Saturday, October 1, 2011

On the road again: Portland, day 5

Nothing good comes of getting up at five a.m., but at least nothing particularly bad came of it this morning. The check-out process was needlessly complex, because the staff had once again miscommunicated some of the information I'd given them at check-in, but they were nice and did their best to quickly sort the mess.

The rest of the travel initiation process--drive to the airport, turn in rental car, check in, go through security, board--went flawlessly and included a first-class upgrade. All flights are better in first class.

I was not so lucky on the second leg, but at least I had an exit-row seat and bandwidth, so I really can't complain. I even managed to snag some Red Mango in DFW, which is always good news.

All in all, a travel day as reasonable as it could be given that it started so early.

Tomorrow, I'll write about the awesome concert I saw. Tomorrow.

Friday, September 30, 2011

On the road again: Portland, day 4

We grabbed lunch today from a food truck that made some kick-ass Cuban food. I love the food-truck scene here, but so many good places were available that picking one was difficult. After tasting my Cuban sandwich, however, I was sure we had chosen well.

Dinner was at Beast, where Top Chef Masters contestant Naomi Pomeroy creates a fixed menu each week and you eat it. Period. No substitutions. I quite enjoyed my last visit to the place and so was glad to be able to go back. Tonight's meal was good, with every dish (except the beet salad, for I do not love the beet) quite tasty, but it was also the weakest of the four Portland dinners. I'll probably weave another restaurant into the rotation the next time I'm here.

We couldn't resist stopping at the Ruby Jewel scoop shop on the way back to the hotel. I'm glad we did. The ice cream was excellent, and the neighborhood was alive with nighttime activity on this perfect final day of September. I was happy just to be there.

I am not, however, happy about having to get up at five a.m. to start the travel process, so I'm signing off.

I really do love Portland.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

On the road again: Portland, day 3

Another day of all work and so not much to report on that front.

Lunch involved work but was at a nifty place, The Venetian, in Hillsboro. The Venetian is an old theater that the owners rehabbed into a combination theater and restaurant. The food is basic but tasty, and the theater is gorgeous. I wish we had something like this in Raleigh.

Dinner was at one of my all-time favorite restaurants, Le Pigeon. Chef Gabriel Rucker, who won this year's Beard for Best Rising Star in the U.S., whipped up a nine-course tasting menu for us, and every single dish in it was excellent, as always. Rucker's plates are complex, strongly flavored creations, and I enjoy them immensely.

I'd go on, but it's late and I'm exhausted, so I will say again what I have said many times before: If you're in this area or visiting it, you must eat at Le Pigeon.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

On the road again: Portland, day 2

You know I won't tell you about my work meetings on these trips, so don't even ask. Sorry, but that's the way it is.

What I will tell you about is dinner, which was an oh-my-God, how-did-I-not-eat-here-earlier extraordinary meal at Castagna.

Let's start with your action item: If you live anywhere near Portland or will be coming here, make your reservations now. Go for the tasting menu, as we did. Yeah, the $95 per person cost isn't cheap, but if you need to sell a little plasma to pay for it, you'll be glad you did.

Every single dish we tasted--the ten on the tasting menu, plus five small warm-ups evocative of bar snacks that have gone through a magic machine and come out heavenly--was delicious and beautiful and playful and told a story. Every one involved your taste, your smell, your vision, your heart, and your head.

Woodward combines the most modern food chemistry techniques with local ingredients and a strong focus on the season. Evocative of the way Adria never let his love of cooking and science techniques overshadow his love of the food of his region, Woodward's dishes always told stories even as they appeared in unexpected designs with amazing flavors.

For example, a dish innocently named on the menu as

Chanterelles with young pine, leaves and watercress

appeared almost as a bit of forest undergrowth, brown and rich and fertile--and also amazingly delicious.

Many restaurants that focus on modern techniques are all about subtle tastes, but not Castagna. Woodward embraces strong flavors, so that each dish delivered a powerful set of tastes, all of them complementary.

I've also found that many of those same restaurants fall down in the dessert department. Again, not Castagna. When we talked with him, Woodward mentioned having spent time making pastries at WD50, and that experience showed in the extremely strong three desserts on the menu.

For example, the dish called

Huckleberries with walnuts and fig milk

was like a cobbler that had grown up, gone to New York, gotten a three-piece-suit job on Wall Street, and then returned years later wiser and ready to embrace the virtues of its home town. A delicious sprawl of all those ingredients and more, every bite of this deconstructed dessert was a treat.

I could go on and on, but you get the point: Go to Castagna and let Woodward and his team work their culinary magic on you.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

On the road again: Seattle, day 2 / Portland, day 1

The sky was never fully blue for the short time we were in Seattle, but the weather was generally lovely.

Work meetings filled the early part of the day, and then we drove to Portland. I was mostly either driving, which meant focusing on the rather considerable amount of traffic, or working, which kept me looking down, so I didn't get to pay much attention to the scenery. What I saw, though, was lush and, when we weren't in the land of strip malls, quite pretty.

Dinner in Portland was at Gabriel Rucker's second restaurant, Little Bird. We sampled several small plates, and all were very tasty. The potato, bacon, and fromage side dish is a favorite of mine, a small bowl of potato-y, bacony, cheesy comfort-food goodness, exactly the sort of thing you wish your mom had known how to make.

As I always note, if you live here or visit here, you should make time to eat at Little Bird.

Monday, September 26, 2011

On the road again: Seattle, day 1

A few notes to the rude and inconsiderate man ahead of me at the x-ray station in RDU this morning:

* The rule is two carry-on bags. That's two. Not your two large rolling bags and your briefcase. That would be three.

* No man should need nine--yes, nine--little three-ounce containers in his carry-on baggie of personal products. I know the number because I was waiting so long for you to move through the line that I had time to count them multiple times.

* It's okay to put shoes and belt in one bin. You personally consumed eight slots on the metal tables: five plastic bins, plus your three carry-ons. That's too many for one person. Hell, it's too many for two people. Learn the rules.

* Leaving your last carry-on in the aisle next to the luggage tables so it blocks everyone else is an asshole move. You are not alone in the world, and you're certainly not alone on the security line.

Can you tell that this idiot pissed me off?

Anyway, his rudeness started my travel morning, and a flight to Chicago in a non-exit-row seat with the jerk in front of me leaning all the way back so I could not work kept the good times flowing.

Happily, my fortune reversed in Chicago, where I was able to work in the Admiral's Club, get some lunch at a food court, and then sit in an exit row, buy bandwidth, and work on the flight. Upgrades were out of the question on this excessively crowded flying day--both flights were way, way oversold--but I have no right to complain when I have an exit-row aisle seat and bandwidth.

A wet gray blanket covered the Seattle area as we landed, and it's still here. The temperature, though, is lovely, and I do like having the humidity.

Dinner was good but not great in the hotel's restaurant; just too much work to do to be able to afford the time to go elsewhere.

Soon, I will fall over and go boom. I need some sleep.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

UFC 135: How we fared

Last night's UFC 135 was generally fun to watch, though a couple of the heavyweight bouts were painful at times. Kyle and I disagreed on three picks, so someone was going to emerge the winner.

Let's see who it was.

We start as always with the preliminary fights. We were fortunate enough to get to see two of the three as fillers on the later shows.

James Te Huna vs. Ricardo Romero

We both opted for the grappler, Romero, to triumph over the striker, Te Huna. Boy, were we wrong. Romero looked like he was moving in slow motion, and Te Huna took little time in picking him apart. Forty-seven seconds after the fight started, Te Huna knocked out Romero. We began the night 0-1.

Takeya Mizugaki vs. Cole Escovedo

I opted for Escovedo in what I thought would be three rounds of ugly. Kyle chose Mizugaki. Kyle was right. Mizugaki won the first round, and in the second he dominated Escovedo until the ref swooped in for the save and Mizugaki earned the TKO victory.

I was 0-2, while Kyle went to 1-1.

Junior Assuncao vs. Eddie Yagin

In the one fight we didn't get to see, Kyle and I again disagreed. I figured Assuncao would win if for no other reason than that this was Yagin's UFC debut. Kyle opted for Yagin, because Yagin trains with a better team.

Fortunately for me, Assuncao dominated the fight and won every round en route to a unanimous-decision win.

I was then 1-2, as was Kyle.

On to the matches that aired on Spike TV.

Tony Ferguson vs. Aaron Riley

We both chose Ferguson, and I said I didn't expect the fight to last all three rounds.

It didn't.

A vicious uppercut from Ferguson broke Riley's jaw midway through the first round. Riley, who was as touch as they come, finished the round but after the bell told his coaches his jaw was broken. It sure seemed to be, and they called off the fight.

Ferguson took us both to 2-2.

Nick Ring vs. Tim Boetsch

I have to hand it to Ring: he was bigger, stronger, and tougher than either of us expected him to be. He even won the first round, though not by a lot. In the second and third, however Boetsch kept beating him up and scoring points. Those two rounds gave Boetsch the unanimous-decision victory and put the two of us above .500 for the first time at 3-2.

Then it was time for the PPV.

Ben Rothwell vs. Mark Hunt

This fight was the last one on which Kyle and I disagreed. I figured Rothwell could stay away from Hunt and win a decision--though I also said I was not at all sure I was right. Kyle called for Hunt by knockout.

Neither of us was completely right, but Kyle at least called the victor correctly, as Mark Hunt left with a unanimous-decision victory. Along the way, though, both men gassed as completely as I've ever seen fighters gas. Both could barely breathe and looked like they could fall over at any moment. Hunt clearly deserved the win, however, so I cannot complain.

I lost for the night and went to 3-3, while Kyle was at 4-2.

Nate Diaz vs. Takanori Gomi

There was not one second of the 4:27 that this fight lasted in which Gomi looked like he had a chance. Diaz dominated him striking, then ended up on the ground and submitted him with an armbar.

Fortunately, we both picked Diaz to win. I again went over 50-50 to 4-3, while Kyle was 5-2.

Travis Browne vs. Rob Broughton

We both picked Browne to win by knockout. We were half right: Browne won, but it took him all three rounds and a great deal of work. The two heavyweights were clearly gassed long before the bout ended. Perhaps Dana White and Joe Silva should rethink the plan of putting heavyweights to work in Denver.

I was then 5-3, while Kyle was 6-2.

Matt Hughes vs. Josh Koscheck

For about two minutes, Matt Hughes actually looked like the crisper striker. For the next minute, it looked like it might be a good contest. The remaining time was clearly Koscheck's, as he hurt Hughes, knocked him down, and then knocked him out with one second left in the fight.

We were both right to pick Koscheck, but I still wish Hughes had won. Kyle hits 7-2, while I move to 6-3.

Jon Jones vs. Quinton “Rampage” Jackson

Rampage looked as good as I've ever seen him. He was conservative. He landed a few strikes. He did his best.

It was simply nowhere near good enough. Jon Jones dominated the entire fight and with a little more than a minute left in the fourth round did something no else had ever done: finished Rampage (with a rear naked choke) in the Octagon.

The conclusion left us all chatting about who could even stand a chance against Jones. Of the current 205 crop, our best guess is Machida. I don't think it will be Jones' next opponent, Rashad Evans.

Jones is fighting at a completely different level than the rest of his weight class. He is as good as all the hype around him says he is. If he can keep his head straight, he could be the first Light Heavyweight champion in some years to hold the belt for a long time.

I ended the night 7-3, while Kyle beat me with an 8-2 record. We tied last time, so at least he's not on a streak.

As always, don't use us for betting advice!


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