Canteen – Refreshing Juice and Bowls on SE Stark

canteenSlip on down to SE Stark and 28th in Portland and into Canteen. This vegan/organic/local eatery is turning two years old this May, having evolved from the Sip juice carts.

I am far more familiar with the Canteen at the local VA Medical Center. The two are worlds apart. I got a certificate from the Cocotte Portland Food Adventure and dropped in after a nice 8-mile walk hosted by the East County Wind Walkers several miles east on Stark.

It was worth the drive. Canteen was quite busy, both for dine-in and take-out at noon on a Saturday. The order-taking went fast, but I could see a big line-up of tickets to be fulfilled by the kitchen. I ordered a juice and a bowl, took my number and had to decide whether to eat in the small dining room (which was noisy with the blenders going), the covered porch or outside on tables. I chose the porch.

My juice was the Summer Breeze made with apple, cilantro, pineapple, cucumber and lime. It took a few minutes to arrive, but in the meantime I enjoyed water with cucumber or lemon from pitchers handy on the counter. The Summer Breeze was very good — only a touch of sweetness, not heavy or pulpy. I’m not a juicer, I avoid them due to high sugar content. This showed me how juices done properly won’t send you into sugar shock.

canteen-southern-bowlWhen the bowl arrived, it was not only gorgeous but very, very tasty. I got the Southern Bowl with bbq soy curls, collard greens, black-eyed peas, brown rice, carrot and cabbage slaw, cashew ranch dressing and green onions. Everything worked together perfectly. This was only my second encounter with bbq soy curls, the first being at the Homegrown Smoker. I think I would seek them out for salads, bowls and sandwiches. The sauce had a little heat to it, which I enjoyed. I considered taking half of the bowl home for tomorrow’s breakfast or lunch (they have to-go containers handy for you to use), but instead snarfed the whole thing down. Yum.

After this stop, I would happily choose to eat there again during my walks. They are handily open for breakfast, lunch and dinner hours, 9 am – 9 pm, closed only on Mondays. That is super for weekend walks. They also offer organic beer and wine as well as kombucha on tap.

The restroom was worth checking out, with a black and white mural on all of the walls.

Canteen Web Site

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Alameda Brewhouse

We are going out one night a week to explore pizza and beer. We enjoyed Alameda Brewing Co.’s Yellow Wolf Imperial IPA Ale when it was featured at the Total Wine growler filling station. But it hasn’t made a return appearance there. So, we had to go to the source on NE Fremont St. in Portland.

The Brewhouse features booths separated from each other with tall wooden lattices, perhaps imitating thin barrel staves. Long banners drape from the ceiling along the walls. They have a very long bar.

Eating at a casual place at 5 pm is seemingly for families with small children as well as us, er, older crowd. Why does nature give 1-4 year-olds such piercing voices they use to scream when both happy and sad and just conversing? I guess otherwise our ancestors would have abandoned them in the jungle.

The Yellow Wolf again proved to be very, very tasty. They use an interesting mix of hops and it also has quite a bit of sweetness. Rich also had the El Torero IPA, which was good but not quite as delicious as the Yellow Wolf.

For food, they have a long menu of bbq, seafood, sandwich and bar favorites. Rich went with a simple burger. It was high quality chuck but the medium-well arrived completely well done and dry. I went with the crab bisque and it was tasty. They have a happy hour on week nights 3-6 pm which would be a nice stop for the future (or any night after 9 pm, which is too late for me!)

Alameda Brewhouse

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Homegrown Smoker Vegan BBQ Cart – Portlandia Lives!

The concept is straight out of Portlandia – vegan BBQ. How is it not an oxymoron? The very definition of bbq is roasting meat, and in some quarters it has to be pork. I found this out in the first several chapters of the book Cooking by Michael Pollan.

homegrown-smoker-slosmomofo
But the Homegrown Smoker Vegan BBQ food cart produces smoky vegan bbq offerings. Its current location is at the Mississippi Marketplace cart pod in North Portland and is open 7 days per week.

My tease to try them was via Chris Angelus’s Right at the Fork podcast. He interviewed the owner/chef Jeff Ridabock in episode 12. I was impressed by Jeff’s passion for vegan food and infusing bbq smoky goodness into non-meat items. It was a diametrically opposite swing from my visit to the Cultured Caveman paleo food cart the day before. But not really, as both aim to use natural ingredients to produce healthy food.

Their much-lauded sandwich, the SloSmoMoFo, is featured in the March, 2014 Sandwich Smackdown contest on Portland Monthly. I had to give that a try, as it has smoked soy curls standing-in for pulled pork. I love pulled pork sandwiches.

homegrown-smokerThe cart pod was hopping at 12:30 on Sunday. Jeff Ridabock was taking orders and I was surprised to discover the $8 for the sandwich included a side (and I chose sweet potato fries). With a couple orders ahead of me, it wasn’t a long wait.

The sandwich was hefty — on a big bun, with a generous amount of cole slaw on top. But it wasn’t particularly sloppy (although the fork was welcome).

I’ve never had the soy curls, which probably need a better name. That name makes me think of squeaky cheese curds (maybe it’s just me?) Instead, they are not rubbery and do a pretty good job imitating the texture of pulled pork. Ridabock had definitely given them a true smokiness that didn’t come from sauce. They were seasoned to be a bit spicy. The whole sandwich was tasty with each bite. It was very satisfying and filling.

Meanwhile, I also loved the sweet potato fries with chipotle dipping sauce. They were nicely salted and yummy. I would definitely stop in here again for this combo.

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Aviary – as Portland Dining Month Flies Away

My last stop of 2014 Portland Dining Month is Aviary, which was the 2012 Restaurant of the Year according to Willamette Week. Previously I visited it for 2011 Dining Month, only a few days before it burned down due to an illegal firework on July 4. That visit left me underwhelmed, but I saw potential if I had more range of the menu. They rose from the ashes and for the 2012 Portland Food Adventure I was blown away. The creativity, skill, and massive taste of each bite was superb.


The talent behind Aviary are the three co-chefs/owners you see in the open kitchen. Sarah Pliner, Jasper Shen and Kat Whitehead have impressive pedigrees in top kitchens in NYC. Their cuisine cannot be classified. There are Asian influences, there are classic French influences, there are Northwest ingredients, and the cocktails are fantastic. The menu is short and not broken out into small plates and entrees.

The Portland Dining Month menu offered two choices for each course. You could not go wrong, everyone was very happy with each course.

I started with the canicule cocktail of Bombay Sapphire ‘East’ gin, Ransom dry vermouth, sauvignon blanc, pineapple shrub, cilantro, jalapeno. It was the best cocktail I’ve had in a year. It definitely had fire, but I’m a big sucker for cilantro. Meanwhile, the Brooks pinot noir by-the-glass selection was very good – and I’m a NW pinot snob. I think their bar would be a great regular stop if I lived nearby.

The decor is industrial-and-wood. The place was packed on Saturday night and the noise level is high. Service was courteous but we had quite a wait between courses due to the busy night. Not a problem — the complimentary bread plate with anchovy dip was welcome. We had a wonderful evening of conversation and each plate was delicious. Also – no drama about separate checks, everything done efficiently, plates served en masse for the whole table each course. Very nicely done.

On to the food. For the first course I had the crispy pork belly with asian pear, grated parsnips and endive, pomegranate seeds and black sesame vinaigrette. Very nice. The soup looked great and the spoonful of it I had was nice. The brussels sprouts and bottarga on top gave texture and flavor contrast.

I had the 4 cup chicken as the main course, and it was the best dish I had for all of Dining Month. The chicken was a roulade, sliced, on top of a pureed taro root and swimming in the most luscious woodear mushroom jus. It was close-your-eyes-and-savor fantastic. Nom nom nom. My companions who had the Tasmanian sea trout with sunchokes, black barley, blood orange, dill broth and trout roe also enjoyed their dish.

The desserts were very nice. I had the chocolate pudding with mango, crispy rice, and saffron ice cream. It had texture and taste and was a great ending. Romana’s toasted almond cake with berry compote and goat cheese ice cream was also good, she said.

Aviary will continue to be a place I recommend for foodies, and now I’m wanting to drop in at the bar more often! I appreciate that they take reservations, as that makes it much better for those of us who want to actually plan where we will eat.

Aviary
1733 NE Alberta St.
Portland, OR 97211

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Cultured Caveman – Paleo to go Brick and Mortar

I’ve been following Cultured Caveman food cart for a long time, yet hadn’t eaten at any of their three food carts. I like the idea of paleo cuisine and some of their offerings sounded tasty. They launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for their upcoming brick-and-mortar opening, and I enthusiastically promoted it to my social networks. I was overjoyed when they went over their goal with just hours left on Friday. I myself chipped in at the level where I’ll get a paleo cooking class with co-owner Heather Hunter.

I finally stopped in today to try the food. Heather was working the cart at Alberta and NE 15th. It was a foul-weather day with few people out at noon, unlike the nice-weather, record-setting days they’ve had recently.

Heather and co-owner Joe Ban were fun to promote — their video for Kickstarter was fun and it felt good to help out young entrepreneurs. They previously funded their carts via Kickstarter as well. Joe might be the model for the caveman painting on the cart. Both are good advertisements for a paleo diet and exercise.

Their paleo offerings have no dairy, soy or gluten. They are made only from ingredients that could be hunted or gathered. Heather sources her ingredients from organic and local suppliers.

I said hi to Heather and ordered the paleo chicken tenders and the warm collards with bacon. They made a nice lunch. The chicken tenders are made from Draper Valley chicken breast, coated in organic coconut flour and egg, with a little garlic powder and sea salt. They are fried in 100% grass-fed beef tallow and served with a southwestern aioli. This is what chicken nuggets SHOULD be. The collard greens packed a lot of nutrients. The sources and nutrition for each dish are included on their web site. I felt good after having that lunch.

Their restaurant will be a casual dining/counter service establishment in the Kenton neighborhood of Portland. My Kickstarter donation entitles me to attend their soft opening, so I’m looking forward to that this summer.

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Esoteric BBQ Debuts New Vancouver WA Food Truck

While Portland sprouts food carts as fast as blackberry vines invade your back yard, Vancouver, Washington has restrictive laws that have acted like Round-Up for our mobile eating scene. I was very excited to attend the soft opening for the Esoteric BBQ truck on Sunday, March 23, 2014.

The bright red truck features a smoker on one end and ordering window on the opposite end. But the smokey flavored foods hail more from Hawaii than from the southern states.

I perused the menu and settled on the Island Bowl. Like many items on the menu, it is designated gluten free. It’s available with Kahlua pork, chicken, tri-tip or portabelloa muschroom over their pineapple lime rice that is infused with green onion and cilantro. The bowl arrived unadorned, with moist and succulent Kahlua pork sprinkled with salt and mounded on top of the rice. They have squeeze bottles of bbq sauce, siracha mayo, sweet chili sauce and plain siracha to put on your dish.

I was very pleased with the bowl. I liked the pineapple rice and it complemented the pork. I didn’t feel any real need for the condiments, but sampled a little anyway.

Next time, I would probably go for the Smoked taco, which comes in a soft corn tortilla and is topped with broccoli slaw. Many people were ordering the BBQ black beans topped with candied bacon and the Smokey Mac made with smoked gouda, sharp white cheddar, and Monterey Jack.

In addition to the meaty offerings, they also have a smoked portabella mushroom available in a flat bread warp with onions, peppers and provolone.

I look forward to stalking this truck and enjoying more of their food.

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Genoa for $29 – Portland Dining Month at a Portland Classic

Genoa is a venerable outpost of fine dining in Portland. Their usual tasting menu serves up five courses for $70. I hadn’t yet had the chance to dine there since Jake Martin took up the chef’s apron, following in the footsteps of chefs such as Cathy Whims and David Anderson. The Portland Dining Month deal was the perfect opportunity.

To keep the options simple, you designate with your reservation if you will be taking the dining month deal. Then you have a choice between a 3-course Traditional Menu and a 3-Course Vegetarian Menu. Our table of four had two of each. Bread and house-made butter are a $3 add-on (they brought enough for the whole table for that price). The optional wine pairing is $18 for three generous half-glasses, one paired to each course.

Antipasti course traditional: thinly sliced steak, arugula, parmesan antipasti. The vegetarian composition was of beets, avocado espuma and pistachio, which our tasters thought was even better.

Primi course traditional: Cappellini pasta made with smoked eggs and smoked flour, with smoked clams and shaved cod “chorizo” on top and espelette jus. It was simply delicious. It was also artfully arranged to look like a crustacean. I would have gladly eaten a giant bowl of this. The vegetarian dish was a risotto with green garlic and meyer lemon.

Secondi course traditional: roasted duck breast with pancetta and apple. Although the duck breast was deep red within, it was perfectly roasted. I loved every bite. The vegetarian dish was caramelized caulifower, truffle, brown butter and duck egg.

Desserts were optional and they asked you to order it with your other courses. One of our number had the poached pear.

I enjoyed the wine pairing.

It was a delightful meal and showed that Genoa remains a great choice for an “occasion” dinner. We four ladies enjoyed the chance to dress up and be served with the whole white-tablecloth-and-crumber ambiance. While Genoa is dress-up worthy, I would say the service is still friendly and un-stuffy, while being very knowledgeable. It was a much more relaxed ambiance than I experienced at Ruth’s Chris Steak House last week, which was simply too crowded and the servers seemed a little harried.

Genoa Restaurant, 2832 SE Belmont St, Portland, Oregon 97214.

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Lux the Cat Deserves Rescue

By now, if you haven’t heard the story of Lux the Cat, you’ve been off the grid for over a week. Baby attacks cat, cat attacks baby, daddy kicks cat, cat goes postal and corners the whole family so they have to call 911 to be rescued. Cat goes to shelter and Cat Whisperer is coming to get everybody calmed down.

Scooter

Scooter

I was part of a similar but less-dramatic story. When my husband finally agreed that we could get a cat, within 8 hours I had a cat delivered to my house. Alia had been owned by a couple who had a baby. When Alia attacked the baby, she got sent to live with grandma. Poor Alia was used to being an indoors cat and now her life was moping around the windows hoping to be let in. She arrived at our house in a basket and as soon as the lid was opened, she calmly stepped out, found a cozy corner and fell asleep. She was a big cat, over 15 pounds. She was a long-haired half-Siamese. After adapting to us in about 30 seconds, she spend the next several years giving us love and attention. We named her Scooter because we had to scoot her out of whatever chair she was occupying if we wanted a seat. No problem, she was in our lap seconds later.

While Scooter was never aggressive with us, she did hide and quake in fear whenever a child visited our house. It was obvious she had been punished for being around children, and she never forgot.

Lux’s story could have a similar happy ending. I think the best thing would be for her to go to a calm household without children, where she was the only pet.

Hershey

Hershey

After Scooter, we had a cat-free period until my hairdresser insisted that Hershey go home with me. My hairdresser had five children, two dogs and other pets. The dogs had been harassing Hershey and even broken her tail. Luckily, her owner recognized that my home would be a nice, calm place where she would be happy and enrich our lives. Hershey was queen of our roost for the rest of her life.

I think our next cat will come into our lives the same way. I know there are thousands who would love to rescue Lux into a nice calm household.

While kittens are cute, I prefer to adopt an adult cat. They may have some violence in their past, but in a calm household they can flourish.

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Portland Dining Month at Ruth’s Chris Steak House

My husband is not a foodie. To make it worse, he has oddball food allergies to onions and black pepper that make dining out a minefield. In order to dine together, we have to choose wisely. Not for him is the wonderful, creative works of the star chefs of Portland. We had a gift certificate to dine at Ruth’s Chris Steak House for his birthday, so I went to enjoy the Portland Dining Month $29 deal.

We last ate at a Ruth’s Chris years ago in Las Vegas, so we knew the drill. The dining room was packed at 6 pm on Sunday night. They offer fine dining features such as a doormen to open the door and a coat check. The lighting is very dim and the wine menu requires weight lifting. I was pleased to see that the Portland Dining Month option was well-featured on the last page of the menu. Smartly, they showed suggested wine pairings and upgrades.

We got bread and butter and water as soon as we sat down. I mused that bread seems rare at the foodie restaurants I have been frequenting lately. A casualty of the gluten-free epidemic? I enjoyed having it. Our water server and waiter both introduced themselves and each other and knew our last name. My husband thought that was a nice touch. Throughout, the service was very good, although they seem to be guarding against lawsuits for the hot plates as we were reminded of this three times.

I chose the petite filet mignon (which would have been my choice without the dining month deal anyway) and I decided to add the bleu cheese crust. The standard salad was part of the deal, plus one side (I chose the creamed spinach) and bread pudding for dessert. My husband had the larger filet mignon and mashed potatoes.

We both had a glass of the local Hawk’s View Cellars pinot noir 2010, as I had just listened to the Right at the Fork podcast with the owner. The wine was deliciously full-bodied and fruit-forward. We look forward to visiting their new tasting room and trying more of their wine.

The salad featured arugula and was nice, but overdressed and/or sat for a little too long before serving as it was limp.

Our steaks were perfectly prepared and, as we like with a filet mignon, there was not even a touch of gristle.

The dessert – bread pudding with coconut and pineapple served with chocolate/macadamia nut brittle, was a nice ending.

The tab far exceeded our gift certificate, as the wine was $17 per generous pour and my husband didn’t take the Dining Month deal. If you are out for a real deal, don’t upgrade anything and only choose the set meal!

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Best Foodie Spots in Portlandia?

Gabriel Rucker at Le PigeonUSA Today writer Julian Smith rates his favorite foodie spots in Portland, Oregon. As a homegrown Portland foodie, here’s my take on his list.

1. Ataula – you betcha, I love Jose Chesa and everything at Ataula, including the cocktails and wine.

2. Ava Genes – I haven’t had a regular dinner yet at Ava Genes, but the Chef’s Week dinner was super. It’s hard to get a reservation, but we’ll have to plan an outing there.

3. Castagna – One of the best meals ever in Portland, they do molecular gastronomy right, even through changes in chefs. I’d go back there any time. The wine pairing is great, too.

4. Expatriate – I haven’t been there yet, but I have a certificate from Portland Food Adventures so I plan to go soon, being there right when they open in order to get a seat.

5. Le Pigeon – I’ve had some of my best meals there, Gabriel Rucker (pictured) is a very creative French-inspired chef. The dining room is always crowded and the noise level is high, so not the best for a “romantic” dinner, but it works for a fun foodie outing.

6. Nong’s Khao Man Gai – I’ve had her signature chicken and rice at Feast Portland and at a food cart festival and I am one of the few people who think it’s just kinda boring. It’s not something I’d spend money on when there are other options. As everyone else seems to swoon over it, I guess it’s like me and pho — I don’t get that, either.

7. Tanuki – I haven’t been there yet.

8. Roe – We had a Portland Food Adventure in the Roe space back when WAFU debuted. It was uneven, some dishes were great, some were clunkers. The foie gras casserole was especially nasty. But then a return to WAFU before they closed to reopen as Block + Tackle was a fantastic meal. So I’m looking forward to a return someday to Roe.

9. Sweedeedee – I had a Portland Food Adventures certificate and went there for a late breakfast about two years ago. I was underwhelmed by the breakfast plate I got, which was eggs baked in toast with a little salad on top. Boring, and it took over 30 minutes to get it after ordering. They had a radio playing VERY LOUD, so loud I almost asked if they could turn it down, it was painful. The whole atmosphere was a little too close to rural squalor – the mason jar water glasses are funky and the seating is back-porch informal/uncomfortable. But they end up on lots of lists as a must-go place. The USA Today writer says the sandwiches are great, so I may return for a sandwich.

10. Urban Farmer – I enjoyed some of their work at the Chef’s Week dinner and I’d love to enjoy a dinner at Urban Farmer.

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