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Treasure Island

Treasure Island has become a new Portland tradition. It used to be Rheinlander, but now that my parents are based on the west side all-you-can-eat Chinese trumps German gluttony. I was a little sad to note their 8:30 pm closing (so Portland, jeez) upon our close to 8 pm arrival. But in reality, it saved a lot of calories and unnecessary stomach stretchage. I tried to stay low key on the fried saucy general Tso type items and went wild with pickled vegetables, crispy bean curd and crunchy tendons that sit on the lonely side table with the white rice that no one touches.(10/11/04)

Well, East Buffet, it is not. But you have to take what you can get sometimes. I guess on weekends the place is a madhouse. Luckily, we went on a Monday. They do adequate versions of Chinese American standards like sesame chicken, sweet and sour, egg rolls. You know the drill. They also have a Mongolian grill area where they'll cook up meat and vegetables for you. I was most interested in the lonely little fold-up table against the wall, separate from the main buffet rows. That's where things like tripe, tendons, chile oil, tea eggs, kim chee, pickled cucumbers and the white rice were housed. I found it odd that the white rice was not in with the more mainstream offerings, but after a quick survey it became clear that fried rice is the starch of choice for this particular clientele. I asked my mom and her husband, the step-dude why they didn't eat white rice with their food and their logic was that it fills you up too fast. True, I suppose. But that was always my beef with the whole low-carb thing, how it made eating Asian food impossible since rice seems to be a requisite accompaniment. My new theory, though, is that the Atkin's diet is perfect for middle America because all they really want is the meat anyway. Anyway, Treasure Island was fun for an intrepid buffet aficionado like myself. (12/29/03)

Treasure Island Chinese Buffet * 15930 SW Regatta Ln., Beaverton, Oregon

Pho Van


Word to the wise: don't take your grandma out for Vietnamese food as a
Christmas present. I guess it was my own fault for basing my cuisine choice
on my own personal preferences, but I'd heard about this Pho Van in NW,
thought about paying a visit, then noticed they'd recently opened a
Beaverton location, which was ideal since that's where my mom lives. Instead
of buying presents I told my mom, step-dude and grandma I'd take them out to
eat. And why not take them someplace I'd wanted to go? I knew they weren't
anti-Vietnamese food because when my sister is in town they always go to
Saigon Kitchen.

I ordered both spring and summer rolls and a filled crepe for everyone
to share. The fresh rolls seemed to scare everyone and the crepe was met
with serious suspicion. My grandma informed us she didn't like cilantro. Let
me guess, you don't like mint or bean sprouts either? Thankfully, cilantro
appeared to be the only stumbling block.

For myself I ordered the 1. pho with everything in it and was informed
by the waiter that it had tendon and tripe in it. Duh, that's what it said
on the menu. That's the weird thing I noticed about Portland is that they
assume you either don't know what you're ordering or won't like it if you
do. At Thanh Thao I overheard the waitress informing a table that ordered
something with taro in it, what taro was like you wouldn't possibly want.

The food was very good, and everyone was pleasantly surprised after I
forced them to at least taste everything. I must admit I lost my patience
with my grandma numerous times, but only after she set the tone by making a
big fuss about water dripping from a pipe (it's understandable to not want
to be dripped on, but it's not your business to jump up and yell at new
customers coming in and being seated near the leak), then getting overly
steamed about not receiving our pot of tea. Recalling that she'd gone on
some senior tour of China a few years back, I couldn't help but ask what she
ate while there. "Planet Hollywood and McDonalds" she proudly declared. I
nearly lost my shit and told her that she'd better be joking. She wasn't.
The crowning glory was when she started making a stink about not getting
fortune cookies. I mean, there's no reason for them in a Vietnamese
restaurant, or a Chinese one for that matter. I suppose the holidays are all
about family, and that's why I've managed to avoid a Portland Christmas for
the past six years.

PhoVan * 11651 SW Beaverton Hillsdale Hwy.,

Than Thao

This is so not Thai food. I can't figure out how I ever thought it was. Not that it's false advertising, the marquee does say Thai-Vietnamese, or Viet-Thai, or something along those lines. I noticed this a lot on my recent Portland visit. I guess NYC has made me a food snob, but nothing was cutting the mustard with me. The menu is much more Vietnamese-Chinese. The only curry I saw, and subsequently ordered, was penang, which was tasty in its own way but not Thai-like. It was very peanutty, like they had used a peanut dipping sauce as a base and was filled with vegetables including broccoli and carrots, which just seemed wrong. If you order pad Thai they ask if you want coconut sauce or peanut-garlic sauce. Pad Thai doesn't contain coconut milk. It was really bizarre. And I used to go to this place all the time, never suspecting anything was amiss. The friends I was with thought it was fine. Another old favorite, which I didn't try this time around, Saigon Kitchen, is another Vietnamese restaurant (duh, Saigon) that also does Thai food and no one seems to notice the difference. I mean at a real, only Vietnamese food restaurant I tried later in the week, my grandma practically threw a hissy fit for not getting a fortune cookie. Oh, now that I think about we did get fortune cookies at Than Thao, so who can blame the locals for getting confused. Anyway, I just felt like something was lacking, it's tricky trying to please everyone by doing two cuisines in one establishment.

Thanh Thao * 4005 S.E. Hawthorne St., Portland, Oregon


I originally felt good about my choice to dine out for Thanksgiving this year. No boring turkey to bother with, no out of control portions, seconds and subsequent leftovers for the extended weekend. But last night, on work week eve, I was dying for a plate of three-day-old old stuffing and stale slice of pumpkin pie.

But this was sentimentality at play. Chestnut's Thanksgiving menu was pretty flawless. I went with two friends, which was unusual; I'm used to being a holiday loner. We all ordered three different first starters and main courses, which was also (with James, we often want the same items, and have to negotiate prevent redundancy).

Instead of the usual homemade pickle and bread plate, we were initially presented with crumbly, salty shortbread squares and brioche with butter and cranberry preserves. Fortunately, they didn't over pack the bread basket or else we would've ruined our appetites before even beginning. I started with a substantial rabbit terrine with toast points, quince chutney and a speck of grainy mustard. Being a bundled-up evening, I then opted for the hubbard squash soup with crisp leek garnish instead of the Asian pear and pomegranate salad. If any dish could've been jazzier, this would've been it. But I'm not a soup purist, I like lots of stuff in my broth.

I was torn between the venison and the quail, but settled on the latter, despite being intrigued by the deer's accompanying gunpowder jus (I'm throwing a holiday dinner party next Saturday which is to be in lieu of cooking on Thanksgiving, and am making an Earl Gray tea sauce for duck breasts). After a rye cocktail and some Argyle sparkling wine (Willamette Valley representing–we're all from Oregon, so it seemed right) I became enamored of eating the four toy-sized drumsticks and wings with my hands like a giant. My relish in plucking the limbs from my tiny quails might've put off the 98% vegetarian friend who had to have her trout served headless.

None of us finished with pumpkin pie, and miraculously we all went separate ways: chestnut and fig pave, apple pie, and for me, pecan strudel that thankfully didn't come glazed (I don't care for drizzled icing and associate it with strudel) but drenched in crme anglaise. Flaky, buttery, nutty and creamy in each forkful.

We all agreed that Chestnut has a way with grains (and tubers). Starches aren't always that exciting, but Jessica's leek and sage strewn hominy, Jane's sweet potato gratin and my rich, cherry-studded farro were welcome protein partners (ok, I intentionally used the term protein just to see if I could gross myself out). We weren't stuffed silly, but fortified to stay up drinking champagne and bourbon and ginger beers until the black Friday floodgates were opened. But by 6 a.m., sleeping sounded wiser than shopping. (11/24/05)

During Restaurant Week I made a mental note to return on a Tuesday or Wednesday for their $25 prix fixe, but only recently remembered to return. It's a pretty good deal, all appetizers, soup and salads, entrees (except hanger steak) and desserts can be chosen from for your three courses.

I tried the salad with beets, marcona almonds, pomegranate seeds and arugula. The beets caught my attention because I've been planning a party menu, which I thought might include the burgundy vegetable, but it was the rich marconas that sold me. For a main I went with roasted cod, littleneck clams, fingerling potatoes, shrimp and guanciale. It's so about the sides. Cod doesn't really grab me, but I was dazzled by its menu partners so ordered it anyway. It was almost like a bouillabaisse, but cream based.

That would've been plenty, but when dessert is part of the deal you can't turn it down. I had a pear tart with honey ice cream and brittle, which came like a three ring circus on the plate. A flaky pastry in one zone, honey ice cream topped with the crackly sugar candy in a different spot and thinly sliced caramel soaked pears to the side. I'm always a little unsure how best to tackle these deconstructed dishes.

Chestnut also has a nice list of cocktails. The Rye Presbyterian (Michter's "US 1" Rye, ginger ale and crystallized ginger) caught my attention since you don't see rye used all that often. Sometimes I like burgers and fries American food, other times I like "dorado, grilled melon, kohlrabi, tequila-carrot vinaigrette" American food. Chestnut does the latter style well without getting too precious or over the top. I think I'm going to have Thanksgiving here if I can coax a few holiday orphans out of their Williamsburg cocoons. (11/9/05)

A much better Dine in Brooklyn experience than at Tempo. As it turned out, they have a $25 prix fixe deal every Tuesday and Wednesday, so for an extra five bucks it was worth trying dishes other than DIB ones designated with smiley faces (though they were perfectly fine offerings).

I got wild and drank a Syrah Rose, Renwood 2003 to be exact. (Isnt rose in now, and shaking off bad blush connotations? One of my favorite food outlet finds was a pile of individual serving wine boxes that came in variations: white, red and pink. I bought pink, of course.) I don't know how well it paired with the wonderful octopus, chickpea, feta, fried herb/green (ah, I looked it up: cavolo nero, I think thats kale) salad. I love fried herbs, very Thai, but also Italian I've recently learned. It was crazy olive oily, in a good way, the way I'm too worried and restrained to do at home. I'm notoriously skimpy with oils, fats, spreads (my bagels are kissed rather than slathered with cream cheese), which makes no sense because it certainly hasnt resulted in any slimming effect.

Despite the insanely unseasonable weather (like 80-something degrees) I still opted for the cool climate oxtail with polenta. It wasn't as heavy as it sounds. The polenta came presented in two small disks, bottoming and topping the braised meat almost like an ice cream sandwich, but with beefier more copious filling. The dish was also accompanied by a chard and shitake jus, which I defnitley wouldn't have remembered without the aid of a online menu.

I even ran into someone I knew (hes not exactly a friend, but a friend of a friend who destroyed a perfectly good Rubbermaid container with a hammer at one of our parties, but you take what you can get when it comes to acquaintances), which seems quintessentially New York if you watched TV, but rarely ever happens to me. Maybe because I'm antisocial. Or maybe because I live in Carroll Gardens and am single and childless. You arent allowed into the secret circle until you procreate and purchase an SUV and a canine. (Or not. I just found this Chowhound post on whether a five month old would be appropriate at Chestnut. No, was the overwhelming response.)

I want to go back already, or at least try to reproduce a version of the Mediterranean-ish salad. If anything the DIB promotion has endeared me to midweek dining (and also exposed me to freaks that seem like they never eat out in public–weird demands, bad manners, loud voices, fighting–er, that could just be Brooklyn on any given night.) So much better than overcrowded weekend meals. Just like how some say bars on weekends are filled with amateurs. Heck, I'm a pro at eating and drinking, why relegate my skills to Fridays and Saturdays. (4/20/05)

This was sort of an early Christmas dinner since both James I would be out of town in separate towns for the holidays. It was a nice choice, as the menu reflected the winter season (though if I had to pick, I think fall would be my favorite food time of year).

I had a large appetizer of grilled sweetbreads with pistachio relish. The relish was very nice, though I'm not sure what it contained. It wasn't completely nutty, there was something green predominating, and a citrus flavor. For an entre I tried duck with curried quince and rice croquettes. I was pleased with the duck and croquettes, though I'd have to say the quince was the most unsuccessful part of the meal. They were a little firm for my taste, and seemed overly subtle. I wouldn't have known they were curried if it weren't for the traces of yellow liquid that pooled beneath them. But that was minor. A honey and chestnut bread pudding made for a satisfying shared dessert.

There was a series of appetizer toasts with toppings like chicken liver & apple, ricotta & caramelized onion, and chick pea & romescu, that I wouldn't mind trying on a repeat visit. (12/21/03)

Chestnut * 271 Smith St., Brooklyn, NY

Cafe Con Leche

1/2 I don't care how many Seinfeld reruns I see, the Upper West Side scares me. I know that's not a fair assessment of this restaurant. In fact, my cubano was perfectly fine. It's just that I feel out of sorts when I'm in this neck of the woods, and even numerous bottles of Negro Modelo won't help. But if I'm ever attending a Christmas performance in the west 80s by my boyfriend's coworker's choir, I wouldn't be averse to popping in for some pernil.

Caf Con Leche * 424 Amsterdam Ave., New York, NY