Mini-post: Screen Door

So we often post one visit and never discuss a place again. But today I'm establishing the mini-post. Places we've been before but where there's something new to say, quickly.

Today: Screen Door.

What's new? Ate different food.

What's the same? Great ambience, great quality, good service.

Today's quick thoughts:

Avocado omelette: super-good. It's a special item, but if it's on the menu, snatch it up.

Spicy pork scramble: not spicy. If you want spicy, stick with the cajun scramble instead.


The Olive Garden

Rusty and I had a brief discussion as to whether we should include the Olive Garden in this blog...after all, it's just a chain. But, I felt that not including the meal we had at the the Olive Garden the other night would violate the spirit of this blog, which is to talk about where we eat. It would be snobby not to talk about it.

Rusty's family and my family met at the Olive Garden by Mall 205 this past Friday night. I remember when the Olive Garden first came to the Portland area...it was the coolest thing around (I was ten, give me a break). The Olive Garden is certainly a chain restaurant, in that the food is the same from place to place. Our meals were tasty, but nothing too exceptional. Rusty had a pizza, his wife had the soup and salad, and my wife and I both had the five cheese ziti al forno. Our daughters (ages two and three respectively) shared a dish of spaghetti. As is always the case, they brought us plenty of salad and bread sticks.

The Olive Garden is not cheap. Meal prices range from $11 to $18.

I think what was great about this particular meal was the service. Our server was terrific! A word of caution, this server did come on the heels of two very atrocious servers. But I have found, over the years, that the Olive Garden tends to hire and employee well-trained people. As Rusty observed, in a city like Portland where there are so many places to eat, sometimes what makes or breaks a restaurant is the service. I guess that's why we waited 45 minutes to be seated in a very full restaurant. The Olive Garden may not be exceptional food, but it is a nice place to go and enjoy a warm meal with good service and friends.


Hopworks Urban Brewery

This is two reviews in one.

First, Hopworks the Happy Hour Spot:

Fantastic. No complaints. Highly recommended. Good deals, good beers, good environment, good service.

Second, Hopworks the Restaurant:

Spotty, so-so, nothing-to-write-home-about-except-for-beer.

I've been to HUB several times for the happy hour reason, and I'll go back several more. I've got no complaints whatsoever, and I can't think of a single reason to poo-poo the joint on that score.

Last week (Friday night, to be entirely fair), JLowe and I took the wives and kids there for dinner.

Hopworks lives up to their family-friendly credentials, which is commendable. They have a play area for kids that occupied our children for awhile as we waited for food. They live up to their brewery credentials with an array of good beers. But as a restaurant, it left something to be desired. On a couple of fronts.

First, food. JLowe and I ordered (as we typically do) a pre-dinner set of buffalo wings to enjoy together. Not great. A little too sweet, not spicy enough. The good part was that they were plenty meaty and not breaded, both nice points. The bleu cheese served with them seemed more like ranch. For dinner, JLowe and his wife got a pizza, which appeared nice. My wife got a chicken tender platter where the tenders appeared to be half-breasts that were breaded somehow and soaked in sub-par barbecue sauce. The texture was weird, the flavor not great, and the course altogether unappetizing. I had the Portland Bella sandwich, which was a nice vegetarian offering but nothing to rave about.

The food was not helped by the service. Our waitress was very nice and very cute. That said, our wives ordered appetizers that didn't come until after JLowe and I had been served our appetizer and I'd been served my sandwich. Same with my daughter's cheeseburger. And there was no communication with us to explain it. It was weird; JLowe and I were served our wings, the waitress disappeared altogether, and then the pizza and my sandwich came out. Then, for 10 minutes, nothing else. No waitress, no salad for my wife (per her order), no cheeseburger, no explanation, no check to see how we were. My wife ended up tracking down the hostess to track down the waitress to inquire as to the food. We were given some excuse about "the pizza side being ahead of the food side" of the kitchen (didn't explain my prompt sandwich with the pizza), and no apology. The waitress seemed to be mildly aware of agitation at the table because she made two trips to talk to JLowe and I (not to apologize, but to offer us a free sample of a new brew and then to, it appeared, just stand there and remind us she was cute), but the good move would've been to at the very least give us a thorough apology/mea culpa, and more appropriately comp us one or two of the appetizers or late courses. None of that, so a definite ding in my book.

I have only a couple of big musts in restaurants. The food has to be decent for what you pay, and the service has to be, at least, good. There's so much fungibility in restaurants that, often, the only thing that puts you over the top is value and service and, maybe, ambience. I love HUB's building and won't say anything against the atmosphere. But if the food ain't great and the service is sub-par (despite being cute), I see no reason to recommend it to anyone.

So, HUB - go for the beer and the happy hour pretzels. And nothing else.


Pinocchio Bar and Restaurant

Pinocchio Bar and Restaurant is located at 1005 SW Park Avenue. I ate there for the first time about four weeks ago with Rusty and our buddy Jose. Rusty was just about to have his second kid, so we all thought we should have lunch together before he wasn't available.

We started with the Calamari, which was amazingly light, crunchy and tasty. The consensus was that it was the best Calamari any of us have ever eaten. Rusty and I plan to take our wives there again for the Calamari, as they are big fans of the fried squid.

For my meal, I had the Vegetable Panini. It was a large, fresh and filling sandwich. A salad came with it that was as equally fresh. All in all, a satisfying meal with friends.

Chinese Village

Chinese Village is located at 520 SE 82nd Avenue. It's another one of my childhood haunts. I don't get to eat there very much anymore, as none of my friends like it. My wife isn't a big fan as well. But, a couple of weeks ago, I went to dinner with my parents and my grandpa. I love Chinese Village, but you probably won't. It's very American-Chinese. Most everything is deep fried. There's nothing authentic about it.

We eat the very same dishes every time we go; Sweet and Sour Pork, Sweet and Sour Chicken, Pork Fried Rice, Deep Fried Shrimp, extra white rice and lots of Chinese yellow mustard. This time, I talked my parents into ordering the garlic green beans...nice change.

The place is stuck in the '50s. The latest owners did finally add doors between the restaurant and the lounge, which helps to cut down on the second-hand smoke. There's a fish tank (which my daughter loved). For what it was, I enjoyed it.

Sayler's Old Country Kitchen

Sayler's Old Country Kitchen, located at 10519 SE Stark Street, has been around since 1946. I've been eating there for half of it's existence. Tonight, on a whim, my wife, child and I decided to stop in for dinner. It's been a long time...a really long time. It's not the type of place I normally take my wife. But, once I suggested it, it called to us. The moment we sat down, all the childhood memories came flooding back. The prices have gone up since I first darkened the door, but it really is a pretty good deal for the price.

Within five minutes of being seated, the relish tray arrived; carrots, celery, baby corn, pickles, olives. There was also the potato topping, which is mostly sour cream, that arrived at the same time. While nibbling, we placed our order. My wife opted for the fish and chips. I ordered the Chicken Thigh Dinner with the baked potato. We both ordered coleslaw. All coleslaw that I eat is compared to this coleslaw. It is the standard by which I judge all others. It tasted just as good as always. While waiting for the coleslaw to arrive, the bread, butter and garlic butter arrived. I'm glad we opted not to have the onion rings tonight.

Deep into the second slice of bread is when the coleslaw showed up. Minutes after finishing the coleslaw came the main course. I should have just requested the doggy bag at that moment, because I was pretty full. But, I pressed on. No less than four thighs were on the plate, all deep fried (you could order it baked, but why???). I ate two, and the potato. Ice cream comes with the meal. I had the spumoni. My wife had the Tin Roof Sundae. My daughter had bites of both. The entire meal, minus the tip, was $30.00. We didn't order anything for our child, as she just shared what we had with her, and I still brought two thighs home with my very full tummy...fully satisfied.


Russell Street Bar-B-Que

Few things help inspire the struggling amateur food blogger like a good night of barbecue, so it's not surprising to see my long-standing funk (which has generally shut down all writing) shattered after tonight's trip to Russell Street.

Context first. I love barbecue. L-O-V-E it. I've tried to make my rounds to Portland's better BBQ establishments over time, because if I have any genres that demand my loyal devotion to schlepping about and taking in new places, BBQ is at the top of the list (the other genres that push me out to try new places are sushi and breakfast).

To this point, I have been very clear. My favorite BBQ place has been Cannon's (33rd and Killingsworth) for quite some time. At one point I was a Big Daddy's devotee, but they've changed over time so that now I'll go to them in a pinch (and now that I've moved, those pinches are guaranteed to be fewer and farther between). In my opinion, Cannon's is in its own class, with Podnah's Pit coming in a very solid, but distant, second, and then a bunch of also-rans including Clay's and Campbell's, both of which have a better reputation than they deserve (in my book). There are two places that have been on my list of must-visits for some time, based on word-of-mouth: Yam-Yam's (which I've still entirely failed to get to), and Russell Street.

My mother-in-law told my pregnant wife that she wanted to take us out to dinner, to Russell Street, tonight, and fortunately for me the plans were made without my even being consulted. We met at 7:00, prime dinner time in most Portland restaurants.

From the outside, Russell Street is inviting. taking up several street-front windows near MLK, it's a bigger place than I imagined (how had I not seen it before?) and its clean appearance gives you the feeling that these people are beyond trying to affect a down-home environment to fool you into liking the food; they let the food stand on its own. As you walk in, the clean and open space sends the same message.

One of the things I always try to mention in my posts is the appearance. Sometimes being dingy or cramped or what-not is fine, if there's a reason for it. But, generally, I trend toward enjoying open spaces with good flow and a polished feel, and that's what you get at Russell Street. Visually, the only real distractions (not meant in a bad way) are a variety of pigs set up in the middle of the restaurant in a wall area, which are cute, and a neat display of hotsauces that is interactive, in that you can go and grab some for your table, if you wish.

The menu is impressive. Generally, there are the appetizers (I was tempted to try the hush puppies, but didn't want to spoil my appetite for the main event), salads (which I don't really believe in at a barbecue place, but c'est la vie), and the real stuff. The real stuff comes in platters (with corn bread and 2 sides), or you can have the daily special, which comes with one side. There's also a kid's menu, which is always appreciated but, frankly, wasn't expected here.

My general first meals at a barbecue place are either the brisket, because I love it, or else the pork ribs, because they're a staple and most everyone does them well. Tonight I chose the brisket with the optional 3 ribs added on for an additional $4. The sides with my platter were the greens and the barbecue beans. My wife chose pulled pork and got some cheese grits on the side. My mother-in-law chose the blue plate special (the daily), which was a shrimp dish along with grits. My daughter had the mac and cheese.

The service in general is great at this place, which is always a plus, and the extra perk here is that the food is quick as well. After ordering, our beverages (they serve a good variety of beers, mostly local micros, including the more-ubiquitous-by-the-day HUB tap) were out within 5 minutes, and our meals were served within another 10.

In terms of the food, I'll discuss by item. The beans were tasty. Not too sugary and thick enough to almost hold my spoon up, with nicely sized beans that pleased very well. The greens were ample; most places skimp a bit on the greens, but this serving was mostly greens with a bit of broth instead of the other way around, and they were prepared just right, well-cooked without being soggy and limp. To finish discussing the various sides, the grits were serviceable, but I expect cheesiness out of cheesy grits and these were sorta blah, for lack of a better word. My daughter had the mac and cheese, which is offered as a side, and it was home-style. Not creamy, which is great, and firm-noodled with a flavor of real cheese which was okay, but I've yet to find a mac and cheese at a Portland restaurant that is cheesy enough to justify the purchase. My daughter's mac and cheese came with fries, which are another of the sides offered, and they are serviceable but nothing special. Which, I suppose, is a good thing for fries to be; they don't hijack the meal, and they don't ruin it, they just fill it out nicely.

The meat was exceptional as to the meat itself. The ribs were meaty, the brisket was thick-sliced and plentiful. There are several choices of sauce, and I chose the classic, which is someone spicy but not anything designed to distract you from that which it's designed to highlight. The ribs were a bit over-cooked in my opinion; I like them to fall of the bone, and these were just a little too firm and dry in my opinion. They were good, but not Cannon's good. The brisket was the best I've had yet in town, though. It was cooked so that it was literally falling apart on the plate, the texture was lovely, and the flavor of the meat itself was smoky and sweet and good. My main criticism with the meat is the lack of extra sauce; on the brisket it was drizzled on top and running a bit off the side, but with the ample serving provided the sauce sort of ran out and I was left wanting more, which either highlights an over-dependence on my part or an under-provision on theirs. Altogether, the meal was filling and good.

Price-wise, it wasn't bad either. The blue plate special is $12 every day. My brisket platter was $12 and my pint of HUB Pale Ale was another $3.75. Kids menu items are about $3 each. So, for the four of us, we got out for a total of about $50, a great value.

All-in-all, Russell Street is a great place, and one I'd recommend highly. For the sheer enjoyment of the food, Cannon's still tops my list of Portland barbecue, but it's hurt by the lack of a real brick-and-mortar restaurant dining experience. If you're looking for a place to go and have a night out, this place is definitely one of the better options out there.



We have posted about Stanford's before. This is a re-review, and I felt obligated to write it.

I have been eating at Stanford's over a decade. It's always been a stand-by. I could always count on a solid meal for a fair price.

My wife and I decided to get a bite to eat the other night. We sat down, noticed the new decor, and we looked down at the menu. My jaw nearly dropped out of my mouth. There had been a price adjustment.

The food was still solid. It's the price...it's become too much. This adjustment took it from a place where I could eat once a week, to a place where I might eat once every nine months...maybe. The menu's pricing is now more like Paragon, without the ambiance or originality. The food is still good, but not for the price. Stanford's is off my list.


Concordia Ale House - Our first "Bad Service" tag-ee...

Our blog has long loved the Concordia Ale House. Not loved. LOVED. Which is why this is hard to say.

I may never go back.

In my opinion, food is half of the restaurant experience. The rest is composed of the various experiential points that make a place worthwhile. Price, ambiance, and, of course, service.

JLowe and I arranged, tonight, to meet at Concordia Ale House for dinner, at 6:45, with our wives and kids. We arrived at the appointed time and were seated promptly.

Then began the trouble. About 3 minutes later, JLowe's neighbors, a group of about 6 altogether, arrived and were seated on the other side of the restaurant. At that point, there was one open table remaining, and every other table was full. Shortly after, some other people were seated at the open table.

Typically busy Friday night, in my opinion.

We watched the two waitresses make the rounds, serving beer and drinks and food to the other tables, and continued to chat amongst ourselves. I decided I would have the Firehouse Burger and a Naughty Nellie beer. My wife decided she'd have chicken strips with Buffalo sauce. We decided between the families that the kids would split a grilled cheese. I don't know what JLowe and his wife were going to order, but they'd decided as well. The menus were closed and put aside, and we waited.

And waited.

And waited.

After about 20 minutes of waiting, we started watching. The people after us had been served. The people at the table behind me and my wife were chatted up and served by the waitstaff, as were the people at the table behind JLowe and his wife. We continued to watch as the large party off to our left (the wall was to my right) was addressed. An empty table outside was bussed.

JLowe waved his menu in the air, to the chagrin of us all. I sat, with my back to the remainder of my party, just trying to make eye contact with a waitress. JLowe talked to his neighbors, as a waitress was at their table, and made sure to mention that we hadn't been served yet (and the waitress looked towards our table).

Still, nothing. About a half hour, without water, without beverage, without food, and with waitresses actually looking at us and passing us up.

In my opinion, this is absolutely unacceptable. Even at the cheapest, crappiest franchise places, the wait staff knows to at least say "be right there" or send some water your way. We didn't even get the courtesy of a "hi" after being seated.

Thank God Cannon's, one of my favorite places, was nearby. After a half hour, we took our good legal tender there, while JLowe and his wife grabbed some stuff from New Seasons. We went back to their house and ate our food there.

So, what do you think? Would you go back? Frankly, I don't know if I will...


Cha Taqueria and Bar

Tonight, my wife and I have a little time alone without the little one, between getting off of work and her class tonight. So, we ran up to Cha Taqueria and Bar, located at 305 NW 21st Avenue. She's been raving about the happy-hour menu for weeks.

When we arrived, we were promptly seated. Our server disappeared for a moment and returned with blue corn chips and their special salsa...which was unusual and delicious. But he warned us that the salsa would be disappearing soon, due to the main ingredient's exponential cost. He told us that the salsa was made of cilantro, onion, garlic, green tomatoes and avocado. I think he must have left out one ingredient, for the salsa had some spice to it as well.

My wife and I both ordered a plate of tacos (2 tacos per plate - $5.00). I ordered the tacos pescado (Ono!!!) and she ordered the tacos pastor. We were both pleased with our choices. Each dish came with some black beans. With our drinks, we were quite full (two pints will do it).


My wife and I used to live in NW Portland, and every Saturday, as we were driving around, we would see this huge line at Besaw's, located at 2301 NW Savier Street. So, we never stopped. But recently, we were out and about together on a weekday and spotted that there was no line. So, this time we stopped.

Once inside, we had to wait for a few minutes. It's a nice space, with lots of stained wood. My wife, as usual, chose French Toast. Our little girl had oatmeal. I chose an omelette. Now, on the website there is a link to the menu. The omelette that I chose is not on that omelette, which is sad, because I found the omelette an unusual choice.

I love cheese omelettes. It's the type of omelette that is a no-brainer for me, as it's pretty hard to screw up (although many establishments have managed to succeed!). What made this cheese omelette unusual is that there were two cheese omelettes, each with about seven choices of cheese. I didn't read the fine print, so the server had to correct me when I chose all seven cheeses from one of the omelettes. He politely told me that I could only choose three cheeses.

With my omelette came toast and potatoes, both which were good, but not noteworthy. All in all, the meal was good. My wife liked her French Toast. Our little girl ate only some of her oatmeal (she's going through a phase). The bill came out at about $25.00 (pre-tip).

It was a solid meal, but I was very glad that I didn't wait for 45 minutes to sit. That would have been just too long for this place. So, go, but watch out for the line.


Screen Door

Screen Door is a spot located at 2337 E. Burnside. Up until Saturday morning at 8:05 am, I had never heard of it. But then again, there are hundreds of restaurants throughout Portland...right?

Rusty called and wanted us to try it out. I agreed. So, we both showed up, families in tow, at around 9 am. Now, I say "around" because Rusty was there before 9, and I showed up a few minutes past 9. Rusty said that there was a line waiting outside when he showed up. Screen Door doesn't open until 9 am on Saturday. Apparently, there is always a line. So, me and my family avoided a lengthy wait, as Rusty did all the hard work.

We were seated at a table for six, highchairs already in place for our young ones. This is a great place to take kids, as there is just enough background noise to muffle the sound of squawking kids, without feeling drowned out.

My wife and Mrs. Rusty both ordered the french toast. Rusty went with a scramble of some sort. I ordered the Banana Fosters french toast and a side of scrambled eggs. Why? I retort, why not? It seemed like it was going to be one of those signature dishes, and so I thought, what better way to first become acquainted then to try something special?

I was quite happy with my meal. The eggs were firm, warm, but not overcooked. The french toast was good enough to eat without either the Bananas or any syrup. The bananas were GREAT! My wife declared that her french toast was the best that she's had in any restaurant...which I found to be amazing, as that is all that she ever orders for breakfast at any restaurant. And I specifically asked if it was better then the french toast at Alameda Cafe or at Francis. She affirmed that it was the best. I dare not argue with my wife, especially when I think she might be right.

I mean, french toast is usually kind of dry. But this toast was just moist enough to need nothing else. I tried it with some syrup...it was better without. I tried it with some jam. Well, the jam was terrific, but it wasn't much of an enhancement. The french toast was that good.

Rusty enjoyed his scramble. It was a little spicy, he said. But, he decided to try all three of the hot sauces on the table. We both liked that touch, as it gave a measure of control to the diner as to how hot the food was going to be. I, too, tried the sauces on my eggs. This is where I was a little disappointed with the meal. There was Tabasco...which I always love...plenty of delicious heat without the feeling of being burned out. There was Louisiana Hot Sauce...which is OK (feel free to argue...I just find it kind of boring). Then, there was a homemade hot sauce. It wasn't hot, nor did it have much flavor (hence the disappointment...if you are going to have a homemade sauce on the table, next to the big T, it better be good).

Now, this lack of heat and flavor may be with me, and not the sauce. Recently, I suffered through the hottest hot wings ever to enter my mouth, while in Hawaii. The short story is that the wings were labeled "Ass-in-the-tub-hot wings" and I chose not to believe the label, even after being fully warned by the server. Rusty, who was with me, ate one bite, realized they weren't lying, and stopped. I, like the thick-headed numskull I can sometime be, pushed through and swallowed four wings. I then spent 36 hours of my vacation in complete and utter misery. I say all of that to say that this sauce had no real heat, but it just might be I caused permanent damage to myself in Hawaii.

All in all, the meal was great. The price wasn't too bad (about $10 a person, when averaged between 4 adults and two little ladies under 2 1/2). As we walked out, there was still a line.



I love Italian food. I find it hard to have an unpleasant Italian food experience.

And I love and respect tradition, honor it, and respect a place that can establish one.

So when my friends wanted to go out to dinner last week at DiNicola's, which I'd never been to (but had heard great things about), I was thrilled to take them up on the invite. And I was looking forward to what I'd find.

This review, by the way, will end up being a "pass" recommendation, but I'm going to start with what I liked.

First, the place is cramped and a bit messy in appearance. While in many ways that could be a bad thing, it fits well within the archetype of the family-owned Italian restaurant, and helps sell the place as being thoroughly what it sets out to be. When you sit there, you feel like you can expect good food.

Second, the food has some good qualities. The garlic bread (which you have to pay extra for, and which I'd rather see as a throw-in) is good. The pizzas are made with quality ingredients and have good flavor. The noodles are good quality.

Finally, the service was great, and the people were all friendly. And kids are welcomed and accomodated, which is always a plus.

The problem with the place is that the food is too rich, across the board. Nobody at our table is a dainty eater; we all had skills. I ordered a pasta dish with a "Mezza Mezza" sauce, meaning it was a mix of marinara and cream-based. My wife ordered a pizza, figuring she and my daughter would share a couple of slices and we'd take the rest home. Our friends ordered a separate pizza to split.

I couldn't get through much of my dish. Not that is tasted bad, but it just sits in your stomach like a rock. I took some home and tried again for lunch the next day, and ran into the same problem. It just sits too heavy and ends up making a person feel a bit queasy. My wife had the same issue with her pizza, and a couple of days later I had a slice and, again, felt gastronomically overwhelmed. Our friends didn't offer any actual complaints, but they didn't seem all that pleased with what they'd ended up getting.

We ended up throwing away about half of the pizza because, although it was tasty, it just wouldn't sit well.

Now, it could be that we were there on an off-night, either for us or for the restaurant. I'm open to input to that point, and I'm actually interested in getting some feedback from readers on this place. But given my experience, I'm not going to be heading back anytime soon, unless I hear some pretty clear indications that I'm being unduly harsh...

Alameda Cafe

Portland has a lot of great breakfast joints. I love Roux, I love the Tin Shed, I love Fat City Cafe, and I (at least) enjoy Marco's. Cadillac Cafe's great, and the 24 Hour Hotcake House on Powell is quite good as well. And there are many, many more that I haven't tried yet.

In fact, aside from the franchise-type places (Denny's, Elmer's, IHOP, Shari's), it's hard to find a place in Portland with a bad breakfast. The only one jumping to mind at the moment is The Red Star downtown, which is over-priced and over-rated and which has food that seems to be the food equivalent of form over substance, which is to say that it's pretty but generally tasteless.

One of the places that's moved up my list quickly, though, is the Alameda Cafe.

In general, there's a lot of good stuff in the Alameda area of NE Portland. Stanich's is generally my favorite place for a fatburger. Amalfi's has good Italian food. The Alameda Brewpub has great salads. So it only makes sense that one of Portland's finer breakfast spots would be in the area as well.

My general approach there is to go for a scramble. I've had the breakfast omelette and liked it a lot, and I've had one of the benedicts and it was great, but their scrambles are a can't-miss proposition that are substantial and hearty while also being just fancy enough to be distinctive. They also have great home-fried potatoes on the side.

My wife is a huge fan of their special house french toast, which is unique in that it's coated with cinnamon and corn flakes, and is absolutely fantastic.

One of the huge factors for a family guy in a breakfast place is family-friendliness. Although the place looks a bit pretentious from outside, it's never provided a problem for us and our daughter during our several visits in her first two years. The wait-staff is super-friendly and accomodating and noone ever looks at you with the stink-eye when you walk in with a kid.

I've seen the knock (over at the Portland Food and Drink blog, in particular) that the place is a bit over-priced, and to the extent that it's more expensive than one of the larger omelette-mills, that's true. But in the grand scheme of breakfast joints, I think the prices are about middle-of-the-road, and the food justifies the prices.

So add one to the list of great Portland breakfast joints...


New Reviews Coming

In the next day or so:

Alameda Cafe (breakfast)
DiNicola's Italian Restaurant
Jake's Grill

We'll also run our first forum question. Check back for more later!


La Bamba

Having recently finished a weekend of eating out a lot, generally in celebration of my 7th wedding anniversary but also because I like eating out, I figured this week would involve lots of not-eating-out. So what a pleasant surprise when my friend Dave asked if my wife and I would like to go out todinner tonight.

The decision of where to eat was left to me, and I opted for Mexican food.

A couple of years ago, I mentioned in an old post on the Portland Metroblog that Portland has a serious dearth of good Mexican food. Recently, one of my favorite places, Romo’s, shut down, and I was left in a bit of a learch until my wife heard about La Bamba. Located on SE 49th and Powell, the restaurant appears to be family-owned.

In my two visits, I’ve found two truths. The place is not busy. And the food is some of the best Mexican I’ve ever had.

Last night, I opted for the Burrito Cancun. A combination of shrimp, crab, and chicken stuffed into a flour tortilla, it was absolutely delicious. The beans that came with it were typically delicious black beans. The rice was good, not too dry and well-flavored, which I find to be the exception as opposed to the rule in the world of Mexican rices.

There’s a wide selection of drinks available, though I always lean towards beer with Mexican food. The restaurant has all the usual suspects in bottles (including Corona and Sol, which are the beers I lean towards in these contexts) as well as a variety of local micros and other beers (Dave had a Mirror Pond on tap).

La Bamba has a very diverse menu. See these examples...

I’ve found that although there are all of the usual things that one could jump to in order to have what they’re used to (chimichangas, fish tacos, etc.), I’ve also found that the menu has a lot of exciting stuff that I’ve never seen before, and as such I find La Bamba to be an exciting, and inexpensive, place to challenge my palate and discover something new. I hope to see you there.


For our anniversary dinner, the wife and I headed out to Higgins, which we've been to once previously and like enough for a return visit.

The restaurant, located on Jefferson and Broadway in downtown Portland, is a beautifully-appointed place, ideal for a quiet dinner with someone special. The service is among the best in town, very attentive and quite knowledgeable about the components of the constantly-shifting menu and the over-sized bar selection. And the creations capitalize on local fare, as the place is owned and operated by local institution and super-chef Greg Higgins.

Upon arrival, we were greeted by a menu that boasted a variety of starters, mostly focussing on local fresh seafood and seasonal vegetable. My wife opted for the salad of "gathered greens," which has an interesting sound to it (so yuppy), while I had a wonderful potato-broccoli puree soup that was just fabulous.

For dinner, my wife opted for the off-menu special flat-iron steak. It came with potatoes and parsnips, but she had been hoping for polenta, and they were kind enough to make a substitution without any trouble.
I opted for the pasta e fagioli, as I've been shifting away from meaty dishes towards dishes lower in fat and higher in variety. For lack of a more insightful description, it was ridiculously good.

For dessert, my wife had a chocolate something-or-other. I had a warm apple crisp with vanilla bean ice cream.

The dinner was expensive, but also quite good. Higgins is a great event-type restaurant: anniversaries; birthdays; family-in-town. It isn't my favorite place, but I cannot say anything other than it's a great part of our local food scene.


On Saturday, JLowe and I took our wives out for sushi at Masu, on the 400 block of SW 13th.

My wife and I had been one time previously, around Christmas time, and had found it to be worth a quick return. The reasons to go there are numerous.
First, the place is incredibly hip. I've yet to find a sushi place in town that I just can't stand, but with each one you get a different vibe. There's the usually-cramped Koji's type places, which are generally not very big but are bright and clean and spare in appointments. There's Kappaya, on Division, which has okay food but is essentially a dive to sit in. There's Yoko's in SE Portland on Gladstone, which is still one of my favorite places, which is dimly lit but really non-descript, in my opinion, if you're trying to define the style.

Masu is different from them all. The place is just south of the Pearl District, but has all the industrial-hip, low-light and big windows flare of all of my favorite places there.

Of course, the reason to go to these places is never so much the atmosphere, but instead is about the food. And, as sushi goes, Masu is currently 1a on my list (if Yoko's is 1) of the top places in town.

The servings at Masu are generally quite generous. Nigiri, as usual, comes in servings of two pieces per order. Rolls generally come in servings of 6-12 pieces, depending on what kind you get. They aren't inexpensive, but that said, they are worth what you pay. The fish is very good quality, the combinations in the rolls are creative, and there are a variety of interesting sauces that get worked into the rotation which provide some interesting variety you don't get at most places.

And they have a neat nigiri order of quail egg on fish egg, which is good for impressing the ladies.

And then bonus points to any place that has a future-tech hand-warmer in the restroom...

Masu is incredible. I'll be going back to Yoko's to see if a re-ranking is in order. And I'm interested in suggestions for other sushi places in town, so share your thoughts...

No Fish Go Fish

No Fish Go Fish, the food cart, has already been covered on this blog. What we haven’t discussed, however, is No Fish Go Fish, the restaurant (located at 40th and Hawthorne).

I’ve had a few opportunities to go recently. We went on my daughter’s second birthday, knowing that she’d love the “No Fish,” which are specially-prepared, fish-shaped cornmeal pastries containing a variety of fillings, while we enjoyed one of the scratch-made soups.

This weekend, to launch our anniversary eat-a-rama, we changed our minds. We’d been planning Pambiche, but had made the plan thinking that we’d already have left our daughter with her grandmother. Things didn’t work out like planned, however, so we chose a more family-friendly lunch location.

For this visit, my wife enjoyed the “Cowboy Chowder,” a concoction of rice, cheese, and potatoes in some sort of creamy broth. I went for the lentil dal, which is always fantastic and is a mainstay at No Fish Go Fish. For fish, I had a mushroom pate (one of the new line of special No Fish) and the black olive, garlic, and basil No Fish, while my daughter had Apple Cinnamon and a PB&J.

No Fish Go Fish is super-affordable; the average lunch special (soup and two No Fish) is about $5.50, and if you choose a deluxe No Fish the cost goes up by fifty cents each. And the people working there, whether one of the two owners or one of their chums, are always friendly. At the restaurant itself, you can opt for non-soup items, but where the strength of No Fish Go Fish is the soup, there’s no real reason to diverge from the really good stuff.


The Chart House

For New Year's Eve, we went to one of my favorite restaurants...the Chart House. My wife and I were joined by Rusty and his wife.

Our reservations were for 8:30 pm. Alas, we were not seated until about 10 pm. The place was packed, and it was New Year's Eve, so I wasn't too upset. That was the only down-side to the evening.

We started with two appetizers, the crab-stuffed mushrooms and the calamari. Both were delicous, and there was enough for four people (even after the 1 1/2 hour wait).

For dinner, my wife had the Macadamia Crusted Mahi Mahi (she always has the Macadamia Crusted Mahi Mahi). I opted for the swordfish, blackened. She loved her selection (that's why she always gets it). And, I must say, my swordfish was the best I have ever had, anywhere. It was blackened to perfection, and the swordfish was moist and tender.

For dessert, each couple ordered the Hot Chocolate Lava Cake. Here's the description from the menu: "Godiva Chocolate Liqueur, molten center, Dreyer's® vanilla ice cream, served with warm chocolate sauce and Heath Bar Crunch>" The shorter description would be "chocolate sin." If you are going to select this for dessert, and you really must order it, please be advised that you must order it when you order your dinner, as it takes 20 minutes, to prepare.

All in all, a wonderful evening and meal...good company, good food and a good view. The Chart House demonstrated once again why it remains in my top ten restaurants in Portland.


New Year's Addendum

JLowe and I both gained a lot of weight this holiday season. He from his father's excellent cooking, me from my penchant for appetizers at my wife's and my various functions.

Anyway, the first half of January we're in detox mode, doing the annual flushing of our systems using the much-reviled but remarkably effective "The Master Cleanse" diet.

So, anyway, don't expect much new in the next two weeks (although JLowe did claim dibs on writing up our foursome's New Year's Eve outing to The Charthouse, which--aside from being seated an hour after our reservation time--was absolutely lovely).

New Year's Resolutions and the Appropriate Canning of the Rules

2007 was a banner year for our little blog here. Over the course of just a few months, we put out 76 posts, almost all with something worthwhile to say about the local food scene, and received 7,021 hits. Not too shabby.

But what is perhaps more remarkable is the amout of content that didn't get put up this year. We have this rule, you see: no writing about a place once a whole day has passed since you ate there. The rule was designed to ensure only the freshest of posts. The rule ended up killing a lot of good material.

Some of the places that didn't get posted last year, despite our gastronomic endeavors at each:

  • The Hunan
  • Gresham Typhoon
  • Masu Sushi
  • Yuki Sushi
  • Buffalo Wildwings
  • The Charthouse
  • Chin Yen
  • Jake's Bar and Grill
  • Gustav's
  • La Bamba

And, certainly, many more I'm just failing to remember.

Seems our "freshness" rule got in the way of sharing quality info. So, our New Year's resolutions:

MORE POSTS, MORE PICTURES, and NO MORE RULES (at least, none that constrain us from offering useful info; if a post will suffer from too much time passing, we'll let it go in favor of another outing).

Also, if you have a place you're interested in and want to know about, let us know. We take suggestions, but chances are also pretty high that, between JLowe and I, we've been there and can offer some advice.

Finally, I hereby declare the death of GastroBoy. He was once a useful member of this blog; now he's just dead weight. Fare thee well, Chuck.