Thursday, April 16, 2009

Taste of the Nation Portland- Read this to win tickets!

Taste of the Nation is almost upon us people! The premier event to fight hunger happens on the 27th of this month at Luxe Autohaus, 410 NE 17th Ave here in Portland. There are three tiers of tickets available, the Luxe entrance ($200) which gets you in the door at 5pm, the VIP ($125) which allows entrance at 5:30pm and general admission ($75) which will let you in with everyone else at 6:30pm. Having been several times before, may I strongly recommend either the Luxe or VIP tickets, the hour extra makes all the difference in being able to sample the food, wine and cocktails that you really want before the lines start to get heavy.

As you know, this blog focuses primarily on spirits and cocktails, with the occasional food subject thrown in as well. This year, I've got 2 general admission tickets for some lucky readers of this blog. Please, be in the Portland Oregon vicinity if you'd like to be considered for these tickets. I've arranged for the winners tickets to be left at the door for them, so you can just show up on the 27th and enjoy the festivities. Now, on to the contest (and make sure not to miss the contest for a great package of pastas from Garofalo pasta on the Pasta Memories post too). Since Taste of the Nation exhibits the best of Portland's food, wine and cocktails, I thought it would be fun to see who has had the worst food, wine or cocktail experience in Portland. Now, in the interest of being polite, please don't name the names of the guilty, just simply post a comment to this thread with your worst food, wine or cocktail experience here in Portland. On Thursday the 23rd, I'll review all of your horror stories and choose one of you as the lucky winner of 2 general admission tickets to Taste of the Nation. Easy enough right? Well, good luck!

A few things that should be highlights of this years Taste of the Nation. First off, Mix Magazine and Lucy Brennan are hosting an hourly Mixology Station hosted by several bartenders who will be available to teach you drinks with several premium spirits. Right now, this is what the lineup is looking like;

Jason Boyok from Mint/820 - Herradura tequila
Leslie Bucher from North 45 - Jack Daniels
Kristin Strother from Saucebox - Aviation gin
Sean Skvarka from Departure - Finlandia vodka

In addition, the following wineries will be pouring at the event;

Adelsheim Vineyard
Amity Vineyards
Apolloni Vineyards
Argyle Winery
Belle Pente Vineyard
Boedecker Cellars
Cara Bella Winery
Carlo & Julian Winery
Cooper Mountain Vineyards
Elemental Cellars
Elk Cove Vineyards
Evesham Wood
Foris Vineyards Winery
La Bete Wines
Lange Estate Winery and Vineyards
Left Coast Cellars
Oak Knoll Winery
Redhawk Winery
Torii Mor Winery
Willamette Valley Vineyards
Witness Tree Vineyard
Youngberg Hill Vineyards
Young's Columbia Distributing will also be pouring wines.

Beers being poured will be provided by;

Captured By Porches Brewery
Double Mountain
Full Sail Brewing
Sierra Nevada

And Caffe Umbria will be handling nonacoholic libations this year.

As for restaurants, the following establishments will be serving up some of their signature creations this year;

Al Forno Ferruzza
Sicilian-style Pizza including New Haven White Clam and Margarita; Stromboli; Scarpetta  - local seasonal heirloom vegetables seasoned and prepared in the traditional Sicilian style

Alberta Street Oyster Bar & Grill

Causitas Moradas y Solteritos - Traditional Peruvian preparation of fresh lime flavored potatoes with savory fillings: purple potatoes with shredded chicken and ajà amarillo; yellow potatoes with garden fresh vegetables

Mole Guerrerense - Autentica’s homemade Mole sauce with 8 kinds of peppers and nuts, served with white rice

Baker & Spice
Vanilla and Chocolate Shortbread; Rhubarb Danish

Bay 13
Dungeness Crab on Endive


Bread & Ink Café
Belgian Sugar Waffles with Bacon, Brie and Basil

Caprial’s Bistro
Pecan Blondies Layered with Chocolate Mousse and Topped with Sugar Honeycomb

Celilo Restaurant and Bar
House Charcuterie, Smoked Fish and Vegetable Terrine on Lavash Crackers

Charlie’s Produce

Grilled Monterey Bay Calamari Salad with Poached Kingfisher Potatoes, Castelvetrano Olives, Wild Greens and Piment d’Espelette Oil

The Country Cat
Pulled Smoked Duck Legs on Mushroom Crackers with Mascarpone Cream Fava Beans

Cupcake Jones
Downtown Cupcake Brown - Miniature devil’s food cupcakes topped with fudge frosting

Davis Street Tavern
Seared Muscovy Duck Breast with Apricot Chutney on Brioche

East India Company
Crispy Baby Vegetable Samosas with Mango Ginger Chutney

Eleni’s Estiatorio / Philoxenia
Lahano Salata - Thinly sliced cabbage, shaved fennel and toasted almonds; tossed with olive oil, fresh lemon juice and smoked paprika

Salmon Tartare with Absinthe and Crème Fraiche Hazelnut Macaroons

Grilled Rosemary Lamb Sausage with Baby Field Greens

Garden State
Frittelle Siciliano - an assortment of Sicilian street fritters

Higgins Pig and Pickles

La Calaca Comelona

Lauro Kitchen
Grilled Asparagus Salad with Hazelnut Tangerine Vinaigrette

New Seasons Market
Linda Brand Crab and Bay Shrimp Salad on Endive; Local Artisan Cheeses

Noble Rot
House-made Charcuterie and Dessert Wine

Cannellini Beans with Olive Oil Poached Albacore Tuna

Nuestra Cocina
Chicharron con Salsa Verde - fried pork rinds with a jalapeno salsa; and Tostadas de Salpicon  chilled beef salad on a tostada with radishes, cucumber, cilantro, lime and chile

Paley’s Place Bistro & Bar
Carrot Cake Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting and Double Chocolate Cupcakes

Pazzo Ristorante
Fig Bellinis; Cold-Smoked Marlin-Wrapped Asparagus

Por Que No

Ristorante Fratelli
Chocolate Blini with House-made Wild Boar Bacon, served with Citrus Marmalade or Huckleberry Mousse

Boudin Blanc Corn Dogs with Spicy Creole Mustard Sauce

Ruby Jewel
An Assortment of Miniature Ice Cream Sandwiches

Russell Street BBQ
Barbecue Babyback Pork Ribs from Carlton Farms; Frito™ Pie Shooters

Ruth’s Chris Steak House
Filet Mignon - The most tender cut of Prime beef, cut generously and broiled expertly to a melt in your mouth tenderness

Saint Cupcake
Hundreds of Really Cute Cupcakes

Mussels Rellenos with Chorizo - Baked stuffed mussels with fennel, parsley, chorizo and toasted bread crumbs

Escabeche with Bay Scallops or Prawns; Miniature Lemon Tarts

Tastebud Farm

Spring Vegetable Pakoras, Grilled Naan Bread and Seasonal Chutneys

Chilled Asparagus Soup with Lemon and Crème Fraiche

There are also going to be some food carts featured as well. A cool, very Portland thing. Off the top of my head, the Asparagus Soup at Wildwood, the Chicharron from Nuestra Cocina and the Calamari salad from Clarklewis are high on my list of spots to hit first.

Remember, 100% of the price of your ticket goes to fight hunger. This is a great event and an even better benefit. And I haven't even mentioned the charity auction which usually features out of this world items. I'll be there on the 27th, I hope to see those of you local to Portland there too.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Pasta Memories

For those of you who don't know, I've recently been through a fairly major, and unexpected life change. While I think that in the end everything will work out for the best, to be frank, sometimes my external optimism is a bit forced. There are times that I get down, and some days it can be tough to act like nothing is bothering me. However, having a suddently large amount of free time on my hands also has some advantages. For me, food can carry some very strong memories associated with it, it can provide me a kind of psychic comfort that nothing else provides. Pasta is especially powerful for me. Some of my earliest memories are from my parents taking me to Modesto Lanzoni's in San Francisco's Ghiradelli Square (where the Sharper Image stands today). While I couldn't describe a single dish that I ate there during my childhood, all of my memories of that restaurant are warm and comforting. I remember the waitstaff being very friendly and accomodating to me, and the food being wonderful.

Pasta also reminds me of my late sister. I don't talk about my sister much unless you are someone that I really trust, even though she passed in 2000, it seems like yesterday. Thats not really germane to this post though. What is germane, is that my sister loved pasta like no one I've ever met. I enjoy pasta, and occasionally I love a good pasta dish, but my sister loved and craved pasta at a level that I just don't personally experience. It was always easy to figure out what my sister would eat when the family went out to dinner, whatever pasta was on the menu was what she would order. The only time that became complicated would be if we went to an Italian restaurant, then, all bets were off. While I really like good pasta, it seems that it is getting harder and harder to get good pasta when I go out, so I usually make pasta at home. However, once in a blue moon, I'll have a great plate of pasta and it always triggers fond memories of my sister. Usually I start to think about how I should turn her on to whatever I'm eating before reality sets in again, and I cherish those moments when I think of my sister that way.

Lastly, pasta reminds me of my wife and family. I find particular comfort in a plate of spaghetti cacio y pepe, the first thing I shared with my wife when we arrived in Rome. Cold, tired and hungry, it was the perfect introduction to the delights of Roman cooking and we must have eaten cacio y pepe every day when we were in Rome. Its also simple and delicious, all you need is good quality pasta, a pepper grinder and some cheese. When combined though, this pretty simple trio becomes something greater than the sum of its parts, in my opinion, perfection on a plate.

What kind of memories does pasta trigger for you? Do you have any family traditions involving pasta dishes or any special stories with pasta? If so, leave me your best stories in the comments section, and, in a bit, I'll select one of you to receive some great pasta from my favorite pastamaker, Garofalo. Trust me, this will be worth your time. Oh, and I know what I'm having for dinner tonight

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Zwack is Back

Zwack disappeared from the American market for some time, but now its making a comeback. Unfortunately, not a lot of people are familiar with the product right now, and the most common comparison I hear being made to Zwack is Jagermeister. To me, I think that is a bit shortsighted, both liqueurs stem from a long European tradition of herbal liqueurs, and while there are some similarities in flavor, I find Zwack to have a very pleasant sweet cinnamon flavor that finishes with just a bit of citrus peel on the tongue before it disappears. All in all, a pleasant liqueur to sip neat (although I have been hearing rumors that Zwack and Red Bull is replacing Jager and Red Bull as the drink of choice amongst a certain set of people), and it mixes well. Don't believe me? Try this cocktail at home to see the versatility of Zwack in cocktails.

Magyar Posta

1 oz Rittenhouse 100 proof whiskey
1 oz Carpano Antica sweet vermouth
1 oz Zwack
2 oz orange juice

Add all ingredients, chill, and serve up in a cocktail glass.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Ketel One gin coming to the United States?

Thats the rumor that I've now heard from several places. No one seems to be able to tell me if its the Ketel One jenever or a new distillate. More to come when I find out.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

A Quick Update- Back from Vail

So I've just returned from the Grand Marnier Mixology Summit in Vail. All I can say is THANK YOU to both the great people at Grand Marnier and Navan as well as all of the people at AKA Wine Geek. Having attended it last year, I can say that this years event was even bigger and better than ever. I'll be writing more about my experiences at the Summit this week over at, feel free to pop over and check it out. A few things though that really struck me coming away from this years event. Two Vegas bartenders really really impressed me this year. Alex Velez made an organic cocktail with hemp milk that just blew me away, and it made me more aware of the need for bartenders to take into account our guests who are lactose intolerant or gluten free or have other dietary restrictions. Secondly, Anthony Alba of the AKA Wine Geek team not only went above and beyond in helping me during my lab, but his molecular mixology demonstration with Willy Shine really opened my eyes to the possibilities of molecular mixology. To be honest, I've always dismissed Vegas as not having serious craft bartenders, but these these two gentlemen proved me wrong. Alex and Anthony, thanks for everything this weekend. I learned a lot from both of you and perhaps I need to make a trip to Vegas sooner rather than later to check out the scene there.

I've got several more things coming up soon-

I'll be reviewing Zwackk shortly.

Look for an update on some of the new Three Olives vodka flavors (grape and cherry) as well as info about their "O face" campaign at

Beaker and Flask is getting closer by the day. I would say that the opening date was the #1 question I was asked during Vail. Soon people, soon.

I came home to a bottle of Michael Collins Single Malt Irish Whiskey on my porch. I'll be reviewing that soon as well.

Canadian Club 30 year is an amazing whiskey. Possibly the finest whiskey I've ever had, I've been struggling with the review of this very special bottle. In short, I'll eventually get something up for this but I'm just in love with that bottle.

Oh, btw, I tried a new pisco that isn't on the market yet from Casa Lapostolle in Chile. If you are a fan of pisco or any of the Lapostolle family's other great products, ask your local liquor rep to push for this to go into production. This may be the best pisco out there and it would be a shame not to see that come into the American market.