We Guess Even Angels say, “Oy vey!”

We loved being in our community this morning, watching kids at Riverside Community Church sing in a wonderful little play written by our own Elaine Busby, kind of a mash-up of the Bethlehem manger and Harry Potter. And proving that his new-found acting skills have a wide range, Matt Rankin, lately George Bailey of CAST’s “It’s a Wonderful Life,” played Lord Voldemort.

And isn’t that Christmas all in a nutshell … Good George overcoming Evil Voldy?

We did have a nice giggle when one of those in the little angel choir, certainly following the music director’s admonition to “wear white” under those angel wings, had on a white t-shirt that said, “What a Week I’ve Had.”

If you’ve had a week … too much shopping, too little contemplation … we send our very best wishes for a precious holiday time, whether you’re enjoying Christmas, Hanukah or Solstice. Hang out with George, and send Voldemort packing.

New Year’s Menu Revealed!

OK, enough contemplation! Get with the program and reserve for New Year’s Eve! Here’s the menu. You can reserve by, in order of preference (ours): call the restaurant, 541-387-4000; Reserve right here at our blog; Reserve through OpenTable.

Why is calling for a reservation our first preference? Cost us nothing when you call; costs us a little when you use our Web site; costs us real bucks when you use OpenTable. BUT, however you do it, do it soon so we are prepared. Are you a last-minuter? OK, last year we were sold out the DAY before, so please don’t call us at 4:00 on Dec. 31 looking for a six-top, Lord Voldemort.

And here’s the menu:

Starters:

Terrine maison, cornichons, pear mostarda, pickled red onions, baguette

Oysters on the half shell:

— raw, mignonette and fresh grated horseradish

— roasted, fennel hollandaise and anisette butter bread crumbs

Scallop ceviche, blood orange, cannelini beans, pimenton d’esplete flour tortilla crisps

Lobster and shrimp bisque

Beet and apple salad

Kumquat salad, frissee, goat cheese, honey walnuts

Main courses:

Mountain Shadow grilled lamb chops, pistachio aillade, house-made pappardelle pasta, Brussels sprouts, lemon parmesan cream

Mountain Shadow fillet mignon, artichoke and Yukon Gold gratin, mushroom demi glaze

Seared duck breast, gorgonzola and Brussels sprouts risotto, marionberry shallot gastrique GF

Chilean sea bass cheeks, avocado taratour, lemon cauliflower, warm garbanzo bean and carrot salad  GF

Pumpkin and ameretti gnocchi, sage and brown butter, grana cheese V

Desserts:

Bananas Foster Crème Brulee GF

Meyer lemon tartlets, poppyseed crust, blueberries

Hazelnut chocolate dacqouise, caramel whipped cream, blood orange sorbet GF

 

 

 

A Holiday Dispensation, Just for You

Santa isn’t the only one passing out the goodies. Just in case your e-mail in-box has been cluttered with ads, and you missed it, the deadline has passed for reserving for our second Family Dinner Project, this time a wonderful trip to China with the Crafts/Roach family.

But this is your lucky day! This Santa Chef is offering you another day, clear till tomorrow morning, to reserve. And why is that? Lots of Chinese food, not enough reservations. And that explains our largesse at this late date. Big ol’ smiley face right here.

Here are the details:

Menu
Oily scallion cakes
Spinach salad
Red cooked shrimp
Dry fried beef
Jasmine rice

Please join us on Wednesday December 17, and our guests of honor, the Roach-Crafts family. (If you missed Nancy Roach’s great essay about this dinner, please read the post below this one.)

Reserve for any time in the evening, between 5 and 9.  Price is $25 per person,  MSG will cost you extra.

New Year’s Eve: Not to Early to Reserve

There will be fillet mignon, duck breast and lamb chops. We’ll leave the rest up to your imagination for the moment. We’ll send you the full menu next week, but of course, you may reserve now to get your favorite time.

Just a reminder, we are closed Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. God bless us every one.

Family Dinner Project Takes us to China

Our first family dinner project last week with the Mullis family and a dinner from Ethiopia was tremendous fun, and it sold out. So, a word to the wise, please make sure and reserve soon for our upcoming December 17 visit to China, via the Roach-Crafts family. Reservations close on Monday, December 15. Dinner is $25 a person, and reservations are held with a credit card number.

And now, the wonderful story of how a cookbook, bought off a book sale table in 1980, changed everything for Nancy, Greg, and their now-grown children:

Mrs. Chiang and THE COOKBOOK by Nancy Roach

“Around 1980, Greg and I lived in LA, where we both enjoyed trying real Chinese, Thai and Vietnamese food (as opposed to what we’d found in suburban Detroit and Boston). One day, I was on a bike ride and stopped at a bookstore in Marina Del Rey. I looked at the SALE BOOKS table and saw a book called Mrs. Chiang’s Szechuan Cookbook. I bought it, not knowing that it would assume legendary status in our lives.

“The cookbook is infused with links to Mrs. Chiang’s life in China. The recipes aren’t just lists of ingredients and instructions. Every recipe mentions how the recipe is connected to her family, and many encourage naïve cooks to try new spices or new foods. Someday I want to try the “cold plate” recipe that her dad served at gatherings.

“In the beginning, I was nervous – kind of like the beginning of a relationship. I remember the first time I had to find Szechuan peppercorns … and then I had to find a mortar because they didn’t come ground up. Dinner was late that night. And her comments about dried peppers were a revelation. I was skeptical that touching the seeds would make my hands spicy, so I tested it. Big mistake. And we also learned that if you toss hot dried peppers into a wok, the resulting smoke will not only set off the smoke alarm but also make you cough your lungs out.

“Over the years, we tried many of the recipes in THE COOKBOOK, which is obvious from what it looks like. The book is cracked in multiple places, and it’s pretty obvious which recipes we like because the food stains are numerous.

“Our family feast favorites have landed on Oily Scallion Cakes for hors d’hoevres, followed by Dried Fried Beef and Spinach Salad. Personally, I would add Red Cooked Shrimp (a revelation) and the Cucumber Carrot Salad, but I’m not sure my family would agree.  Oily Scallion Cakes are a group effort to make and clean up after … you make a very stiff dough, then make little jelly rolls of dough, peanut oil (or lard), scallions and salt. After that, you cut up the jelly roll and pat the section into pancakes which are then deep-fried and salted. We’ve made these in multiple settings, and everyone – even my wildly picky nephews – have loved them. Dry Fried Beef requires hours of low-temp cooking, which means you need to banish people from the kitchen so they don’t eat it before it’s done. The Spinach Salad is a mix of garlic, sesame oil, soy sauce … and we use versions of the dressing to marinate everything from veggies to meat to fish.

“And Mrs. Chiang has resulted in some interesting experiments. I experimented with a salted chicken (raw) that had to sit for 3 days at room temp, and then get smoked. Greg refused to try it … I tried it and lived … I liked it but have taken so much flak over the years that I refuse to make it again. We had friends and family here for Christmas a few years ago, and I decided to make a duck dish that involved brining (in the fridge this time), steaming, hanging and frying … I hung the duck in the bathtub and once again was mocked.

However, people devoured the duck. The Dry Fried Beans were a mistake in many ways … not sure why. The meatball soup has evolved to an easy favorite. And I used our summer CSA veggies in different versions of THE BOOK.

“Our family has been shaped by this cookbook. We’ve been in multiple oriental markets to find the more exotic ingredients, which exposed us to foods we’d never seen at the grocery store, and helped us feel more comfortable trying different grocery stores and different foods. Our son makes elaborate Indian dishes … he preps spices and herbs into small bowls which he lines and up tosses into the pot at the right time. He learned that from our experience with Mrs. Chiang. When we asked our daughter what she wanted for her special birthday feast at age 5, she said “oily scallion cakes.” And my husband, who grew up on meat and potatoes south of Boston, is happy to help with shopping, prepping, cooking and cleaning for a Mrs. Chiang meal. I actually found a couple of used versions of her cookbook online and gave them to the kids for Christmas recently. Andy had tears in his eyes.

“Katie said ‘I’d rather eat than cook.’ HA!”

So, our meal will be:

Oily scallion cakes
Spinach salad
Red cooked shrimp
Dry fried beef
Jasmine rice

Please join us on Wednesday December 17, and our guests of honor, the Roach-Crafts family.

We learn other things farmers are good for

Kathy sat at Nora’s kitchen bar, a busted pasta crimper in one hand, a useless allen wrench in the other, and an odd assortment of screws, tools, and electrical parts spread out on the counter in front of her.

Yes, the *&%# crimper only costs $12, but when you need it, you need it (plus which, where would you find one in Hood River on a Tuesday afternoon?) and the screw holding the stainless steel roller to the wooden handle had come loose, rendering the crimper completely useless. A long strip of agnolotti dough lay forlornly on the prep board in the kitchen. It was 4:00 pm.

The back door opened, and like he does every Tuesday at 4:00 pm, Paul Brown, one half of the farming team at Wildwood Farm, came through the door, arms piled high with wax boxes.

“Whatcha got going on there?” Paul asked Kathy, and before Kathy could say “butternut squash” (which was in one of the boxes) Paul had muscled Kathy off the stool, pawed through the tool box and the rag-tag screws and miscellany, and put the crimper back together again, better than new, which involved taking apart an old electrical switch. Apparently, farming requires quite a bit of MacGyvering.

Paul was gone in a flash, and Kathy went back to the agnolotti. But she kept thinking about Paul, and all our farmers, who bring skill, good will, good humor, and helping hands, to a very hard, job. Do we reward them enough? Nah. But we can say thanks. Thanks, Paul.

 

 

Winners of Family Dinner Project Announced

When we asked you to share your stories of family and food, we thought we’d received a few cryptic notes and hastily scratched recipes.

What we never expected were beautiful essays full of tender, funny, and sometimes heartbreaking moments spent sharing food with family and friends. And so we are honored to present the winners of the Family Dinner Project, to be served and enjoyed this fall and winter at Nora’s Table:

December 3: “An Ethiopian Dinner with our New Family” by Lisa Mullis. Lisa tells the story of their family’s first dinner together in a restaurant in Addis Ababa, after waiting for three years to adopt their son and daughter.

December 17: “Mrs. Chaing and THE COOKBOOK” by Nancy Roach. A Chinese cookbook bought off a book sale table in 1980 changed everything for Nancy, Greg, and their now-grown children.

January 14: “An afternoon Quail Hunt in the Florida Panhandle” by David Hanson. A young man from the Atlanta suburbs goes hunting with a good friend who teaches him how to honor simple foods.

January 28: “My Mom, her Wake, and the Giant Sub Sandwich” by Sarah Sullivan. Since Sarah’s mom died unexpectedly last May, Sarah has spent hours poring over her cookbooks, remembering delicious family meals, and a cook who lived by the maxim, “enjoy every sandwich.”

February 18: “Scraping Together Thursday Dinner in Natchez, Mississippi” by Linda Floyd. There was always just enough on the table in Linda’s Mississippi childhood, but her richest memory is of the poorest night of the week.

March 4: “Yours, Mine and Ours: A Blended Family Dinner in Trout Lake” by Kira Fogarty. What happens when two couples who love and share their kids, move to the same community just to farm, preserve, cook and eat together.

Each winning family will be joining us as our guests on the night their family dinner is served. And you can join in. Please reserve in advance. Here are the details of our first dinner:

An Ethiopian Dinner with our New Family

Please join us and the Mullis Family on December 3 for this Ethiopian feast:

Chicken doro wat
Beef tibs
Shiro (an African-style hummus)
Injera (grilled teff bread)
Turkish coffee, popcorn (an Ethiopian tradition) and pastry

Price per person: $25

Please reserve now, for any time you wish between 5:00 pm and 9:00 pm on Wednesday, December 3. Reservations will be accepted through Monday, December 1, and will be held with a credit card number.

And here’s Lisa’s essay about her wonderful first family dinner:

“My family’s most special and memorable dinner occurred on November 11, 2013, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

That morning, after a nearly three year long journey, my husband Brian and I left our adoption agency’s care center in Addis with our two children fully and finally in our custody. It was an entirely surreal moment to realize that we were now officially together as family, months and months of anxious waiting over.

The first thing we did after we left the care center was to go out to eat. This would have been entirely novel for our children as only our oldest, then five years old, had ever been at a restaurant and only one time that we’re aware of. The act of sharing our first meal together was so much more than gaining sustenance; it was the ageless ritual of sharing food together to mark the beginning of new relationships.

Ethiopia is a melting pot of cultures, and the only African country to have never ceded its independence since its formation. Ethiopian food is a fusion of Indian, African, European and Muslim dishes. It’s delicious! For our first meal together we had doro wat, tibs, shiro and of course injera.

It may seem surprising that in the year since our kids have been home, we have not had any Ethiopian food other than some shiro (which I really goofed up which probably explains the lack of further forays). Our son Kylan really misses injera. Our daughter Lotti LOVES hummus which is a close relation to shiro (and also my favorite Ethiopian dish). Otherwise both our children really enjoy typical American fare; if they were in charge, pizza would be on the menu every night. We do keep a steady supply of Ethiopian coffee in the cupboard … the best is Tamoca … and a bottle of berbere on the counter­­—two staples of Ethiopian food culture.

Another thing to note is that coffee is almost always served with popcorn, both during a formal coffee ceremony (which happens frequently to mark special occasions and holidays) and after a meal at a restaurant.

The Family Dinner Project would be a great opportunity for our kids to get a taste of home in their new one.”

Thanksgiving: Another chance for family dinner

Not with us, though. You’re on your own, with the help of your Aunt Sylvia who insists on rolls (“Couldn’t you just butter your stuffing, Aunt Sylvia?”) and Cousin Richard who brings cranberry sausage relish (old family recipe). But it’s a great story, no?

There’s plenty of hubbba-hubbas right now for businesses that refuse to be open for Thanksgiving. Heck, we’ve never been open for Thanksgiving for ten years, with the exception of two years at Viento when we did a free community dinner.

We will be home with our friends and families, and a few who are neither (yet) but have nowhere else to go.

We’ll see you on Friday morning for breakfast though, and we promise: No turkey and stuffing frittatas. We will have outstanding house-made eggnog, and delicious pumpkin pancakes with orange butter. And after you and yours enjoy that breakfast, we hope you will wander through downtown Hood River, including all the side streets (hint: that’s where the chocolate is) and shop here at home. There’s so little joy in fighting the crowds in an urban parking lot. Remember why you are here.

 

 

 

 

Four days left to participate in the Family Dinner Project

Hope you’ve been thinking about that special dinner in your family history, because we really want to hear your story! And the deadline for submission is November 10.

If you missed our announcement last week, here are the details.

This fall and winter, Nora’s Table restaurant is launching the Family Dinner Project. Send the restaurant your story of an important family dinner, complete with menu and recipes if you have them, and the restaurant will select six winning family dinners.

The dinners don’t have to be fancy to be important enough to share. And don’t worry if you have just one dish … we don’t need a three-course feast, but that would be nice too. We want to hear everyone’s story, and learn how food helped bring families together.

On select Wednesday nights through the fall and winter, the restaurant will prepare each of the winning family dinners. Each of the six winners whose family dinner is selected will win dinner for four the night their family dinner is served at Nora’s. Customers will be able to reserve seats for each of these dinners. Price will vary, depending on the menu.

So, get crackin’ going through that recipe box!

Old Home Week comes to Nora’s

Don’t get us wrong, we love Gorge visitors. But we we loved looking over the dining room last night and seeing nothing but familiar faces. One wag, mouth full of our new pork belly dish, said, “We’ve been waiting for everyone to leave so we could come in.”

And that new pork belly dish…?

We’re curing and braising that pork belly confit, then tossing crispy chunks in a delightful house-made tomato sesame sweet and sour, and serving them with wontons of kobucha squash, lime and sweet pepper, and then adding a little zing with Asian pickled kale flowers.

Just a little old thing Chris and Kathy whipped up for November.

 

 

 

 

Korea meets Germany on friendly terms

You get to hear some things only once in life:

“Kathy, I’m putting your intestines in the walk-in.”

That was Sous Chef Matt Patterson telling Chef Kathy Watson that the hog casing was going into the cooler.  That same casing came out a little later and Kathy made what she is calling Korean bratwurst.  It just seemed like the right thing to do, since Kristin and Colin Franger went to all the trouble to create Kraut-Chi at their new local company, Blue Bus Cultured Foods.

Kraut-chi is sauerkraut meets kimchi, and so our bratwurst packs a little Korean heat just to keep up. Our bratwurst is made from Carlton Farms pork shoulder and humanely-raised veal and those Korean spices. You can order a small plate of Korean bratwurst, Blue Bus kraut-chi and spicy hot mustard, for $10.

One day only, Nora’s is joined by Bill and Dick’s Steakhouse

Stu and Kathy have fond memories of their dads, Bill and Dick, loving steak. And so for Father’s Day, in addition to our regular menu, we’ll be offering a selection of steaks and sides, just like a first-rate steak house. Here’s the list:

Mountain Shadow fillet mignon, $28
Mountain Shadow rib eye, $27
Sunnybrook Farm t-bone, $32

Your choice of:

  • duck demi glaze beurre rouge
  •  Nora’s 58 steak sauce

Your choice of:

  • Twice-baked stuffed sour cream cheddar potatoes
  • French fries

Your choice of:

  • Grilled asparagus
  • Creamed garlic kale

Yes, reservations for Father’s Day dinner are encouraged. You can reserve online at norastable.com, or by calling us at 541-387-4000. Father’s Day breakfast reservations can be made only by phone.

Other fun new stuff joins our early June menu

Samosas are back, those fried Indian pastries, and this time we’re filling them with duck, potatoes and peas, and serving them with Quercus Farm red currant and fig chutney.

Our delicious mushroom soup is taking a summer break, and this week, we’ve created a spring vegetable minestrone with fava beans, peas, asparagus, white beans, and a summer savory pesto.

Beginning Friday, our spring Chinook salmon will be served with potato spring garlic persillade, and fava bean and spring pea succotash

 

Now We Are Seven

In his classic children’s poem, “Now We Are Six” A.A. Milne wrote:

When I was One,
I had just begun.
When I was Two,
I was nearly new.
When I was Three
I was hardly me.
When I was Four,
I was not much more.
When I was Five, I was just alive.
But now I am Six, I’m as clever as clever,
So I think I’ll be six now for ever and ever.

 This year, this very Memorial Day weekend, we are seven. There were times I thought last year we might be six for ever and ever. I wasn’t sure I wanted to keep going. Many of you heard the restaurant was for sale. As our good friend Brian McNamara of Brian’s Pour House says, “The restaurant is always for sale!”

And by that he means, show up with a large enough check and a twinkle in your eye, and the joint could be yours.

We had some rough years there, around one and two and three. The recession nearly throttled us. If it had not been for great word of mouth and dedicated customers, we would have gone under. We had some bad actors in our kitchen in those days too, guys whose egos were far bigger than their toques, guys who yelled and drank our booze and stabbed the walls with their knives when things didn’t go their way.

One day, one of those chefs was standing at his station slicing mushrooms. Whack, whack, whack, very quickly, his knife barely touching the board. I walked by. He asked me, “You know what makes a great chef?” I was curious, since he couldn’t possibly mean me, considering his contempt for my abilities. “No, what?” I asked. “It’s the ability to slice mushrooms without looking,” he said. A year later, after we no longer had that negative energy in our kitchen, Sous Chef Justin Anderson was standing in the same place, slicing mushrooms. I told him the story of “what makes a great chef.” Justin laid down his knife and held up his hand. “I think a great chef is a guy with all his fingers.” THAT’S more like it, I thought, a man with an appropriate sized ego, with nothing to prove, who sends out beautiful plates and calmly guides the kitchen through brutally long nights, with good cheer for all the staff.

When another of those unhappy chefs stormed out nearly four years ago, yelling, “This place is going down!” I thought, not yet. Pastry Chef Rainbow Trosper, who was there that day, repeats that line now whenever we earn kudos, like the Oregonian’s piece last week on “Best of the Gorge” calling us the best fine dining and breakfast spot here. Not going down. No sir, not yet.

I learned something from those guys who are gone now. I learned that knife skills, swagger and creativity are not enough. I learned how to create a kitchen that squares with my human values.  No one will ever set foot in our kitchen or dining room again who doesn’t live those values. That means: we make it right, we make it local, we make it from scratch, we make every plate better than the last, we serve it with grace, and we treat each other with the highest regard at all times.

As we rolled through our sixth year, things just got better and better. I think I will remember this time, right now, as the Golden Age of Nora’s Table. We have a great crew, and I love and respect each one of them. I know their strengths, their weaknesses, but what’s far more important than either of those things is their commitment. To Stu and me, to excellence at Nora’s Table, and to each other.

We have great farmers, fabulous customers, and the beautiful Gorge around us. We lack for nothing. We want what we have.

Happy 7th birthday, Nora’s Table. We grew past six. And eight is just around the corner.

 

 

 

This just in … from all over

Hood River and the Gorge is getting plenty of ink the last week.

We got a big shout-out in The Oregonian’s “Best of the Gorge” piece by Terry Richard. Terry says readers think we’re the best fine-dining joint AND the best breakfast in the Hood.

And then the San Francisco Chronicle’s wine editor Jon Bonne writes a great piece about our Gorge winemakers. Watch out, the hordes are coming for us and our “promising paradise.”  Jon, we’re living that promise already, every day. Such a joy to have a Gorge-only wine list at Nora’s.

 

 

Dinner has its benefits

We are sorry to tell you, our dear fans, that we have a full house for breakfast this coming Sunday, May 11, for Mother’s Day.

But you are not out of luck. Because we still have dinner reservations available, with a nice little gift for our moms: free dessert.

And what might that dessert be, you ask? Hand-picked by two of our favorite moms-on-staff, Chef Kathy and Chef Rainbow: Salted caramel pot de crème, raspberry linzer cookie. If your mom is enjoying a gluten-free life, no problem. She can just skip the cookie.

You can reserve for Mother’s Day dinner by calling us at 541-386-8870, or make a reservation on line at norastable.com.

Oregon Coastal King Salmon makes Star Turn this Weekend

Fresh beautiful king salmon, hook and line caught, will be on our menu beginning this Friday. Since we cook what our farms grow, when God (and Laurel and Paul and Wildwood Farm) give us pac choy, then we pair our salmon with same. To wit: King salmon, soy honey orange glaze, pac choy, carrot ginger coulis, five spice cashews.

We’ll have three beautiful salads this weekend, too, including a new dish created by chef de partie Julia Bruggeman: Quercus Farm greens, red-wine poached Oregon marionberries, marionberry and champagne vinegar vinaigrette, blue cheese, spring garlic croutons.

Here are some of the other dishes on our menu:

Indian-spice rubbed grilled Mountain Shadow lamb chops, curried blackberry gastrique, coconut dahl and snap peas, Saur Farming turnip and turnip green raita

Mountain Shadow 12-ounce rib eye, duck fat potatoes, Windflower arugula, blue cheese croutons and blue cheese

Vegetarian: New Mexico style open-faced kale enchilada, goat cheese, red chili mole, Valerie’s duck egg, peruano beans.

See you around Nora’s Table for Mother’s Day.

Halibut and Oregon Lamb for Easter!

This beautiful fresh Canadian halibut just arrived, and will be on our menu the next two nights. Matt and halibut We’re serving it with toasted cous cous, kale raab and a velvety hazelnut orange chocolate vinaigrette.

We’ll also have sweet, tender fresh spring lamb leg from Mountain Shadow Meats, served with creamed red potatoes, snap peas and English peas.

For the rest of the menu, scroll down to the previous post.