Saturday, December 31, 2011
DISCOVERY WHILE EATING ALONE
I love eating alone. Eating with company often distracts you from what you're eating. If the food is okay or bad, that can be a good thing. I'm a critical eater, and try to pay attention to what's on my plate. But when I'm alone, I often make wonderful discoveries. Some of the best meals I've ever eaten have been during solo trips to Europe and South America. I still have vivid memories of dining at Cibreo in Florence. The restaurant was packed, but I had a good table where I could view all the action while still paying attention to the wonderful food being served to me. At Christophe in Buenos Aires, where I've had at least four meals, the quiet atmosphere made me hyper-aware of the good food this excellent restaurant. It's not only in great restaurants that one finds great discoveries. I've recently discovered a great Vietnamese bakery that serves up superb bahn mi sandwiches for a pittance. The rolls, which were baked on the premises, were fabulous--so good that I took home six. Having a yen for corned beef hash one day, I stumbled across Bertie Lou's, a dive in Sellwood, where you'll find just about the best corned beef hash to be served in Portland. I've already raved about the pizza at Gladstone Pizza, a happy discovery alone.
Yesterday was a good example of discovery while eating solo. My lower back has been aching for a week and finally I could stand it no longer. A friend recommended I made an appointment with a chiropractor in SW Portland. It's fairly close to where I live. I purposely left my house early so that I could get in a late lunch before my appointment. Even with a GPS system, traversing the insanely inept streets of Portland is an exercise in frustration. Often you'll encounter street signs turned in the wrong direction, and for what seemed like 20 minutes, I found myself circling through the same maize of streets over and over again. After a torturous detour, I finally found myself looking for some place to eat, only now I had less than 35 minutes to eat and get to my appointment. By happy coincidence, The Buffalo Gap was within a few blocks and I stopped in at this tavern that serves food. I explained my time pressure, and was given a menu with my soda. Within a minute, my order a beef sandwich with a blue cheese spread on toasted sourdough was in the kitchen. My waitress asked me what side I would prefer with my sandwich. Sides are big here and often vary from soup or salad, to french fries, potato salad, tater tots (!) chips, etc. She ticked off the list to me and among the offerings were sweet potato fries, which sounded just perfect to me.
When the waitress arrived with my order, I laughed. It was an absurdly large portion. The sandwich halves were stuffed to over-flowing (I had noticed the same thing at a neighbor's table where they were tucking into huge Reuben sandwiches). But what really caught my eye was a mountain of hot, thin-cut sweet potato fries. Barely had the plate touched the surface of the table before I dove in. The fries were cut in elegantly long and thin pieces. The outside was crisp; the insides were somewhat soft, but it was the salty crunch of these addictive potatoes that kept me snatching them in between bites of my sandwich. I don't mean to imply my sandwich was good--it was. Between two slices of well-toasted sourdough bread, were pink slices of warm roast beef. It was nicely balanced with the soft blue-cheese spread (butter was the other ingredient), and cool crunch was supplied by a mound of shredded lettuce. Good as the sandwich was, it had to take a back seat to the excellence of the sweet potato fries. I couldn't concentrate on the magazine I had been reading. Giving up, I concentrated on those lovely fries, and not one was left on my plate. A really good dill pickle made my lunch complete. I was now ready to face my chiropractor.
I later called a friend to rave about my fries. He knew the restaurant well, because it's been open forever, but he had never tried their sweet potato fries. He hadn't been there in years, but remembered going with his parents. The place has been around forever. So the next time you're in Portland, check out the Buffalo Gap. It's not much to look at, and the decor could use an update. But the food better than your typical tavern fare. Even at 3:00 PM, the place was lively.
The Buffalo Gap
6835 SW Macadam Ave.
Portland, OR 97219