Thursday, April 01, 2010

PDX Quick Bites: eating Portland!

I haven't done a round-up of my latest eating exercises in a long time. Not because the baby is keeping us home, because we've found plenty of opportunity get out while the fat boy sleeps (not counting the hour I spent driving around with him after a meltdown at Red Onion while w stayed and ate with friends. She was kind enough to get me some noodles to go). So with that, here's some quick hits of things I've been loving...and one thing I don't....
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You could get two of the most satisfying lunches and dinners by going through two doors ten feet apart on SE 22nd and Division....
TASTE UNIQUE- I've raved before about the lunches I've had from owner Stefania Toscano's temple of Italian authenticity called Taste Unique. Her hole-in-the-wall house of all things Italian and homemade is really a remarkable place. Saying that, if I didn't love it before then the lunch w and I had there the other day cemented it's place in my food loving soul. The reason: the richest, most heart-stoppingly decadent plate of pasta I have ever had. Stefania's Spaghetti alla Carbonara should come with a coupon for an angioplasty. The plate appeared before me, all yellowy and sending billows of porkily aromatic steam skyward. I mentioned to w that they must have used a ton of egg yolk in the pasta to make it so yellow. Then one bite and I knew; it wasn't the pasta, it's the sauce. Bite after bite of decadence. I make carbonara all the time at home from a recipe from Marcella. It's not this. I don't even know if I could take this on a regular basis. I asked Stefania why hers tasted so wrong but so right. I said when I make it I use two eggs and yet it isn't anything close to what she made. She looks at me and simply says "Oh, you have to use no whites, only yolks." Lesson learned. If you see this on her lunch menu (served Tue-Sat only, 12-2), you have got to sample this bit of cholesterol-laden heaven. Amazing!
Also I have been hearing raves about Stefania's semi-regular, regional Italian dinners. One seating for 10 people, family style. Just $25. The comment I heard back from a couple who went to her Roman dinner was it was outstanding, but they had one complaint: there was too much food. Too much of Stefania's food? Um, count me in! Check her website for details.
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BAR AVIGNON- Just about 10 feet east from Taste Unique's front door we had another stellar meal at Bar Avignon that Colman thankfully slept through (although we've become the couple there for the 5:30 early dining scene). The highlight among many (the beet salad with fig salsa; the perfectly cooked bavette steak; the deliciously relaxing and spiritually invigorating Aviation cocktail Nancy made me) was one of those rare...for me..perfect pairings of food and wine. We ordered their sensational app of Persian Spiced Albacore Crudo with chickpeas and a meyer lemon olivada. Randy suggested trying a glass 2008 François Chidaine "Touraine" Sauvignon Blanc. Wow! Absolutely spot-fucking-on, Randy. I would happily stop by BA just to have these two together. The snap of the sauv blanc perfectly set off the creamy, fresh richness of the Albacore. If it is still on the menu, this a must try combo!
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GRUNER- I went on a happy hour exploration at the newish Grüner with a couple if buddies a few weeks ago. Grüner is chef Chris Israel's homage to the food style of the Alpine areas of Europe paired with the fresh, seasonal food of the Pacific northwest. We sampled a few dinner's worth of Happy Hour treats (followed, perhaps unwisely, by a full three course meal at Tabla), including a very credible burger, some beet-pickled hard boiled eggs...a great take on that dusty dive bar staple...beet ricotta dumplings, and a nice charcuterie plate among others. But the addictive must have HH plate: fried "smashed potatoes" with herb aioli. Perfect bar food...salty, hot, slathered with garlicky mayo. Loved them. There was almost a fight over the last couple of bites. Plus, if you ever wanted to explore the various white wines of this part of Europe, Grüner is your spot. Sommelier Dana Pickell has a list that includes, among other treats, 11 different rieslings on the night we were there. Whether this is a good or bad idea I'll leave to you, but from someone who feels that great European riesling continues to be the most under-appreciated food wine in the world I can only be impressed.
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EVOE- I've been seeing a new-to-me oyster about town. I first spied them at EVOE on SE Hawthorne, where chef Kevin Gibson's simple yet flavor bursting food continues to astound. The oysters we sampled there were Kusshi oysters from the east coast of Vancouver Island. I've always been a huge Kumamoto fan, but these Kusshi's have immediately leap-frogged to the top of my oyster infatuation list. Perfectly shaped, small, meaty, briny, and rich, if you see them you have to try them, preferably with a crisp glass of Muscadet or a crisp and zingy northern Italian white. We also loved Kevin's beautifully composed beet salad that may or may not still be on his blackboard menu. It doesn't really matter though, because at EVOE there are virtually zero bad choices!
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ACME COFFEE- out in our Hawthorne neighborhood we have recently taken to stopping by ACME Coffee House at 1431 SE 40th Ave (truly a coffee "house"., located in an old Portland home-turned-business) while out on our Colman walks. Warm, funky, very Portland where owner Ken will give you a warm welcome them whip out a perfectly made double shot of espresso made from the PDX's own Ristretto Roasters coffee. He pulls a great shot, just enough for a few sips instead of the usual cup of diluted swill that passes for far too many coffee joint's espresso. Check him out of you happen to be in need of caffeination in SE. As you can see from the pic Colman definitely needed a wake up call, but you know what they say about sleeping babies....
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GINO'S- In the VINO 'hood of Sellwood, Gino's continues to be a beacon of neighborhood conviviality and warm welcomes. w and I made a long overdue pilgrimage to Mark and Debbie Accuardi's corner spot and as always left very satisfied. Gino's isn't food that is looking to wow you or impress with some faux cutting edge attitude. It's just good, honest Italian inspired home cooking, allied with the best priced wine list in town (how about a 2000 Moccagatta "Bric Balin" single vineyard Barbaresco that was drinking beautifully for just $66!), now overseen by their most capable sommelier Tia Hubbard. After a starter of their legendary caesar salad, my tender filet came, as ever, perfectly cooked with two veg sides and a huge pile of creamy mashers. w was happily slurping down her briny bowl of Cioppino (make sure you order extra bread for'll need it).
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APIZZA SCHOLLS- Ah, Apizza Scholls. How you madden and delight at the same time. How I love your perhaps best in America pies with their simple yet delicious toppings and blistered, blackened crusts. Your pungent caesar salad which is also one of the two or three best in PDX, preferably topped with anchovies. The fact that you serendipitously chose to open on Hawthorne a mere 3.5 blocks from my house (which thankfully negates the need to endure their unendurable waits as we go sign up, go home for a cocktail, then wander back down). And then...and then...there are nights like I experienced a couple of weeks ago. A night where after making plans to meet friends for a night of Apizza indulgence I volunteered to stop by and add our names to the list on my way home from VINO. I dutifully show up at 6:25, the wait was was already quite long but who cares, and look at the signup sheet where I am confronted by "NO MORE NAMES BEING TAKEN TONIGHT!" WTF?? No more names, at 6:-fucking-25 in the evening?? Now, I've seen Apizza pull this at 8 or 8:30, where it seems a tiny bit more logical, even though posted hours are open 'til 9:30. But 6:25? How could they possibly not have enough dough to the point where they would stop taking names before 6:30?? I know they do their own thing and think very highly of what owner Brian Spangler has accomplished, but again I have to say...6:25?? Was this a test of my love? Perhaps, because like a manipulative lover they know I will keep coming back. Yet I feel for those who drove across town thinking they had plenty of time only to be slapped upside their unsatisfied appetites. If not for me, Apizza, then for them: there really is no excuse!


Nico said...

I will now think twice getting my mind set on ApizzaScholls (don't we all get that craving quite regularly?) and simply planning on dropping in around 7:30pm. Huge disappointed would be the result!

This is awesome though. Some on your list are trusty places for us as well, with others (such as Bar Avignon) you've just reinforced the fact that we may not postpone a visit much longer. Thanks for prioritizing our to-visit list!

Roman Cabana said...

Do you hear this restaurant owners/managers? You stay open for your posted hours. The sentiment you're reading in the post above is exactly why. If shutting down early had ever been a profitable way to manage labor costs, don't you think those of us who are old hands in the business would have figured that out long ago?
...oops. bit of a rant slipped out!