Food Review: Wintery Springs Still Brings Seasonal Delight.
A Short Story by Scott Warfe
Written using the suggestion "Winter dreams the same dream every time."
Originally featured on 07-20-2012
As part of our series "Don’t Look Now: Stories Written to Explore Homelessness"

Spring in Portland is something of a misnomer. The weather is cold and dour, leaving resident’s longing for a balmier climate. As with winter, the sun remains hidden behind the clouds that sag just above the cityscape like the faux-velvet roof-liner of a 1984 Ford Crown Victoria.

Dreariness notwithstanding, Spring does bring its own unique beauty. The uncoiffed college students clamor in Bourbon Houses, neglecting their mint juleps. The cherry blossoms unfurl, its pedals swooning in the gusty air. The Yellow Warbler gently sings its songs of Spring, “and everyone’s in love and flowers pick themselves.”

Still, Spring offers more than just sights and sounds. Indeed, it is tastes that abound in the effervescent foodscape of the Northwest. Eschewed are Winter’s cold roots and squashes; welcomed are Spring’s colorful harvest: the sweet strawberries, the juicy tomato, the dipable artichoke. All invigorate our senses, sending endorphins marching en masse through our bodies, enlivening our souls.

Of the many vogue restaurants at which a Portlander might enjoy Spring foods, Elephants Cafe is far and above my favorite. Their seasonal menus never fail to surprise and satisfy, reinventing old favorites like the Roasted Salmon, and introducing soon-to-be favorites like the New Orleans Muffaletta.

If I had my druthers, I’d select the Buttermilk Fried Catfish. This lightly fried catfish is like velvet, washing over the palate with subtle hints of sage and rosemary. The wafer-style crust is airy, yet moist. The chipotle spread and spicy celeriac remoulade brighten even the dreariest of days. The dish will reach to new depths of the taste-bud, evoking uncomplicated notions of gratification, astonishment, and hope.

But, it is truly a rarity to ever see the catfish go unfinished, as usually, patrons will lick their plates clean. However, should some munificent diner bestow upon you his left-overs, then providence is surely on one’s side. Or, should the weather be appropriate for patio dining, then a quick hop of the railing can lead to scraps of some much relished pleasure. Such are my most treasured moments, as they allow me to forget the flaky mash and stale bread of the Rescue.

In any case, my love for Elephants is not predicated on the benevolence of its patrons, nor on the miniscule appetites of its diners. Rather, my deep, abiding affection is the result of two simple facts: They cater and host events, and they secure their dumpster with only a locked chain-link gate.

As one might imagine, the catering menu is equally as delectable as the seasonal. It too overflows with culinary genius that infuses American classics with foreign palates. But, best of all is the larger portions, which translates to increased waste. Indeed, the days in which the restaurant caters events are the days that I eat the best. The brief struggle to traverse the chain-link fence is but a small price to pay for the treasure that awaits beneath the dumpster’s lid.

Of its potpourri of delights, nothing entreats upon every faculty of body and mind quite as the Chicken Chasseur. The chasseur glaze is redolent of Auguste Escoffier’s, but their butter and light cream foundation usurp Escoffier’s traditional white wine base, giving this otherwise alien dish a rather bucolic effect. The chicken itself is so succulent that were it not for the light pan fry, it would melt in your hands.

Ultimately, it is the marination that truly strikes a mellifluous chord. The infusion of cacophonic aromas, the bath Pinot Noir Cuvee du Vigneron, and the light dusting of granulated mocha beans combine to create an experience of cerebral and visceral wonderment.

Indeed, it is the alfresco charm that provides such everlasting delight; it is the confluence of culinary genius and accidental ingredients that unfetter my shackled taste buds; it is the artisanal care with which the dishes are created and subsequently discarded that satiate my otherwise virulent hunger.

Alas, I musts confess to my initial reticence in chronicling this paragon of culinary grace, as it could lead to the overrunning of Elephants by the masses and multitudes. I am not so obstinate of purpose as to neglect my fellow man. I am not so hungry as to starve my heart. It is after all through community, and community only, that I can be truly nourished.

Read More By Scott Warfe

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