Two Koreas

Kathy and Stu are taking a winter break in Los Angeles. Kathy is writing about … what else … what they’re eating.

 Korea I: Thirty-five years ago, my friend Gary was working on an archaeological dig in Ashkelon, Israel. On the weekends, he and his co-diggers would make their way to the old city side of Jerusalem, and an Arabic place with an Arabic name and sign, augmented simply with one English word, “Restaurant.”

The food, Gary remembers, was abundant, cheap, and to a bunch of college boys from Oregon in cowboy hats and desert boots, it seemed exotic: “… a roast chicken quarter, rice pilaf, tomato-cucumber salad and a pile of pita for a couple of bucks at most. Maybe less. The kitchen was upstairs, and the food came down to the waiter via a dumbwaiter. We were almost always the only Anglos in the place.”

I thought of “Restaurant” as we drove through LA’s Korea town on Wednesday night, in search of Soban, one of Eater LA’s picks of top Korean restaurants. It’s a good thing we had the address, because the name was rendered in Korean Hangul alphabet, with only “Korean Restaurant” on the door for us Western travelers in search of real Korean food. As with that far-away Restaurant in old Jerusalem, we were the only non-Koreans in the place, strangers in a strange land.

After we were seated and served a barley and rice tea, I decided the perfect chilly January night dish would be a bowl of Bibimbap, a Korean rice bowl with pickled vegetables, tofu, chicken or pork and kochujang, a fermented soybean and chili paste. When I make Korean bbq-style ribs, I sometimes toast a four-inch square of seaweed nori, slather kochujang down the middle, and lay a few tablespoons of sticky rice on top, fold it over, and lay it on top of the ribs. Kochujang is salty, spicy and mouth filling, like a peppery miso.

But our server had other ideas. She quickly reached down and turned the page of my menu. “You like fish?”  She pointed out the fish dishes, simply described as grilled mackerel, grilled salmon, or grilled cutlassfish. With rice. I had been eyeing the wide array of banchan, or small savory plates, arriving at other tables. My only Korean dining experience has been at a few Korean bbq joints in Portland, but I thought the banchan might be coming our way … IF we ordered the fish dishes. Stu ordered the mackerel, and I picked the cutlassfish, with only some way-back memory of what it might be, thinking perhaps it was a typo for cuttlefish.

And then the banchan arrived, 16 small plates, mostly vegetables: pickled celery, soybean leaf in sesame oil, kimchi (two kinds), sesame spinach, seaweed, pickled eggplant, scrambled egg and fish, broccoli with kochujang, bean sprouts, tofu, kosari (a bit like fern fiddleheads in a red chili sauce), pickled parsley, pickled peppers. They had me at banchan.

Banchan at Soban

Banchan at Soban

Ordering the fish dinner also entitled us to a soup with enoki mushrooms, peppers, squash, soybeans and tofu. It should have been bright and sharply spicy, but I suspect it had spent a good part of the day in a soup pot, held hot for far too long, until the vegetables had lost any sense of resistance, and the soybeans had grown mealy.

The fish, when it arrived, made me push the disappointing soup aside. The full side of mackerel fillet was brushed with a coppery glaze of sugar and soy turning the skin into a crisp jacket, putting the lie to everyone who calls mackerel “oily.” Here, the fat of the fish was a perfect foil for the salty, tangy glaze and crispy skin.

And the cutlassfish? If I hadn’t had to coax the flesh off the very bony fillets of this eel-like fish with slippery stainless steel chopsticks, I could have been in heaven. But I didn’t let that stop me, tossing chunks of the glistening fish into my rice bowl with some tidbit or other from the banchan array.

Eating slowly, plunking those annoying stainless steel chopsticks into one little dish of banchan after another, I had time to eavesdrop. Here, a table away, was a stylish Korean woman and her two teenage daughters, nimbly weaving their way through fish and rice. One girl waved a chopstick at her mother, “See, that’s why I’ll never marry a Korean man.”

A Korean TV channel played over our shoulders, a teenage game show involving jump rope. It seemed so innocent, the faces of the host and kids creased in laughter as one team bested the other in jump roping skills.

“I can hardly imagine American teenagers being happy to play, or watch, jump roping for 30 minutes,” I told Stu. But then, a child trained to dine slowly by eating one small plate after another might well have the patience to jump, over and over again.

Korea II: By now most West Coast food truck lovers have heard the story of the Kogi Korean BBQ fusion taco trucks that tweeted their locations to local LA fans. Now the trucks’ chef, Roy Choi, has grounded himself at two restaurants. One, The A-Frame, is a reclaimed IHOP, located about five miles, and 500 years, from Soban.

With “Group Love” pumping from six massive speakers on the a-frame’s cross beams, the communal tables are filled on a Friday night.  No Koreans here. The wait staff and diners are a blur of colors, like the food.

Fusion cooking got a bad rap in the 70’s and 80’s when practitioners tossed opposites on the plate and hoped for attraction, if not détente. Chefs at the A-Frame and so many other A-list restaurants in New York, LA and Portland are fusing food from a deep understanding of flavor and cuisine. In a world where the great cuisines all serve some sort of grain product (tortilla, flat bread, rice paper wrapper, wonton sheet, steamed bun, hamburger bun, ciabatta roll) wrapped around protein (pork meatballs, chicken strips, hamburger patties, pulled pork, tofu, eggs, shrimp) slathered with fruit and vegetables (lettuce, cabbage, basil, carrots, kale, radishes, pears, tomatoes, mango, avocado) and finished with a sauce (mayonnaise, yogurt, pepper sauce, salsa, chimichuri, raita, bbq sauce) and cheese (you get the idea) it only takes an adventuresome hand with a knowledge born and bred in one cuisine to draw in the flavors of another. A Korean taco is an obvious result. At Nora’s we do this so much that I find it difficult to answer the question, “What kind of food do you serve?” How can I describe Peking duck wings? We apply a French techniques and Chinese flavors, rubbing the wings in an Asian spice mix of coriander, cinnamon and star anise. We air dry them, then confit them in duck fat. We make a traditional Chinese Peking duck sauce, and when the wings are ordered, we pull them from the fat, drop them in the fryer to crisp them, toss them on the radiant grill and brush them with sauce until it is caramelized. Then we serve them with thinly sliced Asian pears that we pickle. The combination? Chinese and American Midwest pickling styles. And that’s just one dish. What about the Mexican dishes? Last week I made a deep red mole, and instead of sesame seeds (one of 12 ingredients) I used a middle-Eastern sesame tahini, bringing a velvety nuttiness to the dish.

A-Frame’s dishes aren’t staid arranged marriages. These are passionate, forbidden Romeo and Juliet love affairs. The grilled lamb meatballs are bathed in a toasted sesame shoyu marinade (Japanese) drizzled with a garlic yogurt (Middle Eastern) and salsa verde (Mexico) served alongside a citrus gremolata salad (Italian).  It works: the lamb is right at home with the garlic and citrus of the salad, craves the salt in the shoyu, the acid in the yogurt and the herbs and peppers in the salsa verde.  Bada yin, bada yang. And there is something inherently Korean about the dish, where at any moment, you might bring a different flavor to fish or chicken by dipping into yet another completely different dish of banchan. Is the pickled parsley right with the chicken, or is it better with a smidge of pickled eggplant or kosari?

In his Octopi LA, Choi digs deep into the Korean play book. Baby octopus are charred, and served with carrot kochujang puree, bok choy, pickled vegetables and nori. The banchan notion is at play here.  But he can’t leave the kochujang alone, bringing a sweet carrot to the party.

Does this always work? The warm cornbread and chicken salad with Italian sausage ragout, salsa verde and pickled red onion left me at the altar. My tongue couldn’t find a toe-hold here. I wanted something less sweet or spicier. But some romances aren’t meant to last forever.

A-Frame's cornbread and chicken salad

A-Frame’s cornbread and chicken salad

Which of the two Koreas was the more satisfying? Soban is the root. A-frame is the branch. Both will keep Korean food alive, and I’m glad that in America, I don’t have to choose.

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New Breakfast Hours, New Year’s Menu and our Jan. 1-15 Closure

New research provides hope for sleepyheads

After much yawning and consideration, we have decided to open for breakfast one hour later and stay open one hour later. Empirical evidence for our scientifically-sound conclusion? We were pretty empty from 7 to 8, but people kept coming to the door after we’d closed begging for pancakes.

Here are the NEW breakfast hours:
• Friday and Saturday: 8 am to noon
• Sunday: 8 am to 1 pm

New Year’s Eve: get in on the ground floor

Wish we had a nice two-level restaurant with seats as far as the eye can see, but we’ve just got our little place, one level, slightly below grade, and 49 seats.

So if you want to put you and yours into a couple of them, here’s what you need to know about New Year’s Eve. We’re open 6:00 to 11:00, and it’s open seating, open reservations so just call us up and request a time. Here’s the menu:

Small plates:
• Soup: Creamy Brussels sprouts, with crispy Brussels sprouts, bacon, and blue cheese croutons $6
• Oysters on the half shell, on ice with mignonette and fresh-grated horseradish, or roasted with preserved lemon hollandaise and buttered bread crumbs, $8 for half dozen; $14 for a dozen
• Salad of frissee, chiogga beets, kumquats, goat cheese crouton, lemon thyme vinaigrette $8
• Grilled romaine, gorgonzola cream dressing, pine nuts $8
• Oregon Dungeness Crab and ricotta ravioli, chanterelle mushroom tomato cream $12

Main Courses
• Italian Porchetta: Pork-belly wrapped pork loin with oranges, fennel seed and herbs, pork sugo, Yukon Gold potatoes in butter and parsley; grilled Italian lacinato kale and figs, fig vin cotto $23
• Butternut squash and fennel risotto with sage and hazelnuts, seared scallops, grape must mustard $21 (vegetarian available upon request, $18)
• Spanish bouillabaisse, with scallops, mussels, prawns, Dungeness crab, Spanish chorizo sausage, roasted red potatoes, saffron smokey paprika broth, grilled bread with romesco $25
• Filet mignon, gnocchi and crimini mushrooms in horseradish crème fraiche, roast Brussels sprouts with bacon $27
Desserts
• 12 layer cake, crisp hazelnut meringue, chocolate soufflé and mocha buttercream $6
• Clementine crème brulee with chocolate dipped ambrosia macaroons and candied blood orange $6

CLOSED January 1-15

We will be closed just two weeks this year, from January 1-15. We re-open Wednesday, January 16 with a three-course dinner from Russia.

See you soon around Nora’s Table.

Spain, Mexico, and Desserts for New Years Eve

We are so glad you are enjoying our Wednesday three-course international dinners. We have been getting rave reviews. The $15 price tag doesn’t hurt either, does it?

And we are really sorry, but we sold out for our Italian dinner this past Wednesday before we opened the doors. We’re aiming a bit higher this time, and we’ll have dinners available for the first 40 people who reserve. And by the way, we have reservations already, so don’t dawdle Amaryllis.

Here is the menu for the dinner from Spain for this Wednesday, December 19:
• Espinacas Empanadillas: Little half-moon pies with spinach, white anchovies, pine nuts and figs
• Sopa de Mariscos: Hearty Spanish-style seafood stew with prawns, Oregon butter clams, mussels, cuttlefish, with grilled bread and romesco sauce
• Helado con ron y passas y guirlache: Rum and raisin ice cream, with almond hazelnut brittle
And if you want to think ahead, about how pooped you’ll be the day after Christmas, let us treat you on Wednesday, December 26 to a delightful three-course dinner from Mexico:

• Queso fundito with house-made chorizo, fresh flour and corn tortilla chips
• Rockfish in escabeche, sweet potato tamale
• Churos and hot chocolate

Give the gift that moans

How many presents can you give the ones you love that make them moan with pleasure? Uh, well, don’t answer that.

Here’s one though: our gift card. Load it up with any amount you want. We have nice cards and envelopes to give with, and if you’re reading this e-mail from afar, call us and we can mail a card to anyone you wish. And since we’re open 7 nights a week for dinner, and Fri-Sat-Sun for breakfast, your friends and family get lots of opportunities to use it.

When’s the best time to come in and buy cards? Probably better if you wait until 4:00 in the afternoon, any day of the week, but heck, try the side door any time during the day, and if we’re there, we’ll help you. Just remember that we are closed Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. So your last chance to purchase is Sunday, December 23.

Last piece of the New Year’s puzzle falls into place

OK, put on your New Year’s Eve thinking cap for a minute. If you’re reasonably sure you’ll still be alive after December 21, you really should be making dinner reservations NOW. You can go check out our dinner menu here.

We promised you recently that we’d have our New Year’s dessert menu for you this week. And our lovely and talented and ever so pregnant Sous and Pastry Chef Rainbow Trosper has a fabulous one-two punch for you: Here’s how she described them:

One: “I think the 12 layer cake is the best dessert to enjoy before wishing 2012 goodbye. Twelve months of the year, 12 delicious layers of cake, crisp hazelnut meringue, chocolate souffle and mocha buttercream.”
Two: “Clementine creme brulee with chocolate dipped ambrosia macaroons and candied blood orange.”

Those desserts are the things you want to be thinking about while you’re missing us for two weeks. Because we will be closed January 1-15, reopening Wednesday, January 16, when we’ll have another fabulous three-course international dinner from Russia, to celebrate the 1895 premier of Tchaikovsky’s ballet “Swan Lake” in St Petersburg.

Travel the world with us every Wednesday

We are tired of tacos. How about you? We still want to give you a terrific deal on Wednesday for our Cheap Date Night, but we’re losing interest in the regular two-fer thing.

So for each Wednesday for the month of December, we’re bringing you and your squeeze a three-course dinner from one of our favorite world cuisines.  You will get a three course-meal …  starter, main course and dessert … for $30 for TWO. Yes, that’s right: $15 a person.  And we’ll pair beers and wine with the courses for another $8 per person, if you wish. .  We’re preparing these dinners for the first 20 people who reserve (10 lucky couples), or you can take your chances at the door. Of course, if more people reserve, we’ll cook more! So please reserve now, for any country that suits your fancy, or book them all.

Here’s our travel schedule:

Wednesday, December 5: Belgium

Wednesday, December 12: Italy

Wednesday, December 19: Spain

Wednesday, December 26: Mexico

Here is our three-course menu for this Wednesday, December 5:

Oeufs froids avec des Poireaux (Braised leeks with eggs)

Carbonnades de Porc Bruxelloises (Belgian pork stew)

Truffel kwarktaart  (Truffle cheesecake)

Mr. Romance Strikes at 5:10 am

Kathy was getting ready to come in and cook Sunday breakfast when she saw a text come in on her phone. At 5:10 am. “Well,” she thought, “This could only mean one thing. Someone is making a reservation for Valentine’s Day.”

Yep, we’ll call him Mr. Romance, and he was indeed making a reservation for February 14. And wouldn’t you just love that to be YOUR guy (or gal), thinking ahead like that?

Which just reminds us. Have you made your New Year’s reservation? Don’t let Mr. Romance clean your clock in the preparedness department.

What will we be having? Review our menu here. And then to reserve, dial us up the old way at 541-387-4000, or book online through our web site, http://www.norastable.com, or through Open Table. Hours for December 31 are 6 to 11 pm.

 

At the end of the day, the thing is … STOP IT!

Sous Chef Rainbow and Chef Kathy spend much of the day in the kitchen, listening to the radio; OPB, of course. They have become, shall we say, irritated, at the banal repetition of certain phrases delivered without much sympathy for the beauty of original thought. And so, we provide here a list of phrases we hope never to hear again in our lives. We have about as much hope of getting this for Christmas as we do world peace, but now we’ve said OUR piece.

The never-to-be repeated phrases:

“At the end of the day…”

“I know, right?”

“The thing is …”

“I’m reaching out to you …”

“It’s all good.”

“It is what it is.”

And here’s one we experienced not too long ago at a class we attended. And we can only hope and pray it doesn’t end up on everyone’s tongue. The teacher told us we could leverage additional training at the Web site. Then she told us we could leverage coffee in the back of the room. Then she told us (and this is where our tongue started to itch) that we could LEVERAGE the bathroom down the hall to the right.

See you soon around Nora’s Table, where it’s all good.

 

 

 

 

 

Of hidden kale and green tomatoes

TWO eggheads this Friday: join them at 8:00

Our Friday Morning Gossip Hour has taken a couple of weeks off, so as not to conflict with the Chamber Coffee Clatter for one, and so as not to conflict with the morning after Thanksgiving.

But the yak is on this Friday, November 30, which is a momentous day in the Hood, followed in the evening by the wonderful Holiday parade and tree lighting.

So who are our Egghead hosts? Two of our favorite downtown people, joined at the book-binding, as it were. Muir and Jenny Cohen, owners of Waucoma bookstore, will be hosting our Gossip Hour. We have loved them since they arrived in Hood River to take over, and nurture, our favorite bookstore ever.

What is Friday Gossip Hour? Come in on Friday, between 8 and 9, join the group at the front window tables, enjoy FREE coffee, and order breakfast, if you like. Get to know some terrific people, and gossip a bit.

Welcome to Hood River: Kale Capital of the World

We are not immune to being a bit down in the mouth when the sky is as gray as it was today. Did you know that down in Los Angeles, the 50 or some farmer’s markets around the city are still selling red, ripe tomatoes? And will STILL be selling red, ripe tomatoes in January?

There are trade-offs, though. We may not have year round tomatoes, though our farmers are still, very sheepishly, offering us green tomatoes. You know what those are: Our dear grandmother Rose would have called those green tomatoes “shlamazel tomatoes.” And what is a shlamazel? A fool who can fall over backwards and break his nose.

But shlamazel tomatoes or no, we do get to live HERE. And here, we have kale year round. We kid you not. Kale is available every month of the year from our farmers. And so we are challenged to figure out what to do with it, week after week after week. Oy vey.

Not to worry. We find some interesting ways to sneak this highly nutritious food into your dishes at Nora’s without so much as an “ouch!”  Even at breakfast.

Snuggle up to a Brussels Sprout this Wednesday

For Cheap Date Night this Wednesday, we are tucking local Brussels Sprouts into a cheesy macaroni with bacon and sharp cheddar. Yep, a nice iron skillet of mac and cheese and BS and bacon. Two skillets full for $9. Plus, our regular fish tacos, two plates for $9.

What else we got? Here are a few dishes you can enjoy with us this week:

  • Fried green shlamazel tomatoes and fried baby artichoke hearts, buttermilk blue cheese dressing
  • Salad of chioga beets, kumquats, goat cheese, honey pistachios, wild winter greens
  • Fresh California corvina, red kuri squash coulis, lemongrass coconut rice cakes
  • Mountain Shadow lamb shank ragu, four cheese and kale raviol,

Yes, you do love us, and we know why

How many places do you know that have a Cheap Date Night and a Friday Gossip Hour? Most places just have Specials. We are special. So we got that going for us. Which is nice. See you around Nora’s Table.

 

 

New salmon, scallops, lamb and salad

Time for new dishes!

We catered our last wedding this past week (thanks to the adorable Nicole and Andy … we loved serving you, and thanks to Springhouse for creating such a great downtown venue) and so we have some creative brain space. We’re having some fun with your favorite menu this week: lots of new stuff. Here’s what we’ll be serving you, beginning Wednesday night:

Fresh Willapa Bay coho salmon, meyer lemon and thyme scented cannalini beans, Hood River Organic gold beet and ginger relish

Seared scallops, Wildwood Farm leek and carrot pancakes, wasabi crème fraiche, togarashi spice

Salad of Saur Farming radicchio, Hood River Organic arugula, fried baby artichoke hearts, fried capers, Israeli feta cheese, pine nuts, creamy smoky paprika vinaigrette

And we saved the best for last:

Mountain Shadow lamb shank ragu, house made ravioli filled with chanterelle mushrooms, ricotta and grana cheeses

Line up a cheap date, and come in for a slurp

Today … Wednesday, November 14 … here’s what’s on tap for Cheap Date Night, in addition to perennial favorite, our fab fish tacos.

We head to Portugal for a very yummy seafood stew: saffron broth, baby potatoes, Spanish paprika, red pepper rouille with prawns, halibut cheeks, mussels, and Hawaiian opa, with grilled bread. Two big entrée-size bowls for $14. Can you say, “Arriba!” ???

Ix-nay on the next two Thursdays

Plan ahead, Nora’s lovers: we are CLOSED the next two Thursdays, November 15 for a private party, and November 22 for Thanksgiving.

Ramen: the cheap date that goes both ways

It’s a scientifically proven fact that a bowl of ramen noodles is the perfect dish to eat if you are either celebrating or grieving. (Though if you’re grieving, the addition of a martini is probably helpful.)

As we write this on Tuesday night, we still don’t know the outcome in the presidential election in  Virginia, Florida, Colorado or Ohio, and so we can say with certainty that … we don’t know whether to celebrate, or go out on the deck in the crisp fall air, and cry.

But by tomorrow night, our regular Wednesday Cheap Date Night, we’ll know, and gee, we thought ramen would be perfect for that. So, in addition to our two-for-one rockfish tacos, we’ll have two nice bowls of ramen for $14. And not just any ramen: we’re starting with a house-made dashi broth, adding fresh noodles, fresh Hawaiian opa, fresh corn and chanterelle mushrooms, with a hint of togarashi, miso, ginger and cilantro. Steaming hot to your table.  Add a lovely fresh greens salad from Quercus Farm (YES, we still have local farm salad greens) and you’ve got a great dinner for two.

When **** breaks, it comes in waves

We’re not sure what kind of black cloud we might be under, but it’s all over now, right? Because bad things come in threes, and we’re at our three limit. On Saturday, our kitchen freezer died, our rice maker died, and our dessert refrigerator died. And did we mention that November is our slowest month?

But wait. Just wait. Because then we got to thinking about our friends on the east coast. And we realized that we still have our home, and our friends, and we’re still going out with our dogs for runs in the sunshine, and there isn’t any sand waist high on our street. We’re taking regular showers, and flicking our lights on and off in a care-free way.

When Kathy was a kid, she remembers singing a hymn on Sundays:  “Count your blessings, name them one by one, count your blessings see what God has done…”

So if we started counting those blessings today, we’d be way into next Saturday before we reached the end. Bad freezers and rice makers and fridges, you don’t stand a chance!

Breakfast: multiple eggheads AND chanterelles

So, just to update you on our breakfast plans this Friday, Saturday and Sunday:

The ENTIRE Hood River Chamber of Commerce staff is our eggheads this Friday, from 8 to 9. What does that mean to you? Come in and join them from 8 am to 9 am, and you can enjoy FREE coffee, breakfast if you wish, and a chance to meet and talk with Kerry, Emily, and the whole crew.

And just in case you’re in the mood for an omelet, our omelet this weekend is stuffed with fresh, local chanterelle mushrooms, bacon, sour cream, and aged cheddar. Yikes.

Fresh off the boat: from the Pacific to your mouth

We are always looking for the best, freshest, most sustainable seafood for your plate, and beginning Wednesday night, through Friday, we have a wonderful story to tell you.

Our friends at SP Provisions in Portland have made friends with a small seafood company in Astoria. So, once a week, fresh off the boat, they’re bringing us the best the Pacific has to offer. So please dig in to a plate of spanking-fresh Oregon sea bass, one of our truly most favorite Pacific catches.

And what are we pairing it with? The best that’s coming from local farmers: a silky-smooth pudding of fresh Dickey Farms corn, cream, fresh eggs and a little corn masa, and a sauce of roasted tomatillos and peppers, from Wildwood Farm and Windflower Farm.

See you around Nora’s Table, and hope your team wins.