March 2008


THE EAST INDIA COMPANY GRILL AND BAR

Yes, the name is a tad strange, obviously a bow to westernization, but the East India Company is a worthwhile place to visit nonetheless. Housed in the lovely old Medical and Dental Arts building across 11th from the back of the Central Library, it’s certainly one of the most tasteful Indian restaurants in Portland. The space, although a tad unorthodox, has much of the modern sheen that appeals to business class travelers in the downtown core, as well as many sweet touches that give it warmth and friendliness. When you enter, you find yourself in the foyer/reservation section, then take several steps up to the elongated bar area. The bar has dark walls and dangly mini crystal chandeliers, and would certainly be a pleasant place to pull up a stool and while away an hour or so with a frosty gin and tonic or a nice glass of wine. Along the walls are several two person tables with gleaming white linen, probably for happy hour and perhaps overflow dining. On the walls are early 20th Century photos, most likely of the final days of the Raj and British rule in India.

Once you travel through the bar corridor, you enter the main dining room, sage and brick red colored walls contrasting nicely with the hanging drapes, soft and cozy off-white booths, and the dramatic windmill lighting fixture that dominates the center of the ceiling. Everything else is a dark color, and the juxtaposition of tones creates a soothing, high-end atmosphere for a well thought out Indian dining experience. The main dining area also features additional antique photos taken in India, more white linen with bejeweled napkin rings, and cozy embroidered pillows illustrating typical Indian flora and fauna. It’s a nice place, certainly romantic enough for a special date, comfortable but classy. Also, quite interestingly, I saw as many Indian looking people dining here as Westerners, something you don’t necessarily see at the Indian restaurants east of the Beaverton high tech corridor.

As for the food, the menu is quite substantial, featuring almost all Indian favorites, included meats prepared in a tandoor over. The prices, while not exactly cheap, fall mid-range for quality Portland dining, the average specialty dinner costing $16-$20 dollars, although the side dishes are a tad meager, a smattering of potatoes or a spoonful of rice. I did notice the menu had been rather “dumbed down” or simplified compared to that posted on the East India website, so maybe they were attempting too many things or just didn’t sell enough of certain items. (more…)

THE DINING REPORT – BIWA

Sucking Up That Never Ending Noodle

Well, Spring is blooming in our fair city, but unlike last year at this time, Restaurant Roulette is not burgeoning and busting out at the seams with the advent of the finer weather, in fact it’s struggling mightily. I’ve tried to figure out what I might be doing wrong with the dinners, and the roster, and have decided that there really isn’t anything wrong with the restaurants I’m putting out there (okay, Eleni’s was a mistake, but tons of people came to that one, so I guess quality has nothing to do with it.) Since my restaurant selection seems fine, and I’ve had some of the best food ever since January, all I can say is that the issue must be with you guys. Hey you guys, YOU’RE SCREWING UP!!!! You’re missing out on some really excellent food, and much worthwhile conversation to boot.

A good case in point, our Leap Year dinner at Biwa (That should have drawn masses alone, a leap year dinner.) IMG_0192.JPGBiwa, like many restaurants these days that barely have reservations, has a six person minimum to have a table there and awaiting you, and I struggled incredibly just to come up with four. I don’t know if by reading the RSVP notice you thought this place might be one step up from the corner Pho shack, but if that was your interpretation of what I was describing, you could not have been more wrong. Biwa is cutting edge, exciting, and completely attractive, a gem hidden at the bottom of the hulking, looming Pine Street Theater building, staking it’s rightful corner in a building also housing the always highly praised Sympathica Dining Hall and other interesting food and non-food enterprises.

As many members of our humble group hail from elsewhere, they might not be familiar with the Pine Street Theater Building. This enormous edifice, just a few blocks from Sandy, Burnside, and MLK has hosted a variety of uses since its beginning as a Christian church, including being a Church of Scientology, and several incarnations connected to live music and performance, among them the “Pine Street Theater,” “The 9th Street Exit,” “La Luna,” and the unfortunate sounding dance club, “The Womb.” After several years of hard times and ongoing disrepair, the building was bought by a developer around 2005 and broken into many leasable spaces, Biwa now being where I’m told the 9th St. Exit was originally housed.IMG_0193.JPG The somewhat gothic Georgian architecture of this building has always inspired doom in my soul upon arrival, there’s just something about the outside of this place that has seemed the stuff of horror movies to me. I’ve continually envisioned it looming somewhere out on a dark and foggy English moor, filled with the criminally insane, werewolves, and Frankensteins having really bad hair days. If they had not chosen that fake looking computer generated thing for “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” I know it could have been filmed at the Pine Street Theater Building, there’s just something creepy about this behemoth. (more…)