Nutshell and the topsy-turvy world that’s in it

A priest, a rabbi, and a monk walk into a bar. The priest orders a a beer and a burger (it’s Friday), the rabbi orders a pickled sausage, and the monk gets a non-Belgian beer. Maybe I’ll come up with a punchline later, but that’s a good illustration of just how bizarre this post gets. We (three omnivores) went to Nutshell, a completely vegan restaurant. They were fairly busy. We could’ve sat at a table, but opted to wait on the couches in the back gallery section for a booth. More cozy. While we waited, the nice lady brought us some wine and bread (non gratis). You get a selection of breads to pick from, we went with one sampler and one 400-million grain naan. Add to that selections of olive oil and salt(?!) and there’s a pretty fun taste experience to kickoff the meal.

So we got our seat after a bit, and N happened to know one of the vegans in the booth next to us, so they chatted through the cage-like bars for a bit, while we hammered out our meal selections…there were many things I couldn’t quite identify. Burdock and various vegan cheeses mostly. We settled on a spinach turnover sorta thing for appetize, Ryan got the sandwich, N had the living lasagna, and I got charred kale and potatoes gratin.

The lasagna was amazing. By living, I think they meant no pasta noodles. It was a stack of tomato, avocado, vegan ricotta, pesto, and other stuff pressed and cut to serve like lasagna. And it was great. Ryan’s sandwich was also fabulous. Fresh ingredients, ample avocado, and served on a vegan sticky bun…it had great texture and great flavor. My items were really good as well. A light char to the kale gave it a really well-rounded flavor. The potatoes gratin was a bit less exciting, but it was good. It’d been described with a bit more of a chile twist, and I had expected a bit more of that. Finally, I go to the beginning for the spinach turnover. It was probably the least impressive part of the meal. Still pretty good, but it really could’ve been packed with more spinach filling…it came out more as a fried bread than a stuffed doodad.

We were too full for dessert. And I totally spaced ordering a smoothie like I’d intended. But we will be back. And soon. Because Nutshell was really friggin good. Pricewise, it’s affordable and well worth the cost, but only the WW would call Nutshell’s prices cheap eats.

Find Nutshell at 3808 N Williams Ave. If it’s too crowded and you’re starved, cruise up the street a bit further to Dalo’s. Check other reviews all over, but quickly: Stumptown Vegans and VeganFabulous.

So the Priest and the Rabbi forgot their wallets, but luckily the monk had a thousand bucks. Now you know the sound of one grand flapping. cheers. Maybe you can do better…

Trebol

Mississippi is sporting a shiny new Mexican restaurant, with Oaxacan regional cuisine. Actually, I think it’s up where the street is actually Albina, just south of N Alberta. Trebol has a decent little patio, it’s painted a nice shade of green, and overall looks tastefully done. Though, I actually never set foot inside the actual restaurant.

We sat outside, it was a gorgeous day. We drank margaritas and mojitos. They were pretty tasty, and somewhat reasonably priced, though the well tequila is pancho. They brought us some homemade tortillas with salsa. These were quite tasty, and I appreciated the spice of the verde. We asked the waiter for recommendations throughout the meal, and invariably they were the most expensive item of its kind on the menu.

For an appetizer, we ordered the clams. They were not particularly inspiring. Acceptable, but a bit bland, and the clams themselves varied broadly in size and quality.

For dinner, we didn’t follow recommendations because we didn’t feel like $17+ plates for a casual dinner. So, Dave and Ryan got the beef tacos, and I got the beef tamales. They seemed to enjoy their tacos, but were not particularly excited about them. My tamales were very mediocre, they were more like porridge in a banana leaf. The beef and the red sauce were both very good, but the tamale itself was so watery as to drown out the flavor.

We also got a flight of tequila. The waiter recommended Corzo. Again, a top coster. The flight turned out to be three 2/3oz shots, so 2oz total. It was served with some sort of tomato-lime juice for pallet clearing. The Corzo was quite yummy though. As a group we preferred the reposado for its smoothness. The anejo was nice, actually, all three were good.

The service was fine, maybe a bit inconsistent. They brought us the extra stuff we asked for (more tortillas, bread). It took us forever to get out of there, and the waiter had the affect of an owner on a day with bad numbers, trying to play up but not masking too well. I don’t know if he is or not.

As a new addition to the high-end Mexican food market, Trebol has a lot of space to cover if they’d like to compete with D.F., Autentica, and Taqueria Nueve (and the hybrid joint over in St. Johns). Their location is good, the patio is nice, but the food is a stretch for the price. I’d like to emphasize that I really liked the sauces. Good luck, I’ll try again sometime.

If somebody is more familiar with the Oaxacan style, please chime in…or if you’ve had a better experience in general.

Cafe Be Van

Just wanted to callout this tasty little Vietnamese deli located at 6846 NE Sandy.  Their menu is pretty small, mostly serving up a varety of meat sandwiches, but there is a vegetarian option as well.  Their sandwiches are $2.75-3.00, and the perfect size for a light meal.  Just think, even if you ordered four sandwiches, a hum bao (sp?), and a drink, your meal would still still be a Cheap Eat by WW’s standard (what a disappointment that issue was!  Usually a year-long staple, this year’s Cheap Eats was recycled in under a week).  The sandwiches (we tried ham, the special, and the bao) were good, with fun twists on our American standards, cilantro, carrots, othr veggies, and something tangy.

Sourdough Pizza/BBQ Pizza

Two recent projects of mine came together recently, with pretty nice results! I’ve been making sourdough bread for a couple months now, and it has been working well. In addition, I visited New York recently. As we all know, bread+NY=pizza. Except in alternate axiom sets where bread+NY=bagels, but we’re in my reality. Plus, while bagels were all over New York, most of them were nothing special. Not that I didn’t find some grub ones, it’s just that most were delivered from somewhere, and really not that great.

So, pizza. I first made a couple of standard pizzas at home. I made the dough (an overnight process), made up some sauce, and preheated the oven to 550F with the pizza stone in it. With this whole bread thing, preheat refers to more than just letting the oven come to temperature, it needs to become the temperature, which involves getting it to that temperature and letting it sit for ahwhile. In addition, for bread I increased the humidity by placing a pan of water on the bottom rack. Due to the significantly shorter bake time for pizza, I didn’t do this. Maybe next time.

So we’re talking my oven on max, sourdough rolled as thin as it’ll go, a thin layer of sweetened pizza sauce, and some mozarella. Flour the stone, set the pizza, and into the oven for 5-10 minutes. As you can see, the crust came out pretty pale. I’m thinking it’s due to my using all-purpose flour, but that’s one thing to investigate in the future.

Then this weekend we went to Cannon Beach with some friends. Anners and I have been talking sourdough for some time, so I prepped some starter to take. Make some pizzas, hang out, drink beer. But….a twist. Let’s do it on the BBQ! This was at a beach house, so we had limited cooking supplies, didn’t want to make a mess, and all that, so a BBQ is perfect. Of course, devices to help prep sauce/grate/chop were in short supply, but you do what you can with what you’ve got, eh?

I used two methods. Here is a quick rundown of my techniques for BBQ pizza. First, crack open a beer and set up a space to keep toppings, dough, sauce, and oil. You’ll want some paper towels available for oiling the grate and the crust. Get your coals burning using whatever method is available. I used a direct cooking method, and it seemed most effective with a double layer of coals. I needed to consolidate the coals partway through to increase the direct heat. After the coals are ready, spread them out and cover the BBQ to let it come to temperature.
Clean and oil the grate. Really. Stuck dough is ruined dough. Well, I’ll eat it, but you know what I mean. You will want everything to be on hand, you won’t have much time once things start rolling.

Prep the dough. Prepare the dough however you like. I pulled out my sourdough starter the day before, added some water and bread flour, and let it do its thing overnight. In the morning, I added some flour and (less) water and kneaded it to a proper consistency with a little snap. Then add the salt and knead some more, cover with plastic in a large bowl and let it sit while you do something else for a few hours. It should have risen a bunch. Push it down and let it rise again, or not, depending on when you want to make the pizzas.

Create the crust. I rolled out a bunch of rounds ranging from around 8-12″ diameter. Some were rounder than others. Get it as thin as you can…like 1/8″. While this is going on the coals should be heating. I just made a bunch, there didn’t seem to be a problem with them drying out, but the ones that sat the longest stuck together a bit (peeled apart easily).

Take everything outside. Your flame should be fairly hot, but not scorching. Oil the grate. The first method I tried was as follows. Oil one side of the dough, place oil-side down. It’ll likely puff up. You can press down with the edge of the spatula to puncture and release the gas. Check the botton, you want it crisp and a little golden. Flip the dough, lightly spoon on your sauce, place the cheese and toppings, cover, and let it grill for a couple minutes. Keep an eye on the pizza, it won’t take long. Take the pizza off, put it on a plate, and serve immediately. you don’t want these treasures sitting around getting cold.

Saucing the flipped pizza.

Some cheese!

Spinach, onion, garlic, more chees…yum!

Crispy crackery crust. Yeah!

Alright, I mentioned a different method, and I think it was better. Don’t flip. Just oil the dough, stick it on the grill, add your sauce and toppings, cover and let it cook. It won’t take long, and I found that the outer crust cam out better this way. Next time, this is the way I’m going the whole time.

Bend

Went with some friends to Bend this weekend for some sweet skiing and casual times. We stayed at the Holiday Inn (express?) Thursday night, checked into our place at the 7th Mountain Friday morning, and hit the slopes for an absolutely gorgeous day. The snow was pleasant but well-worn. The day was gorgeous, I started off with a sweatshirt, T-shirt, and windbreaker, but dumped the sweatshirt after sweating down two runs. After lunch, I lost the windbreaker also. Felt great, skied hard, had fun. Sadly, that night I aggravated my badly pulled calf jumping into the freakin’ swimming pool, so no skiing Saturday. But N and I cruised around Bend and had a good’ole time.

I need to call out three fabulous places for food down there. First, we returned the The Grove Friday night. We’d eaten there last year, and had a great experience. Friendly, pleasant, and really good, reasonably priced food. It seemed that the prices had shot up somewhat since a year ago, but it was still not too bad. Last year I got a steak with chimmichurri sauce and loved it. This time around I got the fish tacos and a caesar salad. The caeser was excellent. The fish tacos were good, but not great. I tried the mongolian beef also, and that was really nice. So check out The Grove.

Second, I got to eat at Pizza Mondo since I couldn’t ski on Saturday. They have really great pizza. It’s billed as New York-style, and having never been to the big apple, I’m not really one to dispute that claim. It seems like New York with a bit of West Coast gourmet to me, but who am I to say? Except that it’s really stinking good pizza.

And lastly, the gang went to La Rosa for some green St. Paddy’s Margaritas (tequila infused with apple and grape). They were really good…maybe a bit sweet, but not like some crappy margarita you find at My Father’s Place (they’re good for other things…). And the food was really good too. Anners was happy with her vegetarian option, my chile verde was good, and everyone else liked theirs a lot. Except N, but she just
got a taco salad and if you just get a taco salad, you’re not really getting your hands dirty.

All of the places I mentioned are very vegetarian friendly.
Thank you Bend, Oregon! Oh, and I drank some beer.