Thursday, January 20, 2011

German Wine Tasting Notes

I have German and German-style wines on the brain (and in my stomach most of the time) lately. That's why I was extra excited to receive an invitation from Mitchell Wines to attend "Regions of the World- Germany" hosted by Ewald Moseler a few weeks ago. Yesterday was the big day, and oh boy did I have fun. Well, as much fun as you can have in a basement lecture surrounded by other wine dorks. As I mentioned in my last post, Ewald is a German wine importer and all around genius. We tasted ten Rieslings separated into 5 different flights. The first flight was "dry Riesling- focused on ripeness level". In this category the wines were from the same vintage but different regions in Germany- the Mosel and Rheingau. The first was a Kabinett Riesling (meaning it had a light body and was picked when it was just ripe) and the second Spatlese (medium body, harvested when it was a bit riper than Kabinett). What I learned from this flight was that Riesling is not classified by how sweet it is, per se, but instead by how full or lean the body of the wine is. Both of these wines were dry, but the Spatlese had a fuller, softer body than the Kabinett. I was really in love with the Selbach-Oster Kabinett for all of its green apple, blue slate wonder!  How can we get some of that blue slate here in Oregon? I want some for my yard.
Flight #2 was "Dry style Riesling- focused on terroir". The wines were of the same vintage and region in this case, but from very different vineyard sites. I had a hard time wrapping my head around this flight because the wines were so different! It was helpful having a clear example of how terrior really affects wine- on paper it seemed like the wines should taste very similarly but in fact they were worlds apart. Stone, soil, sunlight, micro climate, shade, runoff... the list of variables is astounding. I have so much to learn.
Flight #3 was "traditional Riesling- Kabinett-Spatlese". These two had different weights but similar flavor profiles. Again, it was nice to focus on the texture of the wine and experience sweet wines with beautiful, lemony acidity. I am hoping to help spread the gospel of Riesling. People fear sweet wine- it has a bad reputation. I am about to wedge 2 or 3 of them on our list, and hopefully start turning that reputation around! Rieslings are made to be enjoyed with food!
Flight #4 was nuts. It was called "Rieslings well aged". We tasted a '99 Jos. Christoffel Spatlese and a '93 Jos. Christoffel Auslese. My first sniff of the '99 was memorable. My first instinct was to turn in horror, but mostly I was curious. The wine smelled like a dirty closet that a cat first peed in, and then died in. It was weird, it was bad, but it was interesting. I was nervous to taste it, and I am so glad I did! It tasted like an herb garden, full of honey and flowers. Wow. I don't know what the story behind the nose on that wine was, but I grew to really appreciate it once I tasted the wine it guarded. The '93 on the other hand had a beautiful flowery nose and tasted like dried apricots. Very easy to love.
Flight #5 was dessert wines. Beerenauslese and Eiswein. They were sweet, it's true, but the balance of acidity and ripe fruit was perfect for each of them. The eiswein was brighter and livelier than the beerenauslese, but I almost enjoyed the sweet burn of the beerenauslese more than the perfection of the eiswein...almost.

It is easy to think "Riesling" has only one identity, but in fact it has many. Rieslings can be bone dry, herbal, creamy, rich, or light. They can be wonderful, and yes they can be terrible. You wont  find any of those ones here at Park Kitchen, however. Next time you are in, talk to your server about what we have available... I am imagining a Riesling glass pour in our future....

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Future of Fresh Fish

This morning, Scott and I met with Rick Goche, a local fisherman with a family business centered in Coquille, Oregon (near Coos Bay). He has fished albacore and salmon for over twenty years. Since the salmon fishing has become increasingly restricted in Oregon and California in recent years, he is very concerned about maintaining quality with the albacore catch. We were very pleased last year when Provvista Specialty Foods started carrying Rick's albacore loins quick-frozen in vacuum bags. Why would we be excited about frozen fish, you might wonder? Let me explain.

Ever since I moved to Portland in 2002, I have been confounded by the seafood supply here. I was dazzled by our abundance of remarkable farm produce, orchards, vineyards and ranchers raising everything from rabbits and lamb, to beef cattle and buffalo. Yet here, a mere eighty miles from the Pacific Ocean, there was a bleak supply of fresh seafood. Year round, we all see the same limited supply of salmon, halibut, and Yellowfin tuna. Yet these are not fished year round, and rarely from local waters, unless Alaska and Hawaii are to be included in our locale. Most people don't realize that they have been purchasing previously frozen fish for years.

This is not necessarily a bad thing. In the world's largest fish market, where a single Yellowfin tuna can average over $30,000 (a new record set this month was $396,000 for an enormous Bluefin tuna), the frozen-at-sea trade is by far the largest and most consistent way to maintain quality. When a single fish can fetch that much money, you'd better believe they are going to protect their investment. Despite our romantic notions of a fish that has just been pulled from the ocean waters, pristine red gills and deep clear eyes, what more often happens is that it takes a day or two before that "fresh fish" even makes it to the market in Portland. But why? It's not just the ninety minute drive from the coast.

In today's world, seafood can only be considered in the global market. Unfortunately, what this means is that if the currency exchange is better in Japan and China, they will likely buy most of our Dungeness crab, or if the demand for salmon and king crab is greater in Japan than it is in America, they will buy most of Alaska's catch, as they have for decades. Portland is not a big city, and it is not on the coast. It is much easier to deliver large quantities of seafood to San Francisco or Seattle or Vancouver, and that is usually what happens.

This problem is compounded by the ignorance of the consumer. If you go to the fish counter of Whole Foods or New Seasons, you will find far more seafood from the Atlantic than from the Pacific Ocean, if they even bother to label its source. For all of these reasons, the question you should ask when buying "fresh fish" should be how well has it been handled in its fresh and highly perishable, highly vulnerable state. Is it better than that of seafood which has been frozen at the peak of its freshness, and delivered with no further handling damage to its final destination? There are certainly instances where frozen is better, like dense fleshed fish, and rich, oily fish. I'll always take frozen anchovies over fresh, unless I'm buying them on the coast.

Back to our meeting with Rick. Rick is working with Provvista to be proactive about seafood. They are gathering quotes from restaurants to determine how much albacore they might buy this summer. Most of Rick's albacore is canned by his company, Sacred Sea. This is a high quality product, but we'd like to get more fish in the raw. Whether we can get it fresh or frozen, we are trying to find a way to keep the quality high, even when supply is low. I have a feeling that the marketing stigma of frozen fish is going to change in the next few years, and where seafood is concerned, the handling of the product from the ocean to the kitchen will have to be better understood by the consumers.

Keep up the good work Rick,


Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Teutonic Wine Company Dinner!

On Friday, January 28th we will be hosting a very special night in our private room at Park Kitchen. The creators of the Teutonic Wine company, Olga and Barnaby Tuttle will be hosting a three-course dinner served with pairings of their own making. We will also be featuring a few wines from German wine importer and expert Ewald Moseler.

Barnaby started his career in wine long ago at Papa Haydn. He started out as a young man washing dishes, then busing, then waiting tables, assistant managing, general managing, and finally buying wine. The day that Ewald brought him in a special collection of German wines was the day that Barnaby realized his future as a wine maker. He knew that he had a passion for German wines, and wanted to try making similar wines in Oregon.

He and Olga first planted 56 chardonnay plants in their back yard in order to experiment with grape growing. They made small amounts of "yard chard" while Barnaby studied up on wine making by reading books and taking classes. In 2005 Olga and Barnaby had the opportunity to plant a vineyard on their friends' land (an old garlic farm) in Alsea, Oregon. The site falls out of the Willamette Valley AVA and is very close to the coast- meaning they would have to work with cold, wet and difficult growing conditions. While some people might not like the sounds of that, these conditions sounded just right for the wines that they loved- lighter styled, mineral-driven wines. They planted 2 acres of Pinot Noir, Pinot Menuier, and Pinot Blanc. In 2008 they had their first commercial sale. Since then, Barnaby and Olga have run the whole show- from working the land and harvesting the grapes to bottling and selling the wines. They work long hours every week, but the wines are exactly as they want them to be.

I had the chance to taste their first vintage at a friends house last year. I had never tasted anything like their '08 Pinot Menuier, and still regret not buying a few bottles to hold on to when they were still available! But the name (and perfect label) stuck in my mind, and when I started buying wine for Park Kitchen in the spring of 2010, their Riesling was one of the first wines I selected. The Park Kitchen staff, as well as Chef Scott and his wife Mary, loved the wine so much that we were able to keep a steady order with Olga and Barnaby.

All of this adds up to one great story, and a story that we want to share with you in more detail at our dinner on the 28th. Come meet Olga, Barnaby and Ewald and try the wines that they, and we, love.


Monday, January 10, 2011

Proud of Our Pork

We take great pride in sourcing our products at Park Kitchen. This will be our third year of buying pork from Chris Roehm at Square Peg Farm in Forest Grove. Chris pulls up in his pick-up truck in front of the restaurant on Wednesday morning, and we carry in a split hog to our wooden six foot work table. Last week's half pig weighed in at one hundred and fifty two pounds (including the head). This is the first pig of Chris' latest breeding cross between Berkshire and Chester. The meat is a proud burgundy red, as good pork should be, and the fat marbling makes this pork worth the premium price we pay for it.

I have a lot of good things to say about the animal husbandry at Square Peg. Chris has some happy pigs on his farm. They have open pasture most of the year, a diet of certified, local organic feed, and something you don't find on many small pig farms these days...piglets! Chris breeds his own pigs rather than simply buying weaners from a commercial breeder. Of course, it's hard work mating and farrowing pigs. He has tried both methods, and found that breeding allows him to keep his animals in a steady and sustainable manner. He has more control over their heritage and their health from beginning to end, and a constant herd of animals keeps his income steady as well. It takes time to build relationships that work for the restaurants demands and the farmers supply. Finding that balance and forming great relationships is worth the wait.

Thanks for everything Chris,


Thursday, January 6, 2011

Duck Parts

This is a picture of Bubba eating duck cracklings.

That’s correct. Duck cracklings, for those of you who haven’t had the pleasure, are fried pieces of rendered duck skins. If that sounds crappy to you then don’t waste your time with this. I will explain how and why we are blessed with these small crunchy bits of heaven later. For now what you should know is that duck cracklings are one of my trophies. I look upon them as the cook’s spoils. So rarefied are these crunchy culinary elixirs that enjoying them is relegated almost exclusively to those who have the skill, and patience to work for a boss who has vision and is cheap enough to require their production. Until now, eating them has been one of the few fringe benefits of my cooks, particularly Bubba.

Creating them is a bit of a process. We break down our ducks 3 times a week. Each whole duck weighs about 4 ½ pounds. Each duck gives us 2 breasts, 2 legs, 2 wings, 1 liver, 1 heart, bones, a few bits of trim meat and a fair amount of skin that gets trimmed off the legs and breasts. It’s not hard to imagine the legs and breast making money for us in a very tasty fashion. The rub is that we pay for the whole bird by the pound. The legs and breasts only account for about half the weight of the duck. It would be disrespectful to that poor bird and frivolous of us to simply discard the remaining half. So, the wings become duck sugo. The bones become stock. The livers become a sauce (more on this later), and the skin gets rendered for duck fat. When we render the skin for fat, the bronzed bits of shin left on the bottom of the pot are our little trophies at the end of the night. A little salt, a bit of chili and we have the worlds best beer snack while we clean the hoods.

Why should our beer snacks be so important outside of their deliciousness?

They are the kernel of an idea for a salad.

Bubba and I were snacking on duck cracklings a while back. Like many times before, he suggested that we unleash duck cracklings on the dining public. In the past it seemed negligent to give away our prized snacks over the bevy of beautiful vegetables that are waiting to make a show on our menu. The difference this time was that Bubba had suggested this in December. December is slim pickins’ for us in the local vegetable department which makes it difficult for us to come up with ideas for new menu items.

The timing of Bubba’s exhortations could not have been better. That very day I had recognized that we were stockpiling duck meat trimmings and livers in our freezer. Duck meat, duck livers, duck cracklings… There’s a whole animal dish in there somewhere. But I already had a great duck entrée on the menu and I wanted ideas for a salad. Bubba saw that the wheels were turning, just not quite fast enough. “What if we used the duck liver sauce from the previous duck entrée as a dipping sauce for the cracklings?” he asked.


The duck liver sauce he was referring to is a sauce that we use now and again here at Park Kitchen as a condiment. It would be perfect. Slightly sweetened with red wine braised onions. Slightly sour with vinegar. It’s like ketchup. Trust me. A great foil for duck cracklings.

But duck cracklings and dipping sauce is still just a great stoney beer snack. A great salad needed substance, structure, visual appeal and balance. The substance could easily be provided by poached fingerling potatoes. The leaves of brussels sprouts, a trusty winter staple, could provide the structure. Mustard and pickles would be a natural if not slightly stodgy complement to this sturdy concoction. What if we pickled a fruit for this salad? Fruit and duck go way back together. Oranges would work but pears would be better. My favorite new way to make pickles is to compress fruit in our kryovac machine. With no cooking at all, it renders intriguing transparent slices of fruit that look and feel cooked but taste deliciously raw and fresh. Compressed pears it is.

But what about the scrap duck meat? It would be elegant if we could incorporate all of the spare duck parts into one salad. Usually what we do with the spare duck parts is cure them to make duck ham or incorporate them into terrines and pate. The salad that was formulating in my head could use a touch of salt. Instead of simply adding salt to the dish, I decided to try making duck jerky out of the scraps and using it to salt the salad. Duck jerky is easy to make and who doesn’t love a little jerky with their duck cracklings?

Duck parts and stoney beer snacks for cooks can be powerful tools. They can be used to create an intriguingly delicious salad on the menu now at your local Park Kitchen.

Ask for it by name. It’s called “The rest of the duck salad”.

Posted by Scott. Jan 6th 2011

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Pork & Pinot Sundays

We are back after a week-long winter break. Not only are we refreshed, but so are the walls at Park Kitchen! While we were away, elves came and painted the restaurant a saturated, rusty red. We love it! Come check it out and tell us how good we look in our new environment.

Now that we are back, we have started the new schedule (open Sundays, closed for lunch) and are very excited for our first Pork and Pinot Sunday on the 9th. In case you haven't heard about it, let me explain. Sunday nights from 5-9 pm we will be offering a special deal for our pork-loving friends out there. For $30 you can have a leafy green salad, a big plate of pork (how it will be prepared is a weekly surprise!) and a glass of 2008 Pappas Pinot Noir. In case you aren't familiar with it already, Pappas is made by Athena and Stewart Boedecker of Boedecker Cellars. All of their wines are lovingly hand crafted here in Portland, Oregon. We are thrilled to serve Athena's namesake wine along side our favorite beast (raised by Square Peg Farms... stay tuned for more about that!)- a truly local experience.

Of course the full menu will still be available on Sundays, as well as happy hour at the bar from 5-7 every night! Call ahead, give OpenTable a whirl, or just stop by. We look forward to seeing you soon.