Hey, What’s Not To Like?


There are some restaurants you like from the moment they open, or at least from the first time you go there, and each time you return there it’s like visiting an old friend. Often you makes lots of “new friends” in the interim, but you still wonder what’s going on with this “special friend,” how they are faring, and if much has changed with them.

Portland has way too many good restaurants, and this being the case, you often don’t get a chance to return to places you really like, because there’s just so much to select from.IMG_2495 Lauro was one of the first, really good (but still modestly priced) neighborhood places that got going a couple of years before Portland’s incredible food explosion. In the beginning, they were always packed, and with no reservations, getting in could be rough, especially if there were quite a few of you. They ditched that no reservation policy a few years ago though, luckily for groups like ours, and Heidi and Julian, who became Lauro fans in the last year or so, occasionally stroll over for a meal and have no trouble getting in. On the recent Friday night we were there, it seemed like they were doing quite well, but with every passing month seeing more openings of good food places on Division, who knows what the future holds for Lauro. My guess is, as it’s a fine neighborhood eatery with an intriguing but comfortable menu, and a good bargain as well, that Lauro will continue on for some years. (more…)

Restaurant Roulette Elite
The Dining Report
Lauro Kitchen – All Around the Mediterranean in Under Two Hours

I’ve been fond of Lauro Kitchen since the very beginning. I had an acquaintance who lived just two blocks south of 34th and Division, and every time I went past the space being rehabbed around five years ago,IMG_0401.JPG I would wonder what was going in at that corner. I could see it slowly turning into what looked like a halfway decent restaurant, which I found exciting, as at that point none of the good restaurants that are now in this Richmond neighborhood existed, with the exception of the pretty new and rapidly becoming famous Pix Patisserie. Lauro soon opened, and from opening, I heard nothing but good things about what a great place it was. I managed to go there a few times in the first couple years, and always loved the warm but sophisticated vibe the space exuded, and the interesting menu and fun drinks. From the very start, Lauro has been one of those few restaurants that you just never read anything bad about, except for the fact that it’s always SO hard to get into, a not especially large space and no reservations. Even if you took a large group there, it was still first come, first served, and you were not allowed to sit down until almost all your group was present, which might mean you could lose your table if everyone was not there promptly.

IMG_0402.JPGBecause of this, although it was always in my top ten, I never tried to take an RR group to Lauro. Just too impossible. I even remember reading an interview from of Lauro owner David Machado a couple or so years back where he said he was never planning on having reservations at Lauro, as reservations result in empty tables even if walk-ins are wanting to eat. In the mean time, things seemed to have changed though, Machado’s second restaurant Vindalho, has had reservations pretty successfully from the beginning, and whether it’s the fact that Mr. Machado has seen from Vindalho that you can successfully manage a neighborhood restaurant with a reservation policy, or if it’s that these tough economic times and all the stiff competition of respected restaurants has made it harder for Lauro to always fill tables, Lauro now has reservations (and beginning this month, even lunch, including take-out.) Now, if only my other favorite Division St. restaurant about 12 blocks down, Nuestra Cocina would follow suit, I would be one happy camper.

This was our first Restaurant dinner in quite some time, so I was really happy to fill all the places I could at my table so easily (Lauro limits reserved tables to eight.) On one of the nicer late spring evenings we’ve had lately, we all met at our appointed time and place to see what Lauro had to offer us these days. IMG_0414.JPGSince opening, Lauro has billed itself as a Mediterranean Kitchen, but what these means in Portland is always sketchy, it could be food leaning toward Greece, Spain, Italy, or even France, or all of these places (I believe Olea and Tabla also bill themselves as Mediterranean, but Olea tends to be all over the map with perhaps an emphasis on Spain and France, while Tabla tends to be more Italian. I recently read that David Machado has recently been trying to take his menu in a more Middle Eastern direction while at the same time exploring his Portuguese roots, which seems like a weird combination, but Middle Eastern touches were certainly noticeable all over the Lauro menu, as were Greek, although my knowledge of Portuguese food is limited enough to not recognize it unless the menu makes mention of Portuguese this or that, unless it was the Romesco sauce all over the place (although I think this is actually Spanish.) IMG_0410.JPGTo be honest, one of my favorite things back in my traveling days was sampling different culture’s cuisines, but almost all of the food I had during my limited time in Portugal was ghastly, even on Lisbon’s official restaurant row it was difficult to find something appealing sounding. I certainly had the worst fish I’ve ever had in Portugal, something called a Sea Bream which was dry as a bone and an odd combination of flavorless and weird tasting. (more…)

THE DINING REPORT- TABLA Delightful Dinner Served in Forced Isolation

IMG_0136.JPGNot counting these reviews, which usually take me FOREVER, mostly because of my own bullheaded notion that if I just keep writing and writing, someone will eventually pay me by the word, the hardest thing for me about “the management” of Restaurant Roulette is making the reservations. Depending on how popular the restaurant is, or how “hot” it currently is, I always try to make sure I’ve made a reservation at least 10 days in advance, sometimes more. I have to use my “judgement,” though, to decide how many places I should make the reservation for, especially at a time when almost no one has RSVPed. I have a couple of people who, the minute they see a restaurant they really want to go to is on the upcoming roster, RSVP, and that’s great, because I always know I will have at least a couple people for these dinners. Aside from this, it’s all one big guessing game. During the mid-portion of last year, a table for 10 or 12 was usually pretty easy to fill, but towards the end of this year that dropped off again (WHERE did you guys go to???) and now it’s all a big crap shoot.

I always try to listen to clues at the dinners, people saying “I’ll probably do _________, or there’s no way I’d miss _________ . From what I had heard earlier, I thought I would probably manage 10-12 for Tabla, as many people mentioned they might go to this one at dinners we’ve recently had. So I guessed at 12, sort of a midrange number that easily goes up or down a couple of people. Tabla said they had a private room for larger parties that held up to 14 and would place us there, and I thought that sounded good, as often when we are in the middle of crowded restaurants we can’t hear each other without shouting, or we get a bit too boisterous and get shameful stares.

This dinner I was off by quite a few people, there were only seven of us, but this might have been due to people having nice dinners out with their sweethearts the day before. As I always do when the reservation goes down by more than one person, I did call the restaurant and change the reservation to seven the day before. IMG_0138.JPGTabla left us in the private room though, and since they aren’t really that big a place, this might have been the only table they had that would hold seven without stealing numerous two and four tops. I mention this because at least a couple of people were disappointed when Tabla didn’t move our smaller congregation back out into the general dining population, but it was really my fault, for originally thinking we would be a larger group and would need a bigger area. There probably wasn’t much Tabla could do to accommodate us at 7:00 on a Friday night when all the other tables were reserved or being used. And I really didn’t think the private room was bad compared to that awful subway station that serves as Pok Pok’s upstairs dining area, this room was classy, and for once, everyone could hear everyone else’s radical and dangerous political rabble-rousing, and everything else we were talking about during this dinner (we were a group of very like minds.) (more…)

To begin with, some non-related food notes:If you like to try somewhat unusual drinking establishments, check out Thatch, the ultimate Portland Tiki Bar experience. The place is on NE Broadway, between 27th and 28th, and has been open going on 9 months. The atmosphere is like floating away in your dugout canoe and coming upon some wild hut full of wacky Polynesian decor that serves really stiff drinks. My favorite interior decoration, the brightly colored blowfish lights, but this place is decked out in the extreme with every South Seas touch you can imagine, waterfall by the door, carved tiki statues, walls made of spears, and a bathroom so cute and tropical you might want to live there, if only the rushing water sound could be an ocean lagoon outside, not a flushing toilet. The menu is relatively small, mostly pu-pu’s and things you can sizzle at your table on a little hibachi, but the crab rangoon dumplings are really good, although a bit expensive at $10.00 for four pieces. Mai-Tais are the featured happy hour drink, $5.00 until 6:30, and they are strong. The music is somewhat crazy. This is a slightly wacked out, but sweet little place to have a drink and a nice little snack.Also, a note on Toro Bravo, visited recently after a foot thrashing 3 hour Ikea mission. I once again found the food and everything else wonderful. Particularly fun, sitting at the kitchen bar and watching the chefs do their stuff. The young woman churning out the small plates and desserts was particularly nice, explaining things to us, and watching everything being prepared made me want to order one of each. Once again, the Smoked Coppa Steak was to die for (it’s actually smoked as a roast, grilled whole, then sliced into steaks when it comes off the grill), and this restaurant has vaulted into my top five in a hurry. The staff is friendly, the atmosphere is great, and as most of the small plates are a decent size, it’s a good value. They’ve also revamped their air conditioning, so on this summer evening I wasn’t even hot sitting across from a flaming grill. I love this place!

Also, for anyone who has not heard, Assaggio did go out of business the week after we had our dinner (after all, once RR has dined there, what else is there for a restaurant to look forward to?). I am quite sad, they were very special in their glory days. The space is scheduled to reopen in mid-September as a new entity, this time with Olea’s original chef at the helm.

There were nine of us signed on for dinner at 23 Hoyt, although one of us mysteriously never appeared. Julia, Julia, where did you go?

As has often been the case over the last couple of months, we welcomed a new face to our humble group, Glenda, surely setting a extremely high mark for any other member of Restaurant Roulette to attain, most stylish figure to ever grace our table. Glenda, yet another San Francisco exile (most of my exiles from the Bay Area still love their wonderful town, it seems they just can’t afford to live there), set a quiet tone at the dinner, but I’m told she had some intriguing experiences during her career as a librarian in Europe, and I could tell just by looking at her, she certainly has enjoyed her share of fine cuisine and spirits in her day (who else in RR has ever been classy enough to order champagne?) So I look forward to seeing you again and talking with you further at upcoming RR dinners, Glenda, and hearing some of those wild librarian tales!


Their Balls Are Bigger Than Their Brains – Rated PG 6.5*

*halfway to PG 13.

No, my dear food oriented friends, this has not suddenly turned into a porno website, fit only for the “internude”. This comment was part of a Wild Kingdom focused, extremely fervent conversation that took place near the end on our long-winded but always fascinating evening at Olea last Friday. The speaker, I believe, was Lynne, our environmental law specialist, but our anatomical specialist, Dr. Jones, certainly had many lively and vivid remarks on this very topic as well, all when the chit chat took a wild swing from the subject of beavers munching one’s treasured foliage to that of our well-endowed (but stupid) little squirrel friends destroying tulip bulbs in their quest for easy nut accessibility. But more on this heartwarming topic later.

This was my third week of Restaurant Roulette dinners in a row, and while I always enjoy the dinners themselves, the wallet implosion certainly reached its climax at Olea, but thanks to the kindly people I was dining with, who insisted I use the $20 coupon I presented at the end of the meal all for myself, my frightening tab of $50 went down to a somewhat digestible $30, but there was no economic relief in sight for our dear friends the Nunn-Jones’, who were seen leaving the restaurant in barrels (classy wine barrels though).

Even more frightening than the economic toll the three consecutive dinners was taking on my bank account, however, was the mental toll writing all these out of control reviews was taking on my halting and hesitating old head cavity, I was really dreading churning out my treatise of gluttony for a third weekend in a row.

But the lively conversation at Olea took care of that, and now I have subject matter galore. So thank you, thank you, thank you, my intelligent but somewhat “out there” dining companions for providing such wonderful and weird fodder for my little dining tabloid; this dinner featured some of the kookiest subject matter ever, and that’s saying something amazing in itself. (more…)

Olea logoA good time was hopefully had by all at the interesting Olea, where the most commonly ordered happy hour item was the Lobster Corndog (we kid you not,) served with designer mustard sauce and a shot of beer. Other choices included the generous-sized pizza’s (vegetarian and not,) chickpea coated fried shrimp, procuitto wrapped dates, and hummus with homemade pita. A couple people had prior engagements, but those who remained enjoyed an after happy hour nightcap around the corner at the always sweet and cozy Holden’s Bistro, always a nice place to go for a small plate or an interesting drink.