Searching For Germany, Did I Take A Wrong Turn At Thailand?

IMG_3227Our most recent dinner has kind of an unusual story behind it. The owner got mad at me before we even had the dinner there. Usually they wait until I actually go there and make some snippy remark, then they get mad at me (or in the case of that fish peddler guy, furious with me.) What happened in this case was that the owner of The Slide Inn, Eugene Bingham, was surfing the internet one evening and came across some less than complimentary remark I had made about the name of his restaurant. When I was writing the review of our second Gruner dinner, earlier this year, I had made a few comments about other local “Bavarian” places. The Slide Inn had opened not too long before, changing from its previous existence, as the Italian Il Piatto, to a  more Germanic concept. I had made an offhand comment that the name The Slide Inn sounded sleazy to me, making me think of at least two long-time iffy taverns, the Rovon Inn and the Reel M’ Inn (yes, I know I probably offended those tavern owners with this off-handed remark, but there’s no way I’m having a dinner in either of those dives.) Anyway, Mr. Bingham was offended that I was disparaging his establishment without even setting foot inside, and wanted me to retract my remarks on the blog. I thought about it, and decided it probably wasn’t fair to be calling a relatively new restaurant sleazy without having eaten there, or knowing anyone who had eaten there, so I did post the owner’s remarks on the blog,  mentioning that I had not been there, so really did not know if there was any sleaziness lurking at The Slide Inn. I also emailed Mr. Bingham again, telling him I had posted his remarks and a comment of mine, mentioning that I really knew nothing about The Slide Inn, only that its predecessor, Il Piatto, had tended to be mediocre most of the time.

After that, Mr. Bingham and I emailed back and forth a couple of times. It turns out he was a nice man, and since his online menu was outdated at the time, he sent me PDFs of all his current menus, telling me how they had diverged from their original German menu, now encompassing many cuisines and with a large emphasis on gluten free and vegetarian dishes. Germanic is not a large draw in Portland these days, so it’s not hard to imagine them having limited success with a menu strongly focused in that direction. Also, the well reviewed Spints Alehouse is not too far away, on NE 28th, so I could see that drawing customers away as well. I would also imagine that people who came looking for Il Piatto, which was in business for quite a few years, were less than enthralled with an all German menu, Italian always seeming to please more folks in these parts than alpine cuisine. IMG_3235I could see from the menus I received that The Slide inn had not only diversified their original concept, they had gone off the deep end, having German, Italian, American, Asian, and Gluten Free side-by-side. This made me a bit nervous about having a dinner there, as we usually like to dine at the places with those more defined menu concepts, but as I had been unfair, I told Eugene that I would have a dinner there before year’s end. Also, I felt a bit bad when I learned that The Slide Inn had been the Bingham family’s ski lodge restaurant when he was growing up, you probably should not make fun of someone’s family history (you notice I only said probably, I have to leave myself wiggle room here for the future.) If you look at The Slide Inn menu, it’s really pretty crazy, at least if you want to get any respect in THIS high falutin’ dining town. Il Piatto had its drawbacks, most of the time the food was pretty average (and they never got the vegetarian lasagna warm enough inside) but you knew if you went there you were going to find a menu full of Italian specialties. I actually had quite a few meals there over the years, not because the food was particularly good, but because the Italian decor was some of the sweetest in town, the little dining area was both funky and romantic. These days, the completely redecorated Slide Inn (it’s still fun inside, but in a different, emptier way) tries to do everything, they do Brunch, they do a huge Happy Hour, half of their menu is health oriented, half of it’s comfort food, and  the food selections are from all over the globe, not necessarily a good thing, if you don’t have cooking expertise of all regions of our planet (okay, not all regions, I didn’t see any whale blubber.) I knew this dinner would most likely lack consistency, but our last neighborhood dinner, at Lucca, was exceptionally good, so you just never know. (Although you can judge a bit on past history.)

Originally I made the reservation for eight, as I figured I might have I hard time drawing too many of my fancy folks (hey, I like you fancy folks the same as everyone else.) IMG_3233Those who RSVPed were us “less fancy” members, and Glenda too. I finally managed to scrape up seven attendees (six + toddler) but then at the last moment I had a scary message from Glenda saying she had been in an accident with a car (meaning car versus pedestrian, as Glenda gave us driving almost two years ago) and she could not attend, as she would be “incarcerated” for the near future in a medical facility. I think Glenda has an emergency cell phone, but she’s never given me the number, so I had to go to the dinner knowing Glenda was hurt, but not knowing how badly. This sort of put a pall on the dinner for me, and Heidi was anxious during the evening too, as she was worried about Glenda (our last report on Glenda is that she will be in a rehabilitation facility for 2-4 months, her left leg badly injured, as one car did not stop for her when she was crossing multi lanes of traffic.) Anyway, we ended up with five adults and Hank at this dinner, but although our group was smallish this night, Hank provided several people’s worth of entertainment.

As our group is not particularly happy hour oriented, I had not viewed The Slide Inn’s happy hour menu or hours. Although everyone likes a bargain, many of the places we go don’t do a happy hour, and most around town end at 6:00, so they don’t apply to our dinners. IMG_3237As it happened though, The Slide Inn has happy hour until 7:00 PM, with many food specials and some discount wines and beer. Heidi and I both wanted to be thrifty, so we each had the happy hour wine, Heidi the red, mine the white. Heidi said her red was not the greatest ever, but not the worst ever, either, for $5. My white wine probably was the worst ever, it almost tasted more like beer than wine, and I made such a fuss when gagging it down, Heidi had a taste to confirm it was indeed awful. The waitress, who was very good and concerned about everything, asked me what I thought of the wine, and I lied and said it was fine, okay, or something like that. I don’t think I did a very good acting job, as she didn’t look too convinced. Yes, I know I should have just sent it back, Heidi suggested that, but the waitress seemed so worried about the quality of everything, it felt mean refusing it. Also, as I told Heidi, it’s amazing the awful alcoholic beverages I have managed to choke down during my life span. I think David had a beer this night, Shuhong stuck with water, Julian, his usual Diet Coke, and Hank had a bottle of something potent looking, probably a White Russian.

As I really had no idea what the quality of the food was going to be before we had this dinner, having read no reviews or press on The Slide Inn, I admit I went to the dreaded Yelp to see what people had to say there. As is typical with Yelp, the reviews were all over the place, but the major thing people complained about was service, especially from the kitchen. We ordered all kinds of things from the happy hour menu, as the prices were good, but we sat a very long time without getting any food whatsoever.IMG_3225 As The Slide Inn also does not provide free bread, the situation seemed more dire as the minutes ticked by. Soon Hank’s multicolored Cherrios he was munching on started to look pretty good. This has got to be a drawback when you offer a large menu of items at a reduced price, most people order more things than normal, so the kitchen would be more likely to be overwhelmed, especially if you are trying to make sure each person has at least one plate of food all at the same time. Shuhong had brought some really spicy beans along for us to try (it looked like green beans with red chillies) but I could only eat two or three of these at a time, as they were really hot, and I didn’t want to burn up my palate and get my reflux all reved-up. Luckily when food finally did arrive (poor little Hank was looking pretty tasty by then) there was a lot of it, and it just kept coming.

Here’s what we had ….

House made dill pickle – Babies always make funny faces at me, probably mostly because I’m so goofy looking, but Hank’s at that endearing age where much of the time he’s making a really funny face or smiling, or both, one right after the other.IMG_3230 I mention this because we saw many funny, silly looks this night, and one of them came from David, right after he tasted the house made dill pickle(s – I think it was more than one.) I noticed when the waitress put them down they looked like maybe they were made of plastic (hey everybody, gag pickles! whoopie pickles!) and they were an unusual shade of dark green. David’s response, after his first taste and look of unhappiness, “these are the worst pickles I have ever had.” Okay, these days, everyone is on that “make your own pickle” bandwagon, even I thought about it, and I don’t really like pickles, so I guess you can’t expect that every specialty pickle is a pickle YOU like. That seemed to be the issue with these pickles, David was expecting a dill pickle, and these were more like a sweet pickle, or a bread and butter pickle. As Julian mentioned, lots of Germanic food seems oddly sweet, and we’ll bow to Julian’s expertise, as he spent his first 8 or so years in a country relatively close to Germany. All was not lost, however, as Heidi and Julian both kind of liked David’s pickles. Another one came with my burger, but I only like dill pickles on burgers, so it wasted away on my plate, looking neglected and weirdly artificial.

French Fries w/ horseradish ketchup – Kudos from everyone on these. IMG_3231These were the soft but flavorful variety of fries. Exercising my rule of  “no sauce unless necessary” I didn’t sample the horseradish ketchup, which did not work in my favor this time, as I like horseradish in things, and didn’t realize it was in there. I do occasionally have ketchup on various types of fried potatoes, but only after I eat some plain, then decide their flavor could use a bit of zinging-up. Not necessary with these, horseradish ketchup or not.

Gluten Free Veggie Tempura served with a soy ginger sauce – Everyone had too many happy hour priced snacks, so this, which Heidi ordered, did not get finished. David started to try some, until he found out they were root vegetables and squash, all things he just loves (not!)

Beer battered onion rings – Not as good as the onion rings they serve at Aviary with the steak (those were really light and crispy, extra good) these were still pretty good. IMG_3229The flavor of the batter was tasty (I saw it described somewhere as dark beer batter) and Heidi commented on how you could really taste the onions, as they were cut so thick (luckily they were sweet, and cooked completely.) I’ve never understood, though, why you would take an onion ring, which has tons of onion flavor, and dip it in ketchup, which would mask that flavor? I am clearly in the minority here, as I handed samples all around the table, and I was the only one who didn’t dip it in the ketchup (and/or catsup.) I am kind of a purist that way, I suppose, keep unnecessary sauce at bay when I’m around!

Vegan Black Bean, Corn Chili with corn tortilla chips – okay, here’s a good example of the sort of thing The Slide Inn should not have on their menu. IMG_3234I understand them starting out with the Gemanic food, and deciding there wasn’t a big market for that, and adding a few European or maybe American items, but Tex-Mex, and also Asian (salad rolls??) People are not going to be able to take a restaurant overly seriously where you have bratwurst and fondue, crab cakes and sliders, ravioli, salad rolls, tempura and Tex-Mex. Does Applebees even try to wed this many cuisines on the same menu? As for this “chili”, I had to ask David what it was, because it looked like a pile of black beans and corn with chips on the side. Generally chili denotes a soup like consistency, in a bowl, all blended together. I understand the concept of a deconstructed sort of preparation, but can you have deconstructed soup or stew? This was more like beans and chips. Not a popular item.

Spicy Mac & Cheese with grilled tomato – Split verdict on this item. This was on both the happy hour menu and the regular menu, Julian and Heidi getting the reduced priced but still quite large sized portion and David paying full price and getting a serving about 30% larger.IMG_3236 Both had grotty looking cooked tomato chunks on the top (I only say this because I can’t stand baked or stewed tomatoes.) David, Heidi and Julian all love macaroni and cheese, and it’s hard remember having seen it on a menu without one of them ordering it (unless they weren’t there, of course.) David happily munched through about 1/2 of the portion he got for himself and Shuhong (I’m sure she had some nibbles too) finding the cheese tangy, and the whole thing to his liking. He only ate half because he was full, but was perfectly fine taking the rest home for a later meal. Julian ate about a quarter of the portion he and Heidi got, and thought it wasn’t bad, but then Heidi tasted it and thought it tasted weird, that some of the cheese in one section was “off”. We asked the waitress what the cheese was, and she said just cheddar, which was more baffling, as Heidi and Julian thought the cheese in the disputed section might be blue cheese or some other strong cheese that had ended up in a glop there (as a side note, Heidi loves all sorts of cheeses, but Julian doesn’t like the weirder ones, so it’s odd that Heidi was taking umbrage to the flavor in that one section.) Heidi tasted a few more areas of the mac and cheese, and thought these were better than the weird section, but the entire thing did not thrill her. Julian, in the beginning, thought the mac and cheese was okay, but when Heidi said there was something wrong with parts of it, he naturally lost interest in eating it. The waitress, who was very concerned with everything all evening, figured out that Heidi and Julian didn’t like the mac and cheese, and kindly took it off their bill (the same thing with David’s “chili’)  She said she could not charge us for food we didn’t like.

IMG_3243Slide Inn Sliders – Served on a warm bun – Turkey burger-hormone free served with a spicy red pepper mayonnaise and Grass Fed Ground Beef- with horseradish aioli – There was actually a third slider you could choose from here, a tofu slider, but luckily Julian and Heidi are content enough with their individual food outlooks that Julian doesn’t go around ordering hideous sounding things like Curried Tofu sliders just because Heidi doesn’t eat meat. These were decent sized sliders, and you could mix and match any of the three. Julian shared a Slider with David, and both thought they were quite good, and certainly a meal worth, even without five other sampling plates floating around the table.

House made Grilled Sausage with sauerkraut  – Hungarian- ground all natural pork, Grass fed beef, paprika, cayenne –  This was the best thing I tasted all evening, although it wasn’t mine, it was David’s.IMG_3228 I did think the happy hour menu price was a bit high, $8 for one sausage and some sauerkraut, but it was a nice sized link, and everyone who tasted it thought it was delicious, the right amount of spices and pork flavor. They also had both vegan and turkey versions of the sausage for $1 less, but those never taste the way they should , especially for how a good German sausage should taste. I’m a person who stays a mile away from sauerkraut, as I don’t like vinegary things, but this was okay, and probably closer to what real European sauerkraut should be.

GF Herbed crepes filled with chanterelle mushrooms, ricotta and served with a grilled pear crème fraiche – Heidi had this as her main dish. She did say they were a bit on the sweet side, but still pretty good.

Spicy Crab Cakes- served with an Asian cabbage salad and corn relish – I didn’t hear David’s opinion on these, but he took one home, so they must not have been revolting.

Grass Fed Ground Beef- served with house cured bacon, swiss cheese and horseradish aioli – I thought about having the New York Steak with horseradish mashed potatoes, but I just was not in the mood to spend a ton of money, especially since every restaurant steak tastes relatively so-so after the one I had at Ox this summer.IMG_3240 Also, everyone was getting away cheap with all the happy hour priced food, so I figured why be the only one to spend a big wad of moolah? So instead, I decided on the burger, as I needed something hearty (although I must say, the menu was full of hearty.) It’s sad, because just as that steak at Ox spoiled me, and made most other steaks seem insignificant, the burger I had over a year ago at Yakuza makes all other burgers I’ve had since then pale in comparison, and while I used to like an occasional home grilled burger, now they all taste somewhat blah. The problem with being a “foodie” is that you want as much good food as you can get, but unfortunately, not all of us have the budget to always be buying the best of everything. So we just pine away for those quality items out there, and many of the items that are accessible to us pale in comparison to those special ones we remember (for example, that fancy ground beef you get at Yakuza makes the ground beef at the supermarket, or even the decent meat market, taste substandard, not to mention trying to get ahold of the cheese they use.)

That being said, this was a pretty good burger (except for the scary pickle looking at me all the time I was eating. I kept expecting water would squirt out the end and hit me in the eye, they did not look real.) IMG_3244I had the choice of a few side dishes, fries, coleslaw, potato salad (German potato salad, no thank you!) and something I can’t remember. The fries were good, but I had just eaten a bunch of onion rings, so if I didn’t want to leave on a stretcher, that didn’t seem like a good combination to double up on. Anyway, I tried the coleslaw, because although it’s not exactly the healthiest plate of vegetables, it still qualifies as salad, right? I think I only ate about 25 percent of my slaw, as I was getting kind of full after sausage bites and onion rings and a burger, but it was pretty good coleslaw, not too weird, and not pathetic like that scary stuff they have at KFC, moderately chunky, and with dressing just about sweet enough, and not too acidic. I passed it around, and everyone liked it. I had requested the burger rare, and it came pretty close, and the meat, bacon, and cheese flavor was good enough that I didn’t think until I was about finished that I had forgotten to put any extra condiments on. I guess the horseradish aioli added an adequate contrasting flavor. I have to give The Slide inn kudos for their appreciation of horseradish, it’s all over the place.

Since he had promised in his email (when I warned him we were coming) Mr. Bingham did run over to our table to say hello and shake my hand in greeting. IMG_3232He was a nice looking fellow attired in a dark green chef’s smock and shorts. I got the impression that he was probably back there doing most of the cooking, so it’s not too hard to imagine him not being able to whip the food out in record time on multiple orders. He might not have a whole line of support cooks like many places do. I felt bad when he asked how the food was and I merely said good, but after doing so many of these dinners (118  maybe?) you get a bit jaded and have a hard time showing tons of bubbling enthusiasm until something is really delicious.

I was the only die-hard dessert eater this evening, but Alpine desserts have always struck me as not that thrilling, and Black Forest Cake has been one I can always resist (although I do love a good German Chocolate cake, Helen Bernhard Bakery does a really good one.) As I figured, there were no dessert takers, and it would have been embarrassing to keep my co-diners sitting there waiting while I was having dessert (or worse yet, having them all take off and leaving me sitting alone, eating dessert.) So who knows how good the desserts were at The Slide Inn, the list seemed pretty lacking in the unusual.

As previously mentioned, the waitress was very good all evening, and as my bill was quite a bit smaller than usual (happy hour wine, happy hour starter, no dessert)  I gave her more like a 30% tip. IMG_3226All evening she seemed very concerned about the quality of the food, and I’m sure had I complained that the wine was lousy, she would have subtracted that from the bill as well, just like the unloved mac and cheese and he “chilli”. When I was reading the Yelp reviews I think I remember a couple of people saying they didn’t like something, and management comped it on the bill. It sounds like The Slide Inn doesn’t charge for a decent amount of food that people just don’t like, which might be gracious, but wouldn’t it be better to have better food and charge for all of it? Profit in the restaurant business is so tight, you can’t be constantly giving away food that you have had to pay for in the beginning.

The main problem at The Slide Inn appears to be that they are over-stretching, both in their menu and their cooking execution.IMG_3241 When Eugene Bingham emailed me he mentioned that his wife, Lenore, was gluten free and he was not, thus explaining all the health oriented options side-by-side with “regular food”. The problem with this, in my crazy opinion, is that many things that work well in a gluten free context do not merge well with German and European food, for example salad rolls and the Tex-Mex chilli with Germanic sausages and sauerkraut. Of course the salad rolls are not going to be as good as those at the local Thai place, and nowhere should root vegetable tempura co-exist with Sliders.

I understand that The Slide Inn is probably constantly diversifying to keep their restaurant in business, Portland is so ridiculously competitive these days, especially in the area where The Slide Inn is located, but if their reputation was better, wouldn’t they be more successful drawing in serious diners who want to spend serious money on serious cooking? (rather than happy hour tidbits.) IMG_3245Some of the items we had were good, especially the sausages, burgers and comfort food (mostly the European and American kind of stuff)  if The Slide Inn could concentrate on these sorts of foods, I think many people would think they are a decent neighborhood restaurant and continue their patronage. Reasonably, not every restaurant in town can appease the “foodie types.” I suppose that was my main disappointment with The Slide Inn, I’m used to more foodie sorts of places, and this is more of a comfort food place, with an extensive happy hour menu, obviously to draw in as many people through the door as it can. Eugene and Lenore Bingham have had a restaurant on this corner for quite a number of years now, so they probably no better than me, and if this is the formula that works best for them, I wish them well.