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.



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.


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.


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.


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...)


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.