It’s moving day. See you all on the flip side!
It’s moving day. See you all on the flip side!
On June 3rd we took a road trip to Seattle and indulged in a wee bit of geeky revelry. Here, at long last, is our trip report.
1. The party begins with a cheese sandwich.
It’s the beginning of February and we’re waist deep in The Great Cheese Sandwich Controversy of 2006. Chopper’s just grilled up this crazy tuna melt extravaganza, and I’m all set to blog on it, when I see this post over on Food Blog S’cool. Andrew of Spittoon is pointing us toward free wine from the Stormhoek Winery in South Africa. Free wine? Cool! How can I pass that up?
So, I head over to gapingvoid and the free wine blurb …. and get utterly sidetracked reading Hugh Macleod’s most excellent manifesto on How to Be Creative. Now that’s what I’m talking about, I think, and promptly rewrite my first cheese sannie post, pack my bags, and run off to the crazy land of Gastroblogia.
And then, I sign up for the free wine, because first of all, duh, free wine, and second of all, this whole Geek Dinner thing is just plain cool.
Now, where to go to find a bunch of geeks?
Pssst. I’m cheating.
It’s not that I intend to write about something other than a restaurant that serves small plates — oh, I’m all about multitudes of small plates (just ask the nurse who weighed me in at the doctor’s office today) — it’s that time frame thing that’s got me in a pickle.
More specifically, this, Sarah’s rule #2:
Go eat any time betwixt now and Monday, February 27, 2006.
(“Now” being February 3rd when Sarah posted her announcement.)
First, can I tell you where we’ve eaten betwixt February 3rd and February 27th? Aside from around our dining room table or in front of the telly laughing at melodramatic ice dancers, that is?
The Thai place for lunch.
The pub again.
The crappy Chinese place when the pub was unexpectedly closed.
Oh, yeah, and the pub again.
Note the alarming trend. The trend that screams: It’s Off-Season! It’s the pub or (almost) nothing, baby, cuz until the spring tourists arrive, this place is all about wonky restaurant hours and tiny paychecks.
Yup, winter on the island; so not conducive to culinary exploration.
Not that we’ve got much of that to begin with, mind you. Take this month’s Dine and Dish theme, for example. Amazing Graze? Small plates? I can think of one — yup, one — restaurant that falls under that category on this island, and go figure, we already covered it back in Dine and Dish #3: The Freshman.
Now the Thai place could count as a small plate venue — if we were to write about their spring rolls — but we got that one back in Dine and Dish #4: Rachael Ray for a Day.
And the pub? Hah. Been there, done that in Dine and Dish #1: Barfly. Not that their plates are even remotely small, mind you.
So, nothing left to write about. Or, I cheat.
Which (after this absurdly long preamble), brings me to the place I want to tell you about. The place that’s 251 miles (plus ferry ride) away and we haven’t been to since Christmas. Chopper’s and my favorite dim sum joint, Fong Chong, in Portland’s Chinatown.
Now Fong Chong isn’t much to look at — in fact it’s got detractors who bitch about the lack of atmosphere (as if that’s more important than a damn fine steamed hum bow) — but we’re not here for pretty décor. I can find plenty of places that scream heavenly temple and serve up deep fried MSG-laden crap any day of the week. Well, any day I’m in an actual city, mind you.
No, Fong Chong is not about elegance. It’s a cavern of a space with scuffed floors and smudgy windows, but it holds a special place in our hearts and come hell or high water, when we take a trip to Portland, we make a stop at Fong Chong.
My first time dining out with Chopper’s parents was at Fong Chong. It was one of those early, get-to-know-the-folks meals, and we couldn’t have picked a better place. At any other restaurant we’d of run the risk of gulfs of silence; each of us engrossed in our own private plate, only occasionally exchanging pleasantries.
How’s the salmon? Oh, good. How’s the steak. Fine. Vegetables are over-cooked though.
Not at dim sum. Here, we shared the excitement of approaching carts together. Is that ginger chicken? Yes! Oh, and yu chee gow. Score! We sampled our favorites together and together we came just inches away from the big dim sum Do-We-Dare Challenge: Chicken feet.
In the months that followed, Fong Chong became our spot, and Chopper and I were such regulars we even had a favorite server who recognized us on sight and popped by our table soon after we were seated. “Two Tsingtao?” she’d ask after every greeting, to which we’d invariably say “of course,” because we could never resist a crisp Asian beer to follow up a good chomp of dim sum.
We had our favorite dishes – mine was the har gau, Chopper’s the siu mai, but every so often we’d venture out of our safety zone and try something we’d never tried before. Sometimes it was a one-shot deal, but more often than not we’d finish the meal exclaiming “I can’t believe we waited this long to try that one! We are idiots! Gah!”
(Yes, that last line should be read in a Napoleon Dynamite voice.)
Even so, we never quite got up the courage to face the chicken feet. That is, until a day we arrived and found Fong Chong so busy they were seating multiple groups of diners at their large, Lazy-Susan centered tables. Not that this hadn’t happened before; we’d shared tables many times — it was just that this time was different. We landed at a table with an absolutely charming and loquacious Chinese couple who’d just come into town from Astoria out on the coast. Fong Chong, they told us, was a necessary stop to their every Portland trip, and then they proceeded to recommend their favorite dishes, including — oh look, there they are on the next cart! — chicken feet.
How could we resist?
And y’know? Those crunchy collagen-filled feet, they aren’t half bad.
(I could go on, but remember, I’m terrible at waxing eloquent about flavors. See, I even admitted it. Ooh, the chicken toes, so crunchy yet tender in my mouth! They make me happy! They are happy feet! [giggle])
Actually, I’m lying. The chicken feet were just a little too fatty collagenesque strange for my liking. Chopper, on the other hand dug them so much I feared this would lead to a new culinary extremity trend. Pig’s feet, frog’s legs, lizard toes…
When Chopper started culinary school full time, we had to cut back on our visits to Fong Chong, sometimes going without dim sum for two to three months at a time. (Agony!) Meanwhile, we were working hard, saving what we could for our absurdly DIY wedding, which we’d foolishly planned for month number eight of Chopper’s schooling.
The day after the wedding (which I may write about sometime after our second anniversary, when I’ve fully recovered), we were so utterly dim sum deprived, we had to make the Fong Chong trip. Nothing else mattered. Presents? They could wait. Cleaning up the mess from our 11th hour wardrobe construction? Feh. What’s a living-room full of fabric scraps, anyway? A sign of creativity, that’s what!
So, off we went with visions of sesame balls and onion buns dancing in our heads.
As luck would have it, the new (and newly married) manager was working that morning, and she was so tickled to learn we’d made Fong Chong our choice for First Meal Out as a Married Couple, she knocked the price of the food right off our ticket. All we owed for was beer and tip — and a good thing too because oh did we pig out that day!
Now, you might think that my ode to Fong Chong will end on a melancholy note. That things have changed or that we’ve moved on to a new favorite spot. Not a chance. Even after our longest dry spell — a gap of nearly half a year without a Fong Chong visit — our return was just like old times. Last December, halfway down I-5, driving late at night after catching the 10:15 ferry (Chopper having hightailed it from pastry station to ferry line), the urge kicked in.
“You realize what we need to do tomorrow,” I said.
Chopper glanced at me from the driver’s seat to check my expression. He saw my smile and returned it.
“I mean, we’re getting into town at what, 2 a.m. at the earliest,” I said. “We can get ourselves out of bed by 10:30, and…”
“Fong Chong,” Chopper said.
“Fong Chong,” I echoed. I was grinning from ear to ear now in the dark car; the anticipation of har gau, hot chili oil, lotus leaf rice… it was almost too much to bear.
We were there within 45 minutes of waking the next morning. And there, first at our table, was our favorite server.
“Two Tsingtao?” she asked.
“Yes, yes, oh YES!” we answered.
301 NW 4TH Ave
Portland, OR 97209-3882
Best time to go: Fong Chong opens for business at 10:30, but they don’t really get rolling till a little after 11. Show up between 11 and 11:30, before the line kicks in, and you’ll be there when the carts first hit the floor with goodies fresh from the steamers.
On the table: The hot chili oil (that fire orange liquid in a jar) is a must. Pour it on your plate. Lots of it. Don’t be shy.
Thirst quenching: We love our Tsingtao and think you should too, but if you’re not in a beer mood, don’t worry, the house tea that comes with every meal is a light jasmine blend that tastes great even if you’ve been sitting at the table for an hour letting the tea pot go cold.
What is on those carts, anyway? You might not be able to understand everything the servers say, but here’s a tip: Just try it anyway. You can hardly ever go wrong, and at just two to three bucks a serving, the experimentation’s worth it. P.S. Chicken feet. Chopper insists on it.
1. Note to self: When traveling to Seattle with a dog, one should bring an extra coat, and not leave it in the back seat of the car where the dog can puke on it. Such things can lead to Seattle in November in a T-shirt, which is not terribly pleasant and not at all conducive to much hoofing about.
2. Loft apartments above Uwajimaya? I tell ya, we would never leave home.
3. Big John’s PFI: A cheese counter with many goat and sheep cheeses. And there was much rejoicing.
4. Pike Place Market? How many blocks of walking? In a T-shirt? Curse you, pukey puppy!
5. Damn. Ran out of time for the rest of the list. Next trip…
1. Note to self: When one goes out of town, one ought to get more sleep.
2. An equation:
Ferry engine trouble
+ Fog bank
= Chopper arriving at home five minutes before he has to leave for work.
3. Note to self: When one has not gotten enough sleep on trip out of town, one should really not be talked into attending a 9:30pm showing of Goblet of Fire (Even if one is hopelessly devoted to the big screen appearances of Alan Rickman).
1. Strange but true: purple mashed potatoes turn blue in the fridge overnight and then turn purple again when reheated in the microwave. See:
2. That, believe it or not, was the most photogenic food we ate all week.
3. Note to self: Ahem. When one has fallen behind in one’s word count for one’s novel because one has taken on another creative project with a deadline… and then one wants to catch up with one’s novel, one is not particularly inclined to write food blog posts. (Not that this would have anything to do with me. No sir.)
1. Chopper’s cornbread chestnut stuffing is most excellent but not terribly photogenic.
2. Chopper’s persimmon chutney is even more excellent and even less photogenic.
3. Someday soon when Chopper has time again, he will post recipes for the above mentioned highly unphotogenic foods. Mrs. D will resist posting hideous pictures.
1. Chopper spends a full day at work baking pies and pumpkin cheesecake. Mrs. D weeps uncontrollably at the pumpkin cheesecake she cannot eat and attempts to catch up on her word count. The blog glares at her from a distance.
1. Chopper works a 13 hour day serving a special prix-fixe Thanksgiving Dinner to over eighty hungry patrons.
2. Mrs. D has dinner with friends and is thankful. Look ma! No dishes!
1. Chopper wows patrons and staff alike by being king of the kitchen for the night when the executive chef heads home with the flu. Mrs. D visits Chopper’s work and is offered a slice of pumpkin cheesecake while she waits. She weeps uncontrollably.
2. Note to self: When one mucks around with another creative project and falls behind in one’s blogging, one contemplates possible reasons for the falling behind, and considers that perhaps one’s blog needs mucking with as well. (Much creative note-taking ensues.)
1. It is cat blogging weekend. The Cat will not be participating. She is in the doghouse, as it were, for certain behaviors that are best kept restricted to flowerbeds and boxes of kitty litter.
2. It is, however, not Chopper’s weekend. Chopper is working yet another ten hour day at the restaurant. At home, much cooking from cans ensues.
1. It is dog blogging day. It is also a special day in the life of the puppy. Though she may not act it, being prone to much wagging and jumping, she has turned a terrible two. Here, a day late, are then and now pictures of the pooch:
2. Once again, Chopper works a full day at the restaurant. At home, all notions of cooking go out the window when Chopper returns mid-evening with take-out.
1. At long last, Chopper has a partial day off. Mrs. D considers posting to the blog, but her novel draft snarls at her and makes threatening gestures. Chopper considers cooking, does so, but curiously refrains from anything that would involve photographs or transcribed recipes.
2. Note to self: When one has just a few words left to complete one’s monthly assignment, one should simply buckle down and do it.
(This Nanowrimo word meter brought to you by copious amounts of Ghirardelli’s bittersweet chocolate, cheap port, nag champa incense, and the soundtrack to Gladiator played repeatedly at full volume on Mrs. D’s cheap headphones.)
What does one do after a crazy/busy week full of deadlines and dilemmas? Why one jaunts off to Seattle for the day!
We’re off bright and early tomorrow morning, and our goal is to cram in as much great food-related shopping as possible in our tiny window of time. (I say tiny because we’ll also be meeting up with friends, prepping for an evening party, and hauling the infamous poochie around with us everywhere we go.)
So, if any of Seattle’s denizens have food shopping recommendations… speak up! On the list so far, Uwajimaya and World Spice Merchants — but that’s only because we know about those places. Tell us about all those cool and super cheap places no one knows about.
Oh, wait. Then everyone would know.
It’s okay. Whisper a name or two in my ear. Mum’s the word.
Meanwhile, here’s a simple Irish style stew for another rainy weekend.
That twelve pack of tuna-in-water at Costco’s been calling my name for far too long…
We’ll be back on Wednesday with a Paper Chef round-up!
16,204 / 50,000
(Today’s word meter advancement brought to you by the cheapest bottle of port I could find at the liquor store. I think the label was red.)