February 29, 2012
- Restaurant website
- Location: Portland/Beaverton
- Price to lavishly dine 2: $24
“…if I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own backyard. Because if it isn’t there, I never really lost it to begin with…”
Queen Bee is a Vietnamese restaurant in Arlington, Virginia, where they serve a crispy, succulent eggroll that I’m still dreaming about, 10 years after the last bite vanished down my grateful gullet. Every so often I catch myself wishing I didn’t have to go all the way back to DC for another.
So tonight I discovered that I really DON’T need to look any further than my own back yard. A few blocks down the road there’s a typical suburban strip mall with a little Vietnamese place that does eggrolls. Beautiful eggrolls and salad rolls and stuff I can’t possibly pronounce.
It’s called CT Viet + Thai Bistro, and my friend Sharon and I had dinner there tonight, almost by accident. We’d planned to have a quick bite at the neighborhood Japanese place next door, but on a whim tried this place. It was pretty much love at first bite.
The last time I walked past, maybe 18 months ago, it was a none-too-clean Hawaiian food joint, with syrupy meat dishes so sweet they gagged at a hundred paces. The new guy who has it now degreased the place and tore everything out. Then he filled it with soothing color, added comfortable tables and real art on the walls…and started cooking.
Boy, can he cook. This is his fourth restaurant (the other three were in Atlanta), and I can say with some confidence that he’s got it down to a science.
He asked us to trust him, recommended we share two dishes–Bun Dac Biet and Pad Woonsen–family style. The pad merged fresh vegetables with glass noodles and a lot of spice and was delicious. The Bun Dac was a mixed grill of all sorts of meat tidbits, eggroll chunks, vermicelli and a light, tangy sauce. Both were delightful; I couldn’t decide which was my favorite but probably leaned toward the Bun Dac.
Since it was our first time, the chef gave us a free slice of mango mousse cake, which looked like cheesecake but turned out to be beautifully flavored and extremely light on the palate. It was more than enough for two and, at $3, a bargain.
There was more food than we could handle, washed down with fragrant quaffs of jasmine tea. I don’t generally do doggy bags–something about staring last night’s dinner in the face leaves me faintly queasy–but tonight I did.
The staff didn’t rush us, although we closed the place down and then some. The chef kindly marked up a take-out menu (yay! they do takeout!) to show which dishes we’d ordered and which he’d recommend on our next visit.
Total bill was $12 apiece, about half what I’d expect to pay down in the Pearl. Apparently staying in my own backyard pays off.
February 16, 2012
- Restaurant website
- Location: Northside Portland
- Price to dine 2: $30 or so, depending
Sometimes you want to be treated like a king (or even better, like Lady Gaga). Sometimes you just want a quick burger. And sometimes you just want to go where everybody knows your name.
Casa Naranja is like that, even if they don’t know your name.
December 5, 2011
Strolling the Pearl (a favorite occupation I hardly ever get to do these days), I spied a big cast glass sculpture in the window and stopped in to see who made it.
“He’s from Israel, really talented artist,” said the clerk.
“Ahh…and that one?” I pointed to a big blown dinosaur-like piece, reminiscent of Tagliapietra.
“Celotto, from Italy.”
Hmmm. “How about that one?” and I indicated a series of flat,
fused (ooops, sorry, Lani) kilnformed panels on the usual powder-coated steel stands.
August 4, 2011
Location: Tacoma, WA, near the Tacoma glass museum
Price to dine two: Trust me, you don’t want to know
“May I escort you?” Todd asked gallantly, holding out an arm. I laid a hand on his elbow and he walked me past the kitchen grill, to the door of the ladies’ room.
“How did you know that’s where I wanted to go?” I asked, curious.
“Oh, I’m a trained waitperson,” he assured me, looking like a cross between a matador and an orchestra leader, “They teach us what to look for.”
July 13, 2011
Location: Beaverton, OR
Price to break one fast: $12
Ann had high cheekbones, a magnificent fall of chestnut hair done up like a Barbie doll and a shrewd, cheerful grin, but I wondered if anyone would stop chowing down long enough to notice: If the fresh-squeezed-tasting orange juice was any indication this was gonna be a great breakfast place.
She watched me smacking my lips as I set down the empty glass. “A convert!” she crowed, “That is hands-down the best orange juice you’ve ever had, right?”
Not quite, but it was still pretty good. I ordered another.
Black Bear Diner is just down Canyon Road in Beaverton, and it plays hard on the bear theme: Bearpaw prints lead you up the sidewalk outside, a chainsawn totem bear wears a welcome sign at the door (along with a coffee dispenser for those waiting for a table) and even the wallpaper and murals inside are stuffed full of bears.
I’ve driven past this place for eight or nine years without going in, but Izzy the Pad suggested it for a Sunday morning breakfast and we decided to give it a shot. I’m not a huge fan of theme restaurants, especially not FRANCHISED theme restaurants, but there were some good smells coming out of the kitchen that gave me hope.
Black Bear tries hard to look (and act) downhome, but it is a western restaurant chain, sort of a chummier and much less corporate Denny’s. There are 50 BB diners scattered across the western US, their ursial carvings and wall murals are the work of professional artists instead of the owner’s wife, and they’re actively selling franchises.
The food was still pretty good. I ordered the small volcano. “It’s like training wheels for the big boy breakfasts,” Ann assured me.
I may never make it to big boy status here: The small volcano includes a sausage link, a piece of bacon, a scrambled egg and three ginormous pancakes.
The pancakes were rich but a tad heavy and very slightly underdone. The sausage had crunchy skin and good flavor, the bacon was crispy, the scrambled egg was fine… and I couldn’t finish it. The juice was great, the coffee a bit burnt. The cream came in those little plastic cuplets (I much prefer just getting a baby pitcher of it, but you can’t have everything)
Unlike downtown breakfast joints there’s plenty of parking here–with a stuffed-to-the-gills restaurant there were still spaces in the lot–and the service is swift and cheerful. So, chain or not, it goes on my break-the-fast list.
July 7, 2011
January 28, 2011
Supposedly I was gonna get snowed in this weekend, but glassland weathermen being what they are, that didn’t happen. Still, on the off chance they’d made a mistake and were actually accurate this time, I stocked up at the grocery store…and saw a packet of smoked hamhocks.
Hamhocks & beans. If there’s a more perfect snowed-in supper, I’m not sure what it is.
They came out well, too, though a bit salty. Mom and Dad drove through the drizzle to share them with me tonight, so I thought I oughta share them with you, too. [Read more]
January 26, 2011
- Restaurant website
- Location: Tigard, OR (SW Portland burbs)
- Price to dine stuff one: $10
YOU try finding an equally inconvenient meeting place for a bunch of people who pretty much nail each corner of the greater Portland metro area.
November 5, 2010
- Restaurant website
- Location: Downtown (near Chinatown)
- Price to dine one: About $20 with tip and drink
It was hot, muggy (muggy in a Portland fall?), noisy and dark. There were plenty of places to sit but nothing that would accommodate five people. There were a few off-limit tables reserved for a birthday party, but the bulk of tables in this restaurant seemed to be made from old sewing machine trestle tables and would probably seat two. In a pinch.
OGG’s Portland chapter board had picked Old Town Pizza for our monthly meeting, and from the looks of things we were going to be eating standing up. But at last, the folk at one of about three bigger tables got up and left. Whew.
Old Town Pizza is supposed to be haunted by the ghost of a murdered woman. If she was our waitress, that would explain the service, which was pretty much “get your food at that window, your drinks at the bar, and stop bothering me.”
All in all, I had a less than impressive introduction to Old Town Pizza, so lucky the food was so good, right?
Uhm…not exactly. The lasagna I had was about on par with a good high school cafeteria, i.e., nothing to write home about, and it was missing the promised salad. I didn’t see my dinner companions smacking their lips over their selections, either. The soft drinks were sold at arm-and-a-leg bar prices, so it was hard to get out of the place cheap.
Old Town is housed in an historic old hotel building; the owners say it was a center for white slavery and prostitution in bygone days. The ghost of Nina–who they say hangs out in the basement and likes to watch diners–is supposedly an ex-hooker who went straight and was murdered for it. It lends a little extra spice to the food, and given the murk of the place, I really didn’t have that much trouble believing it.
But I sure didn’t see whatever it was that led noted gustolebrity Rachel Ray to like the place. With the gazillions of wonderful places to eat in Portland, Old Town Pizza is what she talks about?
Ok, to be fair, we didn’t order pizza, being unable to come to consensus on the crust, let alone the toppings. It’s a pizza parlor, so maybe that’s where all the joy is. Maybe the other stuff on the menu is just there to keep the pages from being blank.
But given the ambiance of the place I’m not inclined to go back and find out. Not even for Nina.
October 21, 2010
- Restaurant website
- Location: Upper Pearl District
- Price to brunch two really well: About $40
From the front, Cafe Nell looked like a Volkswagen-stuffing contest, with folk obviously standing around waiting for a table.
Kinda discouraging, that. I’d been seeing the Cafe Nell sign for months, whenever I drove down Lovejoy toward the Pearl. When my friend Sara suggested going there for brunch, I’d really been looking forward to it, but from the looks of the crowd, we were never getting in.
Fortunately, Sara was at the bar, just past the door. She’d gotten there early, made reservations and so we sailed past the mob into the restaurant. The folks at Cafe Nell gave us a nice seat by the window all to ourselves.
I’m not sure how to characterize Cafe Nell–downhome northwestern Frenchish locavore nouvelle cooking?–but whatever it is, I like it. We got a kick out of the Sunday brunch bloody marys (above), which had three or four skewers of garnish apiece, from prawns to salami to olives. “It’s a whole meal in a drink!” Sara marveled.
Sara ordered an eggwhite omelet with lobster, which was huge and delicious, with big chunks of sauteed lobster. I frankly thought mine was better–a smoked salmon eggs benedict on a home-made English muffin with a pile of fresh fruit. The hollandaise was light, the salmon got to breathe a bit…and I got to eat the whole thing.
The waitstaff was attentive, seemed genuinely proud of the place and pleased that we liked our breakfasts. We sat and talked (a lot), they made sure we had plenty of beverage, and the crowd strolling past our window in the crisp autumn sun made a perfect floorshow.
About the only criticism I have of the place is one endemic to most Pearl District bistros: Noise. Most of the surfaces are concrete, steel, stone and glass in these places and they act like amplifiers. When the restaurant is as popular as this one at brunch, you pretty much can’t hear yourself think. It’s chic and probably easy to clean, but sometimes I wish we could go back to velvet walls, carpet and drapes.
Minor quibble, though–Cafe Nell is definitely a keeper.