The Dining Report – Patanegra
Fine Dining In a 3 Ring Circus (Who Song and Patanegra?)


IMG_2038As I’ve always told people, I tend to get all wrapped up in visiting the new restaurants, and forget that now and then I should work Portland’s moldy oldie eateries (those that have been around for over five years) into the Restaurant Roulette roster. Thus was the case with Patanegra, a Spanish restaurant I had put on our “to do” list in the very beginning, but then let fall off the list for over three years. In the interim, “more popular” Spanish/Tapas (NW style) places have opened like Toro Bravo and Lolo, and as they were both so hip and had a lower price point, I basically forgot about Patanegra, rather isolated in the lovely but stinky environs of distant NW Portland, right across the way from good old Food Front.

I remember many years ago, Portland having one Spanish restaurant, Catalana (??) over on Stark at 28th, where The Bonfire Lounge is now. Well regarded, kind of expensive, but not really any Tapas, just entrees. Then for a number of years there was the relatively popular Tapeo in NW Portland, but I think something went wrong with the lease, or the space was too expensive, and although many people lamented it, Tapeo closed. Not too long after (perhaps a year or two) Patanegra opened, not too far from where Tapeo was, and by the same owner.

I remember in the beginning (maybe 6 years ago?) Patanegra got some good reviews, but after that it seemed to disappear from the radar. One time I dropped by there for a drink (but never had one) and found the space very attractive inside, but looked at the menu and thought it would be an awfully expensive place to eat, and back then it seemed like most of the food was entree sized, as the small plate trend had not taken hold in Portland yet. Since that day, long ago, Portland has experienced complete foodie pandemonium though, so who can really remember the restaurants that have been around for over a couple of years? Not moi, obviously.

Recently, however, some oddball in the group asked me about Patanegra, and to humor him, I decided I would check out their “current” online menu. I liked the fact that Patanegra now has tons of tapas, and that almost everything can be ordered in either a small size or a larger sized portion, and while everything was still several bucks more than the food at Toro Bravo and Lolo, I wanted to contrast what was served at a Spanish restaurant with a real Spanish owner, rather than our more Northwesternized Spanish restaurants (I don’t think that Giorgio Kawas of Lolo is Spanish, as his first local restaurant was the Italian place that bears his name, but I could be wrong.) (more…)


Spanish Small Plates, Glenda’s Shrunken Head, and Darkness

It seems like the dinners we have at restaurants that have small plates are always some of the best, because everyone orders several items and is usually eager to share. Recently, I had a hankering for some Spanish small plates, and while Toro Bravo is always tops on my list, with the group dynamic, forget it. There’s another good “tapas” (sort of, not really) place in town though, and while the bill always seems to add up more rapidly there, much of the food at Lolo is delicious and interesting. So, as I had not hosted a dinner at this Spanish inspired Alberta joint since the fall of 2007, off we went.

IMG_1509The two times I’ve been there, Lolo has struck me as a fun and bustling neighborhood eatery, but that might just be because the acoustics are pretty bad, and it always seems loud and hard to hear. Both times I was at Lolo, I was seated in almost the same exact place, in the front facing the west wall, so  I really didn’t get a good idea if Lolo is being hurt by the slow economy or not, as I could not see the other tables or the front door. They seemed busy enough, but as previously mentioned, that could have been an illusion because of all the noise. I mainly mention this because the last time I was at Lolo’s sister restaurant, Giorgio’s in the Pearl, I was struck by the fact that they didn’t seem very busy on a Saturday night. Who knows though, I think the Pearl is a late dining sort of area, and Alberta doesn’t exactly strike me as the sort of area where Mom and Pop rush out for dinner at 5:00 PM sharp. I did notice when we left Lolo, however, around 10:00 or so, it seemed pretty quiet. (more…)

Toro Bravo III

How To Spend Lots Of Money At a Inexpensive Restaurant

I suppose it’s not too surprising this was a pretty small dinner at Toro Bravo, as it’s the third time I’ve taken Restaurant Roulette there, and most people attend the dinners to try out new restaurants. This is also actually the only restaurant RR has been to more than once, although I often think of places I would like to repeat, but there are just so many new places to visit all the time. I really love Toro Bravo though, and as I knew of at least one valued regular who had not darkened the TB doorstep, off we went. Unfortunately, since Toro Bravo is always slammed, and doesn’t have a normal reservation policy for groups (you have to give them your credit card, and they will charge you if a certain percentage or your party does not show up,) I made the dinner on an “off-night,” and really early as well, so a group of four was all I could eke out, especially after numerous cancelations from new folks. 50% of our group was new on this evening though, so that added a bit more fun to the situation.

Even before 5:30 in the evening, Toro Bravo was starting to pick up steam, and was about half full. As I suppose all the other empty tables for four were being saved for people on the waiting list who were next door at the bar having a drink, our group of four was seated at the end of one of the two or so tables Toro Bravo has that seats 10. It’s always weird when you are four sitting in a place for 10, but once the joint was jumping, every table was pretty much full, except for those tiny little round things behind the curtain, and the other end of out table, although towards the end people were sitting there as well. One thing I did notice on this particular evening at Toro Bravo is that this is the first of the four times I have been to TB when owner John Gorham was not in attendance, slaving over a hot grill. Maybe he actually gets evenings off too these days, since his restaurant has been such a tremendous success since the week it opened.

As alluded to before, although our group was tiny on this evening, it was at least a fresh bunch, with two new members joining us, Glee and Mike. (But keep in mind, I SO value my stale old regulars too, they keep the group afloat. And believe me, no matter how many times people join me at the dinners, almost everyone tends to come up with their share of fresh and lively conversation on occasion, even me, that one time at least.) Glee, who you will hear from a bit later with a review of her first RR dinner, was very enthusiastic about joining a dining group, and was a perfect newcomer, not only enjoying ordering various things, tasting various things, and sharing, but helping me comment on our evening. Mike was also quite a good addition to our group for this particular dinner, as he is of half Spanish parentage, and was born in Spain, perfect for a dinner at Toro Bravo. He also is employed in a profession I know a great deal about, computer graphics, so we had our share of conversation on that particular topic.

I rarely make any negative comments when the subject of Toro Bravo comes up, but at my fourth dinner there, I think I will say that their cocktail selection never appeals to me that much, and it always seems like the wine pours are relatively small. I suppose it could be an illusion, because TB uses those stemless wine glasses, so the visual presentation might come across differently, but I know our old friend Lynne, who loves TB as well, has told me she feels ripped off by the wine pours here.  My drink on this evening, a Violette 75, was in a very small, narrow, but attractively sculpted glass, and seemed rather small for $9, but it was plenty potent. Our pal DD told me after this meal that this was the only part of TB he didn’t think was great, the spirit selection, not only did they not have his “life giving Drambuie,” but their dark rum selection was not thrilling either (maybe he needs to start eating at more Puerto Rican restaurants!) Not only that, I think the waitress nearly gave him a heart attack by telling him his rum and coke was $9 (looking at the bill, it was actually $7.)

Beverage beefs aside though, one thing I have observed over all my visits, the food quality at Toro Bravo is amazingly consistent, and I should know, as I tend to order the same items over and over again, as I love them so much (although I also tried three other things this night, because of the sharing.) As David observed, one thing he has noticed about the small plates/tapas places (as the dinner just before had been at Tapalaya, also small plates,) these places get lots of food going in a hurry, and you are soon surrounded by a variety of dishes. I did rather notice the pace at Toro Bravo this Thursday, perhaps a tiny bit more accelerated from many fine dining places you go to, but not in a rude fashion, by any means, I think they just do what they can to make sure too many tables don’t drag, as there are almost always other people wanting to sit down and eat. In this vein, our server was quite professional and efficient, but she didn’t seem like she was trying to hurry us, or deprive us of dessert (I HATE IT WHEN THAT HAPPENS!)

Poor Glee, when she mentioned that she was a human resources specialist, but loved writing, you can just imagine how I leapt upon this fact … “OH GOOD … you can help me out with the review!!!” Sadly, it seems like each time someone joins the group and says they like to write, and would not mind helping me out, this person disappears almost immediately, or can only manage about one review. The only exception to this rule was our dear friend and web queen Marnie, I think she gave me a valuable something for almost every dinner she attended (maybe that’s why she’s vanished,) and I miss her input so, not to mention that lively little personality of hers, and that of the guy she always hung around with (now what was his name?) And good old Frank, he sends me contributions too on occasion. But as for this Glee woman, we’re going to try to not let her escape our clutches too soon, I can assure you of that. (more…)

Last year, when my birthday rolled around, it was an off-week for Restaurant Roulette, so Pam, my friend from work whom many of you know from the dinners, and I went to Roux for our shared birthday festivities on a Friday night (before and after our birthdays). Pam and I have worked together for quite a few years now in often stressful times, and since our birthdays fall within a week of one another, we try to have a nice meal together to celebrate, since we both love food and dining out.

This year, I decided that when the RR dinner closest to our birthdays rolled around, I would pick a restaurant I really wanted to try out, and which I also thought Pam would enjoy. We both love Toro Bravo (like almost everyone else) but that place is just too difficult to get into with more than two or four people at a normal dining hour, so I decided an intriguing choice would be to try the other new tapas place in town, Lolo, the second restaurant by the owner of the always well regarded Giorgios in the P. District.

The crewI guess my enthusiasm for checking out Lolo wasn’t shared by the majority of RR, as we had a relatively small (but extremely select) turnout of six. I suspect at this time of year, you have to expect many people are running around having pre-Halloween fun on a Friday night, so that might explain why our last RR dinner had a record setting 15, but this time we could eek out merely six. Whatever the reason, all of those who couldn’t join us missed a great (but somewhat spendy) dinner. So thank you Sara, Glenda, and especially our always wonderful Marnie and Leo, (making their first joint appearance since late Spring) for making Pam’s and my shared birthday event at Lolo a night to remember, and one I will look back on fondly for years to come. (Special thanks also to RR members Aruna and Sara for their special kindness in acknowledging my birthday in their fun individual ways. As a person lacking in the family department, such acts go a very long way, and make me really happy that I started this group 15 months ago, I’ve met some really nice people along the way.)


About three + years ago I noticed a new barbecue place called Russell Street Ribs. I was turning around to try to find a parking place at a restaurant I love about a block from there, Echo, and saw the pink neon pig in the window and decided I had to try it some day, because I love barbecue, and the building looked like it might have somewhat better ambiance than the average rib joint. At that time I knew nothing of N. Russell just North of MLK, and when I made it to Russell Street Ribs, and went back subsequent times in the next year or so, the neighborhood along Russell there struck me as nothing but a wasteland heading over the hill towards Emmanuel Hospital and N. Interstate.

But wait, now there’s gentrification! What started on Lower North Russell and Interstate (at Widmer Gasthaus and Mint/820,) and moved to Mississippi, then spread to Killingsworth and Williams, has finally migrated over the last couple of years to upper Russell at MLK. First the rib place. Then Mark Wooley, famous Portland gallery owner, redid the Royal Hiberian Lodge into the Wonder Ballroom, Gallery, and Bar, and now right next door, a beautifully refurbished building has been transformed into Toro Bravo. Two winters ago I actually stood in front of the bleak building that became Toro Bravo, waiting to enter a Dandy Warhols concert, and the last thing I could imagine was the potential lurking right beside me. And now, the two blocks of Russell North of MLK are the place to be. I know gentrification is hard on the people it dislocates through higher rents and urban renewal, but as a lover of old buildings and fine modern cuisine, I love it when eateries and cultural establishments turn worn out city blocks new and vital again.