Reviews

Traveling & Eating in Prague

Traveling & Eating in Prague | Serious Crust

Traveling & Eating in Prague | Serious Crust
Traveling & Eating in Prague | Serious Crust
Traveling & Eating in Prague | Serious Crust
Traveling & Eating in Prague | Serious Crust
Traveling & Eating in Prague | Serious Crust

I’m back! From Europe anyway. May is the month of travel for me (I suppose it’s good preparation for the part of my life where I travel the world for 6ish months starting later this year…), and it started with a trip to the Czech Republic with my mom. We were there for just over a week, and spent most of our time in Prague, with a two night trip to Cesky Krumlov, a World Heritage site about 3 hours south of Prague. We spent our days mostly walking, whether on our own through the Kampa Garden and Museum, on a food tour, or on a tour through the Jewish Quarter. It was the perfect balance of sight-seeing, learning, and relaxing – what can I say, we know how to do a vacation. Read on to find out about the culinary highlights of our trip!

Our first day in Prague started at Cafe Savoy, a French inspired cafe in Mala Strana that serves Czech pastries (in addition to coffee, tea, wine, breakfast, lunch, etc.). While we did have to wait a while to get a seat, my mom was very happy with her apple strudel, and the pastries and ambiance were just as lovely. For dinner our first evening we went to V Zátiší, an Indian/Czech restaurant a short walk from our hotel. I had an incredible play on a traditional duck dish, with herbed dumplings and pureed red cabbage, while Mom enjoyed her Tandoori prawns with delicious seasoned rice and chutneys.

Perhaps the highlight of the trip for me was our tour with Prague Food Tours. We did the Scrumptious tour, which was outside of the tourist area of town in Prague 8, a neighborhood called Karlin. Our guide Leona was so incredibly knowledgeable, and we learned not just about the food but also about the culture behind it. It was a small group, 6 of us total, and it was an educational and delicious way to spend the day. We tried some traditional Czech pastries, visited a more modern restaurant called Eska (more on that later), drank beers and ate beef tartare and schnitzel at Lokal, and had a fried cheese slider and a donut for dessert at Maso A Kobliha.

Upon our arrival to Cesky Krumlov we decided to eat at Jakub Restaurant for dinner, which was a fantastic choice. While it wasn’t anything extremely unique or mind-blowing, it was really solid food. We had a carp croquette and salad to start, and then shared a dish from their spring asparagus menu and spaetzle with rabbit for dinner. Four dishes and four glasses of wine later, our bill only ended up being the equivalent of about $50 USD.

We went all out on our last day in Prague, especially because it was Mother’s Day! I had to make it happen for my mama. After a long morning strolling around the Prague Castle, we crossed the river for lunch at La Bottega di Finestra, a fancy deli spot with a fancy sister restaurant next door. After a week of pretty heavy Czech food, we went with a plate of assorted salads and each one was extremely delicious. For dessert we strolled another ten minutes to wait in line at Angelato, supposedly the best gelato in Prague. It did not disappoint – I don’t know if I’ve ever had more heavenly gelato (and maybe even ice cream!). Mom got their pistachio and banana, both of which actually tasted like their namesake ingredient instead of a fake rendition of it, and I indulged in chocolate and rhubarb flavors, which were superb.

For our final dinner we went back to Eska, which was the second stop on our food tour earlier that week. Eska is a restaurant focused on hyperlocal ingredients, cooked in modern ways but based in traditional techniques like fire-roasting and fermentation. The dish that sealed the deal on our food tour and that we were lucky enough to eat again when we ordered the tasting menu was a small potato cooked in ash, surrounded by a buttermilk kefir, smoked carp, and topped with cured egg yolk. It was one of those perfect bites: the smokiness of the carp and the potato balanced delicately with the creaminess and tanginess of the buttermilk kefir. While the rest of the meal was exquisite – buttermilk ice cream with savory granola and herbs, white asparagus with buckwheat crisps and brown butter, zander with kohlrabi – that dish will be the one that I remember.

Other recommendations that either weren’t food related or were good but I didn’t have space to write about include: Museum Kampa, Maitrea (vegetarian restaurant), Wittmann Tours (we did the Jewish Quarter tour led by Barbara, who was fantastic), Krumlov Tours, Omnes Caffe for chocolates, Apotheka Bar.

Restaurant Review: Wei Wei – A Taste of Taiwan

Wei Wei Review | Serious Crust by Annie FasslerWei Wei Review | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler

Since moving here from Seattle nearly ten years ago (wow that makes me feel old), there are a few things I really miss: the presence of all kinds of seafood on menus, oyster happy hours, and serious Chinese food. Don’t get me wrong, I love that Portland now has 1,327 ramen restaurants and that it seems like every week a new izakaya place has opened, but the comfort food of my youth was usually Chinese food. And I don’t mean greasy beef & broccoli or orange chicken – though there were phases when I loved the stuff. I mean hand shaven noodles, bamboo shoots, and those damn scallion pancakes.

When I heard that there were two new Chinese restaurants opening in sleepy little Sellwood, they immediately went on my “to try” list. And isn’t it nice when your restaurant list lines up with the restaurant lists of the ones you love? That’s exactly what happened when the stars aligned and we had my dad, stepmom, and Jonah’s mom all in town for lunch. So we scooted down to Sellwood to get our hands (or chopsticks, really) on some of the noodles at Wei Wei – A Taste of Taiwan.

The place is relatively small, with only 5 or so tables, and the menu is scrawled out on a large chalkboard wall when you enter. Have a seat and get yourself some starters. We enjoyed the scallion pancake (I told you, it’s a comfort food and one I simply cannot resist) and a special cucumber salad, which was perfect given the 80° day. Then it was time for the noodles – I recommend the beef noodle soup if it’s soup eating weather, or the house spicy noodles, which are dry (served without broth). Neither are that spicy, so I recommend reinforcing with some of the house made chili oil. Let’s talk about the noodles. Both of these dishes came with homemade wheat noodles, often cooked up by the owner’s parents in the kitchen. They are fat, perfectly soft, with the right amount of heft and bite to them. What they are is damn good. The beef soup was super savory, with broth as dark as the large pieces of braised beef it’s packed with. The beef comes apart with the pull of your chopsticks and is accompanied by pickled mustard greens, and spinach. The dry noodles are anything but, coated with a glossy sauce of minced pork, water chestnut, and shiitake mushrooms. Both dishes could have easily served 2 if not 3 people, so come hungry or with a friend.

Portland Dining Month 2016

Portland Dining Month 2016 | Serious Crust

Ned Ludd | Portland Dining Month | Serious Crust
Laurelhurst Market | Portland Dining Month | Serious Crust

The time has come. It’s March, which means I have combed through the dining month menus of 122 (!!!) restaurants in preparation for Portland Dining Month. This event is all about strategy – which places have you been itching to try, which places have multiple choices for each course, and which places give you the most bang for your buck. I’m here to help: below are my 14 picks for Portland Dining Month (in no particular order).

I also want to add that a donation to the Oregon Food Bank will be made for every reservation booked through the OpenTable links on the PDX Dining Month website! Sometimes we make our dining plans last minute, but I’m going to do my best to make reservations this year to make it count.

AviaryThis is one of my number one recommendations in Portland. I love the playfulness and creativity of the food here, plus the Asian influence doesn’t hurt. They’ve got two choices for every course, so you and your dinner partner can both get the dining month menu without ordering the same meal.

Clyde Common: I still haven’t made it into Clyde Common for dinner since chef Carlo Lasagna took over the kitchen, but I have heard fantastic things. Their dining month menu doesn’t look like anything crazy adventurous, but I bet it will be tasty.

Little Bird Bistro: Little Bird Bistro has a place in my heart – every meal I’ve had there has been pretty perfect, the space is romantic, and the service is great. They’ve got at least two options for each course on their dining month menu, and every single one looks like something I want to eat.

Paley’s Place: A Portland institution, Paley’s Place is reliably delicious. There’s only one option per course on their menu, but how can you go wrong with quail under a brick?!

Smallwares: Serving “inauthentic Asian cuisine,” I love the way Smallwares combines traditionally Asian ingredients in quasi-Asian dishes. For example, their dining month entree is Sichuan cauliflower or pork ragu, pine nuts, gochujang, tarragon and scallions. I mean come on.

Ned Ludd: Another memorable Portland dining month meal I had last year was at Ned Ludd. I love the food at this spot – all cooked in their wood oven, featuring great local ingredients, and with lots of creative flavor combinations. Again, only one option per course (except for a vegetarian option for the entree), but you can bet it will be good.

St. Jack: I’ll be honest, I’ll take any reason I can to make my way up to St. Jack. The space is beautiful, and the food and drink are lovely. For their dining month menu, they’re serving up a pork stew, with fried brussels sprouts to start and a chocolate pots-de-creme to finish.

Verdigris: I haven’t been to Verdigris yet, despite the fact that it’s only a few minutes walk from my house and that I’ve heard great things. Verdigris is offering up lots of options for dining month: 6 options for your started, 5 for your entree, and 2 for dessert, meaning lots of variation for you and your dining buddies.

Xico: Who can resist upscale Mexican food? Not me. While there’s only one option for each course on Xico’s dining month menu, each one looks GOOD.

Biwa: To be fair, it doesn’t look like you’ll necessarily be full after partaking in Biwa’s dining month menu. But their homestyle Japanese food is reliably delicious. So come with a buddy and share the dining month menu plus one or two other items, and I’m sure you’ll leave happy.

Ataula: Ataula remains one of the most fun nights out I’ve had in Portland. The food is something you don’t often find: traditional Spanish food, and the service and atmosphere are lively and fun. Plus, on their dining month menu you’ll find a mini version of one of their famous paellas.

Laurelhurst Market: Laurelhurst Market was my final dining month meal last year (and my last meal before getting my wisdom teeth out, which made it that much more special), and it was stellar. Start your meal with stuff mushrooms, then move to some braised beef shoulder (which is bound to be awesome), and then finish with a chocolate whiskey pudding. (Note: their cocktails are awesome, so I highly recommend getting one with your meal!)

Imperial: Located downtown and headed by two fantastic chefs (Vitaly Paley and Doug Adams), Imperial is my go to for brunch with guests staying downtown. Hit them up for dining month to get some grilled squash salad, braised pork, and a chocolate bouchon for dessert.

Ken’s Artisan Pizza: Is this the most exciting menu ever? No. Caesar salad, sausage pizza, and a brownie sundae for dessert. BUT IT WILL BE SO GOOD. This place has some of my favorite pizza in Portland, so take advantage of the price for the three courses and hit it up!

Where are you looking forward to going for Portland Dining month?

My Favorite Eats of 2015

2015 is almost over. I can’t believe how fast it has flown by. It has been a big year for me: I transitioned into working completely from home and for myself. I spend more time with Jonah than ever before, seeing as he is now working from home as well. I went to Israel (I still can’t believe that – did I dream it?). I finally learned how to use my camera and got my blog setup a little more polished. And the future is seeming just as bright: Jonah and I will hopefully be living abroad by this time next year, living our lives as digital nomads. Eek!

But before we look too far ahead, let’s look back, shall we? What better way to remember the last year than by my favorite things I ate? (These are listed in no particular order.)

Cooking In

Tomato and Peach Salad with Tofu Cream 2015 | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler

Homemade Hummus 2015 | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
April Bloomfield's A Girl and Her Greens 2015 | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler

 1. Caramelized fennel and farro salad: This farro salad from Not Without Salt has been a game changer. I think I’ve written about it before. I tend to make double batches of it when I know I’m going to have a busy week, as it makes fantastic leftovers. It has all the perfect elements of a dish: crunchy, creamy, spicy, sour, and sweet. The only adjustment I make is to substitute dried apricots for the dates.

2. April Bloomfield’s A Girl and Her Greens: This book has been amazing for me. Everything I’ve cooked out of it has been fantastic AND pretty easy. Her writing is lovely, and I love her style of cooking. It’s so easy to riff on, to sub ingredients based on what you’ve got, and it has inspired me in the kitchen. I highly recommend the roasted carrots with herbs, the steamed eggplant with ground pork and thai basil, and the corn soup with chanterelles (but maybe wait on that one till it’s summer again).

3. Foil Yaki: This is a recent addition to my meal arsenal, but I can tell it’s going to be a keeper. It may not look like much, but this recipe is so unbelievably simple and packed with that scrumptious umami flavor (thanks mushrooms and sake and miso!). Here’s what you need to know: put a bunch of delicious ingredients in some foil, wrap it up like a jiffy pop, bake for half an hour, then eat supremely tasty, perfectly caramelized onions and mushrooms in a super savory broth. I recommend adding some soba noodles and eating it like a noodle soup or ladeling it over some rice.

4. Hummus: I’ve always liked hummus, but my trip to Israel really made me understand the pantry staple that it should become in my life. I adjusted Ottolenghi’s recipe from Jerusalem to suit my tastebuds, and now I’ve got a perfect recipe always ready in my back pocket. It is particularly delicious drizzled with good olive oil and sprinkled with za’atar.

5. Tomato and peach salad with tofu cream: If you’d asked me a couple years ago if I’d ever want to make something with tofu cream, I probably would’ve said…um, no thanks, I’m ok. But times they are a-changin’ my friends! This salad became a summertime favorite: easy, impressive, and tasty. Rich sweet peaches, tangy tomatoes, spicy onion, and this salty tofu cream underneath it all. Perfection.

Eating out

Nodoguro 2015 | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
The American Local 2015 | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Coquine's Breakfast 2015 | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Seastar Bakery/Handsome Pizza 2015 | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler

1. The American Local: This restaurant has got to be one of my favorites this year. Every meal I’ve had there has been pretty dang flawless. The drinks are lively, the service is friendly but not overly involved, and the food is creative, unique, and just plain fun. Wondering what to order? I suggest sticking mostly to the fish dishes (often prepared in a sashimi style) and the vegetables. Pictured above is a dish with heirloom tomatoes, buttermilk dressing, crunchy quinoa, and herbs from their menu last summer.

2. Nodoguro: This dinner was a birthday treat, and I must say it was one of the most magical dining experiences I’ve had in Portland. I can’t speak to what Nodoguro will be like in their new location, but sitting with a small group at the counter of Nodoguro’s old space and having Chef Ryan Roadhouse come around to each party individually to chat was such a great way to start the experience. It truly felt like sitting in a friend’s kitchen and having them make you the most creative, fantastical Japanese meal. After dinner, all of the guests and cooks and servers lingered, standing around talking, not wanting the evening to end. I loved my conversation with Roadhouse’s wife Elena about our favorite places to eat in Portland. Wherever I dine, I can tell you that the next iteration of Nodoguro will make it onto the list.

3. Coquine’s breakfast: Ok, this place has gotten quite a fair amount of talk this year. And while I haven’t been for dinner (I’ll make it happen soon), Jonah did take me for breakfast on my birthday. I had a stellar hash with mushrooms, spinach, and potatoes, and poached eggs. I don’t know what magic they put in this dish, but holy moly it was good. Also their chocolate chip cookie is divine.

4. Seastar Bakery/Handsome Pizza: Cozy and warm (mostly thanks to the giant wood fired oven) and smelling of equal parts spiced baked goods, cheesy pizza, and campfire, this new spot houses both Seastar Bakery and Handsome Pizza. This combination has become one of my favorite work spots: I can come in and have tea and any of their stellar baked goods or toasts for breakfast, work for a few hours, and then get a slice of pizza (or a small pizza if I’ve got someone to share with) for lunch. I’ve only had the pizza a couple of times, but it has not disappointed. The bakery and I are becoming fast friends, and so far favorites include the cocoa, yogurt, and rye muffin, the salted black licorice cake, and the house made english muffin – get half with jalapeño cream cheese and half with whatever jam they’ve got that day.

5. Tea Bar: This place has become a go-to for me. I love seeing the same folks working there every time I go. I love the space that manages to be both kind of cavernous and cozy at the same time. And I love the menu, where it’s hard to decide between matcha, a hong kong tea with boba, or the perfect London fog.

I’d love to hear about some of your favorite things you ate in 2015, and what you’re looking forward to eating next year! Here is to another year of delicious eats!