By Chris Angelus, Portland Food Adventures
Friday evening we had a most amazing dinner at H5O Bistro. 8 courses, wine and sake. As though a wonderful elegant feast overlooking the Willamette wasn’t enough, the following night I had the pleasure of attending a Plate & Pitchfork Dinner on Sun Gold Farm as guest of one my relatively newfound great friends here in Portland, Rick Gencarelli. He owns Lardo Food Cart, and as the lovely Plate & Pitchfork’s Erika Polmar so aptly pointed out in one of her two introductions of Rick at the dinner, the fact that he’s in a food cart serving insane pork sandwiches isn’t a slight on him. Yes, he was the first food cart guy to cook in the nine year history of P&P dinners. But there’s a great reason Erika reached out of brick and mortar to blacktop and wheels. Rick’s east coast experience puts his resume at the top of the Portland chef community. Rick is very comfortable cooking on a farm. For years, he delighted visitors to Vermont at Shelburne Farms. http://www.foodreference.com/html/cook-shelburne-1022.html He also cooked in at Todd English’s Miramar in Westport, where my cousin Jim, now serving a menu largely created by Rick from his new food truck in San Francisco http://www.yelp.com/biz/bacon-bacon-san-francisco ran from the front of the house. Also stints in New York at Grammercy Tavern and Olives in Boston, the city where he met his beautiful bride, Sheila. She was my companion at this dinner, along with her friends Steph and Dan of Carabella Wines, both oenophiles extraordinaire. And a damn beautiful couple too. There was also another couple at our table, both vegetarians. Very nice people indeed, but they disappeared before the course that would have dazzled them.
It was really a treat to be Rick’s guest, because I took liberties of hanging out in “the kitchen,” which in the case of a Plate & Pitchfork Dinner, consists of two tables, a grill and three burners. With that, and the help of some wonderful volunteers, 6 incredible courses are served to 120 discerning diners. Both Rick and the other incredible chef at this dinner, Chris Carriker of Portland’s Gilt Club, are used to small kitchens. Rick works every day in a tiny space on Belmont and 43rd’s Good Food Here pod, and word has it that the Gilt Club’s kitchen isn’t too large either. Out of those two small places, they serve fare that would be the highest rated food in most cities. In Portland, there are so many high bars, and it’s our privilege to have so many talented people– in bistros, bars and even food carts. The collaboration of the two skilled chefs, though, was absolutely magical. To prepare and serve food so delicious and tender to so many is almost mind boggling. And the wine pairings, with a number of Carabella Pinots, both Grigios and Noirs, and a Chardonnay I believe, were absolutely perfect. I only wish I could do justice to the presentations both Dan and Steph, and Mike Hallock, who told a fascinating story of his evolution from scientist to winemaker, graced us with.
I had been to one other Plate & Pitchfork dinner before–with Adam Sappington of Country Cat, one of my absolute favorite Portland chefs (and Iron Chef winner two years in a row), and the extremely talented Park Kitchen’s Scott Dolich, where we held a magical Portland Food Adventure last year, along with one of the nicest guys I’ve met since I’ve started PFA, David Briggs of xocolatl de David . The farm was beautiful, the food was nice, but I would have to say that it didn’t compare to this evening. I was able to catch Erika for a short bit and tell her how much I respect what she does, and how hard it must be. I can’t imagine what it takes to put each one of these dinners on–and do it so beautifully. My dinners are all set the night of the event. I can sit there and enjoy as the restaurants do what they do well, host and indulge. For Erika, she’s the hostess and must make sure the night comes off flawlessly. Tonight, she had to make the call on what she thought Mother Nature might do, as she expressed that it had been pouring at Noon, when she made the call to set the tables in the greenhouse. As it turns out, the cover wasn’t needed, but it didn’t matter. The company, the setting, the food–everything as perfect as anywhere in the USA could be.
As I drove into Sun Gold Farms, the excitement and free feeling of driving through Oregon farm country was doused a bit when I realized I left my SD card at home in my computer. I would have to resort to my backup, the Droid camera. It does OK as a backup, but not what I would have preferred.
The evening started with a Widmer beer tasting after I was greeted by a very lovely Stephanie VanRheen, who let me know what table I was to be sitting at, after our short discussion about the coincidence that her husband’s uncle just happened to own the house that my brother rents in Rockaway. I rather enjoyed the summer brew from the tap. I saw some appetizers being walked around, and I did my best not to knock down two women in my quest for the zucchini fritters I had seen and smelled Rick frying moments earlier. There were also some mini Banh Mi sandwiches and rabbit rillettes. I tried them all before our farm tour, which was conducted by a third generation farmer, Chris Hertel, with a very delightful dry wit and humble knowledge of what goes on his farm.
I am not going to discuss the interplay of flavors, or my favorite dish. They were all incredibly outstanding. The spicyness of the shell beans with the octopus was particularly delicious, as was the fresh made pasta with guanciale (I loved that! And our vegetarian friends had a little pile of the pieces on their plates, sitting there, wasted. I had to resist being like my father and saying “are you going to eat that?” The rabbit, tender as can be. And then the final course, with the homemade flatbreads onto which we scooped an incredible tasty cornucopia of flavors (see the menu!) before we even got to the lamb–well, that was a pretty strong capper to the evening’s main courses. Dessert was served as darkness had set in, but blindly enjoying the lemon cake was a really fun way to have flavors explode in your mouth… perfectly refreshing way to cap off the 14 courses of amazing food I had enjoyed over a magical 28 hour period. H5O’s Nick Yanes, a meticulous artist in the kitchen, to this–an amazing fresh farm dinner ON the farm prepared as though Chris had precision instruments and a full kitchen at their disposal. What these chefs do is as skilled and artistic as any artist I know, and I do think they work a lot harder. I can’t wax poetic about Oregon and Portland enough, but suffice it to say that if anyone had come here to experience what I did over these delicious and really fun two days, they’d never leave this area. Done.
I was tempted to intersperse all my pictures adjacent to the text, but I shall just let the pictures tell the story here. The Droid with a little Picasa retouching was much better than nothing.
Chris Hertel explaining crop rotation, among other things. His stories were so well told that my imagination carried me to typical days on the farm.
Mixing the polenta. The pork for the Banh Mi sandwiches and the zucchini fritters smelled amazing.
Chris with some of the 90 lbs of lamb going down on the grill.
Fresh pasta made with the help of Cathy Whims’ pasta machine. Everyone chips in in Portland. It’s truly wonderful.
The absolutely delightful Penelope. You can find her also at Accanto. Good to know.
Steph and Dan and grilled octopus with shell beans. Dan had to work the room much of the evening on behalf of Carabella Wines. Steph did a fine job in his absence describing the wine’s virtues. But she didn’t need to. It was so elegant and delicious it spoke for itself. But Steph can describe anything anytime. Oh, the Calabrian chiles made this dish. (the one on the table)
Dan and Erika, the woman who puts all this together and does a magnificent job. I can’t say enough.
I am never this calm in my kitchen, cooking for three.
Sheila Gencarelli with her great friend. I had delight coming at me from all angles.
Dan talking about the special Noir uncorked just for this evening.
Making the Plate & Pitchfork T Shirt look as good as it possibly can.
Mike, the scientist turned winemaker. Erika looks on.
Would you buy a pig’s ear from these guys?
My battery ran out after this. But hey, who cares? The smiles say it all.