February 2012


THE DINING REPORT, OBA!

Can’t chew your meat? Just take $50 off!

IMG_2702The Pearl District is an odd sort of place. You would think that the new, trendy eateries would have the most luck there, but it’s some of those stalwarts from the beginning that seem to have the most luck hanging on, Oba!, Georgios, Piazza Italia, Paragon, PF Chang’s. Although Piazza Italia occasionally makes best of Portland lists, as it’s just so Italian, the rest of them, no accolades for years. Wouldn’t you think the Pearl would have to always have the best of everything? They did get the return of Trader Vic’s, which was an amazingly expensive remodeling project for that location, but as everyone knows, the food at TVs can be very hit or miss (so maybe it WILL survive.) Irving Street Kitchen had lots of buzz in its first year or so, but I haven’t heard too much about it lately, and our group gave it very mixed reviews when we visited there. Kin always gets great press, but that’s another place I haven’t heard any buzz about for months and months, but I assume it’s hanging on. Oven and Shaker seems to be drawing in the masses so far, but the menu is pretty one dimension for fine dining, mostly just pizza. Why doesn’t the Pearl attract and keep destination, fine dining restaurants? (Actually I just thought of one, Metrovino, but that’s far off the beaten track and has lost their highly acclaimed chef to his own restaurant.)

But back to Oba! As I’ve alluded to before, and mentioned back in 2007, when we had our last dinner here, I’ve always had a fond spot in my heart for Oba! (despite her somewhat fading reputation over the last 4-5 years.) It was one of the first restaurants in Portland that defined really cool, cutting edge, from its conversion from warehouse (garage?)  to gorgeous eatery space, to its Nuevo Latin menu, to the packed and crazy happy hour in the bar. IMG_2701In the beginning it was a bit on the more expensive side, but the food always lived up to the hype. During the middle years the prices hit a Pearl District stride, but the menu didn’t necessarily up the ante from a quality standpoint. Nowadays, Oba! is really expensive (I painfully laughed when in the three days between me deciding to do Oba! and sending out the RSVP a whole new website appeared, with higher prices!) but although many of the favorites are still really good, other items seem prepared with a lack of consistency, perhaps a bit surprising since Oba! has kept its chef, Scott Neumann, from day one.

There continue to be plenty of good things about Oba! worth mentioning, and it is a good place for a special occasion dinner if you have lots of bucks (a category that eliminates most of the people who actually attended this dinner.) When I made the reservation, they asked me if it was a special occasion, a question I get quite often if I’m asking for a table for 8 or more. I said that as it happened, one of the attendees was having a birthday (close enough, one day off.) When we arrived at the restaurant, one of the staff walked over and placed a card at our table that said “Happy Birthday.” Inside was a certificate for a free dessert. I know all kinds of places give you free desserts for your birthday (Andina gave me one a couple of birthday’s ago) but they usually don’t do it in such a classy manner, and it was a really nice touch, especially as the recipient was a big Latin dessert gobbler. (more…)

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THE DINING REPORT – THE COUNTRY CAT

Youngest Member Ever Plays Restaurant Roulette!

THIS DINNER WAS JANUARY 20th, BUT I’VE BEEN CREATIVELY LAME.

It’s hard to know what to say about our evening at the Country Cat. In December of 2008 we had a dinner there, and as per usual, I blathered on about Montavilla, the restaurant itself, and chef Adam Sappington. Adam is famous for knowing his way around a pig, and when he competes in local famous chef cooking competitions, he more often than not wins them.

IMG_2687Back then I whined (and am still doing that) about the fact that although for 13 years I lived about seven blocks from here, at that time this area of SE Stark Street was an incredible wasteland, and while Ya Hala got going toward the end of my North Tabor residency, it wasn’t until the opening of the Country Cat that things really seemed to hum around here, and now the entire area between 76th and 82nd is nothing but cool shops, eateries, bakeries, bars, and even a second run theater (The Academy.) Where was all this great stuff (the Observatory, Tanuki, Pastry Girl etc.) when I wanted to eat out and had to drive five miles away for yummy eats? I must say gentrification only goes so far, however, gingerly step one block North of CC and you are still in the sleazy, tavern ridden, drug house and tenement apartment neighborhood I used to always ride my bike through to go up fancier Mt. Tabor. Better one really good commercial street than none though, although that tavern right next to the restaurant still draws that charming sort of patron who rides, screaming, on the hood area of moving vehicles (yes, Glenda and I did enjoy that spectacle, or at least try to avoid it.)

The Country Cat is one of those restaurants you enter, and it smells wonderful, like BBQ pork, and the space is modern and attractive, but friendly and casual (word of warning to the feeble bodied, though, which must include me, the elaborate wooden door weighs several hundred pounds and can be quite a chore to open.) IMG_2677Usually there are neighborhood families and friends inside, and children, so it was probably appropriate that Heidi and Julian brought their young un, Hank, to his first dinner, at the advanced age of 4 months. Yes, we have a new “youngest member ever in RR”, 4 months old! Glenda didn’t seem to approve of the hat Julian wore to the dinner, but did not complain about Hank’s headgear, so I think we are making progress! (more…)