Happy Hour at Ping - Kobayashi Dog!

About a year ago Wifey and I tried out Pok Pok, a Thai restaurant owned by local (and now also in NYC) legend Andy Ricker. It was good, but not necessarily what we seek out on a regular basis. His restaurant in downtown Portland - in Chinatown to be specific - is called Ping and is more of a "drinking food" type of place. That is to say, right in our wheelhouse. Last weekend we stopped in for happy hour.

Ping serves dishes influenced from all over southeast Asia. Whether coming in for lunch, dinner, or happy hour you will get a different menu, and yes, for happy hour you must order one drink per person. Not in an alcohol mood we each opted for one of the very popular drinking vinegars Ricker has developed, called Som ($4 each). Som comes in many flavors and is mixed with one part of the base flavor and four parts soda or water.  I ordered raspberry, Wifey ordered pineapple. Both were very good with great fruit flavor, the raspberry on the tart end of things and the pineapple pleasantly sweet but not overly so.

We ended up ordering half the happy hour menu, starting with shrimp chips.

Just like at Pok Pok, these were fantastic. Light, fluffy, crunchy and bursting with shrimpiness. And only $1? They go a long ways too.

The second dish was salapao, a Thai-style steamed bun stuffed with shredded pork and topped with fried shallots for $3.

This was my second-favorite dish of the meal. The bun itself was light and fluffy, still moist, and the shallots added a great burst of flavor. And that pork? Oh my - see for yourself.

The meat melted in your mouth, just sweet enough that the scallions were a great contrast. I told Wifey I could eat these all day. It probably wouldn't be a good idea, but I'd do it.

One of the things Ping is known for are their skewers, so we ordered a chicken breast skewer topped with plum sauce and shiso (the greens in the picture) for $2.

It was...cute. Does it look tiny? It was tiny. The sauce was nice but the meat itself a tad on the bland side. Wifey and I agreed this was our least favorite dish.

Next up, a prawn skewer, also for $2. You get three grilled prawns and a dish with salt and pepper, plus two slices of lime. We were instructed to squeeze the lime into the salt and pepper, then dip the prawns in there (after shelling) to eat.

Wow. Just wow. These prawns were perfectly cooked, still very moist but not underdone, and the flavor of dipping the meat in the salt/pepper/lime mixture was excellent. These I could eat all day, too. Not only were they tastier than the chicken skewer, but you get twice as much - seemingly - as the chicken for the same price.

Last up was the famous Kobayashi dog. This is a beef frank topped with teriyaki, wasabi mayo, cucumber relish, toasted nori, and bonito flakes for $5.

I'm not even sure where to begin with this dish full of awesomeness. Not only is it a pool of ingredients I wouldn't have thought to put together, but the wasabi mayo was not overpowering at all and the cucumber relish added a surprising freshness that just worked. Well no, it didn't just work - it was amazing. Not healthy, but amazing.

The total happy hour bill came to $21 and we were both full. Considering $8 of that was the two drinks, that's pretty much a steal of a meal. Saturday afternoon wasn't busy at all either, which surprised me a bit. Service was good, food and drink was good, parking was available, it wasn't busy...we will absolutely be going back.

Oh, and if you are from out of town and can't find Ping, just keep an eye out for this Portland landmark.

Ping is in the bottom left of this picture. And no, this sign never, ever gets old. Ever.


I Paid $17 For A Burger And Would Do It Again

We aren't huge on holidays around here and usually choose to celebrate them in our own way. When Valentine's Day comes most years we just stay home and cook, avoiding the mess of traffic and packed restaurants, but sometimes we just decide to move the day. February 15th is a fantastic day to celebrate because most of the time restaurants are much less busy. This year we decided to spend our annual obligatory Hallmark celebration of love at Paley's Place on 21st and Northrup in NW Portland.

This was our second trip to Paley's, the first being part of Dining Month Portland last June. We went specifically for two reasons: desserts created by amazing pastry chef Kristen Murray and to try out the burger. This burger is only on the bistro and bar menu (why I still am not sure - not fancy enough for the main dining room?) - which really means bar and bistro area, plus the porch area visible in the picture below - so I made a reservation for the bistro at 7:30pm. Paley's is one of the few places in Portland a reservation is just about a necessity, no matter what day of the year.

Front of the restaurant. It's the main part, up the short stairs. Beneath is a spa of some kind.

The restaurant was full like it is every night. You know what I said earlier about the day after Valentine's being generally less busy? That doesn't apply to Paley's. Continually regarded as one of the best restaurants in Portland it's a destination spot for out of towners as well as locals because of the great service that goes with the great food.

After being seated we were brought some bread (from Ken's Artisan Bakery just down the street and one of the few things not made completely in house) and an amuse bouche. It's hard to tell from the picture, but these tiny squares of a layered potato dish topped with romesco were on six-inch metal stands. And tasty.

Considering one of our entrees was going to be the burger I thought it a good idea to order a vegetable side dish, so I chose Brussels sprouts cooked with bacon and creme fraiche for $8. I tried to be healthy. Really.

All of the flavors were excellent. We typically prefer smaller sprouts because then the core is smaller, but these were very well cooked and the bacon pieces (more on that later) provided wonder punches of smoky flavor.

For my entree I ordered the winter vegetable cassoulet. It comes served in a stone pot (Le Creuset or something similar) and is HOT. It's not much to look at, but included large white heirloom beans, Brussels sprouts, beets, and a couple other vegetables for $18.

At first glance it seems small, but spoon some of that out onto your plate and see the size of the beans and you realize it's quite hearty. In fact, this came home and was part of three more meals. That makes the price tag seem dirt cheap.

Then came the burger. It's not cheap - $15, plus $1 each more for bacon or cheese (blue or gruyere) - but it does also come with a simple green salad with a citrus vinaigrette, house-made ketchup and pickled vegetables. The meat is ground to order, the buns baked in house, the mustard aioli is also made by Paley's, and the $1 piece of (yes, house-made) bacon is closer to a slab of ham than a strip of bacon you get most places. Heck, Burger King charges more to put bacon on a burger (I think - been awhile). Besides, if you are willing to pay $15, why not $17? We chose the gruyere this time.

And would you look at this thing? Are you drooling yet? Unless specified it's served medium-rare; we asked for medium.

The meat is loosely packed, not a tight patty, and is a well seasoned burger. The aioli, a little ketchup, the grilled onion, the cheese, the slab of bacon/ham...it's perfect. This may very well be the best burger we've ever had and regardless of anything else at the restaurant we would return just for this. We didn't order the side of fries but should have - the couple at the next table did and they looked fantastic, matching up with other reports we've read online. Next time.

Now it was time for dessert. Kristen Murray is one of the highest regarded pastry chefs in the region, but unfortunately for Paley's she is leaving at the end of the month to strike out on her own and open her own place, one at a location as yet unchosen on a timeframe as yet undefined, though supposedly she wants to open by fall of this year. Of course we were getting dessert.

Wifey chose the creme brulee (all desserts are $9).

The crust was very evenly toasted, easy to crack with a spoon without being so thick as to cause issues. Inside was thick, creamy, Tahitian vanilla yumminess. Is this one or the one at Le Pigeon better? Might be whichever one we've had last. I'm not really sure why they all seem to use Tahitian vanilla beans, rather than Madagascar ones. Is there a cost issue? I'd love to try this made with Madagascar beans. Or, better yet, I want a tasting flight of creme brulees made with Madagascar, Tahitian, Hawaiian and Mexican vanilla.Yum!

I chose a passionfruit creme caramel, which came with cara cara oranges and churros.

The passionfruit added a nice balance to the creme caramel, while the acid in the oranges complemented the entire thing quite well. One bite with churro, orange, and creme caramel was sublime.

All in all it really wasn't that bad of a deal, $61 for two entrees, two desserts and a side. When considering this meal really is one of the best we've ever had I'd call it a steal. Plus, the staff is extremely friendly without being overbearing and Paley's obviously puts a lot of emphasis on this aspect, something far too few restaurants in Portland seem to care about at all. Front of the house is run by Kimberly Paley while Vitaly (an Iron Chef America winner) runs the kitchen. Each of them, even on a night when the restaurant is packed, take the time to come out and talk to diners and always have a ready smile. The pair have also penned a book that is part stories of how they got to where they are and part recipes; we picked it up at the library to see what it's about and plan on buying a copy (hey, it has the burger recipe...).

If it's not clear by now, we can't recommend Paley's Place enough. The food and presentation is fine dining, but the people are down to earth. We can't wait to return.


Should I Correct Someone Else's Kid?

Let me start with this: there is no dog I would trust more, ever, with an unknown child than Misaki. In fact, I'm willing to bet she's a better and more trustworthy babysitter and caregiver than most day cares, but that's another topic for another day.

We are lucky with her. We know that. She loves people and will go out of her way to meet them. She isn't pushy, unless you count the nosing of legs, but she'll go over to people and stand expectantly at their feet, tail wagging (happy, effusive tail wagging, not the wary, anxious kind - we know the difference) and looking up with those chocolate brown eyes, until the person acknowledges her, preferably with skritches. It doesn't matter what age, gender, race - she's excited to meet people. (We joke she'd do whatever she could to help out someone robbing our house if it meant getting loved up.)

A lot of dogs aren't like this. We know this too, because of our experiences with Ruby the Akita. In fact, way back when in the early days of this blog I posted a plea to other dog owners about keeping their dogs on leash specifically because of what we dealt with her. If there is a spectrum of how well a dog gets along with strangers, Misaki is on one end and Ruby almost the polar opposite. She thought she was excited to meet people, but then would get so freaked out she'd pee on the floor. She would jump and bark at the slightest sound (Akita barks = earthquakes). A ringing of the doorbell on TV would put her on edge for hours. We deliberately kept her away from people - and absolutely other dogs - because after trying to get her over her fears it just wasn't happening. Instead, we gave in and decided to keep her within her comfort zone, for better or worse.

With Ruby we always told the neighborhood kids they could not pet her. Most of them were scared of the 90-pound Akita, ripped with muscles and a mouth full of sharp teeth. With Misaki? We don't worry in the slightest. Provided the kids ask politely we let them, because how could you resist this?

You can't. No one could. She puts up with a lot too. Most kids don't know how to properly approach a dog, which is somewhat darkly comical considering most of them freak out over a spider while the dog could rip their face off with one bite. She wouldn't, but she could. She lets them roughly pet her, give her kisses, put their face right up to hers, and her tail will wag wildly the entire time. The worst she might do is sniff their face and huff at them, possibly blowing a little spit on their cheeks.

We trust Misaki, but we know her. These kids? They shouldn't be so trusting. Chances are if they approach her like this that's how they approach any dog. If they had tried that with Ruby they might be dead. Heck, other Shibas wouldn't necessarily respond as pleasantly as her. I can probably count on one hand using three fingers the number of kids who have approached Misaki - a dog they do not know - in the right manner. (This is where I link to this fantastic Huffington Post piece by Sophia Lin regarding the proper way to approach a dog and how to recognize anxiety and fear reactions - hat tip to The Misanthropic Shiba for posting on Facebook. This should be required reading for everyone: parents, children, adults, old people, whomever.)

Every time another kid puts a hand on either side of her face and gives her nose bumps, which she enjoys, I think I should say something. I feel I should say they shouldn't do that, it's not the right way to approach a strange dog. I feel like I should show them the proper way.

But I don't. It's not my kid. I don't have kids, don't plan on having kids. This is something their parents should be teaching them, right? (And no, the parents are never around - not on the sidewalk and not at the park. Yes, they SHOULD be, but they aren't, and the fact they should be is a completely different discussion. Unfortunately the parents aren't in this equation.) And also, most parents don't like strangers correcting their children, even if they are right. The last thing I want to deal with is have some kid go whining home to their parents about how this guy yelled at them for petting his dog, and then at some point that parent wants to have a discussion with me.

On the flip side, if that kid gets his face torn off by the next dog he tries to approach that way, will I feel guilty when I see the story on the news? Do I have an obligation to correct these kids? Should I start? Do I have to take the time to explain to them the right way to approach a strange dog, even though all Misaki wants to do is smell their face?

This is where I turn to you, Internet. I'm going to post this on Facebook, my Twitter account, and Misaki's tumblr blog, and I'm hoping the Shiba community - and the dog community as a whole - can give some insights on this topic. Has this happened to you? Do you say something? How do you do it? Do you feel a societal obligation that you should say something?

Please, leave comments and start a discussion - I want to see where this goes. And thank you!