January 1st, 2008

little blue dog

movie list 2008

A personal resolution for me this year is to keep an ongoing list of the movies I've seen (and the books I've read), and maybe what I thought about them. I'll update to list those I've seen most recently at the top.

(Related 2008 lists: book list 2008, restaurant list 2008)

List of Movies I Watched in 2008 (underlined = in the theater)
  • Tropic Thunder (2008), dir. Ben Stiller: this parody of big-budget war films succeeds in sheer goofiness, but at times the target of the parody is unclear, or, strangely, the premise is simply a vehicle for slapstick. Downey's character's method acting hilariously ridicules the lengths some actors take for their roles, but Stiller's character's role as "Simple Jack" seems gratuitous. Also, Jack Black tends to chew the scenery. Not that any of this is necessarily bad; I giggled all the way through. Tom Cruise, almost unrecognizable in prosthetic makeup, delivers his best performance since Magnolia.

  • The Dark Knight (2008), dir. Christopher Nolan: Maybe the best superhero film so far, so I have the feeling that everything I say about this film is already cliche. It's psychologically dark and complex, and was driven by solid performances all around. Heath Ledger's Joker is fucking terrifying, and I bought into his characterization so solidly that from his "magic trick" scene onward, I was as freaked as I've ever been watching a movie every time he appeared on-screen. The only distractions were that Harvey Dent's transposition into Two-Face was a little too quick and convenient to be believable, that Christian Bale randomly used his grumbly voice for some of Batman's dialogue, and that if the Joker planned to be caught, how did he know that Gordon's death would have to have been faked? Still, I clapped.

  • Get Smart (2008), dir. Peter Segal

  • The Fountain (2006), dir. Darren Aronofsky

  • The Illusionist (2006), dir. Neil Burger

  • Appleseed (2004), dir. Shinji Aramaki

  • Steamboy (2004), dir. Katsuhiro Ôtomo

  • Dan in Real Life (2007), dir. Peter Hedges

  • Superbad (2007), dir. Greg Mottola: part raunch, part coming-of-age/buddy flick, this felt like a film and a half, or a director's cut with way too much material. Perhaps understandable, considering that Seth Rogen, one of the writers, was too old to play the "Seth" role by the time a studio eventually bought the script. The part instead went to Jonah Hill, and Rogen took the bumbling cop role, which, along with the goofy subplots involving the cops' misadventures with the admittedly awesome "McLovin" role, felt tacked on. If all of this stuff was excised, I think it would be a pretty great film ... as it is, it's too much, too overweight and unbalanced, and fades to a seemlingly endless conclusion.

  • Iron Man (2008), dir. John Favreau: granted, my enthusiasm for this film is partly due to having seen it with friends, on opening night, in LA, beer in hand, and accompanied about 1000 hardcore comic geeks, but it was SOLID. Downey's babble is somehow perfect for the character, and ends up driving most of the plot. The CGI and effects were seamless, and the story was great. The 30-second spoiler scene at the end of 10 minutes of credits was met with an orgiastic cheer from the nerds who hung in there for it. Hello, new superhero film franchise.

  • Beowulf (2007), dir. Robert Zemeckis: with photorealistic CGI, we pay more attention, as human viewers, to lifelike CGI of humans than of other creatures or inanimate objects, so the tiniest inconsistencies are distracting, or at least noticeable. Some of the motion capture was dead-on, with nuances of expression clearly readable, but most of the characters seemed imported directly from Shrek, which was a bit uncomfortable considering the amount of gore and sex in the plot. I gotta say, though, Angelina Jolie looks crazy delicious in digitized nude. So ignoring the technical limitations and the wild plot departures from the epic poem, this film really picked up steam in the second half. Maybe by then I'd gotten used to the stiff movement. Haha, I said stiff.

  • Dazed and Confused (1993), dir. Richard Linklater: enjoyable as a flashback to being a teen in the 70s (if you were; I wasn't), but really not a lot more. But this is certainly not a bad thing. The cult status is due to a great ensemble cast of memorable characters and great lines, and a "day-in-the-life," meandering story trajectory that is largely unencumbered by the intricacies of a complex plot. Still, I really wish I was that cool in high school.

  • Be Kind Rewind (2008), dir. Michel Gondry: the disappointment was perhaps foreshadowed by the fact that Nic and I were alone in the theater for this showing, granted we saw it on a weeknight about a month after it opened, but still. The level of carefully-orchestrated and whimsical detail I'd expect from Eternal Sunshine and Gondry's earlier music videos was absent here. The film had a good premise, but the backstory was so overwrought that the "magic" was all but lost in the shuffle, and the goofily sentimental ending was all the more arbitrary in comparison. It seemed also that Gondry didn't direct his actors at all, which didn't help.

  • Tekkon Kinkreet (2006), dir. Michael Arias: WOW. I was blown away by the cinematography and detailed background of this animated adaptation of "Black and White" manga series by Taiyō Matsumoto (which I haven't read). The story itself is detailed and intricate, following two orphan brothers vying for control of the streets of a decaying metropolis, and exploring themes of duality, solitude, and morality. Characters are rich, and even though I watched it with English subtitles, I was impressed by the voicing. Rewarding all around.

  • Renaissance (2006), dir. Christian Volckman: incredibly well-executed black-and-white animation (with some grayscale and minimal color) using cool simulated lighting effects for a posterized, film noir look, makes this film cleaner and more comic-booky than Sin City. The plot is pretty neat, and the acting is decent ... but the dialogue (I watched the dubbed English version, the original is French) is terribly flat and inadvertently funny at times. Other than that, sheer eye candy.

  • The Prestige (2006), dir. Christopher Nolan: intricately complex, or unnecessarily complicated, still can't decide which, but it held my attention entirely (enough so I was able to figure out how Borden did his trick about 30 minutes before he explained it to Angier). Magic Tesla machine aside, it was enjoyable and easy to believe, but the main characters didn't have much dimension beyond their obsessions. David Bowie as Tesla was a treat.

  • Day Watch (2006), dir. Timur Bekmambetov: vampires, motorcycle chases, witches, rampant ferris wheels, lesbian shower scenes, therianthropy, body-switching, time-stopping, lasers, and the fate of the universe, all set in modern-day Moscow. And this is only the second film in the trilogy. Incredible special effects, and a better resolution than Night Watch, I thought. Holy crap.

  • Lolita (1962), dir. Stanley Kubrick: after watching Barry Lyndon last year, I'm working my way through the rest of Kubrick's films, but couldn't really discern the hallmarks of his style in this one. Regardless, I was fascinated with it, especially the scenes that emphasize the intense, perverse nature of Humbert's feelings toward Lolita (i.e., painting her toenails while interrogating her about her lateness home from school, and Sellers' ridiculous portrayal of Quilty).

  • There Will Be Blood (2007), dir. Paul Thomas Anderson: the combination of one of my favorite actors with one of my favorite directors in a movie seamlessely scored by Radiohead's lead guitarist couldn't fail, but superseded my expectations. DD-L's performance was ferocious, and promises to prove as iconic as Nicholson's in The Shining. Paul Dano was also very good, as was the choice to cast an uncannily similar-looking Dillon Freasier for the role of Plainview's son.

  • Balls of Fury (2007), dir. Robert Ben Garant: Deputy Travis Junior from Reno: 911! can direct non-scripted, bumbling cops, but he should stay away from everything else, if this is an example. I expected outrageously funny, but had to really strain to laugh a couple times. The sight gags were weak, and the jokes fell flat. Dan Fogler, the lead dude, looked like he was trying desperately to channel Jack Black, and his rendition of "Rock of Ages" was even more embarrassing than the idea sounds like it could be.

  • American Splendor (2003), dir. Shari Springer Berman, Robert Pulcini: biopic of Harvey Pekar, comic book protagonist and writer, who, prior to this film, I had never heard of. Paul Giamatti's characterization is incredible, and the film is smartly structured, well-paced, and funny.

  • Blades of Glory (2007), dir. Josh Gordon, Will Speck: I think the trouble with Will Ferrell films is that everyone compares them to other Will Ferrell films. Sure, he regenerates his shtick, but isn't that the reason we go see him? This film doesn't aspire beyond yuks and goofy slapstick, and succeeds enjoyably.

  • Gods and Monsters (1998), dir. Bill Condon: a good movie, but not deep and not powerful, as I'd expected from the numerous accolades this film received. I felt that much detail was left or edited out, unfortunately, but I found the friendship believable and touching, as I did McKellan's portrayal of Whale not as a dirty lech, but as a faded lover of beauty.

  • Sicko (2007), dir. Michael Moore: as is the case with all of his films, my head-shaking quickly gave way to a suspicion that the real explanation can't be as simple as he's portraying it, and although the skeptic in me can't accept the solution as a panacea, the idealist in me fervently hopes this isn't simply agitprop. I admit that I'm seriously considering pros and cons of moving to Canada. Or France.

  • Sex and Lucia (2001), dir. Julio Medem: besides winning my personal award for Hottest Film With Naked Latin People In It, one of my favorite things about this movie (which I've watched several times) is the abundant symbolism and the narrative style. Plus, there is secks.

  • Sweeney Todd (2007), dir. Tim Burton: having never seen a stage production of the musical and only being marginally familiar with the story, I had no expectations and was really delighted with every aspect of the film. The singing sounded great all around, ultragoth sets and costumes were perfect, but the blood looked like watery tempura.

  • Reno 911!: Miami (2007), dir. Robert Ben Garant: as with most conversions of a series to the big screen, I wasn't sure that the improv comedy would be ridiculous or hilarious enough to sustain a feature film, but I laughed for almost the entire time. The deleted scenes get a little tedious, showing that the editing pretty much perfect in the film.

  • Paprika (2006), dir. Satoshi Kon: a richly-imagined anime about technology that allows psychiatrists to enter the dreams of patients, but begins blurring the lines between dreams and reality when an unknown assailant gains access. Seamless merging of 2- and 3-D animation, great characters and plot.

  • Night Watch (2004), dir. Timur Bekmambetov: received the second film in this (soon-to-be) trilogy as a gift, so this was a re-watch of this amazing Russian fantasy action thriller about light and dark "Others" who maintain a truce until the coming of a prophesied "Great One" who will bring one side to dominance. Animated, stylized subtitles were one of many cool touches.

  • The Libertine (2005), dir. Laurence Dunmore: Johnny Depp sleepwalks through this grainy period piece as the Earl of Rochester, supposedly a notorious rake, but his characterization of a bored and disaffected lech is little more than watching Johnny Depp being bored and disaffected, but with a lot of makeup. Not my style.

  • Untouchables (1987), dir. Brian De Palma: this was a favorite of mine when it came out, but it seems to have dulled in the 10+ years since I watched it last, and that the characterizations are really simplistic. The train station scene is still pretty good, though.

  • Short Cuts (1993), dir. Robert Altman: another re-watch from years ago, but this film continues to captivate me as an extremely well-executed study of the role of chance and fate and overlap among about a dozen interwoven plots. Casting was excellent.

  • Shopgirl (2005), dir. Anand Tucker: a loan from Erin. Jason Schwartzman's character was pretty well done, and Claire Danes has a really nice posterior. Overall, though, I thought the analysis of the complex relationships, although sympathetic, was too curt and superficial.

  • Kung Fu Hustle (2004), dir. Stephen Chow: not sure what I was expecting, but this was pretty funny, and goofy, mostly because of idea of some of the characters as kung fu masters.
little blue dog

book list 2008

I'll update to list those I've read most recently at the top.

(Related 2008 lists: movie list 2008, restaurant list 2008)

List of Books I Read in 2008
  • Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs, Chuck Klosterman (2004): Klosterman is, to me, one of those people I want to either hang out and be friends with ... or kill and somehow take credit for all he's written. There are not a lot of these people.

    This is a collection of essays on recent pop culture trends, and how they function as metaphor for the human condition, interpersonal relationships, development, emotions, you name it. Thing is, even when his theses are a little contrived, they read as genuine and confident. Klosterman has an encyclopedic knowledge of the minutiae of pop phenomena, from The Sims to tribute bands, from MTV's The Real World to NBC's Saved by the Bell, and somehow sincerely infuses this seemingly disposable media with profound meaning, while managing to avoid preachiness. It's likely the humor and the self-effacing, earnest voice he uses, which combine into a flow so natural that you wonder why no one has drawn these comparisons before. If I met this guy at a bar and he started making the arguments in these essays in conversation with me, I'd stand enraptured for a few hours, probably all the while wondering if he was fucking with me, and concluding that I wouldn't care if he was.

    Eash essay is packed with quotable prose, logical insight, and snort-inducing humor, but, like a lot of the trends he writes about, nothing seemed to stick with me except a vague feeling of satisfaction and an urge to go get some more.

  • Watchmen, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons (1986-87): having been perhaps the only boy in America never to have collected comic books, or even read them with any interest (seriously, and I don't know why; I think I assumed that anything illustrated was, well, either for kids, or smut--the latter alternative likely inspired by a schoolmate showing me a much-abused copy of Heavy Metal, Watchmen is one of the first graphic novels I've ever read.

    And what a one to start with. It was fantastic. I benefited from not knowing how critically acclaimed this novel is, having only expectations from enthusiastic reviews of friends. The setting is an alternate 1985-era US in which superheroes have been outlawed as vigilantes, and are being killed by an unknown entity. The tone is deadpan and spent, and mildly anti-American. The characters are incredibly complex, and while the recent movement in superhero flicks has been to focus on the flawed human behind the mask, this novel was the first to do it so well, and so vividly.

    The art is compelling as well, fraught with recurring icons and creative use of framing, color, and space, and interspersed with excerpts from various (fictional) publications to provide backstory. The writing style -- whether it's in the dialogue, the internal monologues, the various aforementioned excerpts, and so forth, is entirely consistent with its context and characters, although Ozymandias' soliloquys get tiresome pretty quick.

    I'm looking forward to the film version set for release in Summer 2009; it'll be interesting to see if the ending still works in the absence of (or distance from) the cold-war paranoia so crucial to, and pervasive in, the novel.

  • What is the What, Dave Eggers (2006): the story is triumphant, moving, and sad, and the voice Eggers adopts (as Valentino Achack Deng, the book's protagonist and real-life Sudanese refugee upon which the biographical narrative is based) reads legitimately and believably, but I had a hard time understanding why Achak's refugee narrative story was related during long, reflective passages interspersed throughout about a 24-hour period in the narrator's realtime. The author's point was arguably to show that the recollection of the story intruded into into Achak's everyday thoughts, but as a reader I had a sense of urgency when reading the flashbacks, feeling that I had to get caught up to the present action. On the whole, although I enjoyed the narrative, I was left feeling unsatisfied (again, perhaps the author's point).

  • Gilead, Marilynne Robinson (2004): there's a line in Paul Simon's "Slip-Sliding Away" in which a father longs to tell his son "all the reasons for all the things he done." In a small town in Iowa in 1956, a septuagenarian preacher dying of a heart disease does just this, via a series of letters to his 7-year-old boy, in which he relates his legacy and memories; the letters comprise the whole of the story.

    This is the most beautiful book I've read in a long time: the old man relates his thoughts and experiences with grace, serenity, and the cleanest, simplest words there are, and there is poetry and wonder on every page. Themes of fathers and sons, and prodigal sons, and different interpretations of faith, and the nature of forgiveness and love and sin, all intermingle with events occurring in the last year or so of the preachers's life.

    Metaphor is abundant: one of my favorite passages recalls a memory during the preacher's youth when his father (also a preacher) helped to tear down a church that had been struck by lightning; the men were covered with ash mixed with rainwater, the women sang hymns to keep everyone in good spirits. The Bibles that were too damaged were buried. The boy recalls that his father, blackened with grime, had no food to offer his son but an ashy biscuit he pulled from his breast pocket.

    I can't say enough about this book. I need to read this one again. What a treasure.

  • The Time Traveler's Wife, Audrey Niffenegger (2004): the tale of an involuntarily time-traveling man and the woman who loves him. For me, although the development and story arc of the romantic plot seemed a little saccharine near the end (and yeah, I cried), I was more impressed with the author's solution of how to solve the problem of presenting two non-chronological chronologies in a linnear narrative.

    Raises some deep questions about destiny and free will, but doesn't really answer them. Much of the exposition was awash in minute details ... possibly to give the story more realism, but to me it seemed a little tedious. Overall, however, I enjoyed it.

  • Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation, Lynn Truss (2006): I think the negative review of this book comes from those interpreting it to be a definitive punctuation manual -- but it's not; it's a guide explaining theory, origin, and use, and it's a plea for at least some thought to go into writing. Plus, it's funnier than anything I've read on the subject. I can't believe it's taken me so long to get a copy.
little blue dog

restaurant list 2008

(Related 2008 lists: book list 2008, movie list 2008)

List of Restaurants I Visited in 2008 (underlined = first time)

Shortcuts first. When updated, new reviews are at the top of the list below.

 
Portland:
3 Doors Down + + Le Bistro Montage + + Caldera Public House + + E’Njoni Cafe + + Higgins
Jake's Grill + + Kenny & Zuke's + + Lincoln + + Masu East + + Miss Delta +++ Nuestra Cocina
Pause + + Podnah's Pit +++ ¿Por Qué No? + + R Palate + + Radio Room + + Thai Noon + + Trebol

Elsewhere in Oregon:
Gower St. Bistro (Cannon Beach) +++ Lumberyard (Cannon Beach)
 

  • Lincoln, Portland, OR (August 21): we met Steve and Betsy at this new place across the street from Pix on N. Williams right as it opened at 5:30, and were seated at a booth behind the bar, although it turns out I'd have preferred to sit in the open-air area in front of the kitchen, since the weather warmed up enough to retract the garage-door windows. We started with sweet corn fritters, which were absolutely delicious, and which came with a dark syrup for dipping. I had a dark and stormy (well, two ... I think) made with their house ginger soda, which was fantastic. For dinner, my companions all chose the pork loin chop, but I opted for the flank steak, which came with a small mountain of the tastiest onion rings I've had, and the steak itself pretty much melted in my mouth. The dessert menu didn't look impressive (I mean, they're across the street from Pix), but I was really pleased with the whole experience.

  • Radio Room, Portland, OR (August 18): this semi-open bar/restaurant seems a bit out of place on earthy/artsy Alberta, with its polished, antiseptic '50s decor and angular, concrete architecture. We sat in the dining room because it was raining outside, with the large garage-door windows (which seem obligatory on Portland restaurants lately) retracted, for some nice open air. The menu featured a decent selection of food, but I kept being reminded of Pause on N. Interstate, which offers much the same fare, at the same prices, with more panache. Damn fine bacon burger (with bleu cheese). I'll give this place another go. They've only been open a few weeks.

  • Caldera Public House, Portland, OR (August 15): I've been to this place, a saloon-like restaurant and lounge in a century-old store building at the base of Mt. Tabor, a few times over as many years, and most recently on a blazingly hot Friday afternoon to cool off in the shaded outdoor courtyard in back, where I believe I've sat at the same table on every visit. The menu is straightforward and unfussy, and the food is good but I don't think extraordinary; I'd place it a notch or two above McMenamins fare. I liked that my 40 of PBR was brought to the table perched champagne-like in an ice bucket. My standard choice, the burger, was tasty, and the service was friendly as always, but really the prize here is the beautiful, cozy outside setting.

  • Podnah's Pit, Portland, OR (August 12): good BBQ in Portland is a bit tough to find, so Betsy and Steve asked Nic and I to try this place out with them. The decor is plain and unassuming, with concrete floors and Formica tabletops. I tried the brisket which, when doused with the sauces in the squirt bottles on the table, was pretty good, but a little dry otherwise. The pulled pork also was decent, but the side dishes we tried weren't that impressive: very dry cornbread and very acidic black-eyed pea salad. Our server was a bit surly and rushed, although the place was only about half full. Betsy loves it, so maybe an off night?

  • Pause, Portland, OR (August 8): not sure why I haven't reviewed this place previously; on Nic's suggestion, I tried this place with her earlier this summer and it's become one of our staple favorites since then. Plus, it's within about a mile of my house. The interior is open but seems cozy without being cramped, and the menu is stocked with comfort food offerings (all unexpectedly tasty) in a reasonable price range. There are always a few specials that sound (and turn out to be) delicious. So far, I've tried the steak, a burger, the meatloaf, sliders, the pickle plate ... all winners. Great beer selection and full bar. Highly recommended for casual dining.

  • Jake's Grill, Portland, OR (July 25): For as suave and sophisticated as you expect this place to be, and by all appearances it is, I've never been blown away by the food the few times I've visited. This time I tried a New York steak, and Nic had "horseradish crusted" halibut. I ordered it medium-rare, expecting that a steak house would be on the rare side of that, but it was a little overcooked and also a bit tough. We also couldn't really discern any horseradish taste in the halibut. However, the potatoes (garlic mashed with her entree, baked golden with mine) were great.

  • Trebol, Portland, OR (July 24): Kenny Hill, formerly with Higgins, opened this place sometime last fall, and since it's within walking distance of my house, we've been looking for an excuse to give it a try. My impression is that this place is a little too fancy and formal for its surroundings; from the patio, we watched a couple guys yell and flag down a passing car to complete some sort of transaction. The food was decent enough, but I can't now recall what I had. Maybe I have a prejudice against Mexican places that don't give you chips and salsa when you sit down. The margaritas were delicious, though. The happy hour menu looked like something to check out on a future visit.

  • Lucca, Portland, OR

  • Nuestra Cocina, Portland, OR (Apr. 17): I've tried to get in here a few times, but the wait is pretty long anytime after about 6pm, so Steve and Betsy met me at about 6, before the dinner rush started. Our server was attentive, polite, and quick with our drink order, but we never received our appetizer. He assured us that dessert would be on the house, but ended up comping only one of the two we ordered. Despite this, I wanted to enjoy my entree (sautéed beef tips), but the meat was a little tough, the squash was tasteless, and the sauce and refried beans all blended into a vaguely chili-flavored goop. I'm not sure about this place ... I wasn't really impressed, but I'd like to give it another try.

  • Thai Noon, Portland, OR (Apr. 13): my first visit here was a couple years ago, and I can't remember the details other than taking away a sense of vague dissatisfaction, which has been duly eliminated following my recent experience here. Nic and I started with the egg rolls, and I talked her into sharing miang kum, which has never let me down, no matter where I order it. For dinner, Nic talked me into trying tom kha, which might now be my favorite Thai dish. We also ordered a beef and asparagus stir fry, and left absolutely stuffed with a bunch of leftovers to boot. Great place.

  • E’Njoni Cafe, Portland, OR (Apr. 2): never having tried Ethiopian food before, I had to ask the attentive server if I was eating it correctly, by tearing off a strip of the crepe-like nejeri bread and wrapping it around a chunk of stewed meat. He indulgently nodded and relayed a heavily-accented anecdote from "back home" about how he and his brothers used to compete at mealtimes to fit the largest handfuls of food into their mouths. Nic and I tried a beef dish and a chicken and spinach dish, both of which were savory and spicy. This is a great place for a quick, tasty dinner, and it's about 4 blocks from my house.

  • Miss Delta, Portland, OR (Mar. 30): a co-worker who lives near me recommended this new (opened last fall) restaurant on N. Mississippi, and Nic and I tried it out for a Sunday dinner. Started by the folks who formerly owned Delta Cafe, the food here is Southern, and the vibe and decor can probably be described as hipster vintage. We started with hush puppies, which didn't come with dipping sauce (the best example of which is at Screen Door), but a little hot sauce mixed with ketchup worked perfectly. I tried cajun-blackened flank steak, and Nic had the fried chicken. The entrees, and the sides (both came with mashed potatoes and a salad) were fantastic. The bartender made a mean whiskey ginger. Definitely going back ... Screen Door is probably still my favorite place in town for Southern food, but with this place a half-mile away, the location is hard to beat.

  • ¿Por Qué No?, Portland, OR (Mar. 23): I'm glad I tried this tiny tacqueria at the southern end of Mississippi, although I think $3 for a taco is a little steep, considering it'll take about 3 to make a meal. The staff was cheerful, but the kitchen took a while to prepare the food. Nic and I each ordered three tacos, which were really works of art when done, each including a carefully-considered combination of tastes. This place is right on the bus ride home, which makes it a prime candidate for a quick dinner stop after work.

  • Higgins, Portland, OR (Mar. 15): I lived downtown my first couple years in Portland, and this was my favorite place for "fancy" dinner ... when I moved, I guess I concentrated more on discovering new places, so it had been awhile since I visited Higgins. A group of co-workers arranged to meet here for dinner prior to seeing the touring Cirque de Soleil show, but despite nine of us there, the service was as impeccable as I remembered, and the food was artistic and delicious. I tried the pork loin special and was barely able to finish it all. However, as is usually the case with meals there, I can't really remember what I liked so much about the taste.

  • Masu East, Portland, OR (Mar. 14): the Eastside location at 310 SE 28th Ave isn't listed on the website, and I haven't been to the original location downtown, but my second visit here with Betsy and Steve was almost as good as my first, with Nic. The decor is cool and sophisticated, without seeming too pretentious, and the fish is terrific; best wild salmon I've tasted. Both times, I ordered a sashimi plate, and we sampled a few nigiri and rolls, and a tempura plate for an appetizer. First time, the appetizer arrived as expected, but the second time, the it wasn't served until after all of the sushi, despite our asking about it twice (the server showed no sign of apology or regret). Regardless, I'm going back.

  • R Palate, Portland, OR (Mar. 6): this little restaurant, nestled in the shadow of Big Pink, opened in November, and word seemingly hasn't gotten out yet that it exists, or that it features a great happy hour menu (til 7pm). I met Nic, Betsy, and Steve there after work; the place feels new, not quite settled-in yet (for some reason I noticed the tables were bare: no napkins, or salt and pepper; and the road construction right outside was an unfortunate intrusion into the otherwise semi-intimate feel). The server and owner Rudy (the R in R Palate) were friendly, the portions were sizable, and the food (e.g., bacon-wrapped dates with bleu cheese and hazelnut, mezza plate, spicy mac & cheese, bacon-wrapped scallops, etc., all priced between $2-$5) was tasty. We didn't investigate the cocktail offerings or find out if there really was a bar tucked in the back, but I look forward to visiting again. This place is going to get popular.

  • Le Bistro Montage, Portland, OR (Mar 3): Nicole, Betsy, and Steve accompanied me on my virgin visit to this Portland institution. As with some places having an established reputation, I was expecting all fluff and no substance, but was surprised. The hallmarks were all there, even on a weeknight: loud music, shouting kitchen staff, communal tables, two servers randomly chasing a cook across the dining room with silly string ... but the food was good as well. We split the gator bites (which tasted like grilled chicken thighs) and black-eyed pea fritters (which didn't taste like much). I had a juicy steak covered in bleu cheese and accompanied by a tasty succotash. Nic had gumbo with spicy sausage, Betsy had fried chicken (4 drumsticks on a heap o' mashed potatoes), and Steve had pork loin. Monday is half-price wine bottle night. For dessert, the chocolate pot de creme was crazy delicious, but the root beer cheesecake was light on the root beer.

  • Kenny & Zuke's, Portland, OR (Mar 2): my second visit in three months. Nic and I wanted a not-too-fancy dinner on Sunday night. We were seated right away, the restaurant was about half-full (my first visit was a Saturday night with Betsy and Steve, and we waited about 20 minutes). I had a deli club and Nic had a pastrami reuben, and neither of us could finish more than half of our sandwiches, they were so huge. Best pastrami I've ever tasted.

  • 3 Doors Down, Portland, OR (Mar 1): my second visit in three years. Nic and I had no reservations but found a comfortable table at the bar right away, which wasn't too noisy, although the place was alive with chatter. Portelay and Humboldt Fog were both on the cheese plate, so that's what we started with, after trying the garlicky white bean spread that accompanied the bread. I had the ceppo pasta with chicken, and Nic ordered the prawns with tortiglione. Mine was great, not too spicy. The prawns were huge, and the kalamata olives in Nic's dinner made it my favorite of the two. We each had a glass or Oregon pinot noir (can't remember which), and split a creamy tiramisu for dessert.

  • Gower St. Bistro, Cannon Beach, OR (Feb 16): the meal was one of the most incredible I can remember, a perfect part of Valentine's Day weekend with Nicole at the beach. We began with the cheese plate, which featured generous portions of Pordelay and Humboldt Fog, a semisoft goat cheese with a rich, buttery texture and a bleu cheese tang. Nic ordered the filet and I had the pork chop, both of which were prepared perfectly and had an excellent combination and balance of tastes. The homemade sauerkraut that accompanied my pork chop included lardons. The portions were sizable, and we had to turn down dessert. Service was excellent, and the place was full, but we didn't feel rushed or crowded.

  • Lumberyard Rotisserie and Grill, Cannon Beach, OR (Feb 15): felt very chain-y. During our wait for a table, we sat at the bar for about 15 minutes without being acknowledged or served. When seated, it took a while for our server to take our orders, but the food came quickly enough. I had a bacon burger which was decent but unimpressive, and Nic's pizza was tasty but on the greasy side. Loud, with many families.

  • Peso's, Seattle, WA (Jan. 12) ...

  • BOKA Kitchen + Bar, Seattle, WA (Jan 11) ...

  • Wild Ginger, Seattle, WA (Jan. 11) ...

  • Il Fornaio, Seattle, WA (Jan. 10) ...