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 It turns out he was a nice man, and since his online menu was outdated at the time, he sent me PDFs of all his current menus, telling me how they had diverged from their original German menu, now encompassing many cuisines and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.) (more…)

Hey, Someone Stole All My Money, Legally!

Repeat Performance – Restaurant Roulette has previously experienced an evening at Gruner, a little over two years ago, and at that time I talked about Swiss and German cuisine, owner Chris Israel, and the particulars of that dinner, which was lightly attended (only three of us.)IMG_2979 Because of this, I should not have to literarily spew on and on over the same tired subjects this time out (instead, selecting new tired subjects.) Consequently,  this particular dinner review could be a bit more succinct and less meandering than usual, as there will be fewer topics to discuss. You notice I use the “could” word though, as the word “will” is SO limiting. And I do need to dribble on long enough to have room to add all my blurry and over-exposed photos, sadly a real consideration in my writing (I’m often conscious of the fact that each paragraph needs to be long enough to wrap around a photo.

Most people familiar with our group know we don’t repeat restaurants particularly often, in a dining town like Portland there’s often a new restaurant to try with every dinner (and I’m only referring to “nice’ restaurants, not the zillions of places not suitable for our group.) Restaurant Roulette manages about 18 dinners a year, and most of the time we end up going to eateries we have not experienced before. Sometimes I do dust off a place we haven’t been to since the early days, when most of my regulars were a different crowd; sometimes I stage a repeat for a reason (I need a certain style of place) and sometimes we experience a meal at a restaurant which is just too good not to go back to for years, especially if there is inner-group demand (we had two dinners at St. Jack in 2011 within a short time frame, largely because several in the group were going to go back without me – the nerve!!) Twice in a couple of years is a pretty tight turnaround for Restaurant Roulette though, and why we doubled up on Gruner in that time frame was largely due to a couple of parties mentioning how they liked Gruner, and also the fact that so few of my current members made it to the previous dinner (there was a whopping three that first evening.) I’ve also read a few things about the new German/Alpine restaurant that went into the Il Piatto space, The Slide Inn, by the same owners, the Binghams. As a side comment on The Slide Inn, first of all, let me say I hate the name, it sounds like a sleazy tavern, and secondly, let me mention that our group will most likely not be visiting there, because although Il Piatto was the cutest, coziest place imaginable, the food was always incredibly marginal, and that doesn’t cut it in Portland these days. Anyway, because of The Slide Inn, I had Alpine on my brain (yes, I do have a mighty pointy head.) (more…)

The Dining Report – Gruner

Portland Mountain High

When I was in my teens, my father and I used to go out to dinner a great deal. Portland was not the gigantic dining mecca it is now, and there were the cheap neighborhood places, the moderately nicer places, and the places that were extra fancy, that we only ate at now and then. One of the moderate places we went to quite often was a Swiss/Germanic place called The Matterhorn, which was located at  82nd and Burnside, where Walgreens is now. The Matterhorn was operated by two nice couples, the Elmers and the Herzogs, and when it opened I suppose it was viewed as sort of a poor man’s Rheinlander, since it had cheese fondue, Tyrolean dressed staff, and singing and accordion playing. The Rheinlander might still exist, in its ridiculously expensive fashion, while The Matterhorn is long gone, but I always found The Matterhorn the superior restaurant, maybe because Swiss/Germanic suited my palate better than just plain Germanic.

Sometimes restaurants go away, and for the rest of your life you look back and pine away for the house specialties, or just something they did exceptionally well. Sadly, although The Matterhorn was a decent enough place, and I ate there SO MANY times, there were just a couple of menu items I found superior there, their cheese fondue and their thick and creamy soups. Otherwise, meh. I don’t think this is any particular indictment of their kitchen. I just find Alpine food less than inspiring, too many schnitzelee meats, too much cabbage, too much pickled and stewed. Even the desserts, not so great (Black Forest Cake, yuck!)

This could be why I wasn’t exactly doing handstands at the thought of checking out Gruner, Chris Israel’s new “Alpine” styled eatery. We all know Mr. Israel has a great track record here, Zefiro, Saucebox, early 23 Hoyt.IMG_1474 I’ve never been a Saucebox fan since those early days though, Asian Fusion doesn’t do it for me, and when RR visited 23 Hoyt in the Israel days, we were almost completely underwhelmed. Before Gruner opened, it seemed like I kept reading, this guy is great, but why Alps food? (Often valued right up there with British cuisine.) We all know I love those new places though, and I knew Israel was doing a real number on his space to make it really interesting, so off we went for “Alpine Cuisine.”

Sometimes before we have our dinners, people tell me they have selected their food before they even reach the restaurant, picking from the on-line menu. I often caution people against doing this, as some on-line menus are really old and dusty. I did this myself in the case of Gruner, however, I knew the menu there was relatively current, and so few entrees sounded overly appealing to me (that high-altitude prejudice again) I wanted to make sure I had an idea what to order in advance, as I didn’t want to spend forever deciding what to have. (more…)