Pinckney Cookie Café at the Issaquah Farmers Market

Last week, I did a post on a farmer who grows unusual crops for sale at the Issaquah Farmers Market (Darrell Westover of Westover Farms). Another vendor whom my wife and I have been visiting regularly since we discovered his stand is Michael Pinckney (of Pinckney Cookie Café) who makes some of the best cookies we’ve ever had. A baker-entrepreneur who is committed to using only natural ingredients and no preservatives, he makes cookies so good that three local branches of Whole Foods have begun to carry them (Roosevelt Square, Interbay and Redmond). Microsoft was so impressed that he was contracted to bake 10,800 chocolate chip cookies for the annual employees’ meeting at Key Arena last month. That’s 10,800! The ovens must have been going day and night.

He sells them at his stand at 3 for $5, not the most economical cookies, but for their quality, they’re worth every bite. If I want inexpensive cookies, I can go to Safeway. Because there are no preservatives, Michael Pinckney recommends that the cookies be kept in the refrigerator or, for longer storage, in the freezer. When he puts them on the table for sale, they’re cold. As he needs to replenish the small number of cookies on display, Pinckney restocks them from a cooler.

My two favorites are the Bing Bling! and Double Chocolate Espresso, which also happen to be Pinckney’s favorites. Even if they’re not straight from the oven, these cookies are super. So, why are they so good? First of all, they’re chewy, my kind of cookies over crispy ones. The Bing Bling! is endowed with shredded coconut and dried cherries. You can taste the coconut; I happen to love the stuff. Dried bing cherries give the cookies an extra toothsomeness and that dark cherry flavor that makes Cherries Garcia a threat to the waistline. Add to these a light chocolatey dough and chocolate chips, and I indulge in a cookie the likes of which I’ve never had. Do I catch myself saying “yum” every time I take the first bite?

The Double Chocolate Espresso is not a cookie so much as something closer to a brownie with dark, chocolatey dough studded with chocolate chips and a boost of espresso, maybe from espresso granules. Chocolate and coffee flavors are a marriage made in heaven, which finds expression in this cookie.

Bing Bling! and Double Chocolate Espresso

Bing Bling! and Double Chocolate Espresso

pinckney cookies

Prepackaged cookies

Now, to buy directly, I’ll have to wait until next April when the farmers market re-opens, or I can go to the closest Whole Foods that sells them. Or I can hope that Michael Pinckney gets his wish by being permitted to sell at the Ballard Farmers Market year-round. They can also be ordered online.

Black Cat Cantina (Portland, OR)—CLOSED

“What are your favorite things on the menu?” my wife asked. The waitress quickly glanced at her, then me, as if gauging what might appeal to us. “I would recommend the ceviché de camaron, shrimp mixed with mango and strawberry, chile and chopped cilantro. There are also lemon and lime juices in it. You will love it. Can I start you off with one?”

The statement was confidently made, my retelling not quite verbatim but accurate in style and delivery. She then went on in detail how each of the menu items we asked about (and some we didn’t) was prepared, down to the spices, herbs and seasonings. We were hooked by her explanations, given patiently and willingly. Was it possible that we had never had any better wait person who knew everything about the menu?

By herself, she was taking care of the entire dining area, at least when we arrived close to 6pm, of the Black Cat Cantina which a friend of ours (who knew we were in Portland) alerted us to by email just yesterday. We told him we would check it out. Located in east Portland (Gresham), the restaurant features food from Mexico and other parts of Latin America, mostly Argentina. Several of the menu items listed “Latin America” as the place of origin, not knowing if this meant that they were prepared beyond any single national border or the chef, who was trained in Mexico and Spain, was simply being creative with indigenous ingredients. It didn’t matter to us.

We started things off with cocktails. My Caipirinha del Norte (☆☆½) is a riff on the popular Brazilian drink, using limes, vodka instead of cachaça and muddled grapes instead of refined sugar. My wife’s El Paseo (☆☆½) margarita combined Gran Centenario tequila, lime juice, agave nectar and Grand Marnier, quite a tart and relatively weak version. To their credit, these drinks were not cloyingly sweet.

So, what about the ceviché mentioned at the beginning of the post? The waitress was right; we loved it (☆☆☆½). A little spicy from serrano chilés, the Mexican white shrimp were nicely “cooked” by the citrus juices, which themselves were wonderfully contrasted by the diced fruits. This was a very refreshing appetizer/salad.

Ceviché de camaron

Ceviché de camaron

I was swayed by the waitress’ description of the Argentine churrasco, a steak served with chimichurri sauce. According to her, the cut is an Argentine one called bife de chorizo, which she described as being just as flavorful as ribeye but not as marbled with fat. Similar to a New York steak, it is cut and trimmed differently, enough that Black Cat Cantina has to special-order them. It arrived as a 12-oz portion, about ¾-inch thick, with nice grill marks, some untrimmed (and tasty) exterior fat, and bursting with intense beef flavor. The tangy and assertive chimichurri, though flavorful, masked the steak’s flavor, so I wound up dipping cut meat pieces just slightly so as to engage in an authentic Argentine experience. As if sliced from polyhedrons of potatoes, papas bravas were flawless, crispy on the outside, fluffy on the inside, and wonderfully seasoned. Like the chimichurri, the accompanying catsup seemed superfluous. I loved this entire dish (☆☆☆☆), with or without the sauces.



Remembering the superb version she had at Señor Moose in Seattle, my wife picked the Pescado a la Veracruzana. Though the waitress called out the fish as petrale sole, it was actually tilapia, mingled in a robust sauce of tomatoes, black (instead of green) olives and plenty of capers (which made the dish salty), all served on a bed of perfectly cooked, flavorful Mexican rice. With a slight deduction for tilapia’s mildly muddy taste, my wife really enjoyed this otherwise perfect dish (☆☆☆½).

Pescado a la Veracruzana

Pescado a la Veracruzana

When the waitress asked if we enjoyed our meals, we were quick to answer in the affirmative.

“Is your name Liz?” I asked.

“Yes! How did you know?”

“I read about you on Yelp.” Yes, Liz (which she pronounces with a long “i”, like Leez) has impressed more customers than just us and the diners in the next booth.

“I love my job,” she beamed. Indeed she does, and her customers are just as glad.

Black Cat Bistro (** CLOSED **)
18901 E Burnside
Portland, OR 97233

Thrill of Multnomah Falls (Troutdale, OR)

There are few things more thrilling than standing near a stupendous waterfall. The feeling is almost visceral, mesmerizing. Some people claim that they feel better when standing next to a waterfall, maybe having something to do with the production of enormous amounts of negative ions (oxygen molecules with an extra electron) that research has shown improves mood and rids the air of pollutants.

As our previous visits to Multnomah Falls were under less than ideal weather conditions, we decided at the last minute to take another trip there since there was little chance of rain today. Along the way, we also stopped to see Wahkeena Falls.

After Yosemite Falls, Multnomah Falls just outside Troutdale has been identified by the U. S. Forest Service as the tallest year-round waterfall in the nation. It can easily be reached from the Historic Columbia River Highway, only a half hour outside Portland. A short trail leads to a footbridge from which you can observe the upper falls more closely.

There would not have been such a spectacular attraction were it not for many major lava flows during the area’s geologic history. The devastating Missoula Floods that reshaped much of Washington State did much to create Multnomah’s present form. They ripped away the fractured basalt, leaving behind steep cliffs and cataracts.

multnomah falls

Fall Colors at the Washington Park Japanese Garden (Portland, OR)

Our visit to the Portland Japanese Gardens this past May convinced us that we should make a return trip in October to catch the fall colors. As it turns out, the best time would have been next week, but a prior commitment prevented us from going then. Still, the Japanese maples have begun to color. Even without that, the mature specimens are simply spectacular.

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Organic and Natural at Chef Naoko Bento Café (Portland, OR)

Slowly but surely, the organic and natural food movement is making inroads into the restaurant business. This trend is a good one, especially for those of us who dine out. Personally, I buy organic for home cooking whenever I can, so you could say it’s a challenge whenever I eat out. As it stands now, there isn’t a whole lot of choice, more so when you’re on the road. For some people, there isn’t a choice. As a child in Japan, Naoko Tamura had severe reactions, including becoming seriously ill, to food that wasn’t natural, organic and free of additives or pesticides. This was the reason her mother became a leading proponent of natural food in Japan and opened Tokyo’s first organic restaurant, where Tamura trained.

After additional instruction in Europe, Tamura now runs her eponymous restaurant in downtown Portland. So it comes as no surprise that she should offer healthy Japanese cooking.

We headed here as soon as we arrived in Portland, based on recommendations from a friend. The restaurant occupies a small space, some tables set so close to each other that they seem almost communal. In fact, we struck up a conversation with a diner who was seated next to us.

In the corner on a blackboard was a list of Chef Naoko’s food sources, a practice that is becoming more common as some restaurants try to become more transparent about where they get their ingredients. The lunch menu only has 11 items but supplemented by a specials list. Bento boxes are the apparent specialties, which was enough to steer us in that direction.

The lacquer boxes, which are traditional, had five partitions. The smallest held a square of Ota tofu, made locally with non-GMO soy beans and no chemicals, topped with a squirt of sweetened, house-made miso sauce. The largest section was filled with a choice of steamed brown rice or brown/white rice mixture, sprinkled with toasted black sesame seeds. Occupying another partition was a salad—mixed greens, sliced raw beet, shaved carrot, barley grains, and hijiki (a kind of sea vegetable) lightly dressed with a ginger vinaigrette. The fourth section contained a combination of a slice of cold red bell pepper tempura, tamagoyaki (grilled egg) and chard goma-ae (blanched chard with ground sesame seed sauce). The last compartment is reserved for the main course, in my case, pork tonkatsu and my wife’s, shio koji chicken.

The tonkatsu (☆☆☆☆) was simply perfect, moist pork cutlet coated in crispy batter with very little grease and studded with what looked like oatmeal flakes, and complemented by an excellent house-made tonkatsu sauce, the finest example of this preparation I’ve had since Tonkatsu Ginza Bairin in Honolulu. Chef Naoko sources the pork from Carlton Farms, a natural pork slaughterhouse based in Oregon, which we’ve noticed also supplies The Whale Wins and Pestle Rock in Seattle.

Carlton pork tonkatsu bento

Carlton pork tonkatsu bento

Shio koji has long been used in Japan to make miso, soy sauce and sake, basically a rice mash made from the addition of a benign mold that causes the rice to ferment with salt and water, becoming rich in enzymes in the process. More recently, it’s been used by chefs by itself as a sauce to add umami punch to foods. The kitchen added it to chicken thigh nuggets, sourced from Kookoolan Farms, then grilled the chicken for a savory but understated result (☆☆☆½).

Shio koji bento

Shio koji bento

The seasonings here can best be described as unobtrusive and accented, sure-handed enough to let the natural flavors of the food shine through, which are supported by Chef Naoko’s insistence on using the freshest and natural of ingredients. Every item is simply prepared, nothing that is too salty, sweet or otherwise assertive. As my wife pointed out, everything was in balance. You leave with the feeling that you ate well and healthfully.

The only complaint I had was the parking space in front of the restaurant, which apparently is reserved for semis making local deliveries. Two of them occupied the space during our meal and blocked the natural light, never mind the unpleasant view.

Chef Naoko Bento Café
1237 SW Jefferson St
Portland, OR 97201

What’s in a Drop of Water?

My wife’s cousin’s husband, Jim Brandt, has been into photography for many years, as I have. The difference is that his art is more serious than mine. I don’t typically carry around a tripod, which any real photographer, amateur and professional, should use to get the sharpest images. My son-in-law’s father, who is also an avid photographer and president of his local photography club, keeps drumming that home. I’m a bit too impatient to set one up and, as a result, my photos tend not to be gallery-quality. Jim, on the other hand, takes the trouble. And it shows.

He’s also an experimenter. Today, he told me about water collision photography, which he tried his hand at. He rigged up his own system to release water droplets into a pan of water. Various effects can be achieved by using gels on an electronic flash, dyes in the water droplets, angle of exposure and lighting and so forth. I’m including several of his images, with his permission. You’re likely as amazed as I am at the results. They are worthy of anything Dale Chihuly can dream up. They also make you wonder about the nature of things, hidden by our inability to discern them with our five senses.






La Luna for Lunch

Since we were in the Queen Anne neighborhood of Seattle, it was a disappointment that Mezcaleria Oaxaca, sister restaurant of La Carta de Oaxaca in Ballard, is closed on Sundays. We came across La Luna after we parked the car near the corner of Boston and Queen Anne Ave, which looked like some sort of local restaurant mecca.

La Luna also serves Mexican food. A few patrons were eating al fresco at tables facing Boston St. At around 3pm, the restaurant was not full of customers. Inside, the place had the appearance of being upscale with wood floors, black accents, slate blue and muted orange painted walls, even one wall covered in earth-toned tiles. A full-service bar was at the rear, flanked by a flat-screen monitor airing a post-game interview with Russell Wilson who was no doubt trying to explain the Seahawks’ first loss of the season to Baltimore.

victoria beer

To quench my thirst after our walk through Queen Anne, a pint of Victoria hit the spot. Nicely ice-cold, it was a typical Mexican beer of German style, smooth, sweet and very drinkable, with a squirt of lime.

chips and salsa

The nice thing about the complimentary chips and salsa was freshly made tortilla chips that were speckled with salt, just enough to give them nice seasoning and extra points over those we normally get at Mexican restaurants. The salsa itself was good, mild enough for my wife’s tastes.

De Molé con Pollo Enchiladas (☆☆☆) struck my fancy, since I’m always on the lookout for great molé sauce. After confirming that it was made in-house, ordering it was a no-brainer. Two enchiladas arrived on a platter that it shared with salad (an option instead of rice and beans), the meager stuffing of chicken giving them a flat (translated, skimpy) appearance and topped with mango salsa. The sauce was dark brown, chocolatey, thick with ground nuts, sweetened with dried fruits, and tasting intriguingly of clove and anise. But it was a more refined version, not as bold and spicy as other versions I’ve liked. Chicken breast pieces don’t complement molé very well, in my opinion, because their leanness and relative lack of flavor don’t stand up to it as thigh or drumstick meat does. The best chicken molés I’ve had in the past were made with chicken leg quarters, even turkey legs. The salad, dressed with a light hand, was a mixture of red- and green-leaf lettuce, avocado slices, chile-dusted walnuts and a soft, creamy feta-like cheese.

De molé con pollo

De molé con pollo

My wife’s Carnitas Tacos were quite good (☆☆☆½). The roasted pork pieces were flavorful and topped with a nice guacamolé acidulated with tomatillos. Her salad was served on a separate plate.

Carnitas tacos

Carnitas tacos

I got the impression that the kitchen here aims for refinement. Nothing was bold or overly spicy, in line with the sleeker, bourgeois decor. This isn’t a bad thing, just a shift in emphasis. Diners expecting typical Tex-Mex might be disappointed and consider the food bland.

Consistent with the upscale image, breakfast and brunch includes interesting items like chorizo benedicts with tomato hollandaise, carnitas benedicts with salsa verde, huevos rancheros, green chilaquiles with queso fresco, and breakfast burritos.

La Luna
2 Boston St
Seattle, WA 98109