Nibbling Notes

Over the past few weeks Wifey and I have been to a few places for little tastes and while most of them have been good stuff, they haven't all been spectacular. Most of these places I just don't feel I've had enough to justify a complete review (though yes, that hasn't stopped me before), or they only do a couple things. Of course I pledged at some point to do more, shorter posts, so perhaps this should actually be 20 separate posts. Hmmm. Oh well. Here's the quick roundup.

Fats - This place on N. Killingsworth has the feel of an English pub (at least, what I imgaine an English pub is like, having never been to England) and specializes in that kind of fare. We hit up Fats for a weekend brunch, getting there around 11. There was only one other couple there when we arrived and only a couple other diners came in, so needless to say there was no trouble getting a table.Given the English menu, we ordered English food we had never tasted, just seen on T.V. We started off with a Scotch egg, which is a boiled egg wrapped in ground sausage and fried. Awesome. The egg was cooked just right and it had great flavor. I'd been wanting to try one of these for awhile and was not disappointed. For the main course I ordered bangers and mash (apparently on the dinner menu), which is really crushed potatoes (mash) to go with a few decent size sausages (apparently, bangers) and carmelized onions. Everything was yummy - the Guinness sauce poured over it all was very good. Wifey ordered the poutine. It was pretty good, but the cheese was chevre and really couldn't stand on it's own amongst the flavors of the potatoes, bacon, egg, and the thin gravy. A good cheddar probably would have been better. Service was solid. All in all we had a very good brunch, and we would absolutely go back.

Dove Vivi - This pizza place had been on the list for awhile and we almost went here a few weeks ago, but chose Lovely Fifty-Fifty instead. You can order whole pizzas here, but they have plenty of offerings of single slices to choose from. This is a deep dish, cornmeal crust pizza, so definitely not the Neopolitan style I typically prefer. The crust was good, crunchy, and not overly greasy like some deep dish pies. We ordered three slices to go. The first was the Corn, which I would never have ordered on my own but online reviews raved about. Guess what? It was very, very good. The flavors worked nicely. We also ordered a sausage (fennel sausage, carmelized onions, marinated green peppers) - this was probably my favorite. Everything complemented everything else. Our last slice was a special of the day, a ham, mozzarella, ricotta, sun-dried tomatoes, and fresh tomatoes - again, excellent flavor complementing going on here. The food was good and it only cost us about $11 for a full meal for two. I still don't think I like it as much as someplace like Nostrana, Ken's Artisan, or Apizza Scholls, but I'd go back.

PBJ's Grilled - I first heard about this place on Eater PDX  (great site, by the way) and being someone who grew up eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches every day, I had to check this new cart out. The owners, a married couple whose names escape me because I am horrible with names (sorry!), are both very friendly, plus they have a beautiful husky who hangs out at the cart with them. The day I went the entire area was completely dead because of the construction on 23rd Ave, but they are optimistic traffic will step up when the cars come back (actually, all of 23rd was a ghost town, which I had never seen before). I chose the Good Morning and the Cynthia to try out their flavors (and the grilling, which was a new concept to me for PBJ). The Good Morning had excellent flavors with bacon, maple syrup, their homemade peanut butter, and blueberry jam on French toast, but the bacon may have gotten a little lost in there, if it's possible for bacon to get lost. The Cynthia, with peanut butter, Nutella, and raspberry jam on challah bread, was simply heavenly. I love all of those flavors anyway, but put them all together on a hot sandwich and that's pure goodness. Absolutely will go back to try some of the other combos (if I can resist simply ordering Cynthia again, which, for some reason, sounds a little dirty). They sit on the sidwalk just outside of the Two Tarts Bakery, so if you hit up one I recommend going to the other as well.

Sterling Coffee - This is a second venture from the people behind Coffeehouse Northwest, one of our favorite places in Portland, so we had to check it out. It's hard to find - if you know where Trader Joe's is on NW Glisan, just west of 23rd, it's to the east side of the grocery story in a tiny little cubbyhole. It's just as good as Coffeehouse, which shouldn't be a surprise, but they put more emphasis on tiny batches of bean roasting, and have two different sources of beans they use each day, one for their milk-based drinks and one for the straight espresso drinks. Their caramel comes from Two Tarts and the dark chocolate is from Michel Cluizel. Highly recommended.

Barista II - Wifey and I were in the neighborhood, on NE Alberta, checking out some pet stores and I had to see the new digs for the second Barista. The Pearl location is small, but this one is cavernous. Tons of windows for natural light, plenty of seating, a large work area for the baristas, and a lot of empty space (actually, a surprising amount). I think that was by design. Like with the Pearl location the drinks are excellent, but this time owner (and champion barista) Billy Wilson himself was in there making drinks, so I got a mocha made by a Portland coffee legend. Honestly? It may have been the best mocha I've ever had in the city, but that may be all in my head. I don't know what all is involved in being a champion barista, but even if Billy doesn't always do the daily work anymore he still has it. And he seems like a nice guy; another customer dropped a glass sugar container on the concrete floor, shattering it, and he just laughed about it, making jokes about seeing some guy who ran out the door do it. As an owner I'd find it a little hard myself to do that, but he took it in stride. Experience, I suppose. Oh, and they serve Nuvrei baked goods, so you know they are awesome. Wilson is in the process of getting a liquor license here, the idea being beer will be served in the evenings on tap.

Half and Half - This little shop in downtown was a place that had been on the list for awhile for coffee and pie, but we just hadn't made it there. Well, we found out it was closing a couple weeks back, so we decided to go. People raved about their deviled eggs, so we got one of those, a slice of buttermilk pie, a mocha, an Oreo-like cookie, and a William Tell sandwich (sliced apples, turkey, onions). The eggs were fine, nothing special. The pie was interesting, something I had never had before. I was intrigued enough to find a recipe to save for someday, but it wasn't the best thing I have ever eaten or anything like that. Mocha was solid, but not spectacular, and the sandwich was just pretty good. The cookie was okay, but the one at Heart (see lower) is better. Overall I'd give the place a decent 3.5 stars out of five, but it's not a place I'm going to lose any sleep over not going to sooner or miss because it's gone.

Wong's King - There are a ton of Chinese food places in Portland, but most of them simply pander to the American styled Chinese foods people think of as real Chinese food. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that, it's just not real Chinese. Wong's had one Portland location (plus restaurants in Estacada and Sandy) up until a month ago, out on 82nd, and while we had heard very good things online, it's quite the trek for those of us on the west side (yeah, I know, not like we don't go everywhere anyway...). But, they opened up a new location in Beaverton, on Beaverton-Hillsdale where the China Moon buffet had been. Thankfully they totally remodeled the interior, making it much more upscale looking. The menu is quite long and you can find dishes with American styled flavors a well as a whole bunch of things people who are connoisseurs of Chinese food should be overjoyed to find. Us, we aren't Chinese food adventurous yet, though a few more visits to Wong's may change that. We've gone twice now. The first just the two of use, and we ordered orange chicken, Chinese onion pancakes, crab and cream cheese wontons, and steamed pork and shrimp dumplings (shumai) topped with fish eggs (I should bring a notepad to keep track of this stuff). The second time was with a family group of 10 (which they first misplaced our reservation and then sat us all at a table better designed for eight, but we managed) and we ordered the family style meal for 10 A (there were three different ones I think - I really wish the menu was online). That included all sorts of things, including an appetizer plate that included duck, chicken, a vegetarian mushroom wrap, and jellyfish (!), crab maw and fish soup, an entire crispy chicken, a fantastic spicy garlicky prawn dish, clams in the shell, honey and walnut shrimp (my favorite, even though I don't typically like walnuts), pork and shrimp fried rice, a bamboo, mushroom and vegetable dish, and an entire dover sole (very pretty presentation), and some other goodness. Both times the meals were very good, and I'm excited to go back and do a little more exploring on the menu. It's not that cheap of a place, but the food is excellent and the service is great, if a little overbearing during non-busy times. Oh, and yes, I did eat jellyfish - my way of getting back at all those ones who stung us while we were in Mexico a couple years ago. It tastes the way you would expect jellyfish to taste - a little gummy like with little natural flavor. Probably won't be high on my list again, but I'll eat it.

Kenny & Zuke's - This place isn't new to the blog, we go here a lot to the deli part of it. The only reason I'm calling it out special now is the other day I had lunch there with a co-worker and ordered the turkey, pastrami, and...tongue!...sandwich. I have never before eaten tongue. Flavor-wise it tasted like beef. It was very tender (the pieces were chopped in similar size to the pastrami), very meaty. However, it was also difficult to take a bite out of the sandwich and tear the tongue chunks, so I ended up getting a big piece of tongue when I took a bite. Not a good or a bad thing, just a different thing. It was pretty good and I'd eat it again if the mood struck me. Oh, and get the cheesecake from the deli - it's the greatest thing ever. On second though, don't - more for Wifey and I!

Heart - I actually found this place on Twitter. They did a good job of raising awareness of their opening and what they were going to do, and built up a buzz around other coffee-ophiles in Portland. (Is that a word? It is now.) The space on East Burnside (right next to a great pet store called Meat and a block away from the awesome Screen Door), is clean and open, with the entire sitting area situated around Heart's roaster. The drinks are good and while I'd like the mocha to have a little more chocolate the subtlety is growing on me. However, their Guatemala Finca Villaure beans they roast (the light blue sticker - if you go you will see what I mean) are fantastic. Wifey and I go in there just about every week for a new bag of beans for making daily at home. I think we've tried at least three others of their regular stock, but this is our favorite. I ordered a siphon coffee once, which comes from this crazy machine and has almost no bitterness, with the Ethiopian beans and it was pretty amazing how clearly all the tasting notes showed through. If siphon is new, try it out - it's something fun to try at least once. Heart also has plenty of yummy treats at the counter - Wifey and I recommend the large Oreo-looking cookies, which are excellent. They also have a similar styled one that is peanut butter we need to try.

A Slice of New York - This place is dangerous. We had been to the location on Barbur a couple times and enjoyed it (called New York New York), but not in a couple years. Then a few weeks back they opened up a location inside the Lamb's Thriftway in Garden Home, where I stop for milk every so often on the way home from work. The first time I was in I think a new employee had just burned something, because that burnt crust smell was all over and the owner didn't seem very happy. The next time Wifey and I were there and hungry. No burnt smell. So we ordered a sausage, pepperoni, and onion (I think it was called Rye Beach), and it was a very good New York styled pizza, just like we remembered. Surprisingly there wasn't too much grease. The crust had a good crunch and it ended up being a solid five servings. The pizzas are a tad spendy - it was $24 for a 18-inch, which is a small for them - but it's good stuff. Again, it's not Neapolitan, but good in it's own way and a style we like very so often.

Sheridan's Frozen Custard - Sheridan's is a frozen custard chain based in the Midwest, and their location in Eastern Vancouver, WA is the closest to us by far (next closest is Henderson, NV). Frozen custard, if you haven't tasted it, is amazing. It's creamier than ice cream, smoother, and absolutely better than frozen yogurt (and yes, probably a little more fat and calories, but whatever). Old School on Seattle's Capitol Hill is very good, and Tart on SE Division in Portland (two doors down from Taste Unique) is okay. This place, though, even though it's a chain, is pretty damn good. We drove out here on a whim one Saturday and it took much longer than we thought it would, but it turned out to be well worth it. Despite the fact we were just going to get a little in a dish, the specials with the pretty pictures caught our eye and we ended up each getting a concrete (kind of like a Dairy Queen Blizzard) in the regular size, which is actually a medium and, as it turns out, more than enough. Wifey ordered the Lemon Bar while I ordered a Espresso Toffee one - and both were really, really good. So good, in fact, that it's good this place is 30+ miles away from home. Awesome. Definitely recommend.

Hunh...apparently we eat out a lot. You would think we didn't cook....but we do. Fresh asparagus last weekend at the Beaverton Farmer's Market! And strawberries! Both were good...should have bought more.

In Sisters, OR

We drove through Sisters, Oregon a couple times in the past month, so here are a couple tips. Why were driving through will be made clear in the next blog posting... (Ooh, foreshadowing!)

Sno Cap Ice Cream - I'm not sure I've had milkshakes this good before. The first time through I ordered an orange creme shake and Wifey ordered vanilla and chocolate swirl soft serve. They make all the ice cream themselves, and this was spectactular. The second time through I ordered a peanut butter shake and Wifey went with pineapple; again, excellent. Like with Sheridan's it's a good thing this isn't in the neighborhood, but three hours away isn't overly bad. Right? I mean, driving there for a shake isn't weird, is it? They also do burgers and other basic diner foods, which I hear are decent, but the ice cream is the star.

Sisters Coffee Company - Just a couple blocks away is a very good coffee place. They roast their own beans and boast quite a good sized menu of drinks as well as a vast array of beans from various places around the world to go with their own blends named for parts of the high desert. The first day we drove through it was a Thursday, so mid-day the place was pretty dead. I ordered a large mocha, which comes with three shots of espresso, but was offered a free fourth shot because they make them two at a time and they had no other customers to use the extra one with. Why yes, yes I will, thank you. The second time it was a Saturday and it was pretty busy, so no extra shot. Interestingly enough, I thought the fourth shot made it smoother, so maybe next time I go in I just pay for a fourth shot.

In Seattle

A few weeks ago Wifey and I went to Seattle for the day. We had bought tickets to a food tour via Groupon, which is a cool site where users can buy what amounts to gift certificates at reduced prices. Very cool - we've used it a few times already and been pleased. We also had a few other places we wanted to check out in West Seattle, so we left home early and spent the entire day.

Seattle Food Tours, Belltown - Our tour was in Belltown and started at Lola, a Tom Douglas restaurant. There we had fresh pitas with various dips, which were good, and yes, I'd absolutely eat there. We had very good pizza at Via Tribunali (excited one is coming to Portland), good sushi at Shiro's, a teasingly small bit at Branzino's, an only average brownie at the Macrina Bakery, a sparkly chardonnay (which I'm not much of a fan of) at The Local Vine, and some very yummy tapas at Txori, which has since moved out of Belltown and isn't on the tour anymore. It was an interesting taste of the different places and our guide was, well, interesting, but if we do say so ourselves you get much more bang for your buck from the Savor Seattle Food Tours. Yes, they cost a tad more, but I think you get more food and one of the great things about Savor Seattle's tours is at each place a representative of the restaurant will come and talk to the group about their food and answer questions. On this one - like the one we did in Portland - you don't really get that. It makes for a better tour and a better experience.

Marination Mobile - This truck in Seattle has drawn many comparison's to Portland's own Koi Fusion - which is one of my favorites - and it just happened to be in West Seattle the Saturday we were there, so we added it to the list of stops. Well, being named the best cart in America by GMA is a plus for them as well, even if it did inexplicably beat out Portland's Garden State. This was our lunch that day - or, well, part of it - and we ordered the kalua pork sliders, and a taco each of kalbi shortribs and spicy pork. All of them were excellent, but I think the spicy pork was our favorite. The nunya sauce is damn good. Is it better than Koi? I have to say...maybe. I need to do a side by side, but that's not exactly easy (maybe if there is a Seattle-Portland cart meetup again we will have to go). Koi has better tortillas for their tacos, I do know that, but the insides I really need a closer comparison than months apart. We loved it though, and would definitely eat this again.

Sugar Rush Baking/Coffee to a Tea - By now you may have learned we have a cupcake fetish, so any time a new place opens in Portland or Seattle it gets added to the list. Sugar Rush, plain and simple, is right there at the top with the best. Their frosting is a perfect mix of creamy and sweet without overdoing either one, and the cupcakes are moist (not the moistest, but pretty close). We bought a Big Smooch, which is lemon cake, with lemon buttercream frosting and filled with raspberry - it was awesome. I love raspberry, but it wasn't even necessary in this the lemon was so good. We also ordered a Mocha (chocolate cake and espresso buttercream), which was excellent. The mocha I ordered here was also very well done, better than I was actually expecting. This place jumped right to the top of the best cupcakes in Seattle in our mind.

Yellowleaf Cupcakes - And this place to the bottom. Sad. We hit this downtown Seattle spot after our tour and it happened to be not long before closing, so everything they had left for the day was 40% off. Score! The cake part of these cupcakes was perhaps the best we have tasted in both cities. So why is it on the bottom of the list? Frankly, the frostings were horrible. They had very little flavor or sweetness. I'm guessing this is on purpose, but for us, the frosting is part of the equation of flavor, not just a pretty topping. This was very bland, almost nauseating. Again, the cake was excellent; the frosting not so much. Sad.

Bakery Nouveau - If I could only eat one place the rest of my life it would absolutely be a bakery. And given how much I love French baked goods it would be a French bakery. And since this is the greatest French bakery I have ever been too (never been to France...yet) I could simply live in the dining area at Bakery Nouveau in West Seattle. I'd never have to leave. They make sandwiches on their baguettes (which, admittedly, we didn't get but looked amazing) as well as so many pastries it's heaven. We ordered a twice baked chocolate croissant, which came warm with plenty of chocolate filling (sometimes you just get a small chunk of hard stuff in the middle, even at supposedly good places) and the entire thing literally melted in your mouth in an array of goodness that can only be described as...well, I'll leave that to your imagination. Mmm... We also brought home a slice of chocolate cake which has 64% chocolate mousse in it. Was it good? Oh. My. Lord. Yes. Not surprisingly this place is pretty popular, so be prepared to wait in line a few minutes, but it moves pretty fast. On this Saturday morning they had at least three people helping customers, so we were there no more than 10 minutes, even with some people having to be shaken awake from shock when asked what they wanted. No, that wasn't me. Honestly. I would drive to Seattle just to go to this place, then get in my car and drive home, and not feel like I wasted any time at all - it's that worth it.

Eats Market - We stopped here expressly for one item - an ice cream sandwich. Going in I thought maybe I'd get a sandwich, but after eating at Marination and Nouveau, I just wasn't as hungry. We wanted the chocolate chip cookie with vanilla ice cream, but apparently the only cookie they had available was the chocolate brownie cookie, so we ordered that with vanilla ice cream and chocolate dipping sauce. We actually thought about getting two, but good thing we didn't - it was pretty dang big, and filling. It was good, but chocolate cookies aren't a favorite - chocolate chip cookie would have been better. The ice cream, which they make themselves, was fine, but nothing I need to go out of my way for. I'd eat here again, maybe, but I don't need to go out of my way.

Caffe Vita (Olympia) - As we left Seattle I needed coffee for the drive home, so I wanted to go to the one on Capitol Hill that I had such a great drink at before. However, it was late in the day and Capitol Hill was crazy busy so there were no parking spots. No worries, we decided, we'll stop at the one in Olympia on the way home, about an hour (or less, maybe) from downtown Seattle. As we drove through downtown Olympia we passed Batdorf and Bronson, the company that roasts very good beans (Guatemala and Dancing Goats) we buy at our local Whole Foods. Unfourtunately they were closed, but we'll have to make a point of going there sometime. Downtown Olympia is...interesting. It reminds me a bit of Salem or Eugene, a little older, smaller, but still with a surprising number of homeless-looking people and riff-raff. My drink from here was fine, but sadly not as good as the Capitol Hill location. Oh well.

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