Friday, July 17, 2009

Pambiche, Portland, OR

Here's one thing you should definitely know about me if you don't already, I love Cuban food. I love Cuban music… pretty much all things Cuban because they remind me of my childhood home in Miami. One of my favorite questions for people is "what was your favorite food growing up?" I love the answers people give. It's usually the simple foods that they remember fondly. For myself, it's not the culinary complexities that make me long for home, but rather the simplicities of being a kid running to the dinner table. I would indulge in whatever my grandfather spent all day preparing or even the merienda, (afternoon snack, in Spanish) that would be waiting for me on the kitchen counter when I got home from school. My favorite was and still is the croquetta
During the week run of RENT in Portland, Oregon, I found Pambiche, a Cuban restaurant that reminded me so much of home that I went multiple times to ease my homesickness.

"What is a Cuban restaurant doing in the middle of Oregon?"

With it's brightly colorful facade on a Victorian building, Pambiche had mostly non hispanic clientele coming in and out, one after the other. Apparently a hip spot in Portland, I was about to get an authentic taste of home !
For starters, in my opinion, there is nothing more refreshing on a hot summer day than sangria. The sangria at Pambiche had the consistency of a smoothie smoothie with oranges, lemons and strawberries adding flavor and color to the dark wine. If I didn't have a show, just hours later, I probably would have had two more!

The croquettas were excellent! They were longer and thinner than I'm used to and definitely creamier, giving a deliciously rich taste and smoothness to them while fresh herbs and ham pieces gave them an extra kick. I love that they make their own unlike most restaurants that serve frozen mass produced croquettas that all taste the same. Now, dont get me wrong, there are some frozen brands like "Caserita" that are so good you don't care they're frozen! Just thinking of them makes me good!
Cuban corn fritters...we had them every so often growing up, usually on special occasions. I would be so excited that I'd wait right by the pappy fryer so I could I watch my grandfather make them. If I was lucky he would let me sprinkle the sugar on top of them when they were done. These were crisp on the outside, soft and fluffy on the inside. In every bite you'd find sweet nibbles of plump corn scattered throughout with hints of anis seed. Absolutely satisfying!
Arroz con Pollo! Ropa Vieja! What am I to order? Both? Yes..maybe to share. I felt like I had to take advantage of this opportunity! So much food for such a great price!
Even though the arroz con pollo was a bit intimidating in its presentation, it resembled a Cuban "comparza" or street festival with all the color and unnecessary garnishes it came with, it was still quite good. However, I am very critical of other people's arroz con pollo...see, no one has ever been able to out do my mom's, and that is the recipe I live by!
On the other hand, the ropa vieja was excellent...shredded to perfection with the best of company, white rice and black beans. I almost forget that I'm on the other side of the US in the middle of the mountains! If I close my eyes I'm home....but to make it really authentic I'd have to hear the blaring sound of over exaggerated drama from my mom's telenovela coming from the living room.
And finally, really bringing it home, moist and creamy Tres Leches! My favorite,when it's done right,which it was! homesickness, cured. Mission accomplished!
Recently, I've been spending time in the kitchen with my mom writing down all her recipes, being careful to not miss a step. At some point when I'm no longer on tour, perhaps I’ll share those as a series of LAVBM episodes and take you on a new journey.
But for now I'll keep hunting for that taste of home while I'm on tour and hope I find more restaurants as authentic as Pambiche. Pambiche will be featured on the next LAVBM episode "Peculiar Portland," stay tuned!
So....what food do you miss from home? What was or is your favorite? I look forward to reading the responses and getting to know you all a little more.


  1. My mother made chicken broth from scratch. I'd come home from school and the whole house would smell like chicken broth, and I'd know that I would be eating nothing but Matzoh Ball soup for the next three days.

    She also made her own latkes (potato pancakes). I can never eat any latkes besides hers. They are small, and crispy, and she spends days before the Hanukkah party just cooking batches and batches of them. I always ate them with salt and apple sauce on them, but my father liked his with sour cream.

  2. Andy, the food looks amazing. I'm going to have to get me some Cuban food, and soon!!

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  4. For me it was always my mum's Chicken and Dumplings Soup!!! Or even her Black Bean Soup. I would always request those when it wasn't even cold because it made me feel better inside and out especially when I was sick.

    I was at my church retreat one year about the age of 7 and the weather was 40 degrees, well this woman came up to me and asked me how I liked the Chicken and Dumplings and I told her.. "They aren't my mama's so they don't taste like homemade." for the dumpling instead of flour and milk, the woman used biscuits! Nothing beats homemade food especially if your parents or grandparents makes it.

  5. I know when I was little my parents both worked full time, had quite a bit of money, and we went out to eat almost every night (and when we didn't, what we ate was mostly frozen casseroles, macaroni and cheese from the box, or spaghetti and meatballs.) So weekdays were never that interesting, foodwise. But on the weekends my parents were home all day with us (me and my sister.) Breakfast was pancakes and waffles (Aunt jemima)

    1) My dad used a syrup bottle so squirt the batter into different shapes (Letters of our names, angels, flowers, micky mouse heads, rainbows, smiley faces, anything you can think of.)

    2) For dinner, SOmetimes my mom would make Enchiladas. Cheese or chicken. they were Really simple, and the beginning of my education on the difference between taco bell and mexican food (something i was entirely too passionate about during elementary school.) Texas roots shining through I guess! Really any kind of tex mex food reminds me of when I was little and had jalapeno eating contests with my sister.

    3) Sometimes on snowdays, when my sister and I had to stay home, my mom would have to as well, and she would bake. All that time and I can only remember her making two things. Banana bread, and oatmeal scotchies. I can't taste those without remembering snowdays and craving a cup of steaming hot chocolate.

    4) Omlettes. One of the only foods I am positive my dad can make better than me (mine have a tendancy to fall apart and turn into scrambled omlette.) Still... I know exactly how he makes them (whisk eggs with dash salt, pepper, chile powder, cumin, and garlic powder. sauteed mushrooms, onion, bell pepper. Mild yellow cheddar cheese.) I've never, in my entire life (all 14 years of it), tasted an omlette as good as his.

    some foods... just arent' right unless they're made the way your parents made them.

  6. Remembering my dad made Enchiladas which were amazing, also his 'toat in a hole' basically it was an egg cooked inside a piece of bread that had it's center cut out into one circle. That and his grille cheese sandwiches.

  7. I grew up on Chicken Pot Pie made from scratch. My mom always used to make it, and it was a big deal when I was finally allowed to go into the kitchen with her and learn to make it myself.
    Now I live in Arizona, and it's way too hot to even THINK about using the oven during the summer, so our Chicken Pot Pie always has to wait until it cools off around November. Looking forward to the first one of the winter season is always so much fun!

  8. Andy,

    Awesome blog!!! Loved reading about some foods from your you asked what some of our favorite childhood foods were....well my paternal grandparents came from Czechoslovakia and my grandma taught my Mom how to make a dish call Haluski (pronounced Ha-loo-shki)'s basically potato dumplings, bacon, cheese and onions all mixed together. It was definitely an all day event and I always loved when I would come into the house and smell the bacon cooking, and onions caramelizing. I always remembered that I wouldn't eat all day knowing that was cooking so that I could eat more of it and I always ate more than my 3 older brothers, as it's very filling because of the dumplings but I was always able to go for seconds...and it's definitely good as leftovers!!!!

    Take care and see you in Boston!!!


  9. My all time favorite childhood cooking memory--My dad's homemade sauce cooking every Sunday morning. Throughout the simmering process, we would all dip pieces of crusty Italian bread into the pot, "Testing" how it was coming along. Sometimes there were 3 or 4 of us standing there "Testing" together. It still makes me smile to think of it!

    My dad is 100% Italian and grew up in a 3 bedroom, 1 1/2 bathroom house with his parents and 18 (Yes, 18) brothers and sisters. He did most of the cooking in our house only because he got home from work earlier in the afternoon than my mom did. At least once a week, we had his specialty..."Tony Surprise". I'll share the recipe with you-Take any and all leftovers in the fridge and throw them in a pot together. Simmer and serve. It could end up as casserole mixed with rice or potatoes, a sauce poured over pasta, sautee`d in pan and mixed with scrambled eggs or as soup. His most famous Tony Surprise is and will always be the purple chicken soup-- after he added red cabbage to the pot. Good times,Andy,...Good times!