Monthly Archives: August 2015

Yayla Bistro: A Turkish delight in Arlington, Virginia

Yayla Bistro is a new (2014) arrival to the East Falls Church neighborhood in the western corner of Arlington County, Virginia, but this family-run establishment has the polished and professional flavor, presentation, and service of a far more established, “celebrity chef” run restaurant. Yet it has the character and personal treatment of your favorite neighborhood cafe.

I am fortunate enough to have learned about Yayla even before it opened its doors. I visited its first week of operation and many times since. From Day One, its mezzes, salads, entrees, and dessert were near-perfectly executed, and it has only improved since its opening.

I have proudly shared this secret with friends and family. I’ve enjoyed delicious take-out, but the restaurant itself – particularly its casual outdoor seating – is an experience worth dining in.

A friend called it the best Mediterranean meal she had in five years in the DC area, overtaking more well-known and delicious restaurants like Zaytinya, Cava Mezze, and Kapnos. For a small, family owned and operated cafe, that is quite the endorsement!

I’ll share a few of my favorite menu items. Full disclosure: I love Turkish and Eastern Mediterranean/Levantine food. I am easy to please, but I’ve had so many great experiences that I would share if something wasn’t worth trying. For me to go to a restaurant repeatedly, try many different items, and love nearly all of them (or at least like what I didn’t love outright) is a bold statement.

Before you order, know that complimentary bread and olive tapenade await you. The bread is soft and thick, a perfect vehicle for both the tapenade and any of their cold Mezze. The briny, garlicky tapenade is absolutely addictive and a nice contrast with other spreads like htipiti. Speaking of which…

Mezze (appetizers)

Ordering the trio is perfect for sampling – or simply a first visit to determine your favorites. Portions of each dip/spread are small, so if you have an addiction to any single type, keep that in mind.

A trio, in which we chose (from top to bottom): hummus, htipiti, and baba ghanouj

Htipiti is a standout on the menu. This spread features the perfectly tangy, salty, and smoky sweet blend of feta, roasted red peppers, and herbs.

Baba Ghanouj and hummus are purists’ versions, both smooth and creamy. Neither is exemplary, but both are solid and reliable. (My favorite hummus and baba ghanouj in the DC area came from a restaurant no longer in business, sadly). Please do not mistake this assessment as one of mediocrity. It is very hard to screw up hummus (much easier with baba ghanouj), but as I enjoy my own homemade versions, I’m going to be picky about it. If you try Yayla, do not let me discourage you! Both are wonderful.

Patlican Kozleme is another sweet, smoky, dairy-free cold Mezze that combines roasted red peppers and eggplant. It is a nice alternative to baba ghanouj.

 

elegant, sweet and salty Haloumi

 

Haloumi: If you have never before tried grilled Halloumi cheese, Yayla is the ideal place for a first experience. The warm saltiness of Feta’s firmer cousin is accompanied by orange marmalade, which suits it more for sweet finish to a meal. But it is fantastic anytime.

Salads
The falafel salad is a good portion and a way to feel a bit less guilty about eating falafel. Falafel is also another dish that is difficult to make terrible, and Yayla’s falafel does not disappoint.

The beet salad is light, and fresh with citrus and a light vinaigrette, perfect after a heavy dose of the Mezze platter.

Pideler (flatbread)
I had yet to try a pide at Yayla before my most recent visit, mostly because their complimentary bread is so good that I knew I’d meet my carb quota for the day with the hard-to-resist puffy bread. I’m not sure

Lahmacun pide (in the featured image, top) is something one must try. Its four large wedges are perfect for sharing. It is unexpectedly thinner than a traditional pide or even Greek pita – more akin to the thinnest Neapolitan pizza crust. Topped with ground beef and lamb accented with red pepper and spices, its flavors are hard to distinguish individually. I would say that’s the mark of a truly great dish: you could never imagine the combination of ingredients any other way.

Entrees

Spinach pie (also pictured in featured image, top) outshines most other restaurants’ spanakopita. It is flaky, buttery, and its filling to phyllo ratio is well-balanced. It is served with a light green salad and cacik yogurt spread (Turkish tzatziki)

 

Chicken Shish, serves with carrots and mixed vegetables substituted for pilaf

 

Chicken shish and other meat and fish entrees are all elegant and not at all greasy. They are lighter options for those looking for more protein or to avoid carbs. Each are perfectly cooked and seasoned.

Mucver is also an excellent choice and happens to be one of my favorite menu items. The almost weightlessly fluffy, breaded zucchini and cheese patties are served with thick, creamy cacik and diced tomatoes. Despite the breeding, they feel very light and perhaps are better suited for a shared appetizer or alongside a salad for a satisfying meal.

Yayla’s take on Moussaka is another often heavy, hearty comfort food that feels somehow lighter and more elegant at Yayla. It is another solid bet.

With such great Mezze and mains, I’ve rarely had room for dessert. But that shouldn’t stop you from trying their baklava, sultac, or mascarpone-stuffed apricots.

Rice pudding, or sultac, is one of my favorites, with its comforting Mediterranean accent of pistachios.

Whatever you choose and in which combination, bring plenty of friends willing to share in the great neighborhood experience that is Yayla Bistro.

Alpine hospitality in Tirol, Austria

Step back with me to another late August day a few years ago as I share the great experience that is small-town hospitality deep in the Austrian Alps of Tirol, Austria. My friends and I were fortunate enough to see through locals’ eyes the flavors of Austria – hearty pork, Alpine cheese, wine, and homemade liqueur. It is yet another experience that shows the value of stepping out of the typical tourist’s comfort zone to find the authentic flavors of an unfamiliar town or region’s local cuisine.

A few summers ago while living in Germany, two friends and I drove down to the state of Tirol in far western Austria. Unfortunately for us, we forgot that it was the end of vacation season for Europe – or rather, failed to realize that apparently everyone in Europe was either driving to or from their last week of vacation. Our four-hour drive stretched to nearly eight. But thirty minutes on a peaceful, foggy mountainside above one friend’s relatives’ home was enough to bring contentment to three grouchy people.

 

a drive through the towns of Tirol

  

ski slopes green during summer

 In winter, Tirol’s small towns are filled with ski and snowboard bums. In summer, it is a bit quieter, as tourists gravitate towards resort towns and head into Italy. 

  
On that mountainside, with only the eerie sounds of wind, cowbells (seriously!), and a rare train whistle, the peaceful remoteness felt like a bygone era in Europe. It was easy to see why so many of the locals, especially those in our parents’ generation, never left the magic of Tyrol.

That evening, we had one of the most fun and delicious experiences of the summer with my friend’s aunt, uncle, and their friends. It was like dropping in on a Austrian’s Elk Lodge event, but smaller and with three generations dropping by the “fishing hut” built and shared by several families. Couples now in their 70s still congregate weekly with their childhood best friends after all these years, children, and grandchildren.

 

valley and town near the fishing hut

 
We three Americans quickly were accepted by the bunch, who were as curious about our American interests and experiences as we were theirs in such a quite, pastoral community. Strangely, their stories seemed not so unfamiliar to those of us who grew up in rural areas in the States.

Of course, our bonding took place over copious food and drink. Freshly grilled Bratwurst (just call them sausages!) and other forms of pork, served with Kaiser rolls, several types of mustard, mayonnaise, and ketchup. The ubiquitous central-eastern European shredded carrot salad, along with potato salads and pretzels. Free-flowing beer, wine, and various forms of honey and herb liqueur that put Jaegermeister to shame. It was a cookout to end all cookouts, complete with war stories, ski stories, fishing stories, and singing – oh yes, singing.

You’ve never lived until you listen to senior gentlemen debating who caught the largest fish and was it really as large as the superlatives insisted by the storyteller. Or when you start singing Bohemian Rhapsody because somehow they have that on a CD.

After all that, when we returned up the mountain to our hosts’ home, another feast awaited us – of Alpine charcuterie and pate-like substances, several fresh cheeses, fresh bread, and even addictive Austrian brands of packaged cheese puffs. I have to say that I never fully appreciated the buttery nuttiness of fresh Emmenthaler cheese until that night. Sitting outdoors in the chilly Alpine night, the cheese tasted as fresh as the wild grasses we saw cows grazing earlier that evening.

If you have never knowingly had Emmenthaler or perhaps forgot its flavor, try it along several other firm cow’s milk cheese, like a traditional Swiss or Gruyere. Emmenthaler lacks the bitterness of Swiss or the stinky pungency of Gruyere. My favorite pairing is with dark rye or pumpernickel. Their strong, sweet, and herbal flavor brings out the buttery smoothness of the Emmenthaler. A dry white wine from Germany or Austria is yet another perfect accompaniment – and it certainly was that night. I have to say that as hard as we tried, we 30 to 40 somethings could not keep up with our elders, who long outlasted us that night and awoke before us. All I can say is that we were amateurs compared with them.

We may have been a bit sluggish the next morning, but waking to the stunning, green, and craggy peaks of the Alps – with the memories of amazing hospitality, food, and drink – was a moment I won’t soon forget.

Voodoo Doughnut-inspired “Memphis Mafia” ice cream

It is quite possibly the most ridiculous ice cream inspired by an equally ridiculous pastry.

Here we have a surprisingly elegant but decadent ice cream, inspired by a gluttonous fritter that in turn is a pop food culture to Elvis Presley and his legendary love of (fried) peanut butter and banana sandwiches. What?? Such a complicated means to an end – but one that’s worth exploring.

A rich peanut butter and banana custard base, with a hint of brown sugar, vanilla, and cinnamon. Bittersweet, homemade sea salt ganache and cinnamon roll pieces swirl throughout this rich indulgence. It seems so complex, yet it isn’t terribly difficult to execute. You’ll never make boring ice cream again!

You might be baffled why on earth someone would create an ice cream based on a doughnut (more specifically, a fritter), much less such a bizarrely constructed pastry in the first place. If you have ever visited or heard about Voodoo Doughnut, then you have an idea what I’m talking about.

IMG_4488
Portland, Oregon’s Voodoo Doughnut has captivated foodies, pop culture devotees, and tourists alike with its uber kitschy, sharp-humored and decadent creations. Check out my related blog post to learn more about this food and cultural phenomenon. During my visit to Voodoo Doughnuts, it was a friend’s selection of pastry that inspired me. Their Memphis Mafia is a gluttonous monstrosity of a pastry: an enormous, glazed cinnamon and banana fritter topped with peanut butter, chocolate icing, and chocolate chips. It is $6 and took three of us three days to eat it. It pays loving homage to The King himself, Elvis Presley. And it is absolutely delicious.

Back home, I couldn’t help but think about that combination of flavors and how great it would be as an ice cream. So here you have it. A deconstructed Memphis Mafia fritter, with a bizarrely synchronous combination of banana, peanut butter, chocolate, and cinnamon. Rather than wasting several perfectly good bakery fritters, I used readily available cinnamon rolls. Their doughy, subtly sweet flavor helps keep the ice cream from becoming cloyingly sweet.


Tip: dip the cinnamon rolls in the chilled custard base and set aside on wax paper just before beginning the churning process. While the custard churns, the cinnamon rolls will soak up some of the liquid, which will help prevent ice crystals from forming (and the pieces of pastry from becoming icy and brittle) during storage in the freezer.

warm ganache

A homemade, bittersweet chocolate witha hint of sea salt ganache adds an element of sophistication.

churned decadence

The end result is nothing short of amazing. Good luck eating more than a scoop at a time – it is so rich and filling that a little goes a long way. Kind of like the Memphis Mafia fritter itself…!

Voodoo Doughnut-inspired Memphis Mafia ice cream

Sea Salt Ganache:

  • 4 oz. semisweet or bittersweet chocolate*
  • 4 oz. (1/2 cup) heavy whipping cream
  • Pinch sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp. Vanilla extract (optional)

*When choosing chocolate, go with good quality chocolate, but don’t worry too much about percentage chocolate/sweetness. You can use chocolate chips or junks but make sure to use only pure chocolate – no fillers or vegetable fats! I use what I have on hand. In this case, I combined 2 oz. unsweetened baking chocolate (Guittard brand) with 2 oz. semisweet chunks. The result needed a bit added sugar, so you can add in 1-2 Tablespoons of granulated sugar with the heated milk to sweeten.

Make the ganache at least two hours before starting the custard. It keeps well at room temperature overnight and can be made well in advance.

Chop chocolate using a serrated knife. Set aside. In a microwave-safe glass container or liquid measuring cup, measure the cream. Microwave on high heat for one minute or until the cream begins to bubble. Add the chocolate to the cream and whisk to melt the chocolate. Add the salt and any additional sugar and/or vanilla if desired and whisk until smooth. Let stand uncovered until the mixture reaches room temperature and the ganache becomes somewhat firm. Cover and store at room temperature until needed per below. Chill about 20-30 minutes immediately prior to incorporating into the ice cream mixer. Leftover ganache is great on anything or makes a lovely truffle on its own.

Ice cream custard base:

  • 2 cups milk
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 3/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 2 ripe bananas
  • 1/2 c. Peanut butter
  • 1 tsp. Vanilla extract or 1 whole vanilla bean
  • 1 tsp. Ground cinnamon
  • 2 cups (about 4 rolls) baked cinnamon rolls, diced into 1-2 inch pieces

Custard base instructions:

Purée the bananas in a food processor or blender; set aside.

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, bring the milk and cream to a boil; if using a whole vanilla bean, steep it in the milk while heating. While the milk heats, in a small mixing bowl, beat the egg yolks with 1/4 cup brown sugar using a wire whisk (about one minute by hand).

When the cream begins to bubble, remove from heat. Remove vanilla bean from the milk; slice in half vertically from top to bottom; scrape the seeds from the pod halves and add them back to the milk. Discard pods or save them for reuse. Whisk in remaining 1/2 cup sugar, cinnamon, and vanilla extract (if not using the bean) until incorporated.

Temper the egg mixture:  Add about 1/2 cup of the milk mixture to the small bowl with the eggs. Whisk quickly to combine. Add another 1/2 cup of the milk to the egg mixture, whisk. Pour the entire egg mixture into the saucepan with the remaining milk mixture and whisk thoroughly.


Return back to heat and reduce heat to medium-low heat. Gradually whisk in the banana and then peanut butter until smooth. Allow the entire mixture to heat until small bubbles form. Remove immediately from heat, whisk, and cool to room temperature. Chill the custard for two hours or overnight; if time is short, chill in the freezer for 30-45 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Ice cream assembly:

When ready to churn the ice cream, prepare your ice cream maker/attachment. Dip the cinnamon pieces in the custard individually or pour a small amount of the custard onto the cinnamon roll pieces and toss to coat. Set cinnamon roll pieces aside on wax paper and allow the custard to soak in.

Pour the custard into the ice cream maker and freeze according to the equipment manufacturers’ instructions.

When the ice cream is finished freezing, add the ganache and cinnamon roll pieces and allow the ice cream maker to continue to churn and mix in the ganache and pastry bits. Remove the bowl from the attachment and if needed, mix by hand with a rubber spatula to disperse the mix-ins. Serve immediately or chill for 1 hour prior to serving. Garnish with chocolate chunks.

If storing long-term, freeze in small, airtight portions. Thaw for 30 minutes before serving.

Blackwood: Trendy Thai fusion in San Francisco

San Francisco is well known for its food culture. Its history of Asian immigration has made Asian cuisine -both traditional and fusion particularly strong.

While the city’s Marina/Cow Hollow neighborhood is not exactly the place to go for authentic international dishes, its trendy cafes and enthusiastic crowds are the perfect atmosphere to play with modern American reinterpretations of Thai food.

Even from curbside, it is evident that Blackwood is not your typical Thai restaurant. Sleek wood, outdoor fireplaces, and clean modern lines clue the casual visitor into the restaurant’s American roots. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love traditional Thai flavors, but Blackwood’s fusion brings out the best from both Thai and American cooking styles. Come in with an open mind, and prepare to be wowed.


I visited on a Friday night, and the restaurant had no shortage of patrons. A short wait at a next door bar passed quickly as our table was readied. Blackwood’s atmosphere,which reminds me a bit more of Los Angeles than SFO, buzzes with yuppie energy but tamed by the open flow of the indoor dining space and the mellow bliss of diners satisfied with their food and friends.

The menu offers plenty of variety – from appetizers that lean more American to a range of entrees. Main courses included slightly cleaner (less greasy) traditional Thai curries, wok fried noodle dishes, fried rice, and unexpected chef’s specialties, such as a Wagyu burger called the One Percenter’s Burger, bacon-wrapped scallops, pan-seared fish, short rib tacos, and the Blackhawk Belly pork slow cooked with Chinese Five Spice Blend.

the Marina Tower

My group decided to feast family style, and our meal was truly outstanding. We were perhaps overly ambitious and ordered way too much food, but we were in no danger of leaving either hungry or dissatisfied.

For starters, we chose the fabulous Marina Tower, Millionaire’s Way, and Pumpkin Fries. Those alone could have fed us nicely. The Marina Tower was a large tuna tartare accented with avocado and mango. The Millionaire’s Way took bacon-wrapped asparagus to another level. Thick slabs of dense, maple cured bacon imparted sweet smokiness to the often pungent asparagus. The pumpkin fries resembled wedge potatoes with a pleasantly crisp exterior and sweet, mealy insides complimented by a tangy sweet and sour peanut dipping sauce.


For main dishes, we did a chicken Pad See You (Ew), Tom Yum noodle soup with chicken, and delicious shredded beef fried rice. The large soup was a shareable portion, as were the entrees.

Pad See You, Foreground; Millionaire’s Way, background

I think the photos (however poorly lit) speak volumes more about the precision of Blackwood’s presentation and flavor than I am able to share in words. Our feast included every range of taste – sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and unami- and texture, combined in both comforting and unexpected ways. Don’t take my word for it: Try it yourself during a visit to San Francisco!

Recipe Reinterpretation: Salt & Straw’s Strawberry-rhubarb pie coconut ice “cream”

Portland, Oregon’s Salt & Straw makes a killer coconut milk ice cream packed with gooey, tangy chunks of strawberry-rhubarb pie. I recreated it with easy to assemble ingredients. So great you won’t miss the dairy, and non-vegans will miss the fact that it can be vegan.

After trying my sister’s scoop of Coconut with Petunia’s Strawberry Rhubarb Pie, I was enamored – and a bit envious of her choice. After I learned that its base consisted of coconut milk instead of dairy, I was floored. I’ve had nondairy, coconut milk ice cream before, but this version took it to another level. It was so creamy and had the melt-in-your-mouth texture of dairy cream, it seemed rich and indulgent.

Back home on the East Coast, attempting to replicate that experience was a no-brainer. The resulting nondairy ice cream incorporates pureed fruit, which lightens it up for hot summer days poolside. It may be a relatively healthy reinterpretation of the strawberry rhubarb pie coconut ice cream, but it does not skimp on large chunks of fresh strawberry-rhubarb pie. My own version was not completely vegan, since I used a pie containing eggs, but if you can make your own or find an egg and dairy-free store-bought version, you can keep it vegan-friendly.

  
What The CD used:
I used Silk brand Original coconut milk. It has added (natural) stabilizers, which help it emulsify cleanly with the strawberry purée. Purists may want to use canned coconut milk or cream instead, which is richer and tends to have fewer additives.

I purchased a ready-made, fresh strawberry-rhubarb pie from Trader Joe’s. It is all-natural, preservative free, and best of all, inexpensive at about $6. It also happens to have plenty of crust and gooey fruitiness, which make this a full-fledged dessert. By all means, if you’d like to make your own from scratch, go ahead! Personally, I believe it’s entirely too much effort for an ice cream mix-in.  Since the recipe only calls for half of a pie, however, it’s a great use for the leftover pie we almost always have after large gatherings and potluck meals.

Coconut Milk Ice Cream with Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

  • Servings: 8
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

  • 1 cup organic (Bio) whole strawberries OR 1/2 c. Strawberries and 1/2 c. Fresh rhubarb, diced – either brought to room temperature
  • 1/2 c. Evaporated cane juice (sugar)
  • 2 Tbsp. lemon or lime juice
  • 1 Tbsp. red dessert wine (optional)
  • 3 cups coconut milk
  • 1/2 tsp. Vanilla extract

Chill the pie 1-2 hours before freezing the ice cream.  In a small food processor or blender, partially purée strawberries (or strawberry/rhubarb blend), leaving some texture.

In a small saucepan, warm the puréed fruit on medium-low heat (3-4 setting out of 10). Add the citrus juice and wine (if desired) and bring to a slight bubble. Remove from heat and bring to room temperature.  Transfer to refrigerator (or freezer to save time) and chill.

  
Return puree to food processor/blender and gradually pulse in coconut milk until fully incorporated.  Add vanilla extract and pulse to mix. Assemble ice cream appliance, add the coconut milk base, and freeze according to instructions.  While the ice cream is churning, cut the pie into rough chunks.  It need not be pretty! Just before the churning is finished, add in the pie pieces until dispersed evenly.

  
Freeze for about one hour before serving. If storing long-term, freeze in airtight containers. Thaw for an hour before serving.

Keeping cool and carrying on with chilled cucumber-avocado soup

Sometimes, salads get to be a bit mundane in the middle of a summer heat wave. That’s when a chilled gazpacho or other cold soup variant is a nice change of pace.

My adaptation of a Martha Stewart Living recipe is a summer must-try: Summer-fresh English cucumbers add lightness and volume to the richness and velvety textures of avocado and Greek yogurt.  Lest these mellow flavors put your taste buds to sleep, citrus and jalapeño kick up the soup, while green onion and dill round it out with earthy sophistication. A food processor or blender and a vegetable peeler make preparation of this no-cook soup as easy as soups get!

Healthy Diplomat approved:
The second best aspect of this refreshing soup is how healthy it is. Not only is it raw* (shh!) and vegetarian-friendly, its blend of veggies and yogurt promotes good health. Now, before you run screaming at the mention of “raw” food as a trendy, Goop-like fad that normal people shouldn’t bother to try, think about the last time you ate a salad. Hello! Raw, whole food is more ” normal”than most of the processed foods we gravitate towards.

Anyhow, the only fat in the dish comes from predominantly monounsaturated fats in the avocado. Don’t leave it out! It is high in fiber, Vitamins C and K, folate, and potassium, too. The jalapeño, though small, is densely packed with Vitamin C and capsaicin, the latter of which is an anti-inflammatory and vasodilator. Google its purported benefits – you might be surprised! Greek yogurt not only adds texture, but it offers protein to power muscles and probiotic compounds to aid in digestion. I could go on about the rest of the ingredients’ value, but I won’t bore you further.

If I haven’t convinced you to step out of your summer salad comfort zone and try this elegant soup, take a moment and pledge to try it! It might not be your typical summer dish, but that is exactly why you should try it. Refreshingly complex, delicious, and also nutritious, it’s a sophisticated summer first course or light meal you won’t forget!

*Technically, it’s not completely raw when using pasteurized dairy (yogurt). Technically.

Chilled Cucumber and Avocado Soup

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

  • 1 English cucumber, peeled
  • 1 large avocado, peeled, pitted and quartered or diced
  • 1 Tbsp. lime juice (juice of one lime)
  • 1/2 tsp. lime Zest (optional)
  • 1 small jalapeño, seeded and chopped
  • 2 Tbsp. scallion, chopped (dark green parts excluded)
  • 2 tsp. fresh dill, finely chopped
  • 1 cup nonfat, plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 1/2 tsp. sea salt

Note: Only use the white and light green parts of the scallions; set the dark green parts aside for garnish. The avocado need not be chopped prior to adding it to the food processor; simply halve and scoop the flesh with a spoon directly from the skin.

Place all ingredients, excluding water, in a blender or food processor and purée until smooth. Gradually add in water to desired consistency. Transfer to serving containers and refrigerate at least 30 minutes before serving. The flavors meld well overnight, as well; the heat from the jalapeño builds as it rests.

Garnish with diced green onion (the dark green parts set aside) and/or plantain chips.

Salt and Straw: Portland’s haute ice creamery

Lines stretching far beyond the door are commonplace at each of Portland, Oregon’s Salt and Straw ice cream shops. Locals and visitors alike flock to them – and for good reason. Salt and Straw is an ice cream innovator, concocting dairy and non-dairy ice cream varieties you won’t find anywhere else.

By now, you know that I love ice cream – both eating it and making it. I have enjoyed and often preferred wonderful ice cream from all over the world, and I have to say after recently trying establishments like Jeni’s and Salt and Straw, the USA has come a long way in improving the quality of small-batch ice creameries in the past few years.

Salt and Straw has ridden the wave both of Portland’s vibrant food scene and of a growing trend for what I call haute creameries that incorporate the best in technique and technology, fresh and novel ingredients, and creative flavor profiles. Salt and Straw has mastered the trend, perhaps even aided by its odd name. Its ice cream, sorbet, and coconut milk/cream bases are rich, dense, and smooth.

  
Everything is fair game for flavorings: from chocolate covered peanut butter pretzels, local marionberries with habanero and goat cheese, olive oil, strawberry with balsamic vinegar and black pepper, pear and blue cheese; brownies with brownie batter; local coffee and bourbon; homemade almond brittle; to a special series of ice creams incorporating local, seasonal berries.

Unfortunately, I was too full to try a tasting flight of four ice cream flavors, so I chose the salted ganache with almond brittle. Its dark chocolate ganache had the most subtle hint of sea salt (I would have added more), and the homemade almost brittle paired with the ganache so well that I could barely separate the elements of the ice cream.

  
I sampled a few others, such as the Marionberry, goat cheese, and habanero, but it was the coconut milk based, nondairy coconut rhubarb pie that all but obliterated the memory of any other flavor. The coconut was so light and the texture so creamy that my sensitive tastebuds still wouldn’t have realized it was nondairy. The sweet, oversized chunks of rhubarb pie were luscious, bursting with fruit and with the nice contrasts in texture from the cream base, gooey fruit filling, and comforting pie crust. I don’t know why it has never occurred to me to put chunks of pie in ice cream, but what an essential twist on pie a la mode!

My brief fling with Salt and Straw left me wanting more. I can’t wait for my next visit to Portland and a tasting flight or heaping waffle cone of the flavors I didn’t try from Salt and Straw.