Friday, December 18, 2015

Lardo Love: Dirty Fry Fetish (Portland, OR)

Anything with the word, “pork scraps” in its description commanded my full attention. And I had to admit that this massive pile of pig and potatoes from Lardo, which would normally be considered a side dish, was possibly my favorite meal of the trip. Here’s why:

1) The component that I originally turned my nose up at, ended up being my favorite part (I secretly poo-pooed the banana peppers' entire existence in the dish. What a fool I'd been!).

2) The strange simplicity of three or four ingredients, the likes of which I’d seen and tasted a million times before, combined in a way that made me feel like we were meeting again for the first time.


Dirty Fries: pork scraps, marinated peppers, fried herbs, parmesan ($7)

What exactly was a pork scrap? Well, apparently it was all the crispy odds and ends left over from Lardo's array of pork parts which graced their menu. 

Dirty fries were the potato equivalent of a Ben and Jerry’s pint chock full of chunky treasures, but instead of chocolate chips and cookie dough, pockets of bacon curls and shredded pork popped up between crackly trees of fried parsley and basil. Half melted pearls of grated parmesan were melted just enough to wrap it all together into one cosmic cocoon of cheesy, pork fatty, potato goodness.

But what really threw me were the marinated, banana peppers. I was worried they were going to overwhelm the dish, the way many marinated items often do, their liquid seeping heavily from their pores into every aspect (I’m talking to you sundry tomatoes!).

But this stayed balanced with sour bursts comparable to English “chips” doused in malt vinegar; dressed, but still with an audible crispiness and stiff heartiness that easily bore the load of toppings with the effortlessness of Atlas. It was a feat of French fry strength, and I couldn’t wipe the pig-eating grin off my face.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Donut Duel:Voodoo vs. Blue Star (Portland,OR)

Voodoo Donuts (22 SW 3rd Ave)

No matter what kind of research you did on Portland, Voodoo Donuts was bound to come up, so we hit the dingy section of Skidmore (immediately sending my sophomoric mind to the thought of "skid mark", which wasn’t too far off from the general vibe of the neighborhood), and went to see what all the hubbub was about.

Out of the grungy gray (catty-corner to the, “Keep Portland Weird” sign), pink and purple peeked out  like an arrow pointing to a larger than life gingerbread man impaled with a pretzel stick stake through the heart - we had arrived.

Illuminated dessert cases spun in hypnotizing circles of doughy offerings mounded with fruit loops, Oreos, candy, meats, and mayhem. It was like a child playing dress up and covering their face in lipstick, not knowing where to draw the line (literally). But that’s what gave Voodoo its spark – the novelty of it all; the lack of rules; the countless options that pumped fresh blood into that childlike artery, that rarely tapped vein of endless possibilities.

ODB: Of course, I got carried away with the over-stimulating visuals and silly names, so I inevitably opted for an, “Ol’ Dirty Bastard” (circular, no-hole donut topped with chocolate, peanut butter, and crushed Oreos), which was better in theory than flavor. The mixture of peanut butter and Oreo cream gave a weird (Wu) tang to its tongue-searing sugar content, and caused me to go “taste-blind” for a while, much like seeing spots after a camera’s flash, but burning my tastebuds instead of the corneas.

Pumpkin Spice:  Unfortunately, my petite, pumpkin treat was fully muted by ODB’s residual waylaying of my palate, but when I went back and ate the other half a couple of hours later (yes, I saved my donut!), the nutmeg and pumpkin spice were fully present, though it was nothing special enough to order again.

Maple Bacon Bar: But Voodoo did come through on the maple bacon bar. Ah, yes – bacon maple donuts were everywhere nowadays. The new “thing” as it was. Most bakeries (including duel opponent, Blue Star) opted for the classic circle donut, coated in maple glaze with a handful of crumbled bacon on top. And though this may have looked more appealing, the fact was, I really didn’t want a donut full of Bac-Os.

The whole point was to recreate the magic that happened on a breakfast plate when pancake’s syrup snuck over to the bacon’s bedside for a salty/ sweet serenade that evolved into a love affair whose likes hadn’t been seen since peanut butter and jelly first shimmied between two slices of bread together.

Voodoo pinpointed the vulnerability of that romance, stretching out two strips of bacon on a fluffed, queen-sized mattress of square dough, fitted with a smoothed, flat sheet of maple glaze. This was a romance (and a donut) for the books.

Blue Star (1237 SW Washington St)

As much as Voodoo resurrected the kid in you, Blue Star brushed you off, cleaned you up, and snapped you into adulthood. They were, in essence, the fine dining of donuts. But just because Blue Star took their work seriously, didn’t mean they were stuffy by any means. 

I considered them to be the Mary Poppins of pastry. The type of adult you wanted to be: inventive, intelligent, fun-loving, but with a precise, professional nature which saw work as an opportunity to excel, while still keeping it enjoyable. Flour flew around the open kitchen and a tower of to-go boxes balanced to the tippy-top of the ceiling like a child’s building blocks constructed with an engineer’s accuracy.

They served several variations of dough - buttermilks, classic white, stuffed donuts, and fritters  - providing a blank canvas for multiple techniques and their extensive pantry, which churned out recipes as involved and thought-provoking as any entrée.

This included options like Marionberrry pepper jam with peanut butter powder, hard apple cider fritters, blueberry bourbon basil, and crème brulee puffs adorned with an injection of Cointreau to squirt into the center – welcome to adulthood!

Chocolate almond ganache
You could never go wrong with chocolate and nuts, especially when it involved quality chocolate spun into a thick ganache and chopped, roasted almonds transformed into a buttery topping.

This was a finger-licking, face-muddy-ing kind of donut, where a bite into its center led to a nostril full of chocolate for both a satisfying and playful experience.

Raspberry/Rosemary Buttermilk
I made the mistake of involving the kid behind the counter in my Sophie’s Choice of donut dilemmas when it came to which buttermilk I should choose - lemon poppy or plain? What I wasn’t expecting, was for him to come out of left field with a third (unmentioned) option of raspberry/rosemary. “It’s my favorite. You’ll love it.”

As far as Sophie’s Choice, it was pretty much like saying, “Forget the kids, and take the dog.” But even though I knew it wasn't the right decision, I listened to his suggestion - and regretted it immediately. Its explosive, hot pink hue practically flashed a neon sign that read, “high sugar content” and the cloying raspberry glaze was like a needy girlfriend that you couldn't escape.  

But the actual donut itself was perfection – rich, moist, crisp on the outside, tender on the inside. It was a thing of buttermilk beauty and the best base dough by far...though I still regretted my misstep of not going with my gut (why did I forsake you, lemon poppy, why??!!).  

Biting into a beignet was like having a pillow fight with your mouth, but instead of feathers flying around the room, powdered sugar billowed above in candied clouds.

These were pretty big for beignets, but they still remained light and airy, though they didn’t have that fried, funnel cake quality that I craved from this donuty delight.

Meyer lemon/ Key lime curd donut
*We have a winner! And a new cham-peen!* This curd-filled donut curled my toes. I always thought I hated jelly donuts, but what I realized, was that I just hated that they were filled with (usually cheap, corn starchy) jelly.

When pregnant with the love child of what tasted like lemon meringue and key lime pie, I realized it was all about conception and choosing the right parents for the pairing. This little bundle of joy deserved congrats. It’s a…winner!

Final Judgment:
Best base dough:  Buttermilk (Blue Star)
Best bacon maple donut: Voodoo
Best donut overall: Meyer lemon/ Key Lime curd (Blue Star)

Overall winner: Blue Star = gold star!! (Sorry Voodoo, don’t hex me!)