January 31, 2008

Helser's (1538 NE Alberta)

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Their specials sounded fantastic. Helser's on Alberta smelled delightful. The waitress said that she really liked the eggs benedict with ham, so that's what I ordered.

My friends ordered eggs, sausage and potato pancakes. I stared at the other patrons as they were eating their food. I was really hungry.

I have been wanting to eat here since I read LadyConcierge's review back in November.

After a good long wait for our food, we finally got it. It all looked perfect. But my eggs benedict were lukewarm. The crumpet they were resting on was dry, the edges soggy from hollandaise. Maybe I'm just not used to crumpets. One of the eggs was overcooked and solid, not like a usual eggs benedict where the yolk runs into the hollandaise sauce and swirls together to make a perfect sauce for the ham and bread.

I did really enjoy the potatoes, though. They were crispy and in flaky chunks with perfect seasoning and onions. They were stellar. And the pears were crispy and fresh and definitely a good finish for a heavy-ish breakfast, light and sweet.

My friends loved their food. I just didn't love my eggs benedict. I think maybe I need to go again and give it another shot - the food was too pretty not to be good. Maybe it was just an off morning.

Stay tuned for Helser's: episode 2.

Helser's on Alberta on Urbanspoon

January 28, 2008

Pho Van (3404 SE Hawthorne)

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Last week on Lizzy Dishes Portland, Brenda won tickets to the Decemberists concert. She was pretty excited. So excited that she wanted to take me to dinner before the concert. So, my roommate and I met Brenda and her husband Mike at Pho Van on Hawthorne. Kristin (my roommate) grew up with Brenda in Corvallis, so they go waaaaaay back. I, on the other hand, had only met Brenda once before, when I was sick and in my pajamas, so it was good to get the chance to give her a different image of me.

Determined to be a bit adventurous, I ordered the coconut drink with young coconut slices. I can't say that I loved it. Not on its own, anyway. It was better when taken in gulps after biting into one of the chicken wings carmelized in garlic pepper marinade. The chicken wings were sticky and sweet and a little bit hot. They were so good that I couldn't stop thinking about them until last night, when I attempted to make my own chicken wings, which turned out horribly greasy, and though quite tasty, did not match the Pho Van chicken wings even remotely. I am currently in a chicken-winged-out state of mind.

Brenda and Mike were quite delightful company and told us stories about bulk shopping at Winco and goint to expensive restaurants on a young-married-college-student-budget. We ordered our food - me: Bún Thịt Chả Giò (honey lemongrass pork and crispy rolls) Pork marinated in honey and lemongrass grilled over an open flame and crispy spring rolls filled with minced pork and shrimp; Kristin (and Mike): Bún gà (honey lemongrass chicken) Chicken fillets marinated in honey and lemongrass and grilled over an open flame; Brenda: one of the specials that was similar to pad thai with shrimp.

The honey lemongrass marinade thing really works - the pork in my dish was very tender and delicious. I especially loved the crispy spring rolls filled with pork and shrimp, because, well, they were fried. And I love fried. Anything. The vermicelli rice noodles were tossed with lettuce, bean sprouts, cucumbers, fried onions, pickled carrots and daikon, peanuts, and a side of nước mắm (special sauce). It was so fresh and light tasting - filling and healthy feeling.

Brenda's pad-thai-ish dish was delicious as well. And I have to say. The background music was very entertaining. While we were eating, I heard the theme from Gone with the Wind as well as the theme from Chariots of Fire.

It was a good time. And I liked the food and the company. Can't wait to hear how Brenda liked the Decemberists!

Pho Van on Urbanspoon

January 22, 2008

Portland the (Old) Movie Town

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I am an old movie fan. I guess you could say I might be a little more than a fan. When I was 10 or 11, I used to highlight the TV listings in the paper so that the whole family would know when an old movie was on. I would video tape all the movies and then alphabetize them for easy access. I had a deal with the local video store, Adventure Video (Claremont, NH) to call me when any old movie came in that was new to video.

I just watched From Here to Eternity (1953), in which both Frank Sinatra and Montgomery Clift die tragically and Deborah Kerr and Donna Reed break their stereotypical roles and both play slutty women. One of the best movies ever.

The Living Room Theaters here in Portland is currently playing Casablanca (1942) and you should definitely catch it on the big screen. Plus you can eat an upscale meal while you watch. Also this week they started showing A Clockwork Orange (1971).

If you live in Portland and are an old movie fan, then you should keep your eyes on a few places for occasional showings of old-ish movies:

Living Room Theaters
Laurelhurst Theater
Hollywood Theater
Cinema 21
Clinton St. Theater

Also, definitely check out Movie Madness to rent rare, hard to find movies of all kinds. Between the shelves of videos and DVDs, is a museum of movie memorabilia. Costumes from such greats as Natalie Wood, Kim Novak, and Tony Curtis, along with Mike Meyers, Jessica Lange and Drew Barrymore. Props from Psycho, Scream, Pulp Fiction and more are displayed in cases. If you go there, plan to spend some time looking around.

January 20, 2008

Cricket Cafe (3159 SE Belmont)

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I stayed out late on Friday. Late enough that my legs were laborious to move by the time I was on my way home. When I finally crawled into bed at 2am, I was heavy with anticipation of sleep. So I was really, really annoyed when I woke up at 7:30am. I tried to go back to sleep. But my eyes were burning because they needed sleep and burning so much that it was keeping me awake. Around 8:00, my back started hurting. Damn firm mattress. Fine. Fine. The universe wanted me awake.

When I can’t sleep on Saturday mornings, there’s only one thing I do. I watch the Food Network. After the Barefoot Contessa and a little Bobby Flay, I was hungry. A conversation with my roommate Kristin about cooking and food led us to believe that we should be brave and face the world. Out in the cold. To get some good breakfast. Where to go?

Cricket Cafe. Hmmmm. Belmont. Saturday. Not too crowded. The customers were not limited to one stereotypical group – not hipsters, not yuppies, just people who wanted to eat breakfast. We sat in the back room, which was quieter than the front. The menu looked fantastic. I wanted something sweet and savory. I have always liked the sickeningly sweet pancakes with syrup, but always need a little egg or sausage to mellow it out.

I ordered the Saint Hash with Cajun potatoes, red peppers, onions, housemade pork sausage, two eggs over the top and covered in hollandaise sauce. I substituted a piece of toast with a big fat pancake.
The waitress brought me a tall glass of fresh squeezed grapefruit juice. I am picky about my grapefruit juice. I hate the grapefruit juice “cocktail” that you buy in the grocery store. Red Ruby? Sugar water. Hate it. But this glass, similar to the juice at Bread and Ink Cafe, was filled with fresh, unsweetened, lip puckeringly tangy grapefruit juice.

The servings were quite large. The Cajun potatoes were very spicy and would have been too spicy for me had it not been for the lemony hollandaise sauce and egg yolks that spilled over the hash like a cool bath over a sunburn. The pancake was crispy around the edges and fluffy in the middle. It perfectly soaked up the melted butter and syrup to reward me with a mouth full of salty sweetness.

Kristin ordered the special scramble, with mozzarella, pesto, sun-dried tomatoes and sausage, served with a biscuit. It looked really tasty, but I was so infatuated with my hash that I forgot to even taste my friend’s food. Bad restaurant reviewer.

The guy in the corner behind us was chilling out after his breakfast. Reading the paper, drinking his coffee by himself. A scene that was replicated in a few different parts of the cafe. I like that. A place where people feel comfortable enough to enjoy their breakfast, their paper and their coffee. Alone, or with friends.

The service was not too slow and was unintrusive. Laid back. Saturday. Morning. Breakfast. We stumbled back to the car, our legs maybe a little wobbly from the massive dose of carbs and fat we had just taken in. Upon our arrival home, I fell into bed and slept for 4 hours. Sigh. That was exactly what I wanted.

Cricket Cafe on Urbanspoon

January 16, 2008

Hello January, Goodbye December(ists)!

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Well. It's January 16th today. We are two and a half weeks into the new year. How's it feeling so far? I've been eating lots of great food, starting back to school and cooking a lot. So much fun. Because it's been such a great first two weeks of 2008, I figured it was time for a giveaway.

So here's the deal. Comment on this post and tell me your favorite food you've eaten in 2008 so far and where you ate it (name of the restaurant, your house, etc.) and on Sunday, I'll do a drawing from all the comments and the winner will get TWO tickets to The Decemberists concert at the Crystal Ballroom on Wednesday, January 23rd. (That's next week!) If you haven't seen them in concert, you want to - they are some of the best performers around, AND they are from Portland. Hometown shows rock.

Can't wait to hear what you've all been eating!

January 14, 2008

Every Breath You Take

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This is my absolute favorite scene from Ally McBeal - from my favorite episode with guest stars Cheri O'Teri, Paul Reubens and Sting. Sting and Robert Downey Jr. singing a duet of Every Breath You Take. You can't get any better than that.

Urban Fondue (2114 NW Glisan St.)

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It’s raining outside. Raining hard. It’s Friday night after a contentious week of work. My nerves are frazzled, my hair, flat. There’s a spot! There’s a spot! You can fit in there. I can’t. Yes, you can, just do it. My sister is directing my parking. I can’t fit in the spot. I let her out in front of the restaurant so I can find parking on my own. I drive around the block through the sheets of rain. My phone rings. There’s a spot right here. I’m saving it for you. Do you see me? You just have to turn around. My sister is standing in a parking spot. I drive around the block. My phone rings. Where are you? People are giving me dirty looks for standing in a parking spot. I’m almost there. My nerves that were frazzled are now fried. I hate parking in NW Portland on Friday night. You can fit in there, she says. It’s easy. I turn my wheel. Maybe a little too sharply. Crunch. I hit the car in front of me.

Forget it. I drive off and park in the Trader Joe’s parking lot. Ilegal, yes, but other cars will be safer if I do it. I walk to a nearby bar and borrow a pen so I can write a note and leave it on the car that I hit. I am not confident that my note will withstand the rain. But I have to do it. When I was 17 I backed into an old green beat up pickup truck, barely tapping the side of it. I didn’t do any damage to the truck, so I left without leaving a note. The police called that night saying that I had been in a hit and run. I had to go down to the police station and “learn my lesson” from a cop who gave me a break and didn’t cite me.

I wearily tread through the rain back to Urban Fondue where we are celebrating my friend Alison’s birthday. Truthfully, I just want to go home and go to bed. This day is not a good one. We are at a big table in the back. My sister and I take the corner spot. I am in a daze. We order cheddar and caraway fondue with sausage and mushrooms for dipping. I sit and dip in my fondue. Listening to the surrounding conversations, glad to not be a part of them. We all trade fondues. We get the brie and gorgonzola pot, which is almost empty. It is much tastier than the grainy and runny cheddar and caraway fondue that we ordered.

What do you do for a living? Someone is talking to me. I clear my head enough to answer. I’m an HR Manager. But she also writes about food. Someone said loudly. Oh really? What do you write? I talk about my blog. My head starts to feel a little lighter. I like doing casual reviews of my dining experiences. I talk about my favorite restaurants. I talk about the restaurants I don’t like. I talk about the restaurants I haven’t tried. I talk about how people seem to be very sensitive about Mark Lindsay’s Rock and Roll Café and are still sending me flaming comments about my negative review from 5 months ago. I am forgetting about work and the shouting and complaining and crying that went on in my office this week. We converse about cooking while I eat my grilled romaine and pancetta salad and the others cook their meat in the broth. I order a virgin margarita. I enjoy my salad. Mainly I enjoy the pancetta.

So what would you say about this place? The guy across the table talks in a lowered voice so we don’t alert the waitstaff that we are about to critique their restaurant. I’ll tell you what I would say, he says. You are paying for an experience. You are not paying for a chef to create this meal – you’re paying for the staff to coordinate this experience. The sauces are not outstanding. We discuss the diverting tone of eating fondue and how it is fun but not amazingly delicious. The waitress forgets about my margarita and then offers me the drink on the house. Nice.

We order dessert. Chocolate hazelnut fondue. With cookie dough, doughnuts, bananas, pound cake and cheesecake for dipping. The cheesecake is still frozen. It is sweet. Super super sweet and rich. The guy across the table pours the rest of the caramel fondue into the chocolate hazelnut fondue and swirls it. Eat it with a spoon. Very diverting indeed.

Hugs. Kisses. Nice to meet yous. My sister and I head out into the rain. A yellow envelope sits on my windshield. Parking ticket.

Urban Fondue on Urbanspoon

January 10, 2008

Lovely Hula Hands (4057 N. Mississippi)

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To celebrate the new year, my sister Chelsea and rooomate Kristin and I ventured to Lovely Hula Hands. This was a going all out dinner - appetizers, entrees, desserts - no matter the price. I love those kinds of dinners because I get to taste so many more things!

So first of all, the space is small but the atmosphere is cozy and comfortable. Light curtains maintain the dining room space separate from the entry way and I felt at home.

Appetizers. Cracked oregon dungeness crab with paprika butter was lovely, buttery and just spicy enough. The rosemary foccacia with olive oil was perfect - a little salt, a little rosemary and a little olive oil.

Dinner. Remember how I used to not be a big fan of seafood? I can't believe I ever doubted. I ordered the pan-fried grouper with meyer lemon and olive topping, with spinach and crispy fingerling potatoes. The fish - buttery and slightly crispy - flaked off in chunks with a mellow flavor, ready for the lemon and olive to dress it up. Oh. My. Word. So good.

Kristin had the sonoma county duck legs braised with red wine, pork belly and dried cherries, served with sautéed greens and mashed celery root and potatoes, which was tender and tasted perfect with all the flavors at once.

Chelsea had polenta, creamy and mild with mushrooms. The epitome of comfort food. Again, a winner!

Dessert. I ordered the grape sorbet with blue cheese and peanut brittle. This was a good dessert to build - a little peanut brittle with a little sorbet on top and then some blue cheese on top of that. Delicious. We also had the chocolate beignets with coffee ice cream. The hot chocolate we ordered was not too sweet, but just chocolate enough to top off our evening.

Happy New Year, all my faithful readers!

Lovely Hula Hands on Urbanspoon

January 7, 2008

Now Appearing at Stumptown Info

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I'll be writing about all kinds of Portland food a couple times a week for StumptownInfo.com starting this week! Check it out at www.stumptowninfo.com.

January 6, 2008

Por Que No (3524 N. Mississippi Ave.)

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Why not? A tiny little taco joint on North Mississippi, is casual, homey and inviting. Full of people, you kind of have to finagle a table in a bit of a contest with the other patrons. "I think those people that just came in are about to snag that table - you might want to grab it." The woman taking our order at the counter was looking out for us.

We firmly but politely told the other patrons that we had been waiting for a table. They obliged and waited their turn. The server brought us our guacamole, which looked remarkably just like mashed up avocados, but had a spice and a salt that surprised me because it just looked so.... green.

Three tacos. In homemade tortillas. Chicken. Beef. Veggie. All spicy, warm, fresh and simple. Queso fresco. Cilantro. Salsa. Tender meat. Colorful vegetables. To me, it was about 6 bites of heaven. (I was really hungry.)

I need to go back and savor.

¿Por Qué No? on Urbanspoon

January 2, 2008

Tabla Mediterranean Bistro (200 NE 28th)

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It didn't start out well. Our table was uneven and every time I touched the table, it bobbled. We were seated next to a loud and obnoxious couple on a date. Not good vibes going for us. My friend told the waitress about our table. I didn't really think they would do anything about it - I mean every place has those uneven tables. But within 2 minutes, they had actually replaced the table! They moved our drinks and napkins and place settings off the table and swiftly replaced it, then re-set our table. Nice. Eating dinner on a stable table is much more pleasant than bobbliness.

The menu at Tabla Bistro was really mouth watering. I was back on my order-salad-but-feel-free-to-sample-other-people's-dinners diet. Even so, the Endive Salad I ordered with salt-roasted beets, black currents, sheep's milk feta and caramel vinaigrette made my mouth water all on its own, without any help from chicken, pasta or steak.

The house-cured mixed olives I ordered to start were beautiful. And when I started eating them, they were spicy, salty and meaty, living up to the visual perfection they began with. It was a hefty dish of olives, too - with the Pearl Bakery bread we had with it, well it could have been my whole meal.

But thank goodness I wasn't being THAT sensible! The beets and feta worked together to tickle my mouth with flavors both sweet and tangy, the caramel vinaigrette shimmering on the plate was the perfect mix and I couldn't get rid of the notion that I was eating salad with caramel sauce on it. Though vinaigrette was much tastier than caramel sauce, there was a bit of sauciness to it.

Kristin ordered the sea scallops and Portuguese chourico with chick peas and braised kale. I've never loved seafood. But these scallops - they tasted like steak. They were tender and matched with the bold chourico, it was they perfect combination. The chick peas and bright green kale - such a sight to see and to eat. Mmmm.

I probably could have eaten both Kristin's dinner and mine, they were both so delicious. And the service - I mean seriously when have you ever eaten at a restaurant where they replace your table because it's wobbly? Serious customer-centered service was evident throughout our meal. And the date next to us? Well they entertained us the whole night. There's nothing like eavesdropping on a date conversation, especially when it's awkward, loud, and a little bit drunken.

Tabla on Urbanspoon