In the interest of protecting ourselves, our business, as well as our employees, we can only reveal that our preparations for a reopening have been delayed, and that the immediate future of Little Red Bike Cafe remains unknown due to an extremely complicated and unfortunate set of circumstances. This news is more difficult to digest than you can imagine for numerous, deeply embedded reasons. We feel we owe it to you, as well as to ourselves, to document these recent events as truthfully as possible so that we may shed light on the difficult reality many small businesses face on a regular basis.
I cannot tell you how many emails we receive weekly from prospective coffee shop and cafe owners, desperately seeking "the gospel" from us, asking us to direct them towards a path of success in their own ventures (Ha! As though we have the answer). We can only guess at this point, that we have been chosen to experience this setback so publicly because we have an obligation to set the record straight about this business, and to demonstrate that there are two very different sides to being a small business owner. While our journey has proven that the allure of being a business owner is strong (bright lights, big names, fulfilling career), we have learned along this journey that this path is anything but paved, that in fact, it is a path filled with rocks and ditches, weeds and forks; and you'd be kidding yourself to think that you won't have fight for every single inch that you're given---scratch that-- that you've freaking earned.
When not tearing our hair out, we are occupying our time with attempting to feed ourselves with what's left in our fridge and cupboards after a week of depressed, hermit-like habits. Using a can of garbanzo beans, kidney beans, and some other pantry goods, here's what we recently came up with:
Bringing us back down to reality, was news of a dog fight that occurred last Tuesday, resulting in some serious medical and vet bills for some friends of the cafe. Fortunately all involved, human and canine included, are recovering swiftly from the incident, though the expenses are indeed hefty.
Through the great organization of friends at FAME PDX, a fundraiser has been pulled together that's scheduled to take place this evening. If you are a North Portland resident and you would like to help donate to a good cause, please stop by the Portsmouth Pub this evening to help our friends Bob, Tilly, and Jane. There will be a raffle with prize packages (including a gift certificate to Little Red Bike Cafe), as well as a donation jar at the bar. Come and help us dance some of these blues away! I assure you, your support is truly appreciated. And regardless if tonight is a good night or not, you should really mark Wednesdays at the P-Club down on your calendars every week because it's a great local event, it supports community building, and it's FUN.
This is what my bedside looks like. Next to that is another stack of cookbooks, interlaced with various magazines and newspaper clippings collected throughout the years. For the past week I've submerged myself in this reading material, in hot pursuit of the forthcoming LRBC dinner menu.
Yes, that's right: I said Dinner Menu.
Despite the cafe's recent setbacks, we've decided the best thing to do (and really like the only thing we know how to do) is to push forward and plan for our future, as well as the cafe's future.
We've been thinking about dinner forever. Yes, since forever. Since before we even opened our doors, before we even talked to this reporter about it or that reporter about it. Yes, fair enough to say that dinner has been in the works for quite some time. But it became very clear once we opened our doors, just how difficult a dinner service was going to be. Not because there was a lack of desire; not because of the lackluster economy; not because there wasn't a demand in our neighborhood; not because we couldn't figure out the perfect menu; but because there simply wasn't enough wo/manpower to make it work. NO WAY. Not with Evan and I working 80 hour weeks. Not even with us working 70 hour weeks. With the opening and closing duties, and the bike-thru service, and the cooking, and the cleaning, we were being physically and mentally dragged and beaten by our business. Too many hours spent doing everything, and simultaneously not enough all at once. We were overwhelmed with how quickly we became busier. There were many days when we felt like we were drowning without a life preserver in sight. Shit, that still happens--look what's been happening now--but wow, not like that, not like they used too.
Things are different now, much different. We have a team behind us now, we don't open during the week anymore, we actually have a filing system for all of the piles of miscellaneous paperwork, and we're working around 55-60 hours/week. I can't tell you what a difference that's made in our lives: we are now able to bathe, walk our dog, eat, sleep, and do a load of laundry on a regular basis. In essence, we've regained a "semi-normal" kind of life, and that's what makes us feel ready to throw ourselves back in the fire and start moving on Project Dinner. Go figure, right? People in the food industry, Man, I'm telling you: WE HAVE MORE THAN ONE SCREW LOOSE.
Thinking about dinner means research. This part has always been easy for me. I've always been a writer. Consequently, I've always been a book-nerd. Well, except in that one Political Science class sophomore year in college. My professor assigned an insane amount of reading material during that course and even my limits were met, breached, and busted. (Apologies, Professor Dreier. It all worked out in the end, didn't it?)
We've always imagined potpies as our dinner-gig, our second claim-to-fame. Egg sandwiches in the morning, potpies at night. Seemed simple enough. We spent months making and baking, test running various concoctions throughout the year on the specials menu. But when winter ended and spring came, and we never got a move-on the potpies, and they started showing up all over the place and, well, the rest is history: Here we are a year and a half into the business and we still don't have a dinner service. What gives? While it is sort of frustrating realizing that part of our dream for the cafe is still unfulfilled, we have always known that it was something that couldn't be rushed. We spent years laying the foundation for what exists now, and the same sort of thought and intention should be given to any future additions to service. When we began conducting research for another go at dinner, we realized that our current Little Red Bike menu is more than just egg sandwiches, and that our menu really does, and should speak to a much larger audience. As a result, potpies are not the answer. Sure, they may be part of it, but not the entire thing.
In our minds, a Little Red Bike Dinner would include: simple but divine tidbits and nibbles meant for snacking and sharing, two or three larger plates that speak to the comforts of your own home, a selection of handmade desserts that evoke grandmothers' spirit, and a decently solid beverage selection worth a visit with friends. Did I mention amazing music rotating around not one but two of our own? What about candle-lit puzzles and games with plates full of warm cookies as prizes? The point is, and has always been, comfort. When we put it on paper, the goal is to have a menu that makes a 65 year old grandfather feel as comfortable as a 20-something foodie. We want a space where both of these people can walk in, order, and perhaps sit next to one another and thoroughly enjoy their meal. It's not an easy feat, but we've managed to make it work so far during our current service. As such, I've been spending the week curled up with Barbara Kingsolver and Edna Lewis, shooting the shit with Jamie Oliver and Scott Peacock, and tucking myself in with scrolls of recipes and inspiration floating in my head. Surely, I can study and become their great student and the dinner menu will continue to sort itself out naturally. There is one thing I'm sure of, the new dessert menu will rotate loads of shortbread, most certainly including this one I've been working on:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
3/4 tsp fleur de sel
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup confectioners sugar
1 large egg yolk
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
2/3 cup toasted pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
1. In a small bowl, sift together flour, cocoa, cinnamon, cayenne, salt, and pepper, then sift again and set aside.
2. In a medium bowl, cream the butter and powdered sugar until mixture is satiny. Add the yolk and the vanilla. Add the flour-cocoa mixture in three additions, beating on low speed only until each addition is incorporated. Gently fold in the pepitas.
3.Turn the dough out onto wax paper. Using the wax paper roll the dough into a thick log as evenly as possible to a thickness of 2-inches in diameter. Wrap in wax paper and chill at least 4 hours.*
4.Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line cookie sheets with parchment or aluminum foil.
5. Cut the log into 1/2-inch thick slices and place on the baking sheet, leaving at least an inch of room in-between. Bake for 12 minutes. A slightly shorter baking time will yield a softer, fudge-like shortbread; a slightly longer baking time will yield firmer cookies.
Best recommended served warm, or you can store them in an airtight container for up to a week.
or my "mini-meth lab" as my friend James likes to call it
At first I thought the whole Syphon brewer thing was a fad, something that I would get out of my system, like a kid who slowly loses interest in his new toy. Nope. Not the case. I am now more than one week into my obsession and I am still in full-blown geek mode. So much so in fact, that last night I hatched a crazy idea to Ali:
What if on a Monday, a day the cafe is normally always closed, I opened the shop by myself, serving only syphon brewed coffee. Would anyone come? Could I produce enough coffee by myself, quickly enough, to keep customers happy? Would people be willing to pay higher than normal prices for said coffee, given that it takes more coffee, more time, as well as more man-power in order to brew it? Does anyone but me (and Ray, and CCR) care about any of this? Wait, don't answer that last one.
Getting back to "The Great Spring Flood of '09," or as I like to call it "TGSPF-9" (sounds like some sort of sunscreen from the future, nanotechnology included free of charge), progress is coming. We are beginning to feel it, as though it is waiting around the corner, ready to jump out and surprise us at any minute. By the way, thank you to all of the industry folks who have recently made contact thanks to none other than Portland's beloved Food Dude. Thanks, Dude, for everything. In overwhelming situations like these we are forced to ask ourselves, "whatever did we do to deserve such good friends like you?" Seriously guys, we appreciate your insights and assurance, and trust that there is light at the end of this tunnel. Insurance and adjusters, tenants and landlords, and leases and lawyers be damned!
As of this afternoon I have met with four different contractors. Two have submitted bids, we currently await bids from two others, and one contractor I contacted earlier was forced to retract his bid due to a current job that is taking longer than expected to complete. All of the contractors seem to be in agreement that we are dealing with roughly two to three days worth of work. The tricky part (isn't there always one?), seems to be that it may be difficult to source black melamine, a product which is needed in order to match the existing melamine cabinets and counter frame which seem to be damaged the most by the water. FYI, we have no allegiance to this product whatsoever, it's simply what was already in the space to begin with, and if our landlord wishes to match new cabinets to preexisting materials, then melamine is what we shall look for. Though I haven't yet had time to search for replacement cabinets myself, two of the contractors I've spoken with have informed me that it is difficult to track down black melamine, white being the more prominent color option these days.
Soon all of this will be nothing more than a memory. When have we ever let some plastic hold us down? Seriously folks, I'll be damned if I am going to let black cabinets get in the way of serving up biscuits and gravy this weekend. Particularly when I know this weekend is UP's commencement weekend which last year, was our biggest day to date, and this year represents our little cafe's chance of gaining a second wind.
So, as for that reopening date I mentioned in a previous post...or three...well, gee...about that...hmmm, let me get back to you on that one. Really, whenever we can be certain, you'll know.
Thanks for hanging in there. Seriously. This experience has redefined the term "pins and needles" for us.
Very fitting that after the week we've just had, two interlocking symbols of good luck have been permanently etched into my arm. Let's just hope they work. Much thanks to our tattoo/fine artist, fellow Blazer fan, and talented friend, Roll.
But first, flowers. The beauties you see above were a sympathy gift courtesy of some very dear friends. In the words of our neighbor Tanya, "Please! Ya'll are too much." Thank you, everyone for all of the public and private outpouring of support. You continue to humble us, reminding us once again how lucky we are to be able to do what we do.
And if you thought the flowers were too much, check out this mug that helped deliver them:
Six weeks old and dressed to the nines...
...showing up with not only kissable ducks on her feet but a batch of beautifully, buttery cupcakes with orange-creamsicle frosting. We told you she was destined to be a baker like her mother.
And now back to the news...
Two contractors have visited the cafe thus far, and more are scheduled to submit bids on Monday. Also scheduled for Monday, Servpro should be able to move out the last of their equipment, and the cafe should be completely dried out. The areas that retained the most moisture are currently tented with fans and dehumidifiers. Though we remain hesitant to forecast a reopening date, I hope that by Monday that date will reveal itself.
As for the insurance front, our fate will remain unknown until we reopen. Part of our claim is based on our reopening date, or what Safeco determines is a "reasonable amount of time" for us to get ready to reopen. Regardless of whether or not our initial claim is to our liking, we are feeling relaxed sitting in our corner, getting ready to put up a good fight if our initial claim seems unfair. Lucky for us we know we already have one of you ready to jump in our corner as our new trainer, an ex-adjuster turned regular citizen who knows the ins and outs of the insurance biz.
For now we'll cook breakfast for ourselves, and do what we can to get ready to cook breakfast for you, too just as soon as we are able. Its surreal spending the weekend at home, not really knowing what to do with our time. Naturally, our minds gravitate towards menu planning, hypothesizing, and day dreaming, determined not to let the water hold us down.
Thanks for lifting our spirits. Trust us, we're itchin' to get back...
We are learning the ins and outs of our cafe intimately. I now know that what I thought of as "intimate" was merely just a scratch on the surface. Respectfully, we've logged our fair share of hours in this space: long summer nights devoted to churning ice cream (even after an 11 hour shift), grueling sessions devoted to calculating appropriate wattage and fixture length for lighting, and measured, leveled, and sifted decisions made picking out the ever-important wall colors ("Buttermilk Biscuit" and "Sea Urchin" BTW) and shelf lengths. The reality is that when our menu reads "Handmade Food, Coffee, & Espresso" we should also include the word "cafe" itself because that's what it is: handmade, crafted, by process, with love. Yet despite all of the time we've spent in that place, we are now only realizing exactly what our cafe is, and what it means to us.
Somehow, this song just feels appropriate for the moment:
I cannot even tell you how many hours we've spent on our hands and knees on the this floor; bleach rag in our hands, chiseling away at the remnants of a hard day's work: dried egg yolk, black scuffs off soft-soled shoes, toddlers' Crayola experiments, and fruit salad shrapnel. And now, I hardly recognize these tiles. These floors have become bound and gagged in a never-ending maze of endless cords, tubes, and wires, which makes navigating this once ingrained road-map nearly impossible.
They have drilled holes in our walls, ripped the baseboard from our floors, removed the sink from the bathroom and the panels from the bar, chipped paint from every and all affected surfaces, and created a dust storm that's been deemed "regrettably unsuitable" by my allergies.
So when I say we are getting to know the ins and outs of our cafe intimately, I mean it. Some of it feels good, like purging; Evan was ecstatic upon discovering that our kitchen mats had never been cleaner. At least some good can come from 3 inches of standing water. Though some of it, as you can imagine, feels raw, like an open sore desperately seeking a scab.
A friend wrote us today:
These words mean a lot. We feel blessed to have such good and decent people for friends, and we also feel respectfully inclined and encouraged to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and get this train back on its tracks. Enough with the worrying and doubt. Enough with the Emergency break, and the pumping of the breaks, and the looming fear of failure. We are feeling the need to establish our goals, define our needs, and determine a swift course of action about when and how we're going to get this cafe back open. That certainly is the only way we're going to feel like we're ourselves again and regain our sanity in this situation. So here's to tomorrow, to new news, shedding light, productivity, and endurance.
And just because I've been doing a lot of listening to music over these past few days, I'll share another favorite that feels aptly relevant:
Then again, I would argue any and every moment is appropriate for David Byrne. I can't get the words out of my head: "And you may ask yourself-well...how did I get here? Letting the days go by/let the water hold me down..."
Insert Sink Here. No really, there used to be a sink here.
Thank you. Thank you for reminding us why we live here and what we love about this place. It's you. It's all of you. Though trying times like these often make a person feel isolated, you have all gone out of your way to make sure we know that we're not alone; that you are here; that we have been heard. Thank you for all of your your recent comments and emails, detailing your own personal water woes and restaurant battles, demanding to help us any way you can, reestablishing your loyalty, and declaring your inevitable triumphant return to our place.
It is gestures like these that prove to us that we are no doubt kindred spirits. So thank you. No really, Thank you. We are beyond humbled by your generosity, your openness, your authenticity, and your love. So I want to take this opportunity to return the favor and let you know that you are also not alone; that we are here; and that your well-wishes have reached our ears.
I'm not entirely sure what the best way is to go about explaining the recent turn of events given that we still feel in the dark ourselves about much of it. Despite numerous conversations with our insurance broker, insurance adjuster, landlord, lawyer and the like, at the end of the day we feel as though we've been submerged in a pool of confusion and doubt, left to drown in the shallow depths of that murky water that so haphazardly swept into our lives. I suppose, to put it simply, I could start out by staying that our original assessment of the issue at hand was unfortunately not entirely accurate; that unfortunately it turns out that the cafe is dealing with a much bigger problem than just the need to dry-out; that unfortunately it appears that we will not be re-opening our doors as early as planned. Yes, I would go as far as saying that the word "unfortunate" has been forced upon us as our word of the moment.
While we had originally been told by the clean-up crew that they would be able to vacate the premises by Friday, allowing us ample time to try and repair the place, contact vendors, receive orders, and do prep for service on Tuesday, we are learning that the underlying damage caused by the sitting water was extensive, resulting in the destruction of some valuable and essential property.
But, "You have insurance, right?"
Well, yes. Yes, we do, Thank God.
"So you're protected right?"
Well, we should be, right? This was our immediate response to the situation. That's what insurance does, right? Right? Oh, how we wish it were only that simple! Through this painful process we are learning the hard way that even if you do everything right, even if you take all the necessary precautionary steps outlined, that you may not always be protected. Allow me to clarify, our insurance is willing to cover a portion of our losses: partial employee wages, product and revenue loss, and damages to our personal property, but because we are tenants in this building and not owners, we have been informed that our insurance does not cover that which does not belong to us.
Over the past two days we have been faced with the daunting task of evaluating our future and the future of our cafe. This has been an incredibly painful, scary, and frustrating ordeal given how much of our time, our lives, and our selves we have poured into building this business. And who are we kidding? Little Red Bike Cafe is so much more than just a business. In short, it is Us: Ali and Evan, and it is You: ALL OF YOU.
We spent Monday in crisis mode and Tuesday with a sickening pit in our stomachs; the who, what, where, when, and how of it all circling around our heads like a flock of ravenous vultures. I assure you, there hasn't been a moment over the past two days where we haven't been consumed with trying to come up with an answer. After a full 48 hours delving into all of the possibilities, we have arrived at the conclusion that there is very little we have control over at this point. But wasn't this the whole point of owning, investing, and building our own business? So that we could have control over all (most) aspects of it? And here were are now, waiting for someone (anyone) to tell us what's going to happen to us.
In the meantime, we are hoping to take the advice much of you have prescribed us, by trying to view this interruption as an unexpected vacation, and return to enjoying life's simple pleasures like Earth Day, time spent with friends, and the beauty of a fistful of Farmers Market radishes. Again, we appreciate your overwhelming support and we'll continue to update the blog as the news trickles in. As they say, "You'll know when we know."
With much love and hopeful hearts,
Ali and Evan
"Man was created by water to carry it uphill"
a cheesy "peace offering,"
a gift of fresh baked cheese bread delivered by our neighbors, who were well aware of the kind of day we were having
A burst copper supply line spewed water throughout the bathroom. The culprit! Within seconds of trying to reconnect the line I was completely drenched, and it was fully apparent that this accident would be no easy fix.
In my panicked state I had forgotten to turn off the alarm, causing it to go off. The trip to the keypad allowed me my first chance to survey the extent of the damages. By this point water had reached every corner of the of the restaurant, basement included. Dripping from head to toe, and not quite sure what my next course of action should be, I made my way back to the bathroom to confront the source of the debacle. The copper line that had become dislodged from the sink was flexible enough to redirect into a nearby utility sink, buying me precious time to search for a nearby shut-off valve. Of course, however, there was no shut-off in sight. Only slightly less panicked, I knocked on my landlord's door in search of some help. Together we were able to shut off the main waterline from the street. I took a well deserved deep breath.
Cue the Cops.
By the time the police showed up in response to the alarm I had already made a few phone calls and determined that this was not the type of flood that could simply be mopped and dried by hand. Wet/dry vac? Maybe if I had two or three. No, this was a job for professionals. Upon the recommendation of more than a few individuals I was able to schedule a midday appointment with the nice folks at Servpro.
Consider yourself lucky if like me, you had never until today heard of this company. If however you should find yourself in a situation similar to the one I am describing now, look no further. Within two hours of arriving at the cafe the Servpro techs had removed the majority of the visible water from the floor. Apparently, that's the easy part. Currently, and for perhaps the next five to seven days, we enter phase two of the process: de-humidification.
In order to ensure that the cafe is completely dried out, and to inhibit any potential mold growth, the nice folks at Servpro have advised that we allow at least five to seven days for commercial fans and dehumidifiers to finish the job. At that point we will be able to place furniture, begin repairing the wall base and paneling that was removed during cleanup, and fill and patch the holes that were drilled into our walls for proper aeration. Not exactly the kind of early morning grocery trip I had envisioned, but I do feel extremely lucky to have discovered the accident when I did.
Five to seven days? It seems hard to believe; the news coming after our busiest weeks at the cafe ever. Needless to say lately we had been feeling like we were a wave just about to crest, and it's frustrating encountering a setback like this. Heartbreaking really, like a slap across the face, the challenges we face in this business at times making us feel as though its nearly impossible to get ahead. What are we supposed to tell our employees and our vendors who depend on our income this week to help support their livelihoods? How do we explain this freak accident to our community and friends who frequent our establishment and literally put food on our table? How do we remove that sour taste left in mouth's of newcomers who venture out to a visit only to be met by locked doors? How do we sort this mess out with our landlord and insurance companies? How does Little Red Bike Cafe essentially survive The Great Spring Flood?
Well, what are we to do when something like this happens other than to dust ourselves off and roll with it. We must continue to move forward, which at this point means getting the cafe open again as soon as we can. Unfortunately water will be water, and we can do nothing more than let nature (six fans and nine commercial dehumidifiers) take its course.
We'll let you know as soon as we do, when the cafe will reopen. Until then, trust that we'll be gorging ourselves on leftover Balsamic Strawberry Ice Cream and fresh baked cheese loaves.
Clyde the Glide
fried egg, toasted-pecan butter, brie, bacon, greens, and homemade strawberry-basil jam on ciabatta
Wow. As native Portlanders we don't even know where to begin when speaking of the Great Clyde Drexler. And we do mean GREAT. He was, and continues to be (even after his Dancing with the Stars days), an inspiration.
Despite being traded to Houston in 1995, we will always think of Clyde as a Blazer, and a trailblazing one at that. Some of our greatest days under the "Rip City" title were because of him, and as our city's new "Uprise" begins, we thought it would be nice to honor this legend the best way we know how: By coming up with and naming a new fried egg sandwich after him.
I think that's probably like everybody's dream, isn't it? To have a gooey mess of a thing be named after them? But I'll tell you what, in my line of work, you meet very, very few people who would turn away a good fried-egg sandwich.
When brainstorming for the new sandwich, we had to come to terms with the fact that no flavor profile would ever do justice, or be as dynamic as the man himself. Nonetheless, we did our best to figure out something that would zing your taste buds (much like we're going to do to the Houston Rockets during this series.) Now only if we could get the real Clyde in.
Wouldn't that be a sight? Clyde and Rudy sitting in our teeny, tiny cafe eating their sandwiches?
One can dream, one can dream...
Also in time for playoffs and available at the cafe tomorrow is local Oregon rhubarb, served in the form of French Toast:
Strawberry Rhubarb French Toast
thick slices of our challah french toast paired with strawberry & local rhubarb compote, orange-black pepper butter, and real maple syrup
Now I think that gives us three things to celebrate: the beginning of playoffs, the recognition a legend and of a legacy, and the fact that local rhubarb finally made it onto the Scene (Spring, are you listening?!?!?)
Man, don't you all feel like you could just Bust A Bucket right now? Come on then, let's do this. Sing it with us:
We surely hope to see you tomorrow but if not, keep this one thing in mind: GO BLAZERS!
I'm just going to venture a guess and say that after having been exposed to all of that Vegas crap you feel slightly hungover, no? That's how I feel just recapping it all.
It was a lot to digest, and I should know. We lived through it. That's just one reason why we came home feeling in need of an excessive palate cleanser.
Don't get me wrong, we had a wonderful time but I don't think anyone can spend four days in Vegas and not return home feeling like they need a an extra hot, and extra long shower.
Us? We came home wanting to cook. We were inspired in the desert for all sorts of reasons; for the colors we saw, the food we ate, and the sounds we heard. We came home willing and ready to roll up our sleeves, slip on the Dansko clogs, and make our triumphant return to the kitchen.
We ate a tremendous amount of food on our trip with many highlights. However, we left Las Vegas feeling like none of our meals were complete or solid the entire way through. Something always felt missing either here or there, and it should be mentioned that we're not entirely picky, but rather forgiving people in most circumstances. In our ideal world, a complete experience in Vegas would have required:
Our server from Daniel Boulud Brasserie
The notoriety of Lotus of Siam
Food and presentation from B&B Ristorante
And the plush, romantic, cozy feeling of Bouchon
Funny thing is, we've had plenty of seamless meals in Portland; no need to mix and match a perfect dining experience like a discombobulated Mr. Potato Head. It just seems to happen here, and very naturally too, might I add. Not just at fancy places either, but at our pizza joints and bakeries, our coffee shops and supper clubs. This city just has so many gems, so many places where people take the best of what's around them and pour their hearts and souls into their food, and you can see it and taste it in everything from the moment you open their door, to the moment you shut it behind you. I think our problem with Vegas was that we were drawn in by the bright lights and big names of the big city and carried too high of expectations, only to return home re-embracing the reality that we live in a culinary paradise right here in our backyard, down the street, across the bridge.
Oh, Portland. Ah, Home. It's good to be back in your arms, beneath your skies, tucked and spooned within your crooks and crevices. We missed you. We missed so many things about you. Things we find familiar; things we love; things we can't live with out:
So yes, we came back home hungry. Hungry to create new signature dishes; hungry to up the ante at the cafe; and hungry to partake in both the eating and serving of the best food Portland has to offer.
I'd like to end this post with a closing recognition that we (those of us that do have the great fortune of living here in P-Town) are so freakin' lucky, as well as with that palate cleanser I promised you. Here's two Saturday specials that were inspired directly from our trip to that notorious Nevada Desert.
Green Noodle Peanut Salad
chilled soba noodles with edamame, haricot verts, sugar snap peas, matchstick peppers, and scallions, served with a lemongrass peanut dressing
I suppose the Resurrection of the Fiume means more exciting, new flavors to come, as well as the reopening of the Bike Thru Window. More details to follow soon when we've gotten all [most] of our sh*t together.
Thanks for bearing through the Vegas recap. Now on to Spring and all things clean, green, and renewing.*
*And if renewal to you means a bottomless cup of French Press and a double fried egg sandwich with caramelized onions then you've come to the right place!
B&B Ristorante at The Venetian
B&B Ristorante was opened by Chef Mario Batali and his partner/ winemaker Joseph Bastianich. We decided to stay at The Venetian primarily for its proximity to Bouchon and B&B. Stupid, I know, but what can I tell you? We are ones that think primarily through our stomachs.
The first time we tried one of Batali's restaurants was in NYC last October, where we had my sister, Tara's and Dan's lovely rehearsal dinner. Babbo didn't disappoint our large group there and we were looking forward to a similar evening at B&B Ristorante, filled with the same sort of comfort and love Italian food so naturally exudes. B&B is known for its simple and classic pairings, and for its comprehensive Bastianich signature wine list, with selections from every region in Italy. We saved B&B for our last night in Las Vegas, hoping it would make for a special culmination of our trip in celebration of a very special guy.
The restaurant feels luxurious amongst all the dim lights, masculine dark maple wood, and lush leather banquets. The setting is intimate, though can feel a bit crowded at times. The noise level got louder as dinner progressed, and there were a couple of moments when I became intimately aware of the conversations at the table next to us. Olive oil is not offered automatically, it is something that has to be asked for which was sort of odd. But once it came, Wow. What. A. Treat. Perhaps the reason they don't offer it, and only allow one plate of it per table during bread service, is because it's so damn good and people turn those pieces of bread into expensive sponges. I felt like I was eating blades of grass (in a deliciously good way). They don't skimp on the balsamic vinegar either; equally as appealing in its perfected tangy syrupy-ness, also has to be requested. This is how it should always be, in my opinion. Like, if you're going to do something, do it well; do it right; make people's tastebuds do backflips; make them know the difference and make them want more. That is just one of the reasons we miss Portland's lost but beloved Nutshell. While some turned their noses down at it, I could/would/did bathe in their salt and olive oil menus, and spent more than a couple of nights tucked away in a corner table reading the olive oil descriptions and swooning.
Really? By whom? And then there it was, printed right on the menu: by The Green Restaurant Association.
I was still baffled by this idea and the by the fact I had not yet previously run across this in a Portland establishment*, where it seems it would catch on like rapid fire. *Interestingly enough, upon my return home I was able to discover that there is in fact one restaurant certified green here in Portland and it's Bamboo Sushi on SE 28th. To learn more about this concept and the associations requirements, visit their website.
Anyways, regarding the meal...After inquiring whether we were more classic traditionalists or fairly adventurous eaters, our waitress made suggestions on some of Mario’s signature dishes.
So much sounded enticing, the menu read beautifully. Here's what we ordered. The [parentheses] are my additions:
Three Beet Salads [one a golden pickled, the 2nd a red and chevre, and neither of us remember the 3rd]
Mozzarella di Bufala with Charred Ramps
Liver Sausage with Radish Salad
Winter Root [sunchoke] Carpaccio with House Ricotta and Hazelnuts
Sweet Potato Lune [ravioli] with Sage and Amaretti [Italian almond macaroon]
Linguine with Clams, Pancettta, and Hot Chiles
Cavatelli with Flowering Greens and Smoked Ricotta
Rabbit Porchetta with Carrot Pappa
Wild Alaskan Halibut with "Carciofi alla Romana" [crispy artichokes]
Whole Grilled Branzino [mediterranean seabass] with Sicilian Potatoes
[brought out whole and filleted tableside]
We also ordered bourbon and two bottles of red wine, and to be perfectly honest the wine menu was so extensive and the restaurant so dimly lit, that I never, in a million years, would be able to tell you what bottles we ordered. My father would probably know, he was the one who ordered both bottles, upon the suggestion from the sommelier, who was sent over by our waitress (a nice touch since we were asking specific questions) who was fairly helpful in helping locating a couple of bottles from a particular region. I do know they were expensive, they were delicious, but I'm afraid they were slightly over priced. However, for the experience and the memory created, they were worth every penny, which is all that matters.
Our most solid meal of the trip. Flavors were bold and balanced, sweet and tangy, familiar and renewing. We "loved" nearly everything.
Breath of Fresh Air:
The parmesan cheese as well as the amaretti cookie for the sweet potato lune [along with several other hard cheeses] were kept on display in a glass cake stand on a slab of Italian marble located in the middle of the restaurant. They looked incredibly beautiful beneath the lights and you couldn't help but feel special when your specialty garnish was brought over to you and personally grated for all to see. A classy touch.
What's still lingering on our tongues:
The Three Beet Salads, Mozzarella di Bufala, and the
Liver Sausage were all knockouts, each finding enough balance between smoke, tang, and sweetness. The Sweet Potato Lune was fabulous, as was the Linguine. Surprisingly the Halibut won out over the Branzino, despite being one of Mario's signature dishes, and the Rabbit was literally savored until the last bite. Like I said, we could not pick a favorite dish from the meal; many were simply that good.
Would/Will we go back?
I think the real question is would Evan and I ever turn down an Italian meal?
But yes, we would return, and hopefully we'll have an opportunity to make the rounds throughout NYC.
According to the Wynn, LE RÊVE "offers breathtaking performances in an intimate aqua theater...The cast of 85 captures the imagination with their outrageous antics and daring feats of strength and agility. Live music and elaborate special effects immerse the audience into a world of fantasy, adventure and intrigue."
According to us, LE RÊVE will make you nearly pee your pants and leave you teary-eyed and bewildered...or at least this is what happened to me.
LE RÊVE features enchanting aerial acrobatics, breathtaking choreography, and an insane amount of athletic ability. To work this show many of these performers must know how to dance, swim, spin in the air, and put their lives in the hands of another (literally.) They are not just dancers or performers, or just muscle men and women. They encompass all of these abilities. At times we were forced to wonder if some of them were really human at all, their incredible strength and talent easily overflowing into the superhero realm. In addition to the 85 cast members, the show requires an entire artistic team, including several different types of choreographers, from aerial to aquatic, to bird trainers, set designers and composers.
One of the reasons why our seats were so amazing was because we had the great pleasure of sitting next to one of these superheroes, a guy named Eric who is one of LE RÊVE's future cast members. Throughout the show, Eric was able to give us a play-by-play whilst practicing all of the moves in his seat right along with the cast. His inability to contain his excitement for the show, despite the obvious hours and hours dedicated to rehearsal, was infectious and we were happy to groove, cheer, and be gobsmacked right along with him.
I assure you, the show was visually stunning and nothing about it, from design to execution felt like an afterthought. Much thanks and praise to Dannita for getting us the tickets, and to Eric and the entire LE RÊVE team for the inspiration. We walked away from this show assured that the world is still a very big, and a very beautiful place.
...Though I suppose another one of the reasons why we left feeling this way was because our bellies were full of remnants from a blowout at the Daniel Boulud Brasserie at the Wynn.
Boulud may be best known for winning the James Beard Foundation's award for Best Chef New York City in 2008, or for the fact that his DB Bistro Moderne in NYC is home of a $32 burger: a 9-oz. sirloin burger stuffed with braised short ribs, foie gras, and black truffle parmesan bun, served with french fries. Whatever his claim to fame is, Boulud launched Daniel Boulud Brasserie in the Wynn hotel in Las Vegas, bringing his burger along with him, and subsequently earned the restaurant One Michelin Star, Las Vegas in 2008.
Since opening, and perhaps since the country's recession, Boulud's brasserie has also received praise for its free "water show" at the Lake of Dreams, a short animated spectacle located in a pond just outside the restaurant, as well as for its extremely reasonable "Before 7pm" prix fixe menu, available for $48. We called specifically regarding the water show at the Lake of Dreams, (even though we had been warned that it was "cheesy," "trippy," and "magical") figuring it would be right up my dad's (i.e. the birthday boy's) alley, as well as a good precursor to LE RÊVE. With the Lake of Dreams show beginning at 7:30pm, we made 7:00pm reservations thus missing the window of opportunity for the prix fixe, however opening up the entire menu for a hungry party of six.
Between the six of us we tried quite a bit, including two kinds of brick-oven flatbread, duck, and yellow-fin tuna, and in case you're wondering yes, the burger was ordered amongst us. And no, there wasn't enough light for decent photos but here's our wrap-up of the meal:
By far, the best service we experienced the entire trip. Hands down.
Breath of Fresh Air:
The water show at the Lake of Dreams. Yes, a little hokey but it's nice this place doesn't take itself too seriously. Despite perfect seats in a cushy booth, my dad was busying chatting the entire time so he missed most of it, though I do suppose this speaks to the quality of the company.
What's still lingering on our tongues:
We both felt the starters and sides out-shined the main courses. Their version of a Caesar was quite good and felt indulgent with thick slices of creamy avocado and salty parmesan crisps; I could eat an entire plate of the brussels sprouts with lardons and pearl onions; and the escargots dish, with burgundy snails, chicken oyster, and hazelnut spaëtzle, was also popular amongst all six of us.
To put it bluntly, there are very few places in this world that offer better tasting coffee than what is available in Portland. The Las Vegas' coffee scene could learn a thing or two. Starbucks happy tourists have plenty of options for fulfilling their fix given the overwhelming prevalence of Illy coffee in many of the city's tourist hot spots. Some might liken Illy to Italy's answer to Starbucks, and though they boast that the freshness of the coffee is unmatched, there really is no way of knowing how long the beans you are drinking sat in their vacuum sealed aluminum containers prior to ending up in your cup.
Our personal opinion: meh. We began our stay trying americanos and espressos in coffee shops, cafes and fine restaurants but after a few days we gave up. Despite that familiar smell and some truly posh digs, I'm afraid we ran into a few too many 4.5 oz. double shot pours. I tried consoling Evan, telling him we should take it as a compliment that we make, serve, and have access to some of the best coffee in the world. Literally.
He fired back that perhaps a trip to Italy was the only way he'd find coffee like the coffee he likes at home.
I shut my big fat mouth hoping I'd get lucky.
But alas, only one thing could ease Evan's woes. Before he even unpacked his bag, Evan was headed to the cafe, tapping his heels together and chanting "there's no place like home" upon discovering the newest arrival courtesy of Courier Coffee Roasters. Organic Indonesian Bajawa served as his first post-vacation cup, and made for an uplifting welcome-back-to-the-good-life coffee experience. He noticed the body first. It wasn't simply that it was the first French Press coffee he'd consumed in nearly a week. This coffee has some body of its own. A surprisingly pleasant, clean, and crisp finish allowed for herbal aromatics to linger long after each sip. Drinking coffee this good made him feel as though all was right in his world again.
It's good to be back home.
Is the hefty $16/person price tag worth the "13 minute" romantic float beneath bridges, beside cafes, under balconies and through the vibrant Venetian street scape down the Grand Canal? Is a visit to The Venetian incomplete without a graceful and romantic glide down the Grand Canal in an authentic Venetian gondola? Does this "authentic" experience embody all the charm, excitement and passion that is Venice?
Keep in mind you will wait over 45 minutes to board your gondola, despite the 10 minute time frame they give you. Also noted is that your gondolier will sing not one, but two songs to you during this ride, creating all the more attention surrounding you and your "relaxing" cruise, and all of the commotion causing strangers lined up along the pass to feel creepily inclined to snap photos, stare and point at you like you're some animal in a zoo.
But judging from the look on these people's faces, I'd say it just might be worth it. Yeah, these two people look like they're absolutely swooning over this particular gondola ride, and given the fact that they're our family and we got to witness their joy, I'd say that's worth about anything.*
*It should be included here that each couple received a 2 for 1 price coupon in our package making that $16 per couple, or $32 for a totally worthwhile family moment of watching your dad's 60 year old face light up like he was a kid in Disneyland.