Tag Archives: portland

Mast Brothers Stumptown Coffee bar

I’ve tasted chocolate that had distinct coffee notes, and I’ve also tasted coffee that tasted chocolatey. If you stop to think about it, that makes some sense. Chocolate and coffee are both tropical fruits that are fermented, dried and roasted. (Chocolate goes through a number of other steps beyond roasting, but I won’t go into those right now.)

The combination of coffee and chocolate is nothing new. Every time I’ve been in a certain coffee shop (you know, that coffee shop), I hear someone say Um, hi? Can I get a double-shot no-whip extra-hot double-pump cafe mocha?

Kidding aside, there are other examples of coffee-chocolate collaborations. After all, Soma Chocolate teamed up with 49th Parallel to create the Epic Espresso Bar. And I love the combination of sipping chocolate and rich espresso in the sinfully decadent bicerin. And, of course, there’s the pastry chef’s trick of adding a bit of coffee or espresso to chocolate recipes; a little bit brings out the base cocoa notes without actually tasting like coffee.

And then there’s the Mast Brothers Stumptown Coffee bar. This love child of Mast Brothers (the hipsters of the chocolate-making world) and Stumptown Coffee (Portland’s darlings of coffee) is wrapped up in beautiful steampunk-y printed paper, and the inside is just as lovely as the outside.

Other coffee-chocolate bars I’ve tried taste like a hybrid of the two: not quite chocolate and not quite coffee. This bar, on the other hand, tastes like two distinct flavours that enhance each other. The chocolate is deep, dark and spicy; there are definite nutty notes that are enhanced by the crushed coffee beans on top. And the coffee itself is delicate, never overpowering.

But at heart, I’m a texture girl. And let me tell you, the crunch of the coffee beans with the crisp snap of the chocolate is dangerously addictive. And for someone who is developing a disappointing sensitivity to caffeine (hello, insomnia!), let’s just say that this chocolate bar is best enjoyed in the morning.

Chocolate for breakfast? Don’t mind if I do.

Theo Chef Sessions limited edition confections

The idea of limited edition is kind of like eating seasonally. Something that’s limited edition is less likely to be taken for granted, though you run the risk of turning it into something precious. Or, worse, a marketing scheme.

Thankfully, in the case of limited edition things that are actually kick-ass and that, when they become available you need to snap one up immediately, there’s the Theo Chef Sessions limited edition confection collection. (Say that five times fast.) Featuring collaborations with some of the top chefs from Seattle, Portland and San Francisco, this might be the only opportunity you’ll have to try things like carrot caramel, pine resin ganache or candied beet pate de fruit.

Theo Chef Sessions limited edition confections

Standouts in the collection were the Chris Cosentino (Incanto) agro dolce brittle, a crispy crunchy brittle with pine nuts, capers and currants. Your brain expects sweet and it gets salty and savoury. I wanted more of the Maria Hines (Tilth) tamarind lime chili caramel, with its juicy, complex flavour profile. And, featuring the most traditional flavours of the bunch, the creation from Jerry Traumfeld (Poppy) didn’t disappoint with the huckleberry pate de fruit and cinnamon basil white ganache.

This limited edition (whee!) collection is only available for Valentine’s Day, so get ’em while you can.

Disclosure: The lovely team at Theo Chocolate sent me a box of these, gratis.

“Chocolate from Bean to Bar” in Northwest Palate

Happy New Year! Somehow, it became 2011 and I want to know where my flying car is. Or my jetpack. I’m not picky; one of them will do. Though really, if I had to choose I’d want a transporter a la Star Trek, because that would really cut down on transportation time.

While we’re waiting for technology to catch up to our expectations, why don’t you take a gander at the January/February 2011 issue of Northwest Palate? My article on bean-to-bar chocolate appears on page 26, and it features interviews with the lovely Hodie Rondeau (Xoxolat, Vancouver), Lauren Adler (Chocolopolis, Seattle) and Aubrey Lindley (Cacao, Portland).

IACP 2010 Conference in Portland

Nong's chicken

Chicken skin is extra!It’s always such an adventure at IACP, but this year’s conference in Portland seemed more adventurous than ever. Whether it was the frenetic energy of a food-crazy city—or the fact that 900 food-obsessed people had descended on it—this year’s conference was the most manic I’ve ever experienced. Manic, but inspiring, fun and wholly memorable.

It makes coming home a bit of a let-down. Let’s face it, as a writer (and especially as one who works from home), I spend a lot of time by myself. I type brilliant little things into a computer and they disappear into the ether, and that’s about it. I celebrate when I have a conference call and someone says that they liked my piece. I do happy dances when I get published. But, for the most part, it’s me, at my desk, staring out the window, making pots of tea.

And then something like IACP conference comes along, and once a year I am thrust into a group of people who get it. They understand the agonizing frustration of not being able to get words onto paper (well, proverbial paper—screen, more like), the unending guilt of procrastinating and the internal struggle between writer and editor. And the food geekery? The fact that I can wax poetic about dumplings or go off into a dream state thinking about sandwiches…well, that’s not weird at IACP. It’s totally par for the course.

I come back from conference each year simultaneously refreshed and inspired, and exhausted. The exhaustion is to be expected after a week of eating and drinking, without much sleeping. The refreshment and inspiration comes from being with people who get it, who have done it, and who keep me going on this crazy food path that leads to weird places. And I look forward to seeing them every year to get guidance for my next steps down this wacky road. One of these people is Cheryl Sternman Rule, who wrote a wonderful blog post and captured some of the lovely people at the conference. She even managed to make me look good, despite my complete and utter lack of sleep all week.

Lest you think I’ve gone all soft on you, here are some of my favourite moments of the conference.

Salt and chocolate

chocolate barRadishes with salt and butterThe best possible way to kick off a week of elegant gluttony: a meet and greet of the most gastronomic proportions. Thin sushi slices laid on Himalayan salt blocks so that one surface is almost cooked; one shockingly salty surface that melds into the buttery richness of tuna. Oysters with mignonette. A craft cocktail bar. A chocolate bar. Fresh radishes with creamery butter and different salts. Bowls of popcorn, with different salts. Wood-fired pizza with mushrooms, arugula, cheese. Fabulous people, coming and going late into the night.

Chicken, cocktails and hipsters

chamomile sourThe IACP host city opening reception was spectacular. Restaurants like Paley’s Place served pillowy soft gnocchi with fresh crab, while the premiere food cart in town served signature Hainanese chicken on oily rice. Around the corner, Pix Patisserie served teeny tiny mousse cakes in front of a tower of croquembouche. Still further, Nel Centro‘s swiss chard tart with raisins in pate brisee collapsed in my mouth like buttery dust. Taylor Shellfish brought 100 pounds of Kumamoto oysters, freshly roused from their beds. And sprinkled in between, local wineries and breweries. And a cocktail bar manned by cute hipster boys in plaid shirts and tight pants.

And of course, the  absinthe salon that smelled of licorice, sin and secrets.

Vegan soul food

If you know anything about me, you know that I’m no vegan. I was curious about this session, led by food writer Bryant Terry. I expected militant veganism, maybe a manifesto about the evils of meat. What I got was a truly beautiful presentation that included history, personal story, a tribute to grandparents, rap, music, social and political commentary and the best collard greens I’ve ever tasted. I mentioned this session to a friend who had also attended, and he teared up at the memory of it. One moment in particular, when Bryant sang a song that his grandmother used to sing in the kitchen, brought the entire room to a standstill. No one breathed. And then he paused, opened his eyes and continued his story. It was, to be honest, one of the most powerful moments I’ve experienced in a long time.

Midnight supper

I was lucky enough to get invited to a secret midnight supper, held in a space that will become Caffe Vita‘s foray into wood-fired pizza. In the interim, the room was set for us with communal tables and candles and promised us the culinary talents of Michael Hebb, Naomi Pomeroy, Mark Fuller and Jason French. As the night continued, food kept coming. Each dish was more delicious than the last: grilled asparagus, pizza, clams, chicken livers and—the highlight of the night—lemon and parsley crusted pork belly on greens. All of it washed down with red wine drunk out of tumblers, while listening to the fabulous local band Y La Bamba, talking food and wine with beautiful people. Termed a “meeting of Seattle and Portland,” this Vancouver girl felt very lucky to be part of the magic.

Edit: Check out the lovely Maggie’s photos of that magical evening. Just looking at them sends shivers down my spine.

Butchery and charcuterie

It’s not every Saturday morning that I’m greeted with an entire pig, gutted and splayed out on two cutting boards. And it’s certainly not every Saturday morning that I get to watch two expert butchers break down half a pig each. Adam Sappington showed us an American approach, breaking the pig down into neat square and chops for his Whole Hog dinners. Each part was neatly stacked on top of itself, forming an almost Lego-like deconstructed pig. Dominique Chapolard, a pig farmer and butcher from France, showed us his approach: seam butchery.

**IF YOU’RE SQUEAMISH, VEGETARIAN OR VEGAN, YOU MIGHT WANT TO STOP HERE. YOU’VE BEEN WARNED.**

Seam butchery is, quite honestly, beautiful. We watched as Dominique took a knife and separated the entire rib and backbone section from the meat. The silence in the room was only broken by sharp intakes of breath as we realized what he was doing. Then he deftly removed the inner bones from the ham, pausing only long enough to remove the skin in one piece, and then cutting each muscle group free. He laid all the pieces out on the board like some kind of Damien Hirst exhibit and explained that he would take the pieces to market and French consumers would request particular cuts from him. It really highlighted the connection between animal and meat; muscle and bone, rather than pork chops and bacon. That may sound graphic and violent, but it was respectful and dignified. It was stunning.

Charcuterie and butcheryThe conversation then touched on the difficulties of becoming a butcher in North America, how the North American and European farming systems are drastically different, the lack of female butchers (though there were two in the room that morning!) and how a holistic approach to food starts with the animal, includes the entire food system, and finally ends up with the consumer. It was a conversation focused on meat—and specifically, on pigs—but could have been applied to any number of food issues that are currently being debated.Charcuterie

We concluded with a selection of charcuterie from Dominique, Adam and Olympic Provisions, plus Pudding River wine. It was a wonderful way to spend a Saturday morning.

Read more about that morning’s events from the oh-so-well-coiffed Michael Ruhlman. I’d also be totally remiss if I didn’t tip my hat to the wonderful Kate Hill.

Chocolate in Portland

I’ve only been to Portland once, and I loved it. The city is walkable and cute, the people are friendly, and the food is simple but good.

And there’s really great chocolate.

I’m the first to admit that I’m a bit of a snob. I’ve eaten a lot of chocolate. I like a lot of chocolate–and I also dislike a lot of chocolate. And, well, Portland, you–your fabulous city with its cute chocolate shops, each totally different from the other? You impressed me.

I’ll be back in Portland this week for the IACP 2010 conference, and despite the action-packed conference schedule, I’m making a point of visiting these places again.

The Meadow

The Meadow wall of chocolateI am a particularly big fan of The Meadow because it was the reason for my first visit to Portland. The wall of chocolate is impressive, but so are the salt wall, the French wine and champagne wall and the blocks of pink Himalayan salt everywhere. And the flowers? Gorgeous.

I could go on and on about how I love the Meadow, but I already have. I’ll just say that you need to visit.

The Meadow
3731 N. Mississippi Avenue
Portland, OR 97227
503-288-4633

Cacao

Cacao is one part cafe, one part chocolate shop and is wholly lovely. They serve drinking chocolate and various espresso drinks alongside a small selection of baked goods. There’s also a small confection case featuring a variety of local and international chocolatiers. The staff are knowledgeable and friendly, informative but not condescending.

However, the interesting part is in the chocolate bars. It’s rare to find the full line of Domori, but there it is on the shelf. And the limited edition box of Porcelana bars from Coppeneur? Yup, those too. Rounded out with a nice selection of standards (Pralus, Amano, Askinosie, among others), the selection at Cacao is almost like that of a great museum exhibition: well-curated, appropriate and delightful.

Cacao (2 locations)

414 SW 13th Avenue
Portland, Oregon 97205
503-241-0656

712 SW Salmon Street
Portland, OR 97205

Alma Chocolate

Alma Chocolate in PortlandAlma Chocolate is the brainchild of Sarah Hart, which explains the shop’s heart logo. Inside is an impressive collection of cheeky, funky chocolate goodness. The confections are inventive, even if some of the combinations are a bit too adventurous for me. The salted lavender caramel is particularly well executed. And trust me, I’ve eaten a lot of salted lavender caramels.

There’s a small selection of bars, but the second-best part of the shop is the selection of chocolate-shaped religious figures gilded in gold leaf. It’s slightly shocking and maybe a bit offensive if you’re prickly about religion, but somehow it gets away with being subversive, ironic and cool.

If you’re looking for something less controversial, there were squirrel-shaped lollipops when I visited.

The best part of the shop is their bicerin. This is only the second place I’ve ever seen it offered, the first being Soma Chocolatemaker in Toronto. Alma Chocolate’s bicerin is a lesson in layers. The first sip is a shock of espresso, so robust that it could wake the dead. That mellows into a layer where espresso and drinking chocolate meld into a happy marriage, and it ends with a layer of rich drinking chocolate. Three oh-so-distinct layers, three different tastes. It’s like engineering in a mug.

Alma Chocolate
140 NE 28th Ave.
Portland, Oregon 97232
503-517-0262

Sahagun Handmade Chocolates

Update, August 2010: Elisabeth Montes has closed her storefront to concentrate on wholesale business. You’ll still find Sahagun goodies around Portland, and fingers crossed that an online option becomes available.

If you aren’t looking for a chocolate shop, you will walk right past Sahagun. And you will be very, very sorry indeed.

Sahagun is run by the lovely Elisabeth Montes. She’s cute as a button, and talented to boot. I think she’s one of the best chocolatiers on the west coast. Really.

Most chocolatiers use one chocolate for everything, and that chocolate is typically chosen because it lacks character. That makes it easier to combine with any number of flavours. At Sahagun, unusual chocolates are the focal point. In the summer, they’re transformed into silky smooth sorbet. In the winter, they’re the base of the best hot chocolate you’ll ever taste. Montes takes small-batch, artisan chocolate and gives it to customers in a way that’s accessible.

Sahagun Handmade Chocolates in PortlandThe confection case is full of beautiful things, including the Oregon Kiss: local Oregon hazelnuts with milk chocolate and a touch of sea salt. However, my favourite is the Miracle Pill: an organic prune stuffed with confit orange, dipped in chocolate. It’s an exercise in chewy, contemplative goodness. Don’t miss the barks: chocolate tiles studded with flavours like almond/bergamot, peanuts/salt and hazelnuts/raisins.

Sahagun Handmade Chocolates
10 NW 16th Ave.
Portland, OR 97209
503-274-7065

The Meadow: finishing salt | chocolates | wine | flowers

The Meadow

This is Clyde's debut appearance in this blog. In 2006, I made him out of felt, some rags, and two buttons. He's always up to no good, but is a great travel companion.

From the outside, The Meadow is rather unassuming. Set back from the street, nestled between a comic book store and a place that sells fancy dog accessories, you might almost miss it. Thank goodness for the bright yellow sign alerting observant passersby to the loveliness that beckons. That, and the enormous, nearly cult-like reverence that Portlanders have for this place.

Once you step inside the doors of the surprisingly small shop, you’re greeted by the fragrance of fresh flowers. It’s a bit of a shock, especially given that when I visited, the temperature outside was about -10 Celsius (28 Fahrenheit). Apparently, the joke in the shop is that nearly everyone walks in and exclaims, “Ohhhhh, it smells so nice in here!”

Now, I didn’t just wander into The Meadow by accident. It was, actually, the entire reason for my trip to Portland. I met Mark, one of the owners, at a conference in early 2009, and we had been talking about this trip since then. With only three weeks left in the year, it was time. That’s a bit of context for you, and also full disclosure. If you’re a loyal reader, you’ll know that I write about things I like, and not things that I’ve been paid to like. If I had gone down and hated the place, I wouldn’t be writing about it.

(And if you’re not a loyal reader yet, there’s no time like the present to get started. Sit back, have some tea, and read. Leave me a comment and say hi. It makes me feel all fuzzy inside.)

As beautiful as the flowers were, I followed my gaze to what was behind the flowers: a towering Wall Of Chocolate. Two floor-to-ceiling shelves of chocolate, full of old favourites and new things to be discovered. My jaw dropped. I’m pretty sure that I squealed. I gravitated to the shiny new things, caressing the packaging, reading the labels, asking a question and not finishing it before eagerly jumping to the next new thing. And then I would pause in front of something familiar just long enough to catch my breath before I moved onto another new thing.

A kid in a candy store, I was. But this was no ordinary candy store. I ripped my gaze from the Wall of Chocolate to see the most impressive salt collection I’ve ever seen, and shelves of French wine and champagne.

I know this all sounds so stupidly gushy and insincere. It was just brilliant, she cooed. Simply mahhhhvelous. But it really was. As I learned over the course of my stay in Portland, the folks at The Meadow have impeccable taste and they’re not afraid to show it.

There’s a kind of store that I always gravitate to. It’s decidedly girly, usually in a heritage building with lots of exposed wood and distressed hardwood floors. It sells a seemingly random assortment of things, from pillows to cards, candles to soap, kitschy fridge magnets to children’s toys. The one thread that holds all these items together is that someone with great taste chose these items specifically. Somehow, by touching the pillows and smelling the candles, you’re gleaning just a little bit of that taste and elegance.

The Meadow is exactly like that. Except instead of pillows, there’s chocolate. Instead of candles, there’s salt. And wine. And flowers.

The Meadow
3731 N. Mississippi Avenue
Portland, OR 97227
503-288-4633

Christmas cookies

I’m such a delinquent blogger. But see, I have excuses. I disappeared to Portland for a week, which was lovely and glorious and relaxing. There was lots of chocolate. As much as I love these mini-trips across the border, I’m always a bit relieved to get back to Canada. This informative sign was at the Seattle train station. Just in case you wanted to know what you can and cannot bring across the border.

And then I got back and this craziness we call the holidays came at me, starting out like a wee snowball at the top of a mountain. And by the time it got to me, well, it was a not-so-wee snowball.

Mostly, I’ve been drowning under kilograms of flour, sugar, eggs and stuff that needs to be piped. I’ve been making the same two cookies (gingerbread and cranberry shortbread) every year for twelve, count ’em, twelve years. You’d figure I could get the recipe right, especially having gone to Le Fancy Culinary School. This year, the part of my brain responsible for reading and following instructions just wasn’t working. I have one batch of dough in the fridge that was supposed to be gingerbread. However, it has twice as much butter as it’s supposed to, and no ginger. I’m afraid to bake it. Maybe I invented molasses shortbread?

Speaking of shortbread, I forgot the cornstarch this year but made up for it by putting in twice as many cranberries as I was supposed to. They’re, erm, festive.

At least the macaroons turned out. Oh, and chocolate caramel. The wonders of caramel never cease to amaze me. You can put bacon in it and it’s all wacky and weird and delicious. But chocolate caramel, with its classic simplicity – it hides in dark corners and gives you that look, and before you know it you’re in over your head with dark, delicious chocolate mingled with smoky caramel, and just a hint of salt.

All of these things combine to form Christmas Goodies Fantastico, which contains:

  • “Economic downturn” gingerbread, which feature sad faces and fancy suits. Because, well, we’ve got to keep up appearances in these tough times. But in the crazy market this year, some of these gingerbread folks lost an arm, or a leg…or, a head.
  • The aformentioned cranberry shortbread, looking very festive indeed.
  • Chocolate macaroons, beautiful and classic. In my original plan, I was going to make a rainbow of these (espresso, pistachio and raspberry) but then I snapped back to reality.
  • The much sought-after chocolate caramels. For those of you lucky enough to receive these, you may want to hide these. I don’t want to have to say I told you so.

As I probably won’t be posting before Christmas, have a safe and happy holiday. I hope there are cookies in your future.