Thai Treats From The Concrete Bunker

IMG_3560When I first heard of a new Thai Restaurant called PaaDee, I assumed it was one of those tacky play on English words that often form the name of local Thai restaurants (the worst I ever saw was Thai Beer. This was a strip mall restaurant in someplace like Salem. I guess they wanted to combine two items that are really popular here. So what if it makes no sense). Yes, I can imagine it now, PaaDee all night long! Thankfully, it turns out PaaDee has an actual Thai meaning, which is “to bring good things”. That makes me feel a bit better, although each time I mention PaaDee people always say “what, where?” because they are thinking I am mumbling PARTY!!!!!!

PaaDee is situated in that “love it/hate it” modern building at the corner of 28th and E. Burnside, where the Hungry i Tiger restaurant existed for many, many years. IMG_3559Normally I get totally tweaked and bent out of shape when they plow-down those older buildings for these new concrete condo things, but to be honest, all of the buildings on this corner were pretty skanky, and it didn’t seem the tragedy it usually does. Do I like the replacement building? Hardly. Things like this hulking behemoth do not belong in beautiful Laurelhurst, and now they have put another one up across the street about two blocks down on Burnside. Why does our city keep allowing this? That being said, many of the ground floor restaurants that are going into these urban eyesores are good places that fit in these modern concrete settings, and PaaDee is a good example of that. The inside of PaaDee can certainly be described as somewhat bunker-like, but it’s still got a good vibe, with big windows, banners, wooden birdcage lighting, and terrariums throughout. Also, owner Earl Ninsom seems to have good taste in music, so when you hear bands like Radiohead coming through the speakers, a group who is constantly changing into something even more modern sounding it’s barely music, your first thought is, hey, that really fits with the setting. (more…)


It Will Bring Tears Of Happiness To Your Eyeballs

I don’t really know what to say about our recent dinner at Red Onion Thai.IMG_2805 We had a dinner there about two and a half years ago, and at that time I talked about the owner Aut “Dang” Boonyakamol’s previous Portland area restaurants, his tasteful décor, and his unusual specialty menu of Northern Thai dishes. This time out, four people repeated the Red Onion dinner, with three newbies and a special guest, many of us ordered the same things as last time, and while everyone was warned that this is a restaurant where it’s really easy to end up with too much food, we still all over-ordered and ended up with way too much to eat. David, in particular, once again got carried away, and seemingly could barely make it to his car after much over-indulgence (the soup with coconut milk gets you every time!) Once again the restaurant seemed decently busy, the food came rapidly and very hot, and everyone found almost every item delicious.

As far as the newbies, they are some of my recent well-treasured regulars, Tracy, Peter, and Cora. Poor Peter, a few times recently he has had to come directly from the operating theater (how dramatic) directly to the dinners, negotiating annoying North/South or SW traffic along the way, but we are happy that he still manages to join us, stress inducing though his journey might be, and feast on our evening of good eats.IMG_2803 Sometimes I think we should go back to those earlier RR days when the dining times were a bit later, but I’ve learned over the years that when you have a group, 6:30 is much more manageable reservation-wise than 7:00 or after, and since our dinners commonly last between 2.5 – 3 hours, we still finish eating at a fashionably late time. Also, as people work on Fridays and the weekdays before,  they tend to start getting tired once 9:30 or so rolls around, other of us have babies that can only stand the “dining ordeal” for so long, and still other have chickens to put to bed, after they get home from the dinners (the dinees, not the chickens, they rarely get to go out for KFC.) So although it makes some people have to rush (sorry, rushees) at least for now, 6:30 remains the preferred dining hour. (Maybe 10 years from now, when we are all elderly, we’ll switch to a more acceptable dining hour like 4:30.) (more…)

The Dining Report – The Red Onion

What’s With All This Dang Food?  A Menu You Can’t Refuse!

As everyone knows, Portland has been inundated with Thai restaurants over the last 10-15 years, 90% a cookie cutter mold of the one down the street. It’s like people from Thailand come here and say, okay, Americans like Pad Thai, and Pad Kee Mao, and salad rolls, and three or four curries. Let’s build our restaurant around those dishes, throw in a few others, make them like everyone else, work really hard, then we’ll be a success, even if we are the same as every other Thai place. In a “dining town” like Portland, this really is not the way it should go, 50 marginal Thai restaurants, each with their small legion of fans.

IMG_1319Aside from Typhoon, which has always had innovations on their menu next to the standards, it took food visionaries from “these parts” to bring anything interesting and unusual to our local “Thai table”, Andy Richter from Pok Pok and the folks at Siam Society understanding that Portland is a dining destination in the 21st century, and palates around here are more than ready to experience more non-conventional Thai food preparations and embrace them. Pok Pok is really more of S.E. Asian restaurant though, many items have Vietnamese origins, and one of the main reasons to go to Siam Society is that it’s a really cool place to eat, the food is fine, but really not the main draw in my opinion, it’s “the scene”.

So where are those daring Thai people out there, those who understand that Americans are ready to try the unusual and unknown? (after all, how many dumb westerners try those ghastly “Crispy Pig Intestines” at Malay Satay Hut? Even I had a bite of those delicacies, and I can tell you, nasty.) Evidently someone has been twisting Dang Boonyakamol’s arm, because now, with his third Portland restaurant (he sold the other two, Chaba and Dang’s Thai Kitchen) more and more unusual Thai recipes are appearing on his menu, and Dang’s newest restaurant, Red Onion Thai Cuisine, actually has a separate special menu of authentic and daring (for these parts) Thai favorites. So perhaps it’s not too surprising to see that not only has Red Onion already become the best reviewed restaurant in Dang’s Portland repertoire, it looks to be his most popular one as well (although Chaba Thai, the first PDX restaurant he owned, remains very popular to this day). A glowing review in the A&E and being Willamette Weeks co-runner-up for restaurant of the year last month certainly hasn’t hurt Red Onion’s popularity, and besides the pleasant atmosphere and excellent execution of Thai standards, most of the praise has been heaped on Dang’s special “No Refuse” menu of more unfamiliar Northern Thailand cuisine. (more…)

Pok Pok – A little microcosm of tasty and exotic chaos.


I’ve known since the earliest days of Restaurant Roulette, that someday, I would eventually have to find a way to take the group for a dinner at Pok Pok. From its humble beginnings in the little shack, it’s hard to think of a restaurant that has gotten the good press that Pok Pok has (and how many restaurants in shacks really get those glowing reviews?) But after all, it was just a shack, so how could I take people to a regular dinner there? Then the Whiskey Soda Lounge opened in the house next door, and although there were still no reservations, and the largest table was for four people, at least now I could go there for a lunch to check it out. The decor in WSL really didn’t do much for me, too woody and windowless (after all, it’s a basement) but the menu was intriguing, although quite simplified from what was offered at dinner. There were still issues with having a dinner there, however, it was always so crowded, every night of the week, people lined up out the door.


The owner of Pok Pok, Andy Richter, seems like a smart and savvy guy, and he obviously figured out that he had to find a way to expend his facilities to seat more eager dinners without breaking the bank financially. So he decided to open a dining room in his modest bungalow a couple of floors above the WSL, this taking reservations and seating groups of six or larger. This was a pretty modest venture, however, only improving his seating capacity with four tables which seat six (that’s a mere 24 more places.) 


This was finally my chance, a way to take RR to PP/WSL. So the dinner was announced, the reservation was made, and the cut-off was placed at 12, as we basically needed to work in increments of six. It was a cloudy, somewhat mild, and at this point rainless evening when we all gathered for our dinner at PP/WSL, which was a good thing, because despite our month old reservation, we still had to stand outside and wait just like everyone else, as our table was still being cleared of people, dishes, money, and everything else, probably not too surprising, after all, we were taking up half their “dining room.”


Having stood outside this place for 20-30 minutes, one thing is painfully obvious, Pok Pok still only has about 1/2 – 2/3rds of the seating capacity it needs, this place is bursting at the seams. You know a restaurant is having space issues when the reservation desk is outside, by the sidewalk, in the winter. PP has tried to make the most of the space it has, everywhere you look they’ve made some little plastic dining enclosure, including on the second floor porch, and next to the shack, at the picnic tables under the roof, people are in every conceivable space huddled under the outdoor heaters, not caring that they are dining outside in the winter (I think Pambiche started this weird outside even in the winter eating trend) just happy to be experiencing a meal at Pok Pok. The little candlelit enclosures were cute though, and festive (providing you dressed suitably, of course) so I was anxious to see what Mr. Richter had come up with for his upstairs dining area.


Wow, I have to hand it to Dang’s Thai Kitchen, they give great receipts. Sitting down to write this review, as is typical of the dinners at more ethnic places, I’m not totally certain what it was everybody ordered. I had a bite of almost everything, but that doesn’t mean I necessarily know what it was I was sampling. As it happens though, at this dinner, as I did the last few before it, I grabbed the receipt to help me. And Dang’s, being a brand new place, have a first class computerized receipt that tracks everything under the sun. Not only is commonplace info on there like the day we dined, and the server’s name (Nai,) but every single item is annotated, with name and number, amount of servings, and type of meat added. So all I have to do is pull out the handy take out menu I just happen to have, and match the numbers to the corresponding numbers on my menu. I’m on easy street here. At the bottom was even a handy tip guide telling the percentages for 15%, 18%, and 20% tip (Dang’s did not add on the mandatory tip, although the menu states a 17% tip is required for groups of 6 or more and we were 7).


Siam Society logoI offered the group a chance to submit their reviews of S.S., but everyone had the common sense to decline, so you’re stuck with me yammering away again.

Restaurant Roulette’s evening at Siam Society could be summed up as a very long evening of waiting and sharing. I would have to strain my memory banks severely to come up with another dining experience quite this long, almost three hours. The waiting began the minute we entered the attractive but practically dismembering (and strangely flimsy looking,) front doors, the tiny waiting area holding our anxious party of seven (the front area was like Grand Central Station, and most of us had fears of either being trampled or knocking over the gigantic and expensive looking ceramic urn precariously perched on the tiny and also expensive looking glass table next to the entry way.) Despite having a reservation, an available table was not ready for at least 15-20 minutes after our party arrived, which was not surprising, as not only was this place packed to the gills, but everything moved V E R Y S L O W L Y.