Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Schnitzel, school and BiWa

The craziness continues. This past weekend was spent in Seattle, playing yet another show with The Lisps and spending some more quality time with my siblings. My brother had some terrible wiener schnitzel in Ballard on Friday and was beyond determined to make up for the awful experience by making his own on Saturday. This resulted in a truly delicious pork which he brined, flattened and breaded with his own special mix. With it we had potato galettes (from one of my textbooks) served with creme fraiche, sliced beets, beet greens with almonds, perfectly vinegary cabbage and a glass or two of Sun Garden Riesling. Our dinnertime on Saturday perfectly coincided with Earth Hour, so we ate our fabulous schnitzel in candlelight in the living room. Add to that Jose Gonzalez at The Triple Door, and it was overall a great weekend.

I have to admit that my body has had a little difficulty adjusting to these early bird school hours, but I shan't complain too much as a) I best get used to it now, and b) I think most of the normal working world wakes up around the same time I do. Suffice it to say that even though I've only had three days of school, I'm learning tons, taking copious notes, and the lessons are getting more practical and intense every day. At the same time, we're going into greater depths about philosophies, and one of my favorite things my instructor has said thus far is "People can taste your intentions." Which, if I learned anything from working for several years with a variety of bitchy servers and grumpy chefs, is all too true.

Something of note: By far the strangest thing about school is the fact that my homework is basically all reading and research that I did in my off time for fun. I had this conversation with a friend of mine who attended art school, and he said that art school students go through essentially the same process of slight confusion, which eventually leads to acceptance. For the past few years, I spent time I was supposed to be working reading cookbooks, food magazines and food blogs, and now I'm expected to know the information I looked up for my own pleasure... for class. It may not gel as a strange idea to you, but after my tumultuous undergraduate experience... well, let's just say I didn't read a book for several years after I got my bachelor's degree. Cookbooks were my way back in to the world of the literary. And now it's my assigned reading! (What?!?) I'll adjust eventually.

It hasn't all be smooth sailing... In all this drastic change, I had a brief breakdown last night around 11:30PM; buried in a mountain of reading and book work, feeling completely exhausted from my great but fast trip to Seattle, I did what anyone might do in that situation and called my mom, who presently happens to be traveling in Taiwan. Always count on Mom for the best advice, ya'll. Just hearing her voice calmed me down. She set me straight with some words of wisdom and I managed to make some mighty handsome recipe cards for the soups we're working on this week. Tomorrow is the first real, non-demo day where we're responsible for everything. Wish me luck!


I did manage to treat myself to happy hour/dinner with a new friend from the PortlandFood.org event at Vindalho. Tonya, one of the sweetest and most fascinating people I've met in a while (see what I mean by fascinating here (slightly NSFW)), and I met up at Biwa, an izakaya-style restaurant in an industrial section of close-in East Burnside area (SE 9th and Ash, to be exact). The place is really adorable and comfortable, and we sat at the bar surrounding the open kitchen where we were able to chat up the owner/proprietor, Gabe Rosen. Besides being super-friendly and good conversation, it turns out that Gabe attended Western Culinary Institute 10 years ago, and his favorite instructor, Brian Wilke, is the co-founder of my school now. Gabe's co-chef also attended Western, and praised my kitchen instructor, whom he had while he was in school. Seems like OCI managed to lure away a lot of great instructors from Western, and in all honesty it makes me all the more happy to have chosen OCI.

While we talked, Gabe grilled up some ridiculously delicious skewers of chicken thigh and breast meat as well as beef skewers and pork belly (droooool...). The onigiri was the perfect little sandwichy bite after all that meat: filled with pickled plum and really one of the cutest things I've eaten in months.

Onigiri: So cute I had to take a photo while everyone chuckled

The only thing that didn't strike me as outstanding was the ramen. BiWa gets major points for handmaking the noodles, and while it was good, something seemed a little off about the consistency of the noodles. I also found the broth to be overly salty. But to be fair, by the time the ramen with egg and chashu came, I was already full from the endless skewers and had at that point devoured my entire onigiri. The ramen in the end seemed more like an afterthought. Maybe next time I'll just get a bowl of ramen for myself and see if it hits the spot better.

Overall, I had a fantastic meal and am definitely headed back there again soon. Gabe, his co-chef and the servers were all genuinely friendly and helpful, and it was nice to be seated and eating in normal clothes for once, instead of standing up hunched over paper plates in chef's whites and our aprons scarfing down lunch as fast as we can. Speaking of school, homework's a-callin'...


andrew morton said...

the first time i went to biwa the food was absolutely amazing... and every time i've been there since then it's been less so. the ramen in particular suffered the biggest decline, but as you found the grilled meats have always been done perfectly.

Bonnie said...

visit us in tokyo for izakaya!!! they're all over the place!

Bonnie said...

and ramen!!!