12.09.2007

Serratto

After dinner at Sunsai, my pals took me down the street to Serratto for dessert. A pretty penny was spent on the decor of this restaurant. Sadly, the chairs we had that night were quite uncomfortable, about an inch too tall.

But however uncomfortable the chairs were, the dessert Tuesday night was fabulous. I chose the Milk Chocolate Cobbler. A pool of warm chocolate was covered with a crust that was topped with vanilla bean gelato. Decadent, rich, creamy, and remarkable.

It's been too long since I had dinner at Serratto, so I can't comment on it. But, it's worth investigating, if only to have another Milk Chocolate Cobbler.

Sunsai

For a belated birthday dinner, two of my pals took me out to Sunsai, located at 539 NW 21st Avenue this past Tuesday. I can't say that I am that discriminating when it comes to sushi, as I have only been to about five or six different places in Portland. But I will say that I did quite enjoy my meal.

I let my pals do most of the ordering, but I did have some say in a couple of the items. One item that just had to be tried was a sushi roll that included jalapenos...truly east meets west. I appreciated the spice that the jalapenos brought to the roll.

I also picked out some yellow tail tuna and some salmon sashimi. The fish came out draped across shredded daikon. Quite fresh, quite firm, quite delicious...if you are not afraid of fish in the raw.

The restaurant was clean. The service was punctual. All in all, a very nice experience. Price? Good sushi will always run you a few dollars. Come ready to spend.

11.22.2007

Mayas Taqueria

I found myself at the corner of 10th and SW Morrison yesterday, having dropped off my dry cleaning at a different dry cleaner for the first time (I have fired the dry cleaner that has been taking care of my clothes for the past five years). I was on my way to a book store, when I saw Mayas Taqueria. It had been a long time since I had darken that door. Found memories flooded back, my belly said I needed lunch, so in I went.

It was much as I remembered. The first thing you see is the grill behind the counter. Then, the upstairs seating catches your I. I looked at the board menu, and I got the vague sense that I had seen that menu somewhere else before. My suspicion is that Mayas is affiliated with Santa Fe Taqueria on NW 23rd.

I decided to order the Spicy Brazilian Old World Wrap. The staff behind the counter was very friendly, even offering to bring my food to my table. I paid my $7.99 and headed off for a seat upstairs.

As I waited, I took a good hard look at what was around me. The place is a rather run down. There is pealing paint. The chairs are quite uncomfortable. The dust was an inch thick on the ceiling fans. It was certainly not a place for a lunch meeting. Then, my food arrived. My wrap was topped with a fruit salsa and there was a good amount of chips. The wrap was delicious and filling. The meat was just spicy enough.

Although I enjoyed my food, I thought it was overpriced. The interior needs a lot of work.

11.15.2007

El Palmero

Yesterday, I met my friend Nick for lunch. It was his idea and his first suggestion was that we meet in the food court at Pioneer Place. I wasn't so excited about heading down there (see my previous reviews of the Pit), but it was Nick's idea, so I didn't seize the moment to squash his plan. He called back and said that maybe we should first meet in front of my building. We met up and began to walk. Nick then asked if I had any suggestions for lunch. Well, of course I did. I had been thinking about where to have lunch with him since we first made plans a week ago. So, I said, "Let's go to El Palmero."

El Palmero is located downtown at 320 SW Alder Street. My wife hates the place. She thinks it's way to greasy (she had a quesadilla there ONCE, and hasn't gone back). When I told Nick my wife's opinion (they go way back), he said, "Let's go there."

El Palmero is a fairly good-sized taqueria, with lots of seating and a familiar menu. It has changed over the years from when I first darkened the door with my buddy Travis, but I think it has only improved.

The dishes range from $6.25 to $12.00+, which seems to be the standard rate for meals in downtown Portland. I had the Chimichanga. It was hot, filling, tasty, and not at all greasy (my wife thinks I am delusional). El Palmero is Peruvian. Stop by, say hi to the very friendly waitstaff, and have a lovely lunch.

11.04.2007

Ruth's Chris

My wife and I went to Ruth's Chris the other night to celebrate the eight years that we have been together. There is no better way to say, "I love you," then over to perfect steaks.

I've been to several of the local steak houses in Portland, and I have to admit, Ruth's Chris is still my favorite. In fact, I have voted it my second favorite restaurant in Portland.

The interior is clean, well laid out and elegant. However, it's not so stuffy that you would feel under-dressed in a nice pair of jeans and a sweater.

The waitstaff is superb, quite friendly, very professional and prompt.

And the meat, well, it's to die for. I had the New York strip and my wife had the Kobe sirloin. I ordered the strip medium rare and the chef hit it right on the mark. It was flavorful and filling...nothing fancy, just salt, pepper in a bit of butter. Ruth's Chris serves a la cart, so if you want a side, you will have to order one. We chose to share the green beans, which was plenty for two.

My wife's Kobe sirloin was medium well. It was tenderized, so although I prefer my meat still mooing, I was quite satisfied with the bites she shared with me.

For dessert, we shared the chocolate sin cake. It had a strong coffee flavor to it, which was fine by me. Others might find it overbearing.

Ruth's Chris is not cheap. Our meal, with tip, came out to +$130.00. That bought us two drinks, two steaks, green beans and a single dessert. Come prepared to spend. Leave very very happy.

10.15.2007

Laurelwood Public House and Brewery

Last night, in the ramp up to our 2nd Annual Stellaween festivities, we took our daughter and some family members out for dinner. Since the goal was to celebrate Stella's 2nd birthday (which is on the 29th, so we hence call this season Stellaween in honor of both her and the fun holiday she was born so close to), we decided to find a place that would be fun for her.

Unfortunately, Portland no longer has Farrell's Ice Cream Parlour (or Portland Ice Cream, the poseur that took it over). And we've sworn off of Chuck E. Cheese. So pickin's were slim.
My wife's dad suggested Laurelwood, which had also crossed my mind, seeing as they are touted as kid-friendly and a fun place for the whole family.

So we went. Upon arrival at the newest location, situated at 51st and Sandy in Northeast Portland, I was pleased at how clean and nice the space was to be in. I looked for the kid's play area, which I'd heard so much about. I was saddened to see it consisted of a small 4'x4' niche in the restaurant. If there was more for kids to do, I didn't see it.


We sat down and started looking for food, as various members of the family took turns running Stella to the play area. We were thrilled to find that Laurelwood has a happy hour every day, including Sunday, from 3-6 pm and from 9-close. Beers are $2.75/pint. Food's about $3.50 off of the happy hour menu.

We ordered two orders of the garlic fries to start. These are awesome. Fries, which in and of themselves are more or less normal (though none were soggy and all were fresh-cooked and crispy), topped with a bunch of minced garlic, some parsley, and some parmesan. They were simply delicious. I've never had garlic fries so good.

The menu is a bit all over the place, which made it hard for everyone to settle on something. There are menus that offer a nice selection, and then menus that offer too much. Laurelwood's falls in the second category. They'd benefit from finding a theme to work around, to help focus the mind of the diner and also to help complement their ample beer selection better.

I had a ton of trouble choosing. Until it was time to order, I was fixated on the crispy buffalo chicken sandwich. However, at the last minute, I switched to the santa fe burger (I'm a sucker for chiles and pepper jack cheese) with a side of onion rings. Total: $9.95.

The food wasn't fast getting out, but it wasn't too slow. We had a party of 8, and service took about 20 minutes, which is okay given that number of people. Our waitress was very friendly, if not entirely on-the-ball, and at least noticed empty drinks fairly promptly (though, on average, it would take 5 minutes to fill a drink order, though I was literally 8 feet from the bar). In terms of a place to go to enjoy company as well as food, Laurelwood does fit the bill.


I took some time to check out the play area with Stella. It was really a let-down. A few broken toys on a small city-scape carpet (if they'd had Hotwheel cars, we could've pretended to drive them on the roads, but alas they didn't). Toward the back corner of the space, I saw what appeared to be old mess of some sort under the carpet. There was no associated smell or crustiness or anything, but it conveyed a feeling of dinginess that was very unappealing. Stella didn't seem to mind, but at the same time she was obviously not that interested in the offerings for kids.

The food finally came and we all dug in. Stella ordered (via her parents, of course) the kids mac and cheese ala carte for $2.50 (you can get the main dish with fries and a dessert for $4.50), which she seemed to enjoy.

My burger initially looked like a sloppy joe. Though I didn't read the menu as indicating it, it was actually sort of a chili burger. The chiles were not really discernable, nor were any of the seasoning elements I'd homed in on while reviewing the dish on the menu. All in all, it was edible but disappointing. The onion rings were quite good, though, and didn't survive to make into my picture, below. My brother in law got the turkey burger, and he said it was good. My other brother in law got the open-faced meatloaf sandwich, which came with whipped potatoes (I tried them and they were alright, but not special) and green beans (cooked a bit too long, so more chewy than crispy, but seasoned nicely). I didn't get to sample the loaf itself, but he ate it all without any complaint, so it must have been at least decent.


My father-in-law ended up performing an act of grandfatherly exuberance, pulling out his card at the last minute to pay, so I never saw the bill. I think, for 8 people with drinks and the appetizers, we ended up around $100, which really isn't bad.

Laurelwood is touted as highly kid friendly. It's smoke free, generally clean, and noone minds your kid running from the table to the play area. But otherwise I don't see how it differs from most other restaurants. Perhaps other locations are more deserving of the kid-free mantle. The food is okay, but not special. The beer is good, and the plentiful happy hours make it a place to keep in mind, especially on a Sunday afternoon when you want to catch a game on the big screen over an affordable pint. It's a place that you'll never miss if you don't visit it, but also one that I could understand you liking if you're nearby and hungry.

10.07.2007

The Greek Festival

Among the venues where food is somewhat incidental, the Greek Festival is high on my list. I’m not Greek, my wife’s not Greek, and few people I know are Greek. And, yet, every year the Greek Festival is a must-go destination for my family and a few of our friends.

It was no different this year.

The essentials are always the same. ALWAYS get a gyro. ALWAYS get some loukamades. And ALWAYS get some baklava. Everything else is icing on the cake, and recommended.

Gyro’s are $4 a piece. The spanikopita is always quite good, and is $3 for 2. Loukamades, which are sort of a honey and cinnamon-covered doughnut hole of sorts (but lighter), are $2 or $3, depending on if you get the small or large servings. The baklava, along with the remainder of the the Greek pastry, are $2 each, or 2 for $3. You can also get Greek coffee (more a matter of preparation than bean origin) for $2, or a normal one for $1 (which is the price for soda and water as well). There is a large beer garden there as well. In short, everything you need for a full dinner.


The food varies in degrees of goodness, but it’s all some sort of good. The gyros are probably the least sensational of the items offered, as they are pretty standard bulk-gyro type gyros. The spanikopita is delicious, with a wonderful filo preparation that is light and flaky, and not overly greasy.


The loukamades are always just fantastic. And the baklava is simply devine. And, this year, the servings are huge.

If you’re reading this post now, you’re too late for this year’s Greek Festival. My weekend prevented me from doing this post in time to offer a true public service. But, in the realm of seasonal event-driven eating, the Greek Festival is an absolute must. Make your way next year.


Two tips: first, bring $20 minimum. It’s enough for 2 people, and you shouldn’t need more unless you’re getting beer. And, second, bring cash. The money system is based on tokens. You buy “talents,” which are $1 each, but which speed transactions there substantially.

The place is always busy, and it usually rains during Greek Festival time, but it’s always covered so just go, swim in the humanity, and get full. It’s a glorious time, and it’s a ton of fun.

The Pumpkin Patch

‘Tis the season, or one of them, for some good, irregular food fun. So much goes on throughout the year, and my goal is to miss much of it in favor of huddling in my dungeon, getting a moon tan from my computer.

But, really, most food events just bug me, so I skip them as a rule.

There are events with related food, though, and those are the type I’ll show up at. Festivals, fairs, and the like.

And one of the like is the Pumpkin Patch.

One might think that this post is meant to allow me to post a cute picture of my daughter. And, in part, it is. But it’s also to shine a light on a worthwhile secondary purpose for making the annual trip with your kids.


In fact, I’ve been making this trip annually since before the kid came. But having the kid simply guaranteed that the trip will continue in perpetuity.

Most of us have gone to the Pumpkin Patch on Sauvie’s Island from time-to-time over the years. Back when I was a kid, I recall it being a bare-bones operation. Pumpkins in a patch, basically. The name, literally, said it all.

Over time, it’s built up into something grand. A pumpkin patch, sure, but so much more. There’s a corn maze (a “maize,” of course), outhouses, a store, and in the last few years a growing food area.


This year, I decided that there was the requisite supply of foodstuffs available to provide a meal, and I sampled them for you.

I spent about 10 bucks altogether. With that money, I had a pulled pork sandwich, some of a cob of corn (actually bought for my wife and daughter), an elephant ear, and a soda.

The pulled pork sandwich, in particular, was awesome. The bun was typical Costco bulk fare. The pork, well, I couldn’t vouch for the quality of the pig it came from, but it was nicely prepped and mixed with a good barbecue sauce. It was served atop the bun, and further topped with some bulk-brand cole slaw, then enclosed with the bun top. A very, very simple sandwich, and yet somehow I’ve never had anything like it. Surprisingly, it was super-good, on a scale of 1-10. JLowe and his wife brought their kid with me and my wife, and his wife (who’s notoriously finicky) downed her sandwich, offering him only a bite, which in turn forced him to drop a 5-spot of his own for his own delicious pulled-pork experience.

The corn was very sweet, and very fresh. I have no doubt it came from one of the multiple nearby, and well-stocked, corn fields, and it was prepared so it was juicy and crispy and so, so good.

The elephant ears are a mixed bag. I like my elephant ears somewhat doughy and soft. These were thin and almost entirely crispy. The advantage to them, though, is that you get to apply your own butter (you paint it on with a brush, which is a fun experience) and then pour your own cinnamon and sugar on to make the elephant ear as sinful as you need it to be.


$10 was probably a bit much for what I got, but it was $10 that I was very, very happy to spend.
So, if you go to the Pumpkin Patch, go hungry. Though you no-doubt will go for the gourds, you’ll certainly be happy if you stay for some food.

10.06.2007

The Cajun Grill

Third time's the charm...for writing this review. I first ate at the Cajun Grill in mid-September with Rusty, and I failed to write a review. Which was sad, because I absolutely hated my dining experience. OK, it is in a food court, but this was really bad.

We got off on wrong foot when I was charged extra for the rice. On the menu board, it clearly stated that for $5.20 I would get my blackened chicken with a vegetable and rice. When I pointed this out to the cashier, the cashier stated that the particular rice I chose had an extra price to it (which is nowhere to be found on the menu board). I should have just walked away, leaving the food behind, but I didn't. Instead, I complained to Rusty and proceeded to place the food into my mouth.

The rice was icky (that's a profession term for tasteless, greasy and dry - how can a dish be greasy and dry at the same time? I don't know, but the Cajun Grill pulled it off). The chicken was gooey, due to the skin and fat still attached to the meat. I couldn't finish it. I only ate five bites and threw the rest away. The vegetables were tasty and crisp.

Imagine my distress when I failed to post the blog? All I could think was, "I have to eat that crap again?" And, back I went, because you, the readers of this blog, need to know the truth.

Round two happened a week or two ago. That time, I ordered the Bourbon Chicken and vegetables. I declined the rice, as I didn't trust them. The vegetables were mushier then the first time and the chicken was gross...sticky sweet with really no taste and a nice fatty finish. And yes, I failed to post a blog entry again. I felt ill (not due to the meal, just to the thought of having to return for Round Three).

Rusty berated me, and I deserved it. So, given my duty to you, and Rusty, I went back for a third time yesterday for the Blackened Fish and vegetables. I experienced a reversal of fortunes. This time, the vegetables were really very nasty (mushy and tasteless) and the fish was swallowable. But, for $5.99, it wasn't worth it. I would pay maybe 50 cents. And, now that I have posted this blog, I will never have to go there again.

10.01.2007

The Daily Grill

(BLOGGER'S BEING A JERK. PICTURES WILL BE ADDED LATER)

I'm calling a JLowe Mulligan.

I told him this today, as I called him out for failing to fulfill the promise of writing up our trip to The Daily Grill on Thursday.

In my opinion, JLowe's pretty much a slack-ass bastard. Case in point: we went to the food court several weeks ago, and he had food from the Cajun place, as neither of us had reviewed it. He hated it, and couldn't wait to let you all know. Of course, the post was never written, because JLowe's a slack-ass bastard, as I've mentioned already.

Last week, he went there again, on Monday. He didn't want to, but he agreed with me that he owed you, our readers, the service of going again. We have a rule that all reviews need to be written by the end of the day following our visit. The rule is fairly strictly enforced. It's designed to make sure we don't forget things that influenced our opinion.

Since I, for one, would never go to the Cajun place after seeing JLowe's reaction, and he really wanted to be able to bag on them for how awful they were, and he has a "three visit" rule before he'll totally write a place off, he figured he owed it to everyone (including the Cajun place) to go back. And I told him that he could cheat a review of his first experience in with the second one.

Of course, he never wrote that review either. He sucks. A lot.

There are other reviews he's missed. Thankfully, I have a really bad memory, so you don't have to be bothered with hearing about them any further.

But, anyway, we went to The Daily Grill on Park Avenue for lunch on Thursday, and it was blog-worthy, so here's your JLowe Mulligan-ed late review.

We went to The Daily Grill not by design, but because the restaurant we wanted to go to (The Park), which was new, had apparently closed up shop, leaving us towards the end of Park Avenue with few choices. We didn't want Subway, and chinese at the Hunan (oh, yeah, that's one he forgot to write...) would have been to heavy.

We saw The Daily Grill, and decided to check it out.

The restaurant's is a nice space. You walk in to a stairway down into the bar area and the host/greeter area. We were seated promptly in the next room over, which is a nice open restaurant space with high ceilings and good lighting. We were handed a "Blue Plate Special" lunch menu and a normal menu, and our server went immediately to fetch us water.

The menu is something. The Thursday Special is Grilled Cheese with Tomato Soup for about $11. It has three kinds of cheese, but still, that's ridiculous, especially if you're going to call it a "special," which I've always thought meant "deal."

JLowe ordered the BLT. I ordered the California Turkey. We each ordered ours with the side of shoestring potatoes.

Each of our sandwiches was in the $10-12 price range, which was too much for what we got. JLowe opined that the prices were to "keep out the riff-raff." While the food was by no means bad, I'd suspect that he was right on the pricepoint selection. The Daily Grill appears to be as much about who's eating there as it is about what's being served.

For instance, the iced tea was $3, and my lemonade was $3.50. Sure, the refills were free, but the prices were still ridiculous.

On the positive side, the food was tasty and filling and the shoestring potatoes were nicely cooked, crispy, and not at all soggy. The service was excellent, with repeated visits to top off our water and other beverages and a visit by the manager to make sure all was well.

We left satiated. We felt heavier in our guts for having gone there. Sadly, we felt the wallet was a little too much lighter to justify a return trip. Apparently it got plenty of exercise while we were stuffing our gullets.

9.30.2007

Gyros And Grill

JLowe's thrown this whole damned blog off. First of all, I'm behind on my blogging because I'm dealing with his being behind. So, technically, this post is an hour beyond the time limit we've imposed. But, hey, crap happens.

Second, he claims to have hit pretty much all of the Pioneer Place food court places for review, and I thought he said he'd done Gyros And Grill. But in reviewing our work, I don't find any such thing. So, thank God I had a gyro there the other day, because now we're almost done with "The Pit" and all of its infernal food stuffs.

Not that I dislike the food court. Nothing's further from the truth. But a food court, while a mecca for downtown lunchers, is not really what the bulk of a food blog should cover. I like JLowe's mission to review the whole thing, because if nothing else it's a public service. But I'll be happy when we're free of the place and can return to other pursuits.

But, I digress.

Friday, a co-worker offered to buy me lunch because I'd covered a bunch of her stuff while she dealt with kid issues. Which was awesome. I mean, my usual asking price for covering a few days of projects is a cup of coffee or whatever, and I told her lunch was unnecessary, but she demanded I allow her to treat me. And, really, I love free food. So off we went, to the food court.

The choices were California Crisp, Wrapture, and Gyros And Grill. All good selections, I made the decision based upon the only criteria that mattered on this particular day -- line length. G And G had none, so there we went.

I've been there once before, when I ordered the falafel gyro with the potatoes and tabouleh. I enjoyed it last time, though I found the falafel gyro a bit dry, and the tabouleh a bit boring.

This time I opted for the Gyro platter. I again took the side of potatoes, and again I took the tabouleh. My mom used to make it from time to time when I was a kid and she was in a hippy phase, so when I see it on a menu I order it, even if there are other perfectly good choices. Irrational, but that's okay.

The service was prompt. The servers themselves were efficient. Not super-friendly, but that was fine given that they got right to preparing the order and made short work of dishing up our food. They also didn't skimp. I watched the guy slicing the lamb for my gyro, then piling it in, and I was happy that he didn't seem to be paying too much heed to how big the mound of meat was growing.



The food was bagged up for us and we headed out, back to our office. As we sat down, I took in the delicious odor of our food. And then I dug in.

The potatoes aren't necessarily anything to write home about. Seasoned fried potato coins. They're pretty much what you'd expect.

The tabouleh was zippy and zesty. It surprised me, and I coughed a bit when it hit my tongue. I suspect they over-spiced it today, which was fine, because it was actually really good. It was spicy, which is unlike any tabouleh I've ever had, and it was a very pleasant surprise.

The gyro itself was pretty much the same as any gyro you get anywhere. The lamb was better than you'd expect from a food court, the pita-type bread was of good quality, and in all the food was good.

My lunch cost about $7.50. Probably a little more than it was actually worth, but still not offensive in any way.

If you're looking for a quick gyro in town, go to Foti's Greek Deli on Burnside. But if you're stuck downtown for lunch, Gyros And Grill won't disappoint.

9.15.2007

Blue Moon Tavern & Grill

Last night I was disappointed and pleasantly surprised by McMenamins, all at once. Which pretty much sums up my life's experience with them.

The disappointments generally are outweighed by the pleasant times, which is why I keep going back.

Last night my wife and I and a bunch of friends (including JLowe and his missus) were all going to go to the Mission Theater to watch a movie, drink beer, and eat. When we got there, we found that the movie time was different from the listing that we'd read, so we scrambled to find an alternative. As I looked, through the magic of web-enabled cell phones, for other movies, the rest of the group agreed that, really, they were mostly just interested in the eating and beer. Which was fine with me.

So we headed a few blocks west to The Blue Moon, a McMenamins restaurant and bar located on the southeast corner of NW 21st and Glisan.

I've learned a few things over time about McMenamins restaurants. Don't expect good service. Don't expect consistent food. Always order tots. And only go there if beer is an essential part of your meal.

There were four couples in our party. There was plenty of seating, at 7:30 on a Friday, which was curious to me. The restaurant itself is neat looking, has a section near the bar with some pool tables for folks who want a more tavern-esque experience, and yet also has substantial sections of wall that can slide open on nice nights such as last night, to give the open-air effect. The only reason not to be there would be if you were looking for consistent food and/or good service.

Each of the fellows in our group ordered themselves a pitcher of beer. Really, that's the only cost-efficient way to handle things. Each pitcher is 3 pints, and for most guys that's just the right amount for a nice sit-down dinner where you plan on hanging with friends for awhile and chatting. My wife had a Ruby, JLowe's wife had a lemondrop of some sort, my friend Dave's wife stuck with water, and I don't remember what the fourth wife got. I had the Nebraska Bitter (which I liked quite a bit). JLowe opted for the porter, and the other two fellas got Hammerhead, which is my usual choice.

To start, we ordered two orders of tots for the table. I highly recommend the Cajunized tots, which are sprinkled with spicy stuff and are always delicious. We also had the regular tots, which I didn't like because they exposed some sort of odd taste in the oil. Of course, that didn't stop me from eating some of them.



We went on to scan the menu, which for me is generally a mere formality. My food choices at the McMenamins joints are usually pizza of some sort, or the Communication Breakdown Burger. I decided to diverge from the norm, though, and go with the Captain Neon. Something about bleu cheese and bacon was sounding mighty tasty last night. And, on the side, more tots.



Now, the surprise. Our server was (for the most part) very attentive last night, and the food was served rather quickly. And it was delicious. All perks, because I generally resign myself to poor service and slow food delivery at McMenamins, the trade-off being ample beverage.

For my wife and I (and keeping in mind that I had a whole pitcher of beer and we decided to pay for the two orders of tots we'd bought for everybody) the bill came up to about $37. Not that bad, really.

My parting thoughts? If you're looking for pub-type atmosphere, McMenamins is never a horrible choice. You'd do better, generally, at Concordia Ale House. You'd do worse, generally, at Widmer. If you're going to McMenamins, though, don't expect great service, order some tots, and buy pitchers, not pints.

9.12.2007

Yento Bento

I'm still trying to decide if the blog's quest to tackle the entire Pioneer Place food court is awesome or irksome.

That as I find myself nearly falling asleep at the keyboard to capture the magic of yesterday's trip to the food court, and as I notice that JLowe appears poised to have to repeat his dreadful visit to Cajun Whatever as the clock slowly advances to the "all posts by the end of the next day" deadline that we so strictly follow. Hopefully he gets his post up, because he really, really doesn't want to re-do his experience of yesterday.

It's an interesting time here at the PDX RRbRF blog. We've been in a bit of a hiatus as I've been hording wealth for my recent vacation(s) and JLowe's been trying to maximize his budget. That said, I'm back, and JLowe's on his own in-town vacation right now, and we decided to step out yesterday for some well-deserved hooky.

So we met up at our favorite coffee shop (City Coffee on 4th and Salmon) and, after talking to the proprietor for a bit, headed off to lunch and a movie. How a movie in the midst of my just-back-from-vacation work day? The curious workings of my office, which allow for goofing off when certain pieces fall into place, which they did yesterday. One of those being the absence of my boss, another being a major project removed from my day, one which would have had me out of the office all day anyway. The office rule is, if you would've been gone anyway, and you wouldn't have been available to address anything at your desk, you're nearly required to skip work and take advantage. So the 5 hours I put in yesterday was my gift to my corporate masters. You're welcome.

The movie? Superbad. If this were a movie blog, I'd write about how good it was and how it had me flashing back to college (though it's a high school flick). Perhaps I'll hit that topic on my other blog later. We're about the food here, so back to the point.

The movie (clearly, I've no focus this late at night...) was playing at Pioneer Place at 12:50. We met for lunch at high noon, so we had limited time. I suggested the food court, and JLowe seconded my motion. We headed on down, and began to ponder the options.

JLowe noted that there were still three establishments left for review: Cajun Whatever, Gyros and Grill (which I've eaten at, but failed to post in time--I'll just say it's good, and will provide an actual review some other time), and Yento Bento. I allowed Jeff to decide which way he'd be going, and he went cajun. With the long line at Gyros and Grill, and the no-line at Yento Bento, my decision basically made itself.



Normally I would've shied away from a place with no line and the employee slumped over the counter. I wasn't feeling normal, though, so I walked right up. The employee, who's name I neglected to get, was extremely likeable. We discussed the menu (everything under $6, basically, all meat cooked on a grill over flame) and I asked him his advice on ordering. He explained that the chicken was pretty good, the salmon was surprisingly good, and he had some fresh salmon on the grill. I didn't have time though, so I asked him what chicken dish I should get. He said I looked like a healthy type of guy, so he suggested the chicken and steamed veggies on brown rice. I asked whether I should go for the curry sauce, and he eagerly answered in the affirmative. He heaped my dish together and happily sauced it up, and I was on my way. As far as food court service goes, it was the best I'd had in quite a long time.

I found a table and looked at Cajun Whatever to see JLowe still only half-way through the line. A gentleman, I waited for him to arrive before digging into my food. He was quite displeased with his order, chicken and rice and some veggies. I, on the other hand, was quite happy with mine.



I sampled his chicken, and it was horrid. It seemed fatty and fried. I gave him a sample of mine, fresh off the grill, and he thought it was great. Tender yet firm, flavorful, delicious. I picked around the squash in my steamed vegetables but devoured the baby carrots and broccoli, which all tasted pretty fresh. The brown rice was not dry, which is what I was expecting based on brown rices I've had elsewhere. It may have been the curry, but whatever the reason it was very good,

We were done eating by 12:35, and made our way to the movie. JLowe was grumbling and feeling a bit ill from his lunch. I was happy and full (I couldn't finish the plate) and very happy to have a new place I could go to when I needed a quick lunch, a short line, and a good service experience. Give Yento Bento a shot; I'm certainly glad I did.

9.11.2007

Andina

Andina is located at 14th and NW Gleason and is Peruvian. We went with a large group, so our meal was served in this private room below the restaurant. My, oh my, what a place!

We started off with several dishes from the menu de Entradas, such as the Yuca Rellena (I had three because I couldn't stop), the Tortilla de Patata (quite heavy and quite delicious), the Conchas a la Parilla (unbelievable), the De Pescado 5 Elementos (melted in my mouth) and the Palta Rellena de Cangrejo (the crab was very mild).

I really could have stopped at that point. I was full and happy, but we pressed on to the main course. I chose the Seco a la Norena. Now, the flavor of the lamb shank was mind-boggling (sweet and savory), but, I must confess, it was also a bit drier then I like. My wife had the ribeye steak...of which I had a small bite or two. I've eaten several ribeyes in my life in several steak houses in Portland. This ribeye was phenomenal. Ruth's Chris should take note.

Dessert. Why? Because I couldn't pass at that point. I went with the trio of Creme Brulee. Each night, different flavors are used. Last night my trio consisted of coconut, key lime and Kahlua. Each was quite tasty, but each was a bit too soft.

The Service. Our server was quite gifted, well-mannered, knowledgeable, pleasant, timely, you get the picture.

Will I go back? Absolutely. Andina has won me over.

8.28.2007

Rovente Pizza

So, yesterday a friend of mine and I decided to hook up for lunch downtown. I proffered a couple of places I hadn't been as choices, since I haven't had occasion to go somewhere that I could blog about lately (my vacation is this week, so the hording of wealth is almost over...).

He declined all offers, until I mentioned Geraldi's, which everyone loves (including us, if you look at prior posts). So we headed that way, me feeling a little let down that I was, unbeknownst to you, about to let you down yet again.

But then we were surprised to find that Geraldi's was closed. Appears to be a Monday thing. Good to know.

We looked around. Where to go? The Rialto? Maybe. I have friends who eat there and have enjoyed it. The Greek Cusina? I was leaning toward that, because I wanted a salad with squid on it.

My friend, however, noticed Rovente Pizza, a couple of doors down from Geraldo's, so we headed that way.

It's a simple place. Typical pizza-by-the-slice look to it. Large counter, pizza ovens behind, several pies on display. A few tables. A self-serve soda machine.

The choices were more or less ordinary. Pepperoni, Margherita, Vegetarian, Combination. But there was a special-of-the-day "Omnivore's Delight," with lots of meat and veggies, and there was a chicken pizza with a white garlic-y sort of sauce. I had my two slices.

The special's a good deal. A slice and a small drink (or, as they call it, "medium") for $2.95. I got my two slices and a soda to chase them with for $8, and that included the 20% tip.

The pizza was very good. Nice crust. The pie itself was piping hot, and I actually burned my tongue on it. The pieces are generous, and two slices is just enough to border on too much, so the special is actually quite enough to get you through lunch.

Pizza is hard to do wrong. But that doesn't mean that pizza done right should be taken for granted. A lot of pizza is fair-to-middlin'. I was happily surprised to find Rovente to be above average, and given the price it was fantastic.

8.11.2007

Halibut's

Fish and Chips on Ne Alberta...I really like this place. Maybe I shouldn't, given the price. Maybe I shouldn't, because of the small space and the feeling of dinginess. Maybe I shouldn't, because of the oil they use (transfat). And yet, I keep going back.

Last night, we had supper with my wife's parents. They were suppose to be on a plane, but it just didn't happen last night. So, we picked them up from the airport and took them to Halibut's. We chose to sit outside at a table along the sidewalk (We had the baby with us). There isn't much room inside. There are three tables on the restaurant side, with several more in the bar area. Usually we just take the fish to go, but last night was such a beautiful evening.

I had the catfish. My wife had and my mother-in-law had the Halibut. My father-in-law opted for chicken tenders. The food came quick. It was hot and tasty. There were plenty of chips. We were all full. I like this place a lot. I've heard that a lot of people have issues with this particular place...I'm just not one of them.

8.07.2007

Jake's Famous Crawfish

Last night we had dinner at Jake's Famous Crawfish located at 401 SW 12th. It's been around for over 100 years. And, I could taste why it's still around.

We were with a large group, and we all started with some appetizers; crab cakes, coconut shrimp, calamari...all delicious.

Then, I had the French Onion Soup. Not the best, but definitely very good (where's the best French Onion Soup in Portland? I can't tell you yet, although I have a very good idea where it may be found).

For my entree, I decided to have the ahi. It was grilled rare and served sliced into thin strips. Although it was rare, it was well done;) There was a very nice cucumber salad with it and a couple of sushi rolls. The rolls were not good, not good at all. Horrid. Jake's must stay away from pseudo-sushi. But other than those two hard little items, everything else was superb.

The service was great. The restaurant was very busy, our group was large, and we had the baby with us. I felt we had plenty of attention.

Dessert was terrific. My wife loves the bag of chocolate, which is a chocolate-shaped bag, filled with white chocolate mouse and whipped cream, showered in an assortment of berries. It's large enough for two to share. But, we were greedy, and we both got our own (which means I had one and a half bags). All in all, a very nice meal indeed.

8.05.2007

Francis

NE Alberta has another new restaurant. Francis has been open for a few months, but I hadn't been there until my wife's friend, who doesn't live to far from us, recommended it. And so we went, a couple of weeks ago. But, I failed to write about it. That weekend was just too busy.

To make up for it, we went again this past Saturday, and we invited Rusty and his family to come along. So, babies in tow, we headed off to Francis.

It's breakfast, with a twist. Everything served is just a little odd, but deliciously odd. For my breakfast, I chose the sourdough pancakes and a side of pan fried oysters. The oysters came with an orange relish. I was prepared not to like it, but I found that the addition of fruit to the oysters was really very good.

The pancakes were outstanding...truly a sourdough. I had mine with the berry syrup. I also got a bite of my wife's french toast. Nice and crispy on the outside. She also ordered a chicken sausage patty. I found it rather bland...but that was the only downside to the experience. We all shared a fruit platter to begin. Rusty and his wife seemed to enjoy their meal as well.

The one thing is that the menu is very side-dish-oriented. The pancakes came with just a side of fruit.

The restaurant has plenty of seating on the inside and a very large patio. The waitstaff was excellent and was very attentive to the fact we had small children. They were careful to place items away from the grasp of those small curious hands.

I plan to go back...a lot. It's just as good as Alemeda Cafe for breakfast, but different. The cost was on the high side, but the food was very good.

7.28.2007

Superdog

At the behest of friend-of-the-blog Mak, JLowe and I opted to try another hot dog place for lunch yesterday. And so we found ourselves in the 1400 block of SW Park, at Superdog.

We were actually quite looking forward to it. For awhile we've lamented the loss of downtown's previous hot dog king, Good Dog/Bad Dog. We've tried Wynn's, which is good. But it's no GD/BD, and so Superdog offered us a brief ray of hope in our otherwise sad world.

It was a beautiful day for a walk over. Mak, JLowe and I met at 11:50 and made the short jaunt over, each of us hungry and struggling to put together an order from the menu, which we'd previously viewed online.



It would get harder once we got there, as there are "Superdeals" to be had.

I ended up opting for the Mt. St. Helens Volcano Dog, Chicago Style. JLowe chose the Chicken Habanero sausage, Buffalo Style. Mak chose the Zweigle's White Hot, Portland Style.

For Mak and I, the Superdeal amounted to $6.25 for the dog, chips (or cookie - which I opted for), and a soda. For JLowe, the Superdeal was an additional $.50 due to the special sausage, though somehow he got charged $7.25. We still haven't quite figured it out, but it started his meal off in a sour mood.

The atmosphere in the place is nice. It's a simple lay-out, with a few tables inside and some more outside. There's a TV on the wall, which was showing Whitney Houston's "The Bodyguard" with no sound. Enough distraction to help time fly, but not so much that you can't carry on a conversation.



The bathroom was funny. I went in to wash my hands, and found the following inspired installation, presumably there to keep the walls clean.



It worked. I also saw several pieces of pro-Superdog advertising, which annoyed me. Once you've got someone in the place, using the customer's-only restroom, I think you've made your sale. Let us use the facilities in peace.



I returned to the table and attacked my dog, pictured above. The relish was extra-green, clearly the result of some ardent food coloring. It was a little disconcerting. This relish was greener-than-grass, almost a radioactive green. I didn't see the point. The dog also came with a bunch of tasty little peppers and some tomato slices beside it. I added stone ground mustard and onions, and there are ample other free condiments (like kraut, a bevy of mustards, and mayonnaise) available to doctor your dog up with, should you need them.

The dog itself was quite good. The sausage was very spicy. The relish tasted normal, even if it didn't look it. The tomato slices were quite fresh. The bun was firm, not squishy, and flavorful without distracting from the main event. All in all, very satisfactory. However, still not quite GD/BD.

JLowe wasn't satisfied. He promised a more insightful critique of his particular experience by way of a comment to this post, which I expect by the end of business Monday. Mak was pleased by not overwhelmed with joy.

So, Superdog is a good place for a capable dog for a reasonable price. If you want a real super dog, you can find one at the GD/BD at the airport, or else if you're near Wynn's on 4th and Morrison that's just as good. I certainly wouldn't discourage you from visiting Superdog, but I'll just let you know that there are better dogs to be had.

Sweet Basil

It's been a long time since I have been to Sweet Basil. We just haven't been able to go. And, oh, how I have missed it. Sweet Basil is located at 3135 NE Broadway, which makes it 5 minutes from my house. I think it is one of the best Thai restaurants in Portland.

The restaurant is in a converted house and has a large back deck that is covered with grapes. We prefer to sit on the deck. The table inside can get a bit cramped, because the space is small.

My wife's favorite part of the meal is the appetizer. She always orders the Fresh Wraps, and I am thankful that she does. It's incredible how crisp and delicious they always turn out. The Fresh Wraps are served with an outstanding peanut sauce.

Last night we shared our dishes. We shared the String Beans and the House Special Curry. They made a great pair. We ordered the Curry as mild, because my wife can't handle the spice. I prefer Extremely Wild. But even without the extra heat, the Curry was spectacular.

The only issue last night was that the service was a little slow. Usually, the service is prompt. But, there were a number of other parties that were seated just after us, so I expect it was an aberration. I've only been to Sweet Basil about 30 or 40 times, and it was the first time the service was slow. Regardless, the waitstaff was still terrifically friendly.

Sweet Basil also has carry out and they will deliver for free to some area codes.

7.26.2007

Typhoon!

So yesterday was like the perfect storm for free food. Our regional manager was in town, two people from our office are moving on to new jobs (including GastroBoy) which meant a goodbye lunch, and someone reminded me that Typhoon! had a downtown location. As the office social chair, I set lunch up.

Typhoon! is a Portland-based regional Thai food chain. The locations used to each have special menus, which appears to no longer be the case. The set-up in all of them is up-scale, with elegant interior decoration that is generally minimalist in order to allow the food to be the spotlight. Presentation is important here, but not as important as taste.

Typhoon! is well-known for the tea selection. The menu is vast in that regard, and I usually find it intimidating. Since yesterday was warm, I opted for Pellegrino.

Our group of nine people split a couple of "Nibble Platters" for appetizers. Given the number of people sharing, I fought my natural urge to grab one-of-each from them and instead limited myself to a chicken skewer, a half a spring roll, and a small nibble that I simply can't describe. I was later given a shrimp wonton that otherwise would've gone to waste. All were very, very good.

For lunch I ordered the General's Noodles. I usually opt for Pad Thai, but decided to branch out into something new. The General's Noodles are a thinner rice noodle (similar to angel hair pasta) served with shrimp and chicken, topped with a combination of crushed red pepper, crushed peanuts, lime, and garlic (along with some spices I couldn't pinpoint) and a wonton on the side. I think I would've been happier with the Pad Thai, but with the crushed peanuts, my lunch was close enough in spirit to be satisfying. It wasn't particularly filling, though.

General's Noodles

Everyone at the table was very happy with their selections, and they covered a wide range of the menu, so from that I'd say this is a safe place to take anyone with the assurance that they'll enjoy the food. I never saw the bill, but I'd imagine from the menu that the nine of us cost about $150. Not horrible, given the nibble platters.

Typhoon! is excellent, though I prefer Sweet Basil when it comes to Thai, and there are other places I've yet to try. The food is not disappointing, there are several locations (including downtown, NW Portland, Gresham, and Beaverton) and the prices are quite reasonable given the quality of the cuisine.

Lotus Express

I'm nearing the end of my quest to taste all that the Pioneer Place Food Court has to offer. Tuesday, I stopped by Lotus Express. $5.20 bought me a plate of noodles and Mongolian Beef. It tasted OK. They do sell a lot of food. Lots of choices. The problem is that it's Chinese food made for the American palate. I guess we like things sticky and sweet. So, if you want something sticky and sweet for $5.20, by all means stop on in. If you don't want the noodles, don't worry, you can have fried rice instead.

7.17.2007

We're Still Here

We're just not going out so much lately. I'm saving for a vacation, and JLowe's been experimenting with food at home (tonight he's invited me over to try his first-ever batch of crock pot hot wings). GastroBoy forgot his password, so who knows if you'll ever read his drivel here again...

Anyway, we'll be back with more news and reviews sooner or later.

7.09.2007

Thien Hong

To start this article, let me reveal my ignorance to you.

I love Thien Hong. It's a great place. Perhaps their greatest dish is their pepper-salted squid.

That said, I found myself discussing last night's dinner with JLowe today, and I had to ask him a question. Is Thien Hong a Chinese food place?

"No," he said. "It's Vietnamese." I'd struggled with the same thought last night, as I was realizing the variety of noodle soup, Pho-like dishes on their menu.

"But," I said, "their menu has so much of the typical Chinese stuff on it. General Tso's Chicken, Kung Pao stuff, Sweet and Sour stuff, fried rice..." I was at a loss. "Perhaps I should just call it 'Asian.'"

JLowe advised that would be insensitive, and that it would be preferable to research the issue.

So, I Googled "Thien Hong," and based on what I'm seeing, it's sort of a fusion of Chinese and Vietnamese. And, thus, it gets categorized here as "Asian Cuisine" despite JLowe's wise counsel.

That out of the way...

Last night, my other brother-in-law was in town, and so my wife and daugther and I joined her mother and him at Thien Hong because he wanted "Chinese food." Really, if you want quality Chinese food in Portland (whether "Chinese" or Chinese), there are only two places on my radar -- Thien Hong and Hunan. So, even though I wasn't really thinking that Chinese was optimal, given the heat of the day and the usual heaviness of Asian cuisine, I decided that life would be okay.

Thien Hong signage

Thien Hong is a nice, clean, open-air sort of place in NE Portland on Sandy Boulevard, near 73rd. When I say "open-air," that's in contrast to, say, Pix, where the sides of the restaurant are garage-door-like walls that roll up. Thien Hong is open-air in the sense that the room is well-lit (there are skylights all over) and there just seems to be a lot of space. I like that. I hate feeling cramped.

You can really go a couple of ways at Thien Hong. Most of the time, we go for a more traditional Chinese-type dinner. The dishes are all conducive to typical family-style Chinese eating, and a normal entree splits well among as many as 6 people.

Or you can go for the Pho. The bowls are generally large enough to serve at least two comfortably.

You can mix the two, but I don't see that done much. Perhaps it should be done more...

Either way, the meal will generally start with the salt and pepper squid. The stuff really is sensational, and is Thien Hong's signature piece. Our table was between the kitchen and most of the rest of the restaurant, so we were able to bear witness to the popularity of the squid, as we saw no less than 7 plates full being run past our booth to other diners (not counting ours) and dinner hour hadn't hit yet (we were there at 5, since my bro-in-law had to hit the road to home shortly after). I don't know what I love the most about the squid. The plate comes heaping with crunchy leg-parts, which I love, and also chewy-squishy torso parts, which are also very good but are normally what will appeal to more of the people at your table (last night, for instance, I got all the legs to myself as noone else relished the idea of chewing up tentacles as much as me). The chewy bits tend to be more flavorful, but nowhere in the whole plate is there a disappointing bite. Ever. I've never regretted an order of their squid.

We each chose an entree to contribute to the potluck. My wife chose her favorite, the asparagus in black bean sauce, which is always quite good, if a little boring (no meat in the dish). My brother-in-law chose the beef and broccoli, which was boring and, frankly, entirely forgettable. My mother-in-law chose the House Special fried rice, which had shrimp, beef, and chicken mixed into it. Very tasty, though I only actually saw one shrimp on the platter. Plenty of beef and chicken, though, so it wasn't like it was a rip-off or anything. I went with the good ol' General.

A bit of each

The service was prompt, about a 5 minute wait for our order to be taken, and another 7-10 minutes for it to be brought out. Absolutely top-knotch. All of the wait-staff is friendly, and they're generally quite attentive, even when the place is really hopping.

I didn't get to see the final bill, but the prices are not extravagant, the portions are always plentiful, and I've never walked away feeling ripped-off, so I'm sure it was reasonable. And all of us (except my daughter, who's only 21 months and thus has difficulty focussing on eating at restaurants) left full and happy. Too full, in fact, because I spent the rest of the night with that just-ate-Chinese bloated feeling that I always promise myself I won't get next time, and then never fail to get next time.

I think it's safe to say that Thien Hong is my favorite Chinese food place in town, even if they are a Chinese-Vietnamese food place. If you go, make sure to order the squid. Failure is not an option.

7.07.2007

Encanto Restaurant

I've been looking for good Mexican in town. Not too actively, but I listen to suggestions. My mom asked me, earlier this week, if I wanted to go try a new place by her house. She and her partner, who's a cook, love it. So I figured I'd try it out.

Tonight we met at Encanto Restaurant (5225 N. Lombard) to have some of what I was assured was the best Mexican food in town. My wife and I arrived first, and once we were all seated, we pre-ordered a plate of the chips and guacamole.

In looking around the place, Encanto is a neat location. It's spare and clean inside, almost an industrial look, with the shiny cement floors and plain walls with occasional decoration. It's that sort of trendy hipster attention to atmosphere which often cautions you that the food you get will be style over substance, because the decor is just too nifty for the people involved to actually be focusing on the food. But it's pleasing enough that you're willing to have high hopes.

I'm of the mindset that all Mexican restaurants should serve free chips and salsa. It's a time-honored tradition. So I was disappointed that none were offered, and in fact to get chips you apparently have to order them with guacamole, which means paying $6.

The guacamole is good, by the way. Very good. The chips are home-made and okay. Not particularly crispy, the bite was harder to make through the chip than I like. A bit too thick, I guess. They were well-salted.



The place also has Dos Equis on tap. I ordered it. Having a draft cerveza at a Mexican place is a bonus, so they get points there. It's served with a pre-crushed lime wedge already floating in the liquid, which saves some labor and is also a plus.

The actual menu is pretty spare. One page. One dessert (not counting what may have been on the specials menu, which I didn't look at that closely). There's nothing on the menu that looks good for a toddler. I imagine you could ask for a quesadilla or something but if, like us, you have a kid with you, it's nice to see options readily available.



I ordered the Flank Steak Enchiladas ($14), which I ordered with both the red and green sauce (as this was given as an option). My wife ordered the same, with green sauce only. The order arrived with one plate having only red sauce, and one plate having both. I let my wife have my order and took her's, but was a bit disappointed. That's why waiters often use pads to take orders, and apparently this waiter should have.

The enchiladas themselves were simple. The steak was served on top, and the enchiladas themselves were simply soft corn tortillas folded over some cheese, cooked, and then smothered in sauce. The sauce had a pleasing smokiness to it. The steak pieces were obviously good meat, but were served burnt on the outside, which was probably intended, but which gave a bitter finish that didn't go well with the surrounding food. The rice was blah; under-seasoned and bland and entirely worth skipping. The beans appeared to be seasoned with only cumin and maybe some garlic or onion. They were boring as well.



The service was overall quite good and attentive (aside from the order mix-up). The food arrived quickly and my mom and her friend liked their's a lot. My wife and I were both entirely under-whelmed. My grandma was with us as well, and remained silent on her feelings. I suspected she didn't like it all that much, but perhaps I misread her.

Encanto is not Portland's best Mexican food. Not even close. It's a nice place, but if you aren't in the neighborhood or you're not desirous of a hip joint to have a margarita and chips with guacamole, then you can probably find better for cheaper near where you live.

Rock Bottom Brewery

So, yesterday my boss opted to take us out to work, considering that we only had a skeleton crew in the office and (I think) he forgot to bring his lunch. He was thinking Thai, but ended up deferring to the staff (me), and I ended up deferring to the lone female working yesterday, which resulted in lunch being at Rock Bottom on 4th Avenue by the MAX line.

There are reasons to go to Rock Bottom. Having never done so for lunch, the reasons clearly in my mind involve the imbibibles. If you can't have a brewsky, though, as I couldn't yesterday, the value of the restaurant is called into doubt. But I schlepped on, because it was free, and because I needed to investigate for you, the reader.

When we got to the restaurant (at almost exactly 11:55), there was plenty of room for our party inside and out, which perhaps should have been a sign. We took it as an opportunity, and opted for the outside seating to enjoy the weather. Initial service was prompt, and our drink orders were quickly taken, and quickly delivered as well (short the ice water I requested, but these things happen).

The menu was varied, but not with anything that really called to me. After much hemming and hawing, I ended up settling on the Turkey Bacon Cobb Sandwich with a side of fries.



Our food order was taken at about 12:10. Not bad, not great.

Our food wasn't delivered until 12:40. Given that the place serves a downtown clientele and, thus, is assumed to be aware of the concept of "lunch hour," this wasn't acceptable.

During the wait, one of my cohorts had ordered a bottle of Pellegrino, which was delivered with a glass lacking ice (remember, we were outside, and it was about 90 degrees out). He requested some lime slices for his water. These weren't delivered for about 10 minutes (despite at least one pass our way by the waitress). My Sprite sat empty at one point, with ice melting, for about 15 minutes before being freshened up. That's part of why I ordered the water; I knew it was hot out, and I was thirsty.



Eventually the food arrived. We were all so hungry and so annoyed that we just started eating in earnest so that we could leave. I forgot to snap a pic until I was half-done with my sandwich (and the onion rings as well). The sandwich was alright. Plenty of meat, and it was of good quality. The additional fixin's were also good; avocado, sprouts, tomatoes, and greens. Theoretically there were bleu cheese crumbles there, but I couldn't taste them. The sandwich itself, though, wanted to fall apart and was messy to eat, which for some people isn't a problem, but during a work lunch is embarassing.

The onion rings were so-so. They were over-peppered and ended up tasting a bit funny because of it.

The Sprite was cold. They got that part right.

In the end, the boss left a small tip in recognition of the service, and we left. The food was okay, but not worth the money paid for it, and the service makes this a place I wouldn't recommend (unless you're getting suds, and then you tend not to notice quite so much...)

7.06.2007

Papa Haydn

Ah, dessert. I do miss living on NW 23rd...because parking is next to impossible now when we head over to Papa Haydn. But, if you can find a spot to plant your auto, the time it took you to find that precious piece of real estate will be well worth it. Papa Haydn's food is good (which I won't talk about now, as we didn't have dinner at Papa Haydn's last night), but the real reason to go is the dessert.

Besides the 15 or so staples that Papa Haydn has ready every night, day in and day out, there is the Dessert Special menu, which consists of another dozen plus desserts. Deciding is difficult, because they are all so tantalizing. What helps is that Papa Haydn keeps all of the desserts on display in the case.

Usually, my wife and I share. But, I felt greedy last night. So, she choice the Boccone Dolce, which consists of "Swiss meringues drizzled with semi-sweet chocolate, layered with fresh fruit and chantilly cream." Light, sweet and satisfying (I got a couple of bites...isn't she sweet?).

I chose one of the specials, the Mayan Chocolate Cake. It's a chocolate cake, infused with cardamom and cinnamon, slathered with a chocolate ganache. It was, perhaps, one of the best pieces of cake I've had in many, many months.

Desserts run $7.00 +, but each is a healthy portion of sweet goodness. I've tried about a dozen of the desserts over the past several years, and I've never been disappointed.

Il Piatto

Yesterday my wife and I celebrated our fifth wedding anniversary. For dinner last night, I took her to the place that we went to on our very first date...Il Piatto. This restaurant is tucked away in a neighborhood on SE Ankeny. But don't let the off-the-beaten-path location fool you. It's a fantastic and romantic place.

We decided upon a very earlier meal last night, so we arrived at 6:00. Only one other couple was there, which was fine by us. Every other time, the place has been packed. We were seated promptly, ordered some beverages, and perused the menu. My wife opted for the risotto and I chose the Ravioli di Spinaci. But first, I started with Spinaci con Pancetta salad.

The restaurant is laid out with a number of smaller tables surrounding some larger tables. There is a mix of lamps, pictures, cloth and bobbles throughout the room...just enough to make it feel authentic without being ticky-tacky.

My salad arrived, well timed. I found the salad to be superb...lots of spinich tossed with gorgonzola, pears and warm bits of pancetta. It was large enough that we could have shared it to start.

Then, the meal arrived. My wife's risotto was out of this world.; thick, creamy and tender. There was too much for her to finish, so she had to bring some home. My ravioli was just enough. There were four large ravioli stuffed with spinach and mozzarella. The tomato sauce had a kiss of saffron (which I found to be just right, but it was a bit much for my wife, who doesn't particularly enjoy the saffron).

The cost of the meal was a couple of dollars a dish more then you would spend at the Olive Garden, but light-years ahead in quality and flavor. We didn't have dessert at Il Piatto, as I had another place in mind.

By the way, this is my second-favorite restaurant in all of Portland.

6.29.2007

El Gaucho

Last night, Rusty and I had a meal without the wives at El Gaucho. It’s been a long time since I’ve had a fancy meal with just Rusty, but there we were, sitting, just the two of us, in the opulent, but cozy, dining room of one of Portland’s high-end steak houses.

Cozy doesn’t quite capture it. It felt cramped, like there were just too many tables for the space, and too many diners around each of the tables and too many servers and helpers moving throughout the entire room.

Although there was some lovely live Latin guitar music playing in the background, it tended to get drowned out by the chatter of the other diners. The room was packed and I was quite glad we had reservations…on a Thursday night (hint, hint, hint).

We were placed in the back, near the kitchen, which was just fine by me, as we had a front-row view of the open kitchen. There was this massive grill, buried with steaks, tended lovingly by the grill master. We watched in awe as he poured the salt on the beautiful pieces of meat…for it was quite a lot of salt…more than I would have thought to use.

Our server appeared and took our drink order, which then gave us time to plan out what we would be feasting upon that night. Rusty chose to start with the Caesar Salad (because, according to Rusty, "it’s what El Gaucho is known for"). For his steak selection, he went with the 12-ounce baseball cut top sirloin.

Salad just didn’t sound so good to me, so I opted for the French Onion soup, followed by a 12-ounce New York and a side of the Bourbon Sweet Mashed Potatoes.

By this time, we had been at our table for about 15 minutes. It was at that moment that we began to notice exactly how attentive the wait staff at El Gaucho truly is. Rusty has this thing for liquids, especially water. He drinks it like it was going out of style. But, try as he might, he could not empty his glass for long. It would seem that each time he emptied his cup, a person would be by to fill it up again, which pleased Rusty to no end. In fact, water refilling is one of his little tests for service in a restaurant.

Meanwhile, it was time for the grill master to stoke the coals of his grill. El Gaucho has this tall chimney, which houses coals to get them to operating temperature. He scraped his grill, pushed in some new glowing coals, and proceeded to layout another round of meat.

My soup arrived, hot and steamy. Rusty’s salad was prepared tableside. He adored his salad. The soup, although quite good (and very heavy on the cheese, which was a PLUS to me) was not the best French Onion Soup to pass these lips. That honor falls to another local restaurant, which I shan’t mention in the review. But, it was really very good.

Not long after the plates were cleared, the focus of our attention arrived, steaming hot and pungent with the smell of good cooking. I cut into my New York to find that it was perfectly cooked…medium rare. Sadly, it’s not often that a restaurant hits the mark dead on (even a high-end steak house...I've had problems in the past at a number of them). The steak was clearly a superior piece of cow, but I was mildly disappointed. It tasted great, but it lacked something, of which I can’t quite put my finger upon. Rusty concurred. His sirloin wasn’t a home run either.

Now, those Bourbon Sweet Mashed Potatoes were nothing less then spectacular. I would have licked the bowl if I could have gotten away with it.

Just before we finished our steaks and mashed potatoes, a most amazing thing occurred. Neither of us has ever seen its equal. One of the young ladies that had been filling our water glasses all night walked passed our table. Without stopping, she switched out Rusty’s glass of ice (for the ice nearly filled the glass, given the number of times they brought him water) with a new glass of water that had far less ice and far more water. Amazing!

To end the meal, El Gaucho provides a selection of fruits and nuts and a platter of cheese and dates; a very nice touch. Given all that we had consumed, we accepted the these plates of goodies, but opted not to have a more formal dessert.

I also indulged in single espresso. That was a mistake. It had an acid finish, which might have been cured with sugar and cream…but…I shouldn’t have to do that.

All in all, magnificent. The service was some of the best I’ve had, but the steak just didn't quite do it for me. Given the price, I think it fair to expect magnificence in every aspect of the meal, and especially in the main course. El Gaucho did not crack my top five, but it is certainly a very fine place.

6.23.2007

Yucatan Grill

My wife and daughter came to visit me yesterday for lunch. I had not planned on having lunch, nor upon seeing them until work was over. So, it was a double-surprise. She was in a hurry, as was I, so we opted to catch a quick bite to eat at Yucatan Grill, located in, you guessed it, the Pioneer Place Food Court.

We both ordered a quesadilla. She ordered one with chicken and I choose one made with carne asada. The quesadillas were both quite large and tasty, costing just $4.79 a piece. But, I was disappointed in the salsa. There were three to choose from. I chose the two hottest salsas. They were both just kind of boring. The quesadillas were much better without the salsa.

If you are planning on using your plastic, please be warned and prepared. Yucatan Grill will not accept cards for purchases under $5.00.

6.20.2007

Elephant's Deli

I couldn't take it any more today and I skipped out on the Food Court. Instead, I ran into Elephant's Deli, or more specifically Flying Elephant's at Fox Tower, to get a bite to eat. Yes, I've been there a few times before. In fact, I ate there last month, but failed to post a blog about it. Today was a make-up lunch (and a break).

I wanted something a little different for a sandwich and I wanted to see exactly how fast I could get in and out. Even though there is usually a full house (deli?), getting in and out is quick. That's because there are scores of pre-made sandwiches. There are also salads, hummus platters, lots of cookies, treats, candies, bread, beverages, all just a cooler away. They serve soup, but that's behind the counter. They may also make to-order sandwiches, but I admit I have never fully investigated that bit. And today was not the day, because today was all about speed.

I hit the thresh hold at 11:58:40 am. On the north side of the deli are located the sandwiches and salads. I was being blocked by a girl and one of the waitstaff. I dodged left, then right, then left again, to get into position to snag a French Baguette with fresh mozzarella, basil, oil and sun dried tomatoes. Sandwich in hand, I made the turn, cut in front of the wandering guy, and grabbed a small bottle of San Pellegrino (one of my few lunch-time beverage weaknesses...normally I drink nothing while I dine...call me wacky). Before the wandering guy realized anything, I was in line, wallet in hand, waiting to hand the cashier my debit card.

After a brief interlude of 15 seconds, with a few pleasantries, the cashier took my card, swiped it, printed and handed me the store copy. I filled it out, with a bit of a tip, handed it back to him, stashed my card back in my wallet, accepted my copy, wrote down how much I had spent, shoved the paper into my wallet, stopped for a napkin, and re-crossed the thresh hold to the outside. Time: 12:01:25 pm. That's right, less than 3 minutes elapsed. Total price (excluding tip): $7.75.

Yes, Elephant's Deli is not the cheapest spot. But all of those pre-made sandwiches (which run between $6.25 to $6.75) are quite fresh. Normally, I refuse a pre-made, spoiled brat that I am. Daddy had a deli when I was growing up...but the pre-mades at Elephant's Deli are really very good. And even though I paid a little extra, the time I saved made up for it, in my mind.

Suki Hana

Stopped by Suki Hana in the Pioneer Place Food Court yesterday for lunch. I'm not a big fan of Bento, but I am dedicated to this blog. So, I spent about ten minutes trying to decide what to have. There were three people working the counter, and they were more than willing to offer me a sample of whatever I pleased.

I settled on the Pineapple Chicken. Why? It's not deep-fried like a couple of the other choices and it's got pineapple. Although I love hot, spicy, fiery food, I also love the pineapple. Makes me think of Hawaii.

As I rarely ever get a drink with my meal, the price for lunch was $5.25. The plate was quite full (to the point where I was unable to complete the meal). Overall, tasty. What I especially liked was that the side of vegetables (cabbage, broccoli and peppers) was still crispy. That's a big plus in my book. Over-cooked vegetables are nasty. So, I was pleased.

Pix Patisserie

So, to end what (by far) has been my most prolific day of eating out in a very, very long time, my wife's family and I went out to Pix Patisserie after our tasty dinner. Pix has two locations (one in North Portland, a little north of Emmanuel Hospital, and the other on SE Division at around 34th). Since we were already in NoPo, we headed under I-5, past the hospital, and north on Williams to get our fine dessert.

Pix is extremely impressive. When you walk into the NoPo location, you are greeted by a wide-open space (especially in the summer, when they can roll up the garage-door like windows to create an open-air space) that is fairly minimal in decoration, until you look at the dessert case.



There is where Pix's art lies. In a variety of delectable, irresistable, and entirely too-good-to-be-true dessert choices that defy you to pick one.

I usually get the Queen of Sheba Truffle Cake. Last time I was there, I got the Shazam (which is served in a bag made of chocolate!). This time, I opted for The Royale.



The Royale is described in the following way:
Chocolate mousse blankets a crisp hazelnut praline filling and dacquoise base.
Grab your paper Burger King tiara and indulge yourself!

Indeed. I don't know how to put into words how good this dessert was. It was worth the entire $6.50 it cost, and probably more. Usually, when there with friends late at night, I'll order a beer to go with my dessert. Given the day's indulgences (which, as I type, I'm starting to feel rather acutely), I opted for a glass of water. I was able to down the entire dessert, but I warn you that the treats here are as rich in your gut as they are on your palate. If you plan on hitting Pix after a meal, make sure to leave a little extra room before you go there.

For four people the tab came in at $21.75. Not too bad, given how indulgent we felt in the moment. I really can't advise you in too-strong words that you need to try Pix, at least once. It is one of the guiltiest pleasures Portland has to offer.

Widmer Gasthaus

Perhaps making up for depriving me of a good lunch, my wife called me this afternoon to inform me that her mom wanted to take us out before her brother left town to go back to California. So there was free food for me, after all.

I got home, stowed my bike, showered off, and then we sped away for dinner at the Widmer Gasthaus. JLowe previously reviewed it here.

I hadn't been in awhile. As I recalled, the food is generally pretty good (I've had it bad there, and never had it great there, but on average it's fairly solid) and the prices are too high. Tonight reinforced that. Of course, since I didn't pay, it was fine.

We started with the cheese fondue ($6.25).



The fondue is served with chunks of rye and sourdough. As fondue goes, it's alright. The cheese is good. The bread is good. Really, there's not a lot to complain about. That said, it's ordinary, not extraordinary. The fondue at Gustav's, for instance, is superior.

I decided to go out of my normal range of selections and order something that wasn't in my wheelhouse (like sandwiches and salads), so I got the pork schnitzel. The price was $13.95. The plate had two pork chop-sized hunks of pork filet, lightly breaded and fried. They were served with a very light and tangy sauce, and an option of various potato sides (I chose the potato pancakes). The pancakes were very good; they were light without being boring, and you could taste the sour cream and onions in them (and not in a potato chip kind of way). The schnitzel itself was fine, nothing to write home about but nothing to turn your nose up at. There was some grilled zucchini on the side which I didn't even touch.

The real reason to go to Widmer is the beer, and I made sure while I was there to enjoy it. Tonight I had the Drop Top Amber to start out, and then switch to the L-something Pale Ale. Both were fantastic, of course, and so improved my overall feeling about the meal.

Widmer is a great place to take a group; everyone can find something to eat. Just don't take anyone who is looking to eat on the cheap, because they won't be very happy. And don't expect your socks to get blown off by the food; the restaurant is really a showcase for the beer and the brewery, and if you approach it like that you won't be disappointed.

Taste of Bali

Interesting day. My brother-in-law is in town, and my wife had the day off, so we had devised a plan on Tuesday for me to go out to lunch with them (and my daughter) today. Then we had dinner with my father-in-law, who invited himself out to lunch as well (to his credit, he offered to pay), but since they all went to the zoo today before lunch, and none of them wanted lunch near my office, I got screwed.

GastroBoy had already left to try out QDoba, a new chain burrito place, so I needed to figure out a plan. I walked down Broadway, intent on hitting Taco Del Mar, when I saw a restaurant I've often thought about trying without ever actually succeeding. Taste of Bali, on Broadway just north of Salmon.



I opted for the number 8, the Satay Ayam Malaysia. It's essentially a grilled chicken skewer on steamed rice, with a spicy peanut sauce. It costs $5.95. I had two spring rolls with it, as a side ($2.50) and a Diet Coke.

The people at Taste of Bali are very nice. In terms of the in-restaurant experience, that's about all I can say. Through the doors into the recesses of the kitchen area you can see huge stacks of dirty dishes piled high, with no apparent emphasis placed on trying to appear interested in cleaning anything. The place feels dingy. I would've taken a picture, but there wasn't a way to do so without getting pinched.

The food took about 15 minutes to prepare, and there was really not much going on in the place (I didn't get there until around 12:45). I did get through a goodly portion of Willamette Week while I waited, but that's not necessarily what I'm looking for in take-out. To be fair, there's a sign that warns that grilled foods can take 7-10 minutes to cook, but the wait got to be a bit ridiculous.

Once I got my food, I headed back to the office to enjoy. I recalled after my first skewer that I should grab a pic.



The serving was large, and I shouldn't have eaten it all, but I was hungry from biking into work and missing breakfast, and I was watching Judge Mathis in our conference room. The sauce was good, but there wasn't much of it. The rice was, well, rice. You really can't mess that up. The chicken was moist and well-prepared.

But given the money I spent, I felt let-down. The food took too long, came from a scruffy-looking place, and seemed to be a bit skimpy on the flavorful part that I bought it for.

Taste of Bali serves adequate food, but if I had to pick between them and Subway, I think 9 times out of 10 I'd go with the latter. Which isn't an absolute slap in the face (I didn't say McDonalds or -- shudder -- Sbarro after all) but it's close.

6.19.2007

Paragon

Last night for dinner, my wife and I took her parents to Paragon. I unabashedly love this place. This was our sixth or seventh time, and each time I have walked away, or perhaps waddled away, completely satisfied.

The restaurant is fairly small, so reservations are a good idea Thursday through Saturday night. Paragon has a large bar area as well, which seems to always be nearly full. The interior is comfortable and unassuming.

We always get as an appetizer the Gorgonzola cheesecake. Super-delicious. My wife is such a fan that she asked if we could get the recipe several months back. You know what? Not only did they give it to us, it was pre-printed.

The waitstaff was very attentive...and patient. And, that's the way it should be, given the kind of money you will drop at this place. I wouldn't say it was outrageous ('cause if it was, my wife wouldn't go back), but be prepared to spend between $18 to $22 on your entree. After tip, the four of us dropped $155.00. Whew! But worth every penny.

The menu is brief. I think I counted a total of eight entrees. This is comfort food; a hanger steak, a pork loin, ravioli, lamb shank, pot roast, a fish selection, you get the picture. My wife can't leave the pot roast alone. And why should she? It's tender, moist and flavorful. In case you're wondering, my wife's parents both had the pot roast, too.

I had the lamb shank last night. Beautiful. That's really all I can get out.

For dessert, my father-in-law had bread pudding and I had the pots de creme. Both desserts were fantastic.

Paragon is definitely in my top-five of the restaurants that I eat at in Portland. I don't see that changing any time soon. What are the other four? You'll just have to keep checking back.