Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Navarre Been Here Before

I walked by Navarre about a year and a half ago, took one look at the crowd inside and went to Taqueria Nueve instead, pledging to return one day to sample what looked to be an excellent small plates menu and wine list.
That day was yesterday. I'm a busy
 girl, okay? The four of us arrived around 7 pm, and were able to snag the last four seats at the communal table next to a six-some of local politicos passionately debating something controversial, I'm not sure what, I was too busy reading the two pages back to back wine list, which was covered in an assortment of mostly European reds, with a nice mix of Basque wines, sparklies, dessert wines, and even a few French ciders (not for the faint of American and English-cider-lovin' hearts). I was thrilled to see a Portuguese vinho verde on the list, as I developed an affinity for the stuff whilst drinking my weight in vinho verde this past summer in Lisbon. Okay, slight exaggeration, I probably drank more like three times my weight in vinho verde this past summer in Lisbon, it's cheaper than water there and has a minerally effervescence that begs to chill a hot throat on a sweltering summer day. This was no sweltering summer day, it was a bone-chilling Portland January evening, so the vinho verde was all the more welcome for the warm memories it evoked. And it was a dead bargain at $5 a glass, or $20 a bottle. My sister, her darling bf, and our friend Danielle opted to share a bottle of 2006 Montenegro from Mallorca ($7 a glass, $28 a bottle), of which they grabbed the last bottle of, which was exciting for everyone except me, I was still sulking over the table's snub of my beloved vinho verde. Philistines!
Our biggest decision tackled, we next confronted Navarre's unique ordering system--sort of like sushi, you're presented with a list of options and mark what you want on a slim sheet of paper. You choose a small or 
large portion in the process. Then you choose any specials off a separate menu and write them in at the bottom. We opted to start with a heaping plate of Ken's Artisan bread ($1/$2) with a side of the 'grassy'
 olive oil ($1), but if you're a fruity olive oil person, don't despair, it was offered directly beneath. Naturally, being the meatheads we are, we had to have the large salami plate ($4/$10). We tried a small bowl of the marinated button mushrooms ($3/$7.50), which were good but not as flavor-laden as I'd have liked. We had a routine green salad tossed with a light vinaigrette ($3/$7.50). The French and Italian/Spanish cheese plates ($5/$12.50) bore some very nice cheeses. We ordered the trout baked in parchment ($6/$15), but there'd been a run on trout that day, and the chef suggested we replace it with buffalo carne asada? We were
 curious as to the correlation between the two with regards to a comparable substitution, but agreed and were served a plate of paper-thin buffalo meat on a bed of arugula. Good but not remarkable. We added the Marinated Duck with Corona Beans ($7/$18) as a special, which featured smoky slices of tender duck draped over massive white corona beans. We all agreed this would have been nicer if it were warm, but I thought the flavors melded well and the beans were cooked through, always good.
After ogling the politicos' desserts, we ordered the Red Velvet Cake and the chocolate mousse (both $5). The cake was satisfying in a comforting sort of God-I-really-crave-a-massive-slab-of-blood-red-cake sort of way --the piece was large and the frosting satisfyingly sugary, but neither dessert had much panache. I came away from dessert feeling like I usually do after office parties, like I should have just skipped it and gotten a drink instead.

Navarre * * 10 NE 28th (at Burnside) * 503.232.3555 * get the vinho verde

The Bye and Bye... Hello Vegan Bar

Well, friends who know me know that I am a meat lovin' gal! So, you guys are going to love this! I went to the Bye and Bye, which I learned upon arrival is a vegan bar. I almost left, but I thought I should at least try it for all of our readers. I asked the darling bartender what their speciality was and he said that they are known for their vegan meatball sandwich ($8). I had to stifle a little laugh at such an obvious oxymoron, but I had to try it. To my surprise, it tasted like a really good non-vegan meatball sandwich. My adorable boyfriend was with me and he missed the entire discussion about it being a vegan bar, so I had him try it and he loved it! I let him get a few bites into it before I told him that it was vegan and he didn't believe me, so I'd say that speaks for itself!

Since the meatball sandwich was such a success, I decided to ask the bartender what their specialty drink was and he said to try The Bye and Bye ($7). The presentation was slightly hysterical--they serve it in a massive mason jar. It was one of those dangerous drinks where you don't taste the alcohol, though it's certainly there--in the form of Southern Comfort and Stoli Peach, which is mixed with cranberry and soda. It's a summer afternoon in a mason jar, which was very welcome since it was practically snowing outside!

The space is huge and adorned with lots of great artwork done by one of the owners. I plan on hanging out there often in the summer, because they have several garage doors that retract to create an open space and they have a giant patio. The crowd is made up of the Alberta neighbors and lots of people with laptops enjoying drinks and vegan food. All of the food is priced between $3-$8, specialty cocktails are all $7, and beer is $2 (PBR tallboy) - $6.

The Bye and Bye * 1011 NE Alberta* 503.281.0537 * Non-Smoking

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Reader Asks: Good but Simple, West Side food?

Reader Inquiry: Hey, any ideas on a dinner spot for mom, dad and me? They like good but simple food, I'm thinking a step above Red Robin. I don't want to go anywhere expensive....any suggestions? I'd like to stay somewhere in the Northwest/Pearl. --BH

Dear BH, 
Let's see...NW/Pearl, better than Red Robin, good but simple, inexpensive, nice enough to take mom & dad...

Here are my top four choices: 

1. Bridgeport Brewing Company: I didn't inherit my affection for haute cuisine from my father, that's for sure. But my mom and I refuse to patronize Burgerville (as much as I love their seasonal shakes) three times a day when my parents visit, so we compromise on Bridgeport. Everyone loves the ambiance, you can't argue with the quality of brew, and the menu has something for everyone, at a reasonable price point. And no, we don't eat there three times a day either, although you could--their bakery is great. We just make my dad sit in the car or at a covered bus stop nearby when we eat at a restaurant that transcends his culinary comfort level. haha, just kidding! He sits in the bar and has a beer and eats leftover airplane peanuts!
Bridgeport Brewpub * * 1313 NW Marshall * 503.241.3612 * yes, they take reservations. yes, you should try their blue heron ale, named after Portland's official city bird, bet you didn't know that, see? reading tabletalkportland makes you well fed and smarter

2. Casa del Matador: disclaimer-I haven't been here yet...working on it, however, judging from the menu and the buzz I've heard about it, this would be a safe bet for you. The menu has a decent selection of hearty starters, soups, salads, sandwiches & burgers--all around the $10 mark, and meat and seafood entrees from $13.50 up. Plus they have a good selection of margaritas, always nice to have on hand when hanging out with the parents. Oops, did I write that out loud? I mean, I personally have never used tequila to prepare for a parental visit.
Casa del Matador * * 1438 NW 23rd Ave * 503.228.2855 * no reservaciones but that gives you more pre-dinner margarita time at the bar, not a bad idea really

3. Besaws: Very cute place on Nw 23rd and NW Savier, cozy and homey, pretty traditional Northwest influenced menu. Starters ($5.50-$10) include everything from bruschetta to a smoked salmon crepe, they have a few hearty soups and good-sized salads to choose from ($3.50 - $12), and more than half  the entrees are $15 or below. There's also a decent selection of burgers ($8-$9.50), so I think we could bring my dad inside here, although there is a cozy bus stop right outside. 
Besaws * * 2301 NW Savier * 503.228.2619 * reservations? yes if you have six or more. so bring the three super-cute guys you're dating simultaneously, the ones with all the tattoos and piercings and questionable views on governmental structure or lack thereof, I know  my parents love that

4. Ram's Head: It's a McMenamins, so the usual menu/beer, but I think this is one of my favorite McMenamins in terms of ambiance, even if I did once have a particularly disastrous date there. It's got loads of comfy booths, nooks and crannies for any size party, and the noise level is well below a roar in case you want to be able to hear your parents' inquisition on every single aspect of your existence and ensuing evaluation of your "dubious life choices."
Ram's Head * * 2282 NW Hoyt * 503.221.0098 * no reservations, but it's doubtful you'll have much of a wait (if any), good topics to distract parents from above-mentioned inquisition: weather, current health ailments, Hillary C., tattoos and piercings you plan to get.


Monday, January 28, 2008

Poetry skills rusty/awful/nonexistent this V-Day? Have no fear, Chocolove is here!

Once upon a time, in what seems now like another lifetime, I lived in a tiny mountain town where good chocolate was as hard to come by as full & non-Skoal-stained sets of teeth. But for some reason, which I can only chalk up to divine intervention of some sort, the local grocer had an affinity for Chocolove, a Boulder-based chocolatier who produces some of the most beautifully packaged and V-Day ready bars of chocolate ever. After arriving in the big city and wandering wide-eyed through the likes of Cacao, Sahagun, Alma, Pix, Moonstruck and Verdun, I forgot all about the chocolate that had sustained me through three long years of relative choco-famine. Then I strolled into the City Market on NW 21st today to buy some Viande pate, and immediately caught sight of the familiar and brilliantly colored display filled with some of Chocolove's best bars, like the Raspberries in Dark Chocolate (pictured, 65% cacao if you are a cacao percentage nerd like me), Dark Cherry Almond (55% cacao), and Hazelnut Milk (33% cacao and oh-so-creamy). It's true there are better quality chocolates out there to buy your one and only this V-Day, but if you're just looking for something simple & sweet to slip in  your lover's suit coat pocket before they head off to slave away in the cube farm in order to afford your Tiffany heart locket pendant (, AHEM), or that perfect 'secret admirer' gift for your office crush, I don't think  you can beat Chocolove's whimisical packaging--not only do the bars come in deep red, pink, and chocolate brown hues, but they are festooned with gold hearts, xoxoxo, and pretty stamps that make them resemble a 65%-cacao love letter. Best of all, if  you're an extremely poor poet such as myself (limericks excluded--I write a mean limerick, just ask Michelle, haha, sometime maybe I will write you one if you are lucky), there is a love poem included on the inside of the wrapper. It's the ultimate Valentine. 


Chocolove * * where to find: City Market, Whole Foods, New Seasons, Target *which kind is MY favorite you ask? well, I do so love the dark cherry almond. thank you for asking.

Choose a Loaf, ANY Loaf, Monday Nights at Ken's!

Monday Night Pizza at Ken's

I believe my sister has made it clear that she's an Apizza Scholls girl, but while I have the utmost respect for AS's delectable pies, I must say I'm firmly in the Ken's camp. I think perhaps it's the crust...perfectly chewy, burnt in just the right spots, the ideal thickness. Maybe it's the spicy soppressata--I might be addicted, sometimes I find myself gazing into space Sunday nights, thinking about how we'll be reunited Monday evening at Ken's Artisan Bakery (NW 21st & Flanders) during their Monday Pizza Nights.  I love that you must eat Ken's pizzas within minutes of receipt to get the full effect--one particularly frigid Monday evening we ordered our pizza takeout and were so fearful of losing that just-from-the-oven quality en route  we demanded everyone in the group sacrifice their scarves to insulate the boxes during the six-block trek home. So anyway, four of us convened at Ken's tonight to worship, or rather, eat spicy soppressata (tomato sauce, mozzarella, basil, and spicy soppressata, of course), margherita (tomato sauce, mozzarella, basil), and butternut squash (tomato sauce, mozzarella, parmesan, squash, sage) pizzas, all $12 save the margherita, which is $10.  There was an initial protest from the fennel sausage and roasted onion pizza fans and a mild outcry over the absence of an arrabiata (tomato sauce, roasted fresh chiles, mozzarella, basil), but with the echoes of New Year's Eve resolutions of moderation still ever so faintly ringing in our ears, we reluctantly concluded it wouldn't do to have pizzas outnumbering people at our table. In a nod to our pledge to consume more veggies in 2008, we ordered a Caesar salad, crisp leaves of Romaine dressed with Ken's nicely tangy dressing and strewn with giant housemade croutons, but if you're a dedicated multi-tasker and wish to eat your salad on  your pizza, any pie can be dressed with arugula for an extra $2. While Ken's has a small and reasonably priced wine list (mostly French and Italian reds, a few whites and a rose--priced between $22 and $35 a bottle, half offered by the glass for $7-8) we were in the mood for beer, so we swilled Boont Amber Ale and Stella Artois ($3.50 each) with our pizza. And just as we were about to stagger out fat and happy and run home to curl up around our space heater and dream of next Monday's spicy soppressata, we received thrilling news--we were free to approach the counter and request any loaf of bread in sight--yet another Monday night perk at Ken's. 


PS: If you find yourself pining for Ken's on a day of the week that does not being with M, you of course can hit Ken's Artisan Pizza  on SE 28th and SE Pine Tuesday through Saturday. You're out of luck Sundays. Sorry.

Ken's Artisan Bakery (Monday Pizza Nights) * *NW 21st & Flanders * 503. 248.2202 * takeout: YES, eat in: YES (go early or expect to wait a bit, usually 20 minutes max in my experience), think-you're- clever and call ahead and eat in: NO, you can wait with the rest of the Ken's pizza-loving masses and like it!

The Week in Food: Jan. 28 - Feb. 3

Well it's Monday (boo) but that means a whole new week of food experiences to come (yay!). Hope to see you there!

Where we'll be this week:

Monday, 1.28: Ken's Artisan Pizza * * 503.248.2202 * 338 NW 21st Ave (at NW Flanders), 5:30 to 9:30 pm * sometimes we dream about the spicy soppressata pizza

Tuesday, 1.29: Navarre * * 10 NE 28th Ave (at Burnside) * 503.232.3555 * have been meaning to try navarre for ages...

Wednesday, 1.30: Carafe * * 200 SW Market St * 503.248.0004 * we have french class on wednesdays and shall meet here to practice our newfound language skills over a bowl of moules a la creme. mon dieu! they are divine
Wednesday, 1.30: Olea * * 1338 NW Hoyt * 503.274.0800* looking forward to eating the Olea happy hour again. We haven't been there since Chef Daniel moved on to open Sel Gris, so we will let you know how it goes.

Thursday, 1.31: Thirst Wine Bar * * Complimentary Cathedral Ridge Wine Tasting, 5-8 pm * 0315 SW Montgomery St (Riverplace) * 503.295.2747 * hope we'll be sampling some CR zinfandel...yum

Friday, 2.1: Cheese for a Good Cause: A Benefit Event for Black Sheep Creamery * * Ecotrust building, 6-9 pm * we hear registration is now closed, but you can still donate!

Saturday, 2.2: Oregon Seafood and Wine Festival * * Oregon Convention Center, Feb. 1 & 2 * it's $12 a day to attend, but go to the website listed to get a $2 off coupon

Sunday, 2.3: ChocolateFest * * 503.228.1367 * World Forestry Center Discovery Museum, Feb. 2 & 3, 10 am to 5 pm * free with museum entrance fee- $7 adults $6 seniors $5 children * with a name like Chocolatefest, wild oompaloompas couldn't keep us apart from this event

Sunday, January 27, 2008

On Cloud 99 at Cacao!

I dropped into Cacao today with exactly four dollars in my wallet, not enough for the Vosges Barcelona bar I'd been craving (smoked almonds, fleur de sel, deep milk chocolate, my absolute favorite chocolate bar ever), so after a salivating turn around the store, I moseyed over and scanned the case of single pieces. They were two dollars each-- I had to choose wisely. I might have been there all day, (not exactly the worst way to spend a Sunday) had I not been offered assistance by a very knowledgeable gentleman whose name I neglected to get...he recommended the fig and fennel chocolate by Seattle-based theo chocolate ( and the dreamy creamy noir infini by Michel Cluizel of Paris (, made with 99 percent cacao. Words cannot describe it, let's just say I was on Cloud 99 as I ate it. Thank you Cacao, for making the world such a better place. 


Cacao * 414 SW 13th * 503.241.0656 * * get one of the drinking chocolates, oh my!

Saturday, January 26, 2008

A Beast of a Meal

We went to Beast tonight, Naomi Pomeroy's new(ish) place on NE 30th (at Killingsworth). Amazing. More detailed commentary to come. Seriously, amazing, from the foie gras bon bon to the duck confit  to the chocolate torte with candied blood orange and caramel. Not only do you get to eat all these delicious things, you get to watch Naomi herself churn them out in her hot steamy kitchen. And you get to write interesting things on the bathroom walls. Go...if  you can. A&E just published a ginormous spread about Beast that is sure to have their reservation book filled for weeks--maybe  months--to come. 

Beast * 5425 NE 30th * 503.841.6968 * (for menu) * Yes, you better make reservations. Now. We mean it. Call right now. 

Friday, January 25, 2008

The Original Habanero Martini? (Vault Martini Bar)

April and I couldn't  help ourselves. Post-amazing-Ten-01-cheese plate, we just had to turn the corner and slip into Vault Martini Bar. And even though an evening spent at one of their cozy booths usually spells trouble the next morning, I have a very soft spot in my heart for the Vault. I don't know if it's the 44 martinis on the menu, the yummy spreads (mushroom and fontina ragout is my favorite), or the darling manager Kenny, but the Vault has always been one of my happy places. (I know, maybe I shouldn't admit that bars make it onto my list of happy places, but...) 
Anyway, for the first time, at least the first time I can remember, I had the Vault's habanero martini, which is made with house-infused pineapple-habanero vodka and fresh lemon. Divinely spicy-sweet. I could drink them all night. We didn't, of course. Really.
I noticed on Citysearch that Vault claims to be the home of the "original Habanero Martini." So who are the imposters I wonder? It made me think of the best spicy pepper-infused cocktails I've had around town. I love Nuestra Cocina's serrano lime drop, and my friend Sian would hook up an iv drip of Bay 13's serrano peach martini if she could, I reckon. 
Any thoughts on your favorite spiiicy cocktail around town? 


Still Dreaming About the Cheese (Ten 01)

So tabletalkportland special correspondent April managed to escape the cube farm well before quittin' time in order to meet me at 3 pm for an early happy hour at Ten 01 in the Pearl. The bar was empty except for a few guys in suits drinking Ten 01's excellent wine and looking mildly pretentious, but April was wearing her new Banana Republic sweater and I was wearing my Juicy Couture jeans, so we weren't intimidated.  We ordered the cheese plate ($6) and the charcuterie plate (also $6). They were phenomenal! The cheese plate was beautiful, with generous portions of three soft cheeses accompanied by a row of bright orange dried apricots, a tiny pool of  honey, and some sort of fruit paste (quince maybe? I forgot to ask, I was so enraptured by the cheese). The charcuterie plate was also well endowed with five meats lined up three or four deep, accompanied by a tiny stack of cornichons, a quenelle of dark whole grain mustard, a chutney, and a dollop of dijon. 
It's 11:34 pm, and I'm still thinking about that cheese...especially the creamy blue. I believe I must return to Ten 01 tomorrow at 3 pm on the dot. Is that wrong? I know, I know, so many happy hours, so few afternoons, but I can't stop thinking about it. I feel bad that I didn't get the names of the cheeses. I suppose I'll HAVE to go back now. Sob. 
(Ten 01 * 1001 NW Couch St. * 503.226.DINE * Happy Hour M-Sat 3-6 pm * Get the cheese)



Thursday, January 24, 2008

V is for Victory

So it had been a looong day, and my sis and I were both exhausted. I posed the age-old "Where do you feel like eating tonight?" and a half hour later all we'd managed to agree on was we both wanted 'comfort food.' Finally we narrowed it down to either Apizza Scholls (best pizza in the world) or the Victory Wine Bar (best spaetzle in Portland). We decided on Victory Wine Bar, because Eric (the chef) is an amazing cook, there is rarely a wait, and they have great drinks.

After my sister finally figured out how to get into Victory (she really does know how to read, but for some reason the sign stating "Use Other Door" was invisible to her), we feasted on the charcuterie and cheese plate ($13), steamed mussels with chorizo and saffron butter ($9), the baked spaetzle with Gruyere cheese and crispy shallots ($7), and the braised beef short rib with turnip gratin ($9). We were in the mood for a relaxing glass of wine from their excellent by-the-glass-or-bottle list (mostly French and Italian wines, a few Spanish, very reasonably priced), so Jen had a glass of La Chaussynette '06 Southern Rhone ($6) and I had their house red wine ($5). I believe I may have mentioned that the spaetzle (my favorite dish) is the best in Portland--and the ultimate comfort food, what with that hot melty blend of cream and Gruyere cheese, and the crunchy toasted shallots. It's served with applesauce, which gives you an oh-so-happy salty-sweet buzz. My sister wouldn't stop talking about the beef short rib, which was so tender it practically fell apart when you touched it with the fork. We did think the charcuterie and cheese plate was a little overpriced for the portion size at $13, but it was delicious nonetheless.
A few more glasses of wine later we decided that we must throw points to the wind and have a dessert, so we ordered the gingerbread pudding cake with spiced-wine poached pear ($6, pictured above) and a New Fashioned cocktail, where they take an entire Satsuma and crush it, then mix it with bourbon, pomegranate, and house made cinnamon bitters ($6). My sister was so excited about the whole Satsuma--skin, pulp and all--being in the drink that she could barely contain herself ... it's the little things in life!
The scene at Victory is very hipster/old style bar. It's welcoming, cozy, dimly lit, and they have board games. I just love the idea that they don't mind if you hang out all night playing a board game while eating their fabulous food and sipping New Fashioneds!

Victory Wine Bar * 3652 SE Division * 503.236.8755 * no reservation needed * get the spaetzle

What Is tabletalkportland?

So there we were, sitting around yet another restaurant table piled high with empty plates and littered with martini glasses (Michelle's) and champagne flutes (Jen's), on what we fuzzily hazarded was our 37th consecutive night out on the town. There's got to be more to life than just eating at yet another excellent Portland bistro/cafe/bakery/gastropub/boulangerie/wine bar/patisserie/sushi bar, one of us said. Something's missing. Dessert, to start. So we ordered a lemon curd crepe with Meyer lemon marmalade and kept pondering our sweet and savory existence.
Then it hit us--we love food and eating out far too much, right? So why not share our affection, okay, our slight obsession, for fantastic food and drink with the world, not just keep it to ourselves and our waistlines! Let's put up a website, do a little blogging, we decided. It seemed like a great creative outlet for two girls who are waaaay too fond of food. 
While making quick work of the above-mentioned crepe, we dreamed up a sort of Portland food scene "hub", somewhere where we could go to get quick n' dirty updates about the who, what, where and when of the local food n' drink circuit. Whether it be the latest and greatest restaurant or a rediscovered old favorite, a cool gastropub to relax in with a pint of seriously good Belgium beer and a bowl of mussels or a tiny cupcake shop where we can gorge ourselves on Red Velvet cupcakes and cold milk on a rainy Saturday afternoon. 
We know we're busy girls--unfortunately we weren't born with martini funds, so as much as we'd love to be able to spend all day at Crema drinking from a bottomless cup of Stumptown and nibbling ham and cheese croissants, alas we must toil instead to earn our (artisan, of course) bread money--and we figure you're probably pretty busy yourself, so we envision a website that gives you the foodie lowdown at a glance. We want tabletalkportland to be a place where you can go to get all the info you need to make your weekend dinner reservations in a moment if need be (of course, you're welcome to spend longer clicking around if you like!).
We thought it would also be nice to post updates on upcoming food events and interesting classes  (Chocolate 101?). We've also got a few surprise features and chef profiles up our aprons, so be sure to watch for the forthcoming launching of our website ('re still ironing out the technical details as you read this. In the meantime you can read our foodlovin' brain dump on this blog.
Thanks a million for visiting today! We are so excited about this venture and can't wait to see how it unfolds, but we need and want your support, input, tips, and opinions. So keep reading...and keep eating!! You know we will be!!

Jen and Michelle