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Posts from the ‘American’ Category

Chains of Love: Claim Jumper

claim jumper facade

Similar to Cheddar’s or  Souplantation, Claim Jumper has always struck me as a not terribly appetizing name for a restaurant. Prospectors, floppy hats, droopy mustaches, pick axes in hand, don’t make me think of steak or whatever it is that they serve there. And after finally dining at a Claim Jumper, I’m still not sure what to make of it.

claim jumper room

 

I loved it less than I thought I might. (As opposed to the P.F. Chang’s which I’m not blogging about but enjoyed–it will shock you that I don’t post everything here–in the upscale, outdoor shopping center practically across the street.) I assumed it was akin to Cheesecake Factory, something for everyone, kind of bananas decor, but the menu is far smaller in contrast to the enormous dining area that reads like three different ski lodges cobbled together. Nothing on the pricier-than-expected menu (not much under $14.99 and many of the steaks and seafood were over $25) made me excited about ordering.

claim jumper pretzel

Soft pretzels a.k.a pub pretzel, are just a vehicle for cheese sauce. The appetizers were all buffalo wings, mozzarella sticks, artichoke dip with no twists at all. It was like they weren’t even trying. TGIFriday’s, just to use one example, adds asiago to its mozzarella sticks, panko-coats its chicken fingers, and makes its soft pretzels seem more special through adjectives. Witness “craft beer cheese dipping sauce” with “crispy applewood-smoked bacon.” Maybe I should appreciate Claim Jumper’s confidence and simplicity.

claim jumper salad

 

Cobb salad might’ve been a vehicle for the only vegetables I ate in my nearly two weeks. I topped it with semi-tough beef tips for an $18.99 salad, which is more than touristy midtown pubs charge (I’m a mild connoisseur of pub steak salads).  I actually took leftovers home despite salads always being gross later, and the tiny house where I was staying did not have a refrigerator yet. I just gnawed on the cold meat the next morning.

Claim Jumper * 18000 SW Lower Boones Ferry Rd., Tualatin, OR

Eaten, Barely Blogged: Two Meals in Astoria (Oregon not Queens)

buoy window

Buoy Beer Company Everyone, if they even know what Astoria, Oregon is, says to go to the Goonie house but I don’t really give a shit about Goonies. It’s a weirdly millennial folly despite the movie coming out in 1985. I mean, there was an entire big spread a few summers back in Lucky Peach devoted to Goonies (which doesn’t appear to be online and it’s just as well because my links might be dead sooner rather than later). I was really more impressed by the seal, ship, and rainbow I captured through the window while sitting inside Buoy Beer Company.

buoy 6

I lucked out because it was stout month and that’s my scene, not the IPAs plaguing the Pacific Northwest. And the food was surprisingly (not sure why I was surprised) good. I had an oyster pot pie, filled with super plump oysters, local, of course, with maybe the best side salad (pickled vegetables, asparagus spears, homemade croutons and dressing, a scattering of seeds) I’ve ever encountered. The Oregon pink shrimp cheesey bread was totally overkill but delicious, nonetheless.

humps

Fort George Brewery Astoria was meant to be a day trip since it’s only an hour-and-a-half up Route 30 from Scappoose where I saw a second branch of Itxtapa, a bar/restaurant called Hump’s, and a long-closed dilapidated near-shack called Myong’s Seoul Food, surprising since I can’t imagine any Koreans living in this part of Oregon, but I got a motel for like $60 and decided to stay overnight.

fort george fish

Dinner was tricky because after dark, in winter, on Monday, the town was ghosty, the only people on the street were shouty doorway-sleepers. I wanted to go to Albatross & Co. (dungeness crab deviled eggs, oyster chowder poutine, craft cocktails, blah blah) but it wasn’t open.  It’s not that weird to eat at two different brewpubs for two meals on the same day in Oregon. I really wanted the steak frites with blue cheese sauce, which my companion ordered, but settled for a smoked fish plate teeming with salmon, trout, pickled herring. Also smoked hazelnuts/filberts (I’m trying to bring back the latter usage). Yes, we could’ve shared.

astoria video store

Astoria, set where the Columbia River meets the Pacific Ocean, is hard to pin down. Like most Oregon Coast towns it’s a bit rough and tumble but there are cutesier elements creeping in. There was just not a video store still in business downtown, but also a JCPenney and Sears in 1940s (just guessing the era) storefronts, which I didn’t get to take photos of before the sun set. But also a vintage hardware shop, a hair salon called Hygge, and a modern, faux old-timey butcher, which I have a hard time imaging enough clientele to sustain it. I swear my grandma worked at a Kenny Roger’s Roasters in Astoria in the ’90s, but maybe that was Seaside since I never ever visited her in Astoria, and now that I say that, it seems mildly absurd like something fleeting that occurred in a dream and decades later it seems like a fact. Maybe I’ll ask her about it.

 

Eaten, Barely Blogged: Two Meals in Eugene

mame duo

Mame It took the longest time to realize this restaurant was pronounced mah-may not like mame as in Auntie. Sushi in Eugene is something I never thought I’d care to experience but I told my sister I would take her and her husband out for her birthday and she chose this place, which requires reservations weeks in advance, not typical of this town, because Mame is tiny but also because it has a good reputation.

The sushi was very good, a mix of traditional and creative. I didn’t parse it. We were just drinking a well-priced Honjozo sake and having a good time. (The server animatedly described every single bottle on the menu. This would be weird in NYC–or I suppose, Tokyo–but she was just excited about the list she’d put together.) Omakase starts at a bargain rate $20 so I went wild and asked for $40 per person.  The top photo illustrates what was presented for three. My fear was that Mame wasn’t the best idea for my sister’s vegetarian husband (both former vegans) was unfounded. Duh, it’s Eugene. He was presented with tons of vegetarian sushi, a noodle dish, followed by hand rolls that he couldn’t finish, and we were only charged $30 because the chef (I think the partner of the server) didn’t think the ingredients merited $40. The dinner was capped off with a free red bean cheesecake for the birthday girl.

My sister, with a critical eye, said that none of the diners looked like neighborhood types. I couldn’t tell because I have no idea what passes for upscale in Eugene. I had just seen a man with a hook for a hand in a bar. I guess not living under a bridge? The bathroom isn’t inside the restaurant. It’s outside, around the back. We were joking, after my sister returned, that a homeless guy was camped out in the bathroom and the wildly ebullient server overheard (there’s no private conversations in this space) and apologized. Eugene is very earnest.

The Vintage Probably not my first choice for brunch. The website makes it seem more modern, but it’s kind of fusty. Can you shoehorn a restaurant in a old house (I don’t think this is only an Oregon thing but it’s definitely not an NYC thing) and make it feel otherwise? I don’t really even do brunch but I hadn’t seen my friend from college for at least eight years and this was her pick (everyone in Eugene is more money-conscious than I’m used to in NYC, and I don’t hang out with anyone rich–this friend had been at the same retail job for 15 years, making $2.25 above minimum wage–and I didn’t want to inadvertently choose someplace pricey). There was a 20 minute wait for a table and another 20 minute wait for food. It’s all crepes during the day and fondue at night, in a two-story old house, self-described as “quaint.” Enough said.

Eaten, Barely Blogged: Portland (and Outskirts) One More Time

biwa quad

Biwa I suppose Portland Dining Month is much like New York Restaurant Week, except that I never partake of the latter. I only accidentally stumbled upon the prix fixe at Biwa because I had one last meal and it seemed negligent that I’d never been despite it being open for a decade. (Not really a completist though–not in a hurry to try oldies that passed me by while I’ve been hanging out in NYC a la Nostrana or the Coquines, Jacquelines, and Davenports of the world). It was a super great deal for $29 despite abysmal photographic evidence. Lots of otsumami, all nice (miso sesame cauliflower, pickles, dashi ricotta dip with rice crackers, pickled and fried mackerel) a little salmon sashimi with umeboshi, and then all at once daikon salad with salmon roe, buta no kakuni (braised pork belly) with I think pears, kimchi fish stew with rice cakes (could eat Korean rice cakes until I barf), and hojicha ice cream (a nice respite from matcha). I supplemented this with Washington State oysters, three Capital and three Churchpoint served with a yuzu kosho (an ingredient that everyone seems into all of a sudden) sort of sorbet. Oysters are strangely more expensive in the NW than NYC; even the happy hour prices are more than our typical $1 per.

langbaan multi

Langbaan Second time (first here) 13 months apart and the monthly rotating menus were both Central Thai! Glad it’s my favorite region and obviously everything was new (more seafood, less meat, and a different butterfly pea flower blue rice dessert) this time. Langbaan remains one of my favorite restaurants in Portland and I was able to get a table for two without advance planning because there are often cancellations if you get on the waiting list. 

808 grinds

808 Grinds Oregon isn’t particularly close to Hawaii but maybe if you drew a line from the islands to the continental United States, Portland would be on a direct path? (I don’t think so.) There is a substantial Hawaiian presence in Portland, though. I remember church people having luaus with poi and kalua pork when I was a kid and now my boyfriend has lots of Hawaiian (though of Japanese heritage) transplant friends through judo. You’ll have no trouble tracking down poke and moco loco in the city. Everyone likes the guava chiffon cake here, which I did try, but the mochi-textured coconut squares that I don’t know the name of are better. I’m still not convinced scoops of mac salad and rice are compatible. 

babica duo

Babica Hen My sister came up to my mom’s neck of the woods (she just moved to Lake Oswego and is already decamping to Tigard) for a birthday brunch. I hate when people order the same dish (though it’s kind of mitigated when you have a party of 5) so I didn’t copy my mom’s showstopping chicken and waffles with sweet potato mousse and coconut-rum caramel and ordered a special of beer battered chicken and an orange-whiskey sauce instead and it was kind of spartan and I began regretting my petty rule.

helvetia trio

Helvetia Tavern I had never heard of this place though it apparently is famous for its jumbo burger. I imagine Guy Fieri has been here (this does not seem to be the case). And it is a jumbo double-patty burger, more jumbo than this photo conveys, deliciously oozing “fry sauce” served with more fry sauce on the side for fries and onion rings.  I only wish that 75% of the time I enter a car (and Skyline Blvd. is no joke for the queasy) I didn’t end up wanting to puke. Maybe I’m allergic to all the wet moss, ferns, mushrooms, and general greenness.  I discovered that pot helps with this sensation so took to carrying a low THC vape in my purse specifically for this purpose. This is very un-NYC behavior. I feel like I have developed West Coast and East Coast personalities.

boxer ramen

Boxer Ramen Once again, I was on the verge of puking before I had this bowl of non-traditional tonkatsu ramen set before me so I can’t say for certain that it was extra porky, a little too much so, or if I was just sensitive. I wouldn’t be one to normally complain about extra chashu, though. And I loved the black garlic oil. They were sadly out of okonomiyaki tots.

st jack duo

St. Jack  I will concede that Portland has really great happy hours, at all levels of dining. I suspect it’s the case because no one seems to ever work, despite stupefying rising rents, or at least not 9 to5. They were packed at 4pm on a Thursday. My $5 fried tripe and $6 chicken liver mousse, not my $12 burger. I just realized they serve $1 oysters during the first hour of the 4-6pm happy hour so maybe I was wrong about my above statement.

lighthouse trio

The Lighthouse I’ve become more familiar with the 20-mile stretch of Route 30 between Portland and Scappoose than I would ever care to. There are all these outskirty places you pass through with names like Linnton and Burlington but they are still technically Portland (and I always thought it was Sauvies Island, not Sauvie Island, but whatever, everyone calls it Fred Meyers, not Fred Meyer). The Lighthouse is an amazing maritime-themed bar that looks rougher than it is from a moving car at night, smokers out front. Sure, it’s a dive and no one blinks an eye if you start drinking before noon, but the bartender, a woman in jeans and a tank top who seemed to know everyone coming in for lunch, was playing Beach Fossils and other such bands that rotate on my Spotify Discover playlist, which totally didn’t jibe with the atmosphere and blue collar clientele.  But that is Portland. The wings, burger, and pork tacos were just ok. I would definitely return for drinks, though. Pro tip: a few storefronts down you can gawk at baby chicks, five different breeds, at Linnton Feed and Seed. Also, between the Lighthouse and Linnton Feed and Seed, is another bar/restaurant called Decoy which serves diner fare and apparently also Chinese food. I’m definitely going to get crab puffs when I’m in town next.

ixtapa trio

Ixtapa I ate lunch at this cheap Ameri-Mex Scappoose near-institution as well as eating a takeout chimichanga during my boyfriend’s dad’s 70th birthday party. The dad reported the runs the next morning. I can eat fried tortillas, melted cheese, and refried beans, with abandon, no problem, and I hope this is still the case in three decades. I also had no idea that there were so many White Russian variations, which only stood out because I had my first White Russian on this trip. Not at Ixtapa (at Holman’s).

 

 

Chains of Love: Yard House

yard house facade

Despite possessing a master’s degree, I wouldn’t say that I’ve had an academically rigorous education. In art school in the early ‘90s we met credential-granting liberal arts requirements with classes where we read biographies of our choosing and essentially wrote middle-school level book reports. (A Korean exchange student brought in a copy of Stuart Smalley’s “I’m Good Enough, I’m Smart Enough, and Doggone It, People Like Me!” believing it was non-fiction.) There was one freshman class, though, Art and Ideas, where we were expected to take a more critical approach, or maybe it just seemed more serious since the instructor was British.

pioneer place food court 2

An early assignment was analyzing a regional landmark. I chose the newly opened Pioneer Place mall, as it was pure transitional 1990s–lots of muted pink and mint hues, curves and waves, glass block walls–and was trying very hard to convey an upscale atmosphere. It wasn’t clear who it was for since–at least in my mind–downtown was playground to panhandlers and street kids at the time. (They haven’t been pushed out in the New Portland of 2017, don’t worry–now, there are entire homeless camps under bridges, along medians, and behind bushes.) The only memories of that essay was that I got called out for the use of “sea foam green” which the instructor didn’t get.

pioneer place food court

 

More than 25 years later, and now Pioneer Place is dated (there is not a single photo of the mall on its website) and going through an aesthetic overhaul, which I discovered while passing through the drained fountains, shuttered food court to get to Yard House in an attempt to be a Darden completist. (Breaking news now means I’ll have to add inexplicably named Cheddar’s to my list. And I couldn’t justify a trip to Eddie V’s on my one weekend in Austin, the only city I’ve visited where the chain exists, so that’s a knowledge gap.) Also, I had a $40 gift card from my birthday that I had been saving for just the right occasion. 

vault

Based on the above hint, I’m guessing the new food court will be flush with reclaimed wood, hand-drawn chalkboard menus, and filament bulbs. Maybe an 18-year-old with middling writing ability can deconstruct it.

yard house duo

The Yard House is at its heart a sports bar, touting classic rock, vast and on multiple floors connected by a staircase (apparently it replaced a Saks in 2012) and to my surprise it was very full at lunch with office workers and an enormous table occupied by what seemed like a tour group. (I thought everyone ate at food carts downtown.)  It’s eerily dark because the bulk of the restaurant is in a windowless basement, booths, walls, and ceilings black semi-matte, lit primarily from the multiple TV screens.

yard house chicken sandwich

The menu is a mishmash of what-millennials-eat fare, despite the boomer-leaning rock angle: “street tacos” with a Korean short rib option, deviled eggs with candied bacon, poke nachos, and my choice, a Nashville hot chicken sandwich enlivened by “fried sage, sweet potato pancakes, pickles, ranch dressing, honey hot sauce.” Wow, that’s a lot of trends for one sandwich. I don’t have any recollection of sweet potatoes and the chicken, itself, wasn’t particularly spicy. The bun, not unusually large, muffled a lot of the expected distinct flavors. It was exactly what you would expect of a regional specialty filtered down to KFC and elevated by a gastropub-ish chain.

The previous night’s stay at the nearby Hotel Monaco, festivities kicked-off at 4pm with poutine and happy hour martinis at Red Star Tavern (Portland does have some of the best, most loosey-goosey-houred drink and dining deals), squeezing  in one $5 Vieux Carré at Imperial before the 11pm happy hour cut-off, continuing at Little Bird with the late night happy hour $7 (once $5 but now service-included) double brie burger, then prolonged until the wee hours in my room, meant that by noon check-out my insides were trying to escape my body. My first meal of the day was irrelevant, but I could’ve done worse than a free hot chicken sandwich eaten in a faded glory of a mall basement.

Yard House * 888 SW Fifth Ave., Portland, OR

 

The Post-Millennium Chain Restaurants of Middlesex County: Kona Grill

kona grll vibe

I’m not going to tell you how long ago I ate at Kona Grill because it’s kind of embarrassing in its negligence (not for the mere fact that I ate there). But the documentarian completist in me can’t let it go unmentioned. Plus, I took NJ Transit to get there on a weekend so it was kind of an effort (combined with a visit to friends nearby–I don’t generally do chains solo unless in other countries–where we also did Bonefish Grill brunch). I’ve never been attracted to Kona Grill, kind of because it has a conflicting brand identity. The name would imply meats with some tropical edge, though in reality sushi is prominent. It’s not a part of some major restaurant group (though it’s based in Scottsdale, AZ like P.F. Chang’s) and there are only roughly 30 locations in the US. And also it’s in the parking lot of the Renaissance Hotel, near no other restaurants, unlike the usual suburban clusters, but most importantly it’s across the highway from Bonefish Grill, my old favorite chain, so if I was going to go to Woodbridge (technically Iselin), NJ I would have a hard time giving up a plate of Bang Bang Shrimp for the unknown.

kona grill food

So, Kona Grill is glitzier than it projects from a speeding car zooming down Route 1. There is a main dining room, with a sushi bar as its focus, all glowing blue like a Vegas (or NJ) lounge. We sat in a windowed side room near a fire pit, illuminated by TV screens, and shared a bunch of small plates (crab cakes, dumplings, avocado egg-rolls with honey-cilantro sauce, and portobello & goat cheese flatbread). Entrees remind you of the Grill part of the restaurant’s name and read busy a la miso-saké sea bass shrimp & pork fried rice, pan-asian ratatouille, yet there are also cajun dishes, cuban sandwiches, greek salads, and clam chowder. The menu could stand to be shaved by one-third.

kona grill drinksYou can have sake flights in addition to the Strawberry Basil Lemonades made with Bacardi Dragon Berry Rum. Yes, I’m the freak who always orders a martini with a cheese-stuffed novelty. I think the chain does a substantial happy hour business (I recall reading that in some earnings call transcript), which I will probably never witness first-hand.

Kona Grill * 511 US Hwy 1 south, Iselin, NJ

Chains of Love: Denny’s Jackson Heights

Though it seemed like it appeared overnight, anyone following Queens chain news knew that this Denny’s has been promised for years. The first rumblings were in spring of 2013, a year and a half before I moved down the street. I assumed upon unpacking I would have Super Birds at my disposal 24 hours a day.

denny's facade

The most surprising thing about the new Jackson Heights’ Denny’s, nestled into the fresh, picture-window building also housing a Chipotle and Dunkin’ Donuts wasn’t that they don’t serve craft cocktails like NYC’s first Denny’s (they don’t serve alcohol at all) or that the host automatically sent my arriving party to the table where I was already seated (guess there’s a dearth of childless, middle-age white ladies in the neighborhood) or that it was nothing like the Denny’s in Japan. No, I was extremely tickled that the check was automatically divvied into three. I’m pretty sure I’ve never encountered that at a restaurant in NYC–or any other Denny’s.

denny's receipt

I did not take any photos of the interior. The restaurant is quite bright and large (the waiting area is the size of most cafes in the area) with lots of burgundy booths, diner seating, and totally nondescript décor. I kept getting distracted by blown-up photos on the wall depicting what looked like a Waffle House, but with Denny’s name on the signs.

The menu is heavy on Grand Slams, skillets, and burgers, as it always was. It’s also pretty trend-averse. There are no flatbreads or kale salads. Jalapeño bacon and salted caramel are about as daring as it gets.

denny's pot roast

Bacon cheddar tots were a new addition, and regular old fries could be upgraded to the little blobs, more fritter than tot, for $1.29, so that had to be done. They would probably be better if they cheese had melted rather than stayed shredded. I had no complaints about the level of American cheese oozing on my pot roast melt, though. With the addition of sautéed mushrooms and caramelized onions, held together by toasted 7-grain bread, this was not a bad sandwich. There was an unplanned double pot roast order at my table.

denny's duo

I love leftovers (I always freak when dining with people who leave 25% of their food destined for the trash) so I brought them to work the next day. I reflexively hid my plastic bag from view on the subway, but remembered this was the 7 train, not the F where my Olive Garden remnants elicited scowls.

Denny’s * 8710 Northern Blvd., Jackson Heights, NY

Un-American Activities: KFC and Domino’s Japan

kfc-christmas

I was blessed to be in Japan in December because I got to witness first-hand the phenomenon that is KFC at Christmas. However, I wasn’t able to partake in it because all those displays and set menus plastered on the wall (Sparkling cider with the Colonel’s face on it! Chicken cordon bleu! A $50 whole turkey with its own tote!) are for pre-ordering only. I had no idea.

kfc-trio

So, I settled for a four-piece meal with biscuits, no finger sheaths provided. I love how even at fast food restaurants (well, at least KFC and MOS Burger) if you order iced coffee you receive a little plastic container of simple syrup and the creamer comes in an even tinier plastic container (even though I take it black).

 

Twitter knows me far too well, as evidenced by Pizza Hut’s enticement of online ordering (no human interaction!) in English (bonus!). But after a solid 20 minutes on their site and being surprised that pizzas cost $30+, I kept getting a garbled message after inputting what I thought was my postal code, which I took to mean I was out of their delivery zone even though I was in a centrally located neighborhood. I was not going to give up ordering pizza to my Airbnb even though it had a wonky address that confused multiple cab drivers.

Plan B. Domino’s, similar oddball flavor combinations (roasted pork with demi-glace and mustard sauce,  crab gratin and something called Mayo Jaga with potato, corn, sausage, and mayonnaise obvs) also offering online orders in English, and no less expensive. I, no joke, spent a half hour trying to type my address into a form so the system would recognize it.

dominos-screenshots

I thought with near 80% certainty that I would be charged, and then like an hour later would receive an angry call in Japanese and I would have no way to direct the driver. I clearly have been living in in NYC too long because in Tokyo you could track your pizza every step of the way. I registered for the service (and received a 1000 yen coupon for another order) about ten minutes into waiting and was shocked to see the pizza was 9 minutes away, marked with a cartoon reindeer (despite Domino’s shelving reindeer delivery in Hokkaido) and moving fast. I could also read about the driver’s favorite pizza, music, and sports team, except that I couldn’t read them.

dominos-duoI made my boyfriend put on pants and run down to the street from our second floor (first floor in everyone else in the world’s parlance) to intercept a potentially lost driver, still not convinced we were actually going to receive our pizza. No worries, two friendly guys on mopeds showed up and the box was handed off (I love no tipping culture even if it results in a $33 pizza).

I was the proud owner of Cheese ‘n’ Roll Quattro Delight. That meant a surprise cheese-stuffed crust, and one quarter each of Margherita, deluxe, special seafood, and garlic master. I kind of was the Garlic Master. Japan can thwart visitors in so many ways–procedural, cultural–so I felt a strange sense of accomplishment for having conjured a pizza to my door without speaking the language. Also, I wonder how long my coupon is good for?

 

Eaten, Barely Blogged: Oregon, Better Late Than Never

 

mae-grid

Mae. I was reluctant to eat at a Southern food pop-up in Portland. Who needs it? (I would be more interested in a Pacific Northwest pop-up on the South except that there isn’t a distinct cuisine to speak of.) But it was one of the highlights of my trip; very vegetable-focused, light when it needed to be (chilled zucchini & buttermilk soup with sweet pepper relish, cherry tomato, and sumac-toasted pecans and lingerie beans, flame nectarine, pickled chantrelles, purslane with brown butter vinaigrette) hefty when it was required (chicken fried in three fats–no idea which). And I will never again underestimate the power of biscuits slathered with Duke’s mayonnaise and topped with nothing more than heirloom tomatoes and bourbon barrel-smoked salt. At $65 (suggested donation) for ten courses (was too busy eating to take photos of them all) and BYOB I would consider it a great bargain, though in Portland that means you’ll be sharing a table with some wealthy middle-aged Bergen County transplants and siblings from Eastern Oregon of mysterious means (and a dubious relationship) one whose child with a septum piercing will be going to Harvard in the fall. I was the only teenager-free diner at the table (even my boyfriend has a daughter going to the cool downtown public high school, which everyone approved of) and when the sister from Pendleton made everyone state their favorite movie, and wouldn’t let up after I demurred, I was like maybe I’m a poor conversationalist? No matter, when there’s pickled ramp pimento cheese to be eaten.

nodoguro-grid

Nodoguru. $125 ticketed omakase that sells out in minutes. It was all right. Something about it felt off for Portland, not that I’m critiquing quality or creativity.  I just couldn’t get excited because I’m a jaded monster.

pizza-vendor-grid

Pizza Vendor. Totally the break-out hit of this trip. With its straighforward name and no reason to go unless you happen to already be in Scappoose identity, it suited my needs just fine. It’s the childhood pizza of your dreams, half-and-half if you please, lots of cheese, thin, chewy, and puffy cornmeal-dusted crust, except that now you can get pitchers of beer instead of root beer and I still can’t figure out how what seemed like six-pints worth of some local IPA was only $6.99. Bon Appetit had recently declared Pizza Jerk, a take on East Coast pizzerias, one of America’s Best New Restaurants despite it being closed due to a fire. Magically, it reopened two days before I was to head back to NYC. I had planned to hit it on the way to the airport but went back to Pizza Vendor instead.

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Hat Yai. It’s no secret that I’m a fan of Portland Thai food. There are all sorts of interesting niches being filled despite the Thai population being practically nonexistent. The shtick is Southern Thai in a fast-casual format with cute branding. Fried chicken, lightly battered in seasoned rice flour encrusted with fried shallots and sweet chile sauce is featured and I tried a combo with a big buttery roti and chicken curry, not exactly a light lunch. I kind of love that there are six straight liquors for $6, soda an extra $1.50 (though I’m sure that’s considered overpriced since a majority of cocktails in Portland are still sub-$10) as I’ve been on a tequila and soda kick (so I can pretend I’m not a lame as a vodka soda-drinker). Sometimes I think I will move back to Portland and then I see middle-aged foodie dudes with goatees setting up elaborate photo shoots (was under the impression this was a blogger of some consequence) who pronounce prix fixe, pree fixay, and I’m all nope, I would just be too mean for this town.

urdaneta-duo

Urdaneta. Stopped in for a snack because I was wandering around the area and recognized the name as something newish and ended up ruining my appetite for the $5 Little Bird happy hour double brie burger I had planned on later. Complimentary pimenton-spiked chickpeas and a sweetbread-topped pintxo would’ve suited my needs fine. The tortilla was substantial, gilded with Idiazabal and sherry aioli, and I couldn’t stop eating it.

pine-state-biscuits

Pine State Biscuits. I’ve been before. It was close to my Airbnb.

giant-grid

Giant Drive-In. There’s a shingled A-frame practically in the backyard of the apartment complex my mom and stepdude are now managing. No, it’s not a destination but I would recommend the big, fun (Hawaiian!) burgers and homemade shakes even if you lived a little more than walking distance.

chinook-winds-trio

 

 

Cedar Plank Buffet. We gathered 10 family members for a Sunday brunch buffet at Spirit Mountain Casino because nothing is too good for my mom’s 66th birthday. Fried oysters, smoked salmon, biscuits and gravy, lemon meringue pie, french toast, and bacon is just all a part of the deal.
photo-sep-05-12-41-49-am

Mountain View Sports Bar. Oh, and a late night sports reuben that I carted around from my mom’s to Scappoose because I’m gross and can’t toss food. I can’t remember if this was before or after the mushrooms and Keno (my sister is a hippie) but it was ok because we stayed overnight, no driving.

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Coyote Joe’s. Weird that I would encounter biscuits three times in two days because biscuits aren’t particularly Northwesty.

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San Dune Pub. An oyster po’ boy with local Willapa Bay oysters. See? New Orleans appropriation.

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Little Big Burger. I completely forgot I ate this.

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An Xuyen. Banh mi, only $1.49 more than the ’90s. Best sandwich under $3. The owner/cashier was so damn chatty I thought the line of customers behind me were about to kill us, yet when I looked up no one gave a shit.

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Pho Van. Part of a mini Vietnamese empire. Solid pho. No, I did not make it to Rose VL Deli.

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Shut Up and Eat. My grandma is into this food truck-turned-brick-and-mortar restaurant and I’m half-convinced it’s simply because of the name. The Italian sandwich contained a little more roughage than I’m accustomed to.

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Ixtapa. The waiter was all, “I put habaneros in your food,” I guess to get a reaction, but I was all “ok…” That’s humor in Scappoose. The combos are crazy cheap and you won’t feel weird for ordering a chimichanga. That’s all you need to know.

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Shari’s. The last two times I’ve been (2x in one year is more than I’d been in two decades) they did not have my first choice or second choice pie. YMMV. They always have tots, however.

 

Shovel Time: Agern

threeshovelTwo-and-a-half hours after taking my seat at the counter, early Friday evening (the only one doing so until a Japanese guy with hint of a man bun arrived later and was seated way on the other side of the open prep space), I was glad I didn’t change my reservation for something cooler. My original instinct.

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Sure, high-end dining is a little weird just a few steps down the 42nd Street ramp into Grand Central. More than a couple under-dressed walk-ins looked at at menu at the host stand before leaving But also, and maybe more so, do we need more Nordic-tinged food in NYC in 2016? I wouldn’t say I get excited about nasturtium leaves or nettles and especially not dill. You know there is going to be pine somewhere and pretty borage petals are going to make an appearance. (Sure enough, was seated facing the woman prepping the lavender flowers.) It keeps persisting. Cooler might’ve meant waiting a few days and trying the new Aska. I still haven’t been to Blanca or Semilla, though. No one is giving-up tables for one at Le Coucou or that would’ve been part of my Solo Birthday Dining week. Honestly, I chose Agern in part because I suspected it was good value for a tasting menu. And it really was. $145, service included, for the land and sea menu. With beverage pairings (surprisingly heavy on New York state wines) you’re right at $230. Pricey, obviously, but not to the degree of more established, possibly more luxurious, tastings in the city. You feel good about the time and money spent at the end of the meal.

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The non-table-seated view of Friday rush hour bustle. I watched someone struggle with rolling their wheelchair up the ramp for far too long. I wasn’t staring, but it was in my line of vision and struggled myself to come up with an apt metaphor. There wasn’t one. Just a non-young lady willingly eating algae alone.

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You don’t receive any silverware during the series of snacks involving cucumber, fluke, horseradish, pine, celeriac, dill, oyster, awesome fried potato bread, and sweetbread that tastes like a fancy chicken nugget, and ends with a steaming, soft-centered round of dense sourdough cut into four wedges and served with butter whipped with buttermilk, which took me a few to realize was intentional. Lemon balm and cucumber gets distilled into a broth poured into a vessel the size of a Chinese teacup from a French press. And then you are on your way.

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Points given for full loaves for one. So nice that bread is back.

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Oof, I can’t remember the details other than tomatoes that I thought tasted dangerously close to melon were involved, something creamy, roe too, and that it probably could’ve been one-third smaller and have had more impact. It was the first night they were serving this dish and it’s not currently on the menu.

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Beef heart with green strawberries, tiny rounds of grassy asparagus, and dusted with a nettle powder was a stand-out. This was more vegetable than meat and tasted like the color green.

What’s the vibe? Well, kind of formal. There is a lot of staff. I appreciated that the front of house wasn’t hyper-white. My server had just moved from Puerto Rico to work at Agern and was jazzed about foraging and local ingredients but still happy to talk to me about alcapurrias and morcilla. Not the youngest crowd. A twee version of “Teenage Kicks” started playing in that Nouvelle Vague manner. It probably was Nouvelle Vague. (Yes, I wasn’t sure if they still existed.)

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Then it’s the salt and ash baked beet. It’s quite a production, cracked and carved and extras plated on the side. It’s a lot of beet for one person. The sweet vegetable, paired with huckleberries, is accompanied by a really great chewy rye bread.

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This is when I started getting full and fuzzy. Monkfish and apple…

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The pork neck was rich but a little tough, at least too tough for a butter knife to saw through, but also very bright and vegetal with pea shoots and green beans, plus seaweed crackers, more specifically made from a dulse called söl. This was just about right for the savories to wind down.

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My worst nightmare of a dessert. Cantaloupe (ugh) and cucumber with frozen skyr, lemon balm, and there’s that boarage. Minus the melon (which I realize is my own personal Kryptonite), this was a perfectly nice and refreshing palate cleanser. And then I got worried that maybe it was the main event and not an interim course.

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Phew. We’re still not talking caramel, chocolate, or nuts, but I can deal with strawberries, kombucha, and rose vinegar. Ok, who am I kidding? That’s not a dessert either.

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Candies are more me, earthy or not. Little Play-doh doses of chocolate (Brooklyn chocolate) with anise hyssop, chamomile caramel, mint dusted with ivy powder (yes, ivy).

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You get sent off with a loaf of bread, more of that delicious butter, a tin of jam, which I want to say was apricot and it’s a shame my fruit palate isn’t fully developed. Not quite peachy. Best Saturday morning breakfast really.

Agern * 89 E. 42nd St., New York, NY