List of Restaurants I Visited in 2008 (underlined = first time)
Shortcuts first. When updated, new reviews are at the top of the list below.
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) ...