Tag Archives: portland
10/9/11

A Taste of The Sweet Hereafter

Despite the fact that I live in Portland, I’m not a vegan nor am I a hipster. So when Sam asked me to try Sweet Hereafter, a new vegan restaurant on SE Belmont, I was doubtful and almost didn’t bring my camera along.

It turns out I have to give the man some credit. Sweet Hereafter is a pretty sweet (ha!) new joint in SE. It opened across from Zupans, where a slew of new restaurants and bars have opened. Sweet Hereafter was opened by the owners of the Bye and Bye, another classic Portland spot (and one of Sam’s favorite night time hangouts). Like the Bye and Bye, the Sweet Hereafter has:

1.    A catchy name
2.    Really rad décor
3.    A cool outside patio
4.    An interesting drink list
5.    Vegan-only cuisine
6.    Dim, mood-setting lighting
7.    Lots of really beautiful regulars

It’s a good thing we were accompanied by Christine Matsuda Smith, the lovely lady behind Lilikoi and Thyme, who was visiting Portland for the week. Note: her fab blog is temporarily down, but the girl just finished planning a wedding so we’ll give her some slack.

The outside patio was full by the time we arrived for dinner on a Tuesday night, so we ordered at the bar and then found a table inside the dimly lit bar. Sweet Hereafter has a unique list of beers on tap, plus a nice cocktail list that’s longer than the actual food menu.

Dinner items consist mostly of rice bowls that range from $7-$9. We also ordered chips and salsa for a few bucks extra. Not sure if we were just really hungry, but the chips were extra crunchy and the salsa seemed super fresh. It was a good start to the meal.

{Chips & Salsa}

I ordered the Jamaican Bowl – which was filled with brown rice, black beans, coconut kale and jerk tofu. We eat a lot of brown rice and beans at home, so it was the coconut kale made this dish really special. It wasn’t that the kale was so coconut-y, but that the extra coconut milk soaked onto the beans and rice for a really delicious and creamy bowl of goodness.

{Jamaican Bowl}

Mmm… I got hungry just uploading that image. Anway. Sam ordered the Eastern Bowl, which was made of brown rice, broccoli, peanut sauce and tofu. He ate the entire bowl – but claimed that the Jamaican Bowl was better.

{Eastern Bowl}

Christine was a bit more creative. Instead of ordering an entrée, she ordered a number of side dishes including rice, beans, tofu and chickpea salad. Despite beinga bit more plain, she was happy with her dinner with the exception of the chickpea salad, which she mentioned could have used more warm spices. I agreed that it was missing something.

{Chickpea Salad}

Although Portland is an affordable town, it can be tough to find inexpensive dinner spots. For roughly $10 per person, I have no doubt we’ll be back at the Sweet Hereafter soon. But, don’t tell Sam he was right all along.

4/15/11

TarBoush Lebanese Restaurant & Bar

Sam and I recently had a “night away from the wedding”-themed date night, where we weren’t allowed to talk wedding planning. We wanted to try a new restaurant, and per the request of several blog readers, get out of NW Portland.

We ended up at TarBoush, a Lebanese restaurant located in an old Victorian house on SE Hawthorne. The restaurant is filled with Mediteranean decor and low lighting (hence the yellow-tinted images below – sorry about that folks), but nothing fancy. However, it’s comfortable with friendly staff who sat up right away, despite not having a reservation. I also saw some great potential for outside summer seating (yes, this is always the first thing I check for, even in the midst of a 40+ days-in-a-row-of-rain record). In fact, there was a clear vinyl heated tent set up in front of the restaurant that would have been really cool to sit in, but we were both cold and eager to sit inside where it was toasty.

TarBoush’s menu is pretty standard Mediterranean food minus the traditional Euros (which are only served at lunch). At Mediterranean restaurants, I always order Euros (and fries!), so this was a good opportunity for me to try something new. Since I was a newbie to the rest of the menu (Shanklish? Mhammara? Sawda?), our waiter was kind and patient enough to go over the basics of the menu and even offer some suggestions.

{TarBoush Samboussek appetizer plate}
 
{gooey goodness of the TarBoush Samboussek}

At his advice, we started with the TarBoush Samboussek appetizer. It looked like homemade dumplings, and tasted like a Mediterranean-flavor-filled calzone made with piecrust instead of pizza dough. And it was delicious.

{Fresh Pita}

We were also given fresh pita, olive oil and a special bowl of what appeared to be spices and/or colored rock salt. I think the waiter could tell by the look on my face that I had NO idea what to do with the pita and “dips”, and was kind enough to show us. The secret method here, I learned, is to tear a piece of pita, dip it in the olive oil, and then dip it into the spice bowl.

{TarBoush Signature Mezza Plate}

For his entrée, Sam chose the TarBoush Signature Mezza plate, which includes humus, baba ghannouj, basmati rice, pita, and 2 choices of meat. Per our waiter’s suggestion, he ordered chicken and kofta, and we took bets as to what kofta actually was. We both failed, and it turns out to be some sort of yummy sausage. Sam couldn’t help but compare his meal to Nicholas’, one of our favorite Mediterranean restaurants in Portland – and thought it was comparable if not better.

{Beef Shawarma}

I ordered the Beef Shawarma plate, which includes marinated slices of beef served with tomato and basmati rice, two sauces (red and white) and a small side salad. I was SHOCKED when the meal came out. My $14 plate was moderately priced but seriously enough food to feed an army. I had leftovers for the next TWO days at lunch. Seriously. This picture doesn’t capture the ridiculousness:

{Beef Shawarma leftovers!}

And as if we hadn’t eaten enough, we shared a Baklava for desert. For $5.50, I couldn’t resist a sweet treat to top off a great, wedding-free night.

{melt in your mouth Baklava}

Overall – dinner wasn’t completely cheap, but it was moderately priced considering the portions and quality of our meal. Sam’s already been buggin’ me to go back.

*Note: Although we actually visited TarBoush before becoming a gluten-free household, the menu is clearly marked with both vegan and gluten-free options. So, I’m sure we’ll be back soon.

10/22/10

Adventures of the Bourbon Virgin at The Pope House

This story starts with a man who lived in Bourbon, Kentucky in the 18th century. He loved whisky and began distilling his own version using the ingredients and tools he had to work with (Walmart hadn’t hit the South yet). Fast forward a few decades. The story ends with a new type of whisky that can only be called “Bourbon” if it is actually from Kentucky. Kind of like how you can only call sparkling wine “champagne” if it’s from the Champagne region in France.
 
The moral of this history lesson is that I’m a bad little American, because I had never tried bourbon – or whisky of any kind. Needless to say, I was excited when one of my neighbors organized drinks for some building mates at The Pope House Bourbon Lounge.

 

The Pope House sits in one of those amazing old Victorian houses in NW Portland. The spot was formerly the home of the Brazen Bean, which essentially shut down in 2009 once the Oregon smoking ban took effect. The Pope House – a smoke free but bourbon-filled abode – took it’s place.
 
The day we all met up was one of the last warm, sunny Fall evenings and we scored a table on the restaurant’s wraparound porch. In addition to porch seating, there were tables set up in front of the restaurant where the front yard would be. Although summer only lasts for two months in Oregon, I’m always taking inventory of places with outside seating… Pope House, check.
 
We arrived at 6:30 pm which is way past happy hour for most local restaurants. Imagine my surprise to learn that happy hour at The Pope House lasts until 7pm…. another mental note, check. And the happy hour menu is really fun to look through. Lots of great drink options from $3-$5 and some unusual food choices ranging from $3-$6 including Deviled Eggs, Tea Sandwiches, and Frito Pie. Our waitress’s recommendations were the Pulled Pork Quesadilla and the Country Fritters (both $5), but I had my eye on the Vegetable Panini ($5). Sam ordered the Hot Brown Panini ($6).
 
 
{Hot Brown Panini}
{Vegetable Panini}
To drink, I ordered the High Tea ($5) which is essentially spiked, sweetened ice tea. It was delicious. Oh, and SUPER STRONG. Sam ordered the Signature Sour ($5) which he swore was the best he’s tasted. The food wasn’t out-of-this-world but good enough, and definitely worth the price. Soaking up strong drinks so you don’t make a fool of yourself in front of your neighbors = always good…check.
 
{Signature Sour}
{High Tea}

After inspecting the bathroom (which I always do. Who wants to eat from a place where the bathroom is nasty? Eww.), I discovered that the inside seating area is great too. Tables are set alongside what once was the living room of the house, so there’s lots of window seating – which in Portland is great for light and people watching. There are also several large flat screens hanging for game days. And the bar, wow. Whisky for days.

 
{Wall O’ Whisky… ahem, I mean Bourbon}
In an area with tons of what Sam calls “hoity toity” restaurants, The Pope House was a really great discovery in NW Portland. All in all, it was a great evening: I had the perfect drink to sip while sitting on a sunny porch with good company. Plus, it was moderately priced, had friendly staff and a clean toilet. I’m definitely coming back.
 
{NOTE: I realized while drafting this post that the High Tea isn’t even made with bourbon; it’s made with vodka. So it looks like the adventures of the bourbon virgin are To Be Continued…}
9/9/10

Cha Taqueria & Bar

Last week I had margaritas in the rain. Literally.

Normally I’d get a kick out of saying this, but the situation felt ridiculous because it was still technically summer. Clearly Portland didn’t get the memo. But – I’ll admit that it was fun to officially record my first true margaritas in the rain experience. Up until this point, the blog has only documented margaritas in the sun. Which, let’s face it, isn’t an accurate account of my life in Portland.

After a pretty good soak walk, I joined up with two of my loveliest lady friends on a stormy summer afternoon to try Cha Taqueria & Bar. I had heard that this swanky-looking Mexican joint in NW Portland had a great Happy Hour, and I’d been dying to try it. If you were wondering, Cha is the upscale sister to Portland’s Cha! Cha! Cha! restaurants. Owner Javier Hurtado was born and raised in Mexico, and has been perfecting “Mexican food for busy Portlanders” for years through these casual restaurants, located throughout the city. Cha Taqueria, the slightly more formal and authentic eatery, places an emphasis on healthy, organic and sustainable ingredients in a more upscale environment.

A little mood lighting in Cha’s outside seating area
 

Cha is located on the corner of NW 21st and Hoyt and has a super cute outdoors dining area with plenty of seating for sunnier days. Given the unexpected weather conditions, we opted to sit inside.  The interior didn’t disappoint. Bold colors, couch-like seating with cushions and some very cool modern art pieces make for a grand entrance. But don’t let this fool you; the attitude at Cha is anything but swanky and frou frou. Instead, it’s inviting and comfortable.

 
 

We received a small plate of blue tortilla chips with green salsa and queso fresco to nibble on as we analyzed the Happy Hour menu and filled each other in on the latest and greatest. With 10 items for $5 each that all looked incredible, I ended up asking the waitress for suggestions. After she described her top picks – ceviche, empanadas and nachos – we ordered the Picaditas, the Santo Burrito and the Nachos for $5 each.

House appetizer: tortilla chips w/ salsa & queso fresco

Cha’s Happy Hour does feature several drink specials, including their Margarita del Dia (or Margarita of the Day for those of you like me, who embarrassingly asked what this meant) for $5.50. The special of this particular day was Prickly Pear. I decided to be adventurous and order one, knowing that when it comes to flavored margs, I’m normally a guava or mango kind of girl.

I was surprised to see that when the drinks were served, the Prickly Pair Margarita was bright, bright pink. I actually liked the flavor quite a bit, but I couldn’t get over the color.  I figured it had to be something artificial, and inquired about the ingredients from a nice man who made the rounds to check on us several times during our visit (who, I believe is the owner, although thanks to the margarita, I didn’t connect the dots until after I left). So the nice man brought me a carton of prickly pear puree that’s used in the homemade margaritas – proving that the actual purée is truly naturally hot pink!

Prickly Pear Margarita

He proceeded to tell me about Cha’s margarita selection, and I learned that they serve many flavors including coconut, passion fruit, guava, mango and others from the same all natural fruit puree. Happy Hour and house margaritas use Sauza Gold tequila. The owner’s favorite, which he recommends, is the jalapeño infused tequila guava margarita. I promised to try it, next time.

We were all impressed when the food came. Sometimes you just know something’s going to taste good based on its presentation. The Picaditas consisted of three corn masa cakes topped with beans, sautéed veggies, queso fresco and avocado. I loved how this dish was literally piled with grilled vegetables – zucchini, broccoli, carrots, peppers and more.

The nachos, a ginormous plate filled with super crunchy corn chips, guacamole, meat, pico de gallo and cheese, were by far the best nachos I’ve had in a while. Somewhere in the process of drinking, tasting, and drinking some more, we coined the nachos as “bomb diggity.” Enough said.

Nachos

And last but not least, the burrito was filled with black beans and rice, some grilled veggies, salsa , chipotle crème and queso fresco. The salsa and chipotle crème gave it a really nice kick – but perhaps what was the most surprising was that it looked like the size of a typical entrée. In fact, all three of the dishes were ordered were impressively sized for Happy Hour, and after sharing the three plates, we were all totally satisfied.

Santo Burrito

Sitting at Cha with my besties, listening to the rain pouring outside, I was reminded of why it’s important to drink margaritas in the rain: it automatically makes a gray day that much more colorful.

8/22/10

Blue Olive

I enjoy a good salad. But I typically don’t go out to Happy Hour to find one. Well friends, that all changed when I tried Blue Olive in NW Portland.

For the last five years, Blue Olive was located on NE Fremont – which I imagine is quite a change from their new spot on NW 21st and Glisan, where Virgo & Pisces sat for the last few years. If you ever visited Virgo & Pisces (or any of the restaurants that came before it), you know that the space itself is terrific. There’s plenty of square footage, a large bar, inside dining, and a strip of outdoor seating.

Now there is some method to the madness at Happy Hour here. The circular tables are for Happy Hour visitors, and the square tables are reserved for dinner guests only. Luckily there was one circular table open outside which my friends and I snagged. I absolutely cannot handle sitting inside on a sunny afternoon.

Blue Olive’s Happy Hour runs from 3-6 daily, and includes food and drink specials. Most plates are smaller (think Feta & Olives, Lentil Soup and Humus) and I’d definitely recommend ordering more than one dish. We shared the Dip Sampler Plate ($6), which included a bowl of Humus, Baba Ghanouj and Tzatziki and a basket of Pita Bread. Natalie (who was my freshman year roommate at college and has remained one of my best friends) ordered the Garlic Prawns ($5) and the Mediterranean Salad ($4). Her boyfriend KC ordered the Mediterranean Burger and fries ($5). I also ordered the Garlic Prawns thinking that would be enough. – and then ordered the salad after I tasted Natalie’s.

KC had a few pints of Ninkasi on Happy Hour for $3 each. Natalie and I both ordered a glass of wine ($4), which they pour for you at your table straight from the bottle. Unusual right? I’ve worked in restaurants, and normally a glass of wine is measured and poured in the kitchen. But not at Blue Olive evidently. Our waiter poured unmeasured glasses at our table. And he poured large glasses. He knew he was getting a good tip.

Dip Sampler Plate

Back to the food: The dips were good; but pretty standard. The pita wasn’t a standout – but when Sam showed up as we were wrapping up(the bridges were up and he had gotten stuck in SE), we ordered a second basket of pita so he could try the dips we hadn’t finished. We ended up having to order the pita off the dinner menu since Happy Hour was just barely over. The bread they brought out was totally and completely different than what they served at Happy Hour – and we all agreed, it was way better. So take note – always order the pita bread from the dinner menu if they’ll let you.

Garlic Shrimp

The Garlic Shrimp was slightly unimpressive. I mean, I ate all four pieces, don’t get me wrong. But it was nothing to call home about. KC reported that the burger was really good, especially for the price point. Both the meat and fries had clearly been handmade, seasoned uniquely – which I suppose is what you’d expect when you order a hamburger at a Mediterranean restaurant.

Mediterranean Burger and Fries  

I asked our waiter about the seasoning. He reported that there was turmeric, parsley and other “magic ingredients.” I liked the description so I didn’t inquire for more. The only disappointment from the burger: a clearly store-bought bun, which took away slightly from the uniqueness of the rest of the dish.

And finally, the salad: a must order. A decently-sized bowl filled with lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes, green peppers, onions, olives, feta cheese, roasted potatoes and a pomegranate vinaigrette dressing. Fresh, tasty and filling. Basically a perfect salad.

Mediterranean Salad

Aside from food, drinks and seeing friends, one of the things I love about going out to eat is checking out a restaurant or bar’s décor. Some are not so impressive, others are decked out in themed ambiance. The bar at Blue Olive was beautiful – and I had to include a photo here to share. Check out the empty picture frames hanging in front of the mirrored walls. Not sure if this is “Mediterranean themed” or not, but I was in love with the décor regardless, and totally inspired to do some mirrorless frame hanging of my own back in the condo.

By the time we had finished our food and second glasses of wine (poured again by our waiter in large portions), the square outside dinner tables had totally filled up, as had the inside dining room tables. In a neighborhood where restaurants often empty out once Happy Hour ends, clearly Blue Hour has put together a recipe of success for the dinner crowd too. But because I only ordered Happy Hour, I can only leave you with two words: Mediterranean Salad.

8/15/10

Seres Restaurant and Bar

Tofu Salad Rolls
I have a confession. I’m a big fan of supporting neighborhood joints, but I’ve lived six blocks west of Seres Restaurant and Bar in the Pearl District – formerly Sungari Pearl – for almost two years, and I never tried the place until last week. The only reason I ended up here was that I’d made plans to meet my friend, Kim, for happy hour. Seres was her suggestion.
 
Looking back, I think I assumed it was overpriced, unoriginal Chinese food catered toward the Pearl District crowd. Boy was I wrong…. at least about the first two…
 
Seres Restaurant and Bar describes itself as a “modern, sustainable interpretation of classic Szechuan and multi-regional Chinese cuisine. What this means is that everything from ingredients to materials and practices follows a commitment to the health of diners as well as the planet.” Like many restaurants in Portland, Seres uses primarily local and organic produce, and only the highest quality, no-hormones-added meat.
 
Vegetarian Moo Shu
Buddha’s Delight
Kim and I met just in time for happy hour which runs 3-7pm (except on Tuesdays when it runs until close). The restaurant was busy but filled with a mix of folks, including several families. Not your typical happy hour vibe – and not in a bad way. We chose to sit inside, but Seres does offer outdoor seating along the sidewalk which gives anyplace brownie points in my book. 
 
Like my last happy hour excursion at Trebol, Seres’ happy hour menu was impressive right from the start. There are 19 items (yes, I counted by hand), all ranging from $3 to $7 each,  not to mention beer, wine and cocktail specials. Kim and I shared the Tofu Salad Rolls with Peanut Sauce ($4.50), the Organic Buddha’s Delight ($6) and the Vegetarian Moo Shu Sampler ($6). And although Seres does make a house margarita, we settled on drinking a couple glasses of a local Oregon Pinot Gris.
 
Each plate was full of flavor, fresh and not greasy at all. I didn’t get the impression that the food was pre-maid or sitting in the back waiting to be ordered. And even more importantly – each dish was truly memorable. I’ve been craving the Salad Rolls ever since we left. Although most Chinese and even Thai restaurants in Portland serve salad rolls, there was something really unique-tasting about Seres’ version that I loved. The Buddha’s Delight was a plate of veggies in a white wine garlic sauce, and the most fun I’d had with vegetables in a while. Moo Shu has always been one of my favorite Chinese food dishes. And true to form, Seres nailed it.
 
Now, I realize I’m only three posts into this blog, but you’ve probably noticed a trend surrounding desert: I like to order it. At Seres, it was actually Kim’s suggestion to share the Ginger Ice Cream. You’d think I’d trust the poor girl by now since Seres had totally wooed me; but I was skeptical. I’m not a big ginger fan. But in the spirit of trying everything once, I gave it a taste. And after the taste, I wished I’d ordered one to myself. Imagine vanilla ice cream with teeny bits of crystallized ginger mixed in… totally creamy and flavorful but not spicy. I’d definitely recommend it!
 
Ginger Ice Cream
All in all, great food, peaceful environment and excellent company. Definitely worth $34. And I definitely intend to go back soon. For happy hour.
8/5/10

Trebol Restaurant and Tequila Bar

On Saturday, Sam worked from 1-9 pm and we met up when his shift was over for a late-night happy hour date. Before I reminisce about how incredible our meal was, I do want to mention that I hate that Sam has started working nights to supplement his Grad School income (or lack thereof).

I should also mention that Sam and I live together in a one-bedroom, 500 something square foot condo. On the rare occasion we dress up, there’s certainly no “ta da!” element to start the night off. I usually know what shirt he’ll wear because I’ve ironed it; and he knows what dress I’m wearing because he had to excavate it for me from the far top of the closet where I can’t reach. That said, I can’t remember the last time I got dolled up in the condo alone, outfit options thrown all over the bed, singing along to The Weepies playing on full volume. It felt like a real date.

We met at Trebol in NE Portland, which has been on our “must try” list since reading about it in Bon Appetit magazine (who named Trebol as one of the country’s most exciting Mexican restaurants).

Trebol’s late night happy hour runs from 9-close, and I was surprised to see that when I arrived at 9:30, the restaurant was fairly quiet for a Saturday night. I was seated right away, although I did have to wait for Sam  – who had trouble finding the place. You know what they say about men and directions.

I noticed right away the sophisticated, hip feel of the restaurant. Red and orange walls, funky lighting, lots of artwork, and many, many bottles of tequila filled Trebol’s interior. Chef Kenny Hill and his wife started Trebol in May, 2007. The restaurant is 100% seasonal and furthermore, incorporates as many organics as possible. Trebol also happens to be the largest tequila provider in town (HELLO!), with over 95 100% agave tequilas onsite. The dinner menu changes every few weeks, but there are several consistent entries including the tacos.

The Happy Hour menu at Trebol is not your typical burger, fries and nachos or humus spread. Think instead: enchiladas, quesadillas, tacos, soup and more. Impressed yet? And to top it all off, the happy hour menu included a variety of margaritas for $6 including Casa, Tamarindo, Prickly Pear, Mango, Blood Orange or Wild Berry. These margaritas are all made with Luna Azul tequila, which is 100% agave (read my words: no hangover!) and absolutely delicious.

After talking to the waitress  – who was totally kind and patient with us as we asked questions and shot photos – I ordered the Mango Margarita and Sam ordered the Lado Norte ($5), which was made with Gin, fresh lime, white peach and agave. Both drinks were delicious and fresh-tasting. No pre-maid mixers here.

Mango Margarita
Lado Norte
 

Although neither us of were too hungry, we couldn’t resist the Happy Hour dishes and ended up ordering the following items to share:
–    Masa Cakes Topped with Black Beans and Smoked Port ($5)
–    Chorizo & Bean Taco (2) ($5)
–    Fish Taco Filling (2) ($5)

I was surprised when our food items came out. They looked minuscule on the plates they were served on. But, man each item really packed a punch and made the items worth ordering. On this particular night, the Fish Tacos were made with halibut covered in crushed Mexican-seasoned pumpkin seeds. As if that wasn’t good enough, they covered the taco in Trebol’s famous guacamole. And it was taaaaasty!

The clincher came when Sam took a bite of the Chorizo and Beans Taco and declared, “this tastes like home!” [For reference, Sam is of Hispanic descent and his mom is an amazing cook. This is the ultimate compliment to any chef; and he’s certainly never said it to me!]

Masa Cakes w/ Beans & Smoked Pork
Tacos w/ Chorizo and Beans
Tacos w/ Halibut
 
 


Just when we thought life couldn’t get much better, our waitress came by with the dessert menu. I’m slightly frugal by nature and Sam doesn’t have a sweet tooth, so normally we decline ordering dessert. This time though, something caught both of our eyes: the Tequila and Caramel Flan. Flan is, perhaps, Sam’s only dessert downfall. We ordered one to share ($7). The flan was not your typical thick custard; it was light, refreshing, with a hint of citrus – and perhaps even our favorite dish yet.

In total, we spend $35 – well worth the money for a real date night, great food, dessert, and of course, a delicious margarita. And Sam and I are actually thinking about going back for our joint birthday party (we are both August babies) and ordering off of the real menu. We promise to keep you posted 🙂