Cocotte – French Bistro Gem in Portlandia

I’ve had the pleasure of dining a few times at Kat LeSueur’s Cocotte bistro. Located at my favorite culinary corner of 29th and Killingsworth, it is a cozy place with wonderful food.

Cocotte -Bar
Cocotte -Bar

This outing was with Portland Food Adventures, one of their rare repeat visits. We were last here on an adventure in 2011. I remember that one fondly, and I recommend Cocotte as a place for a nice romantic dinner.

Chef Kat LaSueur - Cocotte
Chef Kat LaSueur – Cocotte

Chef Cat LeSueur, in my humble opinion, holds her own against other Portland French superstars such as Gabriel Rucker and Aaron Barnett. If you can’t get a seat at Le Pigeon or St. Jacks, then come on over to Cocotte and your Gallic cravings will be well-satisfied.

The restaurant is a small space, dominated by a bar and an open kitchen. We filled it up with 26 diners. Cocotte is a word for a hen that doesn’t lay eggs, plus a small covered cooking vessel for individual portions. The dictionary also says it is slang for prostitute. Well, then, allow me to be promiscuous in my praise for Cocotte, the Portland eatery.

I was at a table of six and I believe we were the “party table” although we were mostly strangers to each other. We had a blast trading stories and enjoying the food and wine pairings.

The first course of snacks included a wonderful spiced carrot soup, salt cod croquettes, and two toasts with compressed apple and chevre and pickled beet and pistachio butter. These were paired with a sparkling Vouvray. The wine pairings for each course were superb — each enhanced the flavors of the dish.

Next was smoked Quinalt steelhead and house-cured steelhead caviar, with arugula, olives, cara cara and candied kumquat. It was delicious, although too salty. I’m a real salt-lover, so something went wrong in the seasoning. All of the other courses were not overly seasoned. In fact, I sprinkled a little of the table salt on the rabbit and duck. The steelhead was paired with a Tavel rose.

The clams from Nevor Shellfish Farm with miso, nori, pickled shiitake mushrooms and chili flake was a bit hit. They didn’t give us spoons, so our table simply upended our bowls and drank the delicious sauce after eating the clams. It was paired with a muscadet.

I love a cheese course, and the Cabra al Vino Cheese with radicchio, pear and pickled onion was delightful, especially with the Rayaut Borgougne Rouge.

Now we had Nicky Farms rabbit three ways with a Vlrhona chocolate gnocchi. The bitter gnocchi weren’t quite to my taste, but it added an interesting dimension to the dish, especially when including all of the elements in one bite. The rabbit was shredded as leg ragout, smoked slices of loin, and a rabbit liver mousse, with celeriac and fennel pollen. The Beaujolais went well with it all.

Now on to the duck, with black tea cured duck breast with ginger poached black plum, potato puree, mustard greens and pickled mustard seed. I had a big portion of duck and it was great with the Pausse Piste la Pyramide Syrah.

Each course was amazing, and it was topped with one of the best desserts I’ve ever had at a tasting dinner. The orange scented chocolate cake with black pepper vanilla whipped cream and praline sauce was dish-licking great. The Lustau Anada sherry capped it all.

This great meal stands up as one of the all-time best, and confirms that Cocotte is a pleasure you should not miss.

Part of a Portland Food Adventure is getting certificates to eat at some of the chef’s favorite places. We got certificates for Portland’s most exclusive bar, the nearby Expatriate, for Cardinal Club, and for Canteen. I look forward to visiting each!

Next up, I’ll be attending Kat LeSueur’s In the Kitchen Portland Food Adventure on March 6. Tickets are still available.

Pip’s Original Doughnuts on Fremont

Pip's Original
Pip’s Original

One of the value-added benefits of dining with Portland Food Adventures are the certificates you get to eat at some of the chef’s favorite places. These range from fine dining to casual to coffee to bars to food carts. One of the certificates from the Sarah Schafer/Irving Street Kitchen dinner was for Pip’s Original Doughnuts.

Pip’s is locally owned by Nate and Jamie Snell. They say they named it Pip after the orphan Pip in Great Expectations. They were self-funded, orphaned by the banks. Their labor of love has now earned praise, ending up on Top 5 Donuts in Portland lists on Thrillist and Yelp.

Pip's Original - Donut Machine
Pip’s Original – Donut Machine

What sets them apart from the endless line for Voodoo Donuts is that they make only mini-doughnuts, fresh. They have three standard flavors and one seasonal, all based on how they top the donut rather than the basic doughnut itself.

I planned my walking workout around a trip to spend my $10 certificate at Pip’s. We had over four miles logged when we dodged around baby strollers, dog walkers and coffee drinkers on Fremont. The entry into Pip’s was crowded, but the line itself was only a couple of orders long. You can order in batches of 4, 6, or 8. I chose a variety of all of the three basics: Sugar and Cinnamon, Honey and Sea Salt, and Nutella and Sea Salt. They also have a seasonal flavor.

Now you can watch the donut machine make donuts and their chef toss the hot donuts with the chosen toppings to order. You get handed a plate of donuts that has only been out of the oil for maybe a minute.

Pip's Original - Donuts
Pip’s Original – Donuts

These donuts are amazing – hot, airy, doughy, and the toppings a perfect complement. I might want more, but three to four are extremely satisfying. A great snack in the middle of a long walk.

Unfortunately, I hadn’t studied up to discover that they blend their own unique chai mixes. I will have to return and have a chai. You can choose from four different flavors, freshly mixed.

My walking buddies and I see how Pip’s can become an addiction. Certainly it’s worth a pause to get these fresh little bundles of goodness.


 

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Ataula with Portland Food Adventures

Ataula
Ataula

Ataula is one of my favorite new restaurants in Portland. Previously I dined there with my “Dining Divas” posse soon after it opened (recap of Ataula evening), and I’ve stopped in for their delicious brunch as well. I was excited when Chris Angelus scheduled a Portland Food Adventures event at Ataula.

It was the first melt-out day of Snowmageddon Portland 2014, and getting to the event was a little too much to tackle for some who had to no-show. I’m very glad I was able to make it and had a ride to/from so I could enjoy the cocktails prepared by Angel. The first cocktail was a surprise — a warm red cup infused with fruit. It was a perfect start on a slushy evening. Chris introduced Angel to the 40+ diners and lauded her competion-proven cocktail talents.

Ataula - Chef Jose Chesa
Ataula – Chef Jose Chesa

Each time I’ve dined at Ataula, Chef Jose Chesa came out of the open kitchen to check how everyone was enjoying their meals. For this adventure, he explained how he came to Portland and gave us insight into the different dishes he prepared for us. He earned Eater PDX’s Chef of the Year 2013. He is from the Barcelona area and his food takes me back to the pintxos, tapas and paella I enjoyed in San Sebastian, Santiago de Compostela and Madrid.

Ataula
Ataula

The meal started with the Xupa Xup stuffed-chorizo lollipop and plates of their bread. The salad course of Remolach with queso fresco was accompanied by a cocktail of Vichy Catalan and Spanish Vermut.

Ataula - Vermicelli
Ataula – Vermicelli

Then we got to enjoy individual dishes of their Rossejat Negre – vermicelli with calamari, squid ink, and harissa alioli. I hadn’t tried that previously and now I see why it gets rave reviews. It was served with a nice cava. Then came a big pan of their signature Paella Ataula with prawns, mussels, calamari, clams, lobster, and bomba rice. It’s a luscious dish, but we found the Valdespino Fino wine to be a different taste, one that grew on us.

Ataula - Lamb
Ataula – Lamb

Chef Jose explained the Canelons course, served with a very nice red Bodegas Arzuaga Navarro wine. But the star for me was the Meloso Cremoso lamb shoulder risotto with butternut squach and smoked bacon. We finished with a Xuixos de Crema fritter stuffed with cream.

It was a very enjoyable evening. We were seated at tables of 10 and I was surrounded by two younger couples. I always find it interesting to learn how people came to Portland, and how those raised here find it to be evolving. That’s part of the joy of Portland Food Adventures when I don’t have my fellow Dining Divas friends along.

Ataula is set up for tapas dining, so don’t worry about a reservation. Just drop in and order a drink and graze your way through their small plates. Or splurge on a rossejat or paella, which can feed one hungry person or be a shared course for two or more. Ataula is a call-back to Spain, with some modernist touches.
Ataula

What makes a Portland Food Adventures event unique is that in addition to the group dining experience with the set menu and drink pairings, you get certificates to use at some of the chef’s favorite places. From this adventure, I got a certificate to use at Irving Street Kitchen, so I’ll be able to again compare my fried chicken experiments with her expert chicken. Also a certificate to breakfast favorite Besaw’s. I haven’t dined there for maybe 10 years, there is always a line! And then 50 Licks for ice cream. I’ve enjoyed that previously and it will be refreshing once the thaw is complete!

Next up for Portland Food Adventures is a return to Cocotte on Feb. 25, followed by her In the Kitchen demo dinner on March 6. If you haven’t dined there yet, what are you waiting for? If my husband could eat French bistro food, I’d be making him take me there for Valentine’s Day.


 

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Fried Chicken at Home with Emeril

Fried Chicken and FriesAfter I attended the Portland Food Adventure’s In the Kitchen with Sarah Schafer, my husband asked that I attempt fried chicken. Chef Sarah uses a deep fryer and I was loathe to buy one at first. Instead, I got a deep heavy aluminum skillet that I could also use in the oven for restaurant-finished steak.

However, the skillet could only be heated on medium to medium-low on the stovetop. It took all of half time for the Super Bowl for it to heat the oil to temp. And then when I put the buttermilk-soaked, flour-and-cornstarch coated chicken into the oil, the temp dropped precipitously and never came back up fully. It took a lot longer than the 20 minutes promised to cook the chicken. It turned out tasty, but it was obvious I needed a deep fryer to do it right.

My buddy Elizabeth Rose suggested QVC’s Emeril by T-fal FR702D001 1.8-Liter Deep Fryer with Integrated Oil Filtration System, Silver. I ordered it and it arrived on Friday.
Emeril Deep Fryer by T-Fal
The features that sold me were that it comes apart for cleaning in the dishwasher and it has an automatic oil filtration system. I hated having to discard the oil after using the skillet. With the Emeril deep fryer, it drains into an oil storage box you can then refrigerate until the next use.

I unboxed the Emeril fryer and sent the parts through the dishwasher, other than the heating unit itself. I bought a whole fryer cut-up and I froze the back and gizzards for making stock someday. I soaked the chicken in buttermilk with thyme and salt for 24 hours, using a gallon zip-lock bag.

I reassembled the fryer and plugged it in. It has a safety cord that is attached with magnets, loose enough so if it gets knocked off the counter, it disconnects so you have less risk of fire or burns.

The oil came up to temp in just a few minutes. I set it at 356 as the booklet seemed to recommend for chicken drumsticks. But I think that was a little too high for the canola oil I used, and I got a little char on my chicken.

I seasoned my chicken pieces with a mixture of salt, cayenne pepper, garlic salt and cumin. I seasoned those for Rich with only garlic salt. I dredged them in a mixture of 2:1 flour to cornstarch as recommended by Chef Sarah.

I fried up a breast and then turned it down a notch the wings and drumsticks. Only one breast fit into the basket, but both wings and both drumsticks went into the same batch. I used a digital meat thermometer to ensure I had the breast fully cooked inside.

Next, Rich bought frozen crinkle fries from Costco and I filled the fry basket half full as recommended. They cooked up crisp in 3 minutes as promised.

I drained all of the fried foods on a cooling grate over an aluminum pan. Very little oil dripped off, and the food was not greasy to the touch at all. Even 30 minutes after finishing cooking the breast, Rich reported it was still plenty hot inside when he ate it. So, no worries if you have to cook in batches.
Fried Chicken on Grate

The result – delicious. Even with the coating a bit overcooked, the chicken was moist inside and the skin and coating very flavorful. I overfilled the basket for the second batch of fries, which was definitely a mistake as they took longer to cook and didn’t crisp up well until I removed half of them.

I then unplugged the fryer while we ate. For the oil filtration, you allow it to cool for at least two hours, then flip the switch to filter. However, I discovered that I had the fryer bowl backward so it didn’t drain. After some trial and error and consulting the internets (the instruction book wasn’t helpful), I realized the error, turned it around, and it drained in about 15 minutes. One user said she uses the dregs for gravy. As mine was a bit charred, I discarded them. But when I make my next batch at lower temp, I will definitely save them for gravy.

Best of all, it all cleans up in the dishwasher and my oil is ready for reuse. That makes it easy to do a batch of fries for Rich even when I’m not interested in making anything else fried.
See it on Amazon.com: Emeril by T-fal FR702D001 1.8-Liter Deep Fryer with Integrated Oil Filtration System, Silver

I've Been Eating…

I’m firing up this LocavOregon site again to complement my other writing. I’ve been doing many reviews that don’t quite fit into my Sustainable Foods niche on Examiner.com as they deal more with restaurants and food events. Here is a round-up of my recent forays into the Portland food scene:

Chef's Week PDX Chefs
Chef's Week PDX Chefs

I can also be found on Facebook at @Locavoregon and Twitter @Locavoregon.

Bluebird Guesthouse – SE Portland

Bluebird Guesthouse
Bluebird Guesthouse
I found a place to bunk when enjoying a foodie dinner in Southeast Portland and I don’t want to venture back home. The Bluebird Guesthouse at 3517 SE Division St. is just a block away from Ava Gene’s and Andy Ricker’s Sen Yai noodle emporium. You are only blocks away (or a bus stop or two) from Block + Tackle/Roe, Woodsman Tavern, and Pok Pok.

The #4 bus is one with “frequent service” to get you to downtown Portland, MAX, and anywhere else you don’t want to go on foot or by bicycle.

You can check available rooms on their web site, and they give a discount for same-day bookings by phone. They have a sister guesthouse a few blocks away, Evermore, for more options.

The Bluebird is a typical Northwest Craftsman-style home, with rooms converted into guest rooms. With your reservation you get a code to enter the front door and you can enjoy the common areas if your room isn’t ready yet. The common areas include a living room, dining room, parlor, kitchen, and sun room with an internet-access computer.

Bluebird Guesthouse Living Room
Bluebird Guesthouse Living Room

The seven guest rooms are each of a different style and configuration and named after local authors. I got the Elliot Smith room, one of two in the finished basement. There is no bathroom on that level, so you must use the shared toilet on the main floor and the shared toilet, shower and tub on the upstairs floor. The room had a comfortable queen-size bed, four excellent pillows, good linens, an open closet, desk, towels and bathrobes provided. I was very pleased that there was no odor, either perfume or mildew.

Elliott Smith Room
Elliott Smith Room

The room was situated under the common living room, and you could hear people enter and leave. The stairs up to the kitchen also creak quite a bit. I found it cozy enough, with the heater doing a great job in the very cold weather.

Two rooms have their own private bathrooms. The upper floor rooms would have the most convenient access to the shower, tub and toilet.

Reading material and games were available in the common rooms. The kitchen was excellent, with fruit, muffins, juice, bagels and cream cheese available. Guests can store food in the common refrigerator. The coffee was all set up and ready to go, and tea was available. I enjoyed the convenience of the food and drink. There was no waiting, all self-serve.

Bluebird Guesthouse Kitchen
Bluebird Guesthouse Kitchen


I very much enjoyed the convenient location, great price, easy check-in and check-out. If you want more of a social B&B experience, this may lack that vibe. But if you want a place to bunk in a classic Northwest house while enjoying Portlandia, the Bluebird Guesthouse is a great choice.