Pok Pok

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


Columbia River Brewing Company

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Wanna write for our blog?

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

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

Caro Amico

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Der Rheinlander

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mini-post: BrunchBox

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

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

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


A Word on the Urbanspoons of the World

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

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

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

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

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