Living the ‘Portlandia’ life

Eric Wilcox: Diner with a conscience

Eric Wilcox: Diner with a conscience

By Eric Wilcox

Sue and I are trying to broaden our dining palate by trying new restaurants in trending neighborhoods around Portland.

A few weeks ago we had dinner at a new restaurant in southeast Portland called Burrasca. It is a nice little Italian place that had only recently grown out of a food cart.

The waiter just didn’t take our order, but sat down next to us to discuss the menu and assist in our decision. Sue ordered a nice beef sirloin dish and I decided to try something new.

My dish was called “palombo,” which consisted of a fresh thresher shark fillet on a bed of Italian lettuce, not American or iceberg, and probably organic. I’m a guy that grew up in eastern Oregon. Seafood for me was Swanson frozen fish sticks and peas, often overcooked and soggy, but sometimes still frozen in the middle.

I don’t think I have ever had shark. Before I realized it, I asked the ultimate “Portlandia” questions:

Is the thresher shark sustainably harvested?

Was it a farm raised or a free range shark?

The waiter didn’t know, and I was shocked. After he left to find out, Sue and I had a brief chuckle over this exchange and decided that I really didn’t need to know the shark’s name or meet the shark in person.

When the waiter returned he commented that the shark was indeed sustainably harvested wild caught off the coast of Hawaii, so it should be OK for me to enjoy my meal. Taking him at his word we then proceeded to enjoy our meal, wine and dessert, and we would recommend Burrasca to anyone.

It did occur to me that Portlanders or Portlandians would probably eat just about anything as long is it is sustainably harvested and free range. We have several squirrels that live in our neighborhood that would fit the bill. There seems to be no shortage of them and they pretty much go wherever they want.

There is also a whole flock of crows in the trees outside our bedroom window. Every morning about 5, I come up with all kinds of ways to plot their collective demise. Maybe a pie?

I realize that this is silly and that I am not Fred Armisen.

But there is a growing sense of reality in my thoughts and actions. There are 8 billion of us on this planet. We have managed to mess it up pretty well. This summer is the hottest on record and I am fearful that this is the new norm. The temperature of the Willamette River in downtown Portland is nearing 80 degrees. Our precious wild salmon cannot survive in water this warm.

For me it is a very serious problem, but for others it is not even worth talking about. I believe that we can change. If it took 8 billion of us to create the mess, it will take 8 billion of us to make it right. I don’t believe that there is big, golden answer to clean up our mess. I believe it will take 8 billion little changes that each of us need to take day after day to make a difference.

So that day, I ate my first piece of thresher shark, and probably my last. After all I’m from the Pacific Northwest. I only eat wild caught salmon.

At least for now. I hope my granddaughter will be able to enjoy wild salmon, and we’ll call him George, on her wedding day in about 25 years. I only wish I had remembered to ask the waiter what was the name of the cow that my wife’s seared sirloin came from.

Maybe I am Fred Armisen.

Eric Wilcox was born and raised in The Dalles, Oregon in the 1960s, a place and time when Italian food came from Spooky’s and Chinese food from the Shamrock. “I now try to eat different things when I can,” he says.


Editor’s note: Eric and I have been friends for more than a quarter-century, beginning when our youngest children were born within days of each other. We raised our families two streets apart from each other in Northeast Portland and we continue to share the ups, downs and U-turns of fatherhood.

Tomorrow: “The safety blanket of a best friend” by Jackie Weatherspoon


6 thoughts on “Living the ‘Portlandia’ life

  1. First you had me missing living in the Metro area with all it’s wonderful restaurant options, and then you reminded me of a reason why there are days when my being almost 60 years old does not seem to be such a bad thing – I am saddened over the state of our small blue ball and that so many just don’t get it. I fear things are going to get worse, not better, but appreciate your hopefulness for your granddaughter’s future (what else can you hope for, right?). After all, my most-recent tattoo says in mirror image for me alone, “there always is hope”.

  2. I eat only vegan/vegetarian but only because I don’t digest meat as well anymore. I do miss a good cut of meat, and will have it on occasion. It’s not bad to ask those kinds of questions when ordering. I think people should know where their food comes from and have a right to know what’s in it. In this case, “what did the food eat” might also be a pertinent question. Portland is a gem food wise, and I look forward to my rare ventures out.

  3. We frequent all the vegan or veg-friendly restaurants in town and find they are the trendiest – Blossoming Lotus, Vitacafe, Laughing planet. The last time my husband and I were at Harlows the South Asian guy from Portlandia was standing outside with a friend. I knew my kids would be horrified if I accosted him. So respected his privacy and just pretended not to know him. I don’t know if you have been to VegFest Northwest, but they have interesting lectures at the event.

  4. Ahhh. Swanson dinner days. I remember them from my childhood in the ’70s. As for the heat in our water threatening fishes named George or otherwise, I share your concern.
    Without adequate answers, and knowing we live in a world with various degrees of thought about our resources and our involvement with them, I feel my role right know is it to teach my children well. I teach my kids to make as small an imprint as possible, and waste — of electricity, food or water — gets them the mom stink eye and usually a consequence.
    Thanks for making me think and laugh, Eric. As for the Portlandia video (riot!), may all the Georges in the river at least be playing with their friends as they swim to their death.

  5. It’s funny having grown up in Portland, moving to the east coast, and settling in Salem. I still love Portland, but I feel less connected to it, because it has changed, and because my under-the-radar hometown has been put on the map and become an occasional parody of itself. When we got married a few years ago, we were downtown with our out-of-town friends and suddenly a naked pirate themed bike parade appeared. Our friends were thrilled to get to experience the “Portlandia” of their dreams.

  6. Loved the self-deprecating humor of your writing, Eric! My family and I have lived in the Portland area since 2006. It feels like the area’s “foodie” culture has erupted right before our eyes. I do have to admit, however, that the phenomenon is not something that I think I will ever fully understand!

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