Northwest


THE DINING REPORT – THE BENT BRICK

I Must Have Missed That One 

On some outing in NW Portland a few years ago (maybe I was going to Le Happy for crepes?) I had occasion to park outside the former location of Oddball Shoes on NW Marshall (they are now at 18th and NW Thurman, most likely a spot with more visibility).IMG_3605 Although I have big honkin’ feet for a woman, I don’t tend to shop at shoe stores which specialize in shoes for big footed men (although you know what they say about those fellers. Maybe I should hang around those places more often). Anyway, although the shop looked as adorable as possible (really) what totally intrigued me was this beautiful little brick building hidden away in the industrial wasteland known as almost below the Fremont Bridge ramps (and/or Slabtown).

I guess I’m not the only person who loved the look of this building, because I read an interview with The Bent Brick’s owner, Scott Dolich, who mentioned that each day he would drive by the Oddball Shoes building on his way to his original Portland restaurant, Park Kitchen, and think how he would like to own this building. Eventually he talked to the Oddball Shoes folks, and as soon as they decided to move, he snatched up this lovely ivy covered address.

Originally the plan at The Bent Brick was to be bar with fancy little noshes, and quite ambitiously to feature only domestic alcohol (I forgot all about this until Glenda tried to order a Scotch. IMG_3607Luckily summer is here, so she easily switched to a locally grown Aviation Gin and Tonic). Because of this, The Bent Brick has no bottles of wine to order, but if you bring in your own empty, or pay $1 for their empty bottle, they will fill up a bottle with a locally produced wine for you to take home or if you want to drink it on the premises  it comes in a carafe thingee. I’m sure this policy of no non-regional  liquor irritates many people who think they are coming into a normal bar, but we have so many great wineries, brewers, and distilleries now, it seems like a really noble concept to me, although probably much work for The Bent Brick liquor purveyor. (more…)

THE DINING REPORT – FIRESIDE PORTLAND

Trendy, Smoked, and Charred,  But Where The Heck Did All The CDs Go? 

Oh, who could have known eight years or so ago, when I was at the NW outlet of Music Millennium, buying a Garbage CD, that the next time I passed under that locally famous marquee, I would instead be doing some fine dining, not CD buying.IMG_3514 (Gee, could it be that my once every 8 year patronage cycle contributed to their demise? You can’t make me feel guilty! Not only do I regularly buy music at the E. Burnside location (I always preferred aged hippies to those trendy snots that were at the NW store ) I don’t even own an iPod.) I guess it’s not too surprising, if you count the number of record stores left compared to how many restaurants we have in Portland, that even our most famous music seller would end up being replaced by a restaurant, especially considering the fact that 10 years from now every establishment in Portland will most likely be a restaurant. Just think, the physician office/restaurant, the shoe store/restaurant, the dog wash/restaurant, the “massage parlor”/restaurant, the taxidermist/restaurant, and the morgue/restaurant (bon appetite!) Some of the restaurants will probably even have additional restaurants inside them, just for variety. The possibilities are endless!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Their website mentions that the inspiration behind Fireside (Portland) is the outdoors, camping, sitting around a fire, or a cozy gathering around the fireplace at home. IMG_3504Consequently, they have not one, but two fireplaces inside a modest sized restaurant (hey MM, that’s why you bit it, no fireplaces.) When we visited Fireside Portland, we probably didn’t get the full effect of what the owners had in mind, as it was a really warm Spring day, and no fireplaces at all were burning. I’m sure in the winter it is pleasant and cozy. It seems kind of sad though, to call your restaurant Fireside, and have two fireplaces, but only be able to use them in the chillier months (okay, here in P-Town that means cold hearths in August and September.) If only they could devise a Fireplace that spits out air conditioning. Also, since Fireside was full of trendy, beautiful, NW Portland people, it was a bit hard to imagine I was out camping, as no where was there a screaming baby, or a yellow jacket buzzing around my head (or a skeeter) or white trash 70’s rock, or a deafening throbbing generator. They did have S’Mores for dessert though, so really, what more can you expect? (more…)

THE DINING REPORT – TASTY n ALDER

Ya Gotta Beat The Clock! (But deliciously)

IMG_3465As I’ve mentioned ten quatrillion times before, I love John Gorham’s restaurants. As I’ve mentioned about three times less than that, his restaurants are incredibly difficult for group dining. None of the Gorham restaurants is overly large, and they have many “table regulations” that make bringing more than four people really tricky, like the fact that you need to have at least seven people for a reservation, but can bring no more than ten, and that you need to guarantee each space you have reserved with a credit card. Since our group is all about knowing we have a place waiting for us when we get there, RR has not been able to set foot in Toro Bravo (my fave) for at least five years now, TB having the most restrictive reservation policy of the bunch (no reservations on Friday or Saturday.)

When I heard, last year, that Gorham was opening a new restaurant in downtown’s West End in the early part of 2013, I was excited, because I thought this could potentially be a bigger space, with a looser reservation policy! As it turned out, Tasty n Alder is about the same size as Gorham’s other restaurants, but at least for now, a couple of months in, they do accept three group reservations an evening, for seven to ten people. You still have to guarantee your spaces with a credit card. You also have to promise to only stay two hours as well, for they have three seatings each night, 5:30, 7:30, and 9:30.

When the hostess called to confirm my spaces the day before the dinner and to snatch my credit card number, she once against asked me if we willing to turn the table in two hours.IMG_3467 I told her we would do our best, but asked what would happen if the party before us straggled and cut into our time. She told me she would personally boot them out at 7:30. I know when we arrived at the restaurant we waited a few minutes past 7:30 for our table, and didn’t see if the party before us left on their own volition or were given the hook, but I really do wonder what happens when your two hours are up if people are still eating dessert or haven’t finished paying yet? Do they make you stand in a corner until you are done, or maybe do you have to relinquish any uneaten food, or if time is tight, do they come and tell you you don’t have time to order dessert? I really don’t know this, as I was in the restroom right before the check came, and don’t know if the waitress even offered dessert or tried to hurry us out. It wasn’t an issue on this evening anyway, as we were all over satiated with savory foodstuffs, and none of us was planning on having dessert anyway. Obviously, we could hardly wait around for our food to settle and make more room for sweet items. (more…)

THE DINING REPORT – NED LUDD

Down With the Industrial Revolution!

A few months after it opened, around three years ago, I took a group of diners to Ned Ludd. I was infamously late to that dinner, as I kept driving down MLK, back and forth, without spotting the building (it didn’t look like I had planned.) This time I knew right where to find Ned Ludd, and felt a little better when two other people this evening had difficulty spotting the restaurant  (it sits back behind a little courtyard, and the signage is very low key.)

IMG_3380Because I dribbled on plenty about the Ned Ludd concept a few years ago, I’m going to attempt to keep this brief. As many people know, Ned Ludd was the figurehead for a British labor movement long ago that protested the Industrial Revolution by breaking their machinery. They understood that machines were taking human positions, creating less work and fewer jobs, much like the Computer Revolution is screwing many of us over now (hey, I’m in printing, we’re really screwed. What we need is a modern Luddite Movement!) Anyway, those folks believed in a more back to basics ethos, which is the entire concept behind Ned Ludd, cook everything on one old fashioned, tried and true piece of equipment, in their case a wood burning oven. (more…)

THE DINING REPORT – IMPERIAL

Where Graciousness Overcomes Salt

IMG_3178Vitaly Paley has to be one of Portland’s most famous chefs, not only a James Beard award nominee, but an actual winner of this prestigious cooking award. Another distinction, he’s one of the few local chefs who has managed to bridge the gap between Portland restaurant food of old and Portland’s current explosive dining scene, Paley’s Place still respected and going strong after 18 years. Obviously, Mr. Paley is also a deliberate, careful man, having one of Portland’s upper echelon dining houses for at least 15 years, but never opening a second restaurant until this Fall. Contrast this to Duane Sorenson, owner of Stumptown Coffee, he opened the Woodsman Tavern last fall, then the Woodsman Market, is about to open the Italian influenced Ava Genes on Division, a separate pizza parlor nearby, and I think a “beer hall” as well. Of course, Mr. Sorenson last year sold part of Stumptown to New York investors, so his capital is probably a great deal more fluid than Vitaly Paley’s. That being said, I also get the impression that Mr. Paley didn’t want to have his name associated with any venture that might besmirch his fine reputation (did someone say Corazon?) but at the same time wanted to go in a direction new and distinctive. (Of course, Duane Sorenson is not a chef to begin with, he’s a coffee magnet and owner, so he didn’t really have a food related reputation to damage. It doesn’t matter, as The Woodsman’s really good anyway.)

Anyway, back to the cautious Vitaly Paley and his new joint, Imperial. Were I to have a meal at Paley’s Place (it’s been a long time, it’s kind of spendy) and then be blindfolded, and taken inside 10 restaurants to guess which one was Paley’s new venture, the Imperial would most likely be guess 9 or 10. It’s black inside, it’s kooky, much of the decor is actually edgy. Paley’s Place, for all its hospitality and quaintness, is rather staid. It’s in an old house, and it’s much like eating in an old house in NW Portland (not that I don’t love old NW houses.) It’s classy, and refined, and even somewhat delicate. Imperial has big, dark chandeliers made from bicycle chains (they reminded me of something from the Addams Family.) Imperial has garish yellow/gold wallpaper with a loud tattoo pattern right next to fancy neutral colored tiles that look like they are from a high-end subway tunnel near to booths that don’t really match with either. Imperial has roughly poured concrete beams right next to your table, a ceiling with all the plaster knocked off, and turn of the 20th century exposed brick in the bar area. Imperial is LOUD, and full of buzz, and does weird things like bring parts of your meal on big hunks o’ polished wood. Since it’s a hotel restaurant (Hotel Lucia) the bathroom is about a mile away, down many stairs. The closest restaurant I can think of with a high-end pedigree and respected chef but such a weird conglomeration of decor is Irving Street Kitchen, but that whole place is so kooky inside, it works for them. When we were at Imperial, three of us were having a discussion on how non-homogeneous and discordant the whole of Imperial comes across, so much so that David told us “hey, quit picking the place apart.” And pick though we did, this doesn’t mean that there weren’t sectors of Imperial I didn’t find attractive, over by the bar seemed nice in a very black, modern, industrial way, it’s just SOOOOOO hard to believe this decor could be associated with the “sedate” Vitaly and Kimberly Paley (reputation-wise, of course. I don’t know them personally. For all I know, they are edgy and out of control in person.) (more…)

THE DINING REPORT – THE WOODSMAN TAVERN
PICKLEBACKS, WRECKED PALATES, AND THE MIRACULOUS CROUTON

This is 100 for me. No, not my 100th birthday, although often I feel that way. This is my 100th Restaurant Roulette dinner review on this blog, at least according to WordPress.IMG_2545 Can you believe I’ve made it through at least 100 dinners with a bunch of people who were almost all strangers at their first group dinner, and that some actually come back again and again to dine with the likes of me? (Don’t worry, I know it’s mainly because most of the  food is really good.) And to think, the blog didn’t become a struggle until about 50 reviews in (which is why I laugh when people get mad at me and send comments implying I live to do nothing but blog my life away. I would gladly sit back and send in an random snippy comments while they labor away at the keyboard for hours trying to be occasionally funny, or at least informative. Oh, and there’s also that fun part where I spend half of each dinner taking photos!) I do love the dinners though, and visiting all the new restaurants, and hanging out with my dining buddies, both familiar and brand new, and I think the blog is a bonus for potential and current members. So onward I solider, and readily I eat, all in the name of group dining fun. I don’t know if we’ll make it to 200, as that would end up being over 10 years of Restaurant Roulette, but anyone who wants to hang in with me as long as possible, we’ll give it our best shot. After all, I still have my first member, he was at the Woodsman dinner, and while we don’t see him that often, he does still seem to have a good time when he joins us.

Okay, that was a weird experience. I’m sitting here at 8:00 in the evening, writing this, and my doorbell rings. I turn on my porch light, and there’s a Penske Rental Truck outside delivering my UPS package. Has anyone else gotten UPS packages at 8:00 PM in a rental truck? It’s hard to know if this is a seasonal overflow thing (on December 1st?) or if their truck just broke down, but do you remember those old timey days when your mail came six days a week, probably before 4:00 PM, and you didn’t see UPS drivers doing deliveries at 8:00 at night?

Wasn’t that just fascinating? Please remember, I live a very tiny life.
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THE DINING REPORT-SOLUNA GRILL

Surprisingly Good, If Excessively Footy

CLOSED

As the organizer, Head Honchette of Restaurant Roulette, I would have to say the question I have been asked, above all others, is “how do you hear about/select the restaurants?” As I always tell everyone, it’s not particularly hard, I just read food articles, be they in the daily and weekly printed rags, or on various online sources. When Fife decided to rather abruptly close, people seemed somewhat shocked, as chef Marco Shaw had a good reputation here, particularly in his Beaumont neighborhood. So most of the talk seemed centered on the demise of Fife, rather than what might eventually happen to that large boxy space built just to house Fife quite a few years ago (eight maybe?)

I think the only thing I read, in advance of opening, was on the Portland Food and Drink blog, mentioning that the incoming restaurant would be called Soluna Grill, and that the menu sounded like a bunch of American standards practically worthy of a chain, perhaps Stanford’s or Manzana Grill. IMG_1543 It wasn’t a particularly enthusiastic sounding news blurb, and while I only agree with Food Dude about half the time, it didn’t exactly whet my appetite for what was to come. Also, looking at Soluna’s website, the space looked a tad more boring now, after all, what can you really do with a big, modern square box? (although the big, weird, rusted metal object that sits in the parking lot will always RULE!) Also, when anyone besides a barbecue joint adds the word “grill” to their name, it makes me think lowest common denominator.

Needless to say, as much as I love new eateries, I wasn’t jumping all over myself to take RR to this particular eating outpost, post haste! That being said,  I do like to support the Fremont/BW area, and as it’s close to where I work, it makes me happy to see quality places root themselves there and stay there. Also, a “big birdie” in our group (who likes Rusty Nails) had mentioned that some work function had been catered by Soluna Grill, and that everything had been really good, so maybe we should add it to the roster. Of course I rarely listen to this birdie (after all, I don’t speak bird.) I did decide to look at Soluna Grill’s on-line menu again though, and was pleasantly surprised by how good some of the items sounded, particularly some of the smaller items and interesting side dishes. (more…)

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