Alright, Who Wants A Lick Of Her Lolly Then?

So I came across this picture the other day, and let me just say that not one single nun looked like this at the Catholic school that I attended.  In fact I don’t think that any three nuns could have been combined to add up to Sister Mary Succubus here.

This purpose of this picture was actually to push the rather fallic looking popsicle which, no lie, is Holy Water (from Lourdes no less) and Absinthe flavour and which is made by The Icecreamists in Covent Garden in London.  This flavour of ice lolly (english for popsicle) is called the Vice Lolly (nun not included).

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There Is A God

But is he a loving deity or a malevolent and pernicious fiend?

From this merging of two of the five basic food groops:

Plus This

Created this superfood group

Feeding the multitudes with five loaves of bread and two little fishes is like sidewalk sideshow magic compared to this miracle!!!!

It Just Seemed Like The Forty Days Of Lent(il Gardens)

So I was visiting a friend’s store a few weeks back, buying some new Warhammer figures from him while generally minding my own, and the rest of the help’s, business.  I was hanging out with the guys who work at the store, chatting about the merits of resin over metal and vice versa when, for no reason whatsoever, the discussion turned to Indian food.   Now this is not something that one expects to bring up in between discussion of the new Dark Eldar figures:  “they’re so fluffy”.  Actually they are not – they are really cool and angular and very, very Dark and very, very Eldary.  You know what I mean if you know what I mean.

But I am digressing (as I am prone to do); I had originally brought up the subject of bringing up of the subject of Indian food.  Now being a Londoner who grew up in the ‘70s, I come from the group who developed the lager lout gastronomy of a beer and a curry (and away from a pie and a bevy – though that still hits the spot, too).  It is still one of the real delights of my life to head out with Ronny and Stebbo and Smellsy for a couple of pints and then head down to the Bombay Cricket Club for a top notch Indian meal. 

There are other spots that I head to regularly for a good Indian meal.  Swagat and India House are both places that I like to go to. Chanai Masala and Indish are restaurants that I am planning on going to with my longtime partner in crime in eating Indian meals who is of the non-lager lout type (and in fact of the very beautiful type) of friend.

All of these restaurants came up in “The State of Indian Food in Portland” discussion; but there was one completely unexpected place that came up in all of the techno-babble and geek-speak at Rainy Day Games:  Lentil Gardens.  My main buddy was laughing as he brought this place up as he had listed many of the same places as I had as we talked Indian food.  Like me, he lamented the selling of my local curry house The Curry Leaf which was so good until it was sold last year and now it blows big time (not very Anton Ego of me, but it really blows) and I refuse to eat there anymore.

This has left me hunting high and low for a really good local Indian place:  and Hallelujah, Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition (or more eloquently, by Jove, I think I now have it).  Not that one would consider it to be so at first glance.  My hookup to this establishment is, by nature, one of those really unassertive, understating and unassuming Midwestern types.  So when he said that the service left a little to be desired and was maybe a little slow, I thought that he meant that the service left a little to be desired and was maybe a little slow.  “Ha,” I now say, “Service?  What service was he talking about?”

But before we get to discussing “service” let us climb back into the way-back machine and journey all the way back to what even drove me to try out Lentil Gardens.  I was hungry.  I wanted Indian food.  I was hungry and I wanted Indian food.  I wanted it now!  My daughter was hungry too:  and for a rather thin individual, you really don’t want to get between her and her food.  So we made an “executive decision” to giveLentilGardensa try and see if it was as good as my mate said it was. 

It is located in a strip mall that is really an adjunct of a larger strip mall that is part of a collective of strip malls (which, as an aside here, provides hours of driving entertainment akin to being in a demolition derby as cars come at you from every angle).  This is a strip mall that is rather popular with my daughter anyway since it houses a brilliant pizza place, a consignment clothes place aimed at teenage girls, a used video game place and a sushi place where everything is on a conveyor belt.  One almost wonders why they slapped a vacuum cleaner store in there as well.

After navigating our way through the consignment clothing store and the used video game store and, quite surprisingly, failing to find something for my daughter to spend my money on, we arrived at the front door of a very un-Indian looking Indian restaurant.  Now I know what people are thinking here, “what makes something un-Indian?” 

Well the décor was minimalist to the extreme.  The look could be best described as M1 Motorway Cafe circa 1975.  There was a motley collection of Formica tables similar to my mum’s pride and joy that sat in the kitchen for thirty years, a motley assortment of mismatched floor tiles and little or nothing on the walls other than some small squares of fabric that may or may not have been snot rags at some point in their life and these strange foil things covering the lights that just screamed “first grade school project”.

The usual brothel/harem/zoo gift shop theme was entirely missing. Perhaps this was what the light coverings were meant to represent If there had been a manky looking bottle of HP Sauce on the table, I would have sworn that I was back in the glory days of the Hornets (with Graham Taylor running the show and Elton funding it) wearing cool baggy jeans and a Watford Town football shirt and looking to beat up a Luton Town fan.

We received sort of an inclined head welcome and were pointed in the general direction of a table as the person who was serving as host/waiter/busboy and general all around dog’s body was rather busy having a loud and animated conversation with someone on the other end of his cell phone.  After a short while, my daughter and were given some menus to peruse.  Looking the menu over, it was pretty standard Indian fare with a great selection of vegetarian dishes (with paneer – because everything is much better with fried cheese) as well as some really good sounding lamb and chicken dishes.

While this was going on, there was a steady stream of incoming customers as the place filled rapidly.  Seemingly, from the look of consternation (or constipation) on the front (and middle and back) help’s face, it was filling too fast.  And while my table was sitting waiting, along with six or seven other table loads, there was also a steady stream of people ordering food to go – and they were getting helped first.  This of course means that their food would be done first.  It would be done first before the food of all of the people who had come in ahead of them.

Some time later, the help managed to make it to our table.  We ordered some samosas as these are my favourite appetizer of all time.  To this we added a chicken tikka masala (bog standard English ordering of Indian food) and vegetable kurma for my daughter.  The waiter was most concerned that he got the heat right so he double checked that the kurma was to be mild and the tikka masala was to be medium. 

I did not want to get too adventurous since I did not know how they interpreted their spiciness quotient. The Bombay Cricket Club can ratchet the heat up to a level that induces inner ear damage on the inbound and melts prostates on the way out so I have learned (painfully in some cases) to work my way forward to finding my desired level of “hot”.

And of course, because it has been the treat of treats since she was very young, my daughter order a mango lassi while I just went with water.  And after a while we began to wonder where the water would arrive. And after a further interval we began to wonder about both the water and the lassi.  Then there were questions asked as to if they were not growing the mango for the lasse and sinking a well out back for the water.

But then, after a lengthy interval (as referred to in paragraph 4), the samosas arrived.  And they were magnificent.  They were sublime.  Eating them was almost a religious experience.  It should be illegal to be able to take so much pleasure from pastry wrapped mashed potatoes and peas.  But they were that good.  I could fill a kiddy pool with the filling and roll around in it naked it was that good. And there was a homemade tamarind sauce to dip the Samosas in that was better than any that I have ever had before.  At the risk of being shameless, I just wanted to run my tongue around the inside of the samosa pastry and get all of the goodness.

I really should have ordered a plate for me and one for the daughter as one samosa for each of us was, obviously, just not enough.   This resulted in an uncomfortable stare down when I was finished with mine and she still had half of hers:  I knew that if I went for it, my hand would be pinned to the table with her fork before it got within twelve inches of her samosa.   She even had her prison pose so that she could guard her food.  If I could have gotten away with it, I would have taken the fork through the hand to pinch her half of a samosa:  and considered it a fair trade.

Now while this was going on, the mango lasse still had not arrived.  We had asked, very politely, about it when the samosas arrived.  Our water had been brought over to us, but it was all gone now and we had two empty glasses sitting on the table.  Our (and everyone else’s) waiter was racing around the place, pell mell, around the place trying to juggle “to go” orders and deliver to tables:  sort of like Linguini on his roller skates in Ratatouille. Seemingly this was done without any real order as food just seemed to show up as Mom (I am assured by my friend that Mom really does cook at this place) felt the urge to make a certain item.  (Obviously she was not “feeling” the mango lassi.)

After we had been in the restaurant about an hour, our entrees showed up:  and they looked superb.  Indian food is a totally sensory experience.  It has to look good and smell good (I think) as well as taste good and feel good inside the mouth.  Our tikka masala had a rich golden orange sauce and large chunks of chicken that looked hand cut.  It was rich and unctuous ($1 word there) and was as good as any tikka masala that I have had elsewhere. 

The vegetable curry was sweet and creamy and looked amazing.  There were pieces of potato and turnip and green beans and peas and all sorts of other vegetables.  The sauce was again very rich and looked good as well as tasting amazing.  The only issue we ran into was that the spiciness had been flipped and the tikka masala was mild.  This was not bad as the flavour and richness of the sauce overcame the mildness:  if it had been spiced the way it had been requested, it would have been orgasmic.  The vegetable curry had been spiced at medium plus.  The plus was the spice that didn’t make it into the masala. 

Even though it was hot, my daughter was still putting it away like it was her death row meal.  My death row meal is going to feature those samosas (and a lot of them too).  There was sweat dripping off her nose and eyeliner running – but she was game and got her grub on.  Fortunately for her, the mango tree out back had managed to produce some ripe fruit and her lasse finally showed up (“oooh, this tastes really fresh”).  This helped douse the flames.  And as a final warning:  the vegetable kurma was really hot when the leftovers were consumed the following morning. 

We had also gotten the naan bread with the dinner as a side since you could take rice or naan with the entrée – and surprisingly, we each got a solid helping of rice with our curry:  which is quite often not the case in Indian restaurants.  I have never been a huge fan of anything that is burnt.  However, I do like the way really good naan is made with its little well done (burnt) spots.  This naan was perfect.  It was soft enough to use as a spoon and crispy enough not to turn to mush.  Mush is a bad thing in any form of cooking and is the sole reason I avoid eggplant at all costs – it is mush when cooked – any way that it is cooked.

Now it was time to play the eye contact game with the waiter.  We tried to get his attention while he studiously avoided eye contact at all costs.  Of course, he was also slammed by now as what ever work-to-rule had been imposed in the kitchen was now off and dishes were flying out of there.  I have to say that the solo waiter was swimming impressively upstream against this tide of plates. 

Eventually, inevitably even, he had to come within eyeshot and so we not only got our bill (very reasonable by Indian food standards), but we even got boxes for our leftovers.   And Indian food is even better the next day – even if the spice quotient is a bit mixed up in this case:  that is what raita is for.

So, all joking aside about the service, the food at Lentil Gardens was terrific:  so much so that we are planning on going back for the big birthday dinner next week.  And we will each order our own plate of samosas and dip them in our individual servings of tamarind chutney and I won’t have to worry about being severely tined.   Naturally we are both clearing our calendars since this is guaranteed to be an all evening affair especially if Manuel from Fawlty Towers turns out to be our waiter again.

Her Name Is Mary – And She Has A Happy Life. We Have The Documents To Prove It.

Today I headed downtown for a meal and had a moment as well.  It was a ’Portlandia” moment – in fact this was almost a word for word exchange for one of the shows episodes. My daughter and I went to the Portland Saturday Market to observe the people and check out the superb variety of amazingly tasteless goods:  her new Rastafarian Sock Monkey hat is the perfect example of this.

We decided to have breakfast at the Bijou Café on SW 3rd.  I had heard all sorts of great testimonials and read some really good reviews about how good the food was.  And they were not lying:  the food was amazing.  But it was also completely organic (nuffink wrong with that).  And the people serving it were selling it like they raised it – it was a wait staff of 4H kids!

This is the goat, who for no reason other than I feel like it, I shall name “Mary”.  Mary willingly, lovingly even, gave her milk so that it could be turned into the superb organic goat cheddar that was in the omelet that was made from the equally lovingly given eggs of her friend shown just below as she gamboled as only chickens can in a free range paradise. 

 I am not sure if the potato plant willingly gave up the tubers that were used in the pan fried potatoes (but they were incredibly good) however I choose to think, in a fruitarian moment, that it did.  For those not in the know, refer to the movie Love Actually to find out what a fruitarian is.

 And we know from an earlier post where, in all probability, the very tasty bacon came from (quite happily I am assured) that was paired with the goat cheddar (and green onions) inside the omelet.

Finally, I would like to say a few words of apology to the tomatoes that so bravely succumbed in order to become the organic ketchup that I did not partake of this morning.  “You looked amazing, but I do not care for ketchup in any shape or form:  organic or non organic.”

Do You Pok Pok? Why Yes! Yes!

I had always wanted to have a mealgasm.  Not that my life would not be complete without one, but it would just be nice to go somewhere and have a meal and for it be a spiritual, emotional, spurting moment.  I can now say that I have mealgasmed. 

My friend and I went for lunch at Pok Pok on the other side of the river.  Now doing Pok Pok is not like doing the Lambada (the forbidden dance).  Oh no, it is far more agreeable to one’s system than doing something that will probably inflame that trick hamstring of mine.  Pok Pok is a Thai restaurant.  Pok Pok is a culinary experience that borders on the religious.

I am not a connoisseur, gourmand (gros or otherwise), or bon vivant.  (So I should not be confused with Mr. Creosote.)  Nowhere will you find me casting any aspersions to my character by pretending to be any of the above.  I do not believe that I look above my station in life – it’s sort of a last vestige of growing up on St. James Rd in the bad part of Watford (close to the football ground).  And you, sitting there at your little laptop, laughing away, I know that, as far as anyone knows, there are no good parts of Watford – other than the sign saying that you are leaving Watford.

Be that as it may, and it just may be, I am not into snooty food or snobby restaurants.  I have no need to go to a place to be seen (especially since I am not that impressive with my mouth shut).  I do not need to have been somewhere just to have been there (and, maybe just maybe, nicked the menu).  I especially have no desire to go and be pissed upon by snobby wait staff.  What I want from any restaurant I go to, whether it is the local MaccyD’s or a place like Higgins is, quite simply, a good meal.  I know that this sounds rather utilitarian:  and it probably is.  How audacious of me – value for money in the form of culinary enjoyment (say it ain’t so).

“Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” is one of the more interesting programmes that airs on Food Network:  even though Guy Fieri is kind of different as far as hosts go.  Basically he goes into small “mom and pop” type restaurants that serve outrageous food.  A lot of the time it is places that serve platters, rather than plates, of food to the fine folks in the Midwest or South.  But especially when he is looking at West Coast places, the emphasis is on originality and flavour. So just imagine my delight when he visited a Portland place that I had never heard of called Pok Pok that served real Thai food.  (I discovered Voodoo Donut pretty much the same way and, one day, we shall talk about the expedition to secure a Bacon Maple Bar.  In the words of Anthony Bourdain, “it is wrong on so many levels, and yet so right.)

Real Thai food, as Pok Pok owner and chef, Andy Ricker, stated on the show, did not necessarily include items usually seen on Thai menus such as Pad Thai.  He had spent a lot of time studying, learning and perfecting his Thai street food recipes in Thailand and had brought everything back to a little shack in Portland.  It was a campaign of shock and awe on the locals.  

The question of should we Pok Pok was asked of my friend when she was visiting last month and before she could yell “Hell yeah” we were in the green machine and on our way over to SE 32nd and Division:  sort of my old stomping grounds when I was still unfortunate to be married.  Now, while this was not exactly Moses having to spend forty years crossing the desert to find the Promised Land, it did turn out to be Leslie spending forty minutes crossing the city and arriving at the Promised Land (cue beam of light and angelic voices).  And for my carnivorous associate there was to be nothing that could get between her and the wings (or meat candy as they are now known).

I was actually expecting something that looked like a hut from Gilligan’s Island, so it was with great surprise that we found ourselves sitting in rather a nice restaurant.  Everything we had heard and read had us expecting to be grabbing our food from a little window by the side of the street.  It was not to be.  No sitting cross-legged on the curb, in the rain, while sucking our chicken from skewers.  We sat close to the bar and got to look at what the staff was carrying past us (while really fighting the temptation to just jump a waiter and steal whatever he was carrying and make a dash for the street).  Everything looked good.  Everything looked un-fucking believable.  Here we had been bombarded by a visceral storm of media hype in all its electronic frenzy, and the real thing made it look like a soft sell.  Somehow we managed to place our order.

The food was amazing.

Here is what we ordered. 

The Papaya Pok Pok and the Fish Sauce Wings were seen on the show and were a must order and, in the future will always be ordered.  The green curry was a “pick something and go for it” kind of order.  Neither of us completely read through what was in the dish and it was only after we were completely sated did we read that we had eaten “snot bush” or as it is known to most folks – egg plant:  Thai eggplant, actually.  And it was fantastic. 

Here are the menu descriptions of what we ordered.

Papaya Pok Pok                                                                                                           $8.00

Green papaya salad with tomatoes, long beans, Thai chili, lime juice, tamarind, fish sauce, garlic, palm sugar, dried shrimp and peanuts made to order in the pok pok (mortar and pestle). Our namesake. 

Ike’s Vietnamese Fish Sauce Wings                                                                   $12.00

Fresh natural chicken wings marinated in fish sauce, garlic and sugar, deep fried, tossed in caramelized Phu Quoc fish sauce and garlic and served with Vietnamese table salad. Our daytime grill cook Ich Truong’s recipe from his home in Vietnam. 

Khanom Jiin Kaeng Kiaw Waan Luuk Chin Plaa                                            $12.00

Green curry with house made fish balls and fresh coconut milk, served on rice vermicelli with fried dry anchovies, salted eggs, pickled garlic, Thai eggplant and Holy Basil. 

The food was amazing.

It was a range of flavours and tastes that was truly something that I had never experienced before.  I could live on the Green Papaya Pok Pok.  It is hot and cool and salty and sweet and crunchy and, somehow, even more than that.  And the soup was incredible – even with my comments about the fish balls (must be from one of those giant catfish they have over there) that at first slipped past my friend.  And finally there are the wings.  I shall not say anything else about them in the hope that there will still be wings left for me next time I go.  If I talk about my true feelings about the wings, well, it will get all emotional and stuff:  and being English I don’t do emotional.

There was one item that is only on the dinner menu and was not available for us to order since it was only 11:30 (but, hey, it’s dinner time somewhere).  And I am conflicted about whether to go over there for dinner one evening and have this dish.  There could be ramifications later if I do this – so probably not.  This I have to save to savour with my friend.  I quite expect her to arrange her summer trip to arrive at a time that we can go from the airport to Pok Pok.

Muu Paa Kham Waan                                                                                               $12.00

Boar collar meat rubbed with garlic, coriander root and black pepper, glazed with soy and sugar, grilled over charcoal and served with chilled mustard greens and a spicy chili-lime-garlic sauce. Northern Thai drinking food. 

And one final word about eating at Pok Pok:  we were fortunate to be sitting next to two wonderful women who, fortunately, had the same feelings for the place that we did.  This love was mixed with an appealing lack of modesty that led to them asking about our green curry soup.  Not to be outdone, we had them try our soup.  And, in return, we got to try their dishes.  What could be better than that? 

Actually it does get better.  One of the ladies is going on a medical mission to Uganda in the not too distant future: only the very best wishes go out to her from both myself and my friend.  We got to sit around for an extra half hour (a luxury in a place that has the kind of seating turnover that Pok Pok experiences) and talk about what work they were involved in and what work we were involved in and really have an experience that embodies everything good about Portland:  exceptional food, brilliant and interesting conversation with ex-strangers and a sense of living somewhere special.

So should you find yourself in SE Portland sometime then go to Pok Pok.  But save some of the wings for me.