenton croutes may seem like a mouthful, but these were some of the best mussels I’ve ever tried. Plump and meaty, they were perfectly complimented by the chili broth.

I have to admit. I have a weakness, and it’s of the porcine variety. If a restaurant features a charcuterie plate, I have to have it. Higgins had just that.

It was almost too much to handle. It was only due to the kindness of our waiter that I was able to have all the names of the meats. He was kind enough to write them all down for me, and they were sopresatta, cappacola, lardo, lomo, palatta, fennel salami, and napolatana. While they were all wonderful, the lardo, in the top left corner, really stood head and shoulders above the rest. For those that are unaware, lardo really is lard, except that it is cured with a number of spices and herbs. Sliced this thin, it completely melted in your mouth for a symphony of flavors.

I wish I could tell you more about this steak, but I can’t find it on the menu from that evening. I do remember that it was perfectly cooked, and a delectable cut of beef.

Now, for the main attraction, I present to you, the “whole pig plate”

You really do need both pictures, just to take it all in. Like I said, I have a weakness for good pork, probably something I inherited from my mom, as she ordered the same dish. Now what are you looking at is a marvel, a crepenette, a confit rub, kielbasa, rillions (braised brisket), and smoked pork belly. It’s amazing that all these cuts came from the same animal, and they all exhibit different flavors and textures. Oh yea, there’s also a nice little chili & onion polenta cake, braised greens, and a lobster mushroom marmalade.

As good as it all looked; you have to believe me that it tasted even better. There honestly was not a single thing wrong with the meal. The wait staff were practically falling over themselves to help, the food was sublime and took full advantage of local fare, and the setting was delightful.

I think this picture of the kitchen truly sums up Higgins. Even though everyone is running at a fever pitch to make your meal perfect, they will still take the time to smile for the camera.

Higgins on Urbanspoon

Tina’s Café - Dundee, Oregon

We just had too much to do, one day in the Willamette Valley wasn’t enough. So the next day we loaded up our rental car and went back to the wineries that we had missed. There was a problem with a second day; we didn’t have a place for lunch. Everyone we asked had told us that the Dundee Bistro was the only place worth trying. Luckily, I had the “yelp!” application on my phone, and Tina’s Café came highly recommended. We decided to give it a shot.

It’s a nice, unpretentious restaurant, one that seems ingrained into the local community. I’m still not sure why people didn’t recommend it.

I spied an appetizer I knew I couldn’t turn down

That’s warmed cypress grove chevre with roasted garlic, and it’s where I should have stopped. Not because the entrée was subpar, but because this was that damn good. Fortunately or unfortunately, I had got my father into cheese and he helped himself to this dish. I really should keep my culinary interests to myself.

As much as Tina’s was a respite from the elements, there were some less than stellar dishes. The corn soup might have been fresh, but it wasn’t at all memorable. The penne pasta with vegetables and Italian sausage paled in comparison to version my father had ordered at the Dundee Bistro.

This lamb stew had potential. Accompanied by green lentils and braising greens, this dish needed more time to develop.

However, there were two standouts from the meal.

Good onion rings are hard to come by. More often than not the moisture from the onion causes the crust to separate from the rings. The onion rings at Tina’s Café suffered no such problems and were the best I’ve had in quite some time.

You may not believe it but there are pieces of bread underneath all that tomatoey goodness. This was an excellent example of late season heirloom tomatoes. Combine that with the fresh mozzarella, and you have a combination that is hard to beat.

If I had to recommend one restaurant in Dundee, it would be the Dundee Bistro. However, if someone had the opportunity to eat two meals in the area, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Tina’s Café. Just to stick to a few select items.

Tina's on Urbanspoon

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Typhoon - Portland, Oregon

I’m going to admit up front that I have a bias against Typhoon. When I was there, we had just had some of the best Thai food in the country at Lotus of Siam in Las Vegas, and now, 3 weeks later, my memories of Typhoon are all running together. Now that everything is out in the open, here are my impressions of Typhoon.

When you first walk in, you’ll notice that Typhoon is a trendy restaurant full of trendy people. On the plus side, it’s a classy level of trendy, not those dirty looking hipsters and hippies on the street.

Another plus is that they have a pretty large menu, and a rather extensive tea menu. As usual, we were looking for spice in our Thai food, so we were drawn to the superwild shrimp, one of two menu items that warranted a triple asterix for heat.

They weren’t kidding when they described these as lightly cooked, but they were kidding about the heat. Even my father, who complains about our ordering hot food, said there was no heat at all. This dish had potential, but failed to deliver.

Again, a dish with potential that failed to deliver; these mushrooms were stuffed with a delicious combination of white prawns, water chestnuts, shitake mushrooms, garlic, and onions. It was even finished with a delectable choo chee sauce, but it was all based on a plain white button mushroom. White button mushrooms just might be the most boring ingredient a person could use. Why people continue to use them is beyond me.

Bags of gold, you have to admit, it’s a much better name than fried wontons. And like any fried wonton, these were pretty damn tasty, not too greasy. The stuffing was a mixture of shrimp, water chestnuts, and those goddamn white button mushrooms.

Nothing too spectacular about this dish, it was just your average Thai sirloin dish. There wasn’t any heat, and where was the curry taste? My advice, skip this and move on.

This dish of stuffed Anaheim chilies was very well done, except for the fried netting. I’m not sure what they were trying to accomplish, but it looks like fried gauze and quickly turned to a mush in the sauce. Once you got past the fried bit, the peppers were pleasantly roasted and stuffed with nicely spiced ground pork.

You can’t go wrong with carbo loading at dinner, but once I tried this, I went back to the bowl of white rice. Despite the large cuts of vegetables and ample chicken, this was just subpar fried rice.

Five spice is one of those Asian condiments that everyone has seen, but is never really sure how to use. It was used very well on this duck. The duck was true to its name and was quite crispy, and very flavorful. Arguably the best dish at Typhoon.

What would I say about this restaurant overall? Not bad for a neighborhood place, but not worth making a special trip. Sure, I’m biased as I previously mentioned, but there’s no such thing as a unbiased judge.

Typhoon! on Urbanspoon