Skip to content

Posts from the ‘Oregon’ Category

Shovel Time: Momiji

I’m sure there are exceptions but state capitals tend to be almost non-places and definitely not food destinations. Sacramento? Albany? Salem? Have you ever been curious about sushi Oregon’s capital? Probably not.

Salem is full of lesser regional chains like Izzy’s and Pietro’s, and also a Sizzler. (I can’t believe the only one left in Portland that I was supposed to go to on a Tinder date but ended up going to with my grandma is gone.) I went to the Oregon State Fair earlier and decided to stay the night. Momiji was one of the few places open late on Sunday (until midnight) and I kind of like this level of non-purist sushi: crazy rolls, all-you-can-eat specials, and saloon doors separating a video poker room. A lot of businesses in Salem are low-slung and windowless like they are up to something. 

You don’t even have to wear shoes.

When in Salem one must order the Salem roll, a holy trinity of cream cheese, avocado, and fake crab, fried tempura-style and drizzled with eel sauce. Momiji is the kind of place where you don’t feel guilty for ordering sushi with sweet and creamy sauces, though I still got some unadorned ikura and maguro.

I might’ve guessed that the poke on the appetizer list was just riding the wave of Hawaiian raw fish popularity, though it’s hard to say because I forgot how much of a Hawaiian presence there is in the NW. I’ve heard because many Hawaiians go to the University of Oregon and end up staying. I’ve been to multiple luaus in the 20 months that I’ve been visiting Portland. All that plus tempura was too much food.

Momiji * 4590 Silverton Rd., Salem, Oregon

 

International Intrigue: Kizuki Ramen & Izakaya

kizuki facadeRamen is all good and well, of course, though there is something to be said for the journey rather than the main event. Which is to say, there is practically nothing I love more than uncharted suburbs (and stumbling upon US chains abroad) and I’ve realized I miss driving through them. I’ve been away from Portland for nearly 20 years, and in my absence planned communities have sprung up from fields on the outskirts of town and people want to live there. (My first encounter with this boxy sprawl was in 2002 when I met my former library coworker at an Indian restaurant in the still-developing Orenco Station enclave.)

This visit 15 years later, I met a high school friend in a suburban strip mall on the westside because it was close to her office even though we both grew up in an eastside suburb where she still lives in the exact same house with her parents since the 1980s.

cedar hillsFirst, I had to find a Walgreens because I’d ran out of a prescription and ended up in some area called Bethany Village that seemed to consist of one giant earth-toned outdoor shopping center surrounded by new apartments, likely with vessel sinks and carpeted bedrooms. Or is Bethany a neighborhood? I don’t recognize fully half of neighborhood names in the Portland area and they are not inventions that nod to geography like South Slope or BoCoCa. No, they are confident, seemingly historical names like Arbor Lodge, Overlook, and Brentwood-Darlington that  materialized post-millennium and are now accepted as fact by new residents. If someone says a restaurant is in Cully, I have absolutely no idea where that is.

The young white woman who was working at the pharmacy had blue and magenta hair and she complimented me on my wallet, which only now I’m realizing was blue and magenta. I put a plastic bottle of Perrier in my purse and walked out without paying for it like an old shoplifter starved for attention.

To get to Kizuki (formerly Kukai, as it still reads on the facade, Kookai in Japan, but apparently the word means poop in Hawaiian?) my GPS steered me through ‘80s upscale neighborhoods anchored by a country club until I popped out in another development that looked like Bethany Village but without unified branding. These modern strip malls always seem higher-end but on closer examination this one contained a generic grocery store called Market of Choice and a Supercuts (though also a barre studio).

suburban cowboy

 

Even though these developments are meant to evoke small towns, there is no foot traffic, everyone drives. So a craggy man in a cowboy hat, maybe in his 50s, cigarette dangling out his mouth while taking a small dog for a walk seemed wildly out of place. I tried taking a few creepshots but he was too far away to capture all the detail. A woman my age with a grade school daughter glanced at my feet, either admonishing or admiring my grass green Swedish Hasbeens. I shot a glare at the back of her head to psychically signal that she couldn’t judge me because I’m not a Portland mom.

kizuki ramen

 

Will I get to the ramen? Maybe. I’m more ramen enthusiast (udon is more enticing, honestly) than expert. I ordered the gut bomb version, garlic tonkotsu shoyu ramen, with a photo in the middle of the menu, larger than the rest, which was pointed out to me when I asked the enthusiastic server what was most popular. I like a rich pork broth, though this was extra oily, with a whole soft-yolked egg, and lean cut of chashu. I’m a slow eater so my big bowls of noodle soup always cool down before I get to the bottom, which makes the fattiness more pronounced. I would try the yuzu shio next time to see how it compares to Afuri’s signature yuzu-spiked version.

I was surprised that my friend said she couldn’t use chopsticks, despite my knowing that Filipinos don’t traditionally use them, and yet unsurprised because there was something very Portland about this, like no matter your heritage or place of birth, each decade spent in Oregon diluted any evidence of being “ethnic” despite your appearance. Some go the other way as adults. I know non-religious black people who became Muslim and changed their names and Jews who I didn’t even know were Jewish move to the Upper West Side and become orthodox. But more typical are minorities who support Trump, which I discovered when I accepted a Facebook request from a middle school friend.

Upon arrival, I got the no seating incomplete parties story, which is unusual for the area, particularly since the restaurant was nearly empty. We overstayed our visit, lingering at our table for two that was blocked by a wall from the main dining room, and as we left, I noticed the restaurant was full with people waiting not just in the lobby but outside as well. Clearly, the suburban ramen chain has an audience.

Kizuki Ramen & Izakaya * 11830 NW Cedar Falls Dr, Portland, OR

 

Eaten, Barely Blogged: Memorial Day Weekend in Oregon

jackrabbit trio

Jackrabbit Meals other than dinner aren’t optimal for assessing what a restaurant can do. I took my mom to the new Chris Cosentino restaurant in the Duniway Hotel for a belated Mother’s Day lunch. It was sparsely populated, which could’ve been because it’s new or it’s not the type of place the average Portland person (or tourist–I couldn’t believe the crowds outside clearly from out of town) goes to lunch downtown. My first impression was disappointment since they didn’t have the sal de gusano (I ordered it precisely because that’s a hard to source ingredient) described as the rim for my cocktail, The Crank (mezcal, Pommeau de Normandie. lime, agave, basil). The pig’s ears were good, crunchy bits balanced by gelatinous strips. My mom’s french onion soup looked insane, not just with the blanket of melted cheese but a hunk of marrow bone sticking out. At lunch, sandwiches are the focus so I tried a banh mi with pork belly and big fat fried oysters and wanted to die. I’ll hold off on forming an opinion since I didn’t sample any of the ham or large format curiosities like the pig’s head with “brainaise.” I still haven’t been to Headwaters in the Heathman Hotel either, which I should at least for reference purposes but I’m not terribly excited about hotel dining in Portland.

tad's 6

Tad’s Chicken ‘n Dumplings a.k.a. Chic Dump per the neon sign and URL, has existed for as long as I remember in Troutdale, one town over from where I grew up, but I’d never been and when I complained to my mom about it on this trip she didn’t seem surprised or to care. This is important business! I’ve also never eaten chicken and dumplings in my life, which seem more Midwestern than Northwestern but Oregon and Washington are lacking in a regional cuisine anyway. It’s on the Sandy River where we went as hormonal teens, inner tubing and sunbathing and fended off gross guys with cut-offs and mustaches. I just listened to a Walkman and read The Boys on the Rock and imagined Simon LeBon was featured in the cover illustration. People said that the chicken and dumplings were not good. They were in my book because I like sinking my teeth into some serious carbs, but the combination of cubed, skinless chicken and wet pillowy whiteness is kind of like nursery food, soft and bland, more salty than anything. The above photo is misleading; that serving presented in a metal raised dish could feed at least three people and I can’t imagine you’d use up all of the extra gravy, especially after the relish tray, salad, and big plate of chicken livers with ketchup, an unnecessary extra I ordered because they were cheap, also a bottle of Oregon Pinot Noir since 90% of them ranged from $20-$25.

IMG_3442

13 Virtues Brewing First choice for a meetup with my mom and grandma was Iron Horse, closed on Memorial Day, then moved to SanFelipe Taqueria, also closed. Apparently this place in Sellwood has been serving cheesesteaks since the ’80s (the boyfriend said he went there in high school) though at some point it re-branded to a brew pub because in Oregon everything is brew pubs and changed its name. I forget no one uses Cheez Whiz outside of Philadelphia minus a few purist spots, so I was bummed by my melted provolone.

Crackerjacks This bar/restaurant looks like it has been on the corner of Thurman and 27th forever but I had never been and don’t recall its existence in my day. I liked it enough to return twice, though. Once just for drinks, the other for a cheeseburger. There is also a pizza menu though the pizza oven was broken on Memorial Day. Clearly, you’re not supposed to go to restaurants on Memorial Day. I like to disparage Portland but most everyone is nicer than in NYC. I was complimented on different dresses numerous times and was told I “looked adorable” by a waitress here. I think the last time a stranger said I was cute in NYC, it was a hostess at Mesa Grill in 1999.

bamboo sushi chirashi

Bamboo Sushi Since I have been returning to Portland for close to a year-and-a-half I have avoided this popular place as it seemed like white people sushi, which is rich coming from me since I am pretty callous about the whole cultural appropriation kerfuffle that emerged when I was in town. I don’t care if white people make sushi but this restaurant was exactly what I had pictured: pristine and sustainable fish choices, not quite traditionally presented, a little pricey, and sloppy service. A young woman had a new young man shadowing her and that might not have been the best pairing as I wouldn’t have known she was training him if she hadn’t said so. I couldn’t argue with the sweet crab legs and surf clams in my $27 chirashi (not sure about the microgreens and red onions). I also managed to snap a wooden arm rest off my chair when scooting closer to the table, which has nothing to do with anything, but added to the off-kilter-ness.

old world deli trio

Old World Deli My mother and I met my sister in Corvallis, at her suggestion, despite it in no way being the half-way point between Portland and Eugene. A cousin who works two blocks away alos joined us for lunch. I ordered first–an important point–a reuben sandwich, and then all three family members subsequently ordered the same thing even my sister who I hadn’t seen eat meat since 1990. I’m usually vehemently opposed to anyone in the same party ordering the same dish, but by necessity I’ve become a kinder, gentler human when in Oregon, plus at a random deli that looked like a Veteran’s hall, staffed by teenage boys…who cares? The sandwiches were fine, though the marble rye was too soft and stuck to everyone’s teeth. That’s just one reason why I’m not including any pictures of people.

Chains of Love: The Original Original Pancake House

original pancake house facade

You’d be forgiven for not knowing that the original Original Pancake House originated in Portland, Oregon. I only had a vague sense of this, especially since I grew up on the east side of the city and never had any reason to eat breakfast at a restaurant twenty miles away, on the other side of the Willamette.

pancake house

I almost visited an Original Pancake House in Seoul, since it was a few blocks from my hotel, before even seeing where it all began in Oregon. Even though I was chided for not really eating any Korean food during my two-night stay over Thanksgiving, it didn’t seem right to eat American breakfast in addition to Taco Bell and a mildly esoteric tasting menu.

original pancake house room

I can’t speak for any of the other Original Pancake Houses, but I can’t imagine a quainter place to choose from 15 or so pancakes. With its candy-striped awning, sun room, knotty wood paneling, decorative dishes, and smaller interior than would seem so from the street, the restaurant transmits wholesomeness with a touch of the old world. You would not suspect it was a chain if you didn’t know the name.

original pancake house dutch baby closeup

The glorious Dutch Baby, burnished upturned edges, custardy crater, lightly powdered, is their specialty. Lemon wedges, whipped butter, and more powdered sugar are served on the side. I wanted pecan pancakes but it would be a mistake to shun what made the place famous on my first visit. Many of the diners lolling around after prime breakfast time had plate-spanning versions topped with apple wedges that from a distance looked like they’d been served and entire pan of monkey bread.

original pancake house hash

Sure, there are also omelets and corned beef hash for the know-nothings like my dining companion who said it tasted canned despite the promises of “homemade,”but duh, you’re supposed to order pancakes.

original pancake house james beard

The James Beard American Classic award from 1999 was proudly displayed facing my seat.

old spaghetti factory BC

Bonus: Did you know that the oldest Old Spaghetti Factory is also in Portland? I had the good fortune to stumble upon a branch a few weekends ago in Vancouver, B.C.

The Original Pancake House * 8601 SW 24th Ave., Portland, OR

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

 

International Intrigue: Afuri Portland

It recently dawned on me that I’ve become a townie.

This development is surprising since I didn’t grow up in a college town or go to school in a college town, which were one and the same, so that label has never had any resonance. But I’ve come to recognize the provincial symptoms: nostalgia for the bad old days, suspicion of the new, disdain for outsiders with seemingly more money than sense.

I wasn’t shocked that a bowl of ramen at the new(ish) Afuri in Portland cost twice as much as in Tokyo because like most modern humans I look at online menus before I dine at restaurants. And I’m not outraged. Objectively, it’s a really good bowl of ramen. I’m not saying it’s not worth $16 (even though Manhattan-priced Ippudo is $15). But food doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and this is as good as any example what’s weird with the New Portland.

Afuri is located in an area that now some like to call the Central Eastside Industrial District, three blocks from dive, My Father’s Place, that I used to call lovingly, “Cum on the Grill,” and just up the street from a friend’s $2,000/month design studio, which will triple in rent in a few short years.

franz

People in Portland are living in tents like it’s no big thing. Maybe everyone is too stoned to care? (Though the city, because it was traditionally do-goody, has always had a disproportionate amount of homeless.) I vaped nice and legal anxiety-quashing high CBC/low THC weed 75% of the days I was there (I was never a stoner in my youth, which is a feat in the NW) and still think there are way too many dispensaries and billboards advertising cannabis. Even local white bread Franz Bakery (that employed a delivery driver who rear-ended and totaled my parked Chevette in the late ‘90s—I will never forgive them) has cutely illustrated vans now saying “Get Portland Baked.”

Post-college, I lived on $425 a month, which my step-dude leaked to my Oregonian boyfriend a few weeks ago coupled with the advice,”Don’t ever apologize for being working class,” and the year I moved, 1998, I made roughly $14,000, the result of an $11 an hour, full-benefits, part-time (by choice) government job. (Library pages at NYPL in 2017 make $11 an hour.) Twenty years later, and practically no one I know, friends and family, makes over $40,000 a year in Oregon. (Though I haven’t a clue how much clothing design brings in, and I’m aware of an NYC transplant frenemy who earns $70,000, likely a step down salary-wise, and pays $1,800 for a studio apartment.)

content

Why should I care? I have a well-paying job, low overhead, no dependents, and most importantly, I don’t even live in Portland. It offends me that studio apartments in my hometown cost more than my mortgage and maintenance in Queens. And yes, Queens is still NYC. It offends me that job searches using “content” as a keyword turn up grocery store clerk positions.

Ok, back to the food. Nomad.PDX just morphed from pop-up to permanency with a $160 tasting menu, which Eater defended thusly “But remember, 20 courses for $160 is still peanuts when compared with most prices in other cities.” Not really. Sure, I wouldn’t even give it a thought in NYC. I still think that’s aggressive pricing in Portland. I once let my guard down and tried the $125 Nodoguro “Hardcore Omakase” and I can’t remember anything about it. Everyone I’ve encountered in the restaurant industry is nice, the staff are always very earnest, but there’s a lot of pretense. I almost laughed at a recent dinner when a server asked if I wanted the short or long explanation of the Venica “Talis” Pinot Bianco he was pairing with the mushroom larb. Short, please. And for what it’s worth, the $80 tasting at Langbaan is a great value.

afuri-trio

Tokyo style

 

Ok, now back to Afuri. The Portland branch shares the ramen in common with the Tokyo original but that’s where all resemblances end. Afuri, at least in Harajuku, isn’t a hole in the wall. There’s an upscale feel but there are only counter seats, you place your order by feeding change to a vending machine and handing the ticket to the host/cook, and there’s very little to contemplate beyond ramen or tsukemen.

afuri dining

The Portland restaurant is vast, with a separate bar, counter seating, and at least twenty tables, freestanding and along the wall of windows. There was more than one party that consisted of grown children accompanied by confused parents, very similar to Williamsburg. There is a wine list, cocktails, the menu has a callout box featuring five ramen on the upper right side, and the rest is devoted to hot and cold appetizers, robata offerings (St. Helens Farm beef tongue, Jacobsen salt, black pepper, scallion, sesame oil, lemon, anyone?) and sushi and sashimi. It would almost make sense for the US restaurant to use that strange SE Asian naming affectation and call it something like Yuzu by Afuri indicating its lineage but broadcasting a different concept.

afuri ramen portland

Same bowl, same ladle spoon, extra metal plate.

 

I wasn’t asked if I wanted the standard chu-yu (chicken oil) in my yuzu ratanmen or the extra oil. It came with a marked sheen on the surface and was definitely heavier than the Japanese version. The magic of Afuri’s ramen is that it is extremely rich and concentrated but still manages to be light. I hate to use the word “clean” to describe food, though I almost felt energized the first time I ate it. This bowl still had the nice citrus tones that complemented the spice, but there was no way I could eat a pancake soufflé afterwards like I did in Tokyo. Nonetheless, I greatly enjoyed my quick Sunday afternoon meal.

But maybe I wouldn’t have if I lived there. That’s the rub. I’ve been toying with moving back to Portland, I guess for love, but I just can’t justify it when there are scant professional jobs there and my cost of living is less in NYC. I never thought I’d have much in common with rent-stabilized natives of Bushwick, yet now I’ve been gentrified out of my hometown and it’s still kind of a shithole. Keep Portland weird, you guys!

P.S. If rumors are to believed, Afuri is going gangbusters in Portland. A second downtown branch is supposedly already in the works.

Afuri * 923 S.E. 7th Ave., Portland, OR