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TRADITION! [Split from Nem Nuong]


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#21 levbarg

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Posted 10 April 2015 - 03:11 PM

I'm always interested in the history of food and the traditions behind it. However, many foods such as pizza, ramen, and many others, have traditions that go back centuries and have split countless times into regional and cultural variations. What I find painfully annoying is when someone claims that the one version they like is the only "traditional" one and all the rest are crap. Actually, no, what's even more annoying is when that person is exploring cuisines that are prepared in some way they aren't familiar with and say condescendingly that it's nice that there's this OTHER way food can be prepared, but what they really like is THE ONE AND ONLY "TRADITIONAL" way, which is inevitably the way they are most familiar with.

 

Well, here's the thing.  If what my Saigonese phlebotomist told me is true, and she had never had the peanut sauce variation with her goi cuon before coming to Portland, than it would follow that goi cuon w/ peanut sauce may be a Portland "tradition" of sorts (here we start to get into the wobbly land of how far back you have to go before something is a bonafide "tradition", i.e. a "long-standing", "customary" practice).  

 

I think it's fair to say that the peanut sauce variation is authentically Portland Vietnamese, because that's how it's done here.  Whether it's "traditional"-- I wouldn't go that far.

 

But that does not change the fact that the people who invented the stuff, namely the Vietnamese, eat it with the fish sauce mixture.  Now I don't know how far back the fish sauce tradition goes, but I'd venture to say that it's likely a whole lot longer than Portlanders' tradition of eating them with peanut sauce.  That's not based in any sound facts-- it's just my hypothesis, based on my experience with the stuff.

 

None of this speaks to personal taste, which is entirely subjective, of course, and is a completely different discussion.  Although people are compelled to conflate the two arguments, it does not logically follow; they are entirely separate discussions.  Personally I find the flavors in salad rolls very light (nem nuong versions notwithstanding) and the peanut sauce dominates the flavor so much that the rolls taste like crunchy, salady one note peanut butter.  The fish sauce is light, so doesn't cling the way the thick sauce does, and adds all these marvelous layers of sour, sweet, spicy, salty and umami.  it's like a wonderfully light but powerfully flavorful salad dressing- a perfect complement to the lightness and crispness of the salad rolls.  You may not agree, for whatever reason, and that's your right.

 

In this specific case, I personally feel that the VN got it right.  Give me fish sauce every time, and save the peanut sauce for the jelly and bread.  (or satay, whose bold meaty, charred flavors can stand up to the peanut sauce without being dominated by it).

 

Mr Taster



#22 levbarg

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Posted 10 April 2015 - 03:30 PM

There's not many places in this town that have been around for multiple generations to have dined at, let alone many families that have multiple generations in the area.

 

The only multi generational restaurant that I can accurately say my family has dined at would be the Pine Tavern in Bend. I can count five generations of my family that has dined there, but it certainly isn't noted for any food tradition.

 

In Portland there are maybe three restaurants that have been around long enough to be multi-generational. Huber's, Dan and Louis Oyster Bar and Besaws. 

 

Huber's is noted for turkey and Spanish Coffee, I don't know that Dan and Louis has a signature dish, and Besaw's was a working man's dive that bear's little resemblance to the current iteration. None of those really reach legendary status.

 

In my opinion Portland's current food scene started developing in the mid to late seventies. The Willamette Valley wine scene was starting to emerge and there were some progressive for the time restaurants making waves. Horst Mager opened L'Omelette', Genoa came along and there were a few others. In the early 80's more places opened. There were a couple of continental dining choices that made a splash. Cafe des Amis, L'Auberge and A Thyme Garden, Arguably what we think of as the current food scene emerged in the late 80's early 90's with folks like Greg Higgins at B. Moloch's & the Heathman and then opening his own place in 94 at about the same time Corey Scheiber opened Wildwood. Zefiro opened about the same time and you can see the family tree of all of those places throughout current Portland restaurant kitchens. Courvon is somewhere here in the mix and the owners of it came back a few years ago for another go with Noisette.

 

Zefiro was the first time that Bruce Carey (Blue Hour, Clarklewis & others) , Chris Israel (Gruner) and Monique Siu (Castagna) hit the scene. One of the cooks there started Provvista in his off time. 

 

Higgin's has more folks out there than I can remember. Many former sous chef's have opened or headed local restaurants. Brad Root (Root's Vancouver) was at Higgin's when they opened. He later worked at Wildwood. Rich, the chef at Trifecta was a long time Higgin's sous chef, Ciao Vito is another one, There were several other as well, but I can't remember which person was associated with which place. Francis Lim, the food writer also did a stint in Higgins kitchen.

 

The carts are a fairly recent phenomena and just the latest trendy PDX food thing. If you're a newcomer to Portland I can see how you might think everything has sprung from that. Perhaps the proliferation of woodfired restaurants including pizza is another current trend.

 

Here are some links from the New York Times that perhaps will shed some light on the progression of dining in PDX.

 

PDX Provincialism - 2010

 

Portland NYT 1979

 

Portland NYT 1982

 

Portland NYT 1986

 

Portland NYT 1995

 

Portland NYT 1998

 

Portland NYT 2005 - Oldest reference to "Portlandia" that I've seen.

 

Portland NYT 2007

 

Portland NYT 2009

 

Thanks for the history lesson and the links, StMaximo.  You've given us quite a lot to peruse through.

 

I've wondered about Jake's Famous Crawfish for a while, as they seem to have some kind of historic lineage (dated 1892 according to Wikipedia).  Unfortunately their website takes you to McCormick and Schmick's, which kind of spoils the mystique of a place that claims to have such a long lineage.  What do you know about Jakes?  More importantly, is the food any good?

 

http://en.wikipedia....Famous_Crawfish

 

Mr Taster



#23 nate

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Posted 10 April 2015 - 04:55 PM

I've had peanut sauce served with salad rolls in at least four different US cities (including LA). Having never been to SE Asia (sadly) I can't speak to how folks there eat them, but it's far from unique to Portland. I've even seen a sort of combination, with nuoc cham that had chunks of peanut floating in it (honestly can't remember where that was). It also occurs to me that this often occurred at Thai places and not Vietnamese, fwiw. All that said, I prefer them with nuoc cham as well.
 
As for Jake's, my experience (three visits, none of them in the last few years) is that it's goodusually localingredients, prepared well, in extremely uninteresting ways. It's the perfect place to take a wildly unadventuresome eater who isn't open to being challenged by new-fangled cooking (two of my visits were with elderly or semi-elderly family). The food is competently prepared and the quality of the ingredients usually shows through, but don't expect to be wowed.

#24 StMaximo

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Posted 10 April 2015 - 10:23 PM

I've wondered about Jake's Famous Crawfish for a while, as they seem to have some kind of historic lineage (dated 1892 according to Wikipedia).  Unfortunately their website takes you to McCormick and Schmick's, which kind of spoils the mystique of a place that claims to have such a long lineage.  What do you know about Jakes?  More importantly, is the food any good?

 

http://en.wikipedia....Famous_Crawfish

 

Mr Taster

 

Jake's food hasn't changed much over the years. The food is good/solid. Nate pretty much said it all. It's an old school fish house. I think everyone should eat there at least once. I probably make it in there about every five years for dinner, but hit the bar for a drink and appetizers about once a year.

 

If you go, try and get Doc Wilson as your waiter. He's been there forever, knows his wines and he's a story teller. 

 

I don't know the whole story, but I think Jakes was the first of the "McCormick & Schmicks". When they decided to expand from Jakes they came up with a more corporate concept and that's the typical "McCormack & Schmicks".  It was a local company, but got bought out a few years ago. They were also managing the Heathman Restaurant, but that deal went to hell.



#25 nate

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Posted 13 May 2015 - 11:21 AM

I was thinking about this the other day as I was wandering by what, in my opinion, is the most authentic and traditional French restaurant in town. I've only been there twice, but from the menu to the preparation to the front of house, this restaurant reminds me through and through of my brief time in France many years ago. I could easily imagine visiting a friend in some semi-cosmopolitan French city (i.e. not the heart of Paris), having them take me to a little spot nearby that they love; a spot that has been serving similar food for several generations. But like many friends, they may not have the most demanding taste in food. Or maybe they've spent delightful evenings with friends there and been caught up by other aspects than the food. Because the sad fact is, that this place isn't all that great. Certainly it's not bad, but one can easily imagine more exciting and delicious examples of French cuisine. Maybe this is the sort of reasonably nice, but only marginally above average (if that), French restaurant that hundreds of thousands of French folks eat at every day.

 

Or maybe it's Le Bouchon right here in Portland. The two times I've been to Le Bouchon (none of them especially recent, FWIW) I got what I imagine to be the consummate French experience combined with thoroughly mediocre food. Some things were better than others, but everything pointed to a place that had been doing the same thing by rote forever, coasting so long they don't even have a reputation to coast on, and getting by on a mix of folks with fond memories, the wildly unadventuresome, and those who simply don't know any better, not entirely unlike my hypothetical restaurant in France.

 

So, if you want the most traditional French food in town, by all means go to Le Bouchon. It's got all the tradition and authenticity you could hope for. But I'll be spending my hard-earned dollars at the likely-less-traditional, but way more interesting, creative, and delicious places like St. Jack and Le Pigeon.