A perfect boule.

One of the most-used gifts we received this year was a birthday present from James and Zandra to J back in June: a copy of Ken Forkish’s Flour, Water, Salt, Yeast. I never thought I’d stray from the ridiculously easy Sullivan Street Bakery No-Knead Bread recipe or Mark Bittman’s basic pizza dough, but once I started experimenting with Forkish’s methods, I became a devoted follower. And, indeed, Forkish is a masterful teacher, explaining the whys and hows of his bread-making methods in clear, descriptive language. The opening chapters of the book tell the story about quitting his corporate job to follow a dream of becoming a bread maker, followed by a chapter on the important details for delicious bread and an outline of the equipment he recommends. Chapter 4 is an overview of the basic bread method with step-by-step photos. Contrary to many other cookbooks, the first several chapters, save for perhaps Forkish’s interesting back story, are required reading before diving into the recipes. Every recipe I’ve made has required referencing Chapter 4; though now that I’m more familiar with the terms and techniques, flipping back and forth is becoming less frequent.

Requiring only four basic ingredients in varied proportions, the recipes’ other essential elements are patience and especially timing. The recipes are not difficult to execute once you have the basic method down, and the result is  heavenly. Puffy bubbles that emerge during the rise transform into gorgeous air pockets in the finished loaf, and the flavor lent by fermentation and baking to a dark brown is unparalleled in supermarket loaves.

We spent the summer and fall, and indeed last night, up to our elbows in flour, surrounded by bulging masses of fermenting dough. And we went through at least three bags of flour this past summer making pizza dough, focaccia and beautiful artisan boules. It has the potential to become an addiction, and I recommend it wholeheartedly.

Meriwether's pantry board

A few of our favorite Meriwether’s pantry board choices.

It’s May!

It’s not Monday!

It only rained three times today!

Each of those is a minor victory, and therefore an excuse to celebrate. That, and we were lucky enough to have a gift card for Meriwethers tucked in a drawer, yearning to be used. So use it we did on a recent Tuesday night.

Meriwether’s is one of the first restaurants James and Zandra took us to before we moved to Portland, and since then it’s been the site of more than a couple of birthday celebrations. Something about this place feels like a special-occasion destination. The historic building once marked the entrance to the 1905 World’s Fair and retains an element of rusticity. Dark wood floors, huge stone fireplaces, log ceiling beams and grand windows add drama to the dining room’s elegant farmhouse feel. It’s the kind of place most people would feel comfortable bringing the parents or grandparents for a celebratory meal: well lit, workable noise level, attentive service.

But, really, it’s the food that keeps us coming back. Meriwether’s, like many Portland restaurants, is a farm-to-fork kind of place, but with a twist: It operates its own farm, Skyline Farm, in Northwest Portland, and the menu changes frequently based on the week’s harvest. On more than one occasion, we’ve threatened to make a meal of the pantry-board section and this one was no different. Choose one, three or five items (better go for five — choosing is difficult) and share the glorious small bites. We had the Oregonzola-stuffed dates; light and crispy fried sweetbreads with a smoky chipotle aioli; crab deviled eggs; cauliflower gratin; and anchovy avocado toast. All were delicious, but of the five, the anchovy avocado toast stood out: avocado spread over toasted bread with two fillets of anchovy layered on top. Salty, creamy, two bites of bliss.

Proscuitto and greens pizza

Pizza with prosciutto and greens.

Tempting as it is to order these delicious nibbles all night, we soldier on to the lower half of the menu. A selection of salads is next, followed by pasta and grains, all of which come in small or large sizes, conducive to mixing and matching, depending on your level of curiosity and hunger. Each of us ordered the farmhouse salad with fennel and shaved pecorino cheese: simple, lovely. For entrees, Zandra had a deliciously chewy papardelle with a meaty ragu — gorgeous. The night’s most-unexpected award went to J’s  halibut entree served over Asian stir-fried vegetables with a bit of spice. (Stir fry? At Meriwether’s? Sure, why not.)  James and I both selected from the bar menu. I had the bacon cheese burger with truffle salt fries. The burger was good, if not memorable. Leftover aioli from the sweetbreads made for tasty fry sauce. James ordered the pizza: a large, oblong flatbread mounded with arugula and prosciutto. With enough greens to satiate a hungry goat, it’s likely the least guilt-inducing pizza on earth, and a tasty one at that.

Chalk it up to being a Tuesday night, or that the service on this particular evening was scattered, leaving us sitting longer than we’d planned, but we skipped dessert. No matter, there will always be the next time we have a reason to celebrate.

Dates stuffed with chevre, wrapped in bacon. I could eat 20 of these.

The first Tuesday in January, and we had tickets to “West Side Story” at the Keller Auditorium — a Christmas gift from J to me.

“Get cool!”




Afterwards, we shish-ka-boom-ba’d (jazz hands!) over to Veritable Quandary to have a late-night supper from the bar menu, and were pleasantly surprised to find a lively crowd sipping cocktails and ordering food at 10:3o pm — our kind of people.  What an awesome little spot this is. The vintage fixtures, high-ceilings, exposed brick walls, milk-glass light globes and high-backed wooden booths reminded me of ancient bars commonly found in Chicago. And the late-night menu doesn’t default to the fried and frozen. Instead, it’s bacon-wrapped dates stuffed with creamy chevre, crispy duck confit spring rolls, grilled flatbread pizza topped with fresh mozzarella slices and a bevy of salty Italian meats.

Though we were tempted, we resisted stuffing ourselves with rabbit pate, the Dungeness crab cake or that seductive burger, and we didn’t even consider looking at the dinner menu. Great excuse to come back, of course. “There’s a place for us … somewhere a place for us …” I think it’s at the VQ bar!

Sausage/green pepper and Canadian bacon/onion.

I don’t know when it started —  in Chicago, probably — but somewhere along the line, we adopted the oh-so-original tradition of Friday night pizza. We have made it our quest, wherever we go, to find the best delivery joint: the crust must be thin, crisp, oven-browned; the salads must be big (nothing worse than paying $10 for a paltry tin of dying lettuce and dead shaved carrots).

The quest continues in Portland, but our current favorite is Bandini. I confess to being a skeptic when we first walked by the restaurant on MLK. The place looks cozy and inviting enough, but the menu seems scattershot: appetizers, pastas, salads, sandwiches, desserts and, of course, pizza. A real red-sauce, family-style, kid-in-booster-seats kind of place. But we took the leap and ordered delivery one Friday night last November, and it’s been our go-to Friday-night date ever since. Ordering can be tricky, especially if you are trying to communicate the concept of “easy cheese” or even “light cheese” to the sweet, non-native English-speaker on the phone — but who cares? The pizza arrives lickety-split, and the delivery guy is courteous and friendly.

Pizza crust is delicious, though it never quite achieves the crispness we crave. It has a pretzel quality: Definitely thin, slightly chewy, with a pretzel-style sheen.  I love it. J wishes we could convey the desired well-done effect, and we’ll keep trying. (“When it’s finished, leave it in the oven for an extra 5 minutes.”)

Toppings are fresh and flavorful (we’re talking to you, sausage). Salads are plentiful. (Yeah, the Caesar dressing conspicuously lacks garlic and anchovies, but we won’t complain: The lettuce is fresh and there’s lots of it.)

Bandini: Thank you for being our Friday-night steady. We’ll call you. *Kiss.*