Although a couple days have already past as I write this, I still have good memories of a day off Valarie and I spent on Monday. She had the MLK holiday, and I’d worked for about twelve hours straight on a story deadline on Sunday, so I decided not to work very hard on Monday.
We hadn’t been to breakfast for a few weeks, and Valarie had an inspired idea: Café DuBerry. This is a little hole-in-the-wall, mom-and-pop kind of place on Southeast Macadam that we’d meant to try for several years. Back in the late 1990s, there was a Willamette Week cover story about Brian Grant of the Blazers, and how he was a likable, law-abiding star in the making that fans could rally around. The reporter set one portion of the article in Café DuBerry, citing it as a favorite restaurant of Grant’s.
The place actually calls itself a “country French” restaurant, and the walls are painted yellow inside with a dinner menu that includes French onion soup and some of the other bistro staples. And the breakfast we had was fabulous. My order of eggs benedict, a dish I order frequently at brunch, was probably more flavorful than just about any I’ve had. The ham was particularly salty, and the hollandaise sauce over the poached eggs seemed to have just an extra pinch of lemon juice.
Valarie’s French toast was unlike virtually any either of us have had. More than the standard bread soaked in milk re-fried, its interior texture was so soft that it seemed to have only come from making batter from scratch. It reminded me of my treasured recipe for my Grandpa’s buttermilk pancakes, which is right up there with seared foie gras, chocolate-chip cookies a perfect diner cheeseburger among my all-time culinary favorites.
That evening we made the latest in a succession of trips to Biwa, a relatively new Japanese and Korean-oriented restaurant specializing in grilled meats as well as homemade noodles and broth. It sits on the corner of an old building in Southeast Portland that used to house the Pine Street Theater rock club (also known as La Luna) but now is home to the Simpatica restaurant/catering company and a couple other businesses. The building is essentially on the ground floor but sinks down into the ground about halfway toward being a basement. So it feels cozy with its raw concrete and sleek wood tables but there is still plenty of light peeking through if you come before dark. Biwa always smells incredible because of the grilled meats, and for a starter I returned to an old standby: pork belly, which of course is kind of like bacon only without the built-in smoky flavor. I also got a skewer of grilled garlic cloves. When properly cooked, garlic cloves are so incredibly sweet and soft, almost like candies.
Then for my main course was a noodle dish called “Tantan Udon”, which naturally made me think of The Empire Strikes Back. "This may smell bad, kid, but it'll keep you warm," I told Valarie in my best Han Solo voice. But the Udon didn't smell bad at all. It had stewed curried oxtail over thick homemade udon noodles. Yes, oxtail, a delicacy I've only had once previously at a now-defunct soul food restaurant and laundromat. I dreamt of my tantan udon for hours the rest of that night, and I’ve continued to think of it occasionally since. And my memory goes back to that smoky modern concrete half-basement. Admittedly the Sapporo accompanying dinner was a larger-sized one, so maybe that added a bit to the mellow euphoria of it all. But Biwa routinely sets us off blissfully like this.
And I haven’t even talked about the trip to our favorite local Mexican fast food restaurant, La Sirenita, on the Sunday before our double-whammy restaurant good fortune on MLK day. I feel slightly silly waxing poetic for too long about a shredded beef burrito and a pork taco, but save for the gut-bomb feeling that came afterward, they were nearly as blissful as the eggs benedict, the pork belly, and the Tantan Udon.
In between for much of Saturday, Sunday and Monday nights, we watched Australian open matches into the wee hours and ate a succession of snack foods. It wasn’t a three-day weekend for me, but that third day was definitely a holiday.