Thursday, June 21, 2012

Quick Hits: Otto and Acadia

Needing a convenient spot to have lunch with a friend and having heard raves about a little café on Hawthorne named, simply and succinctly, Otto, I arranged a meet-up. Bright and charming, it had an odd mix of sleek mid-century design (mod patterned upholstery on the booths, canted plywood bartop) and hunting lodge (a stuffed antelope head on one wall, large rack of antlers on another).

Grabbing a cozy booth for two under the aforementioned antlers, I ordered a beer from their pleasantly local selection and perused the menu. Labeled "brunch" and containing a nice selection of breakfast items like pancakes and hash, it also had more lunch-ish offerings like tacos and sandwiches. The beer arrived in concert with my date, and we ordered the house zucchini fries (top photo) to munch while our mains were prepared.

The sticks of zucchini arrived fried in a light batter, rendering them, as a long-ago Volvo ad* touted, crunchy on the outside, soft in the middle, and with a tasty schmear to dip them in (top photo). The tongue tacos I ordered were fantastic, the tongue tender yet beefy and topped with a cabbage-carrot slaw and lightly pickled onions. I was jealous of my companion's liverwurst, however, which verged on the heavenly, the wurst having a smoky flavor accented by an aioli and more of those pickled onions.

We had to try the chocolate brownie for dessert, and they gladly substituted tarragon ice cream for the vanilla that was listed. Gorgeous and decadent, it was totally over the top in a very, very good way. If the lunch is any indication of the quality to be found at dinner—and the menu looks oh-so-promising—you can bet we'll be going in soon.

Details: Otto, 1852 SE Hawthorne Blvd. 503-517-7770.

* The ad in question, written by iconic adman Ed McCabe of Scali, McCabe and Sloves, was a clever twist on the slogan of a popular candy bar.
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Who knew there were so many kinds of absinthe, not to mention that each could taste so distinct from the others? And if you're one of those who's hated that overly licorice-y flavor that this spirit is known for, my friend, then I'm here to tell you that you've simply been drinking the wrong one.

I got an education in this uniquely French disgestif at that outpost for all things New Orleanian called Acadia on NE Fremont. New Orleans has taken absinthe to its ample bosom, and Acadia has followed suit with no fewer than twelve to sample, from the very light, ethereal Kübler from Switzerland to the intensely botanical Delaware Phoenix Walton Waters from New York.

You can select individuals from the menu or share a flight with your table. All are prepared in the traditional manner, of course, with the absinthe poured into an elegant stemmed glass. A sugar cube is then placed on a special absinthe spoon that sits across the rim of the glass. This is placed under a spigot on the water fountain which then drips an exact portion of water into the glass, melting the sugar as it does so and transforming the absinthe from clear to a milky liquid called the louche.

In this case the fountain is a 4-spigot work of art handblown by local glass artist Andy Paiko, and it's well worth taking a seat at the bar to watch the whole process transpire. There was also a fine selection of New Orleans classics to go along with the beverages, from softshell crab (top photo) to Gulf shrimp (above right). Talk about dinner and a show!

Details: Acadia, 1303 NE Fremont St. 503-249-5001.

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