It seems like every culture has some soup or stew at the center of its comfort cuisine, from Texas chili to Chinese congee. In Mexico, it's pozole, a hearty stew built on a base of nixtamalized corn kernels.
In my St. Johns neighborhood, pozole has become the standard centerpiece of many a small gathering and potluck. On a wet, chilly night, nothing is cozier. But I have yet to convince anyone at these get-togethers to serve me cocktails, and I usually end up loading the dishwasher.
Since I can't invite everyone over—and since I hate doing dishes—I dropped by Tazon, the monthly pozole night at Tournant, a tiny boutique event space in Northeast Portland.
Tazon started the right way, as an excuse to share something special and delicious.
Last spring, Tournant co-chef and co-owner Jaret Foster discovered the local organic nixtamalization company, Three Sisters Nixtamal. Nixtamalization is the process of exposing hulled corn kernels to an alkaline solution, typically limewater, to make it more nutritious and easier to digest. That process forms the basis of much Mexican cuisine.
"I love masa and hominy," Foster says. "Most of the corn in this country is not nixtamalized, and when it is, it changes the whole chemistry and flavor profile of the corn. It's beautiful to have these guys locally, and I wanted to showcase them."
And so began Tazon ("bowl" in Spanish). The event occurs every month in the a warm, intimate space that looks like a small, European country kitchen with white walls, honey-wood accents and communal tables.
There are no reservations, so if you're a couple or a lone diner, you may end up getting absorbed into a larger group. That's especially true if that group has ordered a round of mescal Manhattans or margaritas.
After being seated, you choose between three kinds of pozole, which are quickly delivered to your table. Pork rojo, pollo verde, and verduras (red pork, green chicken, and vegetables) all start at $12 and come with a plate heaped high with garnishes like shredded cabbage, onion, cilantro, radish, lime and tortilla chips. You can also select other toppings for $2 or $3 apiece. I recommend spending $3 to get a queso fresco tamalito on the side—a tiny tamale with Ancient Heritage Dairy queso fresco tucked inside.
Tournant's pork rojo comes with generous helpings of tender, slow-braised shoulder meat and big, rich kernels of hominy, served in a dark, opaque, spiced and aromatic broth. Both the pork rojo and pollo verde, served with salsa-braised chicken thigh, were a little thin, more like soup than the thick and flavorful stews I've had before. But topped with plenty of tortilla chips, radishes and cabbage, both were filling and savory.
"In my mind's eye, I saw a big, simple bowl of food that you could put ingredients in across the board, like the slow egg or the tamal, to make it really soul-satisfying," Foster says.
At first, the chocolate flan seemed like the perfect ending—pudding made with Woodblock chocolate drizzled with mescal caramel and chile salt.
But then came the best possible ending: I finished eating and no one started pestering me to help clean up.
Tournant, 920 NE Glisan St., 503-206-4463, tournantpdx.com. Pozole night is the third Thursday of each month.