July 2007


Thanks to new member Brian O’Brien for attending Friday’s dinner. It was quite fitting, as Mama Mia was throwback Italian, and who can appreciate that genre of food better than an ol’ Brooklyn Boy?

Mama Mia logoWell, after this Friday’s coming dinner, my third week of RR eating in a row, I think it will be time to head back to the every two week rotation. I tried the extra dinner thing because for a bit there it seemed like the dinners after Toro Bravo might be in high demand, and I wanted as many people as were interested to be able to join in. Most of the people who originally RSVPed for the second Assaggio dinner, however, ended up backing out, which I’m not certain was due to people not liking the substitution restaurant so much as not really being certain they were coming in the first place when they RSVPed.

Because of this, I had much stress whether my VISA card was going to be zapped with some threatened charge because I couldn’t fill the large table I had reserved when so many people had RSVPed early. So all you newbies, keep in mind, the general rule for Restaurant Roulette is, don’t RSVP unless you are really going to come, even if it means you don’t RSVP until right before the cut off, otherwise poor old Jackie has way too much anxiety, and you (and only you), will be totally responsible for sending her to an early grave. (It’s so good I never spread it on thick). Just keep in mind this simple rule, unless flakiness is connected to a delicious pie crust or dinner roll, it is highly frowned upon by the draconian ruler of all things RR, and if you back out too many times I might have to send someone to your house to kill you.

RR group at mama miaOn that lighthearted note, thank you to my six co-eatees who joined me to make a lucky number seven at Mama Mia Trattoria (although my groups of 13 have been some of the best ever). And thank you to Mama Mia Trattoria (probably referred from here on out, on many occasions, as MMT) for having such simple, easy to type entree names, and to the three manly boys who all ordered the same thing, thus making my food description considerably easier (writing about those millions of small plates at Toro Bravo and typing those contorted Italian names from Assaggio has taken its toll on my feeble old mind and nonexistent typing skills).

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First of all, let me just make note of the fact that Restaurant Roulette has made it through an entire year, so thanks to my original co-diners, who helped me discover that the group dining thing was a feasible concept, and to all the people who have joined in since then. RR has changed and evolved much since that first dinner with just the three of us sitting out on that really sunny patio at La Calaca Comelona, staring at their awful landscaping techniques. While co-diners were scarce during the holidays, and made me contemplate throwing in the towel, I’ve learned an important lesson from the experience, when numbers are dwindling, just keep advertising, advertising, advertising.

I’d also like to make mention of our three newest dinees, Mello and Ivan, that nice chemist couple from Hillsboro, and Adele, yet another San Francisco transplant, a semi-retired chef (what could be better than that?) with a lovely lilting UK accent.

Now, on to Assaggio ………
THE DINING REPORT, ASSAGGIO, OR, HOW TO GO TO HELL IN A HANDBASKET IN THREE EASY STEPS ……..

Okay, as usual, let me begin this review in my usual obscure way (and/or, probably the only way I ever begin a review.)

Where exactly did that saying come from? Why would people go to Hell in a handbasket, and/or the equally amusing but also confusing handcart? What is a handbasket? Is that what you dangle on your arm as you skip off to pick berries in your cheery frock? And what is a handcart, is that what you struggle through the Winco food aisles with? (okay, that’s A LOT like Hell.) Why would you go to Hell in these contraptions? Why wouldn’t you go to Hell in something like a red Hummer, or an old cream colored Yugo (and when’s the last time you saw one of those babies?) Wouldn’t those be more appropriate to Hell going? Sorry, but inquiring minds want to know.

Anyway, as you might have figured out by this time, this will not fall into the category of glowing reviews. Visiting Assaggio (Part 1) was much like when you bump into a dear old friend of yours, and they have totally hit the skids, they might be homeless, or mentally ill, or passing out scary religious pamplets door to door. You know it’s them, but you don’t want to believe they have come to this. Maybe you see them at the freeway off ramp with their waving sign, so humanitarian that you are, you do the noble thing, you pretend like you didn’t see them and speed off as soon as possible. (Of course this is how I handle all uncertain people, don’t you? Especially bill collectors.)
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About three + years ago I noticed a new barbecue place called Russell Street Ribs. I was turning around to try to find a parking place at a restaurant I love about a block from there, Echo, and saw the pink neon pig in the window and decided I had to try it some day, because I love barbecue, and the building looked like it might have somewhat better ambiance than the average rib joint. At that time I knew nothing of N. Russell just North of MLK, and when I made it to Russell Street Ribs, and went back subsequent times in the next year or so, the neighborhood along Russell there struck me as nothing but a wasteland heading over the hill towards Emmanuel Hospital and N. Interstate.

But wait, now there’s gentrification! What started on Lower North Russell and Interstate (at Widmer Gasthaus and Mint/820,) and moved to Mississippi, then spread to Killingsworth and Williams, has finally migrated over the last couple of years to upper Russell at MLK. First the rib place. Then Mark Wooley, famous Portland gallery owner, redid the Royal Hiberian Lodge into the Wonder Ballroom, Gallery, and Bar, and now right next door, a beautifully refurbished building has been transformed into Toro Bravo. Two winters ago I actually stood in front of the bleak building that became Toro Bravo, waiting to enter a Dandy Warhols concert, and the last thing I could imagine was the potential lurking right beside me. And now, the two blocks of Russell North of MLK are the place to be. I know gentrification is hard on the people it dislocates through higher rents and urban renewal, but as a lover of old buildings and fine modern cuisine, I love it when eateries and cultural establishments turn worn out city blocks new and vital again.
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