When a household boasts Irish-Jewish lineage, a latke is more like a ritual religious object than a potato pancake. In fact, around here, calling a latke a pancake is like calling the Superbowl a game. A latke is what an ambitious potato dreams of being.
Given the simplicity of latke's underpinnings (grated potato; egg, onion) there are a surprising number of recipes and tips for making them. Kosher Blog and countless foodie sites are holding forth on the subject even as you read this.
Latkes, of course, are a staple of Hanukkah, which started Tuesday night, explaining that evening's giddy crowd at Kenny & Zuke's Delicatessen, located alongside the hot new Portland version of the Ace Hotel. Kenny & Zukes has the authentic New York City deli ambiance down, only with polite waitstaff instead of burly countermen yelling, "Hello? You wanna pickle with that or not?"
It was something increasingly rare in Portland dining: No cilantro, no mention of "reduction" or "searing." No pressure to eat "local food" raised less than ten feet from the table. (My pastrami sure tasted like it came from a zip code starting with the number one.)
Eavesdropping on others around us was good culinary theater. There was that table of friends obviously dealing with some serious shank-o-the-evening munchies, one of whom made a towering sandwich out of his latkes and a half-pound or so of corned beef, somehow cramming it all in his mouth and quickly following with a coleslaw chaser. Or, that rail-thin gal disdainfully waving off her eager date's insistence that a fried carb is really not the devil's handiwork. I somehow refrained from slipping the poor man a note on a napkin saying: GET OUT WHILE YOU STILL CAN. It was a night of miracles all around.