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Top 8 Pre-Portlandia Restauarants

Before there were vegan strip clubs and chickens named Colin, cinnamon-and-sugar crusted elephant ears were the only thing you order from a trailer in Portland (while shopping for rainbow kites and jewelry forged from bent spoons at Saturday Market, of course) and shunning animal products meant ordering drive-thru 7-layer burritos without the sour cream and cheddar cheese. Yet despite the last millennium lack of barrel-aged cocktails, foraged lichen or whole animal butchery, residents managed to dine out every now and then.

In fact, some of these old guard establishments are still in business and presumably maintain a loyal following. Presumably, because I’ve only been back to Portland three times in nearly 16 years so it’s not as if I’m keeping tabs on the current state of near stalwarts. And this is not exactly about the food anyway; longevity and memories count for something too.

Don’t worry, FWx kids. Someday everything you once loved will also disappear. First small plates, then communal seating…and then we’ll all die. Ok, bye!

P.S. RIP Quality Pie, Circus Burger, Pizza Oasis, Yankee Pot Roast, Macheezmo Mouse, and Taste of Bali.

P.P.S. No one ever uttered or wrote “Keep Portland weird” in my multi-decade Portland lifetime.

Photo: 10best

Photo: 10best

Old Wives’ Tales is totally where the feminist bookstore womyn would eat, yet also could function as a meeting place for your meat-and-potatoes mom. In retrospect, it seems a little crunchy though at the time it just felt like a regular restaurant. The brightly muraled kids playroom and muted mint green and dusty rose color palette is still in effect and would somehow be more at home in a second-tier city in the state or the Oregon Coast.  Frankly, the food is kind of boring—I only ever ate the Hungarian mushroom soup and salad bar and rosemary chicken sandwich. They appear to have added a Mt. Hood painting to the facade and attempted to cool-up the name with the acronym OWT. That is too much.

La Sirenita’s arrival on N.E. Alberta when it was still a dead zone, taking the bus out there seemed sketchy and prostitutes would approach my car at night, marked the dawn of New Portland. I rarely eat burritos now that I’m civilized, but no one ate tacos at this taqueria, which was actually Mexican and not gross spinach, brown rice and non-dairy cream cheese hippie-mex. In fact, there was no rice at all in these burritos (though the menu now indicates otherwise) or even cheese. They were also not Mission-style, nor any style I’ve since encountered. Maybe five inches long, and nearly as wide, these flour tortilla parcels were crazy dense and filled with lardy refried beans and meat (carnitas always) so greasy it would ooze orange through the bag and onto every surface. I don’t think these burritos cost more than $3 either; even  now they are only $4.



Rheinlander A million years ago I wrote about Rheinlander and how the long-time accordionist Victor Meindel made me cry (not food-induced tears of joy) when I was in my 20s. Instead of demurring when solicited for a request like I normally would, I asked for “Consider Yourself” from Oliver, a movie that has always skeeved me out, but that I knew he always played in the ‘80s. This was the next decade. The earnest serenading coupled with his goofy grin sent me into nervous hysterics and then tears began seeping out. I have no idea of Victor is still there; he was probably in his 50s at the time of this incident. (This is the only other photo I can find of him.)

victorRheinlander is where we would occasionally have family celebrations and where I went for my high school graduation dinner. My oversized Tasmanian Devil t-shirt-wearing former step-sister that I’ve had no contact with for over a decade once asked for more sautéed mushrooms with her jagerschnitzel like a methy Oliver Twist and they actually complied. This was only slightly less humiliating than her uncle who insisted on a beer-whisky drink that he’d had in the service even though the non-German waitress had no idea what he was growling on about. Rheinlander’s selling point was a sharp cheese fondue served in a cast iron pot, which I now know is Swiss not German, but whatever. The even more TL, DR version here.

Hung Far Low gets attention from its unintentionally ribald name. It’s not even in Old Town/pseudo-Chinatown anymore (which isn’t called Old Town anymore—Pearl District what?) and lost the classic chop suey sign, which means it’s kind of dead to me, but I will always think of the dark vinyl booth lounge (no one ate in the restaurant) fondly. It was my specter of a boyfriend’s (I’m not even dating 44-year-olds now) haunt where we’d drink whiskey sours (me) and greyhounds (him) and eat late-night General Tso’s chicken. You would always run into someone you knew here. When I fell and broke my tailbone and was off work for over two weeks, I recuperated enough to go out but didn’t tell anyone and was spotted at Hung Far Low by a coworker like in those hidden camera workers’ comp sting operations.

Photo: Google+

Photo: Google+

Chu’s Eatery Frankly, I’m beyond shocked that this column A, column B Chinese-American restaurant still exists. In middle school, I briefly lived in the divorced families apartment complex across the street, but was too young to dine on my own. By driving age, and back in a two-parent house, my sister and I would occasionally visit for a cashew chicken combo that contained more chopped celery and carrots than meat or nuts. The adjoining lounge always seemed a bit tawdry and not in a kitschy way. This wasn’t a tiki-era relic, but firmly a product of that ‘80s Northwestern bark dust moat, wooden slat style, in this case fueled by Bud Light and video poker. Because Gresham is/was a small town, I heard from a non-friend high school classmate that her mom had been at Chu’s and was upset by a group of rowdy kids with skateboards including me. She was wrong, though; the weirdo we were with was a 25-year-old man. During this period I also started my first job bussing tables at a restaurant very much like Chu’s called Hunan Garden. Crab rangoon is in my veins.

My Father’s Place This would be as if Chu’s lounge was just one big restaurant that served reuben sandwiches and was patronized by proto-hipsters. I imagine it’s exactly the same now minus the proto part.

Taco Time Burgerville is the local chain that gets the most attention, but I’m pretty sure they didn’t rebrand as fresh, seasonal and sustainable until the 2000s. It used to be a burger joint plain and simple. Taco Time describes itself as an “upscale quick service restaurant chain that specializes in freshly prepared, home-style Mexican fare” on its website, which is completely untrue. You go there for tightly rolled fried burritos, half flauta, half chimichanga, now called Original Crisp Burritos, and lightly spiced tater tots a.k.a. Mexi-Fries.

Montage Technically Le Bistro Montage, the restaurant, which I never thought of as Cajun, but kind of is,  is currently located in what’s now called the Central Eastside Industrial district. It used to be on Belmont and was kind of a big deal to be open until 3am on weekends, considering bars and most everything close at least an hour before that. With white tablecloths and non-paper napkins, Montage seemed like a fancy restaurant—and certainly a step up from burritos and egg rolls—but wasn’t expensive. It was also the first place where I encountered foil animals for leftovers.

There is also an argument that could be made for Higgins, Wildwood and Paley’s Place, but those were far too grown-up and expensive for me to have any first-hand knowledge.

Anchors Aweigh

Looks like Schott forgot to add some secret lingo to his Times bar piece. Ok, If I’m to understand, the cast of ABC’s upcoming Mixology aren’t bartenders but misguided douches who hang out near mixologists and use “Barcabulary.” Let’s hear it for the other side of the bar.

Can not wait for more.


twoshovelSomething about Clinton Hill attracts upstart pizza makers who modernize anachronistic ingredients, and I’m all for it. The Provel cheese used at Speedy Romeo  taps into some part of my soul, despite having zero roots in St. Louis. Processed cheese is one thing. Bell peppers are quite another.

emily camp randall pizza

The ground pork sausage and still crunchy green peppers (mushrooms are ok) on The Camp Randall at Emily dredges up the unsavory past. At least there were no canned black olives and the cheese curds were unexpected. Even though the combo made me want to cry, I do appreciate the presence of a midwestern “supreme” pizza among the taleggio, prosciutto and honey.

emily 'nduja, uni, pistachio spaghetti

I kept quiet, though, because I’d picked the pasta and didn’t want to be a ordering control freak while dining with a semi-ex-boyfriend. The spaghetti was al dente and crazy rich as you’d expect from ‘nduja, uni and pistachios. It was the crushed nuts, oddly, that stood out the most. The sea urchin and spreadable spicy sausage lost their distinctiveness and instead lent an overall creaminess. It looks to be a work in progress; the current iteration keeps the ‘nduja and adds curry leaves and a poached egg instead.

emily pig ear salad

The kale hegemony is finally complete. I was warned about a change in the kale salad even though I wasn’t ordering the kale salad. It’s now just assumed that all diners will order the kale salad (our neighbors did). No, break free and get the hearty greens in a mustardy vinaigrette with crispy ribbons of fried pig ears that act as a bacony crouton. Interestingly, 1 Knickerbocker has a similar salad that contains curry leaves. Curry leaves and pig ears are already hot in 2014.

emily pizza oven

The service is as nice as can be, the neighborhood could use new restaurants and the pizzas have great potential–do not take my personal food aversions to be a condemnation.

Emily * 919 Fulton St., Brooklyn, NY

The Week In International Intrigue: Hot Pots, Hot Nabes, Weird Places

If you find yourself in Madrid in desperate need of Goldfish crackers, Teddy Grahams, Newman’s Own salad dressings or Smucker’s Goober (strawberry and grape) head to a chain of stores called Taste of America. Just ignore the Marmite.

Little Lamb, a new Chinese hot pot chain in Flushing is getting a bit of attention, but whither Little Sheep? All of these knock-offs are so confusing and so very Chinese.

Of course there is now an Amsterdam cafe called Bedford Stuyvesant with kale on the menu. The owners seem vaguely intentional in this neighborhood naming choice at least.

Thrillist rounds up a number of “legitimately great delicacies” at chain restaurants abroad. I beg to differ with Pizza Hut Germany’s mac ‘n’ cheese pie.

Vietnam’s first McDonald’s is still making waves. CNN uses it as a springboard to detail a few other “weird places” to find the chain like the countries of Israel and India. (The not mentioned Berlin McDonald’s in front of Checkpoint Charlie is kind of a weird location really, plus it serves the McRib year round.) Also, Serious Eats interviews a Hanoi-based food blogger for his take. Big Macs will probably not be the death of banh mi.

The Wall Street Journal article, “In Dubai, Fast Food Is Big Draw at the Mall” sounds like it’s going to be fun, but it’s really about one Indian woman who got diabetes and now eats food court tom yum for lunch. This is in the business section.

So You Think You Can Brunch

You may think you have brunched. You might even think you hate brunch. But that’s only because you’ve never been ferried to your destination–a complex filled with so many food and drink stations that a map is required–down a man made canal with the Persian Gulf and sail-fin Burj al Arab at your side. Omelets, organic eggs or not, and bottomless mimosas will no longer cut it.

view from abra

Having a few Hong Kong champagne buffets and Singapore high teas under my belt, I thought I knew all about luxury hotel excess in faraway places. Southeast Asia ruined me for Vegas; I’ve never bothered with its all-you-can-eat affairs. America, we can’t compete on a world stage. Nowhere is this more evident than in Dubai where they kick our ass in malls, chain restaurants, fast cars, and of course, three-and-a-half-hour eatathons.

Friday is their Sunday and the place to be is at the Al Qasr. (This is actually where I stayed last July, which seems odd in retrospect since I don’t really enjoy resorts but didn’t know that at the time. The downside to Dubai in summer–beyond the inability to take the sun’s searing rays on your skin for more than two minutes–is that you might find yourself in the middle of a religious holiday where being separated from alcohol till sundown completely defeats the purpose of the all-afternoon brunch.)

al qasr brunch boat

Spanning three restaurants and occupying multiple outdoor patios that abut the artificial waterways, there is more to ingest than the mind can take in at once. I mean, there’s a boat, a gondola really, sitting in a shallow fountain, where men who aren’t Italian wear black-and-white striped shirts and red kerchiefs and serve bagna cauda. As to that map, it really exists, but I was not handed one, nor saw anyone else scrutinizing one. However, I was provided with a sample menu beforehand, which turned out to be a 14-page Word document.

For my first meal of this trip, I met up with a friend’s sister who lives in Abu Dhabi, a blessing really because solo travel is one thing, but brunch for one is a punishment on par with being made to sit through A Winter’s Tale alone on Valentine’s Day. We went the AED 575 route, which includes “bubbly” and “grape beverages”–the words champagne and wine are not used in advertising out of cultural respect–in addition to cocktails. As of this second, that’s $157, not a small amount of money, though true ballers can cough up an extra $60 for Moet (or save a paltry $27 by eschewing alcohol altogether, which either means this brunch a great value for drinkers or financially abusive to teetotalers).

al qasr pork trio

Halt. You are now entering pork territory. Fair warning.

al qasr spanish

This is really just the Spanish section, though; there’s plenty of gazpacho, paella, tortilla, coca, olives and anchovies among the jamon and chorizo.

al qasr thai

What little I tried of the Thai food was shockingly good. The papaya salad with shrimp was way spicier and fresher than expected for a tourist show, and I was impressed to see chor muang dumplings in all their purple-skinned glory.

al qasr bbq

I don’t know that I would consider spit-roasted chimichurri beef to be American bbq, though mac and cheese, corn on the cob and baked beans were accurate enough. It also didn’t seem prudent to fill up on fried chicken or brisket. Same with the Middle Eastern and Indian food, which are pretty much everywhere in Dubai. We were accosted here by a presumably working Canadian chef, as if he had set a comfort food trap to lure North American women. To his credit, he cut a drinks line to get us alcoholic coconut beverages (more on that later).

al qasr sweet things

Just a fraction of the sweet things on display.

al qasr brunch raw bar plate

Round one: raw bar and sushi.

al qasr brunch spanish

Round two: Spanish. I could pretty much just stick to this theme and be happy.

al qasr brunch thai and chineseRound three: a little Thai, a little Chinese.

al qasr brunch mish mashRound four: A trip back to the Spanish section for squid, albondigas, honeyed eggplant, cheese, figs, and an unnecessary sampling of un-Spanish fudge and chocolate-covered dates (there were culturally appropriate flans and rice pudding, of course).

al qasr brunch more sweets

Round five: my sweets.

al qasr brunch all sweets

All the sweets (and drinks).


al qasr drinks

You can use your legs and pick up all types of alcohol. You can also just stay put and your champagne flute will be topped off without fail.

al qasr coconut drinks

There are also Asian men in not-quite-rice-paddy-hats who’ll hack off the tops of coconuts and pour in Malibu or Bacardi–or both–and hand them to Sienna Miller-looking women in short shorts.

me with coconut

Ok, I had one (or two) too. Enough to make me forget and leave my sweater behind, causing exposed shoulder self-consciousness while out and about later.

Al Qasr * Dubai, United Arab Emirates


MP Taverna Roslyn

twoshovelThe primary upside of finding myself in a suburb is that I can make an excuse for trying a new chain restaurant. At least this is always the case in New Jersey. Long Island, though, which one would think is very much the same, just on the east side of New York City instead, is not the same at all

The area around North Shore Animal League, Port Washington, North Hempstead, Manhasset, whatever you want to call it, had a startling lack of proper chains, and drifting nearer to Roslyn, it was clear that this was a wealthy character-preserving town. The tip offs were the Main Street Chase branch dolled up in clapboard like it belonged in a maritime village and the strip mall sitting across the street from an Aston Martin dealership, all shiny with its Brooks Brothers, Tory Burch and Tiffany. And even though a restaurant along this corridor whipped by in seconds, a blur of lights and parking lot opulence that seemed better suited for Los Angles (pure speculation because I’ve know nothing about the city except that I could envision this restaurant being the setting for a misunderstanding on Curb Your Enthusiasm), I made a point of remembering the name: Limani. (Oh, there will be a Rockefeller Center outpost soon–also, it’s a Greek restaurant, as well, which isn’t immediately apparent from a drive-by.)

MP Taverna was the closest thing passing for chain (three spots to date, and a staffer was telling customers about a Brooklyn location being scouted, which may or may not be the giant Williamsburg project).  I never ever hear about the NYC restaurant, despite the New York Times review from only six months ago. It’s popular in Roslyn. A 5:15pm Open Table check on a Saturday night yielded only 5:30pm and 9pm slots. I went early bird and by 6pm, the dining room and bar were mostly full.

mp taverna duo

Oh yes, the food. It’s rustic (I almost said “lusty” but that’s a horrible word and then noticed it’s used in the Times review, for what it’s worth) with strong flavors and a few slight twists, but generally, it’s straightforward menu. A clove-y spiced Manhattan to start, followed by a salad filled with chopped dried apricots and figs, smoked almonds, and manouri, like a less salty feta.

mp taverna lamb shank

I wanted to play indignant customer and ask for the whole goat or lamb, both which require five-days notice as stipulated in small print on the menu, then get outraged when told no. Instead, I politely ordered the lamb shank with orzo, which was unexpectedly tomato-saucy (I was imagining a drier dish enlivened with fat and natural juices) and what I thought was an undercooked mirepoix were cubed root vegetables. I’m still not sure there was supposed to be that much stiffness and crunch. No, I’m not really selling this dish, but the lamb, itself, was tender and cooked well.

mp taverna cake

The parsnip and walnut cake was a wintry play on carrot cake, and taken more seasonal with the scoop of maple ice cream.

I did not intend to turn this into a full Shovel Time post because I had more to say about the surroundings than the food, often the case with my suburban fixations, but now you have the story of three courses anyway. So, who’s been to Limani?

MP Taverna * 1363 Old Northern Blvd., Roslyn, NY



Pseudo-Trend Watch 2014: Yoghurt For All

Ok, last night on Facebook I posted a scintillating prediction that full-fat yogurt will be the new Greek yogurt. One, I witnessed a New Williamsburg girl zombie-walking (the neighborhood is second only to Times Square for dazed shufflers) out of Foodtown, telling her boyfriend about “This amazing yogurt from Colorado,”  but instead of scoffing I thought to myself, “Oh yeah, Noosa.” It’s so good that I’m not even bothered that they snuck an “H” into the word yogurt.

I had a small tub of blueberry and strawberry-rhubarb in my fridge, not from Foodtown, but Wegmans in New Jersey because I’m too lazy to cross Metropolitan. BUT (epic game-changer disruption) guess what? Now C-Town carries it too. And they still don’t sell Wasa crackers.

But really, if something’s going to go mainstream it’s about looks, not taste, right? This morning NPR blogged about two studies showing a connection between full-fat dairy and lower body weight. See? It’s all happening.

Not one “friend” engaged with my revelation, which is more typical of Twitter than Facebook (is it just me or did Twitter used to be more fun and interactive?). Fine. All I ask is that you think of me in nine months when you’re dipping into your 280-calorie container of Yoplait.

P.S. For the record, Fage has always sold full fat versions, which is why it will always be better than Chobani.


El Born

twoshovelBrooklyn has never been strong for tapas, and North Brooklyn has never done much to help matters. Mercat Negre was kind of odd, so was Cadaques to a degree and now it’s shifted French,  and Bar Celona had that hard-to-get-past name and died a slow death. El Born, joining the new Greenpoint restaurant brigade,  has potential.  At least it’s trying something new.

Keeping with the original tapas spirit, the narrow room is taken up mostly by a long bar with a few small tables and stools against the opposite buff brick wall (there are a few larger tables in the back). Good for a drink or two and a few small plates of food. With that said, it’s still one of those mysterious math places where a majority of menu items are under $15 and yet you still end up spending $100 when all is said and done.

el born gin & tonics

The restaurant also taps into the Spanish fondness for gin and tonics, a.k.a. gintonic, with four variations including #2 (Bulldog gin, Fever Tree tonic, lemon peel, licorice) and #4 (Hendricks gin, Schweppes tonic, cucumber, black pepper, lime) pictured here.  And yes, there’s a kalimotxo.

el born pa amb tomaquet

Many of the ingredients are Spanish, but the preparations aren’t totally classic. Pa amb tomaquet, which was brought out like an amuse, was one exception.

el born croquettes

Croquettes are a tapas staple, but  less common are ones filled with mint, goat cheese and pine nuts propped on a base of apple sauce (not applesauce).

el born fried rabbit and citrus aioli

I was going to say that Greenpoint is having a rabbit moment, but the fate of Glasserie’s much lauded shareable hare is undetermined and I don’t see the  conill amb allioli on El Born’s current online menu. The bony chunks are coated in chestnut flour, fried, presented in a paper bag (I could’ve sworn there was rosemary in there too) and served with a citrusy aioli. Definitely order this chicken nugget alternative if it’s available.

el born steak toast & pig foot broth

Picaña’ amb brou  is the Catalan answer to roast beef au jus. Slices of rare steak on toast with a rosemary-perfumed pig foot broth is high on presentation, though not necessarily the easiest to share or decipher. Sipping makes more sense.

The only dud was the cauliflower gratin, which apparently wasn’t  impressive enough to merit a iPhone shot (this was not intentional). Instead of a browned casserole thick with manchego and bechamel, the reality was a dish of steamy florets sitting in a pool of  thin white sauce. Who needs a gratin anyway? Eat a salad if you’re feeling vegetable deprived.

El Born * 651 Manhattan Ave., Brooklyn, NY

The Week In International Intrigue: Burgers Not Baguettes, Banh Mi

The French love burgers. No, make that hotdogs.

We still have a love affair with macarons, and now there’s a second NYC Ladurée.

South Korean Caffé Bene is also on an NYC tear.

McDonald’s is always opening somewhere at any given moment, but the first Vietnam location is getting a lot of attention. There’s little word on the food other than the inclusion of the McPork, also sold in Japan. For comparison, Burger King, which entered Vietnam in 2011, has localized the menu quite a bit with shrimp, pork and rice.

Cinnabon’s president details how the company managed to get its Sochi branch up and running for the Olympics.  “Even though the mall isn’t totally complete, come on in, follow your nose and our great aroma, keep walking … we’re the ones with the lights on,”  says Kat Cole. (via @RonRuggless)

I have a hard time getting excited about a Mexican-ish restaurant imported from London, but Bodega Negra now exists in Chelsea regardless of what I think.



Winter Inspiration

natural tofu seafood soup

The winter edition of Real Cheap Eats is out, and much to my surprise features a Polish bread bowl. If that’s not reason enough to take a look, my contribution is a Korean seafood stew in Sunnyside that I would kill to eat right now, especially considering I’m on day three of leftover roast chicken, turnips and brown rice (I can’t take any more even though it was great the first dinner).