Mini-Post - Long time no see! A few new-ish thoughts for 2014 Portland Food

Remember us?

We're still here. More or less. We both have maintained too-busy lives with wives and kids and what-not. We continue to eat a lot; we just haven't sat down to write as much. Sorry.

So what if we hardly write anything anymore? There's still food to eat, and there will still be occasions to write about it.

Here are a few thoughts on a few places.

Where to Get Brunch and/or Portland's Best Fried Chicken: Screen Door. Great Bloody Mary's, most of the time. The chicken is Portland's best, in a family establishment, until someone proves me wrong.

Other quality brunches: Delta Cafe; Tin Shed; Jam; Toast; anything else named after a breakfast item

Where to Get Thai FoodSweet Basil. Solid menu, seasonal items, plenty of flavor, and take out portions are generous. My biggest knock is that the spice level you choose doesn't necessarily determine what you get.

Other quality Thai: Chai Thai; Pok Pok (though I don't really consider this Thai, you'd stop reading if it didn't get mentioned); Tom Yum

Best Dinner for People Who Like to Drink Beer: Tabor Tavern. Portland has lots of beer, and lots of places to eat food with it. Most of Portland's more major local breweries have a brick-and-mortar restaurant presence, and many of these are quite fine. Tabor Tavern has a number of taps with a number of higher-end micros, and augments that with a very solid menu. Try the fish and chips if you want a tavern food staple with a twist.

Other quality food/beer hybrids: Burnside Brewery is the only one that really merits getting their name on the list. If you're trying to pick between the ubiquitous McMenamins restaurants, go to the Black Rabbit in Troutdale (for a slightly better kitchen and the campus surrounding it) or the Blue Moon because that puts you close to the rest of the action on a weekend or evening.

Best "Chinese" Food: The best Chinese places are a bit non-traditional. In Portland, Lucky Strike gets the nod. Although if you want more typical Chinese-ish cuisine with something special, go to Thien Hong and get the pepper salted squid. In fact, just get 4 orders of that and eat it until your gut bursts.

Other quality Chinese: Wong's King (also good for a dim sum brunch); The Hunan.

By the way, every single place I've listed is one where kids can be, but none of them are kid magnets. So they strike a nice balance.

Send us your food thoughts. We'd love to be relevant again.


Pok Pok

I dined for the first time at Pok Pok on Monday with Rusty and our old friend Caleb. Arriving at 7 pm, I was told that there would be a 30 minute wait and I was directed to the Whiskey Soda Lounge across the street to wait (which is owed by the same person that owns Pok Pok). 30 minutes turned into a little over an hour.
At last, we were seated outside (after turning down a seat at the counter). We first ordered some of Ike’s Vietnamese Fish Sauce Wings, and after a few minutes, six wings arrived. Quite delicious.
Next, we ordered three plates; Muu Paa Kham Waan (Boar collar meat), Kung Yak Phao (Giant Prawns!) and Laap Pet Isaan (Spicy minced duck breast and duck liver). With the plates, we ordered two servings of sticky rice. The plates were small, but the flavors were powerful. I enjoyed the boar and the pork belly, but I wasn’t such a fan of the prawns. The boar was way too spicy for our friend Caleb (more for me).
Still hungry, we ordered two more plates, plus some Jasmine rice; Kaeng Hung Leh (the Thai sweet pork belly and shoulder) and Tam Kai Yaang (Roasted game hen). These two dishes were a bit more substantial and both had very complex flavors.
Over all, this was a great meal; It wasn’t cheap, the plates were small, the wait was ridiculously long (make a reservation!!!), but the food was spectacular. The menu changes from time to time. DO NOT TAKE your children with you. This is a very adult dining establishment.
Pok Pok is located at 3226 Southeast Division Street, Portland, OR 97202
(503) 232-1387


Columbia River Brewing Company

My family headed out to have pizza last night at the Laurelwood Pizza Company on NE 40th last night and were shocked to find it gone. In its place, an upstart, just-opened place called Columbia River Brewing.

A sign at the front advised that this was the soft-opening, which I knew was a risk, but at the same time our readers are worth it. So, in we went.

In appearance, it is the same place. This owes strongly, I suspect, to the fact that ownership appears to have changed hands and the new shingle raised in less than a week. In checking the news section of the Laurelwood site (link to be supplied later, when I'm on a computer), I learned that Laurelwood closed doors at this location on July 5th, so Columbia startes a scant four days later.

We'd come for a family-friendly pizza and beer. Family-friendly is still there - same play area, same color books, same crayon buckets. Beer was also there, as expected. I sampled the Peacenik Pale and the Wry Pale, which were both commendable. My wife, who craved a wheat, had to settle for the Mother Lode Golden, which I found entirely disinteresting. My Bro-in-law had a smoked ale with an inmemorable and inpronounceable name, which I passed on sampling.

The menu is varied but not particarly interesying. There are personal pizzas (only pepperoni, cheese, or Hawaiian) but no full-size ones. There are salads, sandwiches, and burgers. Also a wide variety of appetizers.

My wife and I decided to get an order of onion rings for the table. She ordered a shredded pork sandwich. I went for the Turkey and avocado sandwich. The Bro-in-law ordered a bacon burger.

The service was miserably slow. I chalk this up to the first-night thing. The eaiter, who was very nice but obviously still getting his legs beneath him, didn't know the menu. We chatted him up a bit during the hour we waited for dinner and learned that the wait staff apparently hadn't been given the opportunity to sample the wares, which I would guess is pretty important. The kitchen only had two people in it, which accounted for the slowness of the grub.

The food was adequate but nothing special. Bro-in-law's burger patty was too small for the bun, which made it appear like intentional skimpiness, where it may just be a sign of work-in-progress. My wife's shredded pork had a too-sweet sauce on it which totally ruined it, in my opinion. My turkey avocado was pretty good, but the chipotle mayo used had something wrong with it, which I can't quite place. Again, perhaps awork in progress.

For four beers, three dinners, an order of mostly-overcooked onion rings and a kids meal, the total came in at just over $50, which isn't bad.

The first impression wasn't strong, and a little more preparation was in order, for sure. I'll give the place a month or two and go back. I'd encourage our readers to also wait.


Wanna write for our blog?

It doesn't pay, except for the pleasure of feeling compelled to eat out.

E-mail us at pdxrestaurantreviews [at] gmail [dot] com if you're interested. Writing examples would be a good idea.

Caro Amico

I likes me some Italian food. The problem is that I haven't found a great many decent places in town for good Italian grub. Most places seem to go with a "more is better" mentality that doesn't always pan out.

We've covered Italian in the past here. Looking at the list of restaurants that have made the list, the only really noteworthy ones are the fairly expensive ones. Pastini Pasteria is actually pretty good, but otherwise there's really a lot of schlock out there.

We've also covered Caro Amico before, but that was related to their pizzas. We haven't had a sit-down meal there for awhile.

Which is part of what excited me about Wednesday. For Father's Day, we took my father-in-law to Caro Amico, which is one of his favorite old haunts. Unfortunately, we took my kids as well, which made it hard to really enjoy the atmosphere or to really get into the food. This review will suffer on that account.

The view from Caro Amico is nice. We were on the middle floor, which has a deck/patio area overlooking the sloping west side down to the river.

The third floor has a better view, but there was a private party up there and I didn't wish to disturb them to get you a photo.

I've recently been trying to count calories somewhat (believe-it-or-not, considering my lunch at BrunchBox today), so I tried to avoid pasta for dinner and stick with something a little less carb-o-riffic.

My wife and I split a chopped salad as an appetizer. Delicious. A green salad with a nice light vinaigrette, it also had bits of salami, olives, and provolone cheese. The full salad could easily feed three, and we left part of it untouched.

For dinner I went with the Steak Marsala. This isn't in my normal wheelhouse, since I generally like to stick with more traditional pasta dishes, but traditional pasta didn't fit as well into my current dietary scheme.

My dish was a flat-iron steak topped with mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes and garlic in a marsala sauch. It was served with some penne pasta in marinara, which I did take a couple of bites of.

(Sorry for how dark the picture is; my wife gets bent when I get all food-bloggy on her).

The meal ended up being very satisfying, even leaving half the pasta aside. The steak was well-prepared, and the flavors worked well together without any being over-powering. I drank a Lagunitas IPA with my meal, and it was fabulous.

For four adults and two kids the tab was about $112 (pre-tip), which wasn't too bad. Service was great, atmosphere was nice (to the extent that I could enjoy it); I'd continue to say that Caro Amico is among the top Italian places in town.

Der Rheinlander

I've been to the Rheinlander in the past, but it's been at least 10 years since my last visit. I went at the suggestion of a friend recently on a nice Saturday evening, expecting to take advantage of the early dinner menu, which really isn't much cheaper than the real menu but is presented as a bargain option.

I didn't make reservations, but since I decided to take a group with me (myself, wife, 2 kids, mother-in-law and brother-in-law) I thought it reasonable to call ahead. The person who answered was very pleasant, gave good phone if you will, and told me that while I couldn't get on the list, there was no line and I'd only need to wait about 5 minutes upon arrival. All great.

Upon arrival, the same person (I know because I checked later) didn't even look up as we walked through the door and didn't speak a word to me until I approached her. This might not be such a big deal, except I've been there many times and received a warmer greeting and have come to expect it. And, since it wasn't like she was addressing a long line of people, there wasn't a readily apparent and obvious explanation. Once I approached her to get on the list, she said it would be 2o minutes (this only 5 minutes after I called in to say I'd be there in 5 minutes), which was further un-plussing. And then, unlike every other host/hostess I've met there, she didn't refer me or my kids to the apple cider station or the toys that are available for people waiting. All off-putting.

So, I wasn't impressed with the hostess; out of fairness, though, I will note that during every other visit to Gustav's/The Rheinlander (they share the building and the host staff), I've been pleased with the initial experience.

Upon seating, we were taken into the virtually-empty restaurant. I think 8 tables out of 30+ were occupied. My guess is that the reason the wait was so long was because the waitstaff wasn't there yet; my opinion is that if you're going to be open to accomodate people, you need to have adequate staff on-site to do so. That said, once seated our waitress was readily available, and super-nice. Really, I haven't had such a good waitress in awhile, and I like to test waitresses out. The waitress met almost all of the food quickly (surprisingly so, in fact), which may have been a function of the slowness of the hour but was very nice nonetheless. She sang us two songs from The Sound of Music to make my daughter happy, and she and her busser brought each of my daughters a balloon just because.

The only downgrade was that she left my beer empty for several minutes before seeing if I wanted a refill. In her defense, she was setting up a large-party table that required some time to be spent away from us.

The food was good. With German food, you either love it or hate it. I love the flavor but always end up feeling like I've eaten too much. Rheindlander's fondue is fantastic; I'd go there just for that (and, in fact, I think that's the major premise behind Gustav's). For dinner, I had the Kraut Roulade (German cabbage rolls) and they were fantastic; my waitress stated that this was her favorite dish, which swayed me that way, and I'm glad I tried them. I sampled my wife's Jagerschnitzel, which is basically chicken breast with a mushroom and paprika gravy, and it was okay. My mother-in-law and brother-in-law both ordered chicken schnitzel, which was a bit dry and boring.

The beer at the Rheinlander is all pretty good, and they'll serve you a stein of it (if you want) which is great.

The atmosphere is gimicky, I think. German cottage decor, replete with plates on the walls and over-worked wood and lederhosen on the staff. It can be distracting or it can be great, depending on what you want out of the experience. It's so subjective in that sense that I won't knock it, I'll just state it and let the reader/eater decide what they think.

The prices are high. I honestly feel like everything was overpriced by a couple of bucks. I may be wrong, and that's fine, but I'd generally avoid The Rheinlander for the price alone. I feel like they limit themselves in that way, but they have a huge portion of the gimicky German cottage restaurant market, so maybe they're okay with that.

Overall, the experience was a good one. Good food, nice atmosphere, great wait-staff, and (more often than not) a good entry/exit experience as well. I'm pro-Rheinlander for a once-a-year event if you don't mind spending so dough. I'm pro-Gustav's for a monthly fondue, beer, and potato pancake outing that's more accessible and probably more enjoyable as well.

Mini-post: BrunchBox

Had lunch at BrunchBox today (SW Fifth and Stark). Which is to say that I stopped by, grabbed some food, and went back to the office to devour it.

I'm an avowed fan of the Youcanhascheeseburger, which is a cheeseburger that replaces the typical bun with a grilled cheese sandwich on each side of the patty. Total gut-bomb.
Today, though, in an attempt to impress my intern, I went a bit further, settling instead on the Redonkadonk Burger. This is the Youcanhascheeseburger taken to the extreme, tricked out with an egg, some ham, bacon, and a slice of Spam. It's $9.00, it is hideously large, and it is delightful.

The service at BrunchBox is always good, the food is consistently wonderful, the prices are (generally) very reasonable, and with a patch of sun floating around outside, the carts are a nice alternative.
Now to sleep off this heinous food coma...


A Word on the Urbanspoons of the World

Gotta be careful here. As a food blog, we are not too distant a cousin to sites like Yelp and Urbanspoon, which allow you to look for quick info on eateries in whatever location you are. It seems that most of the people who come to this site are looking (though often disappointed due to our recent inactivity) for some insight on places to go to eat and why they should or shouldn't go to them.

All well and good. I have used Yelp and Urbanspoon in other towns when I wasn't familiar with the food scene and wanted to get an idea of what to do. I encourage that. What I generally do is look at the general info (number of stars, number of dollar signs, cuisine type and hours) and then leave my mind open. If a place has no votes, I avoid it. If it has lots of votes and a consensus low opinion, I avoid it. If it is a place where several people have voted it above average and it otherwise fits what I'm looking for, it becomes a possibility to be considered.

Where I part ways with these sites, though, is the commentary. Blog comment boxes are often the last bastion for the anonymous flamer. The only people who comment (other than the spammers who are trying to sneak a link into your blog) are people that read you a lot, people that strongly agree with you, or people that think you're an idiot. The primary population of people that comment at Yelp and Urbanspoon are those that really, really liked a place, or those that really hated it during one visit. Neither of those groups really offers a great deal of insight, and (unlike our blog) you don't get to see their opinions rendered again and again to decide whether they merit your trust or not.

JLowe, for one, was recently upset by Yelp. He was reading about a coffee shop he loves on there and, while there were some opinions rendered which were well-reasoned and fair, there were some absolute kooks there as well, clearly flaming the place without any really objectively reasonable basis. I've read the same reviews, and while I'm generally less likely to take offense at some of these sorts of things, I saw the "outlandish-statement-for-the-sake-of-having-an-opinion" sort of things that troubled him most.

So, by all means, go to Urbanspoon or Yelp for a quick idea. If you're looking for insight and opinion you can trust, check us out, or any of the other blogs in our blogroll, all of whom seem to care about being honest, forthright, and real with you.


The Sapphire Hotel

I owe this place. I've been wanting to blog it for months. I started at one point, then failed to finish. This post won't do it any justice at all, but (like I said) I owe, so I write.

The Sapphire Hotel (5008 SE Hawthorne) has been a fixture for a long time as a place to get drinks and have dinner. Over the last few months, however, they've become one of my main places to go for breakfast on the weekend.

What's good? First of all, the space is nice.

The service is great, too. The people there recognize you, since the breakfast is still somewhat undiscovered. This is followed by a fine beverage selection (I'm a fan of the Bloody Mick, a Bloody Mary garnished with bacon salt and a hunk of steak), though I've found working your way through the drink menu isn't a bad idea.

The food options are good. The Bistro Steak and Eggs (pictured) is forgettable and I'd recommend against it.

However, the Mediterranean Benedict is wonderful (and super-filling), and most everything else on the menu has great merit to it; I've found nothing else I'd warn against. The prices are fine as well.

This isn't a great review, because it wasn't written in the moment. However, I'm a huge fan of The Sapphire Grill for breakfast, and commend it to you for your own experience.

Lucky Strike

There’s a down-side to writing about take-out.

It isn’t a complete reflection of the restaurant from which you’ve purchased the meal, and eating in your own home creates a loss.

Ambience, flavor, heat; these are all things that are robbed from the meal when you aren’t having it fresh and quick at the restaurant.

That said, sometimes take-out is a necessity. For a restaurant blog, the preference is to discuss dine-in. But when you’re at a place like Lucky Strike, that’s easier said than done.

Lucky Strike (12306 SE Powell) serves very good Asian cuisine. This much I knew before going there, as it was given a rave review in a recent issue of Portland Monthly.

A brief digression. “Best of” lists are great and all, but we prefer to figure out what’s best by personal experience, and we’re most likely to check out a place based upon word of mouth. There are times when we’ll go check out the hot new thing, whether its because a publication says so or it is just part of the local zeitgeist (for instance, The Original is high on my list of places I need to get to, based solely on buzz), but word-of-mouth is a better way to go.

Anyhow, my wife saw Lucky Strike in Portland Monthly and was pleased to see a restaurant near our home that was highly-touted. Thus, she demanded it tonight.

Having never gone there before, we drove over expecting to slide in for a nice dinner. We drove by out front to find cars all around the small building and people stacked up against the glass of the door. We pulled behind and I walked in to see if there was a take-out menu available (my suggestion of finding another place to go and dine in having been rebuffed). I found the inside to be tightly packed, with about 7 tables and 2 bar-type seats near the cash register. The biggest thing in the restaurant was the TV, which was playing the Blazers game. All of the seats were full, and no fewer than 6 people were standing in the cramped space available near the door, anxiously awaiting a seat.

I was given one of the plastic table menus and was permitted to take it out to the car for consultatation. I reviewed it with my wife, and we selected a nice array of items: the pineapple fried rice ($8), cold sesame noodles ($5), mano tofu ($9), Guiness pork ribs ($9), and “beans and beans” ($7). I called the number at the bottom of the menu and placed a take-out order. “Forty-five minutes,” I was told.

Frankly, I was a bit taken aback. A phone-in order to Sweet Basil takes 10 minutes. Very few places, frankly, take more than 30. However, this was an important experiment, so I agreed.

After running some errands and taking the wife and kids back home, I returned about 45 minutes later. The place was still quite busy. I checked in with the guy at the counter, who checked and told me that he was sorry to say that it would be another 15 minutes. This wasn’t pleasing, but I went along with it.

I went outside to wait. Twittered a bit, e-mailed a reader who was soliciting food advice, Twittered a bit more, texted my wife regarding my status, checked on the Blazer game through the window. Finally, 15 minutes had gone by and I headed back in.

The guy went back to check on my food. He (wisely, perhaps) decided to just attend to other things. If he’d told me I’d be waiting another 15 minutes, I may have just left. He didn’t, so I stood awkwardly amidst the small space, waiting and watching the Blazers.

So, about an hour and fifteen minutes after ordering, and about half an hour after coming to get my food, it was finally given to me. The guy was apologetic, but not as apologetic as I was thinking he should be (with that wait, comping me something would’ve been a good play), I paid and tipped (more than I probably should have) and off I went.

When I got home, I cracked open everything and took in the variety of odors. The Guiness ribs had a sweet odor with the unmistakeable earthy/chocolately Guiness undertones. The sesame noodles had a vinegar-and-sesame smell. The mano tofu was pungent and spicy, and a bit nutty. The pineapple fried rice smelled exactly as you’d expect. The beans and beans was green beans and hot red peppers, and smelled accordingly. I dished up a plate (used the steamed rice as a base for the tofu, which had a plentiful amount of sauce)and then it was time to dine.

I have to say, the food is good. The pineapple fried rice was supposed to be sweet, but the pineapple used was obviously canned and not impressive; that said, the package was pretty decent, and as I'd ordered it as a non-offensive item for my four year-old, I wasn't expecting much. The sesame noodles were much better than I’d thought they would be, and merited seconds immediately. The tofu was very, very spicy, sending me into a fit of hiccups followed by sneezing. Despite how that may sound, it was awesome. The ribs were less-than-expected; they seemed to taste a bit cardboard-y, which may have been a result of the Guiness or may have had something to do with being boxed; either way, I’d like to try them in the restaurant to give them a fair shake. All together, the food was quite good, but not as good as you could get at Thien Hong, which is a blog favorite.

I came away feeling a bit cheated; being so highly touted may have set me up for a disappointment, so I’ll try not to be unfair about it. And, again, a review suffers if you're eating take-out, so read my comments accordingly.

Lucky Strike: if you’re looking for a place to eat out, this probably isn’t it. If you’re looking for better-than-average take-out, call well in advance and then consider calling again to let them know you’re coming. The inconvenience factor is high, but the food almost makes up for it.


Cha Cha Cha!

I have been on a quest for the past 18 years. When I was but 15 years old, I was introduced to the torta at a greasy little taco cart in Tijuana, Mexico. That "sandwich" was amazing. For the next three summers, I enjoyed tortas while my friends ate the tacos. I have never tasted its equivalent. And, believe you me, I have tried. Every taco stand at every county fair and every Mexican restaurant whose threshold I have crossed has been examined for a torta that would come just somewhat close to that delectable treat I had so long ago. Few even offer the torta. Those that do have fallen woefully short, until this very evening.

I have lived near Cha Cha Cha! on 27th and NE Broadway for over 6 years. Sadly, I had dined there before. I say sadly, because hidden away inside that very restaurant was the greatest torta I have ever tasted, the very torta for which I had been searching. It was a massive feast on bread. Here's the description from the menu: Clasica Torta; "French bread, pinto beans, guacamole, layered with al pastor, asada, ham, bacon, sliced cheese, romaine lettuce and tomatoes."  The price for this masterpiece was only $5.95. Cha Cha Cha! has done with the torta what Stanich's has done to the hamburger...taken it to a whole different level.

My wife had the chimichanga. which was also $5.95. Equally delicious, equally filling. My wife only ate a third of it. Our daughter had a quesadilla. Total price, with one soda, this evening was $16.15. It was worth every penny.


Twitter Updates

Trying to get around the fact that we're getting lazy, I've added some Twitter functionality to the blog. I'll eventually get our other writers in on it, but at this point (at least) there'll be occasional, restaurant-related thoughts available in the sidebar (see "The Twits We've Twatted" section).

You can also subscribe to us here.



My latest trend seems to be towards finding new and interesting breakfast options around town, so my next few posts will cover my recent finds. You'll be able to review all breakfast-related posts by clicking the "Breakfast" tab to the right.

First off, though, please recall that our blog's current fave-rave for breakfast is The Screen Door. Please consider this your jumping-off place for breakfast in Portland.

That said, my brother-in-law was in town, and my mother-in-law decided to go for something new and different. Hence our visit to Sckavone's at SE 41st and Division.

The restaurant itself is cute. Open space, simple in appearance, it's pretty no-nonsense, which is always a good sign. It being a nice morning, we opted for the outdoor seating (which is along 41st) and were delighted to watch the neighbor's bunnies hopping about (my daughter had trouble focusing on the food because the bunnies so enticed her).

The menu, like the restaurant, is no-nonsense. All pretty basic stuff. Again, I like a place that keeps it simple and sticks to a few items they do well. Too many places venture too far off towards the experimental to the detriment of the customer.

That said, I opted for a special (which is generally against my rules), a scramble with spicy sausage and gouda, so I figured there wasn't any real way to mess it up.

Gladly, I was right. The food was ably done, and the portion was sized consistent with the price. Certainly not a knock-out, but a quality offering that puts the place on the list of go-to places for future use.

The potatoes on the side have a nice bit of bite to them without overwhelming. The coffee, of all things, was the thing I liked the least, and it reminded me that coffee is an essential element to a good breakfast. Here, you're better served going for a juice.

My wife, as usual, ordered from the French Toast/Pancake menu, and the result was typically non-noteworthy. She had a side of bacon which was alright.

Brother-in-law opted for the Strapazzare, an over-whelming mash-up of pizza-meets-breakfast which he couldn't eat all of. He did enjoy it quite a bit, though.

Friendly service, good-sized portions, affordability and better-than-average food make Sckavone's a place to hit in the future. Let us know what you think.


BBQ Express

Aloha! There is a new Hawaiian plate lunch restaurant downtown. The full name is BBQ Express Hawaiian BBQ. It's on the same block as the Lotus.

It's reasonably priced and the portions are large. There is nothing particularly special about it other than it being the only place downtown to get a Hawaiian plate lunch. The service is pretty good- they try really hard but there is a slight language barrier. My friend had a hard time trying to order something not using the number system and I had a hard time paying with a credit card because the cashier couldn't read the english on the credit card machine. The man who delivers the food to your table yells out your number and what you ordered. It reminds me of the soup nazi- "Number 1! Number 1! BBQ Mix plate! FOR YOU!!!!"

I will say they make a fine Spam Musabi. Large and only $2. It was gone into my belly before I could remember to take a picture of it.

The first time I went there, I had the BBQ Mix place which is grilled teriyaki chicken breast, sliced beef and short ribs, mac salad, and two scoops of rice. It was good and I felt I got my money's worth. The mac salad isn't the best. I think they maybe cheaped out and used some generic mayo instead of Best Foods/Hellman's (it seriously makes a difference). Another friend thought they just bought Costco mac salad and served it instead of making their own. Other friends had the chicken katsu (thumbs up!), the fried shrimp (thumbs down! undercooked) and the yakisoba (thumb sideways?). The second time I went there, I had the Kalua Pork plate. I've had much better at several other restaurants.

All in all, this is a good place for lunch downtown if you're craving Hawaiian BBQ.

Eat Pizza!

Back on 05/30/2008, I purchased a restaurant.com $25 gift certificate to Eat Pizza! for $1.00. I forgot about it until today, 05/22/2009 so I decided to use it. I am so glad I did as the food was delicious. I placed the lunch order for take-out because their location is kind of weird and pizza sliced shaped (similar to Rocco's but smaller). It's kiddie-corner and down the street from PGE Park 20th & Morrison/Burnside.

I ordered the following:
Pizza Alla Casalinga (topped with Artichoke Hearts, Fresh Tomatoes and Spicy Italian Sausage): "A layer of dough stretched into a square pan coated with garlic-infused olive oil, then topped sparingly with shredded mozzarella, savory tomato sauce, olive oil, fresh basil, and oregano and baked until the top bubbles and the bottom is crisp. Delicious!"

I agree! This is the second best pizza I've had in my life. I loved the crisp, buttery yet chewy crust with the cheese baked in. The sauce was on top of the cheese instead of underneath and the toppings were spread evenly throughout. It looked and smelled so good, I dug right in. Then, I remembered I should probably take some pictures so all of you can drool as well. I liked that it was cut into squares so that I could bogart all the corner pieces.

Cheese Bread: "Mozzarella and Parmesan atop crispy bread and served with marinara sauce." Not bad but not the best I've ever had.

Cinnamon Knots: No description needed other than these little things were heaven. They were like eating the middle part of a Cinnabon. Except better. They came with their own little tub of cream cheese frosting to dip them in.

Raspberry Chimi: "Raspberry and cream cheese filled dessert pastry." Oh my. So so good. The perfect raspberry to cream cheese ratio DEEP FRIED! Not very pretty but looks are deceiving.

So there you have it. My first review. I highly recommend Eat Pizza! Great customer service (thanks Jeff the pizza guy!) and a pretty darn good deal with a gift certificate. About $37 worth of grub for $12. Here's the menu.


Mini-Post: Sweet Basil - Take-out buyers beware

We love Sweet Basil here. Dependably delicious. In fact, JLowe and I both showed up there tonight, unplanned, to pick up take-out orders for our families.

Problem: I got home to find my box of rice for my House Special Curry was somebody else's shrimp pad thai. Which worked out okay; it was like getting a bonus meal.

Someone else got stiffed, though.

And this is the second time in a row that our order's been messed up.

Never had this issue anywhere before. When it happens twice at the same thing, it merits a mention...


Laurelwood Pizza Company (and thoughts on kid-friendly places)

Close followers of our blog know that your humble authors are all laden with at least a kid each. Friends of the blog might know that I was blessed with a second child in October.

What this means is that we're always keyed-in to whether a place is good for family. Though we don't set out specifically to find family-friendly locales most of the time, they do need to be (at least) family-tolerant, and where we have kids that don't seem well attended-to, we're sure to take notice in these pseudo-pages. In fact, I've thought of creating a family-friendly tag, but we're over 100 posts now, and I don't feel like taking the time to go back through everything.

If you've got a kid, shoot us an e-mail and we'll let you know if any given restaurant will be good for you.

We've actually caught some guff in prior comments from folks who didn't seem interested in our thoughts on family-friendliness. Most restaurant blogs in town seem concerned with the aesthetics of their objects without addressing the dirty business of how places accomodate family units. And, for some, that's what they're looking for. We, though, are a breeder-friendly experience, and we refuse to apologize for pointing out when a place that is open to all isn't conducive to the messiness that is a family meal.

I digress. Sort of.

Last weekend, the Missus and I decided we wanted to go to a family-friendly place with some friends of ours who are also doubly-blessed with offspring. It fell on me to pick a location.

I racked my brain. I knew that I wanted somewhere that had something for the kids to do, because that would allow for conversation with our friends. My wife suggested Out of This World Pizza in Hillsboro, but I really didn't have the energy to go there and chase my 3 year-old around, nor did I want to sacrifice good food. And, frankly, living in SE Portland makes Hillsboro less-than-ideal for me.

I thought about Laurelwood Public House on Sandy. I love the place as a concept -- they make good beer and their food is decent, and they have a small play area for kids. But they're always too packed and I wanted pizza, after my wife had planted the pie idea in my head with the afore-mentioned Out of This World.

How about I split the baby, I thought? There's a Laurelwood on 40th, just off of NE Sandy, that serves pizza instead of burgers-and-such. And so we ended up going to the Laurelwood Pizza Company.

Pleasant surprise: We didn't have to wait for seating. Which was a shock. Here we were at 6:30 on a Saturday, and there was no wait to seat a party of 4 adults and 3.5 kids (I never count babies as a full person since they can sit in a lap or be set on a floor in their carrier if needed). Service was prompt and attentive and between order and food delivery, we only waited about 15 minutes (though the tater tot appetizer came within 10).

During that time, our kids were able to enjoy themselves in the kids play area, which is stocked with toys and carpeted for a moderate amount of safety. There were several unsupervised kids there who seemed hell-bent on finding ways to maim themselves, but the area is set up so that attentive parents can still monitor it from their table.

The menu is typical Italian joint. Salads, pastas, stromboli sandwiches, etc. The food, though, is quite good.

Our friends ordered the Big Island, which is a fancified name for the Hawaiian. Not special at all, but for a fine beer-batter dough and a good sauce. My wife and I are generally a little more adventerous, so she selected the Tuscany: roasted garlic infused olive oil, mozzarella, prosciutto, sun-dried tomatoes, fresh basil, goat cheese & balsamic reduction. It was an impressive pie, so much so that my wife declared it her second-favorite in town (the first being the Stevie's Wonder at Caro Amico).

I give bonus points to brewpubs. I like beer. And I like places that are able to show off the fact that they make their own. And Laurelwood does this, in spades, with a brewroom that is prominently displayed through some windows in their restaurant.

Perhaps the biggest seal of approval was from our friends, who are difficult to dine with. They don't really like anything, and I wasn't sure how the night would turn out. The wife, at least, loved the place, and demanded we let them know when we were heading back (which should be soon).

What did we end up spending? Well, I picked up the tater tots for the table. Two beers, two glasses of wine for my wife, a kids meal for my daughter (crappy mac-and-cheese, but she seemed to enjoy it) and our large $20 pie all for about $50. Not cheap, but we didn't really attempt to hold the tab down. A normal dinner for three of pizza and a couple of sodas (and water for the kid) could easily have been done for $30 with tip, so the place can be friendly to your wallet as well as to your kids.

Add this place to our list of faves. The food is more-than-decent and it works for real people in many ways.


So I've been to a slew of restaurants lately and need to catch up.

First up, Dragonfish, where I managed to cajole my co-workers into going for lunch recently.

It was a shock, really. My co-workers have a few old stand-bys - PF Changs (meh), Typhoon! (meh), Henry's (meh). Don't get me wrong, any of these places is good from time-to-time. But hearing these blurted out every time we're discussing lunch out of the office gets old.

One of the girls has been pushing for Dragonfish for some time, based upon how much she enjoys the happy hours there. We certainly weren't going for drinks, and I wasn't sure how sushi would go over, but I pulled the trigger when the chance came nonetheless.

The restaurant itself is beautiful. Located at 909 SW Park (at the corner of Park and Taylor, kitty-corner from the Fox Tower), the space is light and open and very pleasing. Two of the walls are essentially windows to the street. The back of the restaurant leads into a hotel lobby. The decor is very spare and clean and nice; it doesn't draw your attention away from the food, which is good, because the food deserves your attention.

For lunch, the menu is uncomplicated. You are able to order typical sushi fare if you want, or you can stick to the menu which is well-honed to highlight what the restaurant does well. Being momentarily in charge since the boss was running late, I ordered some appetizers for the table (this was on the company, after all). The edamame was fine, which edamame generally always is. We also ordered salad rolls (quite similar to the Fresh Wrapped at Sweet Basil, but entirely vegetarian), ginger chicken potstickers, and the chicken satays. I don't know that salad rolls can be done wrong. The potstickers were among the better ones I've had in the last year or so. The satays were kabobs of small chicken pieces and were neither excellent or bad.

For my own lunch, I ordered the Rock-n-Roll sushi platter, which contains some California Roll, some tempura roll, and some chef's special roll. I think it was a spicy tuna. For $11, the serving was not overly generous but not skimpy, with 4 pieces of each roll offered.

Everyone at the table enjoyed what they had, whether it was a bento box or assorted nigiri, all of which were available. I was pleased myself.

To be sure, Dragonfish isn't the best sushi in town. But if you're downtown looking for a cool place to sit and eat good food, it ought to be on your list.


Bernie's Southern Bistro

Six years ago, my wife and I moved into NE Portland near Alberta Street, and not long after moving into the area, we had dinner at Bernie's Southern Bistro. We didn't go back, until last night. I don't know, we were just not that impressed six years ago. But last night, my wife came back into town, and we started having the dinner conversation; "What do you want?" "I don't know, what do you want?" "I don't know, what do you want?"

After batting back and forth, we both concluded that we didn't want to cook, so we decided to cruise NE Alberta Street until we found something. We started at 33rd, got all the way down to 15th, and started on our way back. Nothing was jumping out at me. My wife said, "How about either Concordia Ale House or Bernie's?" I love Concordia Ale House, but my wife's suggestion of Bernie's Southern Bistro was intriguing...

...And I am glad we went. We were immediately greeted when we entered the restaurant. Within a minute, we were being led to our table. Water and cornbread magically appeared, as we considered the menu. There were only a few selections, but they all looked good. My wife ordered the meatloaf, with sides of mac and cheese and buttered peas. I ordered the skinless boneless fried chicken, with mashed potatoes and collard greens. While we waited for our meals to arrive, our server noticed that we had scarfed down the cornbread and brought us a little bit more. We didn't wait long.

This was comfort food. My wife's meatloaf was fantastic. She could only finish (with my help) one of the two slabs. So, for lunch and again for dinner today, I got to have meatloaf sandwiches...but I digress. Our daughter loved the mac and cheese, as did my wife. The buttered peas were firm, not mushy.

The fried chicken was terrific. The plate came with both a breast and a thigh. Presenting it boneless made for easy eating with a knife and a fork. The mashed potatoes were country-style, with some lovely lumps. The collard greens came in a bowl and were prepared to perfection. I'm not a big fan of collard greens, but I ate every last bite, and was happy. Between the two plates that we ordered, we shared or meal with our two-year-old, and had left-overs.

Both plates were $15.00 a piece, and worth every penny. Our next trip to Bernie's will be far sooner than six years from now. You can find Bernie's Southern Bistro at 2904 NE Alberta Street.


Toro Bravo

For my wife's birthday this year, she decided that she wanted to go to Toro Bravo. We've heard great things and we had tried to check it out three weeks ago, but the plan that night fell apart. This was our second chance, and we were going with four other people. Toro Bravo does not accept reservations, unless you have a party of seven or more. My wife and I arrived at 6:45, to find out that the wait would be 45 to 60 minutes. As we were the first of our party to arrive, we decided to wait it out. I ordered a Sazerac (which was terrific). By 7:10, our entire party had arrived. By 7:15, we were seated (15 to 30 minutes ahead of the quoted wait-time).

The interior is great. It's clean, with low light and a lot of atmosphere. Our server was prompt all night long. Rusty was a part of our group...he ordered the Casa-Rita. Well, he ordered two. Fantastic drink.

Now, the thing about tapas, is that if you're really hungry and really worried about how much you are going to spend, then it's not the place for you. The dishes are small, but they are really meant to be shared, which makes it a great way to try many things at the same sitting. That's precisely what we did. We started off with with the Tortilla Espanol. It was savory, with a smooth texture and quite salty. Next came the Bacon-wrapped dates dipped in honey. I loved them (but then I love dates). The bacon added a saltiness to it that was a nice combination with the honey.

The plates were now coming thick and fast. We had the Manchego fritters, which were piping hot, but not that exciting. We also tried the Roasted Leeks. They were OK. Right behind the leeks came the Sauteed Spinach; Buttery, well-wilted, with pine nuts and golden raisins. I was expecting more from the raisins, which added texture, but not much flavor. Followed by the spinach was the baked polenta. It was cheesy and warm. Then came the Chicken and Crab Croquettes. I really don't like crab, and I was not the one to order this particular plate. But I was glad that I tried it, for the chicken really off-set the powerful flavor that is often associated with crab. Another item that I did not order, but was glad I tasted, was the Oxtail Croquette. It was like a meat parfait. That description will most likely gross a number of you out, but if you love parfaits (and who doesn't love a parfait?) and you love meat, then you will love the Oxtail. Rusty wasn't impressed. Rusty makes me sad.

What scares me more than Oxtail? The answer is Brussel Sprouts. But, one of our party did indeed order the Sauteed Brussel Sprouts. There was quite a "strong" flavor to it. I didn't like them. But, to the rescue, was one of my plates, which was the Smoked Pork sandwich. On the side were slices of a sweet and sour pickle, which I found to be delightful. But the real draw of this plate was the smoked pork. Toro Bravo nailed it. It was smokey, moist and full of flavor. But, the Achilles heel was the choice of celery root on the sandwich. It added no texture or taste and it just kind of got in the way. What I thought while I was enjoying the flavor of the meat was, "I really wish they had used cabbage on this sandwich."

The last plate to arrive was the Whole Petrale sole. It was well-peppered, but the fish head was a little disconcerting.
For dessert, my wife and I shared the Churros and Chocolate. The chocolate was terrific, which made up for the blandness of the churros. Yes, I drank the remains of the chocolate straight out of the cup.

All in all, I had a great time. With tip, our share was $60.00. You can find Toro Bravo at 120 NE Russell Street, Portland, Oregon, 97212. Check it out.