If there’s one thing we love to do more than eat and drink tasty dishes and spirits in Portland, it’s to be inspired by them.
Luckily, local writers are constantly turning out guidebooks and cookbooks that provide such rich backstories — and mouthwatering images and recipes — that we can’t help but find ourselves enchanted.
Here are two top new food and drink releases by Portland authors to check out this season:
• “Hello! My Name is Tasty: Global Diner Favorites from Portland’s Tasty Restaurants,” by John Gorham and Liz Crain
If you haven’t been to one of John Gorham’s restaurants yet, it’s something you’ll want to add to your to-do list.
One of Portland’s most esteemed, down-to-Earth and irreverent Gen-X chefs, Gorham is the chef/owner at Toro Bravo, Tasty n Sons, Tasty n Alder, Mediterranean Exploration Company, Shalom Y’all (which moved to 1128 S.W. Alder St. in February) and the event space PLAZA DEL TORO.
What ties his restaurants all together? His unique spin on authentic comfort food, whether it’s inspired by his travels to Spain or Israel or the American Southeast.
He travels constantly, for more experiences to shape and enhance his menus, and it was one of those road trips that inspired this latest Tasty cookbook.
In mid-August, he embarked on a 26-day trip to Spain, during which he plans to spend time with family, visit restaurants to eat and cook, visit fishing villages and vineyards, and lead a culinary tour for a group out of Barcelona.
“Any great restaurant tells a story,” Gorham told the Tribune just before leaving town. “But the bigger we get, the harder it is to get the story out.”
The book is the vehicle that tells its story, about why they’re doing what they’re doing.
The whole point of the Tasty restaurants, as any fan knows, is community.
Ordering small plates of their famous chocolate potato doughnuts, along with their addictive shakshuka (tomato with baked eggs), Burmese pork stew, and a board of housemade meats, patés, jerky, bacon, pickled veggies and dips to share with friends is a uniquely Portland experience.
Add to that a giant bloody mary or a boozy milkshake (recipes for all of which are included in the Tasty cookbook), and you’ll have a perfectly Instagrammable meal.
Gorham’s restaurants have shaped the Portland brunch scene as we know it today — making classics like Korean fried chicken, chilaquiles, lemon ricotta pancakes and “bim bop bacon and eggs” Portland-style before they were replicated by many other local chefs in Brunchlandia’s hotspots.
So is it the same if you recreate the food at home, for your friends and family?
Perhaps not, but it could be. The “Tasty” cookbook will make you want to clear your next few Sundays and start experimenting with some serious brunch fare.
“I think all of our food is pretty approachable” than his previous Toro Bravo cookbook, he says. “The ingredients are more approachable.”
That brings him to his underlying philosophy, the reason he’s been able to stay so successful in the hypercompetitive restaurant world.
“Adapt” and “stay relevant” are his mantras.
While other restaurants here and nationally have experiemented with eliminating tips in order to level the playing field between servers and cooks, Gorham was watching.
Most found problems and reverted back to the conventional system. Gorham took another approach, on a trial basis, and it proved so successful that he’s now making it permanent across all of his restaurants, he tells the Tribune.
“We added a kitchen tip line — we let the guests choose” whether and how much to tip the cooks in the kitchen, in addition to the regular tip line on the bill, he explains.
His audits show while most of the wait staff wages have stayed the same, customers’ tips have added $2 to each of the kitchen staff person’s wages.
There hasn’t been much controversy about the new method, he says, because there’s no pressure to add the kitchen tip if customers don’t want to.
Fans of the Tasty brand will be psyched to hear that Gorham is launching another Tasty endeavor in downtown McMinnville in the spring.
Third n Tasty, as it will be called, will be located at the new Atticus Hotel, a boutique hotel geared toward Oregon wine country visitors.
The third Tasty restaurant (on Third Street in McMinnville) will stay true to its brunchy roots while also focusing on dinner, with local ingredients and Mediterranean flair.
The chef will be Lane Stillman, who worked for Gorham in the Bay Area when they were at Chez Panisse, the country’s esteemed birthplace of farm-to-table cuisine. He’ll bring new equipment to the kitchen like a Josper grill, which will enable new dishes.
An extensive beverage program will feature Willamette Valley and Old World wines as well as Gorham’s favorite cocktails.
“I’ve always wanted to do a hotel project,” Gorham says. “I love McMinnville; there’s so much of our farmers and produce from that region. There’s a strong connection to the terroir. I also wanted to do something out of Portland, where I can drive there quick.”
This fall he’ll take a multicity tour for the Tasty book; later this winter he’ll cook at the James Beard House.
“I always try to do something different,” he says.
We say cheers to that.
• “High-Proof PDX: A Spirited Guide to Portland’s Craft Distilling Scene,” by Karen Locke
You’ve heard Portland is a big town for artisan cocktails — you know, those sophisticated drinks with herbs and shrubs and ingredients no one can pronounce? Well, those cocktails largely stemmed from Portland’s artisan spirit culture: Since 2005, a dozen distilleries have sprung up and are now part of Portland’s Distillery Row.
Portland drink writer Karen Locke takes a deep dive into this underworld of mindblowing creativity, where mad scientist-like distillers are producing top-notch vodka, gin and rum as well as whiskey, liqueurs, aquavit and other obscure spirits with love, by hand, from start to finish.
As a former bartender, Locke says she’s a nerd not just for how spirits are made, but why. She shares those distillers’ stories, and provides a welcome insight and perspective into the world of whiskey, which often raises eyebrows in Oregon because its lack of established roots and tradition here.
“Most people compare whiskey and bourbon to what you’d expect in Kentucky,” Locke says. “Now we’ve got whiskeys that have had long enough to age, that are more readily available. The next step is consumer education in the fact that whiskey here will taste different, from different ingredients, different climate, a different terroir. Those pieces make whiskey consumption exciting here in Oregon.”
Hear Locke’s book talk about “High-Proof PDX” with Lee Medoff of Bull Run Distilling on Sunday, Sept. 10 at Powell’s City of Books, 7:30 p.m.
Also, meet the author and purchase a signed copy of the book at the book-launch party, 5-10 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 7 at Bit House Saloon. It’s free and open to the public with a cash bar, there will be special cocktails and an ice luge.
Finally, join Locke for a “High-Proof PDX” cocktail dinner at Quaintrelle on North Mississippi, 6:30 p.m. Sept. 28. The $90 per person event includes a 4-course dinner with paired cocktails and a signed book. For more: www.highproofpdx.com.