When I’m road-trip dining or drinking, it sometimes takes a sizable leap of faith to order something completely off the tastebud charts. But such adventures often lead to memorable culinary discoveries. Here are five that stood out in 2013.
For me, spam conjures up long-repressed memories of canned luncheon meats from when something healthier like, say, baloney was unavailable. So I’m curious to see what noted chef Dean Shinagawa can do with an updated version, called spam musubi, at his new, *Kama’aina Grindz in Everett, Washington. And I’m floored to find it, dare I say, delicious, the soy-marinated “meat” crisply grilled, perched atop rice and wrapped in seaweed—a 1960s’ sushi square if you will from this Hawaiian-Asian master. Needless to say, this spam dish is beautifully presented and a $5 bargain appetizer. The only thing I can ask, Dean, is where were you 40 years ago?
2933 Colby Avenue, Everett, Washington
Monday to Thursday 11 am- 7 pm, Friday-Saturday 11 am-8 pm. Closed Sunday
I’ve heard of blackened fish and blackened chicken. But blackened soup? Or bamboo charcoal dark miso ramen, to be more precise. In Asian cultures, charcoal powder is considered a tonic for digestion, skin problems and aging. But the flavour? At Motomachi Shokudo, a top Japanese ramen house in the west end of downtown Vancouver, the soup is delightful—beautifully presented in a large ceramic bowl, with curled noodles, a soft-boiled egg and barbecued pork. But the revelation is the dark, pungent broth, highlighted by the smoky charcoal powder.
740 Denman Street, Vancouver
Daily noon to 11 pm, except closed Wednesday
A lot of culinary innovation is happening on the food-truck scene. So it’s no surprise that Portland, with some 700 stationary food “carts”, is at the forefront. Of the many interesting cart creations I sampled on a recent Portland visit, perhaps nothing overcame my “not bloody likely” reflex quite like PBJ’s Grilled, which you may have deduced stands for grilled peanut butter and jam sandwiches. In my case, it’s the award-winning grilled Oregonian—a medley of challah bread, Oregon hazelnut butter, Rogue Creamery blue cheese and house-made marion berry jam (duck is an add on). Don’t know why, but it lives up to the cart’s motto: “Deliciously addictive.”
SE 12 Avenue and Hawthorne Boulevard (also at 919 NW 23 Street), Portland
Tuesday to Sunday opens at 11 am. Closed Monday
I’ve had chiles added to chocolate. So it was probably just a matter of time before they showed up in one of my beers. It’s actually on a Portland sidewalk, where I encounter Burnside Brewing brewmaster Jason McAdam grilling some Scotch bonnet peppers and peach halves on a little Weber charcoal grill. They’re being used to dry hop a version of the brewery’s Sweet Heat Ale, which when sampled definitely has some citrus notes, along with a searing punch to the back of my throat.
701 East Burnside Street, Portland
Monday to Thursday opens at 3 pm, Friday to Sunday at noon
Talk about fusion, or maybe confusion. How about some booze and barbecue added to breakfast? At The Red Wagon Restaurant in Vancouver, it’s the stack of pancakes layered with pulled pork and topped with, get this, Jack Daniels maple syrup. The result is filling and unique—the salty, moist pulled pork nicely complemented by the sweet bourbon syrup. I’m just hoping the alcohol has evaporated before I hit the mid-morning streets.
The Red Wagon Restaurant
2296 East Hastings Street, Vancouver
Weekdays 8 am-9 pm, weekends 9 am-9 pm