Really, We Went Out For Pie and a Sandwich

A little bit ago Wifey and I decided it probably wasn't the best thing in the world for us to hit about 17 different food places every time we went out, so last Saturday we made a plan. We decided we wanted to go to Bunk Sandwiches for a, well, sandwich, then we'd hit the Bipartisan Cafe for some pie and coffee.

That was going to be it. Really. Needless to say, that's not what happened. Not even remotely.

We ended up making Bob's Red Mill our first stop, hoping to find baking powder in something less than 16 ounces. Neither of us had been there before but we buy their stuff all the times at New Seasons or Whole Foods, so we figured we'd check it out, see what else they had.

Well, they had a ton of stuff, but not what we were looking for. And the place was crazy busy! Apparently they serve food, which didn't look that great but was enough to practically fill up the parking lot. The only thing we bought was some hazelnut meal - for a recipe - and I decided to try a loaf of their cinnamon raisin oat bread made with all their special flours and the like. The bread was okay - not great, but not bad. A decent loaf at $1.99, but nothing I'm going to go out of my way for.

By this time it was after noon, we were hungry, and we were a long ways from Bunk, so we decided to hit up the Garden State food cart in Sellwood, which was on the way. We decided we would split a meatball sub at Garden State - which specializes in Sicilian food - and then split another sandwich at Bunk. We ordered the meatball hero - their signature item - and two round balls called arancine. The arancine are fried balls of saffron risotto, filled with some seasonal vegetables and mozzarella.

Both items were very good. The sauce on the sub didn't overpower the meatballs, and the arancine were fairly light and fluffy. At $1 each for those, three of them are a nice snack. Or one and a sub for a nice meal. Either way, good stuff - we'll be going back here.

The area where Garden State sits shares some tables with a couple other carts, so we sat and ate there. As we were looking around the area Wifey noticed a place called Jade Teahouse and Patisserie across the street. This is a Vietnamese place and she wanted to try Vietnamese coffee, so that was our next stop.

We ended up ordering the coffee and a slice of something called Vietnamese Wedding Cake. The coffee was okay - what makes it Vietnamese is mixing the coffee with sweetened condensed milk. It's sweet, but at the same time bitter. We drank it, but neither one of us were all that thrilled. Wifey said she'd be willing to try it again someplace else - mark that down.

The wedding cake we took home and ate later, but it was excellent. The cake itself has a green color, from a pandan plant (not real sure how it's used), but it was very moist. The frosting was nice, but what really made the cake was a layer of puff pastry in the middle of the two layers of cake, with a type of pudding. Honestly, this was one of the best cakes I've ever had, and I love me some cake.

The rest of the menu looked good, but we had just eaten. We'll be going back at some point to try other foods, some more cake, and probably not the coffee.

At this point we weren't exactly hungry but we were still planning on going to Bunk, so we headed into the core of the city to Bunk Sandwiches. This place has a rep and is always, always, always busy, but it was after lunch time by now so we thought we'd give it a try. We parked around the block and walked up to it - the line was about 20 people out the door. We looked at each other, agreed that another time would be best, and walked back to the car.

Note to self: Get there right at 11 when they open, no matter the day of the week.

So what next? Some driving, apparently. We drove out to North Mississippi again to check out where a new pod of 10 foodcarts are going to be near Mississippi and Skidmore. Supposedly it's going to be open in September, so we wanted to just get an idea of where it was. After that, we drove around a bit aimlessly, just to see what was around in Northeast, see if anything caught our eye.

We found ourselves driving up Fremont Street and past a coffee place called Jim and Patty's. You may or may not have heard of them, but if you lived in Portland in the past 10 years and liked coffee you will remember their old company - Coffee People. Unfortunately Starbucks bought them out, but Jim and Patty started a new company. Considering I consider the Black Tiger blend milkshake a legitimate contender to crack cocaine (in a good way), we had to stop.

It's a nice looking place - spacious, bright, and a goodie counter filled with all sorts of scrumptious looking coffee accompaniments. No shake today though, and no goodies - I don't need to gain weight every Saturday. We did get a mocha and from the bevy of flavors chose the peanut butter and fudge. Shrug...

It was okay - but the peanut butter flavor came out of a bottle and it was very, very sweet. I would go back, but I'd try something else - perhaps something where the flavor is true. Or just get a Black Tiger shake and not sleep for a week. Definitely a thumbs down on the peanut butter and fudge mocha though, which was disappointing.

We were still planning on getting to the Bipartisan Cafe at this point, so we headed south towards Stark. After a detour to Mt. Tabor park (which looked like an interesting place to come back to and hike around), we were almost to Division and Wifey decided we MUST go to this new Italian place called Taste Unique, which happened to be next door to Tart. She found this place when looking up the area around Tart after our experience there two weeks ago.

Taste Unique is run by a couple by the names of Stefania and Lawrence who came to Portland from the fair Italian city of Perugia via Rome - about an hour or so north of Rome in the Umbria region. Those of you who know me know I love Perugia - I spent a summer there in college learning Italian. It's a very, very old city with a very, very violent past, but it's full of great people and pretty good food - though food wasn't super interesting to me at the time.

Taste Unique isn't really a restaurant, though they have a couple tables, but more of a take-out place. You can get various frozen Italian meals, sauces, fresh pastas, focaccia...just about everything yummy. Stefania makes everything herself, including the pasta, the tiramisu, and the sausage, with local ingredients.

Oh, and did I mention both of them are the nicest people we've run into in awhile?

We went in planning to get a little something for dinner, perhaps a lasagna. Local messageboards had been awash in praise for Stefania's cooking and as someone with some Italian experience, we had to see for ourselves. We settled on a freshly cooked eggplant parmegian and, of course, a serving of tiramisu (and by serving, I mean a huge amount that supposedly serves three but is more than enough for 6-8).

Why eggplant? Not sure really, since we haven't really had much eggplant, but it looked really good. Later when we ate it, it tasted good - but it was still eggplant. We have to go back and try something with meat...

We talked with Lawrence a bit because he wanted to know how we heard about them, especially when we told him we live on the other side of the city. Wifey mentioned I had lived for a short time in Perugia, so Stefania came over and talked with us too, ecstatic to find someone who had been to her town. Unfortunately, that was ten years ago and I confess to not knowing half the places she talked about (or more), plus I apparently missed out by not visiting the Perugina chocolate factory - all that means I have to go back.

After we paid for the food Lawrence asked us if we had a couple minutes to try something. Um, yes, actually. Yes we do. We aboslutely have time to try something. And if we didn't, we would have made time.

He asked us if we liked sweet things, we said sure. So a couple minutes later he came out with slices of focaccia with Nutella spread in the middle. In Rome they call it pizza bianca and the bread was just about perfect with a nice salting on the outside. Getting a bit of that with the creamy, chocolatey Nutella in the middle was fantastic, just a perfect combination of sweet and salty.

Oh yeah, we'll be going back.

After that wonderful stop - and now having tiramisu (which was creamy, espresso-y goodness!) and Vietnamese wedding cake in the cooler (yes, we drive around town with a cooler - and?) - we decided we probably didn't need pie from Bipartisan as well...so maybe another time. But, we weren't too far from a Vietnamese bakery called An Xuyen. They make a variety of Asian baked goods and sell at Uwajimaya (not too far from home), but I was looking specifically for Japanese shoku pan with raisins. It's basically just bread, but thick-cut square pieces, almost an inch thick. Uwajimaya used to carry it but then it disappeared, so I wanted to see if maybe An Xuyen still had it.

So we headed that way, but drove past this Asian mall called Fubonn. Given that out schedule was pretty open, we decided to check it out - and really, the place is amazing. They had various restaurants, a bakery, a candy store, an immigration office, an investment company, and a decent sized grocery store - all of it English optional. For us both it was interesting to just walk the aisles and see all there was to see. We didn't buy anything, but might go back at some point.

Then we made our way to the An Xuyen Bakery. Unfortunately for me no raisin shoku pan, but they do make Vietnamese banh mi sandwiches and they did have Vietnamese coffee. And they had a special - the pair for something like $3.50. Considering the coffee was $2.50 on its own, that's a solid deal. We ordered a BBQ pork banh mi, Vietnamese coffee, a BBQ pork steamed bun, and an apple pastry - I think I spent less than $6 total or something like that.

Remember Wifey saying she would try Vietnamese coffee again? She didn't think it would be so soon! This one was, well, sweet. Sickeningly sweet. Unless you love, love, love sweet stuff, I wouldn't recommend it. The steamed bun was okay - nothing to write home about and there are better ones all over. The apply pastry was fine (had some kind of coconut taste to it), but the apple part of it was definitely not special.

The sandwich, though, was excellent. Their fresh french bread was very good, the filling was yummy, and at an average price of $2.50 you can't really go wrong. I'll probably be back to the bakery, but it will only be for a sandwich (well, unless they have my raisin shoku pan). This place actually isn't too far from work, so perhaps I can talk a co-worker into a banh mi lunch.

After that it was home - long day of exploring. Here's the summary:

Bob's Red Mill - shrug
Garden State - Thumbs up, will return
Jade Tea House - Thumbs up, will return
Jim and Patty's - Will return, but will order something different
Taste Unique - Thumbs up, will return (very soon)
An Xuyen - Partial thumbs up, will return

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