Wednesday, January 03, 2007

If you’re a little afraid of doing something, you’re probably doing something right.

It was that idea that spurred me to pick up and move to Portland just over two years ago, and it’s the same impulse that has me picking up and moving to San Francisco now. I’ve spent the last two weeks in the throes of sorting and packing, and I’ve only just stopped falling asleep without the screams of packing tape in my ears. I’ve just got a few days left here, and I’m trying to hit my favorite PDX restaurants before I go. I’ve done pok pok and apizza scholls, picked up Screen Door last week. I’m saving Le Pigeon for last. I want to head down the 5 with the fresh memory of bacon-laced cornbread on my mind. Portland, I'll miss you, more than I can say.

I'm also more than a little excited about discovering all the tastes the city has to offer. I've been dazzled by the Ferry Market before and I can't wait to share it with NIBS (though no, gentle readers, he's obstinantly staying put). I want to find a favorite taco place, somewhere good for Pho and dim sum, and maybe, just maybe, a neighborhood bistro where I can become a regular. It's exciting, and a little scary, but probably a lot good. New blog link to follow, once I'm settled. We'll see...

observations of a regular- Screen Door

I long hold fantasies of becoming a regular at restaurants. I want to walk in, sit at my table, have my usual drink poured for me before I even have a chance to ask. I’m in love with the idea of a neighborhood joint, of a home away from home where I can count on being welcome and comfortable, every time. Unfortunately, my intrepid restaurant surveyer within gets in the way of me realizing my regular dreams. I hardly ever go back to the same restaurant twice. I want to discover what’s next, to see what else is happening in the city food-wise, to give the inside scoop to any friend who asks about that new place that opened up in the neighborhood. The cutting edge is a comfortable place for me in terms of eateries.

When I walked into Screen Door for just the second time, I was really happy to find that David, the owner/man behind the bar, remembered us. It was pretty amazing. We had been back in the summer, had a great time, and always meant to go back. Well now, with my departure date looming in front of me, I’ve been going back to all those places I always meant to go to, or at least meant to go to again.

David waved us over to the bar, and we gladly took the same seats we took last time. “our seats,” really, because if we do get the chance to go back for dinner, I can’t imagine sitting anywhere else. He remembered that we had a special drink and within minutes, we had two fresh Moscow Mules in front of us. And with that, it seemed, we were regulars. “I can’t leave this town,” I said.

Drink in hand, we got down to ordering starters.
Being a boy from the south, Noneifbysea can’t contain himself if hushpuppies are on the menu. I don’t get it myself. I mean, I like cornbread, I like fried things, so logic would follow that I would like fried balls of cornbread. But, I don’t know, it just doesn’t work for me. I guess the texture is so much like falafel, but with none of the savory Middle Eastern spices. Still, NIBS raves about Screen Door’s. He likes the sweet kernels of corn that punctuate the occasional bite, digs the mustard dipping sauce. He started to push back the plate until I reminded him how much he loved the slaw last time. He pulled the plate back to him, excitedly.

Ihave never had better fried oysters. I live for oysters, raw or cooked, and I get caught up in the contrast between the two. That a briny, slippery gem can turn into this entirely other entity with just a cover of batter and dip in the fryer. Crispy skin giving way to smooth, succulent…something. When words failed me, I pleaded for Noneifbysea to shrug off his namesake but he refused. I would say, “his loss,” but really, I was so sad for him that he couldn’t enjoy what I was savoring.

We chose Screen Door that night because I had a craving for fried chicken, and as anyone knows, they are doing the best in town. Draper Valley chicken encased in a thick crust of fried, crunchy goodness. It’s far too much food for one person. Two pieces of chicken served with a generous portion of mashed sweet potatoes and sautéed spinach. On my first visit, I made the very sad mistake of ignoring the unassuming ramekin of brown sauce that accompanies the chicken. I didn’t even think to ask about it until my plate was being taken away and I realized I snubbed the tasso ham gravy! This time, I was sure to dip my fork in it first. Fried chicken skin followed soon after.

And silly NIBS went with the burger. Of course, it’s better than half the burgers in town, but really, it’s on the level with any other farmstead-chedder laced, organic meat and veg buger in town. Why he didn’t go with the pork chop, I’ll never know.

The menu at Screen Door is overwhelming. Not because of the number of things they offer (there are probably about 8 main courses), but because of the possibilities. Each side dish sounds better than the next, and then compounding the indecision is the prospect of building a screen door plate-a combination of any of the sides, one of which is a pork chop. The mind boggles. We tried to contain ourselves and just get one side. In addition to the main dishes, we went with the grits, as I had never had them before. I believe I’ve been quoted as saying they were “comforting, like a down blanket made of carbs with cheese on top.”

It wasn’t just the grits that gave me a sense of comfort. I felt welcome there, remembered, content. It’s one of those places that feels so Portland- simply good, devoid of pretense, committed to quality and delivers on all of it. I’ll miss Screen Door when I’m gone, but I like to know that I could probably come back anytime, take a seat at the bar and David will be right there, ready to pour me a drink.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

L.A. nibble- Canter's Deli

I grew up in a house that was not typically Jewish, if there is such a thing. My mom had a huge Christmas party every year and I have much stronger memories of Easter Egg hunts than of Passover seders. But despite our holiday traditions, we always knew that we were Jewish, if not by the ever-growing collection of holocaust history books on the shelves than by our love for deli. Pickes, rye bread, matzo ball soup, kishka, kasha, knishes, egg-creams and dr. browns. I have so many memories of the family crowded into booths, the table cluttered with the remnants of everyone’s abundant orders, and we sit there, picking away at bagel chips and rye crusts and almond horns until there was nothing left on the table, no more stories to tell over and over again. When, three hours later, we scooch out of the booth and back home. And for my family, all of this goes on at Canter’s on Fairfax.

I’m too young to tell the history of Canter’s. In fact, being the youngest in my family, I think some of them don’t think I’m entitled to all this nostalgia, that I wasn’t there when all those memories were made. Like the time my step-sister and her friends were tripping on acid and became transfixed by the beautiful and abundant bakery window. Mistaking them for hungry street urchins, the kind bakery lady beckoned them in, plying them with rugalah and racetrack. That I wasn’t there for the days when two of my siblings actually worked there, dishing out endless bowls of matzoh ball soup under the watchful eye of the manager, who still works there to this day, making sure the new kids aren’t giving out too many carrots.

I have my own memories that have nothing to do with the family. Like making my punk rock friends go there after shows so we could get breakfast at 2 a.m. or going there on my first real teenage date with a boy named Chris from Torrance. I had a turkey on rye and an egg-cream. I go there alone to watch and listen. To see an old, nay, ancient former waitress come back to visit her friends who have held down the same stations for 20 years. Or to see mirrors of my own family, loud jews packed into booths, passing plates and needling sad, quiet busboys for “moah wahta.”

Despite their impossibly expansive menu, covering everything from standard deli fare to short ribs in a pot, I think I’ve ordered no more than a half dozen different dishes in all the times I’ve been to Canters. The aforementioned turkey on rye, matzoh ball soup (with noodles, chicken and carrots), a potato knish, a pastrami sandwich (if I’m feeling really indulgent, though I now know Langer’s is the pastrami sandwich to beat) and of course, the one time I ordered simply a side of chopped liver. I was an intrepid 7-year-old with a palate to prove, and when presented with a glass dish straight from a Fancy Feast commercial asked the table, “who ordered the cat food?” I ate it anyway and loved it.

Except for that famous Langer’s pastrami, Canter's is the best deli in town. Rye bread with a heady distinction between doughy bread and roof-of-the-mouth-shredding crust. Perfect matzoh balls that diplomatically walk the line between fluffy and firm. Dr. Brown’s soda in glass bottles. A platonically ideal knish (ask for it warmed), and, if you ask my step-father, the best cantaloupe any time of year. “I don’t know where they get it,” he says, “but 95% of the time, it’s just amazing.” Like I said, they have everything there. The bakery is overwhelming and impossibly cheap. On my last visit, I picked up one cinnamon and one chocolate chip rugalah, and pressing my .50 cents change from a $1 bill into my hand, the kind old lady insisted, “next time, don’t spend so much.” Up until I was about 15, they wouldn’t even let me pay that much. “Go on. Take it.”

Canter’s hasn’t and probably can’t ever change. There is no one in the world who could possibly field all the potential complaints that would come flooding in from all manners of angry Jews if they changed a single thing. Even the trippy faux autumn leaves drop ceiling that they installed in the mid-eighties is still a point of contention. “I hate it,” my step-sister said, shaking her head with disgust. My mother finds the diffused light soothing. I find it, like every other part of Canter’s anachronistic décor, endlessly kitchy and amusing. Like if you go upstairs to the restroom and walk past a historical picture of “Canter’s bakery, 1950, in the present location.” The picture looks like it could have been taken yesterday. The same doilies, the same pastries, the same baker’s scale. It’s exactly the same. It’s the reason we keep going back year after year. Canter’s, with its utter indifference to progress and dependable consistency and comfort, lets us know that we can go home again, anytime.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

on the road again

Portlandbymouth has been racking up some major frequent flier miles lately. Lots of shuttling between LAX and PDX for the holidays and work too. So, eating around Portland hasn't been happening too much. In fact, that easy fix of salad rolls and satay hasn't died down too much (there's a place in LA that makes satay salad rolls! Two world colliding!). So, not a lot new to report. A couple nibbles to tide you over:

Dear god. I had no idea I could spend so much money on chocolate. Noneifbysea and I hit cacao hard one day (to the tune of $65). We walked away with an incredible carmel assortment (we see our way past simply sea salt), a small stack of origin chocolates, and two ridiculous bars that deserve their own callouts:

Mariebelle Croquette au Chocolate ($11.75!) The finest, richest dark chocolate stirred with crunchy, buttery cookies. It's like a Nestle Crunch bar gone high-class in a hurry. Dense, satisfying, and totally addictive. I went back to cacao today before I leave town tomorrow to get a fix.

Byrne & Carlson Chipotle Bar ($8?) I was skeptical about the chipotle. I'm tired of seeing it everywhere. Please put your chipotle-prejudice aside. This bar, with extra-bitter chocolate spiked with heat and cooled with sea salt reminds us, in one fell swoop that salt and pepper make everything much more interesting.

I've gone twice on my own and I've been trying to find a time to take noneifbysea along with me for a proper reviewing. I like this place. A lot. Just a couple things on the menu, the best soda fountain I've ever come across, penny candy and friendly service. First time I had the roast beef (with roasted potatoes and greens) and a ginger soda. Second time, it was Thanksgiving for tuesday lunch. Turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy. Just enough to be satisfied, not to induce a food coma. Each time I walk away with a smile on my face and a Squirrel Nut Zipper in my pocket for later.

More nibbles to come from LA!

Monday, November 13, 2006

Los Baez, version 2.0

Here at PBM, we don’t consider ourselves to be legitimate restaurant reviewers. If we were, we’d visit a place a number of times over a period of months to get a real sense of a restaurant. Every place is entitled to an off dish or even an off night. We get that. But we have a pretty simple methodology here. We base our opinions the way most people do about restaurants. We go, we eat, we opine. Why would we go back to some place if we didn’t like it?

But, after a recent impassioned (and lengthy) comment regarding our Los Baez write-up, we felt obligated to return to the restaurant to give them another shot. Good thing we did, too. We left feeling pretty satisfied, but mostly with our methodology.

Noneifbysea started off with a house margarita and by the taste of it, their juicer is definitely in fine working order. After a few puckering sips, we were asked if it was too bitter, and yes, NIBS replied, it was. It was pretty clear they’ve been having trouble pushing their version of a margarita onto the Anglo public, which is understandable. A real margarita can be a little challenging if you’re used to a mix. But the fine people at D.F. know this and give you fair warning when you order your drink. But this wasn’t challenging, it was wrong and pretty unpalatable. A quick stir in of some sugar and NIBS was happy to drink his drink.

Food-wise, we fared a bit better on this trip. My fork kept drifting over to Noneifbysea’s beef burrito and he was only glad to relieve me of some of my generous portion of pollo asado. The beef was savory and well seasoned, folded into a freshly-made flour tortilla with probably too much cheese to be considered authentic, but still made for some damn tasty bites. I didn’t like my chicken as much as NIBS did. It was just simple grilled chicken with a little too much cracked pepper and a squeeze of orange. But yes, once stuffed in a tortilla with rice, beans, guac, and lettuce it was fine. Fine like “taco night at home” fine.

Also, we had the same problem with the salsa we did on the first trip. No flavor. Just heat. It felt very, very far from fresh. The chips were mercifully less salty this round.

So yes, the food was better this time around. And though food is very, very important, it’s also the culture of a place that keeps us going back (or not going back) for more.

It was a pretty quiet night, and it’s clear the staff was looking to keep busy. We had at least five different people visit our table to ask us how we were doing, if we needed anything, to pour more water, get us fresh tortillas. There’s a fine line between attentive and intrusive, and as the meal went on, the needle seemed to be angling a bit more towards the latter.

Also, during the course of the meal, I was offered tequila shots at least twice in a 30 minute span. I have no problem with people who are into shots. Really, I don’t. It’s just not my thing. Also not my thing? Places that are really into offering “the ladies” shots of tequila. It’s exactly why I chose a college devoid of fraternities or sororities. It’s not the shots themselves, but the culture that it suggests. It’s not a stretch to imagine it will be a mad house on any given ‘big game’ day, or to see the windows graced with neon signs promoting domestic beer, or that they might have a special song or ritual humiliation on your birthday. Again, I’m not saying these things happen at Los Baez, but I wouldn’t be surprised if I saw them there. Again, to us, it’s just smacks of college football, baseball caps and people who are, you know, really into Dane Cook.

The food’s fine. We might even come back for take-out (turns out, you can take away their freshly-made tortillas for just 35 cents apiece). But sorry, Los Baez, we probably won’t be back to party with you anytime soon.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

salad roll/satay survey

It has been a long two weeks of long days of work for Noneifbysea and a nice helping of kitchen apathy for myself, which has lead to a disproportionate number of times we've been hitting the takeout menu collection. We like the Thai food, and I have a huge problem of not being to not order Pad Thai. It's a problem. I always want to branch out, to try new things, new flavors. I'm slightly embarrased when I order the most pedestrian, most approachable boring dish on the menu. It's not like I actually have ever seen a thai waiter roll their eyes at me when I place my order, but I think they would be entirely justified in doing so.

well, I've evolved. a little. I've moved on to earlier in the menu, to the pedestrian end of the appetizers. I can't stop ordering salad rolls and satay. They are the most perfect duo for a weekenight meal. Light, and fresh. Just enough meaty, just enough saladness. And the best part- every bite is dipped in peanut sauce.

This twice-to-thrice-weekly kick started off in a strange place. Against my will (and better judgement) I was lured to an on-the-company lunch at Henry's Tavern where I was bullied into sending back my too-salty lettuce wraps (the waitress said that next time, I should be sure to ask them to hold the oyster sauce. Honestly, if you have to suggest that, isn't it time to re-write the recipe?). In its stead I ordered the salad rolls. A good enough choice. For Henry's. They were far too big and fall aparty, and the peanut sauce eerily smooth and slightly sweet. But it left me wanting more. Well, not more so much, as better.

That night, our take-out binge streak began. First up: Thai Orchid on Burnside. Thai Orchid was the first thai food I ever had (yes, I had the pad thai), and I still like it. I know it's not challenging or nuanced Thai food. I realized that living in LA and slurping ethereal rahd na at a restaurant with an unreadable and less pronouncable name on Hollywood Blvd at 1:30 a.m. But when I want a solid, easy pad thai, I like the T.O. But this time, it was the salad roll/satay combo:

The rolls- tightly rolled with fresh veggies- these rolls are good, possibly a favorite. As with all salad rolls, don't let them get to room temp. The colder the rolls, the snappier the bite!
The satay- four skewers, nicely charred. There isn't a ton of flavor in the chicken itself, but they're a lovely vehicle for the peanut sauce.
The sauce- good stuff. Peanutty, great texture. actual peanuts on top. y-to-the-um.

Lunch the next day: Thai Peacock. Tucked just off West B-side ending a tumble of coolie shops (Reading Frenzy, Half & Half, Countermedia) sits Thai Peacock. It's unassuming and the people working there are unflinchingly friendly. It's a great lunch spot, super quick and always reasonable. Still, though, it's solidly in the approachable Thai camp right there with Thai Orchid.

Right, so:

The rolls: The first time I had these, they made their mark as my favorite rolls. The freshest, snappiest, lightest. These are happening rolls. But then, the second time I had them, the rolls weren't good. Peaked produce and anything but fresh. Wasn't working. This worries me.
Satay: Not as great. Not charred enough for me, bordering on not cooked enough. They have that eerily moist texture that chicken can have from time to time.

The sauce: I don't like it. There's a vinegar thing going on (not in the vinegar sauce way...this was supposed to be peanut sauce), but it just wasn't good. Too thin. DIdn't work.

That night: Thai Ginger. The obsession continues with a trip to Thai Ginger. I can't speak to much about Thai Ginger- Noneifbysea was on takeout duty. It's in the 5th quadrent, right around N. Portland and N. Denver. It's a NIBS go-to for weeknight takeout, and for good reason. My takeaway? Food good.

The foods: honestly, at this point, it gets difficult to register the minute differences between various servings of salad rolls and satay. It's really about freshness of ingredients. And though I can't recall how much I loved one or another, I have the impression of thinking yes, Thai Ginger, I will go to you again.

I think we took a break saturday from the Thaiapalooza, but Sunday we were back. We've driven past Chaba Thai on Sandy Blvd a number of times, each time NIBS asserts: Chaba Thai is the best thai food in portland (not counting pok pok). Driving there, he vows: "Chaba Thai salad rolls will ruin you. You won't be able to enjoy salad rolls anywhere else." "Gee. Thanks." Good thing though, NIBS was wrong. They were ok. Fell right there in the camp with Thai Ginger. Good, but not something I couldn't get closer to home. Nothing I needed to seek out. I liked their peanut sauce a lot though. Might have even eaten a mini spoonful of it straight. Twice.

All in all, there's good and bad aspects to the salad roll/satay offerings I've tried. To assemble the perfect plate, I'd probably hit Thai Peacock for the rolls (presuming it's not an off day), get Thai Orchid's satay, then run over to Chaba Thai for a side of peanut sauce. But, if I was going to go the logical (read:boring) way, I think Thai Orchid works well enough.

I've been two days salad rolls/satay free, and I'm doing ok. that isn't to say I've burnt out on the puppies. In fact, tonight is my night of television guilty pleasures (Lost, America's Next Top Model, Top Chef), and I think I've got the food to match. Not sure where I'll go. Maybe the orchid, maybe somewhere new...

Sunday, October 22, 2006


A recent reading of Michael Pollen’s “The Omnivore’s Dilemna” has really changed how much we think about where our food comes from. Eschewing chains and processed food isn’t new to us, but now we’ve start really looking at where our meat comes from, which farms grow our greens, and weighing the benefits of local vs. big organic. Even more than before, we’re putting a lot of thought into our food. And yet this weekend, we find ourselves out in suburbia, indulging our yuppish impulses to find a great sugar bowl and creamer set at Crate & Barrel or picking up yet another pair of the season’s must-have boots. And shopping is bound to make you hungry, and the choices are limited. This is how we came to eat at California Pizza Kitchen.

I’m not going to waste time describing much about CPK. We’ve all been there. The yellow and black tile, the frames pizza boxes-cum-art on the walls. Named-tagged servers only too happy to suggest the avocado spring rolls to start your meal or a slice of key lime pie to end it. And the food, well, it’s tasty. Even better than passable. It works.
It works, but it really, really shouldn’t. It’s not local. It’s not organic. It doesn’t even pretend to be seasonal. But still, it tastes good, and isn’t that what matters most?
So what is about CPK that we don’t like? Why don’t we ever eat here?

We sat at the bar, genuinely enjoying our Thai Chicken Tortilla Spring Rolls. Though a strange concoction to be sure, a marriage of a few different bastardized culinary traditions, it somehow made tasty sense. Took the best from each, rolled it up in a crispy shell and served with some peanut dipping sauce. These tasted good. Better, I’d even say then some creative appetizers we’d had at some pretty high-brow restaurants. So what’s so wrong with CPK?

We hold these gastronomic truths to be self-evident; Local is better than remote, to eat seasonally is to eat sensibly, and organic is better for all parties involved. And here we were happily devouring food that fragrantly broke all these rules. We continued our discussion over the main course. Noneifbysea went with the carne asada pizza. Yep, not a typo. Pizza dough with mozzerella and jack cheese, grilled steak, mild chiles and a heap of tomato-salsa in the center. On the side, some tomatillo salsa. I went with my standby, the tricolore salad. The usual suspects (radiccio, arugula and red leaf) with a balsamic vinegrette and shaved parmesean served on top of an addictive pizza crust which has been topped with parmesean and baked to a crispy, chewy goodness.

But of course the food tastes good. It’s engineered to. This food has been focused-grouped and test-marketed. Surveys have been filled out and questionnaires submitted. Somewhere, there are test kitchens and lab coats that double as chef’s jackets. They’ve taken the ingredients that work and make them work for everyone. This food is made to be palatable. To not be challenging. It’s concocted, not cooked.

And maybe this is where the problem lies for us. Not simply that the food isn’t good for us, that we’re not eating seasonally and locally. But that there’s no connection to the people in the kitchen. There’s no one back there in that shining silver, yellow and white cave putting any thought, consideration or creativity into the food. There is no love. There is no craft. There is no discovery. We are just part of a larger corporate entity. We are simply consumers, in the most literal possible sense of the word.

Monday, October 16, 2006

B-side reprise. A trip to Los Baez.

It has been a full month since our visit to Los Angeles, and though we’ve tried to scratch that itch many times, we still haven’t been able to satisfy our craving for tacos. Good little tacos like the ones we picked up at Loteria Grill in the old part of the Farmer’s Market at 3rd and Fairfax in Hollywood. Savory, meaty bites tucked into handmade three-bite tortillas, just slightly bigger than the palm of your hand. We had heard of a new place, Los Baez, a local chain recently expanded from Salem. We read that people have actually made the drive there to get a fix. We heard talk of handmade tortillas, which got our eyebrows raised and interest piqued. Optimistically, we made our way down to E. Burnside to dig in.

Los Baez is huge. It has so much space, it doesn’t even seem to know what to do with it all. Most of the bi-level room is taken up by the dining room, wood tables and chairs seemingly borrowed from a shut-down Shakey’s and spread pretty far apart from one another to the point it felt awkward. In that open space, we craved a little corner to slip into, so we opted for the bar section, a little gated area on the main floor.

We sat down and literally cracked open the menus. Turns out, it was their opening night. I don’t know exactly how we keep doing this. It seems unfair to write up a restaurant based on their first night opened, but noneifbysea made the astute observation that since they are a chain that’s been in operation locally for decades, really they should have any serious kinks worked out and that the food should be the same.

Our very, very genial server was eager to get us drinks. Nursing a cold, I asked if their juices were fresh squeezed. Turns out, they’re not entirely up and running, but when they are yes, they will have fresh juices. Those fresh-squeezed juices will be a great compliment to their full bar- clearly positioned as a draw in this place.

A request for iced tea got the same response. I gave into a diet soda. Noneifbysea opted for a margarita, blended, with ice. Our eager, cheerful server asked if he wanted to get a 40 oz, enough for two. We don’t tend to drink cocktails that require special extra-long straws, and declined.

The menu is expansive. And traditional. A whole lot of what you’d expect to find at any refried beans and rice Mexican restaurant. Burritos, quesadillas, tacos, enchiladas. All the usual suspects were lined up in all the traditional ways, and the menu reads like a remedial guide to Mexican food, politely detailing carne asada, the contents of guacamole and offering the gringo’s guide to flan. Though we were feeling taco-ish, save for a fish taco or two, all of Los Baez tacos are fried. Instead, we opted for the fajitas, where we could see what they were working with in terms of both meat and tortillas. We went off-menu and took our waiter’s suggestion of the sweet carnitas.

It took a very, very long time to get our food. And the place wasn’t too crowded that night. In fact, it seemed most everyone there were regulars and family friends who drove up for opening night. And the more we watched, the more we learned. Someone else did order the 40 oz drink. And it was just for himself. And he was met with applause when it was brought to him. An impromptu drinking contest began at the bar. More applause. A K-Fed doppleganger furiously text-messeged. We saw a cocktail waitress with a red-bull apron doubling as a mini-skirt. More “whoooooo!ing.” We exchanged looks.

Though we ordered the plate for two, we got a sizzling platter for one, which was fine, since the more we ate, the less we wanted to. The tortillas were pretty good. A little thick, a little thin. Clearly these guys were hand-made. Sadly, these were the highlight. The carnitas themselves were pretty terrible. The sweetness that had been talked up was just too much. More than anything we tasted sugar, not juice or pork. It was sugar-meat wrapped up in a tortilla with sub-par fixins. The guacamole was bland, the rice was gummy, the beans boring and the lettuce sad and limp. Always on the side of the underdog, I asked NIBS, “But really, I don’t know. I want to give them another chance. Portland Mexican has not a lot going for it. There aren’t a lot of mid-level places. You’ve got either high-brow, like D.F. or a few out-of-the-way taco carts that are hard to find after dark. Who’s doing this, but better?”

“Applebee’s.” He said.

Sometimes, the guy has a point.

Our happy waiter came by and asked if we wanted dessert. NIBS’ was encouraged earlier by the listing of the sopapilla- a perfectly great concoction of fried dough, heavily dusted with cinnamon and laden with honey. After our carnitas disappointment, he was skeptical, but I put him up to at least ordering it. I was sure they wouldn’t actually have them ready. And they did. Kind of. Instead of a puffy dough, we got a fried tortilla, doused in honey and encircled by whipped cream and (wait for it) two marachino cherries. No cinnamon at all. Despite being cloying and soggy, there was something spicy in there! It wasn’t supposed to be there. It was a disaster.

As we waited (and waited, and waited) for the plates to be cleared, drinks to be refilled, we took in more of the place. A few more guys with baseball hats took a place at the bar, and the bartender encouraged the “wooo!ing” to continue by pouring more and more shots. We realized, this wasn’t the Mexican place we were looking for. This is a place that’s clearly drinks first, friendly service second, and food a distant third. A place where you might meet the guys to watch the game and get some drinks, and maybe order a bean and cheese burrito to soak it all up. Which, really, simply isn’t our kind of place.

Food: from the little of the menu we surveyed, not too good. Probably not compelling enough to bring us back.
Drinks: solid margarita, and the diet soda was excellent. Full bar, unmemorable wine and beer.
Atmosphere: "wooooooooo!"
Tally: NIBS is going down for this one. Adding insult to gastrointestinal injury.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

We haven't been starving, we've been cooking

When this little blog started a few scant months ago, we intended to write up as many of our shared meals as we could- both cooked and cooked for us. Then we changed tack, instead focusing on our restaurant experiences because, we believe, that it's a lot more fun to read about a place you can visit than read about some stranger's perfect lamb loins they made last night. And it's probably the change in the season, but we've been cooking a lot lately. In fact, I feel like I spend just as much time washing dishes as I do cooking and eating. I have an intimate relationship with dishpan hands, I really do. Point is, dear readers, We're around, we're eating, we just haven't been writing a ton. So here, to get us back in gear, is a little summary of our recent food conquests and discoveries:

Got Pho:
It was a fantastically cold Sunday afternoon and we wanted soup. Even better, we wanted Pho. I'm a pho newbie, but I've been doing my research, and the research was pointing us right towards a mini-mall tucked into a sad stretch of Sandy Blvd. Got Pho is supposed to have the best Vietmanese Beef Noodle Soup in town, and so we went. It was everything I had heard about on the outside- nowhere I would have gone if the blogosphere hadn't directed me there. Desolate and eerily quiet, just about all the tables empty. There was a lot of parking, however. We sat down to a pot of tea and began to pore over the expansive menu. Overwhelming. Every possible combination of the ingredients they had on hand. There's a note at the bottom proclamining "no substitions," but I couldn't imagine any way you could alter the dishes that they hadn't thought of and listed already!

We ordered salad rolls with pork loin, a pork loin Bahn Mi and two bowls of the standard beef pho. Ooh what fun! It was too bad the salad rolls came first, because they weren't that great. I think the pork loin overwhelms the delicate flavors and textures of the rest of the roll. And the vinegar dipping sauce didn't add much. Next time, I'd try the shrimp.

This was our first Bahn Mi, and it was lovely. A crusty white roll with a few savory bites of pork and crisp veggies. A study in contrasts and a new perfect sandwich for me.

I think there's a learning curve with Pho, and unless someone's there to show you the way, you're not going to get the most out of the Pho experience. I went straight- soaking a couple of basil leaves, snacking on the bean sprouts for refreshment. Noneifbysea was busy mixing and tearing and slurping and adding and stirring. I was curious. My god, what good work he did! So much more flavor with just a few additions! I learned. I'm humbled.

We'll be back for more Pho, for certain. There are just too many things on the menu not to try.

Other notable meals:
We were hungry and tired and couldn't decide where in NW to eat. We sat down at Callalloo to find it too pricy and not what we wanted. We wandered up to 23rd for crappy chinese, but the lack of no-MSG mention turned us away. We balked at pizza and "deli" and ended up on 21st for, well crappy chinese. I had gone to Ling Garden a couple times before. I know what it is. I know it's bad. I didn't realize how bad it could be. Cashew chicken, twice-cooked pork, dumplings and something else that was horrible. Honestly, we should have gone to Panda Express.

We also had a less than stellar meal at clarklewis, of all places. The food blogs had been a-chatter with good things about CL, so we went with a large group. Most were impressed, but we found everything to just be, well, ok. I wanted something better, something amazing. We ended up at Le Pigeon later than week so I could get the fucking fantastic food fix I had been looking for. One order of fois gras and the Cheeks and Cheeks (halibut & beef) later, and I was a happy satiated customer.

Monday, September 25, 2006

D.F., no lo me gusta

Still haunted by the quickly-fading memory of amazing mole and tacos we had in Los Angeles, we decided to chase the tastes, and our instincts led us to D.F., where lavendersoda had found yummy mexican morsels once before.

We found D.F. tucked into a corner of the Pearl, across from Tanner Park (worth a walk through. nice, composed, urban nature. cute!). We scored one of the high booths along the front of the restaurant. They're a great little respite from the acoustically-challenging slab concrete walls and floor. Whlle waiting for our third, we ordered drinks and a round of chips and guacamole. For lavendersoda, the Refresca, which lived up to its name with mint-infused tequila, tonic, cucumber and a sprig of mint. Though I'm sure the bartender wouldn't miss-mix a drink on their own menu, there wasn't a taste of tonic, just soda. Either way, two rounds were ordered. For noneifbysea, the Tradicional margarita, a TART take on a favorite drink. Lucky for NIBS, tart= good.

The guacomole was great- light and fresh, maybe it could have used a squeeze more of lime. The salsas were (HOW WERE THE SALSAS?).

To start, we also ordered up two of the al pastor tacos and two of the barbacoa. These are nice, traditional little tacos. Two or three meaty bites in a warm corn tortilla. The al pastor, shredded pork with pineapple was barely the favorite. The barbacoa, a goat taco, was just meaty and gamey, and not in an exciting way. Maybe it's because we had just had some amazing little tacos in LA, but these were just OK.

For the main course, we went heavy on the mole. The oaxacan mole negro, served over a skirt steak, was favored over the mole poblano, served with chicken. There wasn't as huge of a distinction between the two, and neither came out fighting with that awesome savory chocolate thing that a good mole does, where there's an incredible depth of flavor and complexity, where cinnamon hovers over the palate and chocolate smoothness just makes you shake your head. It wasn't here. It was good, it just wasn't great. The third in our party got the garlic shrimp, which though neither of us tried, looked pretty alright. I know that if it had been spectacular, a bite would have been forced on one of us. It wasn't.

And then there's the bill. $100 for the three of us (four drinks, guac, four little tacos, two main courses, and another app- the shrimp dish was a small portion). We had amazing mexican food in LA for next to nothing, and for the life of us, we can't figure out why it hasn't happened here yet. We realize that just five or so years ago, there was no mexican food to speak of in Portland, and that this catagory has expanded by leaps and bounds. This is some of the better mexican food in Portland, which is sad to admit. But, when we really need our fix, we're going to venture out to taco carts or to the Hispanic markets and see what we can't make ourselves.

food: we wanted it to be good, but it just wasn't. The more we thought about it, the sadder we were.
drink: good drinks. can't knock the drinks. Try the refresca, you'll like it.
atmosphere: the pearl at its most pearlescent. Which for NIBS and Lavendersoda, isn't always a bad thing
strikes: oh, the food. and our high expectations, which were struck down unceremoniously
tally: lavendersoda takes one for the team on this one. This time, memory didn't serve well.

Friday, September 22, 2006

First bites back part 2

After a bad dim sum scene in LA, noneifbysea was adamantly convinced that he was done with Chinese food. Ridiculous, right? So in a calculated way to get an Asian food fix, get a for-sure tally on the good list, and hopefully change NIBS’ view of all Chinese cuisine, we headed over to Sungari Pearl.

This is the only place we’ve ever been in Portland where one of us wondered out loud if we were underdressed. Somehow, our usual jeans and t-shirts seemed a little too casual in this glass-enclosed enclave. It just feels elegant in there. “It’s Portland,” I said. ‘We’re fine.” So we sat down, strategically placing the linen napkins on our laps to cover any bike grease marks.

Drinks! Always a fun cocktail list, and of course, I can’t remember for the life of me what I got. Something vodka based, with lemon. It was great. A perfect blend of tart and sweet (but not too sweet). The kind of cocktail that just screams ‘danger.’ I limited myself to one. Noneifbysea chose a margarita-like tequila cocktail. Of course it didn’t fit in a Chinese restaurant. Honestly, its like he wants it to fail.

To start, we each got a small bowl of the wintermelon soup. A delicately-flavored thick broth with bits of pink ham and ethereal chunks of melon. That’s right. Ethereal chunks. Large pieces of melon would appear on the spoon and melt away in your mouth. A little salt brought out the flavors even more. It’s like nothing else.

For the main, Moo-shoo pork and ginger chicken. The Moo-shoo is assembled by a waiter tableside, the plum sauce arriving alongside the meat and pancakes on fire! Food on fire? Bonus points! Our server doused the pancakes with the engulfed sauce, added the meat and veggies, and deftly rolled them up (with chopsticks, no less) for our hand-held convenience. It tasted great. A nice mix of sweet and savory, veggies with bite and a floury pancake.

The ginger chicken was fine. Ok. A little lukewarm and lacking in ginger flavor. It felt much more like any other Chinese restaurant, with somewhat fresher ingredients. Again, needed some salt. The moo-shoo was the clear winner of the duo.

All in all, a good dinner. Good enough to turn the rising tide of disdain for all of Chinese cooking stemming from Noneifbysea. We might even go back one day. Or maybe finally make it out to Wong King’s for Dim Sum. Then again, maybe it's too early to press our dum sum luck again.

food: probably the freshest, most interesting Chinese food around. We just wanted it a little warmer.
drink: great cocktail list. Questionable wine storage (glass case right where the sun hits? We’re worried!)
atmosphere: a little modern, a little cold. But for us, these are pluses.
Strikes: lukewarm food, pretty damn expensive
Tally: a plus point awarded

First bites back part 1

After a jaunt to L.A. (lavendersoda for work/pleasure, noneifbysea joining in on the fun bits), we’re both back in PDX and ready to continue our tour of Portland eateries. Straight from the airport and right off the bat, we hit Sagittarius Café for a quick no-frills lunch. It’s a neighborhood standard for Noneifbysea, but LS hadn’t had the pleasure. It’s friendly, straight-forward, comfortable. The food is just fine. Really, it’s not even worthy of a write-up, but then Noneifbysea graciously offered to add it to his “negative” tally, and always excited to tip the scales to her favor, lavandersoda suggested we drove right over.

Noneifbysea ordered up his usual, a cheeseburger with bacon, fries on the side. To drink, a pint of Pelican IPA. Lavendersoda, still on a BBQ sauce and chicken kick ordered up the BBQ Chicken sandwich, fries on the side. To drink? A special ginger ale- straight ginger ale boosted with fresh ginger and bitters. Yum!

The burger was fine, straight-forward, maybe a little too well-done. Any egregious flaws were buried with Tillamook chedder and crispy bacon. The chicken had a little too much pepper, and then the sauce had a little too much salt. Lavendersoda wasn’t feelin’ it, but NIBS was. So, we decided a couple bites in to switch plates. Good move, us!

All in all, fine. It probably belongs in the same group as Dots or the Laurelhurst. A ok place for a burger, but there’s better food in town. Sagittarius does have a great little bar, so maybe this is a drink spot first, food joint second.

food: fine. Maybe a little worse than fine. I don’t feel like I need to head back there.
Drink: nice little bar, good beer on tap. Maybe this is just a place for a drink.
atmosphere: a whole lot of pink, but not in a girly way. Great music, cool vibe.
strikes: food not the best.
tally: Despite the comfortable atmosphere and ease of the place, the food just wasn’t good. And food is our main tipping point around here. The negative point goes to Noneifbysea.

Monday, September 11, 2006

PBM is on vacation

We're out of town until 9/18. Check back soon for the latest ranting and ravings!

Sunday, September 03, 2006

The ill-fated reprise of the Gotham Tavern

We had heard the rumors on the blogs: there was movement inside Gotham Tavern. Someone had moved in, intending to open up the place again. We followed the news until we found a post that confirmed it. Gotham was re-opening with a new owner, but under the same name. September 1st. We were there.Turns out, we were wrong. They’ve already been open three weeks. A soft opening, according to what could only serve as a disclaimer on their menu. The grand opening is slated to happen later in the month. In the meantime they’re “working on and expanding [their] menu daily.” Caveats acknowledged, we dove in.

Right now, yes the menu is limited. Really limited. And the drink list, well, that’s non-existent. There’s a full bar, two or three crap beers and a couple of good ones (Pelican Pale Ale, of which noneifbysea got a pint), and a spotty wine selection. Again, no list to refer to, so I had to go with the server’s suggestion. A received a full glass of too-warm, indistinct Pinot Noir. It wasn’t encouraging. There’s a lot of room for improvement here.

Noneifbysea started with the Citrus Salad, a sad mélange of bagged mixed greens, mandarin oranges segments fresh from the can, candied almonds and baffling honey chili vinaigrette. It was a strange showing, and quickly clued us in that, well, we weren’t in Gotham anymore. At least not the Gotham we once knew and loved. It all just screamed “Sysco.” I decided to brave the soup special, or “soup of the moment” according to the menu. Clearly I chose the wrong moment, since I ended up with a cream of mustard greens garnished with lemon crème fraiche. It tastes just as bad as it sounds. Even if they had used fresh ingredients, which I highly doubt, the flavors were just attacking each other, my palate being collateral damage.

Since I had entered into the first course with such bravery, I decided to hedge my bets and go simple with the main. Something safe, like the Rosemary and Garlic marinated chicken skewers. This, sadly seemed like my best bet. I received three pasty-white chicken pieces with tired flecks of herbs. They tasted even worse than some of the worst food I made when I was still teaching myself how to cook in college. Bland and cold, and bordering on underdone. Just awful. Served with thick slices of chalky-white beefsteak tomatoes and mozzarella, drizzled with an inexplicable red wine and balsamic reduction. As noneifbysea astutely observed, “why, in the height of tomato season, would you put these on a plate?” After a skewer and a half, I couldn’t eat anymore.

Noneifbysea went with the Gotham Burger, which, according to our server, the chef “puts a lot of love into.” Hm. NIBS asked the server if the beef was local or organic or anything special, and after checking with the kitchen, he revealed that, no, it’s just regular beef. Well, the regular beef came out on a regular sesame seed bun with three limp little pieces of bacon huddling on top. It was juicy, there was that, but the only flavor was coming from the herb aioli slathered on the bun. It wasn’t terrible, but this wasn’t a burger in the running for Portland’s best. It’s the kind of thing you might pay $5 for at a bar. A dive bar.

We were kind of relieved to know that they didn’t have any desserts to choose from. I don’t know if we could have stomached another course. In fact, before the check came, we started making plans as to where we were going to eat after we left.

While we were there, in the space that looked exactly the same as it once did, except for a new mural and cheap folding chairs pushed into the tables, we kept feeling one thing over and over. Sad. Sad that they were serving such horrible food where once it had been so good. It’s the same feeling you get when you drive past your childhood home, and they’ve planted new things that don’t fit or a novelty mailbox that has no business standing in front of your house. It wasn’t right.

We really wonder what kind of place this is going to shape up to be, or what kind of sweeping changes they could make in the next month to make it even a little better. The place looks exactly the same inside, but the food is so different. It’s bar food. Bad bar food in a really, really pretty setting. The food was so bad that it seems almost unfair to compare to the old Gotham. But when someone moves in, leaves the name and all the interior design intact, down to the throw pillows in the booths, it more than invites comparison, it begs it. Sadly, food-wise, there is nothing the same. Gotham, as it stands now, is truly an empty shell of what it once was.
  • food: bad ingredients means bad food. a shame.
  • drink: too early to say. early signs, not great.
  • atmosphere: there's none yet. no one knows it's open. looks like the old gotham.
  • strikes: food. drinks. atmosphere.
  • tally: too bad points aren't given for bravery. A mark on the negative side for Noneifbysea.

Half and Half

lavendersoda and I pop into Half and Half for lunch (see, the new Chinook Book has a coupon for buy one sandwhich, got one free, sort of a half price at Half and Half deal...). I hadn't been before, which surprised lavendersoda. She knows I love deviled eggs, and they've got 'em. She's right, afterall: how had I missed this little gem just of W Burnside and 10th?We walk in, and the Misfits are blaring from the stereo "I ain't no goddamn son of a bitch!" We order up 2 'Walters,' black forest ham, swiss, red onions, pickles, mustard and mayo on a mix of white and wheat. We also order (and I still can't quite believe we did this) 4 deviled eggs. A large bottle of Lurisia bubbly water completes our meal.

  • Food-Good and wholesome, although a little limited. Also, simple, fast, and well priced (even before our half off coupon).
  • Drink-Good selection of non-alc beverages, fizzy water, hip sodas, beer is more limited, all I saw was Miller High Life.
  • Atmosphere-Portlad to a T. Funky, antlers on the wall, painted concrete floor, and the above mentioned Misfits on the stereo.
  • Strikes-None.
  • Tally-Another point in the 'good' column for lavendersoda.

The most 'Portland' morning in quite some time...

Albina Press

lavendersoda and I get up on Sunday, in desparate need of coffee. We hop onto our bikes and pedal our tired asses over to the Albina Press.
We'd been many times before, and loved it evry time. They don't know our order by heart quite yet, but that can't be too far away. lavendersoda always gets a soy latte. I always get their tasty french press coffee (Stumptown beans, of course). This morning, we also get a bagel each, lavendersoda gets the sesame seed bagel while I get the asiago with herb. We both get them toasted with butter. Lovely. As we eat and drink, a nice litttle black cat saunters by.

To be honest, this visit to Albina was one of our worst. Service was a little rough. Not a big deal at a coffee shop, but they are usually so nice. Today they seemed hurried and slightly condscending. Also, lavendersoda's latte wasn't as good as usual. I want to emphasize that they are usually excellent, and that on this "off" morning, they were still pretty damn good. This one bad experience will not keep us away.

We get back on our bikes and pedal across town to lavendersoda's place.

All in all a very 'Portland' morning. Need proof? Consider the evidence:
  • Stumptown coffee
  • Great coffee shop
  • The oh-so-hip Mississippi neighborhood
  • The cat in the restaurant
  • Biking to and fro

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Brunch at the Bird - Le Pigeon pt 2

After a stunning dinner at Le Pigeon on Friday night, lavendersoda and I headed back to bird for brunch on Sunday. Yeah, it was that good. We are slaves to the food.

This time, there were 5 people in attendance. We want to spread the good word, you know? We get a table near the back. lavendersoda and I meet the third in our party at 11:30 sharp. We have a reservation, but there is a little confusion what name it's under. No concern, there is a table ready and waiting. We get a large French press pot of dark, decadent Stumptown coffee and a couple of porto branco coolees (a house cocktail of Kopke white Port and San Pellegrino's Limonata, lavendersoda thought this tasted just like Lillet blanc) while we wait for the rest of our party... who show up not much later. We also get a 375 ml bottle of Moscato d'Asti for the table: a nice little breakfast treat.

lavendersoda and I checked out the brunch menu on that morning so we'd know what to expect (it left us salivating all morning). We both wanted the same thing, the breakfast sandwich (two eggs, bacon & cheddar, lavendersoda's with a salad, mine with potatoes). I'd been a big fan of the breakfast sandwich at Gotham, and this one didn't disappoint. Instead of Gotham's onion roll, this sandwich was on toasted bread, which I really liked. The eggs were a little overdone for my taste (I like the yellows a little runnier that they were), and a piece or two of the bacon could have been crisper, but the flavors were amazing. lavendersoda found the sandwich quite nice, she liked how the cheese melted on the bread, kind of like grilled cheese with egg and bacon (although she too wished for a bit crisper pork).

Guest #3 had the roque ranchero (a flour tortilla topped with refried beans, salsa roja, avocado, cheddar cheese and poached eggs). The felt if was good, but not great, and could have been recreated at home with little effort or imagination. I thought it looked great, personally.

Guest #4 had the Belgian waffle with berries. Again, the feeling was that it was good, but could have been crafted at home with no problems. I have to give a props for a syrup pitcher I saw at another table. It was a little white porcelain elephant. The syrup drizzled from it's trunk. Darling.

Guest #5 had a plate of potatoes. Same as were on the side of my sandwich. They were good but not great (nowhere near the delectable quality of the duck fat potatoes from Friday night). The plate was picked and prodded at, but not devoured, as the other dishes were. Potatoes are a side dish for a reason, I suppose.

On our way out, we stopped at the chef's counter to thank Gabriel for another fine meal. He was very nice and gracious. Since a) we both thought the bacon was of amazing quality (although we did wish it was a bit crisper) and b) good bacon is (for some reason) hard to find in this town, we ask about his source. He cures and smokes his own pork belly, of course. No wonder it was so amazing. He seemed really proud of it, too (as he should be). He showed it off to us like a proud parent.

As lavendersoda mention in her dinner write up, the service wasn't as seamless at breakfast as it was on Friday night. But it wasn't terrible either...
  • Food - good, but not as amazing as dinner
  • Drinks - a fun breakfast cocktail, good Stumptown coffee... I say thumbs up (although a good bloody mary would have been nice too)
  • Atmosphere - Still nice, even in the harsh morning sun
  • Strikes - Riedel 'O' stems for Moscato, and the slight hiccups in service (and a 1/2 strike for some slightly limp bacon)
  • Tally - still thumbs up, already scored for me!

Monday, August 28, 2006

How we are (no longer) hungry. Le Pigeon.

Fear not, burgeoning readership, we haven’t been going foodless this week. We’ve been spending a lot of time cooking and taking advantage of the bounty of local produce as best we can (with sometimes disastrous results, but that’s another story). Friday night, we went out to what just might be our new favorite restaurant in town. It was so good, in fact, that we hit it up again Sunday for brunch.

Le Pigeon, we just might be in love with you.

Le Pigeon is nestled along a stretch of East Burnside once reserved exclusively for strip clubs and homeless encampments. Though both still take up some real estate, a short stretch of blocks starting at the Doug Fir and extending west is turning into a nice little place to walk around.

The restaurant itself strikes an awesome balance between being really warm, but still on the edge of cool. Big wood tables seemingly rescued from some Reedie’s dining room, matched with real silver flatware and your grandmother’s dishes bring a great sense of comfort, while the tattooed coolies at the bar and a proud display of Miller High Life show you how much this is could turn into a hipster haven.

The food is good. Really good. On Friday, we were three again. To start, green salads perfectly dressed with buttermilk dressing, tomatoes and avocado. Crisp and light, everything a salad should be. Also, with due reverence to our foodie brethren in Chicago, a thick sliver-dollar slice of Fois Gras served with grilled challah and peach compote. I was skeptical about the eggy challah competing with the rich fois, but the puffy texture set it off just right. I couldn’t bear to bury the flavor of the fois with the peach compote, so I savored it all on its own. And sadly, no convincing could get noneifbysea to take a bite of the livery goodness. He has no idea what he’s missing.

NIBS got The Burger, a thick patty of Strawberry Mountain beef topped with grafton chedder, grilled and pickled onions and tangy iceberg slaw on a ciabatta bun. And on the side, for a little extra he just had to have some of the duck fat potatoes. DUCK FAT POTATOES. The burger gods were smiling, and Portland officially has a new contender stepping into the ring for best burger.

Also on the table, the Strawberry Mountain flat iron steak served on a tumble of spinach sautéed with currents and Le Pigeon’s own house-made bacon. Steak was a little cold, but tasted great. Oh, and bleu cheese fried butter. And duck fat potatoes. This chef knows his way around fat, believe you me. Our third ordered the namesake Squab with, you guessed it, duck fat potatoes and marrow crostini. Just stop it already.

So far, so amazing. But then, there was dessert. There really isn’t a point in describing each one in detail. They were all flawless, so I’ll let their menu descriptions speak for themselves:

Apricot cornbread with Maple ice cream and bacon.
Dark chocolate sea-salt tart with mint pesto.
Grilled peach with goat cheese ice cream.

These are the best and most inventive desserts I’ve ever had. Anywhere. Ever. There, said it. Amazing, brilliant even.

And if that wasn’t enough, there’s one more thing to add to the list of Le Pigeon’s good deeds: the service. For me, servers are either invisible or totally irritating. It’s really rare to come across someone who puts a face and a personality to the restaurant, and on Friday night, the service we had did just that. For a minute, I wondered if someone in our party knew our server from before. He was just that warm and personable. (On Sunday, when our service wasn’t as stellar, I turned to noneifbysea to whisper, “I miss Brian.”)

It’s great. Simply great. The only only only thing we’d want to change is to switch out the insipid stemless glassware they’re using for white wines. There’s little in life we curse more than the designer of the Riedel “O” glasses.

Everyone seems to fit in there. It’s fantastically comfortable, whether you’re grabbing a burger before a show down the street or showing off the best of Portland food to your parents visiting from out of town. It’s really that good. Le Pigeon, we’re fans.
  • Food: Fantastic, inventive, perfectly executed, really exciting.
  • Drinks: Winelist, per NIBS "short but interesting, worldly- france, italy spain." Seems the French name of the place threw him off.
  • Atmosphere: Comfortable and warm, friendly, but with a cool vibe. Exclusive to no one.
  • Strikes: stemless glassware. that's it.
  • Tally: NIBS is claiming it, and I'm not sure why he gets to. I swear I brought it up first. n

Monday, August 21, 2006

Breakfast at Beaterville

After a nice Saturday morning bike ride, we were hungry. Along the way home we had tossed around grand ideas of cooking farm-fresh eggs, herb-roasted potatoes and diligently brewed coffee. But by the time we got in the door, sweating, the idea of turning on the oven for 45 minutes and waiting for all the elements to come together didn’t seem like a good time. So, we headed out to breakfast.

Noneifbysea had heard really good, though potentially unreliable things about the Beaterville Cafe. There might have been a mention of “best breakfast in Portland.” Neither of us are really up on the Portland breakfast joint scene to question if this was a gross overstatement or not. Hungry and adventurous, we headed out.

For a Saturday morning around 11:30, we were really glad to find there wasn’t a wait for a two-top. “Sit anywhere,” a waitress said, pushing two menus in our hands as she walked by. We wandered around to the three different rooms, nearly taking a tiny back table, then an oversized booth, ending up at a nice yellow formica kitchen table that was, well, just right.

Noneifbysea ordered up some coffee. A small orange juice for me. The juice was great, freshly squeezed, perfectly refreshing. Noneifbysea flagged down the waitress for some cream, and before he could call her over again, I handed him my spoon since he was without silver. I could see him mentally tallying ‘strikes’ as he’s often wont to do. The coffee was strong. Really strong. Like spoon standing up in the coffee chili-style commercial strong. NIBS wasn’t complaining.

Food-wise, I was feeling eggy. I opted for the De Soto omelet, as a scramble, minus tomatoes. Chedder, spinach, b-b-b-bacon. Biscuit on the side and well-done potatoes. Those calories I had worked off on the bike ride were going to be coming back to me in style! Noneifbysea went for a classic combo of an egg over medium, one pancake and a slice of bacon. Oh, and on the side? A biscuit with sausage gravy.

Omelet was really good, probably because I was so damn hungry. I wished the potatoes were a little more done, but it really wasn’t worth noting. I liked my biscuit, but having grown up in California, I readily admit that I don’t know much about biscuits. Noneifbysea wasn’t blown away by his. I’ll venture a guess that he wouldn’t order it again.

So, food was solid. Good. Breakfast food. Kinda hard to screw up. I had no complaints, and believe you me, I’m always looking to complain. The only thing that might give me pause is the service. We had to ask for a few more things (syrup, silver), but all in all, it was fine. It came to just $22 with tip. Pretty solid, and sure, all things equal, I think I could see us heading back.

All in all
  • Food: good breakfast food. We’ll be back (unless cup and saucer opens up first)
  • Drink: fresh-squeezed juice and strong coffee. NIBS had hopes of a Bloody Mary, but, alas, no liquor
  • Atmosphere: Total Portland kitch, what with all the old car references and NoPo hipsters packed in every booth. What people imagine when they think of PDX breakfast places.
  • Strikes: half a strike for service
  • Tally: noneifbysea gets to claim it. Another good for him

Bluehour in conflict

Bluehour Happy Hour

It was a spur-of-the-moment decision, one brought on by a tough Friday morning at work. The kind of day that makes you start thinking about happy hour at 11 a.m. So, an email was sent to rally the troops- meet at bluehour at 1700 hours. We will partake in the drink specials and the affordable and consistently good happy hour foods. Friday was going to be redeemed.

But something happened on the way to happy hour. A little thing called lunch. Lunch at Henry’s 12th Street Tavern, where quite a few of our trusty soldiers, despite careful ordering, were to be crippled with stomachaches to last well into the afternoon. One by one, those enlisted went AWOL. The idea of indulging in more food, no matter how fantastic or reasonably priced, was simply unappealing.

In the end, just noneifbysea and I sat down to an outside table. I’m not a stranger to the bluehour happy hour. Once in awhile, I just crave the margherita pizza. $5 for a thin crust pizza painted with a sweet, tangy sauce, comforted by just enough cheese, sliced tomatoes, buttery whole roasted garlic cloves and fresh basil. It’s a gem, really. And often I find their daily special cocktails perfectly anticipate exactly how I’m feeling on any given day. It’s good stuff.

But on Friday, I wasn’t feeling it. Henry’s swiss and mushroom burger had done a number on me, and more cheese wasn’t in the picture. I ordered the Caesar salad. $6 for a dozen well-dressed leaves of romaine with a rough crackle of pepper and satisfyingly crunchy croutons. I was content. I ordered the special drink (name escapes me)- citrus vodka with strawberry, lime and kiwi. It was like an adult Snapple. Pretty damn tart, but still good.

Noneifbysea, however, didn’t fare so well. He ordered Kenny’s fries, a hefty and shiny pile of greasy potato badness. A terrible showing. Also, the Butcher Board left NIBS wanting more. Literally. A few paper-thin slices of prosciutto, coppa and speck laid out on a wooden board, punctuated with a round milky sphere of house-made mozzarella, for NIBS didn’t warrant the $5 bluehour was asking. Also, there was an assortment of olives that NIBS characteristically ignored. I’ve ordered the Butcher’s Board before and been pretty happy with it. A little bread and butter to go along, and I’m all set. A nice $5 snack.

To drink, noneifbysea went with the “best drink,” a mix of vodka, ginger syrup and ginger ale. I think. A little too sweet. Probably the syrup.

So, bluehour happy hour is a place in contention. I was happy, and I’ll go back. Even thinking about that pizza makes me want to send out another group email to meet me down there for crispy, cheesy goodness. And though yes, that evening wasn’t the best food I’ve had there, I know the potential it holds. For noneifbysea, not so much. Too much money spent for too little. The tally for this one is split, but this is one place we will be revisiting, for certain.

All in all:
  • Food: I know the food is good. It is. We're going to get that pizza, and I'll show you.
  • Drinks: Cocktails good. Happy hour deals really good.
  • Atmosphere: It is what it is. Pearl district in all its glory. I don't mind it. Reminds me of L.A.
  • Strikes: Oh, NIBS'll argue that everything was strike-worthy. Hence "in conflict"
  • Tally: We're split on this one. There will be a rematch.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Pasta at Home

Pasta night, here we go again.

Remember out last entry? That same friend who planted too many tomatoes gave us another basket full. Heirloom orange, yellow pear, plain red, etc. This time, we won't let them go bad. We're going to try that some recipe from the October 2006 issue of Cooks Illustrated 'Fresh Tomato Sauce with Rosemary and Bacon.' BTW, we love bacon!

We make a few changes to the recipe (we don't seed or skin the tomatoes), and we added cipollini onion and basil. Here's what to do:

Chop roughly 3 pounds of tomatoes down (see photo below). It wanted us to seed and peel, but neither lavendersoda or I are too concerned, so I don't. Set aside.

Fry up 4 slices of bacon (we get ours at Viande at City Market, the applewood-smoked rather than the pepper), cut into 1/2 inch strips. Fry and dry on paper towel. Leave roughly 2T of bacon grease in pan.

Add garlic (2 medium cloves), onion (1 medium cipollini), and crushed red pepper (3/4 teaspoon). Saute a little. Add rosemary (1/2 teaspoon, minced) a bit later. Saute some more. Add basil (2 tablespoons minced) when onion and garlic are almost translucent, nearing brown round the edges. Shortly thereafter, add tomatoes. Simmer down for about 30 min (or until the tomatoes stop looking like tomatoes and begin looking like sauce). Add bacon and stir to incorporate.

Meanwhile, boil water and make a pound in penne. As there are just two of us, we make a half pound of pasta and keep half of the sauce for later, but I digress.

We had some greens too. Before we added the pasta to the water, lavendersoda quickly blanched some green beans. We find that a quick blanch (for beans, "exactly one minute," says lavendersoda) in heavily salted water really adds flavor and fixes the color. A bit later, in an omelet pan, we melted some homemade butter, sauted a chopped shallot in it, added spinach, and cooked it until just wilted. Then, in the same pan with residual butter, we quickly warmed the blanched green beans before serving.

And you gotta have bread, right? We got a ginormous ciabatta loaf from Ken's on NW 21st (a steal at $3.50). I mean, it was the size of a hubcap (but thicker and tastier). We made some homemade butter to go along with it.

Everything was served with a little red wine (2003 Coupe Roses Minervois "Bastide") and coarse French gray salt.

For dessert, we had cannoil from City Market. Did you know they make them to order? A thick crusty shell filled with a ricotta/marscapone blend punctuated with chocolate chunks. Sprinkled with chopped pistachio and dusted with powdered sugar (and consumed while watching Colbert on DVR).

All in all a lovely meal.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Wednesday night dinner

We’ve been spending a good deal of time and money at fine dining establishments lately, and (as evident by our Balvo experience), been coming up short both in terms of food quality and in balancing the ol’ checkbook. So, in order to support our eating habits, we’re making a concerted effort to cook more at home. Because, god damn, we can cook! And besides, there’s too much good produce going to waste in our respective fridges. This can’t go on.

Wednesday night we decided to finally make good on our pledge. We had a whole host of assorted tomatoes from a neighbor’s garden, and set to work making a quick pasta sauce involving bacon and rosemary (taken from this month’s Cook’s Illustrated). Lavendersoda, having brought home the (thick-cut, applewood-smoked) bacon (from Viande), cut it into ½” strips and fired up the sauté pan. At the same time, noneifbysea began the process of sorting, peeling, coring and seeding the tomatoes. Just a scant two tomatoes in before we realized there was a problem. We weren’t going to have enough, and really, they just weren’t good.

So, lavandersoda, with bacon cooking in the pan and pasta water nearing a boil, acted quickly and smartly. Carbonara! A moderately skeptical Noneifbysea was sent to the market for parmeasan (how there was none in the fridge, I’ll never know), and soda added some white wine to the bacon and let it simmer out for a few minutes. In the meantime, two eggs were beaten with two cloves of market-fresh purple garlic and the pasta cooked. Once NIBS returned, the cheese was grated and beaten in, the pasta drained and returned to the pot, the egg mixture quickly stirred in. Toss in the bacon (with fat and reduced wine) and serve!!

While the pasta frenzy was in full effect, noneifbysea raided the fridge and pantry for some salad dressing making materials. A little Dijon, some FINI balsamic, olive oil and we were nearly there. Lavendersoda drizzled in a little walnut oil and we were ready to go. Organic red-leaf lettuce was never so happily dressed.

The final menu:
Fettucinne carbonara
Simple green salad
Baguette with goat cheese
Bordeaux (details to come)

We went low-key for dessert. Noneifbysea broke into a bag of Trader Joe’s Gingeroos! he picked up on the parmesean run. Lavendersoda savored her favorite chocolate treat- Scharffenberger Nibby Bar.

All in all, food was good! Damn good! Needless to say, lavendersoda was pretty proud of herself, what with the quick thinking and skillful steering of a meal once headed on a course for disaster (or at least to the pizza place up the street). And, as noneifbysea pointed out, this simple meal made our Balvo experience that much more offensive, that we could do something this good ourselves for 1/40th of the price. It should be a lesson.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Caffe Mingo and Balvo

Alphabet District Pasta Houses: A Study in Contrasts

lavendersoda and I read the pdx food boards and blogs. A lot. It's no secret what the food consignetti around town think of these two establishments. One happens to be lavendersoda's favorite neighborhood eatery. The other we agree to try with more than a little trepidation. So, um, yeah, we go in a little biased and prejudicial (but hey, who doesn't, right?).

Meal 1 - Caffe Mingo
(Did you know that Mingo is Latin slang for piss?)

Tonight, we are 3.

We order a bottle of white wine to begin the meal. The exact wine escapes me, but I believe it was a Soave (The list showed 2004, the actual wine was 2005. Slight difference, but I think the wine was a little weighty and full, showing the heat of the 2005 vintage when all I wanted was the crispness of the cooler 2004).

A few salads to start? Sure, sounds great. A Caesar for lavendersoda, and an insalata mista for me. We also grab a plate of prosciutto and melon for the table to split. If memory serves, the Caesar was great, the insalata greens were slightly tired, but not enough to make it unpalatable. The melon was lovely and prosciutto was spot on.

lavendersoda and I, both having had late and large lunches, split the penne al sugo de carne, a sinful melange of painted hills beef, braised with Chianti and espresso over perfectly cooked penne. Really, this dish was quite a treat. Flavors were bold and savory but well integrated and never out of control. Top notch. (lavendersoda wants me to throw in a special shout-out to the penne, she says "It's the only dish in town I crave, that I feel passionately must be on the table whenever someone goes to Mingo".)

The third guest in our party got the special (the name escapes me now), a baked penne with dungeness crab. As you might be able to tell from my 'handle,' I'm not a fish guy, but the bite I had (sans crab) was pretty darned tasty.

We had a bottle of red with the main course, and again, the exact wine escaped me (Renato Ratti Nebbiolo, I believe). We got an ice bucket for the white, which was served a little too warm, and kept it for the red, which was also served a little too warm. No matter, with a quick dip in the ice bath, both tasted just fine.

"Do we get dessert? " A few items look appealing, but everyone is feeling a little full. "Maybe one dessert?" "Sure. If you're getting one, I'll get one too. " Etc etc. We each end up getting an after dinner sugar fix. lavendersoda = chocolate mousse with blackberries (not very mousse like, but tasty, nonetheless). me = summer berry crumble (huge, warm, satisfying). 3rd party = panna cotta with blackberries (looks great, not sure why I didn't try it).

All in all:
  • Food: simply fantastic.
  • Drink: wine list VERY heavy on Italian (to be expected) but wasn't served at a proper temperature
  • Atmosphere: comfy. We sat outside on a lovely summer evening, a light breeze blowing by.
  • Strikes: slightly tired greens in the salad
  • Tally: another win for lavendersoda

Meal 2 - Balvo
(The orange ball decendeth... or 'The Lime is Still on the Table.')

Tonight, we are 4.

As I mentioned above, after reading review after review, post after post, and comment after comment, lavendersoda and I went into Balvo, slightly biased, yet optimistically hopeful. (A side note: honestly, we had hoped to hit Mingo again tonight, showing our out of town friends some of the best food Portland has to offer, but there were closed for a winemaker's dinner. We agreed to stay in NW, and pasta did sound good. That's how we ended up with Balvo.)

Round One, Apps and Salads:

Before I get ahead of myself, we are offered still or fizzy water. We order up some fizzy. Pre-bottle, 4 lime wedges appeared, presented on a paper napkin! WTF?!? (Strike one, my friend...) The bottle is brought and poured a minute or two later.

We agree to get an antipasti plate for the table to split. This is actually one of the best parts of our meal: good pickled fennel, grilled zucchini, and olive. The cheeses, however, left much to be desired.

Our two dining guests each get Caesar salads (the salad seems to lack the hint of anchovy and crisp lemon nuance that, for me, makes a Caesar a Caesar. Instead, it seems to have an odd mustard taste. Mustard in a typical vinaigrette, no problem, but I don't think it has a place in a Caesar). lavendersoda, instead of a salad, gets the veal carpaccio. It shows up topped with leafy greens and an olive tapenade where the lemon juice should be. Odd, but not entirely unpleasant. I wind up with an arugula and shaved fennel salad. A little wilty and overly dressed, but passable. As we finish the first course, it's not hard to notice that the napkin, with one lonely lime wedge is still in the middle of the table, even as everything else has been cleared.

Round two, main courses:

(A brief pause for another side note: we had to ask our server if there were any specials. His answer? "Everything is special," enunciated with way too much sparkle and panache.)

Two of us get lemon tagliolini. Tagliolini is a little like fettuccine, but a little thinner. Lemon is a citrus fruit that did not (at least to my palette) make an appearance in this dish. I haven't had a blander plate of pasta in quite some time. I tried salt, a little oil, whatever I could find on the table to spice it up, but to no avail. It reminded me of the people in college who would make spaghetti and add butter and a little salt to it. Boring. Our only thought was that they may have been out of lemons (what with the lack of lemon juice in the Caesar and carpaccio too), but at that point, 86 the dish, you know? Strike 2.

Dish three was pan-roasted salmon with a sweet corn, red pepper, and olive "sauce." Sounded OK, but nothing jived. To me, the olives just didn't belong there. The entire melange was very southwestern. And not southwestern Italy, if you get my drift. The fish itself, I can't report on.

Finally, the only decent main course ordered was
Nonna Giambalvo's meat pasta. Although a little salty, it actually had flavor and presence. It's really too bad that Kenny's nonna didn't create all of our dishes.

And, the lime remains. I figure after two table clearing sessions, this would have been picked up. Try to relax, try to ignore it.

We got 2 desserts to split.

The first was peach sorbet with some sort of red fruit compote on top. Actually tasty, although lavendersoda didn't care for it too much.

The second was a chocolate hazelnut torte. Very dry and all chocolate, no hazelnut flavor (or actual nuts either, for that matter).

The coffee was simply terrible. Stumptown should be ashamed to have their fine name associated with this. Terrible. It was, at once, watery and overextracted. How is that even possible? Strike 3.

So, they must grab the lime this time, right? No, still there. Come on!

We had 3 different wines, 2 reds and a white. They were either a)too young and tannic, b)boring, c)served at the wrong temperate, or d)all of the above. a) can't be helped, but b)could be solved by buying better wine and c) could be solved by better storage. Also, at some point, we get shiftily talked into a larger carafe than we had actually wanted. I guess that's their job, but...

Another observation, there were huge hiccups with the service (lavendersoda is nice when she says that his timing was off, a complete understatement, in my mind):
  • We asked our server for a bit more time with the menu, and he decided to return at the exact moment when a member of our party was away from the table (and them seemed exasperated that we were having a tough time ordering for our friend). Who does this?!?
  • After ordering and not writing anything down, our server had to return to confirm several items. Either write it down, or work on your memory...
  • We were asked if we wanted boxes to take food away while our friend was still actively taking a bit of his food. I mean, he was literally pulling the for out of his/her mouth as the server asked this question. WTF?!?
  • VERY off timing: inconsistent clearing of some plates while others sat and sat, serving 2 of 3 coffees immediately and the third (an espresso drink when the others were plain coffee, which is no excuse) nearly 5 minutes later, etc.
  • Repeatedly ignored (or simply forgotten) requests for a tea bag.
  • Some off comment about a female picking up the bill (I personally didn't hear this, but several in our party did).
  • Saying 'Thanks, kids!" as we left the restaurant.
Strikes 4, 5, etc, etc. I'm beginning to lose count.

Mercifully, the meal is over. The check arrives, and honestly, I'm a little surprised how much of a tally we've racked up. Wow. You'd think for that kind of money, they could clear a napkin and squished lime off a table! As we left the restaurant, the napkin and lime were still there.

All in all:
  • Food: Passable to mediocre.
  • Drink: wine list VERY heavy on Italian (to be expected) but poorly chosen and stored, cocktail list was better.
  • Atmosphere: modern, slightly cold. Orange B's everywhere, on the carafe, on the windows, on the olive oil... come on, is all this really necessary? Although if you like squished lime on a paper napkin on your table during the whole damn meal, this might be a place for you.
  • Strikes: too many to count. See any part of the above review for one or more.
  • Tally: lavendersoda picked this place, even thought I tried to dissuade her. A big negative for lavendersoda.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Le Bistro Montage

For reals.

Everything seemed somehow backwards. It started with lunch. What should have been the best pastrami sandwich to be found in the city on a Saturday turned out to be pretty damn disappointing. The details are irrelevant, really, but with expectations that had been set (justifiably) high and then so quickly dashed, we ended up leaving the restaurant unsettled.

Something was off, down was up and vice versa. Our best instincts seemed misguided, so instead of fighting the changing tide, we went with it. Which is why at 9:00 on a Saturday night, we chose to go to what should be the worst meal possible for dinner.

We went to Montage.

Our experiences with Montage had been parallel, though off-set by a few years. For both of us, it had been a place to go when you wanted to go out and have a pretty good meal, probably the best you could get on a student/struggling budget. It was a go-to nice night out. Linen napkins, rock-star atmosphere, and enough food to take with you to live on for a couple more meals. But as salaries and tastes mature, so Montage loses its luster. What once was passable becomes unpalatable and it isn’t worth the wait, the noise, or the surly service. Neither of us had been in years.

While waiting for a table behind a gaggle of high-school kids, we took a look at the new Le Merde lounge. It actually looks like a cool place. Industrial chic with a drop-tin ceiling over the bar and a huge, blown up ‘no minors’ sign on the wall serving as art with a definite purpose. Keep the damn kids out. Drink menu looks good, and their site reveals a bar menu we didn’t see, with new, Southern-leaning bites like gator rolls, deep fried pickles and crawfish or corn cakes with a chili-lime aioli. For $5.95 for a ‘4 item bento,’ we’ll be back. Probably on Thursdays for trivia night.

So, right. Dinner. It started off not-so-hot. Bread and butter that weren’t too good, but, well did the job. It staved off burgeoning hunger pangs, but was nothing to write home about. So we won’t. Also, it’s very possible we’ve been spoiled by the great-bread trend sweeping this city. So when a loaf comes by that’s dry, sour and only made edible by copious amounts of butter, we start getting all snobby about it.

To drink? lavendersoda took on a glass of the Joseph Drouhin LaForet Pinot Noir ’03 while noneifbysea wussed out with the safe bet of a Rainer. Wouldn’t even pour it in a glass. The wine was fine (but to all you oeniphiles out there, I assure you it wasn’t up to noneifbysea’s taste. When he doesn’t venture to even offer one adjective, it’s probably crap). A little warm, sure but good to go with dinner.

On to the main course. We both went with old stand-bys: Tomato basil pesto mac and green basil pesto mac with chicken. A side of cornbread to share. With the first bite of the pesto mac, I dropped my hand that was instinctively reaching for the salt shaker. It was good! I mean, not really, amazingly good, but still good. Satisfying and creamy, good basil flavor. The chicken was tender and nearly plentiful, the pasta a tad over-cooked, but I had expected so much worse. The tomato-basil pesto mac had a good strong tomato flavor (the used of a sun-dried tomato paste was strongly suspected), but solidly tasty. The only glaring problem was that both dishes were blanketed with a cheap, gritty parmesan that stuck in your teeth but was easily pushed to the side of the plate. Here, in these two dishes, Montage had become what we always believed it had been: a cool place to go for inexpensive food that’s tasty and satisfying and ultimately makes for a nice night out.

While our generous leftovers were being furled into tin-foil sculptures (two intertwining tulips which I soon fashioned into scorpions) we considered pushing our luck into a dessert course. Good thing we did. The Mississippi Mud Pie, a Montage standard, was awesome. Dark cookie crust, chocolate ice cream and a whole mess of whipped cream and chocolate syrup. Fuck yeah!

Dinner started as it began- on a slightly down note. Like the crappy bread brought to us, the coffee was undrinkable. Burnt, over-extracted. And again, it just might be the proliferation of damn good coffee around town that’s upped the ante a bit. But really, to be able to walk out of Montage and the only complaints are about the coffee and bread? Who would have thought?

All in all:
  • Food: pretty good. Really.
  • Drink: one hell of a wine list, a bar that boasts fresh-squeezed juices, and a trio of hipster beers.
  • Atmosphere: Loud as ever. And if you’re over 25, you’re bound to feel old. Deal with it.
  • Strikes: crappy bread, worse coffee.
  • Tally: add one to the good list for lavendarsoda