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A little more pork!

5 Apr

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Another pork-filled odyssey of eating has been published in the Weekly, here’s the link! But if you’re lazy you can read it here.

Life of the Party

The tastes of Peru at Café Rumba

Like it or not, a pork sandwich from Café Rumba is going to stay with you all day (unless you’re the type who carries three kinds of breath mints on your person). But for those of you flavor-loving folks who aren’t afraid of a little onion, this is your type of place. Co-owners Marco Mellet and Antonio Diaz are native Peruvians who pursue their cooking with the same gusto as the lively Latin music that cheerfully contributes to the café’s sunny atmosphere. With a two-level open kitchen, green and red walls, plenty of hanging plants, and checkered curtains, this is the sort of space that immediately welcomes you like the confines of a close friend’s living room.

Below colorful paintings depicting Latin street scenes I enjoyed the basic satisfaction of a hearty sandwich: a fresh, fluffy warmed French roll with shredded marinated pork, cilantro, peppers, and thick cut red onion ($6.25). If you’re a bit squeamish about fat like I am, you’ll find yourself pulling out fatty bits, but I also know that most people would have no problem chomping into some especially rich and fatty pork. I paired my lunch with an Inca Kola, a popular Peruvian canned drink that tastes like cream soda had a love affair with Coke. With each sandwich they serve a boiled potato with a slightly spicy, creamy huancaina sauce, made from the Peruvian yellow pepper so prominent in Peruvian cooking, the aji amarillo. The potato side is a refreshing change from a pickle or potato chips, and it serves the same complimentary purpose.

I knew my similarly minded pork lover boyfriend needed to experience Café Rumba, so I brought him along for round two. This time I ordered the braised beef sandwich with marinara ($6.25), which initially I wasn’t that excited about. Beef and marinara aren’t words I find particularly appetizing when paired up, but I figured that I owed it a chance. Our lunch was ready a few short moments later, and it looked great. As an afterthought we ran up for some soup du jour ($3): squash and potato with aji amarillo to pair with our meat-heavy meals. He, of course, was ecstatic about the pork, proclaiming that he would definitely be coming back again. I was pleasantly surprised by the beef—at first dubious about my choice, I became instantly unsure which sandwich I preferred after all. Unlike the thick, saucy, acidic marinara I associate with Italian dishes, this had a lightened, sweetened, and subtle marinara flavor. The beef, perfectly braised, tender, and shredded while still maintaining its texture, was lightly coated in the sauce and served on the French roll. Since it didn’t come with onions I snagged some that had fallen out of my boyfriend’s sandwich to add a little crunch to mine. With or without onions though, it was a treat you can’t find anywhere else in Bellingham. To add more punch to your sandwich you can request a number of traditional sauces, including an olive sauce, a tangy mayonnaise, and a black mint sauce, among others.

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Our soup was wholly unnecessary—not that we didn’t like it, but our stomachs were pretty crammed with sandwich by the time we came up for air and remembered our neglected soup. Regardless, it was pleasant enough. Simple, earthy, and well seasoned, this soup wasn’t glamorous, but it was made well and would pair perfectly with any of the menu items if you had a big appetite. Before we slipped into food comas I tried a bite of the milhojas, a traditional dessert of layered puff pastry and dulce de leche ($3). Wisely pre-packaged in a plastic to-go container, it’s as if the staff anticipated that you would never, ever be able to finish this rich dessert after ingesting any of their menu items. That’s true… though we did try. The puffy pastry was perfectly flaky, and coupled with the rich and creamy caramel of the dulce de leche, tasted wonderfully opulent. One bite was enough for me, and we took the rest home with us to be nibbled on throughout the afternoon.

Before I leave, Antonio tells me that in Peru, “to rumba” doesn’t just mean to dance, it means to party. When he and Marco discussed opening this restaurant, he says, they both wanted it to be fun, bright, and homey. It’s clear that this café is more than just authentic Peruvian cooking; it is filled with authentic people who wanted to bring the life of the party straight from Peru to good old Bellingham, Washington.

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Food review snarf. Snarf, snarf, snarf!

8 Mar

My latest food review of the Rhododendron Cafe was published in today’s Cascadia Weekly. After a little hiatus (blaming lack of inspiration/ rain, obviously), it feels good to see my photos and text in print again! BONUS: This time they published two photos and barely edited my article. Score! Check it out at Cascadia’s website.

Crazy good paella. 

C’s lunch/dinner/extraneous meal: Oyster po’ boy. 

Patricia makes sure the mimosas aren’t poisoned. OH THANK GOD.

Proof that I am only 99% affected by Seasonal Affective Disorder

4 Dec

There you have it, folks. I haven’t been hit by a car or eaten by the moths on my porch. Nah, just mildly depressed as per winter usual, and needing money to motivate me to actually make good on my hobbies. So for that, Cascadia Weekly, I salute you. Thank you for getting me off my ass. I’m copying and pasting my article below, or you can read it at this link: http://www.cascadiaweekly.com/entertainment/not_just_for_adventurous_eaters/

My version is way more fun though, since it’s got pictures (for some reason there’s no photo on the website, but in the publication it is quite large and delicious looking).

All right, it’s hammertime.

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Ah, banchan!

STONE POT KOREAN: NOT JUST FOR ADVENTUROUS EATERS

Being a food junkie, I’m surprised I made it as far as I did without ever experiencing Korean food. I don’t want to admit this, but I was afraid. I’ve watched too many episodes of No Reservations where Anthony Bourdain downs various fermented and previously buried “specialties,” and, well, I was a little freaked out about finding a rancid soft boiled egg on my plate. After Stone Pot opened up in the space next to Everyday Music on Magnolia though, I knew I had to swallow my irrational fears (literally) for the sake of wary eaters everywhere. In the wake of The Bistro, Nona Rosa’s, Chiribin’s etc., I was feeling particularly hopeful that the latest inhabitant of the cursed building would manage to keep afloat.

Throwing the doors open one blustery Saturday afternoon, we were greeted by an unceremonious electronic bell and a cheery older woman who allowed my man and I to sit wherever we pleased. As we settled into our window seats and surveyed the menu, the friendly chatter of happy diners melded with the sounds of kitchen clatter and faint pop music wafting from the back. When I asked on Facebook what I should order, the majority of respondents had little to offer or just seemed disgusted by Korean food. One helpful friend, however, advised me to get bulgogi and plenty of kimchi, so I did just that. With a refreshingly short menu, we managed to pour over every item in and make our decisions in 5 minutes or so. He settled on the pork bibimbap ($10.99) and I on the bulgogi (14.99), with some complimentary tea (which tragically tasted like a seat cushion in an airport terminal).

Our server brought us out six dainty dishes of banchan: various kinds of kimchi, marinated bamboo shoots, radish, broccoli, and sprouts, then doled out our chopsticks and returned a few moments later with our steaming entrees. Before I had a chance to photograph the bibimbap, a glorious arrangement of pork, rice, vegetables, and a fried egg, our server took the liberty of instructing my partner in the ways of preparing the dish for consumption. She leaned over his lunch and vigorously scraped the sides of the screamingly hot stone pot that the food is served in, folding the various layers together and, by default, absolutely murdering the aesthetic of the dish. However, it had to be done and we were both grateful for the instruction, since both of us were most likely doomed to look like clueless Americans had she not shown us the traditional method of bibimbap preparation.

His dish was the perfect “grub:” a pile of rice, veggies and sizzling pork, slathered in broken egg yolk and doused in the not-so-spicy-but-extremely-garlicky hot sauce. Bits of rice that had continued to cook in the bottom of the pot caramelized and hardened, adding a pop of crunch and texture to an otherwise pretty soft dish. In my opinion though, my bulgogi beat his lunch, hands down. I didn’t think I could manage to finish my heaping plate of fire-roasted beef, vegetables, and rice, but I did. And it was awesome. Besides a couple questionable baby carrots and a few gristly bits of meat, the dish was incredible. The vegetables were the perfect consistency and the beef was chewy but tender, bursting with an intense black pepperyness that I absolutely adored.  With each bite a little different (thanks to the wildly flavor-diverse banchan provided,) our meal seemed less like a means to sustain us and more like fun (and tasty) experiment.

Though we shelled out a little more than we normally would for lunch, we could have scored significantly better deals had we managed to show up between 11 and 2:30, when their lunch menu is available at very reasonable prices. After reviewing their menu (seafood pancake, yes please! And spicy noodle soups? Sounds like the perfect hangover cure!) I’m not sure what it is about Korean food that seems to scare off the everyday diner. Sure, the lighting in the restaurant is reminiscent of a horror movie set in an abandoned convenience store, but somehow I doubt that every Korean restaurant has that disadvantage. Based on the deliciously smoky smell that hits you in the face when you walk through the door and the happy slurping at the tables next to us, I’m going to guess that Korean food is just a misunderstood cousin of the numerous other Asian cuisines that we all seem to enjoy without a trace of skepticism. No, my mouth didn’t catch on fire. No, kimchi isn’t going to poison you (in fact, I could have used bigger helpings, I was hooked!). And no, I didn’t eat anything previously buried and left to ferment…I don’t think.

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Mmmm, Airport tea.ImageI’d eat that.

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