Spicy Food, Lurid Talk, and Scary Painting

IMG_2144Although India is a truly fascinating, wonderfully distinctive country, it’s hard to imagine most Westerners enjoying a lenghty visit to a typical urban area there, too chaotic, too crowded, and completely too harsh. That being said, almost everyone here seems to love Indian food, it’s always some of the most requested in Restaurant Roulette, and Indian and Thai food always do a wonderful job of catering to the non-meat eaters in our group. The last time RR dined Indian it was in NW Portland, at Indish, but that was quite a long time ago, a few months shy of 2 years ago. I actually liked Indish, as I thought the food was quite good and I loved the Indian Small Plate servings, but sadly, Indish recently converted itself into a place called the Temple Bar, the same ownership, but now with an emphasis on liquor rather than food. The time before that our Indian excursion was also to the East India Company Grill and Bar, but this was an entirely different sort of gathering, as that was a nightmare where everyone canceled at the last second and there were only two of us, and this time we had a hearty table of 9, many really excited to try out the food there (especially our vegetarians, as they even have a vegan menu.) Joining us for the first time this evening was Andrea’s friend Rachel, who seemed to have a good time, perhaps because she sat next to the always magnetizing David.

I’ve never been to any of those famous Indian restaurants in the far west regions, as we all know I’m terrified of anything west of NW Portland (okay, there was that one dinner on Capitol Hwy.) but aside from those places, which I can’t comment on, having never seen them, it’s hard to imagine an Indian restaurant in these parts with classier atmosphere than the East India Company, even the bathroom is really high end (I love that beautiful sink.) IMG_2167That being said, Andrea found the large painting above the end of our table, a very modernist sort of statement in red, yellow, black and white, quite upsetting. Although it was not particularly to my taste either, I actually didn’t even notice it before she mentioned it, even though it was just to my right on the other side of Heidi. Maybe her motherly glow was blocking out the surroundings. The painting was a weird choice, however, with the rest of the decor. A more positive note about East India C though, it seems well run, and has a good sprinkling of Indian employees, management, and perhaps Indian owners. Also, as David mentioned, you can actually go there and see people of Indian ancestry eating, probably not a rarity in Beaverton or Hillsboro, but not that common at most of the Indian restaurants in downtown Portland, so that’s another good thing EIC has going for it, the food appeals to East Indians! (more…)

The Dining Report – Indish

Where’s Lassi When You Need Her?


First of all, I hate to disappoint you all, but this will be a rare review, one where I can’t begin by going on and on and on infinitive about the history of the Indish, or its neighborhood, or the space it occupies, because  I really don’t know any of that. I don’t even know how long Indish has been in operation, although I think it’s somewhat new, after all, I’ve never heard of it, and I do try to keep up somewhat well, unless places are in far SW. The first I heard of Indish was a very positive review I read two weeks before in the A & E. I know nothing about the space, except that for years Star’s Antique Mall was on the corner here, and perhaps in this space as well (Cha Cha Cha’s very busy high-end taqueria is in the corner spot now). And except for a few selected areas, I actually know very little about NW 21st in this sector, except that it’s somewhat off the beaten path as far as 21st more famous restaurant row up north a few blocks.

IMG_1222Here’s what I have read about Indish. The owner is an affable Indian fellow from England, formerly in the field of law, who moved here with his wife, a chef, and decided to open an Indian restaurant featuring the more subtle flavors of Northern Indian food, rather than the showy “wedding food Indian” cuisine that most East Indian restaurants in the USA feature. This means lighter foods rubbed in spices for flavor, rather than heavy, hot dishes smothered in curries. Another difference, things like chapati instead of naan (okay, I admit it, this one broke my heart). Also, highly unusual, Indish has recently reconfigured their entire menu to what they call tapas sized plates, which just sounds too weird to me when it comes to Indian food, so I’ll just refer to them as “small plates”. They also have a highly chatty website/blog, which it looks like they update continually, and that comes across as rather endearingly personal (Laura, chef/wife recently sprained her ankle, so restaurant was closed for a few days, things like that).


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…)

Vindalho logoIt was a dark and stormy night……..

Although the majority of the day had seen decent weather, strolling around in mild temperatures weather, once 8:00pm approached the weather went all kablooey, with pouring rain, blowing wind, and other NW atmospheric specialties. I mention this because the weather was so bad at one point Friday evening, the lights flickered several times, went off for a fraction, and fluctuated several times more during our dinner at Vindalho. What was interesting was how nice the experience seemed during that blipiest of outages, Vindalho being a very modern and glassy sort of place, the blowing transformers down the street and the dimmest of lighting made you think of what a fun and adventurous dining experience that might be, chatting and laughing in the near dark with your friendly dining companions. If only there wasn’t that nagging issue of lack of power equating lack of food. More restaurants should try the power outage route, if only all food could be prepared as deliciously in advance.

None of which is meant to imply that Vindalho is not an attractive place with the lights on. Although the less than two year old building is a rather shocking contrast to its early 20th century residential neighbors, the compliments of warm tones and black accents inside Vindalho creates a sleek but welcoming atmosphere. With a similar open kitchen layout to the always fine Nuestra Cocina three blocks down and Vindalho’s well- loved sister restaurant, Lauro, a scant 15 blocks down the way, it’s hard not to come to the conclusion that this corner of SE Portland specializes in bustling, trend-setting, open-kitchen cuisine.


Plainfield's Mayur logoThe dining group did absolutely nothing to improve Plainfield’s seemingly flagging fortunes, as there were only three of us. Plainfield’s opened in 1977 (in a different location,) and at this point it’s hard not to sadly surmise they are circling the drain. This restaurant seats 210 people inside, and 50 people outside, and during the time we ate there, 7:00 – 8:45, there might have been 10 total people inside, and 10 total people outside. This is not a good sign for a restaurant, especially one that seemingly only employed two wait people on a Friday night. The food is certainly decent enough, full of flavor and unusual preparations, put still exceedingly small portions for $22. They actually gave us a portion of cucumber raita (the yoghurt salad,) that was at most 1/2 a cup, for three people to share. I certainly didn’t leave this place hungry, but for that amount of money, I wanted to see more something, perhaps variety, or ambience, something that would explain why Plainfield’s deserves to charge more than any other Indian Restaurant in town. Also, the menu seemed a bit too etched in stone, there were no specials, and I got the impression they have probably had the same exact items on their menu since 1977.