Arrive as Friends – Leave as Famly – Casa Mia

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Casa Mia

The Detour coffee shop was a popular landmark at 3035 Division Street, but its owners decided to move on, and now we are graced with a fabulous new replacement, Casa Mia. This is the Italian restaurant the Richmond neighborhood has needed for a long time. It is quaint, cozy, and lacks the corporate vibe that so many of the new neighborhood restaurants have. What it lacks in the hip and cool area, it makes up for in its genuine charm,  pleasant atmosphere and friendly service.

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The interior has been completely revamped since the cramped days of the Detour in a pristine solid wood and black metal decor.  Fresh roses grace each table, sleek silver mirrors reflect the soothing pale gray interior, framed, Italian-themed posters add to the decor, all tempered by the rustic cement floor.   The place looks nice!

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Chef Benito Omana, originally from the Mexico City area, loves Italian food. His humble restauranteur beginnings were that of a dishwasher who keenly observed the chefs in the restaurants where he worked, learning bit-by-bit as he observed, and who gradually worked his way up through the ranks by demonstrating his own talent as a chef. In 1992, he began cooking at popular Portland restaurants, such as Pazzo, Piazza Italia, Southpark, Wildwood, El Gaucho and ElGuero.  In 2014, Benito opened Bellino Pasta & Cafe in Hillsboro, but he lives here in my neighborhood, and when the opportunity arose to open Casa Mia, he jumped on it.

I stopped by for lunch and immediately felt a little wary, because no one else was there. I was further dismayed to note that there were few, if any, vegetarian entrees on the menu.  However, when I expressed this to Benito, he told me he could whip something up off menu, the sign of a truly good restaurant, if you ask me……and he did!  He said that he plans to add more vegetarian options at some point.

I was first greeted by a plate of delicious house made foccacia bread with good olive oil and balsamic vinegar.  I was starving, so this tasted really good.  I was half way through my first piece when my husband, John, decided to stroll over and meet me. He polished off the rest with great enthusiasm.

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Benito served us a moderately priced Italian wine made from  Nebbiolo, Nascetta, Eau-de-Vie, Pelaverga, and Dolcetto grapes, which went perfectly with our entrees.

Benio whipped up a delicious penne dish for me that had outstanding fresh tomatoes, lots of garlic, basil and some of the best parm I have ever eaten.  It was simple, and quite delicious.  I loved the fact that it was served at a very hot temperature, too.  Great mouthfeel.  Teriffic flavor that made me smile.

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John had the fresh minnestroni, right off the stove.  Every ingredient was fresh and delicious, and it went beautifully with the wine and bread.

We had cappuccinos and some of the best tiramisu we had ever eaten for dessert.  We’re talking some serious dessert here, folks. It was out of this world delicious!

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The entire meal cost less than $30, and we made a new friend in Benito, so I’d say we made out pretty well.  Wouldn’t you?

Because of its location along Division street, and the manner in which it is set back from the street, Casa Mia is easy to miss….which is why  I am writing this blog article to urge people in the Clinton-Division-Richmond neighborhood to stop by and check it out.  Benito has big plans for weekend brunch, and serves breakfast, lunch and dinner all week long.  This is a call to action to stop in and introduce yourself to the chef and delight in the wonderful food that John and I experienced at Casa Mia!

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Casa Mia – Affordable fine dining in a quaint, friendly atmosphere.

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Do I Stick it in the Fridge?

Some foods need to be refrigerated.  Others don’t.  This is a list of  foods that do not need to be chilled.

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1. Bananas – Storing bananas in the refrigerator can actually disrupt their ripening process.  Once refrigerated, a banana may never be able to resume the ripening process even if returned to room temperature.

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2. Yams and Sweet Potatoes – When exposed to cold temperatures, starches found in potatoes will turn to sugar, disrupting their flavor and texture. If you prefer tasteless potatoes that cause weight gain, however, please refrigerate.

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3. Tomatoes – Have you ever tasted a really amazing tomato right out of the fridge?  Nope, Me neither.  Tomatoes LOSE their flavor and become mushy when refrigerated.

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4. Apples -Apples  lose their texture and flavor when refrigerated.  If you want a cold apple, just stick it in the fridge about 20 minutes before you plan to eat it.  Otherwise, store them at room temperature.

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5. Onions – If you love soggy onions while also causing the rest of your food to taste and smell like onions, then you’ll definitely want to refrigerate your onions immediately.  Otherwise, try storing them in a paper bag (within a cool, dark cabinet) for maximum shelf-life.  And by the way, did you know that storing onions with potatoes will cause the potatoes to ripen too quickly and to spoil sooner?  The onions give off a gas that causes this, so be sure to separate them for storage, m’k?

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6.  Avocados – Much like the banana, refrigeration shuts down an avocado’s ripening enzymes.  If you want guacamole next month, this may be OK, but if you’re like me, you probably want guacamole today.

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7. Coffee – Contrary to popular belief, coffee is best stored at room temperature to allow the natural oils within the coffee beans to activate its pungent aromatic scent. Refrigeration can actually cause coffee to absorb odors from other foods in your fridge.

Speaking of coffee…I haven’t had mine yet this morning, so off I go.  Have a happy day everyone!

Moroccan Carrot Salad

One of my favorite types of meatless “meats” is that manufactured by Gardien.    Last night, I tried this Moroccan Carrot Salad and it was absolutely divine.  Served it with Gardien chicken.    The recipe is from Tal Ronen from Crossroads Restaurant in LA.

Crossroads offers diners Mediterranean-themed small dishes, salads, farm-to-glass cocktails, and desserts in a fine-dining dinner style that encourages exploration. With its stylish atmosphere and refreshing sensibility, Crossroads isn’t just a leap forward in refined plant-based cuisine — it’s one of the most innovative culinary destinations in Los Angeles. It’s a decadent and indulgent dining experience approached in a conscious and cohesive manner.

Moroccan Carrot Salad

  • 1 1/2 lbssmall rainbow carrots (about 24), tops trimmed
  • 1/4 cupmicro greens
  • 1/4 cuprosemary-fried almonds (recipe follows) or toasted Marcona almonds, smashed
  • flaked sea salt

marinade

  • 8dried red chilies, such as guajillo, stems removed
  • 1/2 cupred wine vinegar
  • 3garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
  • 1 tspground cumin
  • 1/2 tspkosher salt
  • 1/2 tspblack pepper, freshly ground
  • 1/2 tspred pepper flakes
  • 1/2 cupextra-virgin olive oil

rosemary-fried almonds

  • 1 cupexpeller-pressed canola oil
  • 1 large sprigfresh rosemary, leaves stripped from stem and coarsely chopped
  • 2 cupswhole Marcona almonds
  • 1 tspkosher salt

preparation

1. To prepare the carrots: Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil over high heat. Prepare an ice bath by filling a large bowl halfway with water and adding a tray of ice cubes.

2. Blanch the carrots in the boiling water until tender when pierced with a knife, about 3 minutes. Drain the carrots and plunge into the ice bath to shock them—i.e., stop the cooking and cool them quickly; this procedure also locks in the carrots’ bright color.

3. Drain the carrots again. You want them to be relatively uniform in size, so if any of them are large, cut them lengthwise in half.

4. To prepare the marinade: Put a small dry skillet over low heat, add the chilies, and toast for 1 or 2 minutes; shake the pan so they don’t scorch. Break up the chilies and put them in a food processor. Pulse the chilies to a coarse powder; you should have about ½ cup.

5. Put the chili powder in a mixing bowl, add the vinegar, garlic, cumin, kosher salt, black pepper, and red pepper flakes, and whisk until blended. While whisking, slowly pour in the oil in a stream until emulsified.

6. Put the carrots in a mixing bowl and pour in the chili mixture, tossing to coat. Marinate for 1 to 2 hours, tossing periodically. 7. To serve: Crisscross the carrots on a platter. Scatter the micro greens and almonds on top and season with flaked sea salt.

To Make the Almonds:
1. Put a cast-iron or other heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Pour in the oil, add the rosemary, and stir to infuse the flavor into the oil. Heat the oil to around 300°F. (You don’t need a thermometer for this: Drop an almond into the oil. When it sinks a bit, then floats right back to the top and starts sizzling, the oil is hot enough.) Once the oil is ready to go, add half of the almonds and cook, stirring constantly, until they are fragrant and toasted, 10 to 20 seconds. Using a slotted spoon, remove the almonds from the oil and drain on paper towels. Sprinkle them with the salt while they are hot. Repeat with the remaining almonds. Use to top the marinated olives or serve as a snack.

Naan and Kabob, ETC, Reno

Located at 2740 South Virginia St in Reno, Naan & Kabob, etc. came highly recommended by my best friend.  I don’t think we would have tried it, if not for the recommendation, but both of us were happy that we did.  The chef, Maurice Afraimi, was a colorful character who strolled from table to table telling tales of being the former neighbor of Steve Jobs in Palo Alto, and about how he prepares his delicious cuisine.   When he stopped at our table, he told us about his former restaurant, Bourbon Street, that was for many years, located in Palo Alto, California.  After we tried his delicious food, we begged him to open another in Portland.  He said he would consider it.

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Chef Maurice Afraimi

The prices were low and the food was outstanding.  Chef Maurice accommodated our vegetarian preferences perfectly!  We started off with pita bread and a freshly made red sauce, which is presented to each table with the chef’s compliments.  Additionally, we ordered the Tzatziki, which is a delicious blend of yoghurt, lemon juice, dill and garlic.  I serve this dish at home a lot, and is one of my favorite summertime snacks.  It was cool and refreshing served with cucumber slices and Kalamata olives.

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For my entree, I had Maurice’s Vegetable Pasta Barcelona, which was a dish consisting of penne pasta tossed gently in a creamy saffron/garlic sauce with delicious fire roasted vegetables.  It was garnished with mild, crunchy, raw onions and chopped parsley, which  gave it that certain je ne sais quoi.  This dish was delightful.

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I felt it fitting to include a glass of Greek wine with my meal, and enjoyed a glass of light, dry Boutari Moschofilero for the first time.  It was the perfect compliment to the pasta.

John was not feeling as adventurous as I, so he ordered the very safe and typical vegetable combination of falafel, dolmads, tahini and hummus.  It seems like he always orders the same thing, when we go to Greek restaurants.  sigh….but he did comment that this particular food was delicious.

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We split a baklava, which was atypical to most baklava, as you can see in the picture.  This pastry was huge and absolutely wonderful!  It was filled with pistachios and honey in a light, flaky crust….but it looked more like an egg role than a piece of baklava!  Who’s complaining, though?  We loved it!

The chef gave us cards that we can redeem the next time we’re in Reno, for yet another dessert.  Both of us really enjoyed this little restaurant with its quaint atmosphere and friendly service.  We shall definitely return!  Thanks to my sweetheart friend for the recommendation!

Bow Ties for Dogs??!! (Straight out of Portlandia)

I have written about the food cart “pod” that is a couple of blocks from our house.  It is an amazing gathering of carts that serve gourmet quality international food selections on the cheap.  We love it, both for the food and the low prices, as well as for the diversity of the crowd that gathers there.  In addition to the food carts, there are also a couple of cool shops, one in a double decker bus.

My daughter, Sarah, her daughter, Ingrid, and I took a stroll there over the weekend just to see what was going on.  They usually have music on the weekends and sometimes jugglers or acrobats or other types of free entertainment that Ingrid loves.  This week, we met a nice guy named Josh who had his sewing machine set up at a little table and was making bow ties for dogs.  Said he makes enough to support himself, which you have to admit, is very cool.

See?  This is what I love about Portland.  When people are broke, they don’t just sit around and complain about the economy.  They invent ways to make money.  This is my own way of thinking.    Here is a little video that I shot of Josh.  You’ll probably get a kick out of it.  Looks like a scenario straight out of Portlandia: