My dreams are coming true! Now I don’t have to move to Portland.

May 19, 2011

I have literally had dreams that Berkeley became as food truck friendly as Portland and it may actually be happening! Thanks to the efforts of Off The Grid and the North Shattuck Association, food trucks will be in North Berkeley every Wednesday evening starting June 1.  Guess where I’ll be the evening of June 1?

More details at Berkeleyside.

Yummy Things: Portland, OR

March 14, 2011

Visiting Portland?  Check out my:

1. must eats: here, here, here, here, and here

2. good eats: here

3. can be skipped eats here

Operation SMF Portland – Everything Else

December 21, 2010

Here is a summary of the other eating we did in Portland this past weekend.  Consider yourself warned – these are the places that didn’t warrant their own post or even pictures!

Dinner at Toro Bravo

I was really disappointed in Toro Bravo because it has gotten great reviews and I love tapas, but it really felt like the theme was butter makes everything better.  I don’t shy away from butter used appropriately, but almost everything we ate was really, really heavy.  I’ll start with the positive:

  • Griddled Bacon Wrapped Dates with warm honey – very tasty, get one if you go to Toro Bravo, but I don’t recommend that
  • Bread with butter & olive oil – ironically, the butter was nothing special, but the olive oil was exceptional – definitely get this ($1)
  • Moroccan Tuna with dried cherry couscous – pretty good and thankfully not too heavy, but it’s probably getting a better rating from me since most everything else was subpar
  • Sauteed Brussels Sprouts with bacon sherry cream – I liked these, but they were very creamy.  If everything else wasn’t super heavy, I think I would have liked these more, but paired with heavy dish after heavy dish, the brussels sprouts didn’t sing.
  • Caramel Panna Cotta – pretty good, but a touch too creamy, the caramel sauce was also a little too sweet for my taste

Regrettably, our table also ordered:

  • Manchego & Paprika Fritters – overfried, dry
  • Sauteed Chanterelles on griddled bread – soaked in butter, no mushroom flavor
  • Seared Cauliflower – boring, underseasoned
  • Griddled Shrimp with chilies – bland
  • Molten Chocolate Cake with vanilla ice cream – dry, boring
  • Churros & Chocolate – overfried, tasted like they were from a ballpark

Dinner at Serrato

This restaurant is beautifully decorated.  I actually took more pictures of the decor than I did of the food, which says something.  I didn’t like the table bread.  It was too crunchy and not doughy enough.

  • Mediterranean Blue Mussels (chorizo, red peppers, onions, white wine-garlic broth) – good, but not spectacular
  • Cavatelli (Dungeness crab, brussel sprouts, fennel, shallots, lemon zest, Pernod crea) was actually BAD.  There was no actual crab and not even the slightest hint of crab flavor, which makes me think it was missing because Dungeoness crabs are in season right now and so deliciously sweet … when they are actually present.  The only positive thing about the pasta was that the fennel provided texture.
  • Pizza Margherita (fresh mozzarella, tomato, garlic, basil) was eh.  It was about as tasty as the Trader’s Joe’s frozen one, which isn’t bad, but it was 4xs more expensive and smaller.
  • Bay Leaf Creme Brulee had a really interesting flavor, but the execution completely failed.  The brulee wasn’t hard enough and the temperature of the custard varied wildly – refrigerator cold in some parts and warm in others.  We had an early dinner because we had to go to the airport and this was a special, so maybe they hadn’t quite worked it out yet, but a good chef at a fancy restaurant should know when to pull the plug.  This I’ve learned from Tom Colicchio on Top Chef!

Food Trucks

Dinner at New Taste of India and Bulkogi Korean BBQ Food Trucks on SW 5th and Stark.  The portions at both these trucks are HUGE.  I would definitely order the Saag Paneer at New Taste of India again.  It was some of the best that I’ve had and it is my go to Indian dish, so I’ve eaten a lot of it over the years.  I wish I had picked some up on my way to the airport.  The Vegetable Korma and Chana Masala were both good, but not amazing.  The value here is great though and the food is pretty good, so if you like Indian food, go visit this truck.  Bulkogi is right next to New Taste of India.  It’s a Mexican/Korean fusion truck, which apparently is all the rage these days.  I had the vegetable ramen with tofu, which was good, but didn’t make me want to get up and dance.  The other stuff looked great and I had a lot of food envy while I waited for my ramen.  I’d definitely go back to try the other dishes.

Late night snack at the Mexican food truck on 3rd and SW Oak.  I had a vegetarian sope ($3) that was HUGE and my friend had a chicken tortilla salad ($5).  The food was good and a very good value.  I’d go here again, but don’t expect it to blow your socks off.

I think my take away from Portland is to stay away from fancy restaurants and stick to the comfort ones or food trucks.

Pambiche: A Dance in My Mouth

December 20, 2010

Pambiche is a dance derived from Merengue and it is also an incredible Cuban restaurant in Portland.  I was in Portland last July and this was the only repeat eating establishment on my eating itinerary.  That is a rare honor because FOMA only allows me to go to a restaurant I’ve already been to when I’m on vacation if it’s AMAZING and that Pambiche is.  Of course, I did order a different entree this time.  I’ll provide a brunch play by play, so close your eyes and have a friend read this post to you so you can imagine you were there.

We started with the assorted pastry basket.  There were about seven different types of mini pastries, each of which we cut in three so everyone could taste them.  My favorite was the lemon bread that tasted like a lemon bar in bread form.  The lemon flavor was not overpowering and it had raw sugar on top that balanced the moist tart bread with a lovely sugary crunch.  Perfecto!  A close second was the bread soaked with rum with currants.  The pastry basket is fun to get and share, but if I go back, I will ask if I can just get a bigger piece of the lemon bread.

We shared the tostones (fried green plantains) and ate them with spicy banana sauce or chipotle salsa.  Very yummy.  A tad dry, but not in a way that is unpleasant.  Plantains are starchy after all.  This is almost a must order.

I had the primera vuelta, which was clearly created for someone with FOMA and meant to share because it’s MASSIVE.  No one would share with me, but I was undeterred.  You get two empanadas, two croquetas, two frituras, and three kinds of salad.  I picked the espinaca con queso (spinach, cheese) empanadas, bacalao con papa (codfish and potato) croquetas, and maiz (corn) frituras.

  • Empanadas – very good, not a must order, but that’s only because the bar is VERY high at Pambiche.  At another restaurant, these empanadas might be a must order.
  • Croquetas – very good, like a grown up fish stick, but better, almost a must order.
  • Frituras – delicious, sweet like cream of corn soup, tied with the black-eye pea fritter that I snagged off my friend’s plate – must order some frituras – either corn or black-eyed peas, or both!

The three ensaladas were de aji (roasted red peppers), de remolacha (beet and watercress), and de caribena (red and green cabbage).  My favorites were de remolacha and de carbena.  They were so fresh and delicious with the perfect level of acidity, and balanced my plate of fried magic well.

Sidenote: At one point while I was eating, I wondered if Pambiche would be willing to overnight a sampler platter to me in California and I am currently wiping the drool off my keyboard.

My friend got the vegetarian huevos a la cubana.  I stole one of his bollitos de carita (black-eyed pea) frituras because he was eating them like he wasn’t going to give one up.  It was really good as I’ve already mentioned above.  His dish also came with fufu de platano (plantain mash with red onion mojo), which I have never had and loved.  He didn’t like it that much because he doesn’t like pickled things, which the onions are, but I loved it.  I’d definitely order some next time.  Mmmmm.

My other friend got the picadillo cua-cua (cuban hash and eggs).  According to my friend, the surprise that made the dish was the chopped green olives and delicious capers.  I didn’t try it (meatless wins over FOMA :o!), so I’ll have to take his word for it.  He pretty much didn’t talk after he got the dish, so I’m guessing it was really good and it’s really fun to say.  I did get a maduro (fried ripe plantains) off his plate, which was very yummy and not too sweet as maduros can be.  I definitely recommend ordering a side of these for the table.

Well Pambiche, Portland’s weather didn’t put its best foot forward, but your lovely staff, colorful decor, and food that partied in my mouth recast my vision of Portland from a gray, rainy city to a lively salsa party.  I miss you already.  I wish you’d move to the Bay Area.

Best Thing I Ever Ate: PBJ Edition

December 18, 2010

I hope you’re not thinking that I am exaggerating about my editions of “Best Thing I Ever Ate“, but for real, PBJ’s is the best peanut butter jelly sandwich place EVER and I don’t even like PBJ!  This spot is really something special.  Keena, one of the owners, immediately greeted us and made us feel like we were her best friends, which by the time we left, we might have been!  She was a bundle of happiness and warmth on an otherwise gray and drizzly Portland day.  Shane, the other owner assembled our sandwiches with love and handed them to Keena who grilled them to perfection.  They make their own peanut and almond butters and I think everything else is locally sourced.

I had The Joy (challah bread, dark chocolate spread, coconut filling, almond butter) and my friends had Cynthia (challah bread, raspberry jam, nutella, peanut butter) and Hot Hood (challah bread, black cherry jam, jalapeno, apple wood smoked bacon, peanut butter).  Mine was like a melted almond joy bar, hence the name, in between delicious challah bread.  It was so good that I lost the inability to speak for several minutes.  It was really sweet, so I only ate half, but it is perfect for sharing, which I did.  I didn’t like Cynthia as much, but my friend who ordered it loved it so much he licked the wrapper and almost didn’t save me a bite to taste!  The Hot Hood was really good.  The bacon was super crispy, which was the perfect texture in the sandwich and the jalapenos provided the kick to really put the sandwich over the edge.

I couldn’t eat these every day, but PBJ’s is definitely a must visit food truck in Portland.  I actually think that Keena and Shane should start talking to restaurant owners who could serve mini PBJ’s for appetizers or dessert.  Who knows, maybe you’ll see a PBJ on a menu near you soon!

Screen Door – Worth the Wait

December 18, 2010

We arrived at Screen Door in Portland this  morning with no reservation and not much time to eat, so my heart dropped when I found out the wait was almost 90 minutes.  We ended up ordering to go and then eating on the outdoor patio even though it was freezing, but it was SO worth it and in the future, I definitely would wait for 90 minutes to eat here.

My favorite part was their make your own breakfast, which was perfect for my FOMA.  I ordered a biscuit, veggie sausage, veggie gravy, grits, and fruit salad.  One of my friends ordered a pimento cheese and bacon sandwich and the other made his own breakfast too.  We also shared winter squash and ricotta beignets tossed in cinnamon sugar with powdered sugar, which was a special.  I will detail the magic that was my breakfast:

  • biscuit: perfectly flaky, buttery, but not greasy – must order
  • veggie sausage: above average – not a must order
  • veggie gravy: BEST I’ve ever had, it was mushroom, which most veggie gravy is and had just the right amount of pepper.  It came in a gigantic tub, which I thought was excessive, but what do you know, I finished it all and wanted more! – must order

  • grits: pretty good, creamy, but still light and flavorful – not a must order
  • fruit salad: very good, grapes, pears, grapefruit, and pomegranate, not a must order, but definitely a good addition to what was otherwise a pretty heavy meal
  • beignets: very good, not too sweet or greasy, reminiscent of hush puppies – almost a must order, but not quite

I would love to make it back to Screen Door for dinner some time.  This is a must visit place in Portland.

Best Thing I Ever Ate: Gnocchi Edition

December 17, 2010

Operation SMF continues.  I just had the best gnocchi I’ve ever eaten in my entire life at the Built to Grill food truck.  This little unassuming box of gnocchi costs a mere $6 and is an explosion of incredible flavors perfectly balanced to complement delicious fluffy gnocchi.  The sauce has tons of garlic, tomatoes, basil, and sundried tomatoes, which I really think are what puts this gnocchi over the edge.  If you’re in Portland or anywhere close by, you have GOT to check out this gnocchi.  We also had the pasta pomodoro, which I thought was fine, but nothing that made me weak in the knees like the gnocchi, which almost made me weep tears of joy … almost.