May 28, 2006

Lizzy Dishes on Location in Chicago

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Vacations are good. This week, I ventured to Chicago for a little culture and relaxation. I had a couple of hours to kill before I needed to be at the Steppenwolf Theater for a play, so I walked around N. Halsted Street in search of a nice Sunday brunch.

I could tell Vinci (1732 N. Halsted Street) was good, just from smelling the glorious aromas as I walked by. Like a zombie, I followed the trail.

The real live Italian waiter seated me next to the window, so that I could watch people walking by. He served me water and then unfolded my napkin and placed it on my lap. It was a little intrusive, but okay. He brought me a basket of bread: raisin bread, crusty bread, and batter bread, with a trio plate of two kinds of jam and a yummy lump of butter.

I ordered the Eggs Benedicto. Eggs Benedict on foccacia bread. I can't describe it, but I can show you, since I sneakily took a picture of it with my camera:

Yes, AMAZING. Enough said.

Other places to note in Chicago: La Strada, somewhere on Michigan Avenue (great crab cakes) and a little seedy karaoke bar (I don't remember the name or location, except that it was next to a police station) where I enjoyed several hours of amateurs singing along to videos that were straight out of the 80's which mostly showed women in Laura Ashley-type dresses doing interpretive dance in fields, living rooms and bathtubs, with flowers in their hair, hands, or teeth. Chicago actually has a karaoke newspaper, with all of the hot spots and competitions. Impressive.

May 25, 2006

Aztec Willie and Joey Rose Taqueria (1501 NE Broadway St)

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After attending a reading of Write Around Portland participants (if you've never heard of it, go to and feeling uplifted, emotional, grateful, happy, sad and everything in between, I needed something that resembled comfort on a plate.

Aztec Willie and Joey Rose Taqueria on NE Broadway is casual: you order at the counter and take your food back to your table on a tray, cafeteria style. I ordered the Enchiladas con Carne. It was average Mexican food, except for one thing: the enchilada sauce was my mother's recipe. Well I don't know for sure that it was her recipe, but it sure tasted like my mother was in the kitchen using her culinary influence.

I also had a fantastic guava soda. I don't know if it was Mexican or not, but it was sweet and not 7-up or Coke, and was fizzy and fabulous.

Besides the fact that I got to eat my mom's enchiladas tonight, I got to hang out with my brother, which almost never happens. What more could I ask for?

Aztec Willie & Joey Rose Taqueria on Urbanspoon

May 21, 2006

Mississippi Studios (3939 N Mississippi Ave) and Voleur (111 SW Ash St)

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If you've never been to Mississippi Studios to listen to music, you simply must go. It rocks. After winding our way through a rock-garden-backyard, past an Airstream trailer (all set up with tables and couches) and an old gas pump located conveniently on the tent-covered patio, we made our way into the old Mississippi Studios building to hear a few bands play on a Saturday night.

Our feet were touching the stage and we were within sweating distance when the lead singer shook his head. It was the Ian McFeron Band that we were there to see - a country-rock-alternative-folk-country band. Ian McFeron was hot (literally and also handsome) and the fiddle-player was straight out of my middle school, wearing black sneaker-type shoes, a green t-shirt and jeans with one of those cloth belts. She amazingly played the fiddle AND made inside-joke-eyes with the drummer and guitar player at the same time.

The background of the stage was covered in red curtains, making me feel as if I were there to see a show put on by the neighborhood kids on a stage in their garage that they made out of their mom's old drapes. [The picture above is from a show last year with Glen Phillips, but look at the cool curtains!]

After the show, we went out on the back patio and hung out in the garden, then in the Airstream trailer and eventually went and mingled with the band a bit, who were relaxing, drinking and listening to one particularly enthusiastic fan - "You guys used to play at Steven's? No way! I love Steven's. I can't believe they shut it down! You know the owner? No way! He is cool!" - and other variations of kissing rock star ass.

A restaurant attached to the studios is opening in a few months. I can't wait to check it out.

It was 11:45 and we were hungry, so we headed downtown to Voleur. It's wild downtown around 2nd and Ash at 12:00 on a Saturday night, in case you didn't know. I didn't know because I am usually in bed at that time. But I created another personality last night and got really excited to be in the midst of the craziness and the free-flowing intoxication wandering the streets.

At Voleur, we sat at a long table in the back by the door and sang along to a song that we all knew, but no one could identify for certain. Except Ansley did later on, but now I can't remember what it was. The waitress with pink hair came over and slapped her hands on the table. "Let's get to the important things: What are you drinking tonight?" Water. Water. Water. Diet Coke. "Ohhhhh! Wild tonight!" Diet Coke with Lemon AND Lime. "Whoa!" Water. She was laughing at us. I didn't mind. She made me laugh.

Hands down the best fries I have ever had at midnight. Handcut fries with Blackberry Habanero Ketchup. I shared a Pasilla Peppered Chicken Quesadilla, slathered in something green and spicy, sour cream and fresh salsa. It was seriously loaded with the cheesiest of melty cheese.

There's something about sitting in a restaurant late at night with friends and strangers, with a few people at the bar, a homeless man wandering in for a beer, a pink-haired waitress and Billy Joel singing Piano Man. Perfect ending.

May 20, 2006

El Grillo (703 SW Ankeny St)

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"Seriously, this place has the best burritos. And you have to use the bathroom." That's how I first heard about El Grillo, a hole-in-the-wall Mexican place downtown. A co-worker told me to go and drink a tall Corona with my meal and then venture to the restroom, hidden behind the swinging door connecting El Grillo with Mary's Club.

I didn't go for the Corona, but I did order a Diet Coke with the Burrito El Grillo - a giant burrito filled with tender ground beef, fresh chopped tomatoes, onions, cilantro and jalepeno peppers, covered in enchilada sauce and cheese. Everything tasted so fresh and the cilantro was bright green and newly wilted by the heat of the meat. It was a simple burrito, but it was excellent. I even got a Mexican Flag on a toothpick on top. Fast service and friendly people enhanced the authentic food. (Okay, I've never been to Mexico as an adult, so for me to say it is authentic is, well, a rather unauthentic comment. But it seemed to me to be more authentically Mexican than Taco Bell or Baja Fresh at least.)

As we were eating, the back door swung open for a large man wearing a shirt with flowers or dolphins or some type of hideous pattern on it, coming in from the strip club with greasy hair and a toothy smile. "I'm ready for my drink," he said as he laughed with his belly.

The back door has a few signs on it, including "RESTROOM" and "NO MINORS ALLOWED" and "NO DRINKS FROM EL GRILLO ALLOWED IN THE BAR" and frequently swings open, wafting a breeze of cigarette smoke, whistling, cheering and clapping throughout, reminding the patrons of their proximity to a strip club.

I was going to get up the nerve to go use the restroom, since I haven't ever been to a strip club and I thought it would be an interesting adventure to write about it. However, my bladder was not that full and I'm not quite brave enough to go into a place like Mary's Club by myself on a Saturday afternoon, with a stomach full of burrito.

Great burritos, great people watching. Atmosphere - nice, but punctuated with cheers and whistles from men that are way more greasy than the food.

El Grillo on Urbanspoon

May 16, 2006

Hung Far Low (2410 SE 82nd Ave)

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The thing about CitySearch is that I trust it. If it says that a place of business is on the Best Of List, then I trust that someone somewhere said that it was one of the best in the city. I really should have learned my lesson when I found a hair salon that was rated 8.6 on the Best Of List, that turned out to be located next to an animal hospital as well as being the workplace of my "stylist" (yes, I do need to put it in quotes - "stylist" is a huge overstatement of her career choice) whose introduction to me was "I'm SO glad you don't have a complicated haircut. I am so hungover from partying last night. I just want to go back to sleep." Besides the fact that she was dressed in red velour short shorts, a wrinkled white tank top and had obviously not cleaned off her eye makeup from the night before, she was one of the owners. Did someone really say that this salon was an 8.6 out of 10? Really?

Hung Far Low was rated a 7.1 on CitySearch. The red leathery menus boast their existence of almost 80 years in Portland. I wonder who's been eating here for 80 years. Perhaps the owner of Hung Far Low paid off the people at CitySearch to give his restaurant a favorable rating.

The Appetizer Platter consisted of several different deep fried morsels, including shrimp, chicken, crab puffs, egg rolls, along with some barbequed pork. The platter was almost overflowing and was enough for five or six people. The batter on the chicken was thicker and had more substance than the meat that it surrounded. It was quite bready and not crunchy. The crab puffs, though were excellent. The dipping sauce that came along with the appetizers was not spicy at all, a red sauce with a very small dollop of mild mustard and some sesame seeds.

The Egg Flower Soup was a thick, glistening yellow liquid, with crunchy vegetables floating in every bite. I was fascinated that when I filled my spoon, the soup was perfectly still, not sloshing as soup usually does, but stable and almost jello-like. Almost. It was still soupy enough that it didn't gross me out. Until Jen found a hair in her soup. Not a long hair. It was probably an eyelash or an eyebrow hair. But it was still a hair.

I have had General Tso's Chicken at a lot of different restaurants and usually General Tso does a pretty good job of enlivening my mouth. I don't enjoy food that is so spicy that I can't taste it, but a little effort from the chiles is necessary to make it to the happy medium. They can't just lie there on the plate, listless and dead, eeking out the last bit of flavor left in their tired little bodies into the sauce. No, I need my chiles to be excited about where they are going and what they are doing. The chiles in my chicken were pretty much dried up. It's like when you go to use your cinnamon after a really long time and you open the jar and there's no smell. It's so old that it doesn't have any smell at all. I think that's what happened to my chiles. I hope they weren't as old as the restaurant.

The fortune cookie was good, though. I actually got a fortune, and not a piece of advice: "You will have many friends when you need them." That was nice.

Who votes on CitySearch, anyway? Does anyone know? Or is it one of the mysteries of the universe? Hung Far Low would get a 3.4 at the very most from me. The hair in the soup is an automatic 4 point deduction, then taking the taste and consistency into consideration, it has to be that low. You do get a lot of food for your money, though, even if it is mediocre food.

Hung Far Low on Urbanspoon

May 9, 2006

Le Happy (1011 NW 16th Ave.)

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I (with my friends) arrived at Le Happy in NW Portland around 12:15 on a Sunday morning. The dark, candle-lit room was casually buzzing with friendly jabber bouncing off of the colorful walls. A group of about 10 people in the corner, all wearing very stylish skirts and suits leaned into a table, wrapping up a night out. Another couple was chatting quietly with a woman, their table up against the wall where three paintings of fried eggs hung. The woman, a lanky blonde wearing jeans, motioned to us and then said loudly over the chatter "Sit wherever you want - I'll be right with you."

She took her time finishing up her conversation and then wandered over to where we were sitting in the tiny restaurant. Behind us, a group of three women were showing the bartender their shoes, laughing loudly as he made smart-ass comments to them. The waitress squatted next to our table and asked us how we were doing. We looked tired, she said. We were. But we wanted crepes.

We ordered, amid the laughter, the loud music and entrancing candlelight that was slowly lulling me to sleep as we waited for our food. My friend picked up the candle and swirled the watery wax until the candle went out. The waitress, noticing that our table had gone dark, brought us a replacement.

For my dessert, I chose the most decadent crepe, called Spectac. And it was! A light, melty crepe filled with Nutella and bananas, in a puddle of Grand Marnier. Flambe. The Grand Marnier married the hazelnut and banana flavors perfectly in my mouth and then burned my virgin throat. I thought to myself that I could not possibly finish such a gluttonous dish at 1:00 in the morning. But the crepe seemed to be feeding me small amounts of giddy energy as I consumed bite after bite and laughed more and more at the rather dull conversation going on between my friends and I.

My friend took my car keys from me, said goodbye to our new friend the waitress and we headed home, markedly happier than when we had arrived.

Le Happy on Urbanspoon

May 7, 2006

Echo (2225 NE Martin Luther King Blvd.)

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In an effort to know our surrounding city more intimately, my friends and I set out to explore new venues for late-night menus and ended up at Echo in Northeast Portland.

Our table was by a window, a booth looking out at MLK Blvd., which was a nice quiet view for a Saturday night.

The waitress filled our skinny, tall water glasses from a pitcher laden with sliced cucumbers. A new experience, drinking cucumber water, but it was quite refreshing and left a summery taste in my mouth that cleaned my palate after each bite. The Diet Coke was very strong and had a bite of its own. The best I have had since I visited the Coke Museum in Atlanta ten years ago.

We ordered the Baked Crab and Artichoke Dip, the Grilled Pizza, and the Hummus Plate. The Crab and Artichoke dip came with a small chunk of Italian bread, which was quite spongy and thinly sliced and not stiff enough for the thick and hearty dip, making the dipping process a little awkward and slightly messy (even embarrassing at times!)

The Hummus Plate came with some excellent flatbread and the hummus itself was not shy. It stood out on the plate with the corner on flavor, a strong garlic taste, and complemented the olives, artichokes and flatbread quite well.

The Grilled Pizza was pretty much the same as the hummus plate... without the hummus. The same flatbread with a garlic base, topped with tomatoes, olives and a little cheese. It was not spectacular, but it was pleasant, nonetheless.

One of my favorite things about this restaurant was the menu, which was fastened onto slats of wood, tied together to make a book of sorts. The atmosphere at the restaurant Echoed the menus, classic with solid wood surrounding and intended to last a very long time.

The mix and match antique-looking china dishes were another shout-out from the chic modern-day Portland to the bygone era when people actually used delicate flower-adorned plates with gold rims.

Despite CitySearch's claim that it is a night spot for thirty-somethings, it was mostly filled with the chic senior citizen crowd of Portland. Maybe it was just that night. It was a good night. That night I was served the best Diet Coke in Portland. And the cucumber water. That was a great thing. Watch for it at my next party.

Echo on Urbanspoon