Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Leaf Pile

(early october. number 23.)

In 2010, we did not get to do autumn the way we wanted to. Housemates moved out, taking the dining table and many kitchen tools with them- weekends were packed, and our cooking was limited to small, cozy, private dinners. So we took a bit of a break, then made pizzas because that wouldn't require a table, then we built our own table and started up again. This year, we set about to do three autumnal meals in relatively quick succession. This was the second, happening on the first weekend in October. 

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Farm To Table

(mid september. number 22.)

We visited our friend Will Boal, who worked the 2011 farming season at Let Us Farm, located in Oakville, WA (about 30some miles from Olympia. He's the guy in the yellow mackintosh). 

Will was living in a delightful old farm house, with a well stocked kitchen and a large table cover that turns his modest 3 or 4 person dinner table into a proper feasting platform. All of these vegetables (and also the eggs) came from the very land we cooked the food on, and were gathered mere hours before the meal was served. 

Secret Restaurant Portland has been casually existing within the "farm to table" movement for a year and a half now. So this first weekend of fall, we went to the farm and we filled the table. We made a midafternoon lunch/dinner- a sort of old fashioned "Sunday Supper."

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Last Chance

(early september. number 21.)

At the end of the entry for Dinner #20, I metioned Nigel Slater's Tender as a major source of inspiration. This year, due our awfully rainy spring, most August veggies and fruits were late. We missed out on doing SR in August, largely due to my being gone for 2 weeks in the middle of it (see previous entry). This was serendipitus, as this early September Secret Restaurant was scheduled for a hot-as-Hades weekend, with peaches and figs and tomatoes in full force. To plan the menu we basically spent time reading what Mr. Slater had to say about the ingredients we hoped to work with, and chose some exciting recipes as the jump off point. Once again, major inspiration credit is due to Nigel. As a disclaimer, however, we did make a point to do something unique with each dish. We ate outside on the porch, knowing it was probably our last chance.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

August, in 22 Pictures

 We did not do Secret Restaurant in August. 

I (Andrew) was away for half of the month of August, visiting college friends in New England. Those college friends are beginning The Runnymede Project, a farm/homestead/arts organization in North Hampton, New Hampshire. I will be joining them next year, and this Secret Restaurant project will morph into something new when located out east. Here is what the barns look like:

I wanted to do a post about my time at Runnymede because the gorgeous vegetable bounty, communal atmosphere, frequent visitors, and constantly reunited friends was sort of like a perpetual Secret Restaurant. Less fancy, more spontaneous, more collaborative– but similar all the same. 

I did a lot of cooking in New Hampshire, primarily with one large electric pan. Here I am in the late afternoon one day:

These communal meals we ate were all over the place– mashed turnips with fresh goat's milk and butter, rainbow chard and spiced red beans, covered in sunflower seed/thyme gravy; grilled cheese sandwiches with grilled corn on the cob; candied carrots; a mediterranean feast; rosehip jam from wild rosehips gathered nearby; broccoli with cheese sauce made using lobster butter... Some of these photos show food I didn't even have a hand in making– the point is that everyone was sharing the freshest, best foods at the best time of year to be eating right out of a garden. 

19 of these 22 photographs were taken on with a 1970s Canon 35mm camera by Aria Mikkola-Sears. The other 3 were taken by me and don't have borders. Enjoy. 

Tuesday, September 6, 2011


...In Portland, via England and Italy. 

                                                          (late july. number 20.)

With Lucas away in France sampling soft cheeses, charchuterie, and exotic seafood platters- I was left to plan this menu, as the dinner date was a mere day after Lucas's return to Portland. The inspiration was memories of, and cookbooks from, the only two places across the Atlantic where I've spent any significant amount of time. 

Monday, August 8, 2011


(mid june. number 19.)

For this Secret Restaurant, we wanted to try something pretty far outside of our usual realm of experience. Inspired by a visit to famed ridiculous Peruvian restaurant in the Peal District, and tales from friends of eating experiences in South America, we ended up with what could only be described as a new genre! Ecuadorian Nouvelle Cuisine. The faux fusion restaurant this time would be named after Aria's former place of residence, Cuenca. O brother, where will we go next?

On the Table

Tortilla chips (store-bought, we can't make eeeverything!) and homemade spice slam habanero salsa. 

Skewers & Salad
Rock fish and prickly-pear cactus on skewers. The fish was rubbed with blackening spices, and the fruit touched up with a little sugar for extra caramelizing, then cooked on an outdoor grill. Drizzled with a deep, dark mole sauce.
The salad was a mexican-style coleslaw, with cabbage, red onion, spring turnip, pickled cactus, and underripe kiwi,  treated with lime juice and white wine vinegar. Served on top of fresh lettuces from our backyard garden.
Served with a slice of yellow hothouse heirloom tomato, touched up with pink himalayan salt and lemon pepper.

Sunday, June 26, 2011


(late may. number 18.)

In this phase of fusion dinners, we've been joking a lot about what silly, one-word, all-lowercase names we could have. 
This time, it was asiopé

The idea? Dishes inspired by Asian cuisines, but with a European flavor profile. 
A little silly, potentially? Yes. 
Did it work? We think so.

To Drink:

Earl Grey Booze On Earl Grey Rocks

We infused, sun-tea style, like last time, our "house basic booze" (Monopolawa Austrian potato vodka) with an extra citrus-style earl grey tea, as well as lemon twists, some lavender flowers, lavender oil, and a few douglas fir tips (for some local flavor). 
We made large batches of sweetened earl grey iced tea, and turned some of it (before the diluting stage) into ice cubes. Guests placed a cube or two in their cups, then poured their vodka through a teapot-shaped strainer, and mixed it with the straight ice tea. 

Tuesday, May 17, 2011


(late april. number 17.)

This Secret Restaurant was a continuation of the "o wow, spring might actually be happening" theme of our earlier April dinner, as well as a chance to try to some ideas for dishes and drinks that we'd had floating around for a while.  Then we packaged it all in vaguely Scandanavian manner.  

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Signs Of Spring

(first week of april. number 16.)

This dinner was the beginning of a less theme-heavy, new phase for us.

secret restaurant portland: a fusion pescetarian restaurant. I think we might really be on to something here– we should open in the downstairs part of one of those ridiculous loft buildings so omnipresent in Portland right now.

But really, it was a celebration of Portland Farmer's Market opening again, the flavors and colors it could provide us, and the tastes we wanted to combine right here in the late-coming spring.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Great Redwall Feast

(early march. number 15.)

"The famous kitchens of Redwall Abbey were abustle with activity that night. Friar Alder, the thin, lanky mouse in charge of it all, added wild plumjuice to an enormous hazlenut crumble he had just pulled from the oven..."

I (Andrew) am a preschool teacher, and in late January our librarian brought one of the classrooms a Redwall picture book called 'A Redwall Winter's Tale,' written by Brian Jacques and illustrated by Christopher Denise. It was written and released long after I "grew out" of reading this series popularized by nerdy 5th grade boys, so I'd never seen it. Neither had a coworker who was also excited by the books' appearance at school. This led me to discover the other two books made with the same illustrator– 'The Great Redwall Feast' and 'The Redwall Cookbook.'

I remember always being particularly enchanted by the descriptions of food in the books; flowery cordials and creamy cheeses and savory pies. I even made a Redwall cookbook around age 11, poorly laid out and haphazardly printed on my families' ink jet color printer in 1997. I'm not sure if I ever tried to make anything out of it. I probably just shoved it under my mother's nose and hoped for the best.

A few days after the wintry picture book had appeared, my coworker shared the news he'd learned of Jacques passing, from a heart attack at the age of 71, a few days earlier. I immediately became determined to pull off a Redwall themed Secret Restaurant, as an homage to Jacques and a celebration of the end of winter.

And yes, that first image is of a mouse hand sculpted out of marzipan by my roommate Kellen.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Southern Pacific

(valentine's weekend. number 14)

We had some guests in town for this one, which was very exciting. Faith Griffiths, who does this thing (The Jubilee Collective) and has this band (Dana & Faith), had been doing an internship down in Eugene. So she came up with the friends she's been living with and our old pal Russell, who has helped with sporadic Secret Restaurant events before. Faith made the cake and Russ made the biscuits & the cookies– they both helped enormously with prep work.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Magyar Vacsora

[mid january. number 13.]

This Hungarian-themed Secret Restaurant was, building upon our New Year's feast, another nostalgia trip, dating all the way back to the first dinner Lucas and I ever cooked together. We had both moved up to Portland, having been relatively out of touch for a while (but we've known each other since we were 11), and decided to cook dinner one night in November. At the grocery store we picked an exotic and inaccessible sounding cuisine to tackle: Hungarian.

I grew up stopping at Novak's Hungarian Restaurant (one of the only things to experience in Albany, OR) on the way to and from Portland and Eugene. Because of this tradition, I've known a lot of this food since I was a toddler. When I got into The Moosewood Cookbook, I noticed that a lot of the recipes were based on Hungarian dishes. I favored those recipes in cooking big dinners at my college co-op house, but had never made a concerted effort to make any all Hungarian dinners, until that night in November of '09. At that first dinner with Lucas something magical happened, which has sparked this entire project.

Monday, February 28, 2011


(new year's eve. number 12.)

This dinner was the 1 year anniversary for Secret Restaurant Portland.

We spent the first part of last year holding practice dinners that were smaller and more frequent than they are today, and we didn't officially "open" until spring (the first dinner documented on this blog). But the first time that Lucas and I ever cooked together for guests was new year's eve 2009/2010.
We made a dinner very close to the one you'll see below. It was a sort of Italian-inspired Northwest winter meal. We had an antipasto with roasted garbanzo beans and chard. We had bread with roasted garlic. We had salmon. We had gnocci with this nutty olive sauce, we had biscotti and coffee for dessert. Some of the guests for the anniversary were there for the original, and it was really fun to hear their reactions to our progress.
Lucas once joked "maybe someday we'll get to the point where you start doing ridiculous shit like letterpress menus." So I took that as a cue and I hand set type and letterpress printed the menus.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Pilgrims in Portland

(late november. number 11.)

We held a gathering of friends to share Thanksgiving food, five days before the actual holiday. We were able to practice some of the dishes, take some pressure off from the usual Secret Restaurant routine, and celebrate the season/each other's company.

We had no dining table at the time (the housemate switch mentioned in the Pizza entry), so the food was served buffet style on all the tables from around the house.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Secret Pizza

(mid november. number 10)

We took an enforced hiatus from Secret Restaurant-ing in October, for a multitude of reasons. We enjoyed making small autumnal dinners like savory pies and soups, and soaking up the odd amount of sun still left in Portland. We also had no dining table, or seating, or kitchen utensils, or glasses, or white china, or silverware, due to a roommate switcheroo.

November came, along with the rain, and we still didn't have a proper table. But we decided create a meal that didn't really require one! PIZZA SLAM. We hit up Portland Farmer's Market one last time before the season concluded, and crafted almost all toppings/sauces from what we found there.

We brought out pies two-at-a-time, every 20 minutes or so, for a couple of hours. There was an ongoing came of Pictionary between the pies.