The Slurp of the Wild

IMG_6842The Olympic Peninsula holds an allure for me that I’m not sure I fully understand. Something about the disconnectedness of it. The vastness. I look out at that misty land over the water with its wild woods and those Olympic Mountains jutting up from it like a row of jagged teeth and I feel them calling to me. The whole mass calling me to action. I want to pilot a boat from Union to Port Ludlow. I want to hack my way through the Hoh Rainforest. I want to dig oysters up out of those frigid waters and slurp the life from them.

One out of three isn’t bad…

Hama Hama Oysters

The Hama Hama Oyster Company is splayed out like a campsite where the Hama Hama River empties out into the Sound. Shells. Shells everywhere, stacked up in piles like the bones of fallen enemies at the mouth of a bad-ass villain’s lair. You will find no villains at the Hama Hama Oyster Company, though. Unless you’re an oyster. Then maybe stay the fuck away from this place.

Hama Hama From the shells
I am not an oyster, so I never miss an opportunity to sneak out to that alluring peninsula and punch oysters into my face.

This weekend was a “family in town” weekend. My father was up from California and my wife’s brother was over from New York and it was one of those two day stretches of running all over the state with people you love, trying to introduce them to the places you love so that they will all learn to love one another. In some families, that means baseball games. In some families, that means theaters. In this family, though, it means food.

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And since they aren’t oysters either, it was off to the peninsula.

We coasted into Hama Hama Oyster Company’s parking lot after a savage hike up the Lena Lake trail. Savage, not because the trail itself is particularly brutal (most of the descriptions put it at medium difficulty) but because my brother-in-law Ryan was made in a lab by scientists who hate averageness. He powered his way up 800 feet of elevation gain at a pace that left the rest of us jogging and by the time we were back down at the bottom, slathering and gasping like freshly broken horses, he was barely sweating.

A chill had settled on the waterfront. A low hanging fog laced with winter huddled up around the road and the hills and the beach. Crept down into the dampness of our clothes and tired in our bones. Cold like that is not uncommon in the winter in Hama Hama, though, so the outdoor-only dining area was fitted with plenty of heat and cover.  Three-sided shacks to keep the wind out and a fire pit made of oyster shells. Twinkly lights stretched overhead and smoke climbing into the sky.

Hama Hama Outside

We ordered at the counter, regrouped at a pockmarked table beside the propane love of a space heater. All of us huddled over our beers in the misty cold with the water stretching out around us, waiting. Waiting on grilled cheese and salmon chowder. Waiting on grilled oysters and crab cakes. More than anything else, though, waiting on fresh oysters.  3 dozen of those beautiful, briny, bastards. Balled up in our coats, making small talk out on that wild stretch of land to the west, trying to act like we weren’t desperate for the shucking to be done. For the eating to commence.

The food hit the table with a clatter that was seconded only by the clatter of us eating it. Cacophonous, exasperated eating of hungry people who had climbed 80 stories in haunting cavernous woods. The eating of hungry people in a wildland with nothing to lose. My grilled cheese was exactly the kind of thing you want to fire back on a dreary day in the northwest. Measured, fill the gaps food that pairs well with beer and cold weather. My wife’s soup was fantastic and my brother-in-law’s crab cakes were the best I’ve ever eaten. But this place isn’t called the Hama Hama grilled cheese, soup or crab cake company, and those oyster shells aren’t scattered around for decoration. They’re scattered around because the oysters here are BANANAS.

Roasted Oysters
Sweet, briny oysters. Salty, garlicky oysters. Raw oysters and grilled oysters, plucked from frigid waters and shucked in a shack, dribbled carefully with mignonette and squirted with lemon beneath an alabaster sky. Sitting at that pockmarked table with my family by blood and by choice on the banks of a silty river, all of us eating oysters from their shells, tasting the flavors of the water they grew in, making our caveman noises together. We slurped and the wind howled through the trees and the Puget Sound burbled up against the sand and it all came together like a chorus. Like something calling out.

Light through the trees

More about the Hama Hama Oyster Company

Written by:


Kellen Burden

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Anyone But Us

What was food, before it was an industry? Before it had moguls and heroes and villains? What was food before we deified and demonized it? Before we counted the calories and gussied it up beneath flashbulbs, and didn’t eat it?

Where was food before it was a place in the mall or a box in a cabinet or a page in a magazine? Back when you had to dig it from the earth or look it in the eyes. Back when you had to wrestle its life away. See unequivocally how badly it wanted what you were taking from it, but taking it anyway because you were luckier than it was and you wanted it more. Feeding that life to yourself and thanking your empty sky and your cold night for your luck and your superior wanting.

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When did we start this Tigerbeat infatuation with food? This frenzied, substance-less wanting? When did we fall out of real love with it? Patient love, like old marriage, stirring at the counter with the same spoon your mother used to use. Passed down like a recipe or a memory. Back when we put time into it, and expected it to take time. When it was a member of the family, before microwave ovens and heat lamps. Before extruders and conveyor belts.

How will we teach these new mouths to feed themselves? Teach people to cook food that isn’t made for a Michelin star or an Instagram photo. Food for after school. Food to talk over. How will we pass this skill down to moms and dads before the simple, vital art of cooking boils down to a trade and then an outdated hobby and finally a machine operation? Gone the way of cobbling and smithing.

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Who is responsible for the realities of this new food culture? Who is responsible for saving it?

Why would it be anyone but us?

Written by:


Kellen Burden

Meet your Maker

Find me in the simulated darkness of the bar with the rain pressure-washing the windows and the brake lights on 6th through the drops on the window like Christmas lights.

“Get you something?” the bartender asks.

“Can I just get a sarsaparilla?” tumbles out of me sounding a lot less reasonable than when it popped into my head. Just a dude alone at the bar, sipping on a sarsaparilla like he’s not a serial killer. Tough sell. In my defense, though, I’m about to consume a lot of bourbon and it doesn’t do much for your credibility if you show up to a liquor tasting and they aren’t legally allowed to serve you. I sip my sarsaparilla. It’s fantastic.

I swear to god I’m not a serial killer.

A PR firm emailed me to invite me to a private dinner at Seattle restaurant 2120. A special menu had been made to pair with Maker’s Mark 46, a new blend the American whiskey mainstay was rolling out. There would be tastings of several different Maker’s Mark products, as well as a series of signature cocktails designed to be accentuated by the individual entrees served on the 6 course menu. This is an awesome way to showcase the full range and adaptability of your product. It is also an awesome way to make a lightweight such as myself wake up in the street with no pants on. So I bellied up to the bar in the rain, in the dark. Sipped my sarsaparilla.

“John Laugherty called a meeting of all the employees at Maker’s Mark. He flew me in from London, and I knew it had to be a pretty big deal.” The woman speaking is a maturation specialist. The emblem on her dress says Maker’s Mark and the Kentucky in her accent is syrupy and drawling and she knows her way around some whiskey. She tells us the story behind some of the new products. About the straying from usual business. About legacies and whatnot. We sip on our welcome cocktails and watch her speak beneath the twinkling lights as 2120 bangs and whirs around her and she stands in the middle of it all like a street performer on a subway platform. The welcome cocktail is fruity and effervescent, laced with strawberries and the sultry draw of bourbon.

While she speaks and we sip, servers hit the dining room with pre-poured glasses in hand. They are arranged in front of us with a clink, carefully placed atop cards with descriptions. Bourbon in the raw, amber in color, varying in flavor. Maker’s Mark Cask Strength is absolutely raspy. 112 proof, hit you in the tonsils kind of bang bang. Jet fuel, but enjoyable. Then the Maker’s 45. The original. Slow on the draw, smooth on the finish. It’s followed immediately by the new one, Maker’s 46, which could be described as a melding of the first and second. Sultry and smooth but with a bite at the edge of it. Someone at the table says that they’d use the first one as a mixer and the second as a sipper. Everyone nods. Now the Private Select. Easily one of the best sips of bourbon I’ve ever had. Vanilla at the front of the pallet, crackling at the back of the tongue. Goes down the way a firework goes up, bright lights down the middle, bang at the end.

The dark is gathering outside the windows and we are left to our little glasses of liquid heat, our little flickering candles. The women from the PR firm are piled into the booth beside me, fighting a valiant battle against jet lag and alcohol. The rest of the people at our horseshoe table are locals, who are fighting only with the alcohol but faring no better. We are fading fast in the semi-darkness, a tropical storm of perfumed booze settling in our basements, sending fumes up into our attics. Salvation came, as it usually does, in the form of excellent food.

Six courses, served back to back, carried from the kitchen by a 6 man breaching team of cooks and waitstaff. The door bangs open and they rush in with their arms full, dropping payloads on place mats and disappearing into the back as suddenly as they came. Foie-gras, rich and decadent atop a bed of charred pumpernickel. Little meaty figs rounding out the flavors, splash of pineapple for good measure. A cocktail of Maker’s 46, charred fig and orange bitters accompanies it and the symmetry is fairly self explanatory. Boozy richness, splash of fruit and smoke.

Next course is a geoduck tartare, served in a coconut with a brick of dry ice puffing vapor out from underneath it. Chunk of shrimp swimming in a squeeze of lime, crawfish head peeking straight up out of the whole deal like a masthead. I attack this one like we aren’t in a candlelit place eating out-of-town-company food. Grunting and smashing. Fists and fingernails. Literally suck the brains out of the crawfish, much to the chagrin of the PR people, who, I’d like to reiterate, are from a rough city and are by no means squeamish. But when you’ve got it, you’ve got it. And in this department, I most certainly have it. The cocktail is a sharp little thing in a martini glass. Foam of egg whites with toasted sesame seeds floating in it. Puckering and nutty.

The quail comes out on a jet black plate, propped up in a snowdrift of soubise, a white onion sauce, and I gnash it all off the bone and rinse my mouth with the snazzy little beverage that it came with. The food is excellent. The beverage is stiff and mature like something James Bond would throw back. Daniel Craig Bond. The salty one. At this point, I’m pacing myself with the whiskey. If you’re keeping track, I’m roughly 5 shots of dark liquor deep in a pretty compressed period of time, and given my usual drinking habits (a beer a night) and my stature (troll doll-esque), this could really be one of those evenings where you wake up in the street without pants. Bond would do no such thing, and so I don’t intend to either.

I sip my beverage responsibly, poke and prod at my PR compatriots. They’re unflinchingly New York in that impressive way that makes you tired for them. My brother-in-law is a hedge fund manager in New York. He works 80 hours a week, minimum, cooks souffles in his off time and jets off for the weekends to go heli-skiing. Did you fucking hear that? Heli-skiing. Not hella-skiing, as in a bunch of skiing, which would still be pretty impressive after an 80 hour work week. Heli-skiing. As in, jumping out of a fucking helicopter with skis on. These PR women have the same thing going on, to a slightly less glaring degree. Jet-lagged, slamming whiskey on zero hours of sleep, chatting about whether they’re going to go clubbing or hit the gym when this is over. “You could sleep,” I say. “I’m going to go home and go to sleep.”

“Nah, its early.”

I nod, like, ‘totally’ but I’ve got a hot date with a pair of footie pajamas after this.

The breaching crew comes banging out of the kitchen with slabs of smoky duck beside a crimson mound of lentils that I initially mistake for tartare. Sprinkle of watercress, drizzle of black currant. The flavors are sweet and deep and complicated and when I come up for air I realize I’ve missed the description of the cocktail that accompanies it. Something in a tumbler with a lemon peel sticking out of it. The menu says, “Maker’s 46, cherry heering, yellow Chartreuse, lemon.” and I’d be lying through my teeth if I told you that I knew what all of those things were, but I sip it carefully and find it pleasant. A perfect corner piece of freshness to the complex flavor puzzle that was the dish.

Full dark out the windows now. No cloying rub of twilight blue to the west. No moonlight between the buildings. Just swinging overhead lights and the sparkle of tail lights on 6th. There is a medallion of elk in front of me, just like the menu promised there would be, a lean-to of matchsticked apples, a confetti pile of cabbage, a dollop of mashed potatoes. Its pairing beverage is in a Martini glass with a slab of apple gastrique sticking out of it. All of it is excellent. A fitting, well balanced, end to (the savory portion of) our well balanced meal.

While the crew brings out dessert, the maturation specialist from earlier slips back out into the spotlight to thank us for coming and it is the sincere, warm, thank you of a person who is passionate about what she’s doing. Dessert hits the tables, a veritable smörgåsbord of different treats in a loose formation on an all white plate. Cakes and mousses, smears of compote and dustings of sugar. Like everything that has come before it, it’s delicious. A final cocktail for the evening – Maker’s 46, amaretto and elderflower.

I sit in the dark cocoon of this whirring restaurant sipping my cocktail, going over the fantastic meal I’ve just experienced, prepared with love and attention by serious people who believe in what they’re doing. It is a truly magical moment. A moment that couldn’t be ruined by jetlag or waking up pantless in the street. In fact, I think to myself that if I found out that everything we’d just eaten was people, it might cost 2120 a Yelp star, but it wouldn’t ruin my night.

I’m really not a serial killer.

Written by:


Kellen Burden

Willow PDX

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Birthday dinners, specifically mine, are what I look forward to every year, because I’m a millennial and I’m all about making memories.

My lovely wife has tolerated my snobbiness and allowed me to plan part of my birthday weekends since we started dating. She knows, as long as I have good food, I am a happy camper.

This year, she asked if I wanted to go to Portland for the weekend so I Googled, “Chef’s tasting menu in Portland”, before I gave her the yay or nay. After coming across Willow, I noticed that they offered a six course tasting menu for a meager $50. To be honest, I was immediately skeptical and didn’t bother looking any further at the time. You have to understand, after happily splurging $170 of my fantasy football winnings on the Kaiseki dinner at Chef Shota Nakajima’s, Naka (now reopened as Adana) and experiencing the $120 per person Chef’s Counter meal at Scout that my wife, (I’m sure, happily) paid for, for my birthday gift last year, the food snob in me figured that there was no way that Willow would live up to a couple of my most memorable chef’s tasting meals. Definitely not at a $50 price point. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe that you HAVE to take a payday loan out to experience a great meal. Trust me (Donald Trump voice), I frequent a taco truck located next to a swap meat on a highway where the Green River Killer used to pick up his”dates”; (Tacos El Maestro in Tukwila, WA. – Get the tripe tacos and a side of grilled onions. You’re welcome!) I’ve also spent more money during happy hour at Applebee’s….Don’t judge me.

What I’m trying to say is that Willow shouldn’t have been half as good as either Naka or Scout, but after seeing mostly positive reviews online, and positive feedback from my Portland native boss, I decided that Willow is where I wanted to dine.

Space is very limited for the 6:00pm and 8:30pm slots, open from Wednesday through Saturday, so reservations for at least a couple of months in advance are highly recommended for the 11 seats available at the chef’s counter during each session. We made reservations about a month and a half in advance and lucked out by snagging the last two seats for Saturday’s 6:00pm dinner.

After heading down to Willow (located in Southeast Portland) and making our way upstairs in the converted home, we were greeted by Chef John and directed to our seats at the chef’s counter.

The intimate counter setting allows you to see all of your courses being carefully prepared to the tune of Chef Doug’s playlist in the background, which makes for an awesome experience throughout the meal.

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There are three beverage pairing options for very reasonable prices, $25 for wine or beer and $22 for the non-alcoholic pairing. We opted for the beer pairing which helped cool us down in the midsummer heat. The pours were very generous and complimented each dish perfectly. We noticed the other beverage pairing pours were very generous as well. These guys are definitely not short changing anyone. Chef John’s knowledge of each drink pairing was particularly impressive as well. He doesn’t skip a beat.

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The highlights of the meal were the wagyu culotte (top sirloin), which was sous vide to an exceptionally tender and juicy medium rare, served with peaches, tomato and feta. The albacore belly was poached perfectly and the watermelon float with buttermilk ice cream was a delicious take on a fun summer favorite. 

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After finishing off the last bite of our final course, we were offered coffee and caramels to end our evening in the living room. Listening to Lil Yachty’s “Broccoli” , buzzing on the beer pairings, I wondered again why Willow only charged $50 for their menu. I would have paid double for the meal without hesitation. That being said, I am definitely not complaining about the price point since it means that I can enjoy dining there more than once a year.

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Chef John and Chef Doug were an inspiration to me. They are making exceptional, locally sourced food experiences accessible to the working class people like me. People who truly appreciate food.

A big thank you to my wife for allowing me to make memories with you on my birthday 🙂

 

Find out more about Willow at this link.

 

Written By:

Krishan Kumar
Krishan Blog pic

Unpacking the Potables: The Travelepilogue

I’m sitting in a train station food court with a Styrofoam cup in front of me, and the buildings are different and the sky is different, but I am myself and my feet are on the ground and time ticks onward. The people threading around my table, beneath these old wood beams, are Tacomans, as are the construction workers banging away outside and most of the people in the train hurtling into Freight House Square from Seattle. I am a Tacoman..

My flight back from Switzerland was uneventful, which is exactly what I’d hoped for, given the debacle on way in. No pseudo-strokes or wheelchairs. No dirty hospitals or IV bags. Just smooth sailing over calm skies as Iceland stretched out beneath us in all of its fjord-y wonder. Deep black rock, milky blue water, snow, snow, snow.  The adventure of travel had worn off on in that crowded, but orderly, Basel airport and by the time we were wheels down in America, life had taken on its quality of being checks on a list and steps in a plan. Get the bags. Check. Pick up the car. Check.

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We collected a thoroughly happy dog from his dog sitter and we assured our neighbors(whom we had forgotten to tell we were leaving) that we had not died quietly in our house, and that we would do something about the dandelions ASAP. We ogled over the lovely photos from my parents as they continued gallivanting around Europe, but for us, the trip was over. The excursion concluded. The quest completed.

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With one exception.

One week before, when I stopped by Roger Martinho’s kiosk to pick up the macarons that I would be taking with me to France, I asked him if there was anything that he wanted me to bring him back. A souvenir? Something he missed? He could think of only one thing.

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“This,” Roger says, “This is France.” And he motions at the cup in front of him, the muted crackle of bubbles against Styrofoam. He takes a sip and I watch it hollow out a space in him.

“I’m back,” He says. “It’s like I’m back.”

He is not back. Around us, the food court moves in its gouts and spurts of busy people, beneath the neon lights of this odd little station so far away from hospital wineries, and black burgers and pale wieners.

And yet, as I swish my foreign drink and breathe its breath out through my nose I know exactly what he means. This taste of Ricard, will forever be a bookmark for me, same as the smell of schnitzel and the sound of old church bells. A placeholder for the rest of my life for standing barefoot in front of a hospital in the sunshine. For cool blue light on sandy white buildings. For bawdy laughter in a rattle trap van with good, good people. A chapter in my story about the first time I went to Europe, and the adventure that followed.

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Everything was Perfect and Everyone was Happy: The Final Day in Europe

Rain settled over Basel, rattling on the rooftops and running down the buildings. The morning had been full of little pragmatisms (a trip to the drug store to preempt the flight the next day, a quick breakfast, some packing) and midday found us slipping up Steinenvorstadt  in search of what else but food. Melissa and I planted ourselves at a place called Kuuhl behind some smoky glass streaked with rain. Kuuhl makes pasta dishes assembly line style. Scoop of this, pinch of that, hands working knives behind the counter, reloading containers as they emptied. I found myself at the register with a bowl full of elbow macaroni coated in a rich cheese sauce, run through with seared pork and chunks of hearty potato. Just the kind of thing you want to shovel into your steam engine on a cold and rainy day such as that. We shoveled and shoveled and the fires got hot and the pistons got moving and Melissa and I went thundering out of that place with exploration in mind and everything was perfect and everyone was happy.

We walked to the Munsterplatz on its perch above the Rhine as the rain drummed on our borrowed umbrella. The Munsterplatz, or Basel Minster, was built and rebuilt between 1000 and 1500, first in a roman style and when that was destroyed in an earthquake, a Gothic style cathedral. We stood in the courtyard of it watching the river run its muddy way through the city center beneath a chalk and charcoal sky.

Down an alley with a stream running between the stones of it, peeking in windows at shops with exotic goods. We crossed a bridge into the northern part of town and stood at the center of it to watch a boat ferry people across the brackish waters, towed between the two points on an ancient looking cable. The only sounds were of rain in all its voices, pinging off of metal, whispering through leaves, cackling on pavement as we walked the north bank, taking in architecture, inspecting artwork. I took a brief break from my blissful introspection to be ridiculous:

 


And then we continued on our way. Mom and Dad met us as we closed the loop back at the Munsterplatz, and so we started the loop again, down the alley, over the bridge, to the north bank. The chill stopped us this time, halfway between the two bridges, drove us into a coffee shop. 6 out of 10 doctors prescribe Italian hot chocolate for chronic dampness (the other 4 doctors are paid off by the cider industry), so we filled a prescription and dunked a Belgian waffle in it. The hot chocolate was thick and rich and not overly sweet and it filled the crevices in the waffle which then filled the crevices in us and everything was perfect and everyone was happy.

We spent the rest of the afternoon in our hotel bar, snarfling up caipirihnas and people watching. Middle aged men in Basel were a particular point of discussion. Most of their hair was hip, their clothes well fitted, their styles cultivated. Very few had the stateside look of having been dipped in glue and catapulted through a Walmart. We drank our drinks and pontificated and then night fell on the city and it was time for our final dinner together.

Where do you go on that last night, with the hours ticking down to zero and a thousand mile wedge coming to tear you all apart? Do you find the most authentic place in town and wait in line for the most European experience there is? Do you wallow in decadence at the fanciest restaurant in the area? Do you get so drunk that they have to wheelchair you onto the plane in the morning? The answer, for us, was that it didn’t matter, as long as we did it together. On that final night, we walked into a hole in the wall shawarma place where the seats were aplenty and the cashier looked happy. We filled our bellies with shawarma and we filled the dining room with laughter. The lights were too bright and the food was mediocre, but we were together and everything was perfect, and everyone was happy.

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KUUHL, BASEL

https://www.yelp.com/biz/kuuhl-basel-2

 

ACERO CAFE

https://www.yelp.com/biz/acero-basel