THE DINING REPORT – Mediterranean Exploration Company

Where Israel is no father away than the Pearl (Oye Vey!)

IMG_4294As many people who have read my blog know, I love John Gorham’s restaurants. Toro Bravo has been in my top five since it opened, and Tasty N’ Alder moved way up on my list the first time I ate there. It was with much interest I watched the headlines for the opening of the Mediterranean Exploration Company in the summer of 2014. For one thing, any John Gorham restaurant opening strikes me as definite cause for celebration. Couple this with the fact that his new place was introducing a selection of food from Eastern Mediterranean locales little explored here, places like Israel, Turkey, Morocco and Greece, how could a Portland foodie not be excited? We have a small amount of Middle Eastern food in Portland, largely represented by Lebanese, but as far as countries like Israel and Turkey, we just do not get that kind of food here, and the main Moroccan spot is the rather goofy Marakkesh. We have our Greek places, but none is a standout. Levant has an unusual menu that touches on these regions, and is generally recommended, but I haven’t eaten there, as it’s another place that makes it really hard to take a group, especially on the weekends.

This was my second dinner “back from the brink”, and interestingly, except for two carry-overs from LeVieux, a totally different group from last time out. IMG_4278It was so nice to see Heidi and Julian again, I had not seen them since late Summer of 2014, and Hank has changed from a toddler into a pretty adorable “little man” in that time frame. I had a couple of newcomers at the table, Wendy, whom I had met at a Portland Food Adventures dinner a couple of years ago, and Greg, a potential fellow hiker who conveniently (and expensively) now lives in the Pearl. Both appeared to have a good time. And speaking of the Pearl, also in attendance, Michael, my first ever RR member, and a veteran Pearl dweller. We also welcomed old friends Sylvie and Harvey, Glenda, my stalwart, and old pros David and Shuhong. Later you will hear (read??) from Wendy, who I asked to do a guest review for me, as she is both a really experienced group diner and a contributor to where she often writes about food and fitness (Wendy is also the “voice” behind (more…)

The Dining Report – Le Vieux

Touring the World in One Restaurant

As many of you know, our little group has taken a long sabbatical, in the beginning due to me unexpectedly losing my employment.IMG_4271 After finding a job 11 months ago, it took me awhile to get our dining cabal traveling down the local food expressway once again, but on January 24th we had our first dinner since September of 2013. Due to illness, my table wasn’t quite as full as I had planned, but the company I did have on this Saturday evening proved almost overwhelmingly enjoyable.

On this evening, It was extremely nice to be reunited with my good dining friends, most of whom I had not seen in a year or more, Tracy and Peter, Glenda, and David. Also joining me, a new member to Restaurant Roulette, Maya, accompanied by her food enthusiastic friend Teresa, filling in for Maya’s husband Will, who had to give us a pass this time out.

As is my usual modus operandi, I tried to select a restaurant that was fairly new, as any decent new Portland restaurant basically becomes impossible to get into on a Saturday night after a month or so, especially if you have a larger sort of group. IMG_4264I had been reading about the soon to open Le Vieux, and thought their rotating menu of classic European dishes sounded interesting. Also, I had dined in this space, that old house at NW 23rd Place and Vaughn St., almost 20 years ago, and wanted to see what they had done with the place after all that time. Unfortunately, this is one of those locations where no one ever seems to have much luck. While 23rd and Vaughn is a high visibility intersection, as that’s where the freeway off-ramp purges itself, NW 23rd Place and Vaughn manages to be much more tucked away, and since the restaurant is elevated from street level, it’s hard to notice unless you are going east down Vaughn. The acclaimed since it opened Ataula is right around the corner though, so maybe more people are lurking around this block looking for eats, especially when Ataula is full. (more…)

THE DINING REPORT – Old Salt Marketplace

But Perfectly New Food

As Portland is now famous for its farm to table food ethic and its often unconventional approach to restauranteering (food trucks, pop-ups)  it’s no surprise we are now seeing places like Old Salt Marketplace on the scene.IMG_3767 What could be better than a space that has a deli, cafe, butcher shop, farmer’s market, bar, commissary kitchen, cooking school and quality restaurant all in the same space? Old Salt is the vision of Ben Meyer (Grain and Gristle) and Alex Ganum (Upright Brewing). According to Meyer, formerly of Ned Ludd, his idea was to open the type of establishment he wanted to see in his neighborhood, a place to stop in and grab the fixings for a meal at home, where you can also buy an already prepared meal to go, or even just sit down and eat or have a drink at the bar. Old Salt opened in early May, and the droves came immediately to their unique space. Somewhat similar to Ned Ludd with their wood burning oven, the Old Salt Supper house does most of their cooking in an open hearth, sort of like a fireplace. Where the cooking at Ned Ludd is Industrial Revolution Revolt style, the style of cuisine at Old Salt is billed as Colonial cookery, and the deli extensively features American products. There is also a heavy emphasis on butchery, supplying the meat market, Old Salt Supperhouse, and Grain and Gristle.

N.E. 42nd Avenue, in the Cully and Concordia neighborhoods, isn’t an area I am particularly familiar with. IMG_3764Basically you go there if you live around there, or you need something there. In the past ten or so years I have driven down 42nd a couple of times (which is a lot compared to none) so I knew the easiest way to get there, but was surprised how quiet and neighborhoody the street is around Alberta; I thought it was a wider and more traveled boulevard. Old Salt was easy to find, and when you have a reservation as early as ours (5:30) it is easy to park. I read somewhere later that Old Salt doesn’t take reservations, but when I called up for one, they certainly had no problem giving me one, the only stipulations the somewhat unpleasant 5:30 PM or 9:00 PM. Although they offer a million “services” at this modern day marketplace, the dining area at Old Salt isn’t really very large, and we actually sat in the meat market/deli side, not on the bar side where most people looked to be, so I can see why they would offer limited group reservations. Almost all the time we were there, people were queueing up by the door to eat. (more…)


What Do You Mean Your Invitation Didn’t Arrive? 


IMG_3706This has been a weird summer. Usually what happens during the vacation season is I can barely find enough bodies to have dinners, and this summer I’ve had two in a row where I could not send out an RSVP, because all the places were filled as soon as I made the reservation. I guess it all depends on the venue. Next summer I need to remember, great venues are the secret (although why I had such a good crowd for Marquee Bistro, I’ll never understand).

Anyway, sorry to all you folks I had to leave out for our August 2nd dinner at Ox. The people at this one were basically the group members who begged me to have another dinner at Ox after our 2012 dinner there.IMG_3690 Luckily I made the reservation a loooooooooong way in advance, since during the very next week the Oregonian was proclaiming Ox their restaurant of the year, exacerbating the already hoarding masses. Because of their relatively modestly sized space, their immense popularity, and their no reservations under six people policy, Ox is always one of the hardest places to get in that we have here in Portland. At least now they have their cool looking Whey Bar next door, which when the weather is nice includes pleasant outdoor seating. This certainly makes a two hour wait more “endurable”.

As it’s probably close to the best reviewed restaurant to open in Portland over the last couple of years (Roe and Tasty N Alder are up there too) I don’t have to heap additional praise on Ox, everyone knows it’s wonderful. Last time there were a couple of staff issues that put me somewhat on edge during the reservation making and the end of meal service, but this time everything went as near to perfect as can probably happen when you have a group of 10 all wanting what they want. There was a tiny little snafu with the original bill that made us perspire a bit, but aside from that, everything was great. What can I say, Ox is swell. (more…)


Not A Fumble In Sight

IMG_3678Okay, if anyone still reads this thing, they may be thinking, hey, how come I didn’t get my reservation to this dinner? It’s true, you were not invited to the Block + Tackle dinner. There were no RSVPs. We had our dinner at Bistro Marquee the week that Block + Tackle opened. I mentioned at BM that I had already made the reservation for the next dinner, B + T. At that time enough people (basically everyone from that dinner) told me they wanted to be included in the B + T dinner, so i had no spaces left. Well, that was easy. Exclusionary, but easy.

Anyway, sorry to the rest of you, especially you seafood lovers, but Block + Tackle is not the world biggest place, so 10 places pretty much monopolized the establishment. IMG_3673Also, it’s already crowded, so I felt lucky to get any seats. As it happens, originally the reservation was for the over 80 time of 5:45, as that was all Open Table would allow. As fate would have it, however, Melissa Halle is in like Flynn with the GM or someone at B + T, so she was able to switch the reservation to our more usual 6:30 PM. (It’s true that this time also seems early to some folks, especially those from places like Spain, but after a three hour dinner, this still allows my members time left in their evening go out and party down! And/or put on their jammies and go to sleep).

Portland is fortunate these days to have many chefs who have attained national status, and others who are less talked about, but still acknowledged to be at the top of their game and putting out amazing food. Into this last category no one is more noteworthy than Trent Pierce, whose small and short lived eatery, Fin, produced amazing seafood dishes from opening until it abruptly closed just a few months later, largely due to building ownership mismanagement. IMG_3680Much of the Portland food world was distraught over the loss of Fin, and couldn’t wait for Mr. Piece to get another place going, hopefully one where he had more control over his own fate. Eventually came Wafu, Pierce’s take on Japanese noodle joints, one of the earliest additions to the soon to be exploding Division St. restaurant row. Wafu gained a loyal following immediately, but it was clear Trent Pierce’s heart belongs only to seafood, as he soon opened a tiny, elite, reservation only seafood den in the back of Wafu called Roe. At Roe you pay your tariff and enjoy a very drawn out, but exquisite, meal of freshly architecturalized seafood plates. The reviews have been glowing since inception.


The Dining Report – Bistro Marquee

This Ain’t No Market

I really don’t know how Carafe did it, staying in business for quite a few years in this dubious location. IMG_3643At least Restaurant Murata has the benefit of traveling and local Japanese diners to boost their patronage. The corner of 2nd and Market might be busy at midday during the week, but in the evening, unless the Keller Auditorium has something going on, the surrounding concrete city blocks are empty, empty, empty, except, perhaps, for some shouts from people dousing themselves in the Fourcourt Fountain. These people (mostly under the age of 25) rarely frequent restaurants, which is probably good, as they are known to sport wet clothing and dripping bathing ensembles.

Although I long ago worked downtown for many years, I have never eaten at any of the restaurants in the 200 Market building until almost exactly a year ago, when we had a dinner at Market, Kurt Huffman’s newest ChefStable enterprise. Since I had not visited Carafe, I didn’t know if the space had been renovated much for Market or not, but people who joined me for that dinner said the decor was pretty similar with minor changes.IMG_3647 This glassy box is not the best environment to work with, but Market seemed light and airy, and the food was fresh, interesting, beautifully presented and tasty. All of us was impressed. Unfortunately, not long after this (was it even a month?) Kurt Huffman, who had experienced many successes before this, and one gigantic failure, Corazon, decided he didn’t want another massive failure slowly draining his resources, so he closed Market abruptly, no matter how good the food, and how annoyed the building management was (lawsuits soon followed). I read in a later interview with Mr. Huffman that other issues besides the Jekyll and Hyde nature of the patronage were the unpleasantly small indoor space, poor building repairs, and building management demands that the lunch menu needed  to cater to the office building tenants and the dinner menu to theater goers. (more…)


I Must Have Missed That One 

On some outing in NW Portland a few years ago (maybe I was going to Le Happy for crepes?) I had occasion to park outside the former location of Oddball Shoes on NW Marshall (they are now at 18th and NW Thurman, most likely a spot with more visibility).IMG_3605 Although I have big honkin’ feet for a woman, I don’t tend to shop at shoe stores which specialize in shoes for big footed men (although you know what they say about those fellers. Maybe I should hang around those places more often). Anyway, although the shop looked as adorable as possible (really) what totally intrigued me was this beautiful little brick building hidden away in the industrial wasteland known as almost below the Fremont Bridge ramps (and/or Slabtown).

I guess I’m not the only person who loved the look of this building, because I read an interview with The Bent Brick’s owner, Scott Dolich, who mentioned that each day he would drive by the Oddball Shoes building on his way to his original Portland restaurant, Park Kitchen, and think how he would like to own this building. Eventually he talked to the Oddball Shoes folks, and as soon as they decided to move, he snatched up this lovely ivy covered address.

Originally the plan at The Bent Brick was to be bar with fancy little noshes, and quite ambitiously to feature only domestic alcohol (I forgot all about this until Glenda tried to order a Scotch. IMG_3607Luckily summer is here, so she easily switched to a locally grown Aviation Gin and Tonic). Because of this, The Bent Brick has no bottles of wine to order, but if you bring in your own empty, or pay $1 for their empty bottle, they will fill up a bottle with a locally produced wine for you to take home or if you want to drink it on the premises  it comes in a carafe thingee. I’m sure this policy of no non-regional  liquor irritates many people who think they are coming into a normal bar, but we have so many great wineries, brewers, and distilleries now, it seems like a really noble concept to me, although probably much work for The Bent Brick liquor purveyor. (more…)