The Dining Report –
Encanto – Please Hold On While We Bring Your Food From New Mexico (via donkey cart.)

Yes, it’s time again for a few words from your rude, arrogant, and factually confused hostess. Or so I’m told, via a comment submitted to the review of 23Hoyt (actually a pretty tame review). When it comes to comments, the RR blog gets more spam than legitimate dining remarks, so before we think about posting what few comments we get, Marnie and myself always need to decide whether the comments actually have anything to do with Restaurant Roulette or not. All the stuff about winning the British lottery and such we automatically dump (no wonder I’m not rich already), but when someone sends a quote from Albert Camus stating … “you are rude, and arrogant, and your facts are not correct”, there is a decision to be made, is this comment just more spam, in this case at least intellectually driven spam for a change, or is this comment directed at your kindly, innocent RR hostess/reviewer?

Obviously since I’m blathering on about it, I’ve decided to accept that this remarks was sent referring to me, and that not everyone in the entire universe enjoys my dining commentaries (what is wrong with some people?). Sure, especially when a dinner is extra quirky, I can be a tad (a tad) rude in my comments, afterall, isn’t that why many of you read them? If everything was hearts and flowers and little angels flapping their perfect wings amongst sweetness and light, would anyone even take the time to peruse even half of my insanely long ramblings discussing the dinners? I tend to doubt it.

As far as arrogant, isn’t just stating your opinion a form of arrogance in itself, just assuming that anything you have to say has any validity at any time? But hey buddy, remember me, the person who is always talking about snorfling food, and drooling on my pillow, and clumsily tumbling off of tuffets into strangers laps, don’t you know my projected image is one of delightful self-effacement, which is 50 million miles from arrogant?

It’s certainly true, I’ve always made it a point to know quite a bit about the local dining scene, this comes from reading and eating out in Portland my entire life, and I’ve never been shy with my opinions and comments on this subject, but whether I state them arrogantly or not, that’s not something I would notice about myself, now is it? Who really sits around thinking about themselves …. “oh, for crying out loud, there I go, being arrogant again”. Unlikely.

As far as my facts being incorrect, since I really don’t want to appear overly dumber than comes naturally to me, I try not to include comments on restaurants and such unless I am relatively certain they are correct. I admit, when I was writing the 23Hoyt review I was more anxious to get it finished than usual, as I was leaving town for a couple of days, and I was really stretching my sagging old memory banks trying to remember why Zefiro ceased and where all the parties went, and who had their hand in Saucebox, Balvo, Bluehour and 23Hoyt, so maybe I got a factoid  incorrect.

But is it really necessary to go around quoting famous sorts to tell me I’m opinionated and full of crapolla? How weird is that? And while it’s true I never made a dazzling career for myself through my college education, thank god I have enough rudimentary knowledge of the world of literature and philosophy to have some inkling of who Camus is. Wouldn’t I just look quite the dolt had I read this comment and started addressing this Albert Camus guy directly. I could just imagine that now … hey, Camus guy, what Portland restaurants do you like? How would you like to try writing one of these reviews, A.C.? What makes you so smart, Albert?

And as a final note on this particular dreary subject, let me just say that no matter what my faults, rude, flippant, confused, whatever, at least I’ve never been so pretentious that I go around quoting french philosophers. Now that’s really sad.

And in case the whole remark was just mistaken spam …… let me just say …… nevermind.

Okay, finally, on the Encanto (yes, an actual review for those of you already comatose by my always weird spewings).

Most of the time when I am setting up the reservations a couple of weeks in advance, I just guess on a table size and end up calling the restaurant and modifying it, as I am rarely right on with my projected head count. So congratulations to me (that’s my arrogance coming out again) I guessed 12 for Encanto, and a table of 12 it was, at least at the beginning (more on that unfortunate development later.)

And Restaurant Roulette says “hey” to our newest member, Earl, a fun and obviously kind fellow who teaches the seemingly less fortunate in the Head Start program self-sufficiency through meal preparation (I hope I got that right). It was nice meeting you Earl, I hope we see you at a multitude of dinners, and that next time I am actually in close enough proximity to hear more details of your employment, it sounds like a really worthwhile sort of job to have. It’s really great how many members of RR make their dollar through social services and helping others, there’s Julia, Michael, Kimberly, and now Earl, and of course Dr. T, although we all know she just helps people to rake in those big bucks! (Just kidding TJ, I know that Schweitzer guy had nothing on you).

Let me also say, that unless you live there, the Mocks Crest/North Lombard area is really far away. In my long, long, long ago college days I journeyed every weekday from up on Mt. Scott to Willamette Blvd. (one really memorable time in a snowstorm, only to find, surprise, surprise, school was canceled), but now days this area seems so remote, and foreign to me, I never go to St. Johns for anything. It was nice to have a dinner in one of those old fashioned, up and coming neighborhoods though, although I was a bit surprised to hear Brian tell me he and Michael had been sitting in the bar before the dinner commenting on how many bars and taverns where in the area (duh boys …. taverns, Catholic College, need I say more?)

Since I have been away from my alma mater for a least 10 years (10 years, there’s some creative math) I really had no idea where Encanto was, but it was exactly like I had pictured it, a nicely refurbished single story storefront on the North side of Lombard just a few blocks beyond Chatauqua (Chatauqua was some weird dividing point I had in my college years, I just never ventured anywhere North of there). I liked Encanto’s space, simple, bright, and airy, half dining room and half bar, with a pleasant interior painted in earthtones, my tequila addled brain guessing a sage/moss green (the drinks were a tad strong). The bathroom was a pleasant area as well, a rich warm brown making it cozy and inviting (are you listening, 23Hoyt with your bleak restroom capsule?)

Despite my terror over just how far Lombard went on, and that I would be late, I was actually the first of our party to sit at our nice and roomy table (I was proceeding by the aforementioned drinking boys who were huddled in the bar, and probably fantasizing an evening of going from tavern to tavern in the area, and all those college girls). After much suspicious thumb twiddling on my part, seated in the center of this humongous long table, all by my rude, arrogant, misinformed self, I was grateful that within moments my co-diners came filtering in, David, Brian, Michael, Mello and Ivan the hungry, Tori and Dave all swanked up, Earl, Lynne, and dragging up the tail, the far journeying Julia and NE/North confused Kimberly.

It was quite nice to be allowed such a large group at the earlier 7:00 peak hour, but even with dining at 7:00, I have learned over the months that if I have had a small, early lunch, to snack when possible before the dinners. Unfortunately, by the time everyone shows up, orders drinks, chooses starters, and selects dinner, it can be quite a long wait before significant food appears. Especially on an evening like this, when people seemed to show up in waves of two or so, with all the multiple drink orders, it took a very long time to get entrees ordered and in the preparation pipeline.

Much like in a Mexican establishment, tequilas and beers were the beverages of choice on this New Mexican evening. I had read that the Margaritas were excellent, and with a nice selection to select from, quite a few were ordered, the most popular being the quite potent “Encanto” which featured the addition of Cointreau, Earl splurging on the “Albuquerque Gold” which I think featured Padron, and Michael totally losing his mind and getting the “Pecos River”, which sounded great to me too, until I saw the $12 price tag. (yes, I saved $4, then turned around and spent that and an additional $3 on “Mr. Martinez” a nasty sort of dude featuring a mind- numbing combination of gin, cointreau, and vermouth … after that the rest of the dinner is pretty much a blur. Well, see you all at Equinox).

Just joshing, we all know I’m not capable of that level of “brevity”. Afterall, if I couldn’t remember what else to write about, I’d just make it up to get to my million sentence per review minimum. Just like I always do.

Anyway, things are a bit blurry after big and mean (and somewhat syrupy) Mr. Martinez came to visit, but I’ll do the best I can with the help of a couple of co-diners who were kind enough to send some comments. Somewhere about 45 minutes to 1 hour after our reservation time, it seems like some starters began arriving at our table. It might have been even longer than that, as people seemed like they were getting to the breaking point as far as having some food (Menji-En goes New Mexican). As people were still really hungry after they ate them, I’m thinking the “house salads with sage-pinon vinaigrette” were not overly substantial. I and someone else (Brian, was that you?) had ordered some nice hot “sopaipillas” (golden friend bread pillows served with a dispenser of honey) which were delicious and pretty substantial, so we sent those up and down the table.

David had ordered one of the house specialties, the “green chile stew” which he kindly shared with anyone who wanted a taste, not that easy to do with one bowl and one spoon. David likes spicy, and I think he enjoyed the pork based soup, and I liked the slurp I had as well, as I think others that sucked some up had favorable remarks. Brian also gave the “queso fundido” dip a whirl, this version totally different than Oba’s famous cream cheese/chorizo based item, this treatment featuring warm goat cheese and pumpkin seed pesto, quite delicious, and coming alongside wonderful housemade tortilla chips. My second starter was “grilled hanger steak with mushroom ceviche”.  At the time I ordered it Mr. Martinez was still muddling my mental state, so when they asked who had the ceviche, I certainly didn’t step up to the plate, as I only remembered the hanger steak part. People, including the waiter, however, insisted it was indeed mine, so I tucked into its charred beefy goodness, the mushroom ceviche being more like assorted button mushrooms, peppers, and onions all sauteed together. I liked it, as did others at the table, although Julia later remarked she found the hanger steak in her enchilada too salty (provoking Tori at this point to jump into the center of the table with her salt lick, and do her rather embarrassing I Love Salt dance. Or maybe not, maybe that’s just the wanderings of my Mr. Martinez mind).

By the time we get to this point in the evening, we’d been there probably 1.5 to 2 hours, and Ivan, who is actually feeling almost faint from lack of food, says that they will have to leave if substantial food does not arrive in the next five minutes. This was only Mello and Ivan’s second RR dinner, and as relative newbies, they had not yet experienced how slow an RR dinner can be, and unfortunately Ivan had been on the go all day and eaten very little and needed food. So after five minutes more, off they went, in search of food, leaving enough money behind to pay for their drinks and the small salad they had.

Unfortunately, this was the trend of the whole evening, all the food items were slow in coming. Although there were not the blatant signs of the wheels coming off, like at Menji-En (I’m sorry, we’ve run out of rice and need to make more…) it was pretty clear the kitchen could not handle a table of 12 plus the additional diners in the restaurant. Afterall, this isn’t the biggest place in the world, they probably could only cook so many items at a time.

For more on that, here’s what Lynne had to say about this particular evening at Encanto  …
Some Encanto comments . . .  when I got home after the dinner I remembered that I had been told that when Encanto originally opened they actually took tables OUT because the kitchen couldn’t handle that many tables, and the recommendation I got was not to go on a Friday or Sat. because it would be a long wait . . . I thought that was to get a table, now it’s apparent that it’s a long wait for food . . . I’ve even been there once before (on a Wednesday) and thought the food and service was very good . . . but this time, the the food was just OK, maybe because after waiting so long, it didn’t have enough of a “wow” factor overcome the “long waiting” factor. If there’s a next time, it will involve starters! Also, the restaurant was just too loud where we got seated. I think Toro Bravo has a better idea in locating their long group table right parallel to the window. That felt much more intimate than the train station feeling we had sitting at our table with all the waiter and kitchen traffic right behind us at Encanto. I think Encanto needs to rearrange its tables and put only tables for 4 people or 2 people where we sat, at least those people would be close enough at their table to hear each other over the din of the open kitchen and dishwashing area right next to them.…  I still had a nice time, we had lots of interesting conversation at my end of the table about food, cooking, Dave and Earl’s polenta techniques, commentaries on other restaurants and Earl’s tales of cheffing. My buffalo short ribs and fried polenta dish were good, and got a lot better when I poured a side of green chile over it, which was excellent (and I should know having lived in New Mexico for 4 years), to add a little interest to the otherwise kind of dull (but hearty) flavors. And my leftovers were still tasty Saturday. It was a good sized dish. I do give the Encanto staff kudos for their drink service at our table, they were always there checking on drinks, I guess that was the only thing not dependent on the kitchen . . .   Thanks for sending those comments along, Lynne, written like a true pro, and just like I would write if I knew anything about New Mexico, New Mexican cuisine, as wasn’t so rude, arrogant, and factually incorrect.When about the two hour mark rolled around, I still don’t think we had any entrees. I do think the staff was getting pretty embarrassed though, and didn’t seem to want to spell ay time around our drooling, predatory looking table. Finally though, sizeable food appeared, pretty much in the necessary glut so we could all eat together. Here’s a list of some of the entrees I can remember: as she alluded to, Lynne had selected the “buffalo short ribs braised in dried cherry-pasilla sauce with sage polenta and sauteed squash” Taco Bell this place ain’t). Earl had decided to try the “Cordero Sofrito”, which according to the menu I swiped (err, borrowed” is “slow braised lamb in a hearty spanish tomato based, served with chile reddened rice, sauteed squash and mint creme fraiche” (Baja Fresh eat you heart out!). I wasn’t really sitting that close to Earl to hear his entire opinion, but I heard him say the lamb part was good. I notice his dish had the squash too (someone must have got carried away in the squash section of the supermarket, it was EVERYWHERE) and if he had any issues with his dish, maybe it was with the squash, as Michael said his was underdone. As for what Michael selected, the menu describes it as an “oven roasted 1/2 chicken marinated in cilantro garlic mojo, served with blackened tomatillo-poblano sauce, smashed sweet potatoes, black beans and sauteed chayote squash”.

Here’s Michael’s brief description of his meal …
The Pecos River margarita was decent. Strong, though overpriced at $12 in the glass they brought it in. I expected double the size. (Well, Michael always expects double sized drinks).
My meal was the Oven Baked Chicken. The chicken was perfect, some moistness, crunchy on the outside. There was supposed to be sweet potatoes but I received mashed and the Chayote Squash was not cooked enough. The black beans were fine.

Thanks for putting in your two cents Michael, especially as that’s all you probably had left after your $12 drink.

Other dinner sized orders were as follows: Brian, our new go to guy, selected the “chile rellenos with blackened tomato sauce, which was a poblano pepper stuffed with roasted corn and black bean succotash, topped with crumbled goat cheese and served with chile reddened rice and salad”, and a side of crispy pig intestines (okay, I’m just kidding about that part). He said it was really tasty. Actually, this menu was pretty pork free, which perhaps is one of the many things that sets New Mexican cooking aside from Mexican. The only pork I saw on the entire menu, besides what was in the green chile stew, was “carne adovada stuffed sopaipillas, slow cooked pork in a thick New Mexican red chile sauce inside a sopaipilla”. Tori had this, and I think she liked it, even if it didn’t come with a 1# box of kosher salt, although I don’t really know more than this, as she didn’t write down her usual pithy comments on her dining slip, in fact she didn’t even write down what she and the D man ordered, just numbers, so it’s a good thing I was close enough to keep an eye on her.

As for the D man, and the other D man too, they both had enchiladas, like the rest of us not previously mentioned had for their entree. The menu description calls them “Pueblo Style Enchiladas”, with a choice of New Mexico Red or Green Chile Sauce, selections being cheese, roast vegetables, or grilled hanger steak, and for an additional $1, topped with an over easy egg”. What made these enchiladas different from the average Mexican style enchilada was that they were folded in half instead of rolled. I guess if you live in a Pueblo style house it’s so tiring you don’t have the energy to be rolling all those enchiladas, so you take the easy way out and just flop them over.  The waiter recommended having the enchiladas “Christmas Style”, red and green sauce, and I think all of us enchilada eaters took him up on it. I think everyone but a couple of us had the fried egg on top (fried eggs are for breakfast!), although someone seemed nearly in tears because they felt ripped off, as their egg was yokeless. David, was that you? You should have asked for .50 back. The two manly D’s liked their hanger steak enchiladas, particularly DN, famished after a long day of art creating, leftover sorting, Jimmy petting (don’t ask!) and house construction. As mentioned earlier, Julia found her enchilada enclosed hanger steak jarringly salty, but otherwise found the food decent.

Kimberly, once again telepathically copying my order (she clearly wants to be me, rude, arrogant, and without proper facts), seemed to like the cheese enchiladas, although all three of enchilada eating women, delicate flowers that we are, agreed that we found the red half more agreeable than the green half, as the green half was pretty spicy (and my digestive tract, upper and lower, already resembles a lace doily). Everyone who had the enchiladas seemed to agree that they could have done without the side dishes, the beans were tepid, and the Spanish rice (could this have been the aforementioned “chile reddened rice”) was lousy at best, as it almost always seems to be. If I was Spain, I would try to become disassociated from this rice, it’s rarely good in any way. Maybe having almost all Mexican restaurants serve similar rice, and call it Spanish rice, is Mexico’s way of getting back at those nasty conquistadors.

Browsing over the menu, I see our table ordered every single dinner item, with the exception of the Encanto Burger and the specials. I know almost everyone throws a burger on the menu, especially many high-end places, so they have something cheaper than most things, but is it really necessary to serve a burger at a place like this? From the description, it’s just an everyday burger with cheese, although you can add New Mexico Green Chiles for 5 cents. Is it really vital to charge 5 cents for anything at a restaurant? How many big bucks can you rake in like that, what profit do you make, 2 cents per burger? Other than that 5 cent rip-off, the prices at Encanto weren’t bad, and many people with a cocktail and an enchilada only spent about $20.

Since the dinner was nearing three hours, the waiter made no attempt to push dessert at all, it seemed like he just wanted us to depart soon. I see by the menu they only had two desserts anyway, Tres Leche (milk cake) and Flourless Chocolate and Canela Torte. As our time in the restaurant was growing nigh, I glanced over and saw that the 7 or 8 months pregnant waitress who showed me to the table now was slim again with a whopping 9 month old child at her breast. Now that’s a slow dinner.

Encanto was embarrassed about the situation (not argumentative like Menji-En) and consequently removed the drinks and everything Mello and Ivan had ordered, and the mandatory 18% tip (the waiter actually ended up with at least a 20% tip, as it happened). It wasn’t really bad service, it was just a slow kitchen which obviously could not handle a table of 12 and other patrons as well. As both the beans were verging on cold and the squash on barely cooked, I wonder if they ran out of these vital side dishes and had to prepare more, and that slowed them down. But hey, at least they didn’t run out of tortillas.

As isn’t surprising, as Mexican food is a favorite of mine and New Mexican dishes have many similarities, I liked the food at Encanto, and would go back with a small group at an off hour. Mr. Martinez might have kicked my keister for awhile, but now that so many people know what a real brute he is, we’ll see how many people really order him again! That’s my sweet revenge!!!!!