Sunday, March 16, 2008

Dinner at Simpatica: a reprise

Simpatica Catering and Dining Hall is one of our very favorite restaurants ever. We eat here every other month or so, and are never disappointed.

Best-looking kitchen in Portland. There's just something about boys in aprons, lemme tell ya.

The people we were seated with were recent California transplants, not-quite foodies (the prissy bitches passed over half the appies for some reason or another), and Simpatica virgins. They were, however, happy to receive my "Best Of Portland" list. Gah, get a couple drinks in me.

First came the hushpuppies. Tender little clouds of cornbread, crispy on the outside and ethereal puffs of steam on the inside. I enjoyed mine with a squirt of hot sauce.

The Lousiana hotlinks had that uber-savory Viande flavor - a little bit lamb, a little bit pork, and just the right amount of heat, all tempered by a cool, sweet savoy slaw. Even the prissy bitches had to give it up and testify.

The shrimp were gargantuan, and swam in an herbal crab stock reduction, perfect soppage for quality baguette. These were just one more element of my complete undoing.

The Zydeco meat pies were like spicy empanadas with the faintest dribble of creme fraiche to soothe the palate and quell the fire.

A creative take on the fried pickle, these house-made zucchini quick-pickles were a little sweeter than I'd normally prefer (in a pickle), but paired so well with the remoulade that I ain't mad at it.

After the appies (and my chance to prove that I wouldn't be a total nuisance) Dave let me come back to the kitchen and taste some of the chrysanthemum that would be featured in the salad. It tasted exactly like I expected: asteraceous. Go ahead and look it up. It's a real word. Most lettuces are in the Asteraceae family, so why not throw a chrysanthemum in the mix?

Throw in some mache and mesclun and we're laughin'. The addition of some fat and protein never hurt a bitter green that I ever met, and the chopped egg's placid character was a perfect compliment to a back-talkin' spicy crouton.

If anyone ever wants to know the secret ingredient to making regular food taste like restaurant food, this is it: copious amounts of butter.

Jason's Popeye arms come from his use of what is literally a giant wooden paddle to lull a vat of jambalaya, I just know it. When Greta asked "what're these stringy bits in here?" about the jambalaya, I assumed it was the mucilagenous starch from okra or somesuch, but upon closer inspection of the next morning's leftovers-as-breakfast, I realized it was pure ham muscle fiber. The tasso had completely dissolved into the rice. I truly wish I had been able to capture this, but I guess you'll just have to believe me. (I think some of the mix's richness was also derived from chicken livers, but this is just an educated guess based on what I tasted.)

Oh, heh, I couldn't get through more than couple bites of the jambalaya, as I had defiantly championed through the entire appie and salad courses without pacing myself.

One of the hottie sous chefs rolls a chocolate beignet through a dredge of cinnamon sugar.

The beignets were head-to-toe orgasm with roasted banana ice cream, but constituted a Multiple with the addition of salted almonds (my idea - they were strewn about the tables in tiny terra cotta vessels to quell pangs between courses). The non-foodies at our table missed out on my genius, but whatevs.

Do you know how hard it is to photograph dinner-lit food without using a flash? Out of 157 shots, I could only muster these few. Lesson learned!

Simpatica Dining Hall on Urbanspoon


Jen of A2eatwrite said...

I think you should offer to put together a brochure or something for them - gorgeous photos, flash or no. And the dinner sounds to die for.

aforkfulofspaghetti said...

So help me here. You like the place, then? ;)

Peter M said...

Heather, great review and style and I would eat all they threw at you, unlike the prisses beside you.

I'm also diggin' the closeness of the table seating...very communal and great for socializing.

peter said...

Looks great. I'm a big fan of the wine-glass monopod for flash-free restaurant shots (it helps if the glass is empty, though- especially as the evening goes on.)

Bellini Valli said...

You are perhaps their biggest fan Heather:D

Judy @ No Fear Entertaining said..., food, atmosphere! It comes through great in the pictures you took! BTW does your dinner date mind the time it took to take 157 pictures during your night out? LOL!

Brittany said...

That looked like an amazing feast! And your pictures were wonderful! Makes me want to go there, should I ever find myself on that side of the country!

Sharon said...

Those hushpuppies look great!

I've never tried them with hot sauce. We like them with honey though... southern thing, I guess.

Catherine Wilkinson said...

You are, quite simply, my favorite food writer. When I'm in Portland, I expect to join forces and harass the hotties in the kitchen, bitch slap the prissy dilettantes, and probably get thrown out of the joint.
Great review, great pics, I'm buying the book.

Heather said...

Jen - I sent them a link (as promised) and they're linking me on the restaurant's blog. Win! The photographer they hired for their website is MUCH more skilled than I am. :)

Sketti - Let me put it this way: it's pretty good. ;)

Peter the Greek - I know you would be a blast to eat with. This is what I was talking about when I said I'd love to open a supper club some time.

Jubilation T. Cornpwn - Dang it if our glasses didn't keep getting grefilled! The glassware did diffuse the candlelight nicely though.

Valli - I think everyone's a fan as big as me. :) Their Sunday brunch is to DIE for.

Judy - Luckily we brought a friend, so the hubz had someone to roll his eyes with whenever I ducked back into the kitchen. :D

Brittany - If you're ever on the Left Coast let's go!

Sharon - I love honey on my cornbread, but hot sauce on my hushpuppies. I know, it's silly. :)

Catherine - Gosh, I'm blushing! Get your ass out here, we'll tear some shit up.

JennDZ - The Leftover Queen said...

Wow! That was even better the second time around!

Leigh said...

great post, great pictures, too. The food looks awesome - especially the shrimp.

glamah16 said...

Great post and pics darl. I need to come out and visit. I dont think Chicago has a place of this nature, and If they do its new to me.

Peter G said...

Wonderful review and the cuisine is quite eclectic. Of course you had me laughing about the Californian transplants. And Heather the b/w treatment of the pics is great. Its more atmospheric. I really enjoyed this post... Great to see where the rest of the world is eating. Cheers

Anonymous said...

Waou..looks like a great joint!
Love the laid back atmosphere and food. If i open my own place that's how i want it to look like.

Hey! I always take 157 shots to get 3 or 4 good ones. Get used to it! haha.

Emiline said...

Great post-I love all of the pics. They really captured the feel of the place. I would love to go here, because it sounds like my kind of place.
I would buy your book, too. Whenever you release it.

We Are Never Full said...

Nice one, Heather! You gave up the secret!! BUTTER. Even though I live far from Portland (although I have a friend that just moved there, so may a visit is in the future?), I wished I could get to that restaurant. You're like free advertising for that place! Good post. I really liked the first picture - really nice. - amy @

Nicolette (Nikki) Miller-Ka said...

Hey you! If I'm ever in Portland, I will definitely try your favorite spot. :) Are you sure the stringy bits in the jambalaya wasn't overcooked file or sassafras? When file is brought to a boil, it gets stringy.

Gumbeaux Gal said...

ZOMG! Heather, I've got to go to Portland. Like RIGHT NOW!

I really enjoyed your review and writing style. I know just what you meant about the ham muscle fibers in the jambalaya! I've seen it before.

I've totally got to try this place. Looks like a beautiful, cozy space for dining. I like that they're doing their original twists on traditional Louisiana dishes without losing the culture of it all.

Núria said...

The food looks gorgeous, Heather!!! Does the owner of the Restaurant set the red carpet when you get there???? ;-)
Loved the part of the crisantemos leaves... do you know that we use these flowers to offer to the dead people? I wouldn't mind trying the leaves, though :D
Are hushpuppies our croquetas?