Musings by Leah Jorgensen

Archive for August, 2010

Irving Street Kitchen Begins at the Bar

Click on the logo to visit Irving Street Kitchen

I think a lot of great meals begin at the bar.  When dining in Portland, especially, the culinary experience really starts with the cocktail.  The bartenders and mixologists in this town work with the best ingredients – the same way the chefs operate in the kitchen.  Plus, how that cocktail is presented is the ultimate preview for your dining journey.

At Irving Street Kitchen, I sat at the bar and waited for my friend to arrive.  So, I ordered a cocktail.  It was hot out and I wanted something refreshing.  My eyes darted towards the Carolina Julep c.1890.  I went to a woman’s college in Virginia and our cocktail, more or less, was the mint julep.  We’d go to Foxfield Races (steeplechase) held annually each spring in Charlottesville and pay more attention to the Bourbon cocktails than all the pretty horses flying by.  My point is that the mint julep is a civilized summer cocktail for ladies and gentlemen.

Let’s get one thing straight.  This Carolina Julep is listed with a circa date.  I understood immediately that the bartender who put this on the bar menu knew what he or she was doing.  It was prepared with Elijah Craig 12 year Bourbon, mint, sugar, splash of sweet tea at Irving street kitchen.  It was perfect.  And, I got a good glimpse into the quality of ingredients that would come to pass.

My friend arrived and we ordered.  I explained to the bartender, Alison (I think that’s her name!) that I was gluten free.  She ended up taking care of me for the rest of the  night.  The service was impeccable.

I got the Heirloom Tomato and Raw Zucchini Salad with Black Pepper Vinaigrette and a side order of the Smoked Tasso Jambalaya.

The salad was bright and fresh with tangy tomatoes and delicate zucchini.  The basil was more like a pesto puree and added some depth to the light flavors.

The jambalaya had a hint of heat but was really rich and fragrant with a pleasant, earthy, forest floor flavor.  It reminded me of a Rhone red wine with dusty notes of earth and cocoa powder. 

Alison (and I will owe her big time if I got her name wrong!) brought out a glass of King’s Ridge Riesling to sample with the two courses.  It was fragrant and off-dry, with good upfront acidity and flavors of white peaches and lychee.  It went well with the salad, and, to an extent it paired fairly well with the jambalaya (as Riesling dances well with spicy fare), only, because of the smoked richness, a Rhone would have been a super yummy accompaniment. 

All in all, this place nods to the American southeast and takes you on a journey there and beyond.  I look forward to returning and turning another corner on the Irving Street menu to discover another pleasant cocktail – which will certainly lead to another enjoyable meal.

Irving Street Kitchen
703 Northwest 13th Avenue
Portland, OR‎ – 503.343.9440


In Love with Grüner

österreichische Küche – Austrian Cuisine.  That you want to date.

click on logo to visit website

I was long over-due for this romantic introduction.  We didn’t meet online.  Actually, a friend introduced us.   And, I had heard a lot of positive things.  I put on a cute outfit and eagerly drove to meet my hot date.  Yes, I would date Grüner.  I would flippin’ marry Grüner.  However, this Grüner isn’t on the market.  But, it’s a love fest for anyone who wants to stop by.   

Grüner is cozy Alpine cuisine.   Imagined by Portland darling chef Christopher Israel, Grüner was inspired by a lifetime of wanderlust and epicurean curiosity, drawing on the affinity between the geographies of the Pacific Northwest and the alpine regions of northern Europe.

I still want to date it.

Okay, I am about an eighth Austrian.  Perhaps a little more.  My great grandfather was from South Burgenland, and it’s been told that he was a cooper of wine barrels and also built beautiful, ornate carriages.   I am very proud of that fraction of my heritage.  I love Austrian wine and have enjoyed both Austrian and German food growing up on the east coast.  Lots of spätzle (which means “little sparrow” – how cute!), weiswurst, bratwurst, sauerkraut, pork chops, schnitzel and so on.

Now that I am gluten-free, it’s a bit of a challenge to navigate my way through a Germanic menu.  Or, so I thought.

At  Grüner, there is indeed something for everyone.  And, it’s wonderful.

Interestingly enough, I didn’t even step inside the restaurant.  So, I do need to return for a second date.  Meantime, my friend and I grabbed a picnic table outside for a charming late alfresco dining experience.

I started off with a refreshing glass of Zweigelt rosé.   Zweigelt is a red wine grape variety developed in 1922, at the Federal Institute for Viticulture and Pomology at Klosterneuburg, Austria, by Fritz Zweigelt.  It was a crossing of Blaufränkisch and St. Laurent.  It is now the most widely-grown red grape variety in Austria.

My friend and I ordered a few snacks to begin:  roasted pumpkin seeds and an order of beet-pickled hard boiled eggs.
Yummy beet-pickled hard-boiled eggs

I then ordered a glass of the Zweigelt Nittnaus, Neusiedlersee, AT 2007.  Again, when in Rome (or Austria).  I was in the mood for red because it was a cool night out.  I was equally interested in having a glass of the Grüner Veltliner, Forstreiter, Kogl, Kremstal, AT 2008. 

I then selected the house made sausages – bratwurst and saucisson – with sauerkraut, yukon gold potatoes and sweet mustard.

Of course, they got it right.  This is comfort food at its best.  Rich flavors, quality meat, tangy kraut.   Precision as you would expect from a German or Austrian.  I only wish my parents were visiting sooner.  They used to live in Germany and truly love this Alpine cuisine.   Grüner is the kind of eatery you want to show off to well-travelled and well-fed kin.

527 SW 12th Avenue
Portland, Oregon

Jade Teahouse & Patisserie: A Gem in Sellwood

Click on logo for website.

I discovered this place about a year ago – and it’s my favorite post-hike or trail run destination coming from Tryon Creek State Park.  Here’s why.  The food is consistently fresh, light and full of flavor.  It’s actually refreshing fare.  And, whether or not I am hiking, trail running or just jonesing on noshing Vietnamese style, I could seriously eat at this delightful place every day.

Plus – they advertise as gluten-free friendly, which, to this celiac chick, makes it even more of a regular destination.  The food, in general, is geared towards health and wellness. 

The ambiance is simple – in its design, elegance and feel.  The energy is warm, the people are friendly, it is both inviting and relaxing – even if it is most often packed with hungry people.  They all seem happy!

Most recently, after a hot yoga class, I headed over to Sellwood to feed on more wellness.  I am a girl of balance, after all. 

I got in line and knew exactly what I wanted to order, and knew I’d be taking some left-overs home for lunch the next day.  This place is always busy.  There’s always a line.  But, everyone in line is happily anticipating their order.  It’s worth the wait.

I sang off my wish list of  ginger peach iced tea (and asked for some blue agave sweetener on the side – which they always kindly oblige), chicken and shrimp salad rolls and Vietnamese rice vermicelli salad.  Doesn’t that all just sound pretty?

And, it was pretty delightful.  The ginger peach iced tea was absolutely refreshing.  This is a teahouse and they do not disappoint in that arena of artisanal selections.

I ate half of my order of chicken and shrimp salad rolls that came with peanut sauce topped in red pepper paste.  This is a standard classic of Vietnamese cuisine, only, Jade’s version is always much more fresh and crisp than the average Vietnamese restaurant.  It’s authentic, but the lettuce is super leafy and green, the sprouts taste cool and crisp, every bite suggests it came from the produce stand that morning.  And, I very much appreciate that.  Your standard classic is only as good as the quality of its ingredients.

Next, I gladly dove into my bowl of Vietnamese rice vermicelli salad with carrots, cucumbers, Romaine lettuce, tomato, bean sprouts, cilantro, thin noodles, ground peanuts with grilled shrimp and chicken.  Ahhhh.  So refreshing.  Like a cold shower after a hot yoga class.  Bliss.  This dish was tangy-sweet with beautiful ingredients, that cool, crisp texture I was hoping for, set against warm, soft noodles.  Truly a culinary jewel. 

Jade is a lustrous green gemstone relative of Asian culture and is said to have a unique, symbolic energy, and is unique in the myths that surround it.   I think Jade the restaurant is aptly named.

Jade Teahouse & Patisserie
Sellwood-Moreland Neighborhood
7912 SE 13th Ave
Portland, OR  97202