Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Great Restaurant Experiment

Dating can be daunting. Uncertain. Uncomfortable. Incompatible. Awkward.

But it can also be awesome. Ossom. Ossum.

Over the past month Heather and I have spent a good amount of time at various restaurants and watering holes around town. I’ve tried to couple this with my goal to visit new restaurants regularly. It seems to be working well. Heather’s also vegetarian so it’s required me to re-think food and cooking and recipes which has quite a bit of merit. Here are the places we’ve visited and what we thought of each of them. Heather’s input is in blue.

Bye And Bye (new to me)

This bar/restaurant is nestled up off of NE 10th and Alberta. It’s apparently a vegan restaurant although we did not sample the food. There’s a nice back patio, roomy airy interior with a few nooks and spaces plus a painting of Evel Knievel on the wall. A nice selection of beers, I had Amnesia Brewing’s Red, if memory serves. The clientele is your usual bar crowd of mostly hipster doofuses and proud lesbians, but the vibe was very relaxed and casual. I liked this place a lot. I'm a big fan of the Bye and Bye - and not just because it's three blocks from my house. Even though there are hipsters galore, it has a nice mellow feel with really great staff. The vegan food can be a turn-off for some of my non-veggie friends, but I find it quite tasty- particularly the veggie 'meatball' sub. Next time I'm trying the vegan white russian...


I’ve been wanting to try Trebol for several months. It bills itself as sustainable NW Mexican food which is my kind of unique. We shared tortillas and guacamole. The guac was mild but very fresh and the small tortillas were very tasty. I had the fish tostadas. They were good but did not knock my socks off. I also had a mango margarita (late happy hour, $4). Remind me to stay away from house specialty drinks as it was just too sweet for my tastes. Overall this is a place I liked and will probably love once I find the dish or two that really speak to me. Very crisp environment inside; dark enough for intimate conversation but not the heavy darkness that makes you suffocate. They had surfing on the bar TV which Heather enjoyed. Paddle. Paddle. Paddle. It's true, I loved that they had surfing looping on the bar TV.Trebol's late night happy hour was a plus, I had an excellent (although petite) house margarita. I honestly can't remember what I ate (some type of enchilada with squash?? it was tasty, whatever it was. this is why i am not a good food/restaurant critic) And they had a wide range of unique veggie options.

The Pelican Brewery (not new)

It’s hard to resist the Pelican when you visit Pacific City. Great beers. A fantastic setting. Good food. It is way overpriced, but sometimes you just don’t care about that. It was our waiter’s second day and he did a good job for being a noob. But the next time I’m in Pacific City we’ll hit The Sportsman which is where the locals congregate. I have to order onion rings if they are on a menu. Have to. The onion rings were good but not great, certainly not $10.95 great. My turkey sandwich was fantastic. LOVE the view and the beer, but the food - especially for veggies - is not the greatest. But really, who cares when you are in such an absolutely beautiful location. It was a little chilly to sit outside on the deck - which is really the ideal spot at the Pelican.

Vendetta (not new)

I consider this my local. But it’s not a pub in the traditional sense. Very similar to the Bye And Bye. Hipster Doofuses abound. There is a definite Portland vibe to it that I enjoy. The food is marginal and they took mac and cheese off the menu, which is bizarre as it was the best dish available. Service here sucks – the staff are great, but they funnel all of the orders through a single line at the bar and it bottlenecks badly. I wish they’d change that. Back patio is awesome on a hot night. Great, diverse music through their sound system, shuffleboard, no TVs, tons of interesting art on the walls. This is a place to hang out and it serves that purpose well. I'm still sad they ditched the mac and cheese, but I had a rather tasty "Sloppy Jane" sandwich. They just need to finish up that patio bar so the service isn't so painfully slow...and beware of those picnic tables! They are very uneven and can cause even the most sober of people to spill their full beer (not that i'm speaking from experience).

Lovely Hula Hands (new to me)

Dave of DaveKnowsPortland swears by this restaurant so I was happy to finally visit it. It’s a cozy, small interior with a patio that is just now opening for the season. There is often a wait for a table but we were seated quickly. Super friendly staff who seem to really enjoy and believe in what they do. They rotate the menu regularly so there is constant variety. Makers Mark Old Fashioned was perfect. I had the white sausage with greens and mashed potatoes with a smother of coarse ground mustard, a sprinkle of brown sauce and butter. It was ridiculously good. I drank the recommended Chardonnay as if it was water. This place is fantastic. I wish they had a small bar and a late happy hour because I would become a regular in a heartbeat. As it is it’s a perfect date restaurant. Lovely Hula Hands was quite lovely (ha!). I had only eaten there once before - when they were still in the old location. We were hoping the patio would be open but no such luck. But we had a wonderful meal - I started with the Lovely Hula Hoop cocktail and rosemary foccacia. There were only one or two veggie options (which I always say makes life so much easier, none of those tough decisions at restaurants!). I had the penne pasta with asparagus in a creamy mint sauce - absolutely delicious!

East India Company

This is a brand new Indian restaurant on SW 11th Ave behind the Multnomah County Library. Dark woods cover the bar area and the dining area contains plush booths, low lighting and dark tables. The bathrooms are super fancy. The entire place screams that it’s trying to be a high profile joint. They do a daily happy hour from 4-7 so we ordered off of the happy hour menu. Each dish is just $3. The portions ranged from too few (potato cakes) to too many (chicken wings) but most of the dishes were fantastic in their flavor. Flatbread with a spicy dipping sauce. Fried vegetables served with brown sauce and mint. Fishskewers with brown sauce and mint. The lone underwhelming dish were the fish, which were fine but unexceptional. I made the mistake of ordering the Calcutta chili-tini – which was light and crisp but the Serrano pepper and cucumber essences did not hit the spot. Overall this is a great place for happy hour food. We’ll try a meal there soon. I was very impressed with their Happy Hour - in part because they have a Saturday Happy Hour from 4-7, which rocks. And three out of five of the options were veggie, so we just ordered one of everything. I was a happy camper with my mango margarita and tasty veggie treats (my favorite was the fried veggies - aka Indian Tempura).

Gravy (not new)

This is my most convenient breakfast spot. Good food. Huge portions. I am partial to the veggie gravy and biscuits as they make me feel healthy. There is always a wait and service can be a bit inconsistent but it’s got good options for me as I don’t eat eggs in their native forms. In addition to the biscuits I usually get a potato portion – house potatoes or shredded browns - and some bacon. The shredded browns are quite good for basic taters. They cook them in small cast iron skillets which produce a great crisp shell and soft interior. On my endless quest for the best veggie biscuits and gravy in Portland, I'd say Gravy comes in second to Cup and Saucer. I absolutely love breakfast food (eggs eggs eggs) and going out to breakfast, but I get cranky with waiting for 1-2 hours to actually eat. And sadly, most of the great breakfast joints in Portland have ridiculous lines on Saturday and Sunday. Gravy wasn't too bad and at least it was a lovely day to sit outside and soak up the sun while waiting.

So, That's what we've got for you. More new restaurants to try. More reviews to come.
B! & H!


Nanimal said...

I was going to wine that your didn't review Cup and Saucer, but you mentioned it so.... lol.
I'll keep up with these reviews so Chris and I can badger you when we come out in the Fall to visit.

B, Nice to meet-ish you, I am Nan (H's sister in Detroit). I love my sister and drop by here and there to stalk you... in the friendliest way of course :) ,ahem, well mostly. Did I mention I love her. :)

This review was very fun and I enjoyed it!

Dave said...

Excellent reviews!

I especially like Vendetta's Tall Boy Tuesdays during the hot days of summer ($1 pounders of Oly or PBR - drink them fast before they get warm!).

I also think if they advertise they they should use "Hipster Doofuses abound" in their ad copy! ;-)

sunnywave said...

Yum! I want to go check out _lovely hula hands- when i'm in portland again one day!!

Hi B., i'm sunnywave, H's sister in hawaii, another friendly, occasional stalker of the blog. :)

Anonymous said...

Don't get Kari started on the oatmeal brulee at Gravy. To say she loves it would be an understatement. Someone could start a comment "so I'm making the gravy for Thanksgiving last year..." and Kari will jump in with "Did you say Gravy?? Let me tell you all about their oatmeal brulee."

Anyway, I guess that means she'd recommend you try it the next time you're there. Apparently, it's fresh berries on the bottom of the bowl, super hearty oatmeal on top of that, and then a layer of brown sugar on top that, yes, is then torched.

I, however, usually tend to go for the gravy coated everything omelette, because when I go out for breakfast, a simple single bypass surgery is really never enough.