Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Tried & Trues

Food carts pods weren't the only places we go when we're entertaining out-of-town guests. But with the plethora of great places to eat in Portland and the limited number of days and meals to be eaten in a visit we had to carefully decide which places to try or introduce to our friends. We mostly selected particular dining establishments according to what else we have planned for the day and what part of the city we'll be in. This surprising led to not trying any new restaurants during our good friends Dret's recent visit. However the places we chose to eat at we hadn't been to in awhile and we were looking forward to revisiting them. Guess these restaurants can be officially labeled our "Tried and True".
First up was a little bit of gear and window shopping, which naturally means pastries and espresso while we stroll and shop.

We biked up to our neighborhood patisserie and after a quick look around decided brunch was in order, gear and shoes could wait.

And we still got pastries and espresso.

A couple days later, after checking out a local outdoor store, army surplus and bicycle shops we had another great meal at an unplanned, but always-up-for-a-pit-stop at one of the city's best Lebanese Restaurants. We started with always rock-solid hummus and baba ganoush appetizers that came with the largest pita bread.

Creamy, refreshing, light and hearty, the best hummus and baba ganoush is the only thing we can say about these two appetizers.
We also had tried a vegetarian sandwich and two lamb sandwiches, a shawarma and a gyro. The shawarma and gyro tasted completely different. We like the thinly sliced soft texture of the gyro meat and the char-herbiness of the shawarma meat. All three sandwiches were stellar, as usual.

As a special thank you for living in beautiful Portland and providing a place to escape the extreme summer heat, we were treated to a night on the town. We were given prior notice and advised to think of where we want to celebrate. Numerous places immediately came to mind and we wanted to enjoy the city as tourists as well, so we decided to start with cocktails and happy hour at one of Portland's trendiest bars.

We ordered special happy hour cocktails, which were a steal at $5 for $11 drinks. Let's hope the mango cooler is the drink special next time we're there, it was terrific. We ordered three items off the happy hour food, which were a great start to an evening of bar hoping and a celebratory dinner. We wouldn't recommend this happy hour menu if you were hoping to have dinner for happy hour prices. These were teaser bites, but perfect for getting our appetites ready for the rest of the night.
Ume shiso roll - perfect combo of tangy sushi rice, tart ume plum and refreshing earthy leafy herb shiso to get the digestive juices jump started.

The curry puffs were light, crispy and filled with a sweet non-spicy curried chicken. Rolled in the same wheat wrappers used for egg rolls. A simple dish we'll be recreating at home.

The pork shumai was the item we remembered the most from previous visits to the bar. With only three to an order, the size made up for the fact that two of us had to share one. The steaming process heightened the porky, sweet and light flavors of this dish. Just the way we remembered it. Delicious.

An indication of a good restaurant is when you call to make a reservation and they tell you what time is available. So we had some time to kill before our dinner reservation with more cocktails and beers at another bar and some poking around another outdoor store. We built our appetites up by walking through industrial green spaces and sustainable parks in the neighborhood. By the time our reservation was ready we were ready for a serious dinner. We walked in and realized this is gonna be good. When you immediately wished your house smelled like the restaurant, yes, it's gonna be good.
Portland has become a mecca for innovative-fusion-ethnic-local-organic-unique-traditional-with-a-twist-northwest cuisine and restaurants. So it may be surprising we decided on a traditional Italian restaurant, which may seem boring among Portland's dining options. But after the terrific meal documented previously here, we knew our friends would love the authentic vibe, fantastic food, reasonable prices and a tried and true meal.
We eased into our dinner with an antipasta plate, a caprese salad and a tuna salad. Thank goodness our friends are salami and cured meat fans, because it would have been tough to power through the large plate of mortadella, pancetta, proscuitto, salami, fontana cheese and tart olives, with endless baskets of spongey yummy Italian bread and constant olive oil and balsamic vinegar refills.

Next came our pasta entrees. The portions were perfectly sized so we could try dessert and one of the best cappacinos. The pictures are a bit blurry (blame - lighting in the restaurant and only having a few seconds before everyone digged into their dinners).
We ordered three of the pasta specials, a wild boar ragu on flat sheets of rusticly torn pasta, the spaghetti and meatballs and the fresh linguini and scallops. The one item off the menu we ordered was the linguini and clams in white wine. The seafood pasta dishes were typical seafood pastas where the scallops and clams were the star and the pasta adds a carby heaftiness to the dish. A traditional and Italian way to combine seafood and pasta while keeping the whole dish light.

Our favorite pastas for the night was the traditional red tomato based pastas. Who doesn't love spaghetti and meatballs? The spaghetti topped with simple tomato sauce, two melt-in-your-mouth meatballs and a generous amount of freshly grated parmesan, simple, comforting and totally yummy.

The winner of the night was the wild boar ragu. The lean porky boar was expertly combined with the rich tomato ragu, tasting like a pork roast shredded, marinated in an earthy tomato sauce and tossed with perfectly cooked flat sheets of pastas. Every last bit of this pasta was mopped up with the remains of the bread basket.

Upon being seated we promptly advised Dret to leave room for dessert and an espresso.

How does a Semifreddo Caffe (creamy Italian gelato with a shot of Italian espresso) or an incredibly rich and creamy tiramisu sound? All topped off with an expertly pulled espresso drink? No pictures because it all quickly went into our bellies. It was the perfect evening and just what we needed to get our stamina up for tomorrow, another day of eating.
Other Tried & True spots we hit up during Dret's visit were typically places we wouldn't visit in the summer. The dark European styling of both these tried & true establishments made for terrible photos, but great for food and places we knew our friends would love.
After an afternoon of playing in the park we headed down to the Horse Brass Pub and ordered up what we think is the best fish & chips around. We know the secret to these fabulous bits of flakey halibut deep fried in not-so-English inspired batter. The chips are baked potatoes, cut to order and deep fried - no wonder they're so good! The Horse Brass also has a mean Scotch Egg. On this particular day the homemade pasties were lukewarm and plain ol' nasty. Skip the pasties and just go for a great beer from the owner's own selection of the "little guy" taps.

Later that week we found ourselves hungry after a show and decided some late night grub was in order. We instantly knew the one place we should go, Le Bistro Montage - a Portland late night institution. We knew the strange European decor and vibe, random under-the-bridge location and stellar cajun/creole inspired food would be a major hit and it was.
After a night of grooving and cocktails some mac & cheese is exactly what we needed. Like all the places listed in this post it's been awhile since we've been here and the last time we were here our tried & true dish the BoBo was overly peppered and all around disappointing. But we decided to suck it up and it was the dish of the night! The BoBo is a cajun/creole inspired biscuit and gravy made with a cornbread biscuit and andouille sausage gravy served with mash potatoes. Seriously mash potatoes on the side! YUM!

There you have it, a sampling of places you may find us when we really just want some good food. By the looks on our friends' faces and multiple declarations of "this is the best (insert food item here)" we think Dret liked it too!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Streetside Dining

CNN and Budget Travel magazine recently ranked Portland as #1 city for street food in the world. Seriously - Portland. Seriously - in the world. Beating out street food meccas Bangkok, Singapore and Hanoi for the world's best street food. So it shouldn't be a surprise if tasting the best Portland has to offer means hitting the streets.

We can attest to how good Portland's food carts really are so when D wanted a hotdog, we were like sure, they can't be any worse than the awful $3 dogs we had in NYC, really really disappointing. In fact a Portland food cart hotdog can be quite memorable, especially if split in half and stuffed with cheese right before hitting the grill!

Now unlike food carts anywhere else in the world, Portland's carts can be on the spendy side. The quality of the ingredients, unique selection of food and impressive items is worth the price, even a $8 pulled pork or porchetta sandwiches we ordered at the People's Pig on SW 2nd & Stark.

Other memorable carts foods included refreshing SolPop's handmade popsicles. We're suckers for anything with cucumbers, jalapenos and lime, which happened to be one of their original flavors. Refreshing!

Food carts are also the perfect excuse to have breakfast for dinner.
The Elvis (grilled banana and peanut butter) - The Grilled Cheese Grill
We also made a special trip to our favorite late night food pod Cartopia for some grease to soak up our night of bar hopping.

So, if you visit Portland don't be surprised if one of the most memorable meals of your trip was on the street right out the front door.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Urban Sketching

So I've picked up an interest in sketching, and no you will never see any of my sketches here on Buddha Bellies. But I did want to share some sketches from the 1st International Urban Sketching Symposium held at the Pacific Northwest College of Art in Portland July 29-31. The symposium was sponsered by Urban Sketchers and gathered 100 sketchers from around the world with a program that consisted of lectures, panels, exhibits and field sketching sessions led by presenters with backgrounds in art education, architecture, illustration and journalism.

The sketch at the top is of the Portland's skyline from the East Bank Esplanade immediately caught my eye. Sketched by Gerard Michel, the image of the Portland skyline was exactly what I was imagining for our wedding invitations.

As I trolled through the group's flickr set I realized what a great city Portland is to sketch. Modern, Old, Brick and Glass. Here are some of my faves.

Steel Bridge, Portland by petescully

Gerard Michel sketching the Steel Bridge

hoyt&12th, pearl district by petescully

Georgia's Groceries by petescully

NW 11th & Hoyt by petescully

Pioneer Square by Gerard Michel

If I could wave a magic wand and give myself the ability to sketch two things it would be, without a doubt, architecture and fonts. Someday sketchpad - You. Me. It's on!

Portland, The Dekum by Gerard Michel

broadway bridge by petescully

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Homecooking - New Mexican Style

We've had weeks and weeks of guests visiting from out of town this summer. And in exchange for the hospitality, room & board and a nice haven from the heat is a home cooked meal. Not just any home cooked meal, but a New Mexican day of feasting.

We started our morning with the best huevos rancheros we have ever had - EVER.

The combination of red beans, refried beans, homemade salsa, crispy fried tortilla and perfectly fried eggs was expertly combined. Like we said the best huevos rancheros ever!

Pinto were soaked for 24 hours and then slow cooked for over 10 hours with a secret blend of spices. The resulting red beans were creamy to the bite, but had a solid snap to them. Bacony refried red beans in combination with the whole red beans added a whole different dimension of bean awesomeness to the dish.

Homemade salsa was spicy, smokey and perfectly bitter. You bet your sweet asses we took notes on how to recreate it.

Our favorite part? The crispy tostada. The crispy fried tortilla topped with bacon refried beans added a crunch and a base to hold up all those fantastic juices from the whole red beans and salsa.

Topped with perfectly fried eggs that were a bit runny, added more texture and flavors to the dish. And a little bit of sharp cheddar cheese finished the whole dish off with a little bit more tang! Now that's how you do huevos rancheros!

That was just the beginning. Later that evening we were treated to a chicken mole feast! Yes, Holy Mole! Previous experience with mole brings to mind a chalky and sweet dish, not that there's anything wrong with that. Our homemade chicken mole was much more complex - smoky, sweet, robust, a bit bitter and a bit spicy.

Served with calabacitas, spanish rice and yes, another bacony tostada, this plate brought on a whole new meaning to the word comfort food.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Summer Recap

August is almost over! Sorry for the long absence, but it is summer after all. Where did the summer go? Our summer went to friends visiting to escape the heat, only to visit during a mini heatwave, we like to say they brought the sunshine!

Our summer also went to making excuses to go for a bike ride

Summer went to birthday celebrations

Summer went to playing disc golf

Summer went to soap box derby racing

Summer went to meals eaten in the garden

Summer went to refreshing cocktails

Summer went to lounging in the hammock

Summer went to eating at the farmer's market

Summer went to checking out new beaches

Summer went to backyard pit fires

Summer went to growing our own food

And lastly, our summer went to marveling in all its splendor and surprises!

Hope you are enjoying your summer as much as we are!