Dave Gets Ejected
© David Volk

I've never gotten thrown out of a restaurant before, but I got pretty close tonight.

At least, if I had to get thrown out of one, I couldn't have picked a nicer place.

Wildwood is a James Beard Award winning restaurant in Portland, Oregon, the food is excellent and the menu relatively moderately priced.

Which tends to take some of the sting out of being thrown out on your ass because you have more money to cushion the blow.

I ordered carrot soup, a mizuna garden salad of seasonal greens, a Gruyere cheese, cauliflower and chanterelle lasagna (with shallot brown butter and watercress chestnut sauce) and a chocolate caramel tart with orange crème fraiche (whatever that is). All quite good.

Of course, it would have been a much more enjoyable meal if it hadn't been for the unpleasantness that preceded it . . .

For those of you who came late to the dinner party, this all started a couple of weeks ago when the president of the union I belong to (the National Writers Union) asked me to sit in on a meeting of the Oregon chapter because rumor had it the president was supposedly telling scurrilous stories about what happened at a convention the organization had in Las Vegas in September. To hear others tell it, she was claiming that the officers of said union were now allowed to vote themselves raises at will, steal money from local chapters, outrun speeding locomotives, leap tall buildings at a single bound and light cigarettes at a thousand feet with laser beams from their eyes. While I admit that the story about being able to see through clothing with their X-ray vision is technically true, the rest is just so much hyperbole and exaggeration.

Not only was the president of the Oregon local supposedly slamming the union, I discovered she was also taking members out to dinner at an expensive restaurant and insulting the organization on its own dime.

So, the union asked me to go, sit in on a meeting and investigate.

Yeah, right. Me, investigate.

I'm a humorist. I'm the kind of guy you send out to ask people who live in a newly renamed neighborhood if they know where that neighborhood is (see Seattle Magazine's December issue) or the person you dispatch to check out what the bubbles in bubble tea are made out of - not to check into something serious.

Unless it's a paying gig, that is.

I mean, I did do a profile of Washington gubernatorial candidate Ron Sims (see the November issue of Seattle Magazine, on sale now), but again, I got paid to do it.

I always wanted to be a big "J" journalist," but I realized I'm just a big goofball. It's not that I don't have a big exposé in me, it's just that, if I'm going to do something like that, I want it to be about something I can sink my teeth into. Like why the hell kosher for Passover food costs so much if the same companies that sell it make such over-priced, bad wine the rest of the year. (Can Manischewitz excommunicate a Jew?)

Now, that's something worth investigating!

So where was I? After having attended a number of union meetings where union officials popped in unannounced and members complained about sneak attacks, I decided to avoid all that ugliness by sending an e-mail to the president of the Oregon local saying I was visiting my family in Portland and wanted to sit in the meeting and "see how they do it in Oregon."

Never do this. Never tip your hand, even if you hate conflict. It's just dumb. First, the president of the Oregon local said yes, then e-mailed me and said I couldn't attend because she had discovered I was a member of the Seattle local --well, duh. I had already said I was - and if that meeting was for Oregon members only, she was committing a clear violation of union policy.

This is where I made my second mistake. I responded. Never do this. It's difficult to play dumb if you already know the answer to the question. Of course, I told her it was illegal to ban a member from a meeting, but she responded by saying that she didn't care, she was doing it. Period.

I didn't respond to this one, but it was too late. She knew I had gotten her response.

And I still had to drive three hours south to attend a meeting I didn't want to go to and wouldn't be allowed to sit in on anyway . . .

The 200 mile trip to Portland isn't a bad one. By interstate standards, any way. The tedium is punctuated by all sorts of interesting sights and experiences. Around Fife, for example, drivers with their car windows open can enjoy the thrill that is the Aroma of Tacoma wafting from pulp mills just down the road in Tacoma. Then there's the Tacoma Dome, the world's largest free-standing wood dome and home to Britney Spears concerts, Promise Keepers Conventions and monster truck rallies.Twenty minutes later the capitol dome is visible. Malls, lakes and rivers follow.

Things start to get interesting again on the approach to Centralia, a town known for its outlet malls. There's a frightening display of roadside sculpture including a giant crucifix and a large golden eagle statue in a glass case to district traffic. Then there are the Uncle Sam billboards that sport all sorts of conservative claptrap. This week the sign facing northbound traffic said, "Politicians and diapers need frequent changing . . . for the same reason."

After passing two billboards with biblical quotes and exit ramps for such quizzical places as Onalaska, Vader, Battleground and Dike Access Road, it's a straight shot into Vancouver, Washington and then Portland.

Some Northwesterners say Portland has a European flavor, but I'm not sure what that means. It's almost like calling some packages of ramen "Asian flavored." Does that mean it tastes like an Asian person? If so, which one?

To my way of thinking, some neighborhoods have more of an Eastern feel to them. In some, streets are so narrow and crowded with shops they almost seem to be straight out of New York. Others, like the Pearl District, once the warehouse area, are more spacious and filled with galleries and lofts.

Although I got to Portland in plenty of time to make the meeting, I got so lost in the Pearl District, I almost missed it.

When I finally arrived, I poured on the charm and told the hostess I was there to get thrown out of a meeting.

She laughed.

I laughed.

I guess she didn't believe me.

After staking out a space at the chef's counter near the restaurant's private meeting room, I went in to attend the meeting. No sooner had I walked in then the president asked who I was.

Then, the fun began.

She said that I knew that the meeting was closed because I had responded to her e-mail. I responded that I had responded to her e-mail, saying that no union member could be locked out of a local meeting, but did not get her response. She responded that she did not care that I didn't get her response to my response (which was rather rude by the way. I lied. I had received it.)

Once we got the preliminaries out of the way, things quickly began to heat up despite my efforts to take the high road.

I quickly pointed out that I wasn't there to check up on the group as she had claimed in an e-mail, but rather to answer any questions that might come up regarding the convention that she was briefing the group on. She didn't have all the answers when she addressed a group in Eugene, Oregon earlier in the month, I said.

" You weren't even at the meeting in Eugene," she said.

" Yes, but people who attended the meeting told me that there were questions you couldn't answer," I said.

" You didn't even attend the D.A. (the convention)," she responded.

There she was wrong. I had attended the convention, had run for a slot on the election committee and, much to my chagrin, received so many votes that I was appointed chairman. I was tempted to say, "You would have known that if you had gone to the meetings that day instead of going out to the desert," but I didn't - because I wanted to take the high road.

How foolish of me.

The battle continued with her insisting I leave and me insisting that I should be allowed to make a statement about the illegality of the meeting. She told me it didn't matter because her steering committee had voted to close the meeting. As she did so, I looked over at an older member who hadn't been saying anything, and asked, "Are you a steering committee member? Do you agree to this?"

The woman did not respond, but the president did. "That's none of your damn business."

That's when another Oregon local member took my side, saying, "I believe we should listen to what the brother has to say."

I'm not really his brother. That's just the way we talk in the union, jarring as it sometimes can be. Especially when I receive mail addressed to Brother Volk.

In keeping with the democratic principles this country was founded on and the finest democratic traditions on which the organized labor movement was founded, the president said, "The issue has been decided. The meeting is closed. If you want to discuss it, you can bring it up after the meeting is over."

Kind of defeats the purpose, doesn't it.

Undaunted, I stayed where I was and continued to argue my point even though they didn't want to hear it, until another member said, "If you don't leave, we're going to call security and have big, brawny men haul your skinny ass out."

Ah, such was the level of discourse.

Yeah, right. Security. Ooh, I was frightened. This wasn't a bank after all, there wasn't a guard with a gun and there wasn't even a bouncer. Having made my stand, I told the group they could throw me out of the meeting, but not the restaurant. And that I would stay in the restaurant to answer any questions they might have. Then headed out of the room.

That's when the hostess showed up. And, man, was she pissed.

" Please leave," she said, in a none-too-polite voice, as she walked me from a room I was already leaving and slammed the door behind me.

I reminded her that I told her I was going to get thrown out of a meeting, but she would have none of it. "There was no reason for things to get so out of hand," she said. Technically, this was not true. If you try to throw a person out of a meeting when he doesn't want to be thrown out, it's hard for it not to heat up, but I thought the better of pointing that out because I could see that she wanted to throw me out of the restaurant as well.

We reached an agreement. I could stay, but could have no further interaction with anyone in the group. Unless they came to me to ask a question.

So, I sat at the chef's counter and ordered dinner. The salad was tasty, but some of the lettuces were so spindly and large that it was hard to eat them without looking like a slob. The lasagna was good, but more cauliflowery than I expected, considering that it was the third ingredient listed on the menu, not the first. I'm not saying I didn't enjoy it, though. I ate the whole thing. I also had a great time talking to the staffer on the other side of the counter who prepared mussels, pizzas, lasagna and many other orders as I watched.

Dessert was a rich sliver of chocolate caramel tart that was so good I used a spoon to make sure none of it went to waste. The crème fraiche artfully added to the back end of the tart came as a bit of surprise, though. For some reason, the flavors didn't initially blend as well as I would have hoped, making my tongue feel as though it had been hit by a truck. The combo eventually grew on me, however.

After three hours of dragging out eating every morsel of the meal and savoring two pots of green tea long beyond the point that they had crossed the line from lukewarm to ice water cold, I finally gave up and headed out to spend the night with relatives who live across town.

As I left, I was able to rest secure in the knowledge that should I ever again face the threat of being tossed out of a union meeting, I can respond by saying, "Hey, I've been thrown out of better places than this."

--From your brother in arms

David "the working man's friend" Volk


The following is a sample recipe from the cookbook "Wildwood: Cooking from the Source in the Pacific Northwest."

Herbed Salmon Baked on Rock Salt with Red Onion-Caper Vinaigrette

Serves 8

When a salmon fillet is properly cooked, you'll find that it flakes off of the skin with relative ease. Baking the fish on rock salt tempers and distributes the heat, resulting in moist, evenly cooked flesh. The red onion-caper vinaigrette adds a light, yet pungent flavor to the salmon. Any leftover fish can be flaked into salads, soups, or made into salmon cakes.

Red Onion-Caper Vinaigrette
1 c olive oil
1/4 c sherry vinegar
1 ts Dijon mustard
1 red onion, thinly sliced
2 ts capers, drained
1 ts chopped fresh basil
1 ts salt
3/4 ts freshly ground black pepper
4 lb salmon fillet, pin bones removed, with skin intact
2 TB mixed minced fresh herbs such as tarragon, basil,
flat-leaf parsley, and thyme
2 TB fennel seeds, cracked
1 ts salt
1/2 ts freshly ground black pepperRock or kosher salt for lining pan

To prepare the vinaigrette:
In a small bowl, whisk together oil, vinegar, and mustard. Stir in remaining ingredients. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use. The vinaigrette can be made up to 2 days ahead.

To prepare the salmon: Rub the fillet with herbs and fennel seeds. Season with salt and pepper. At this point, the salmon can be covered and refrigerated overnight.

Preheat the oven to 325°. Cover a large jellyroll or roasting pan with foil. Pour the rock or kosher salt into the pan, covering its surface. Place the salmon, skin side down, on the salt. Bake in the oven for 35 - 45 minutes, or until opaque on the outside and slightly translucent in the center. This method of cooking allows the salmon to cook through without becoming dry. Remove from the oven, cover loosely with foil, and let stand for 5 minutes (the salmon will continue to cook).

To serve, use a wide spatula to remove the salmon from the salt. Remove the skin and portion the salmon onto plates. Spoon some of the red onion-caper vinaigrette over each portion and serve.

Chef's Note: Though the salt on which the salmon is baked will absorb juices from the fish, there's no reason to throw it out. Instead, set it aside for the next time you prepare this dish, or one similar.