Word of Mouth Bistro: The Word’s Deserved

A Pitiful Preface Regarding my Lack of Nourishment

From cleaner air to a lack of sales tax (hello two new pairs of shoes), my visit to Oregon gave me plenty to enjoy. However, these pleasures were almost lost on me because of how hungry I felt my first night there.

I hadn’t eaten anything on the five hour plane flight except for some grapes that probably cost like $10. Delta was only offering two freeze-dried looking sandwiches for like $10 a pop, so I passed on my inflight meal.

Landing in Portland at roughly 8:30 PM, I thought I’d given myself plenty of time to scurry for dinner, but by the time I’d made it to my Salem hotel and settled in, I realized that attempting to find a restaurant after 10 PM without a car would prove nigh-impossible. New York had certainly left me spoiled in the late night bites department!

Going to bed on a virtually empty stomach, the piercingly brilliant western sun easily woke me at exactly 6 AM. After taking longer than I probably should have to figure out the hotel wifi, I consulted Yelp, TripAdvisor, and several other similar programs all directed me to the same restaurant: Word of Mouth Bistro. I was lucky that it was only a brisk twenty minute walk from the Howard Johnson’s.

I did stop to smell the roses more than once. Oregon has A LOT of Roses :)

I did stop to smell the roses more than once. Oregon has A LOT of Roses 馃檪

Homecooked Hospitality

Arriving shortly after 7 (it was easy to spot the cozy-looking house beneath the big sign), I immediately found several groups of people queued up to dine–a good omen! I was seated after maybe 10 minutes and eagerly perused the menu.

I learned that the owners Becky and Steve have spent years honing their skills in comfort cooking and that they do all of it themselves rather than trust any other chefs with their beloved recipes. Torn between the Chicken Fried Fillet Mignon and the Plate of Love which consists of Prime Rib Hash and Creme Br没l茅e French Toast, I ended up ordering both rather than wait another moment without sustenance.

The Prime Rib in the hash was tender and well seasoned and I also enjoyed the onions and mushrooms that came with it. Between the massive serving of fried potatoes and the even larger portion of French toast, I found myself a little overwhelmed. The French toast managed to be as divine as it sounded with its warm fluffy filling and daintily caramelized coating. It also came with two fried eggs!

Plate of Love - Prime Rib Hash with Creme Br没l茅e French Toast. There is love involved in both its creation and consumption!

Plate of Love – Prime Rib Hash with Creme Br没l茅e French Toast. There is love involved in both its creation and consumption!

Before my next course arrived, my waitress informed me that the chefs knew that I was extra hungry and that they wanted me to sample an extra two courses: The New England Clam Chowder (definitely comparable to anything I’ve had East) and the Cinnamon Roll Pancakes (which were totally sweet in every sense of the word). My heart and stomach were both touched by this extremely generous and random display of kindness. They didn’t even know I have a food blog!

New England Clam Chowder

New England Clam Chowder

New England Clam Chowder

New England Clam Chowder

The Chicken Fried Filet Mignon was definitely my favorite thing on the menu. Breaded and battered like a well-loved schnitzel or, then slathered in the thick, savory house sausage gravy, it thrilled my tastebuds from start to finish. Its crunchy, crumbed exoskeleton could easily have passed for the perfect morsel of fried chicken and the steak within was juicy and medium rare with a lovely, yet faint sweetness in the meat that made the entire dish and its savory charms stand out even more. It also came with another two fried eggs, a buttermilk biscuit (came with a dollop of homemade strawberry jam), and a fresh fruit salad that included blueberries, mango, pineapple, and a ruby red slice of ripe blood orange.

Filet Mignon Chicken Fried Steak & Eggs - My favorite thing in Oregon

Filet Mignon Chicken Fried Steak & Eggs – My favorite thing in Oregon

Did I mention that every entree here went for under $15? Recall how they don’t do sales tax here in Oregon.

I was so charmed by that first extravagant meal, I made sure to visit Word of Mouth again during my four day stay in order to try The Incredibly Flying Biscuit with its buttermilk fried chicken. The Saturday rush was really crazy, so I got it for take out, and I was impressed again,

If you’re in Salem for any period of time, I wholeheartedly recommend that you try Word of Mouth Bistro. It can get busy and crowded for breakfast and lunch, but the crazy success is a testament to just how special a place Becky and Steve are running here. You’ve certainly won over this fussy New Yorker!

Word of Mouth Bistro

Hours: Open Wednesday-Monday for breakfast and lunch from 7:00 AM to 3:00 PM. Closed Tuesdays.

Address: 140 17th Street NE 聽Salem, Oregon 97302

Phone Number:聽503-930-4285

Website: http://www.WordofSalem.com

Email Address: WordofSalem@gmail.com

Just read the sign behind me if my smile isn't convincing!

Just read the sign behind me if my smile isn’t convincing!

Ponty: A French Bistro with African Roots

As Spring bathes us in warmth and light and a desire to walk, I find myself increasingly able and willing to leave my home downtown and traverse the streets above 14th. Located in the Gramercy area on 19th and 3rd, Ponty Bistro is an excellent reason to do just that.

Owing its namesake to an avenue in Senegal (a country in West Africa), Ponty was dreamed up by cousins and culinary duo Cisse and Chekh, who have cooked together since their formative years. Trained in the classical French tradition of cooking, the two aimed to imbue their dishes with their African roots through the addition of certain fruits, vegetables, spices, and other creative accents. After several years of success, the two expanded to a Harlem location with Chekh overseeing management and executive chef duties uptown.

Chef Cisse and his cousin, Chef Chekh

Chef Cisse and his cousin, Chef Chekh

Chef Cisse was actually a contestant on Season 3 of the Food Network reality show Chopped, and a finalist. His high placement in the competition is a testament to his creativity, improvisational skills, and ability to work well under pressure.聽On his home turf and free of TV’s limitations, Cisse’s artistry is even more evident!

We started off with a small taste of the Lobster Bisque in a tea cup. Despite only being a sample portion, there was plenty of lobster. Garnished with red caviar, it left a dazzling impression on me. Despite a saffron color and aroma, Chef Cisse tells me he whipped up the decadent, silky bisque with a simple blend of onions, celery, and carrots–known in more refined circles as a mirepoix. I feel that this one is a must order if you enjoy seafood.聽Lobster Bisque

Lobster Bisque

Next we had the artichoke and green bean salad. Dressed up with parmesan cheese and truffle vinaigrette, the greens were quite easy for me to devour. If you’re expecting something super healthy for your salad, you’ll probably find the huge amount of parmesan off putting, but it’s a deceptively light extravagance that rolls off the palette nicely.

Artichoke Salad with Shaved Parmesan

Artichoke Salad with Shaved Parmesan

Our first main course was the Saint Jaque du Che – 聽A Seared Sea Scallop with roasted beets and asparagus in orange marmalade sauce–a dish that seemed so colorful and creative, it might have been something crafted on Chopped! Like a splash of fruity sorbet, the citrus sauce cleansed the palette, allowing for even greater appreciation of the crispy and savory seafood. This dish exemplifies what sets Ponty aside from other bistros as it takes a French seafood staple and mixes it up with a kaleidoscope of fruit, color, and flavor from Africa. I was thrilled to taste one of these, though normally you get five per order.

This was definitely my favorite thing on the menu, and if a guy named Otter says the scallops are good, you know they are good!

Saint Jacque du Chef - Pan Seared Scallop

Saint Jacque du Chef – Pan Seared Scallop

The second main course was the Poulet Tagine (chicken cooked in an earthenware pot), the most African of the dishes that night. On a bed of sweet and filling couscous and served alongside celery, carrots, and onions, it was a spicy, hearty dish, and Cisse’s take on North African cuisine and curry. If aromatic spices and desert heat make you drool, this is definitely the dish for you.

Poulet Tagine

Poulet Tagine

The final main course was the聽L鈥檕nglet A Echalotte, a tender slab of hanger steak in a bordelaise (my sources tell me red wine and onion with bone marrow) sauce. It was an all-around charming and tasty French steak. The accompanying Yukon Gold mashed potatoes and saut茅ed greens also rounded out the rest of the dish nicely. Perfect for anybody craving standard French bistro faire or just a really juicy steak in a sweet wine sauce! Chef Cisse took that Bordeaux wine and glazed it into a pool of deep red velvet.

L'onglet A Echalotte

Anyone who watched Chef Cisse’s Chopped episode will know that the panel of judges was most blown away by his desserts, and I was impressed with the two he brought out for our table : A Creme Br没l茅e and a Tiramisu! Adorned with ripe strawberries, the desserts showed off Cisse’s talents as a pastry chef. The Tiramisu in particular was divine for me as it remained light and summery with only the tiniest trace of liqueur beneath the fresh clouds of cream.

Creme Br没l茅e and Tiramisu

Creme Br没l茅e and Tiramisu

In terms of drink offerings, there is a variety of global wines and other beverages, though it is Ponty’s unique martinis that seem to be the most popular with tropical accents like Lychee and Hibiscus!

Lychee Martini. As sweet as it sounds!

Lychee Martini. As sweet as it sounds!

Ponty Bistro is an excellent choice in a neighborhood known more for its luxury housing at the moment than its restaurant offerings. Whether you’re looking to pick up something Senegalese or fancy a more familiar French dish, it’s certainly deserving of a visit!

Ponty Bistro

Address: 218 3rd Avenue (Between 18th and 19th)

Website: http://www.pontybistro.com

Phone Number: (212) 777 1616

Hours: Lunch is from 11 AM to 4 PM from Mondays to Fridays, Dinner is every day from 4:30 PM to 11:30 PM, Brunch is 10 AM to 4 PM on weekends. Happy Hour is 5:00 PM to 7:00 PM and offers 2-for-1 Martinis.