Fries, calamari and oysters

Calamari, fries and oysters.

Saturday afternoon was cool, cloudy and dry — the perfect day for a long walk. J and I headed downtown, as we often do, and this week’s exploration took us to the northwest side of the city. After a good hour and a half of wandering, we headed back toward the river and to Dan & Louis Oyster Bar.

This was the second time the promise of oysters had lured us in. The first was in the middle of winter, when the oysters beckoned, but the real draw that soggy day was the prospect of stick-to-your-ribs clam chowder. Neither disappointed, and we knew we’d return.

Dan & Louis is an old-time storefront tucked away on Ankeny Street just west of the Saturday Market. A family-owned joint opened in 1907, the feel of the bar is what I imagine a fisherman’s hangout to be — nothing fancy, wood paneling, just the basics. The front bar area has a half-dozen or so wooden two-top tables and a bar backed by liquor of all sorts; a giant wooden ship’s steerer … wheel (what is it called? a helm, yes.); a lone TV in the corner is usually tuned to some game, race or sporting event. An old cistern from the early Portland days has been preserved near the door to the kitchen. Covered with a Plexiglass window and lit down below, it’s a stop on a local walking tour. Flocks of tourists march in, look down the hole, turn around and leave. Weird? A little. Amusing to watch? Yes.

But I’ve dwelt on the decor too much. The real star of this show is the oysters. We ordered the variety pack (my term, not theirs): six kinds, two of each, all plucked from the waters off Washington and Oregon. (Eat local, indeed.) A splash of lemon is my preferred accompaniment, but the plate also offers horseradish and cocktail sauce. Fresh, briny, slurp-a-licious. Rather than chowder, this time we went for the fried calamari. Well seasoned/herbed and fried to a perfectly crispy bite, these were among the best for my taste. Everything accompanied by piping-hot sourdough bread with a pillowy interior, crunchy exterior. I think we all know how we feel about that. A couple of glasses of crisp Columbia Valley Sauvignon Blanc to round it all out, and we were ready for our walk home.

One of many versions of a perfect Saturday afternoon.

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Greek salad, a Sunday tradition.

It’s part of the Sunday ritual, so deeply ingrained that the weekend hardly feels complete without it. Every weekend, we make our shopping list, and every weekend, the same few ingredients appear: cucumber, tomatoes, red onion, feta, black olives.

After the groceries are put away, and before any other dinner-fixing starts, the chopping commences. Uncomplicated, and delicious in its simplicity,
our Greek salad serves as a side dish on its own, but more commonly I use it to top my chopped lettuce during the week. Every night. Yes, I eat salad every night during the week. I think of it as a calorie bank: I save up calories during the week that I can in turn spend on weekend splurges.

The essential component to our Greek salad is English cucumber, peeled. I find the seeds and skins of traditional cucumbers to be bitter and generally horrible. In fact, for years I detested cucumbers until I realized their problem could be fixed by peeling and seeding them, and I always question restaurants that slice cucumbers on salads without taking these extra steps.

Grape tomatoes are the other important component of the recipe. During the summer, if large, flavorful tomatoes are available, I’ll use them, but grape tomatoes are usually delicious, if a little expensive, year round.

So, peel, quarter and chop the cucumber, add a little salt. Halve the grape tomatoes lengthwise and add to cucumber. Finely mince 1/2 red onion and give the salad a toss. Though I buy pitted kalamata olives, I chop them to detect any lingering pits. In they go. Cube or crumble the feta and pile it in. Season with salt and pepper keeping in mind that the olives and feta add some saltiness. A drizzle of olive oil is the final touch. If I have a lemon, maybe a squeeze of juice, but I don’t go out of my way to buy lemon. Stir it up, and it’s done.

Lolo on Alberta

May 14, 2011

Lolo on Alberta

Hey, Lolo. I know, last night might have been unfair. It was what it was, though, and I hope we can work through it.

We realize that three weeks ago we were in Madrid, devouring delicious tapas and raciones, putting you at a disadvantage. Despite J’s craving for a burger last night, I felt like putting on heels and going somewhere lovely. And the last time we shared a meal together, you didn’t disappoint. But as when former classmates gather for a reunion, there’s bound to be some surprises, good and bad. And the distance between us has not been kind to you.

Not to be shallow, but let’s start with appearances. The good: Your nicely spaced dining room with heavy, white chairs, warmly patterned banquettes and gigantic chalkboards announcing wine and food specials are welcoming. We can’t figure out why you’re rarely more than half full. And, the not so good: Why did you make us stand at the doorway for what seemed like a long time before anyone greeted us? That and the lull between courses made us think you didn’t care. The ugly: Did you know your tabletops are sort of sticky? They look clean, but there’s some kind of residue that is, well, unappetizing.

Now, on to food. Not having had our Madrid-traditional large lunch, we were pretty hungry. I felt like a combo of small plates, and J spotted the burger, so that’s what we did. By far the winners of the whole evening were the two salads. The baby beet salad with gorgonzola and candied almonds, hazelnuts and walnuts was a divine crunchfest, and that shredded romaine salad with manchego cheese and a creamy, garlicky dressing was one I’d order again. Next up was the calamari, which was quite tasty with good texture. Nice. And the smoked paprika aioli was a nice touch, though the whole thing could have used a little acid. Lemon wedge, maybe. Then came the much-anticipated ham and cheese croquettes. Yours were golf-ball sized, a little large for my taste, and I’ll be honest: I’m not a fan of the potato-y texture in the center. Did you put potato in your bechamel? Tell the truth. And finally, the burger. I hate to be negative, but we were disappointed. Even the topping of blue cheese and romesco couldn’t pep up that underseasoned meat. It’s only saving grace were the gorgeous, crisp, thick, nicely seasoned homemade chips.

Oh, Lolo. Maybe our expectations were too high, and perhaps we had unfair comparisons lurking in the back of our minds. With such a great location and space, though, we want to work it out. You’ll need to work a little harder if you want to win us back.