April 2008


THE DINING REPORT – SEL GRIS

10 Easy Steps to Increasing Your Wasteline

I suppose when people at restaurants give you tips on finding their establishments, and you don’t even ask for them, it’s an indication that perhaps you should pay attention to what they are saying, it’s probably for a reason. I mention this due to the fact that I really did not listen, and noticed that after I somewhat lately parked my car on the narrowest street imaginable in Ladd’s Edition (the sweetest Portland neighborhood anywhere,) and went running out on Hawthorne, I had no idea where the restaurant was, although I was pretty certain I was on the right side of the street, the side with the classy restaurants (unlike the other side, with the hostile Bombay Cricket Club and the hippie nightmare Barley Mill Pub.) After making a couple of swoops back and forth in front of Castagna (how long has that building been that lovely shade of green?,) and seeing nothing in sight, I finally engaged at least a tiny section of my rather numb cerebral cortex, and decided to try going east from the non-numbered street I had emerged from Ladd’s Eddition on, as the numbering was quite oblique in this region, but I thought I was looking for 18 blah, blah something. IMG_0248.JPGI gravitated towards the first non-descript storefront with big heavy maroon velvet curtains, and sure enough, Sel Gris awaited me, as well as Pat, Regis, and Jody by then.

Although exactly when all of these great restaurants opened in the last year is starting to become a big blur to me, I’m pretty certain I started to read about Sel Gris in late summer/early fall of 07. I knew it was supposed to have really high-design French food in a super impressive space, and the initial reviews were quite positive. Then someone in the group practically pleaded with me to have a dinner there, and although the first reservation didn’t work out because Sel Gris became extremely popular in a short time frame, I kept plugging away until I managed a suitable reservation for up to 8 people (interestingly, the person who was SO anxious to have me do the Sel Gris dinner didn’t bother to attend, and also did not attend the substitute dinner they asked me to have when the first reservation did not work out. Is it any wonder your hostess has become weary and resigned to defeat?)

In the months it has been open, however, I don’t remember reading one negative review on Sel Gris, so was happy to take the willing bodies I could muster there, even though the on-line prices made me shriek “yikes. my wallet!” and even though the menu was overflowing with many of those food items the French love but I run the other way from, veal sweetbreads, foie gras, pork cheeks, lamb, and venison. Luckily they also had beef and pasta, so I knew I’d be in the clear at ordering time (except for the shrieking and shrinking wallet.) (more…)

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Five Woody’s, Some Innards, Dead Bunnies, Veggies Masquerading As Buffalo, and A Big Box Full Of Fun

(and don’t forget to grab a piece of dental floss.)

Anyone who ever travels down NE Fremont through Rose City Park and Beaumont-Wilshire has to recognize Fife, that big wooden box that went up in the last decade. perhaps where the original Rose’s Ice Cream used to stand in long gone eras. Although I usually prefer rehabbing old buildings into new spaces, or at least making the new look old to fit in with neighboring structures (like those ridiculously expensive condos a couple of blocks east,) for new construction, I’ve always thought the Fife building relatively attractive and interesting, probably because of all the warm wood. IMG_0240.JPGEver since it was built, I wanted to eat there, and have heard good things about it, except for cold and breezy in the winter (all those windows on the front,) and terrible acoustics. If I didn’t take the group to restaurants with bad acoustics though, we would never go anywhere popular.

People who actually still read these juggernauts of dining excess know that since the beginning of this year I have had problems getting people to attend the dinners, or actually making the dinners once they RSVP (usually a reasonable excuse is sent my way.) Fife was a nice exception, as many people showed interest by RSVPing early. As it happens, I still managed to lose four people before the dinner rolled around, but we still had a healthy group of nine show up, a nice mix of old regulars, some of my mid-range always cherished regulars, and a new face in the crowd. Our new member, who blended in flawlessly, was Nancy, a lover of good food and dining out, who conveniently lives about three minutes away and loves visiting Fife (although usually not in groups of nine I would suspect.) As in my customarily somewhat rude habit, I sat right in the middle of the table, and with such a fun and interesting bunch, got whiplash by the end of the evening, turning my head abruptly back and forth to try to address the various people sending comments my way, and trying to horn in on as much interesting conversation as I could. Fife is indeed a very loud place though, and on many occasions I had to turn up the volume on my already jarring natural tones to be heard, and had a really hard time hearing those of a naturally soft-spoken (but forceful) nature like Glenda. Everyone had an old RR pro sitting by them to converse with though, so whether it was hard to hear the whole table or not, I think everyone got in on some good conversation and humorously repartee.

IMG_0241.JPGAs makes sense with a space that really is a big box, Fife is roomy, airy, and had at least three large tables of people going at the same time. Large restaurant, tiny parking lot, I think I noticed six spaces in there when I was tardily zooming by to find street parking. Driving around on this part of Fremont tends to be both a driving and parking nightmare, tiny, barely passable residential streets, terrible sight lines turning out from these dinky side streets, basically a barely two lane residential thoroughfare with about 15 commercial blocks. Big fun, no wonder the speed limit here is a crawling 20 mph.
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THE DINING REPORT – TREBOL

GREAT FOOD, TEENY TABLE

As I’ve said before, I love Mexican food, and high-end Mexican is some of my favorite cuisine period. Portland is blessed with quite a variety of very good high-end Mexican restaurants, all having their legions of fans. DF, and Taqueria Nueva are loved by many, and in my opinion, Autentica, and Nuestra Cocina pump out some of the best South of the Border eats in town (in fact, as far as I’m concerned, Nuestra Cocina has some of the best food of any genre in Portland.) I had assumed before we visited Trebol, on N. Albina , that the menu would be somewhat similar to the other four places I just mentioned, a combination of Mexican preparations and good quality ingredients melded together to create some really delicious food. In some ways, however, Trebol is a whole different animal (for one thing, a very natural, organically based animal.) But more on that later (yes, that’s one of my stock phrases, as my reviews always have much more, and much later.)

Looking at the Mapquest map on their website, I got the impression Trebol was way the heck away from anything, and took a route there that made me believe that, all the way down Alberta. After leaving the restaurant and going a few blocks south on Albina, though, I found that once you go through a traffic light a take a tiny jog, you are actually in the heart of the Mississippi “entertainment district.” (But where did Mississippi go? It’s a weird meandering street, to say the least.)

IMG_0210.JPGThis section of Albina where Trebol is at looks like it is ripe for the picking, the acclaimed coffee place Albina Press has set up digs about a block from here, and the block or two around Trebol looks like it could be the next 30th and Killingsworth (afterall, you have to start somewhere, and look at what that intersection has become.) It was pretty obvious, from looking at the outside of Trebol, this space was not built to be a restaurant, it must have originally been a small warehouse or other such industrial space, or perhaps a mechanic or repair shop, but they’ve done a nice job with the building. Trebol classes the entire block up with it’s dark green stucco with wood accents.

The inside is really pleasant too, although somewhat modestly furnished (see my comments on the booths/tables later. Yes, already a second “more later,” this could be a complete nightmare,) IMG_0208.JPGI really liked the feel of the place, classy, cozy, and a favorite of mine, spotlessly well maintained and exceptionally clean and polished looking. The dark orange walls with the giant mirrors create a similar Spanish hacienda feel to the vibes I get at Toro Bravo and the “decorations on overdrive” of Casa de Matador (what is it about Mexican and Spanish decor and mirrors?) and any touch of gloominess is abated by a big wall of windows and yellow paint along the front area. Cute little local fabric artwork hangs on the walls (check out this big water tower from down the street!) and the concrete floor has an exceptionally painted and polished look for concrete. The bar is really nice, with a gigantic wall of liquor with a slidey ladder to reach it all, and a large television showing vintagely tacky looking black and white movies in Spanish. A great place to hang out for a couple of happy hour snacks and some yummy cocktails. (more…)