Friday, November 13, 2009

Simpatica Dining Hall

Simpatica Dining Hall

Oh, Portland. Sweet, wonderful, complicated Portland. What it lacks in jobs it makes up for in restaurants doing really interesting things. Take Simpatica Dining Hall: billed as a "dining hall, supper club and food resource" this catering business moonlights as a cozy, Lower Burnside basement restaurant offering one seating of dinner service both Friday and Saturday evenings, and a comfort-food themed Sunday brunch. A mere $35 will get you four dinner courses, with the menu changing every week based on what's available through the Farmer's Market and local farmers and purveyors. But let the words "dining hall" serve as your guide: you may need to share the dish of Marcona almonds with complete strangers.

Razor Clams
Crispy Fried Razor Clams with Roasted Cauliflower, Venus Grapes and Capers

I loved getting things started with a hearty plate of seafood while J was enamored with the velvety roasted grapes.

Your Kitchen Garden Mizuna with Grapefruit Hearts and Roasted Spaetzle, Young Parsnips and Carrots
Your Kitchen Garden Mizuna with Grapefruit Hearts and Roasted Beets

Light, refreshing and the perfect palate cleanser in preparation for...

Braised Piedmontese Shortribs with Creamed Horseradish
Braised Piedmontese Beef Shortribs with Creamed Horseradish, Spaetzle, Young Parsnips and Carrots

Given my complex relationship with meat I am certainly not a connoisseur of shortribs. In fact, it is quite possible this course served as my shortribs deflowering. But the dumplings had me so giddy I found myself digging in, and the meat responded by literally sliding off the bone in silky strips...and right into my mouth.

Warm Beignets with Apple Confit and Caramel Sauce
Warm Beignets with Apple Confit and Caramel Sauce

The beignets arrived at our table still hot. While the coating of confectioner's sugar was a bit heavy (think choking on the cocoa powder atop a piece of Tiramisu) the caramel sauce provided relief in the way of some much-needed moisture.

The weekend dinner menu is posted every Wednesday and when you arrive at the restaurant the kitchen staff will take you on the journey of how they arrived at the evening's selections--and where everything was sourced from. Reservations can be submitted online or by contacting the restaurant directly. Don't forget to check out the recession-friendly wine list, with nothing over $39.


Simpatica Dining Hall
828 SE Ash Street
Portland, OR 97214

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

The High Cost of Being a Foodie: A Love Story

Nearly everyone has one: a story, that is, about a pivotal meal that forever changed their relationship with food. For us it was a prix fixe menu at Seattle's now defunct (but soon-to-be-resurrected) Mistral, where a course of seared halibut bathed in vanilla foam invited us into a world in which meals can tell stories of what is in season, where people are from, and sometimes, where they are going.

For Samin Nosrat, whose story I had the good fortune of hearing recently on NPR, it was a dinner at Chez Panisse with her boyfriend that ignited her immense passion for food. The meal was the culmination of a year-long effort of saving spare change in a jar, and by the dessert course Nosrat admits she was a changed woman--even if she did ask for a glass of milk to enjoy with her chocolate souffle. In fact, she was so moved by the meal she wrote a letter to famed Chez Panisse proprietor Alice Waters, describing her food epiphany and asking for a job. In a turn of events that seems all too movie-like, Nosrat's wish was granted.

Sadly, Nosrat's recent interview on American Public Media's The Story was not simply a chat about falling in love with food, but rather, a bittersweet recount of the closure of Eccolo, the Berkeley restaurant she recently worked at which had been built with a careful focus on sustainability, but was taken down almost overnight by the economic recession. While at moments the story of a culinary dream unraveling is enough to break any foodie's heart, I was still moved by Nosrat's admirable refusal to cut corners just for the sake of keeping the doors open. You can listen to the story online here.

- K