Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Great Chowder Search--Part I

We were looking forward to visiting the coast of Oregon. We were looking forward to seeing sunsets on the Pacific. We were looking forward to blue waters accented with whitecaps. We were looking forward to great seafood. We were especially looking forward to great clam chowder.

So how did we fare on the clam chowder search? My next two blogs will reveal the results of that search. (Cue Dragnet music here.)

A web review of Northern Oregon clam chowder recipes reveals that most are made with onions, potatoes, clams (of course), fish stock or clam broth, and half and half or heavy cream. Unfortunately, all but one of the chowders we tasted seemed to lack both the half and half/cream and fish or clam broth. In fact, what they all had in common was the intense flavor of potatoes.

In Sixth Place (last place) - Ecola Seafood (Cannon Beach): This is also a seafood market and is one of those order-at-the-counter-and-find-a-seat restaurants. These are fine as long as everyone plays by the rules. I get really annoyed when people walk into one of these restaurants and plop themselves in empty seats while there is a long line of people waiting to order. I may forgive people with small children or the very elderly, but no one else. At our recent lunchtime visit the rules were flagrantly violated.

Now that that’s off my chest, how was the chowder? Maybe the worst since someone put chowder in a can with a red and white label. There was zero clam taste (there were very few clams) but plenty of potatoes, onions, and celery. It tasted like potato soup, that is, as if it had been thickened with instant mashed potato flakes. I jazzed it up with a few good glugs of Tabasco but that only helped on the margins.

With the chowder we had an order of frozen commercial garlic bread ($3.50 for two slices of bread). We had debated adding an order of clam strips – am I glad we didn’t!

In Fifth Place- Manzanita Seafood (Manzanita): I really wanted to like this place! After all, it survived an attack by a giant Dungeness crab (see yesterday’s blog). Too bad I couldn’t.

This chowder was basically a thick white sauce with a some clams and potatoes added and garnished with bay shrimp. There was an underlying taste of what I took to be bay leaf and which was basically the only flavor present. While Chuck likes a thick chowder (and I don’t), this was even too thick and pasty for his taste.

We also ordered entrees – two pieces of cod with fries and slaw for Chuck and the “oyster burger” with slaw for me. For the price, the pieces of cod were small, but they were well-cooked. The fish under the batter was extra moist, flaky, and sweet. But the batter had been seasoned with “lemon” before frying, and he found this to be disconcerting.

An oyster burger is fundamentally fried oysters served on a roll with cheese, lettuce, tomato, and onion. You find them on all restaurant menus in this area. My oysters were pan-fried, and I was a little (actually, more than a little) troubled by what seemed to be a burned appearance. To my relief, they didn’t taste burned and were actually plumb and moist with great oyster flavor. (Don’t ask me to describe the taste of an oyster.)

The slaw was decent with a mayo base, some sugar, and a little vinegar. A bonus was the cabbage being shredded and not chopped.

I can only hope that the regular cook has been temporarily kidnapped by the giant crab and will someday return to his/her place in the kitchen.

In Fourth PlaceMo’s (Cannon Beach): This is another of those mini chains, running along the mid to northern Oregon coast. Since Mo’s is the only restaurant in the Cannon Beach area where one can see the ocean from the dining room, it attracts a crowd of diners. Since the day was cold and windy, we ate inside rather than on the patio. Still, we had a great view of the grey ocean. Mo’s is all about volume (turn those tables!). Our entrees and our check came before we had finished our chowder, and you sit on picnic benches lest you get too comfortable and want to linger.

The chowder was OK. As is the norm in New England, the chowder was flavored with salt pork and contained a generous amount of both clams and potatoes. But, again, the chowder tasted mainly of potato.

Chuck also ordered the clam strip appetizer. These were obviously pre-battered and frozen and had a thick cornmeal crust. On the few strips I tried, the batter was so thick that it had not cooked through completely.

I ordered the petrale sole sandwich with fries (of which Chuck ate more than his share). Never have I seen such a thin filet of fish but I do give Mo’s credit for not overcooking it. The fish was topped by a few shreds of parmesan cheese.

I had hoped to return to Mo’s someday when the weather was more conducive to outdoor dining. Instead, I’ll take a pass.

Coming tomorrow…the search goes on.

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