Bunk Bar: Another Notch in the Belt for Habetz

There are tons of places to get a good sandwich in Portland, but one of the best is from the Bunk family of restaurants, run by Tommy Habetz. The original Bunk Sandwiches is on SE Morrison, but within the last three years a second outpost has opened downtown near Little Bird Bistro, a Bunk Truck is up and running all over the city, Trigger opened up near Toro Bravo in northeast, and Bunk Bar opened on SW Water Avenue

Bunk Bar not only serves food and drink, but also hosts shows almost every night of the week. As a bonus, Hair of the Dog Brewery is just down the street and Water Avenue Coffee right next door, so it's a happening place.

Bunk Bar is quite open and well-lit with plenty of color on the walls and a lot of seating, something that is at a premium at the other two Bunk locations. Wifey and I visited on the weekend around lunch time and there was a constant stream of people coming in and out, some with children.

Here you order at the bar. We only planned to order two things, since we knew the portions were going to be big. Oops.

First up was the mole tater tots with avocado, cilantro, queso fresco and crema. Why? One, because tater tots are awesome, and two because, well, just look at it!

This $5 "bar snack" (according to the menu) would have been plenty for both of us by itself. Super tasty.

This sandwich, a special of roasted pork with roasted brussels sprouts and Russian dressing on ciabatta, wasn't in the plan, but it sounded so good we couldn't say no. And we're glad we didn't, even thought sprouts on a sandwich was a new one for us.

That enough food porn for ya? Click again on that picture if you need more to make it bigger.

The last item we ordered was the egg and cheese on a roll, which we ordered with bacon. Honestly, we didn't even touch it for lunch; we had to wrap the whole thing and take it home to eat for breakfast the next day.

Every single one of these items was excellent. Bunk Bar, just like the original Bunk Sandwiches, produces items with tons of flavors that work very well together. We will definitely return.

Dog-friendly? There is no outdoor seating. But there should be.


Ox: Believe the Hype

Few restaurants have seen as much hype over the past year than Ox, an Argentine-inspired mecca of meat on Martin Luther King Boulevard in Northeast Portland. The kitchen - and the restaurant itself - are run by a husband and wife team, Greg Denton and Gabrielle Quinonez. Formerly in charge of the kitchen at Metrovino (where we had a nice brunch last summer), this is the restaurant they have dreamed of creating.

The space is about average size and fills up quickly. We arrived not long after they opened and were able to walk right in, but be prepared to wait if you arrive after 5:30pm. It's impossible to miss the focal point of the open, elevated kitchen: the wood fired grill/roaster/spit/meat cooking machine of awesomeness. The design of the space makes sure you don't miss it, but it also doesn't dominate.

Service starts with bread, butter and chimichurri. This was the first time I've ever had chimichurri and now I have no idea why. Delicious.

Next came a small taste of soup, with drops of olive oil. (I'd tell you what kind, but truthfully it's been six months and I'm just now catching up on the blog.)

Our first item was a small salad. Very crisp and clean, it was a nice balance to the rest of the dishes we ordered.

Fried potatoes, aioli and dill. Very much like potatoes bravas (if not the same, just with a different name), these were crispy on the outside and soft and smooth on the inside.

The star of the meal was the Asado Argentino. On the menu this meat plate - consisting of grilled short rib, housemade chorizo, morcilla (blood) sausage, grilled skirt steak and sweetbreads - says it is for two, but there were three of us and we took half of it home for later. The salad and potatoes come with it and the bread and soup were complementary, so while $60 seems like a lot for one dish, it was a pretty good deal.

I grew up in a typical American household where we didn't eat more than your typical beef cuts. I've learned along the way on this food journey Wifey and I have undertaken that I've missed out on a lot. I was a bit wary of the morcilla and sweetbreads, but while everything on that plate was excellent those ended up being my two favorites. 

So many other dishes on the menu looked good and maybe on another visit we'll try them out, but this was well worth the visit.

For dessert - we were stuffed beyond belief but had to try this out - we ordered a blueberry buckle with ice cream. Again, very, very good.

Verdict? Go. Enjoy. Ox gets a lot of hype and it's all deserved. Service was excellent, food was magnificent - what more can you ask for?

Dog-friendly? There are a couple outdoor tables, but not sure if dogs would be allowed. The only access point may have been through the dining room.


Hiking Ramona Falls

If there is one thing our little Shiba loves it's a good hike. Last summer we took her up to the slopes of Mt. Hood to a place called Ramona Falls for a hike that was not only exhausting but beautiful.

Misaki always gets a little excited when we put her chestplate harness on her - and it's not because of the harness. She actually hates the harness, but she knows it means we are heading out to a real hike and not just a quick jaunt around the neighborhood.

This jaunt started early on a Saturday and it turned out to be not that great of a day. The clouds were low and it was a bit chilly, but we figured a 7-mile hike with a 1,000-foot elevation change would take care of a little chill.

Parking at the trailhead is a long ways off the beaten path. The exact route is detailed here, but basically you take Highway 26 to Zigzag, take a few turns, drive down some worn and poorly maintained roads, and you end up here:

We got there pretty early (which means by 10am or so, since it's quite a drive from west Portland) and weren't sure we were in the right place. All of the references we looked at talked about how popular the spot was and how to find extra parking spots if the area was full. As you can see, we didn't have any problems. Maybe it was the weather, but honestly this doesn't seem like a place to decide to go on a whim. You have to plan for this hike to a certain extent, so while weather could be a factor I find it hard to believe people wake up on a nice day and just decide to head out here on a whim. This meant the trail wouldn't be busy though, so we liked that.

The trail follows the Sandy River for a while on a moderate slope. The landscape is pretty in the way nature's power can be pretty; this entire area was overrun with flooding just a couple years ago, washing out homes and roads, and the evidence of that destruction is everywhere.

After while you get to a bridge across the small but powerful river. There is no handrail and the "bridge" is narrow, only a few feet over the rushing water. Misaki surprised us both by jumping right up and walking across like it was no big deal. Honestly, I thought I might have to carry her. That's our pup - always keeping us on our toes.

The trail twists and turns through the forest and moss-covered rocks and dead trees cover the landscape. It's pretty, with every shade of green you can possibly imagine.

Then the uphill rise begins and it seems like it's never going to end. The rise isn't at any time too steep, it's just  constant. At times the river side of the narrow trail is basically far drop to the water and I was keeping a close watch on Misaki, although if anyone was going to slip it was probably me and not the dog.

She likes to freak us out, too. After Wifey and I spent some time talking about how easily you could just disappear out here - and my writer mind started down the path of a horror story - Misaki stopped at one point, staring into the woods. She even barked once, like there was something out there. Wifey and I looked as best as our weak human eyes could manage, but we have no idea what she saw. Bear? Cougar? No idea.

After the major climbs in the trail it switches back a few times through the woods, away from the river. The sound of rushing water teases you, getting louder and louder as you continue. Then, seemingly without warning, you step around a corner and you see this. (Please, click again on the picture. It's impossible to do this justice, but make it as big as you can.)

There she is, Ramona Falls in all her glory. You really have to spend some time here in order to get a true feeling for how magnificent this waterfall is, to see it from all the angles. And check out this bridge crossing the creek flowing from the waterfall.

Given how far from car access you are it's obvious it's built from the area's trees by necessity. It's very, very sturdy. I'd hate to have had to carry the chainsaw all the way in to build this with.

We had our lunch here, which consists of standing around and holding your food because, well, you are in the middle of the forest and there is no seating. It's also really loud, so it's not really the place to linger for a conversation or hang out with a book, so it's time to get back on the trail. You have two choices. You can either turn around and go back the way you came, or continue on down the path, which will eventually go far, far away or loop back to the trail you came in on near where you crossed the river (your choice).

We elected to try out the loop. This follows Ramona Creek all the way to the Sandy River. At points it runs along a gigantic rock wall that seems to just appear out of nowhere and is riddled with thin waterfalls. We crossed back and forth across the creek a few times, once on this magnificent bridge. This one seemed to be brand new.

To the right of it was an old one, battered and broken from many winters and floods.

We followed this trail for awhile and eventually reached the Sandy River, but not where we could actually cross it. Apparently we missed a turn. However, at this exact point were a few people crossing the river on a fallen tree. That didn't look safe at all but they didn't seem to be in any trouble. We turned back and apparently those people made it just fine, because we never saw anything on the news about missing hikers on Mt. Hood. At least not that week.

After we turned around we walked a short distance and ran into this written in the dirt and pine needles on the ground.

How handy! Apparently we weren't the only ones who missed a turn.

On the way back, after we crossed the same bridge over the Sandy River, we came upon some moss-covered boulders the size of a car. I picked up our cute little pup and put her up on top of the boulder, about six feet off the ground. I wasn't sure what she would do, but she seemed pretty pleased with her perch above her human servants. She calmly sat down on the rock, looking down at us as it to say, "Finally you know your place." We had to take some pictures and this one might be my favorite of her ever.

Misaki continues to amaze me. By the time we got back to the parking lot Wifey and I were dragging. That hike was exhausting, testing not only muscles but stamina. Despite packing plenty of food and water we just wanted to collapse on a couch. But Misaki? Not her. I swear she got stronger and stronger, picking up the pace the more miles we put behind us. We usually let her set the pace anyway, since it's faster than what we might set on our own (we joke that she's our trainer, pushing us more than we would push ourselves, and give her credit for keeping us in line), but we almost never see her out of breath.

After over seven miles of hiking, 1,000 feet up and down, she was in the parking lot with a great big grin on her face, wondering where we were going next. I should also point out that she's nine years old, which is something around 60 in dog years. I hope like hell when I'm 60 I'm in at least half as good of shape as Misaki is now.

Portlanders, get out of the city and check out this waterfall because it's not to be missed. Bring your dog, too, but as always, Misaki prefers it if your dog is on leash as she always is.


Blueplate Diner: Comfort Lunch

Blueplate Diner, in downtown Portland at SW 3rd and Washington, is novelty in this city. They don't do breakfast. They don't do dinner. They don't do brunch and, in fact, aren't open on the weekend at all. Because of the limited parking and the fact they are only open from 11am-4pm on weekdays they have decided to cater specifically to those working downtown who want a comforting lunch. And it works. Oh, does it work.

Peruse the menu and you'll see what I mean. This is not health food, but it's food made from excellent ingredients that will stick to your ribs - in a good way. In addition to the food Blueplate is an old school soda fountain with all sorts of flavored milkshakes, sodas and some throwback combinations. Just check out these menus:

The diner itself is small, seating around 25 people at a fountain bar and a few small tables. Check out the fountain.

And this where the cooking happens. Everything is cooked to order at a couple small stations.

Normally this isn't a place I'd ever be able to get to for lunch since it's a long, long walk from my work and only open during the week, but a coworker and I went while attending a conference nearby. I ordered the Northwest Sliders with Tillamook cheddar and basil spread. Tomato and bacon are complimentary additions, so yes, absolutely I ordered those as well. As if that wasn't enough it comes with a side Yukon Gold mashed potatoes. All that for $10.

Everything was perfect. The potatoes were moist and buttery, like they should be. The burgers meaty and cooked well, dripping with cheese, and the tomatoes crisp. The buns were soft and held together well.

Besides, look at that thing!

Wifey and I will have to return on a vacation day because so many items on the menu sound good. Stroganoff? Meatloaf? Sloppy Joes? Pot roast? Yes, please. And we definitely need to try a housemade soda. Or shake. Or both.

Dog-friendly? No outdoor seating.


Besaw's: More Hype Than Substance

There are some places in this fair city of ours we have never been, places that when people talk about them and we say we haven't been there our statements are met with shock, as if we have somehow upset the speaker's delicate balance in their understanding of us as people.

"But you love food!" they say. "How could you have not been there yet?!"

Um, I don't know. Because there are tons of yummy places to go, with more popping up all the time, that it's almost impossible to keep track? And that it's hard enough for us to make it back to the places we know we like, let alone to try new ones on a consistent basis (and keep our foodie cred)?

Besaw's, located in northwest Portland at 23rd and Savier, is one of those restaurants. Open since 1903 (as they proudly note on the sandwichboard below and on their website), Besaw's is somewhat of a Portland institution, something along the lines of the Portland City Grill or Jake's Famous Crawfish. 

It's busy pretty much all the time and on weekend mornings the lines can stretch alongside the length of the restaurant and take hours to get a seat. We hadn't been there before mostly because of the line; this is a place you have to really plan to visit if, like us, you hate waiting for something you don't know will be worth the time. In fact, we tried to eat here once before but the line was already too long, so we went somewhere else.

A few weeks back we made a point of getting here early on a Saturday morning and were seated right away. Besaw's began as a bar and the bar is still a very prominent feature, though the atmosphere is assuredly family friendly. Families, couples and friends form small groups of varying sizes, with tables stuffed into whatever alcove the restaurant can manages.

Because of a craving we started off with a cinnamon roll, a 'how-convenient' special of the day. As you can see in the picture, it was pretty good sized.

However, it really wasn't very good. The dough was nicely baked, but the layers of the roll were too thick and didn't have enough cinnamon filling. It was as if the dough needed to be rolled flatter and layered with more cinnamon/sugar mixture. As a result the cinnamon flavor was almost nonexistent. The frosting had very little flavor. We ended up getting one at Fleur de Lis later in the day because this just didn't cut it and the craving still lingered.

Now the main dishes. Wifey ordered the breakfast burger - here is the description from the menu:

THE. BREAKFAST. BURGER. - sunny-side up egg, 100% grass-fed local ground beef patty, white cheddar, bacon, arugula, oven-roasted tomato, sausage gravy, on texas toast; rosemary-garlic potatoes
Which translates into this on the plate:

Now when someone says "rosemary-garlic potatoes" to me, French fries with whole cloves of garlic is not what comes to mind. Check out these monsters:

And there was a ton! I love garlic, but damn, that was  A LOT of garlic. And maybe it's just us, but we thought they were a tad underroasted. The burger was served on one piece of toast - it had no top. Maybe this is just our assumption, but unless otherwise stated we expected a top. The gravy was severely lacking in flavor on its own, but altogether this wasn't a bad dish. Nor was it special.

I ordered the farmer's hash:
FARMER’S HASH - three eggs scrambled with rosemary potatoes, bacon, roasted garlic cloves, cheddar cheese, caramelized onions, arugula, cheddar cheese
It was...fine. Nothing special. This also had a ton of garlic and lots of cheese (so much the menu lists it twice!).

Nothing in this meal stood out; in fact, some of it was borderline no good. Many, many people seem to have a special place in their heart for Besaw's and I think that's because it has been around for so long. Quite a few Portlanders grew up with this place and made special memories there long before the city's food revolution, so it's placed in a higher echelon of restaurant than the food it produces. We won't be back.

Dog-friendly? There are a few outdoor tables along 23rd Avenue and I believe we have seen dogs there with their owners during the summer. We didn't ask specifically.