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

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

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

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

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

I digress. Sort of.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Bernie's Southern Bistro

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

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

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

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

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

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


Toro Bravo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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