Pambiche

The Mambo Kings

It was high time for a change of scene last weekend, so we drove down to Portland on Sunday.  It’s been a few years since we’ve been there.  I love Portland—Powell’s Books, the restaurants, Powell’s Books, the fun, funky Pearl District, did I mention Powell’s Books…

It was a practically perfect weekend.  We strolled around, and ate, and sipped Sangria.  I filled the Japanese soaking tub in our suite with mountains of scented bubbles, and ordered room service breakfast, and lost all track of time browsing in the book store.  The sun even made an appearance on Monday afternoon, and that is no small thing to me right now.  It is amazing, and a little pathetic really,  how just a few hours of  sunlight can improve my general attitude and outlook on life.

Before our last trip to Portland, one of my friends had blissfully described the pork sandwiches at a Cuban restaurant called Pambiche.  We had set out to find it, and discovered that she had not exaggerated.  The sandwiches at Pambiche were all I could have hoped for.  Really, they were nearly an orgasmic experience, if I may employ such terms to describe roast pork.  I simply couldn’t be distracted from my sandwich, that whole visit.  I don’t even remember drinking anything with my meal, because I wanted the taste of that pork to linger as long as possible.

So our very necessary first stop this time was Pambiche. This small colorful restaurant is reassuringly full of actual Cubans.  The menu is composed of classic Cuban dishes, like Ropa Vieja, Vaca Frita, and Lengua en Salsa.  This time around, we discovered something new: The breakfast menu.  Pambiche serves breakfast until the very civilized hour of 2:00 pm.  We started with a basket of pastries, and then moved on to heartier fare.  I had the Pisto Manchego, a mouthwatering scramble with full of potatoes, peas, asparagus, bay shrimp, peppers.

Michael ordered the Sanwich Cubano, a roast pork sandwich with tostones on the side.  He generously offered to share the tostones, then I ended up eating most of them, due to an utter and complete lack of willpower.

Tostones are simple, just plantains that have been cooked, smashed into little round patties, then fried.  But I never want to eat Cuban or Puerto Rican food without them.  Starchy, salty and fried, all in one—to me, food doesn’t get better than that; they are truly comfort food.

I fell in love with tostones back in my early days in Seattle, when I played in an Afro Cuban drum group called The Ravens.  We practiced at the house of Cristina and Jose, two of the most effortlessly hospitable people I have ever known.  When they had parties, Jose, who is Puerto Rican, cooked.  He introduced me to tostones, and after I’d watched the labor intensive cooking, and smashing, and frying, and draining, and salting, I came to understand that tostones were a culinary act of love for his friends and family.  Then, years later, my Cuban friend Nico would cook up enormous feasts for big groups of us, using his grandmother’s recipes–and again, it was clear that his all-day marathon in the kitchen was a labor of love, to which he didn’t hesitate to graciously add all of that smashing and cooking of plantains, to satisfy my insatiable appetite for tostones…

When we finally rolled out of Pambiche, bellies stretched to the limit, we were swaggering like The Mambo Kings and licking our chops like a couple of lions after the kill.

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