November 28, 2007

Toro Bravo (120 NE Russell St.)

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Finally. I had it carefully planned. We arrive right at 5 o'clock. We were certain to avoid the long wait. We were only missing one person. What do you mean you can't seat us? You can't seat us till we are all here? Okay. What's that? Oh good. You'll give us 10 minutes before you sell our friend's seat. Thanks so much! We'll enjoy our dinner. I frantically text my friend to find out if she is within 10 minutes away. She walks in about two minutes later. Phew. The other people at our table are waiting for two people. I am getting stressed out for them. The waitress comes by. So you're waiting for two people? Are they almost here? She asks tensely.

My stomach feels like the spelling bee I was in in the fourth grade. The timer was going and I couldn't spell lightening. Or is it lightning? Our tablemates' friends arrive, just past their ten minute limit. They sit quickly, aware that they are now sitting on a hot commodity in Portland.

With the seats sold so easily, I am hoping the food is going to be worth it. The line outside the door builds steadily. And as we watch people shiver outside for two hours while we eat our delectable meal, I am more than delighted with our choice to arrive at the opening hour.

Let's see if I can remember everything we had: the cheese plate, fried anchovies, oxtail croquettes, meatballs, salt cod fritters, venison terrine, pulled pork on grilled bread, bread with olive oil and butter, bacon wrapped dates, roasted eggplant with sweet pepper lamb ragu and mahon cheese, chanterelles on grilled bread, seared scallops with romesco. (Did I miss anything you guys?) Toro Bravo is a tapas restaurant, so all of these were small plates. Perfect for sharing.

The waitress was very friendly, explaining each cheese on the cheese plate (I wish I could remember what they were because they were excellent, good, great, whatever word you want to use - the cheeses were perfection) and each dish as it came out. After about 20 minutes, another friend showed up unexpectedly and surprisingly, the staff added another seat to our table without any grumbling. And the waitress quickly brought a menu and drink for him.

You might remember my love affair with anchovies in San Francisco. I was very anxious to revisit them here in my own hometown. And fried. You can't beat that! And they were fried with lemon and fennel. Yeah. I don't really know what to say. I have never tasted fried lemon before, but I liked it. And I liked it with the anchovies. A lot.

To be honest, there wasn't anything I didn't like. I didn't love the bacon wrapped dates because the ones at South Park are really hard to beat. But really, everything we ordered was new and different to me and all tasted {insert your own superlative here because I don't know of any words that match the quality of the food I ate in their intensity}. The grilled bread was crispy and chewy (just as I like it), and the salt cod fritters were salty and so not fishy and perfectly paired with aioli.

Over two hours we chatted and ate leisurely as they brought us a new plate of food about every 5 or 6 minutes. It was not dinner. It was an experience. And one I quite liked.

Toro Bravo was named Restaurant of the Year in Willamette Week and their chef was named Chef of the Year in Portland Monthly. They are good. And they know it. And they are not afraid to sell your friend's seat if they are not there. So just be sure your friend is with you when you go, lest they be left outside in the cold, forced to fend for themselves.

Oh and I forgot to tell you about the chocolate molten cake.... but I think you might be able to figure out how that ended up.

Toro Bravo on Urbanspoon

November 27, 2007

Calypso (3350 SE Morrison St)

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So my dinner group for November met at Calypso, f.k.a. Salvador Molly's. I am sad. It was not so good. They were very nice on the phone. But the food was not great. It was just okay. I had a heaping pile of pulled pork that was bland and mashed potatoes that were still in the shape of the round scoop. Never a good sign. I tasted some habanero poppers that ignited my mouth and made it impossible to taste anything else for the rest of the night.

When asked for a recommendation, the waiter said, "What do I like here? I don't eat here." Hmmm.

November 21, 2007

Songs I Am Digging Right Now

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I listen to KNRK while I'm at work. They play excellent music. I am obsessed with these songs that they play regularly. Sometimes the best thing is discovering music that you missed when it first hit the airwaves.

White Stripes - My Doorbell
Harvey Danger - Flagpole Sitta
Blind Melon - No Rain
Smashing Pumpkins - Landslide

November 20, 2007

Virgo and Pisces (500 NW 21st)

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I was supposed to meet some people at North 45 Pub for dinner that night. But somehow, I ended up by myself. I love North 45, but it was super crowded. I looked around and saw Virgo and Pisces. It looked fairly empty and for a Friday night in NW Portland, that's not necessarily a good sign.

I walked in and sat down in the corner. It was unusually light in the dining room and somehow I got the feel of a Denny's or something like that. There was a family next to me that was really digging happy hour. I think they must have had 4 or 5 different items on their table.

I was just in time for happy hour myself and ordered potstickers filled with Carlton Farms pork and shrimp with a tangy dipping sauce. Oh but wait. I forgot to tell you how the waiter, young, dark hair and very friendly, became my friend while I was eating. He asked what I was doing that night, told me how delicious the potstickers would be. We talked about different bands for a little while and then I overheard him talking to the neighboring family about his own recipe for butternut squash soup. I had nothing better to do than to blatantly eavesdrop. It sounded like a good recipe.

My potstickers arrived and they were really perfect. Very hot (in temperature, not in spice) pockets of sweet pork and shrimp, dripping with the dipping sauce which was not spicy at all, but sweet and with a sharp bite of its own. Really lovely. There weren't a lot of them, but it was the perfect bite that I needed before going to a concert. Potstickers and a drink (Diet Coke) for under $5, including tip. And I felt like I couldn't leave without saying goodbye to my waiter.

While the place is deceptively Denny's-like both in lighting and the menu (it was laminated with lots of pictures on it), the food was excellent and I would go back again. I need to, in fact. Because happy hour potstickers are hardly enough to build a real review!

Virgo & Pisces on Urbanspoon

November 14, 2007

The Press Club (2621 SE Clinton St.)

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Saturday morning, I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes, tried to depuff them and headed to Wordstock, despite a very late night dancing at Lola's Room and eating a mid-night snack at Kenny and Zuke's. Okay, it wasn't a snack. It was a real meal. Who cares if it was 1 in the morning. It was totally worth it. Geesh leave me alone.

Anyway. Back to Wordstock. My first order of business was to listen to the authors of Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant read their essays. Jenni Ferrari-Adler went first, then Steve Almond (hilarious), then Erin Ergenbreit (who later told the very intriguing story of the fall of Portland restaurant clarklewis).

One thing that I took away from this panel of authors and also the food writing panel later on, was that food is so important - it's more than nourishment to sustain our bodies. We bond over food. That is why we - and by we I mean ME - cook. That is why we share great food. One author confessed to planning imaginary dinner parties in her head at night, cookbooks by her bed. I have to admit that I do the same thing! Food is universal. Everyone loves it. Everyone needs it to live. That is a deep connection.

Needless to say, when I was ready to leave Wordstock after having listened to a couple of hours of food talk, I was hungry. My sis and I went over to SE Clinton St. to see what we could find. We wandered into The Press Club. It was totally the perfect place to retreat to after a day of books. It smelled wonderful, like hot bread, and the hipster guy at the bar said he would be right with us.

It took him a while to get to us. But I was kind of distracted because I had picked up the latest Believer magazine from the rack on the wall (which holds lots of smarty and design mags) and was reading this article about midgets in the circus. Fascinating and very distracting. Also the first section of the article was titled Veritable Human Dumplings. And like I said, I was hungry and that really caught my eye.

We finally ordered drinks and food. And it was a long time before we got it. But not as long as the people who ordered before us, whose food the waiter accidentally gave to us. Oops. The bread was warm and crusty, and the house-cured olives were sweet little bites of tangy flesh soaked in olive oil and herbs.

Chels ordered a mushroom crepe, which was crispy outside and chunky and saucy inside with lots of meaty mushroom flavor. I had a mozzarella, tomato and basil pannini. Oh it was so delicious. I was just thinking about it today like my old friend that I needed to visit. Crispy, chewy, mozzarella-y, perfect bites of heaven. With some good reading material and heavenly food, I was content for quite a while.

I could say the service was slow, but I think they only had one cook and one waiter and they did a pretty good job, since the place was packed. It was packed with solitary people with laptops, though, so it totally was not noisy. This is going to be on my list of places that are okay to go out to eat alone. I think they have live music sometimes too, which I really want to check out.

Press Club on Urbanspoon

November 8, 2007

Voices for Silent Disasters Concert Series (various McMenamins locations)

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I am always a sucker for charity events. Especially when it's combined with something that I love, like the Portland music scene.

Last Friday I had the opportunity to go see the second concert in a series, called Voices for Silent Disasters, at the Mission Theater.

The series is a benefit for MercyCorps and the people of Uganda. Really great cause. They showed a video of Stephanie Schneiderman's trip to Uganda and even videotaped the audience doing an enthusiastic yell so they could send it to the people they met in over there. Very cool. They brought back Ugandan coffee to sell at the concerts, along with beads and other handmade items from Uganda. I like that. It makes it real and tangible. Someone in Uganda made this with their hands and now I am going to support them by buying it. Love it.

The lineup for the concert was stellar: Stephanie Schneiderman, the Joe McMurrian Quartet and Richmond Fontaine. And although Stephanie was sick, she sounded great along with the band and backup singing by Breanna Paletta from Rye Hollow. Shout out to Todd for awesome guitar moves! It was a good show. The Joe McMurrian Quartet was a blues-y band and they really kicked it (that means it was awesome). I had to leave early, so I didn't hear Richmond Fontaine, but I have no doubt they were as excellent as the others.

The Mission Theater is set up so that you feel like you are in a giant living room, listening to a band play. It's just so cozy. So it didn't feel at all unusual to me when this guy came and sat next to me and started talking a nonsensical blue streak. "Do you smoke weed?" he asked. "No, not really at all," I said. "Oh, that's why. I smoked three bowls last night and I'm still toasted. I'm feeling linguistically challenged. Are you? Linguistically challenged, I mean?" I was so comfortable, I just leaned back in my chair, "Whatever, man..." and listened to him chat away.

I really wanted to hear the Singer/Songwriter night in the series this Saturday, but am going to a friends wedding reception. So I'm going to catch the Liv Warfield/Storm Large show next Thursday, the 15th. Should be very entertaining.

This is a great cause for everyone to support. Tickets are cheap - only $12 for most shows. And it's totally worth it. Portland has some of the best musicians anywhere. And they are all volunteering their time and efforts to support MercyCorps in their endeavor. Go to a good concert. It's the least you could do.

Wonder Cafe (128 NE Russell)

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I have been wanting to eat at Toro Bravo ever since they got Restaurant of the Year in Willamette Week and Chef of the Year in Portland Monthly. So when I realized it was right next door to the Wonder Ballroom where I was attending a concert last Wednesday, it was perfect. Except it was Halloween and they were closed. Boo.

Instead, I wandered over to the Wonder Cafe. I sat in a little cubby, read my Willamette Week, ate a thick, juicy hamburger, drank several Cokes and watched the musicians from that night's show walk in. I watched a guy dressed up like Darth Vader try to order a drink from the bar. "Dude, I cannot understand a word you are saying," said the bartender. Amy Winehouse was sitting at the bar, too. Seriously great people watching.

The Wonder Cafe has great food (I had the best fried chicken there once, with greens, but it's no longer on the menu), excellent service and lots of good little cubbies perfect for one or two people. It's nice to eat somewhere alone where it seems like it's built for people to eat alone. Makes it a little less awkward.

Cafe Wonder on Urbanspoon

November 6, 2007

The Swell Season and Martha Wainwright

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I had a journalism professor my last year of college who spent a whole class discussing the virtues of the f-word. It means something, he said. When I say something is really amazing, it doesn't mean the same thing as if I said it was f-ing amazing. F-ing means something so much more - like you mean it from your toes, from your soul. Like you are willing to risk offending the people around you by saying it because it communicates exactly how you feel. I get his point. Because tonight, what I saw, what I heard, was f-ing amazing.

It really all goes back to Glen Hansard, who walked on stage to sing and discovered the microphones weren't working. So he walked to the edge of the stage and sang, or should I say shouted, expressed, communicated every emotion possible as he sang Say it to Me Now from Once, with no microphone, in the Crystal Ballroom. I couldn't really hear the lyrics from where I was standing. But the feeling I felt when he sang went from his toes, out his mouth, down through the top of my head, through my heart and touched my toes. It silenced the room.

The perfect harmony between Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova reflected the couples all standing around me at the concert - these were not first-date couples in tight jeans and low-cut blouses. They were solid relationship couples with scarves and turtlenecks and wool coats. No flashy fashion, just artsy passion. And when they sang Falling Slowly and the audience joined in at Glen and Marketa's request, we were all part of one solid relationship couple. Performer and audience. It was f-ing amazing.

He sang a song called Leave, which he prefaced by saying that sometimes men are good at saying what they want to say in just a few words.

"...Leave, leave,
And free yourself at the same time
Leave, leave,
I don't understand, you've already gone
And I hope you feel better
Now that it's out
What took you so long
And the truth has a habit
Of falling out of your mouth
But now that it's come
If you don't mind
Leave, leave..."

This song made me want to say LEAVE to the guy I went out with who was rude and arrogant and talked about other women the whole time and who I have to be nice to now because he hangs out with my friends who don't know that we went out. It made me want to say LEAVE to the people who always say maybe when I invite them to something, like they are just waiting for a better offer. It made me want to say LEAVE to the friends who say they will be there but they're not. It made me want to say LEAVE to my long-time crush that has ended and left me sad. So I'm saying it. LEAVE. LEAVE. leave. please.

I deserve better than you maybes, you I-think-I'm-gonna-pass-es and you yeah-I-will-be-there-and-then-no-show-s. I deserve for my life to be amazing. Not maybe amazing. Or amazing-as-long-as-I-meet-the-right-person. No. I deserve to have an f-ing amazing life.

Phew. I should go to concerts more often.

November 5, 2007

White Eagle Saloon (836 N. Russell)

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I didn't want to go. I don't really enjoy getting dirty or lifting things or getting slivers in my hands. My dad kept begging me to join them. The begging finally worked. Early Saturday morning, my mom and sisters picked me up and we drove to Goldendale, Washington for the first ever Fuss Family Barn Raising. Except it wasn't a barn. It was a pump house. Or something like that.

My brother has been living up there for several months, whittling and carving the logs to all go together for a post and beam building. Without electricity. All by hand. From instructions in a library book. Oh that makes me tired. Anyway. Here's how it went:
I didn't help much. Okay barely at all. I was the documentation specialist, snapping pictures with my cell phone. And I was there to make sure the food was all ready for their breaks. But seriously, how cool is this building?
I was tired and sore and dirty by the time I got back home. (I did help carry one of the walls for like 2 seconds and it totally strained my muscles.)

I showered and then met up with my sis to go over to the White Eagle Saloon and listen to Breanna Paletta from Rye Hollow. When we got there, One Horse Shy was playing some good country music, that I actually liked. I usually really dislike country music, but this was really good. Maybe because I was in Goldendale all day, with horses and cows and people who live outside and drive ATVs for transportation on a regular basis. I was just kind of in the mood.

I picked up the menu, expecting to see the usual stuff, which was there, but I sensed something different. The ranch that came with the tater tots was now peppercorn ranch. Whoa. Then, one of their specials was spicy hungarian chicken wings with dill sour cream sauce. Something is not right. Their tuna sandwich has mango chutney in it. I was really hungry and it all sounded good.

We ordered the spinach artichoke dip (which historically has been completely bland) and the cajun tater tots. Chels ordered sundried tomato mac and cheese and I ordered half a tuna sandwich. We got the artichoke dip first. Um. It was REALLY good. It was fresh and flavorful and chunky with artichokes. I couldn't believe it. The tater tots were so hot they burned my fingers. The tuna sandwich was delicious. The mac and cheese was just so-so for Chels, but hey 3 out of 4 - not bad!

We were both so tired from the day and from then eating all the delicious, but clearly fatty, carb-loaded food, that we couldn't even stay for Breanna's set. Next time. I went home and slept for like 10 hours. Mmmmm. That was good.

I'm not sure if being outside all day had a romanticizing effect on my brain or if the food at McMenamins really HAS gotten much better. I'm going to assume it's the latter. And if the food ever starts tasting bland again, I'll just have to go raise a barn in Goldendale or something.