A horrible thing happened to me recently. I discovered the best restaurant I’ve ever eaten in in my entire life.
The reason this is horrible is that it’s located in Bend, Oregon. Bend is a delightful, quirky little city in the high desert region of Oregon. Sadly, I can think of no really plausible scenario that will find me back in that neck of the woods. Which means I’m destined to go through Spork withdrawal.
Spork is a fascinating restaurant that serves a fusion of cuisine from Latin America, Africa and Asia. Just as a spork is a combination of a spoon and a fork (and no, there are none of these handy utensils to be had in this place), Spork combines food in ways most people would never think to combine them, and the results are absolutely delicious.
Even better, these meals are extremely affordable, incredibly plentiful, and come from locally sourced, seasonal, humanely raised ingredients.
I had the Lomo Saltado, which the menu describes as “Peruvian stir-fry with wok-seared bavette steak, red potatoes, sweet peppers, onion, grilled tomato, soy, crema, radish, fried egg, green onion and jasmine rice.” My mouth waters just describing it to you.
Dear husband had the Thai Steak Salad. “Grilled bavette steak, greens, cabbage, beansprouts, herbs, fried shallot, toasted coconut, and nam jim sweet-spicy tart tamarind dressing.”
The casual atmosphere was amazing, too. It features international décor that, just like the food, manages to blend together perfectly in unexpected ways. We sat in an elongated wine barrel, near African wood carvings interspersed with Mexican tapestries. And the international music fit the restaurant as if it were composed for it.
Woe is me. I found an amazing place and will most likely never get to return to it. But I’m telling you, folks, if you are ever within 300 miles of Bend, Oregon, make it a point to go to Spork, even if the line is stretching out the door, as it often is.
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There are very few restaurants that I’d be willing to drive 2 ½ hours to visit, but the Watershed Café in Leavenworth, WA is one of those. I’ve written about this amazing place before, but a recent re-visit has me re-inspired. Why this place has yet to be awarded several Michelin Stars is beyond me.
As their website attests, this café is all about “chef owned, farm to table Pacific Northwest inspired cuisine.” Because of this, their menu is ever-changing. If your (extremely recommended) reservation is early enough, you often find that the menu itself is still warm from the printing. But whatever you encounter there, you won’t be disappointed.
Every single dish that is brought out for your enjoyment is a work of art. You almost don’t want to eat it. But the aromas make you change your mind.
On this night, we started out with an appetizer of Hama Hama Savory Clams, with fennel, organic cherry tomatoes, dill, chardonnay, lemon, garlic and Anjou toast. Thank goodness we also ordered Cashmere’s Anjou Bakery Artisan Bread & Butter, because we wanted every bit of bread we could possibly get our hands on to soak up the amazing clam broth. Appetizers don’t normally make me swoon, but this one did.
For my entrée, I indulged in the ultimate comfort food: Watershed Million Dollar Meatloaf. It came with classic whipped potatoes, roasted cremini mushrooms, and cabernet green peppercorn herb gravy. I would have never guessed that meatloaf could be elevated to this degree, but I was grateful that they gave me a slight discount from the million dollar designation, because I would have been tempted to pay that amount, if I could find that many coins in my couch cushions. The mushrooms alone were worth the price of admission.
My husband had the Grape Leaf Wrapped Mary’s Chicken Breast, which came with organic stone ground polenta, crumbled feta, organic butternut squash ratatouille & arugula chimichurri, and roasted pepper coulis. He let me have a bite, and it was every bit as delicious as what I had chosen.
The other entrées on the menu that night included Dry-Rubbed Kurobuta Pork Loin, Sake Ginger Broiled Wild PNW Ling Cod, Roasted Garlic &Parmesan Rissotto, and Basil Pesto Broiled Wild PNW Rockfish. Holy cow, I wish I could have tried them all!
Did we have room for dessert? No. Did we have dessert? Yes. We reluctantly passed on the Warm Flourless Chocolate Cake and the Autumn Spiced Crème Brûlée, and settled on the Blueberry Lemon Custard Crisp with its streusel topping and Tillamook vanilla ice cream. The fresh blueberries burst in our mouths. It was the perfect way to end a perfect meal.
The Watershed Café is only open for dinner, and is closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. If you live anywhere within a 3 hour radius, it’s worth the drive. For those of you who, like me, were not up for the drive back while basking in the post-meal glow, or if eating at this fine establishment would be a bit more of a commute for you, I highly recommend a stay at the Blackbird Lodge right across the street. (More on that in a subsequent post.)
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If you’ve got a website, you must be legit, right? Hmph. Anyone can have a website. What apparently is much harder to acquire is critical thinking.
Case in point, The Shed at Dulwich. For a few weeks, it was London’s number one ranked restaurant, according to TripAdvisor. It was the place to be. Their phones were ringing off the hook, but it was a wasted effort on hungry diners’ parts, because they were so exclusive, they were booked for weeks in advance.
The food on the website looked delicious. Their meals were mood themed. My favorite one is “Comfort”. It consisted of “Yorkshire blue Macaroni and Cheese seasoned with bacon shavings and served in a 600TC Egyptian cotton bowl. Comes with a side of sourdough bread.”
And even that didn’t raise eyebrows? I guess the thread count was high enough to give it authenticity. No pilly-sheeted bowls for their patrons!
Here’s the thing, though. The Shed was, literally, a shed. In someone’s back yard. No address, as it was “by appointment only”. No food to be had, unless you wanted to share the resident’s TV dinner. The food in the pictures was actually made of shaving cream and urinal cakes and even, in one case, the author’s foot. It was a huge hoax. It was all just an experiment to see if he could punk TripAdvisor, and wow, did he ever.
Before you say you’d have never fallen for it, ask yourself how many times you’ve bought something that was completely unnecessary simply because it was popular. Can you deny that you’ve ever regretted an impulse buy? Have you ever stood in line for the latest iPhone when the one you have is perfectly functional? Who among us doesn’t look at pictures of ourselves from 35 years ago and think, “What the devil was I thinking when I bought that shirt?”
Let’s admit what the advertising industry has known all along: Humans will follow trends even if it takes them over the edge of a cliff. Even the Russians know this. It’s why we have a buffoon in the White House.
This destructive tendency is even more acute now that we have the internet. Now we can have our misinformation more quickly and act upon it with even less thought. How lucky are we?
We need to teach ourselves and future generations to ask questions and check sources and listen to that little doubtful voice inside our heads. We need to value education and actually apply that learning to our daily lives. Otherwise we will plunge off that cliff to our urinal-caked doom.
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Recently my late boyfriend’s sister and brother-in-law came through town and took me out to dinner. It was so good to catch up with them, and it was also nice to talk to someone who knew Chuck. It’s been a long time since I’ve been able to do that, and sometimes you just need to do it, you know?
We went to their favorite restaurant, and I was really excited. You can see this place from the drawbridge where I work, and I’ve been looking at it with longing for months. It’s continually crowded, which I always take as a good sign. Reservations are a good idea.
Ivar’s Salmon House is a HUGE restaurant that sits on the banks of the ship canal that cuts through Seattle. You can dine outside, or inside by the windows, and watch the yachts and sailboats go by. It’s also an excellent spot to see the drawbridge open and close. It was kind of fun to watch that happen rather than being the one who is doing the opening for a change.
The restaurant has a rustic feel, with large exposed wooden beams and it’s full of indigenous art of the Pacific Northwest. In spite of its size (it’s probably the largest restaurant I’ve ever been in), it still somehow manages to feel cozy. I really enjoyed watching the baby ducklings cavorting in the water while we talked and waited for our food.
And oh, the food, the food! I ordered A Taste of the Northwest, which included bright red cojo salmon, the best crab cakes I’ve ever eaten in my life, and halibut. If it had been all you can eat, I’d still be sitting there. It was just that good.
There’s nothing quite like good food and even better company. If you ever find yourself in Seattle, I highly recommend it. In fact, please take me with you!
Well, I’m rather pleased with myself. I think I may have discovered Seattle’s best kept secret—something most tourists will never experience. It’s called El Camión, which is Spanish for “the truck” and that’s exactly what it is. They have three food trucks in the Seattle area, plus one restaurant location, and they all serve authentic Mexican cuisine.
I’ve driven by this place for ages, but never stopped. I mean… it’s a food truck. But I have to admit it’s a food truck with a freakin’ long line every day. That many customers can’t be wrong. So the other day I stopped by on pure impulse.
Standing in line brought me back to my study abroad days in Mexico. I’d say 75 percent of the people there were speaking Spanish, and I was thrilled that I still understood them. I was wondering how I was going to pull this off, because I didn’t see a menu anywhere, but then the person in line ahead of me passed their one laminated copy back to me. Huge relief. It also added a sort of, “We’re all in this together” atmosphere, and when I was done with the menu I passed it on to the person behind me.
There was a lot to choose from. The guy in front of me ordered two tongue tacos, but I didn’t have the courage for that. But knowing I’d probably be blogging about this place, I wanted to order a bit of a variety so I could speak with some authority. (That’s the excuse I’ll use, anyway.)
The prices were certainly right. I got a fish taco for $2.50 and it is the first fish taco in the history of the world that didn’t give me Montezuma’s revenge and several hours of regrets. I also got the cheesiest of quesadillas with carne asada (beef) for $6.75, and a burrito with carnita (pork) for $6.85. Believe me when I tell you that the burrito would have been more than enough. It was about the size of my forearm, and felt like it weighed about 3 pounds. I had plenty of food left over for a full meal the following day. But every bit of it was delicious.
So today, for the first time, I sort of feel like a Seattle insider, and it’s a great feeling. I’ve arrived! Oh, and I’ll be back. Count on it.
When I was a teenager there was this house about three blocks away from where I lived that was always, always up for sale. It was a tiny, ugly little concrete block structure with nothing much to recommend it, but people would buy the thing, move in for about a month, and then the next thing you know it would be up for sale again. A lot of times people would leave a lot of their possessions behind. It was very strange. I began to wonder if it was haunted.
But in all seriousness, a lot of people must have lost money on that house. I’ll always wonder what the story was behind its rapid turnover. I don’t know which confounded me more, its constant for sale status, or the fact that so many people were willing to step up and buy that eyesore in the first place.
Was it infested with mites? Was there some structural flaw that wasn’t immediately apparent? Were there dead bodies buried in shallow graves in the back yard, only to be revealed when one attempted to landscape? I will never know for sure, but I’d bet a week’s pay that if I drove down there today, 30 years later, that house would still be standing there, abandoned and much the worse for wear, an architectural monument to loneliness. And no doubt still up for sale.
Similarly, when I owned a house here in town there used to be a restaurant down the street that was constantly turning over. One month it would be a bar-b-cue joint. The next it would be a seafood place. Then it would be a deli. Ironically, some of these places were really, really good, and I’d be rather disappointed to see them go. Many and varied were the culinary delights that I sampled at that locale.
I know that the restaurant industry is harsh and highly competitive, and that more restaurants will fail than succeed, but seriously, this place was cursed. Clearly these were people who were using their hearts instead of their heads, because anyone who did their homework would have easily discovered that there had been at least 30 short-lived enterprises in that location, and they’d have to ask themselves why. I certainly would have before investing my money in a business there.
I honestly believe that buildings somehow carry their history within their brick and mortar. Some places you can walk into and they just feel creepy. Others are light and open and vibrant. Call it feng shui or psychic imprints or just a stinky septic system, but it’s best to look into a building’s past before you make it a part of your future.
[Image credit: modish-photography.deviantart.com]
For every truly bad advertising campaign, I suspect there were people in the background who TRIED to warn their boss, but he or she refused to listen. Most people know about the classic one: Chevy Nova couldn’t figure out why their sales in Latin America were feeble. In Spanish, “No va” means “doesn’t go.”
But apparently there’s no end to ill-advised ad campaigns. When I was growing up in Central Florida there was this restaurant that had a whole series of TV commercials that featured the owner’s 4 year old child. Clearly he loved this little girl so much that he was completely blind to the fact that in every commercial she is seen chewing her food with her mouth wide open. Viewers were treated to the contents of her masticating maw. It was a disgusting sight. Because of this, no one I knew had the stomach to even try this restaurant.
And now McDonalds has come up with a new sandwich called the McWrap. It actually looks quite good, and I have it on excellent authority that it is delicious. But I can’t eat something that sounds like it’s called “Mc Crap”. My subconscious alarm bells just won’t stop ringing. I just can’t do it.
And in the interest of equal time, if I ever cross paths with that creepy Burger King character, with his fiberglass face with the fixed maniacal grin, I will beat him senseless in self-defense, and not a court in the land would convict me.