Monday, February 8, 2016

Daruma - Portland's Sushi Gem, Discovered!

Dan and I love sushi and truth be told since I've spent most of my time in Portland, pregnant, I couldn't truly enjoy the sushi pleasures of this town. Dying to try Daruma, a little authentic sushi joint on the corner of 42nd Avenue and Fremont Street, we finally made some time to visit.  

It's easy to overlook Daruma amongst the hubbub of popular dining establishments on Fremont, but that's exactly what makes it so great.  It's totally under the radar, but once you step in, you'll quickly come to recognize just how special it is.  

The space itself is small but nicely designed with lots of minimalistic touches and clean design.  The sushi bar is the most prominent thing in the restaurant, as it should be and while you'll see some diners eating at traditional tables, the sushi bar is where it's at.  It's fun to watch all the sushi preparation, carefully tended to by their talented chef.  Yes - there's one man in charge and you can tell he's the head honcho and knows his stuff.  

Aside from the sushi bar, there's other cool decor elements that caught our eye such as the looping footage of Akira as well as a hand drawn map of Japan, demarking each city and the type of fish you can find there.  It was a work of art and something I very much appreciated, knowing how much work goes into a custom illustration such as this one.

While the menu isn't overly extensive, I think that's a plus for the diner.  In addition to sushi of course, we also chose for a few simple appetizers and got some nice complimentary dessert on the house, which was a huge plus!

Appetizers - Starting things off with a simple seaweed salad and a cucumber salad, we were pleased with our choices.  First off, they were presented beautifully and looked elegant in their traditional handcrafted bowls.  These reminded me of something we had back in Japan when we visited a few years ago.  The seaweed salad was on the purplish side instead of the green seaweed I'm used to but it was a lot more subtle and lighter on the palate.  The cucumber salad on the other hand was more acidy and presented a sharper flavor profile.  Both things were nice as starters and weren't too overpowering, helping to prep our tastebuds for the sushi.

Sushi - While Dan and I each picked our own sushi rolls, we ended up sharing everything, which is always fun. Everything was once again presented exquisitely and looked (and smelled) very fresh.  We ended up going with the Beaumont, the Wilshire, and the Enoki roll.  The first two were fish based while the third one was a veggie/mushroom roll.  They were all excellent but my favorite was the Wilshire roll with gorgeous fresh salmon, kaiware sprouts, parsley and cucumber.  While it was simple, all ingredients were beautifully composed and were ever so fresh.

Dessert - As I hinted above, we received a little bonus dessert from the chef which was a mango custard.  Served in a little shot glass, it was a perfectly sweet and slightly tart bite at the end of our meal.  It also proved to be a great palate cleanser.

Service and Cost:
From the minute we came in, we felt well taken care of by Daruma's friendly but unobtrusive waitstaff.  I was impressed by how much knowledge they have about the sushi and how genuine they seem to be about what they do. The sushi chef especially impressed me and I loved the personal touch he offers to Daruma's patrons.

Costs aren't wildly cheap but totally fair for the excellent sushi, atmosphere and service.  We walked out of there paying around $30 per person, including with the order of drinks.  I'll be back again very soon - and that's a promise.

3 Mmmms

Daruma - 3520 NE 42nd Avenue, Portland OR 97218

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Happy Tummies at Stella Taco (for under $10!)

Loving a good happy hour, I've been wanting to indulge in Stella Taco's offering.  I always enjoy their tacos (and especially when they're just $2!) however, I've never actually been inside and eaten there. My experience has always been with take out that Dan brings home after the workday.

Located just a few blocks from where we live, you can find Stella Taco on the corner of 30th Avenue and Alberta Street.  It marks a pivotal spot in this quintessential NE Portland arts district in that I think it's where the good food starts. 

The interior couldn't be more inviting - it's well lit, boasts high ceilings, a cheery modern design and an overall casual, laid back vibe.  Since we're now always dining with our little one, I must mention that Stella is super family friendly and throughout the course of our visit, I noticed several families with young kids.  There's plenty of room between tables so you won't feel crowded and they even have a fun little activity corner for the kiddies.

To no one's surprise, we came for the happy hour tacos which only go for $2 a pop between 3-6 p.m. Note that not all tacos are $2, just the street tacos, but rest assured that there's plenty of variety to go around.

Tortilla Soup - Feeling the chill from the outdoors, I was ready to cozy up to some nice, warm soup.  It seemed to be the special of the day so I thought it would be made fresh and I was right.  Loving the chunkiness of the soup, it was packed with lots of hearty ingredients such as shredded chicken, black beans, greens and crispy tortilla chips on top.  There was also lots of cheese on top, which gave it that extra dose of comfort and Mexican flavor.

Tacos - While you can only choose the soft street tacos as part of the happy hour deal, there are 8 varieties to choose from.  Whether you're a meat eater or a vegetarian, there's plenty of excellent options for you.  I was half tempted by the veggie offerings but in the end went for the meatier pork Colombiano and the shredded brisket.  Out of these, the former was my favorite, as the meat was most tender, dressed with some homemade chile sauce and topped with crispy tortillas.  The brisket was good too but a bit on the salty side.  If I had to do it all over again, I think I would go for the carnitas instead.

Service and Cost:

Ordering at the counter and then hanging up our number on their handy-dandy ceiling hooks, the service at Stella was pretty, well...stellar.  We didn't feel like we waited long for anything and loved the attentive folks who cleaned our plates and at the same time made us feel welcome and relaxed to stay a while.

Costs are amazing for the amount of food you get.  It must be said that the tacos are incredibly filling and stuffed to the very top of the tortillas.  The soup was on the generous side as well, and depending on how hungry you are, I think you can walk out quite full for under $10/person.

3 Mmmms

Stella Taco - 2940 NE Alberta Street, Portland OR 97211

Monday, January 11, 2016

The Maple Parlor Hits High Marks

It's been months since I've wanted to try The Maple Parlor, Portland's very own gourmet soft serve frozen yogurt shop.  And of course I took my PDX foodie partner in crime, Annie along for the ride.  We weren't sorry in the least and were so impressed by their full on offering, that we'll certainly be back soon.

Unlike other self serve fro-yo shops, the Maple Parlor exceeds expectations in several ways, including in atmosphere.  I love its purple color scheme which is prominent throughout the shop, as well as its fun wallpaper accent wall, adorning big light-up MP initials that are fun for posing and taking selfies (such as the above).  Luckily, we had the shop to ourselves, given it was later in the eve, thus making it that much more magical.

Aside from the charming decor, we loved that you can sample virtually every flavor of soft serve--Maple Parlor's friendly staff encouraging us to do just that. If you're looking to spruce up your fro-yo concoction with toppings, you can of course use your imagination, but right next to the fro-yo machines, you'll notice a handy dandy recommendation board, showcasing their most popular combinations.  Nice touch, Maple Parlor!

There's about 8 different fro-yo flavors to choose from on any given night, but they always include their signature Maple flavor.  Even though we tried nearly all of them, some being really innovative and exotic, it all boiled down to that classic Maple, which is what both Annie and I ended up with.

My Sundae - Choosing the medium sized cup, it provided the perfect size for an after dinner dessert.  Filling it with the aforementioned maple flavor proved delicious, along with fun toppings such as candied bacon, peanut butter shell, coconut chocolate chunks and pumpkin mousse.  The toppings were the best part quite frankly, as they gave you a chance to be creative and indulge a bit too.  And who doesn't love a little bacon on their sweet treat? I do!  Annie took this route too, being more of a purist about it, as she topped her sundae with bacon.  Just bacon.

Service and cost:
The folks at the Maple Parlor were friendly and helpful, immediately pointing out their little sampling cups to us, giving us the opportunity to try most of their flavors before committing.  Overall, they were pretty unobtrusive but managed to be there to help when we needed them.

Costs are reasonable, at $5 for a medium sized cup with unlimited toppings.  So. Darn. Delicious.

3 Mmmms

The Maple Parlor - 3538 SE Hawthorne, Portland OR 97214

Sunday, November 15, 2015

The Big Egg Runeth Over

It's been a fun activity of mine to explore different breakfast haunts in my neighborhood since I'm now privy to waking up early with baby.  Getting to know my area even more intimately has been a lot of fun and I've made some new mommy friends along the way who've joined me for some delicious breakfast adventures.  This one, at the Big Egg was accompanied by Eva and her lovely little daughter Sophia, who I hope Edie can play with soon.

But...about the food!

Previously a food pod on N. Mississippi Ave, The Big Egg was always a challenge to try because of its popularity, and they always sold out early.  However, about 3 months ago that all changed, as they opened up their first brick and mortar location on NE Alberta St. and 30th Avenue.  What a treat for the neighborhood!  

While the storefront is small (it used to be the old Sugar Cube space), it's lovely and inviting and sports their quintessential yellow and brown motif.  The interior is friendly and seats about 20 people, with a variety of booth style and counter seating.  It's kid friendly, which is fabulous for me right now, and needless to say, I frequent it often.

I've tried a number of their sandwiches already, each being more delicious than the next that I now thought I should give their French Toast a whirl.  Really happy with my decision, I marveled at this crunchy breakfast sandwich that was wrapped in crunchy panko and then stuffed with smoked ham and a hint of gorgonzola dolce.  It was unlike any breakfast sandwich I had and certainly the most unique french toast.  A little taste of vanilla and cardamom in the brioche bread gave it that sophistication and something a little special that'll keep me coming back for more.

Service and Cost:
I usually experience really good service here and this time was no different.  Like a lot of restaurants in Portland, you order up at the counter and then wait for your order to be called out.  While it's not traditional restaurant service, I far prefer it, as it makes for a more casual experience.

Costs are on the expensive side for breakfast sandwiches but given the high quality of their ingredients, I really don't mind.  My French Toast and coffee set me back about $12 total.

3 Mmmms

The Big Egg - 3039 NE Alberta Street, Portland OR 97211

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Coating My Insides with Delicious Grassa

Since being back at work, I'm happy to resume my Downtown Portland restaurant excursions - and it's always fun to do that with my enthusiastic, wonderful co-workers.  About to describe my recent experience at Grassa, Portland's homemade pasta destination, and Lardo's sibling, my friend Laura accompanied me and we had a great time.

Essentially attached to Lardo, Grassa is an extension of this casual, stylish eatery.  Just like Lardo, you order first, sit at a communal table and wait for your food to arrive.  I like that there's service at the communal seats in the main dining room, and the waitstaff refills your waters, brings your food to the table and ensures you're having a good experience.

The dining area is simple but warm and filled with lots of patrons - especially during lunch.  Although it's busy, I like that it's possible to score a table without an issue - making Grassa an accessible and friendly destination.

There's about 10 different types of pasta dishes that grace the menu each day, and they somewhat differ daily.  It's nice to see they vary up their menu items to keep things fresh and interesting, enticing patrons to come back for more.  I went for the gold so to speak in choosing the carbonara, a signature Italian pasta dish, and I wasn't sorry.

Carbonara - The i-ching of pasta dishes is of course the carbonara with lots of parmesan and pecorino cheese, pork belly and a beautifully fried egg on top.  The latter was nice and runny and made the dish feel deconstructed, as egg is usually already cooked into this pasta.  Needless to say, the pork belly raised the indulgence quotient to the nth level and it was perfectly crispy on the outside and soft, fatty and juicy on the inside.  Overall, it made for a perfect end to a busy work week.

Marinated Eggplant - To start things off, Laura and I ordered this nice looking appetizer or contorni, as they refer to it at Grassa. Everything about it was delicious - from the tender eggplant circles to the soft mozzarella cheese, fresh pasta sauce, crunchy bread crumbs and some fragrant herbs on top.  It was a vegetarian's dream, and Laura can attest to that.

Service and Cost:
As I already mentioned, the service was casual but lovely.  We felt well taken care of and although the restaurant was busy, we didn't feel the least bit rushed to leave.  In fact, we could've lingered and hung around for as long as we liked.

Costs are on the expensive side for pasta but well worth the high quality and generous portions.  I also happened to have a Chinook Book coupon for the eggplant dish, which ended up being free, and this made things extra awesome.

3 Mmmms

Grassa - 1205 SW Washington Street, Portland OR 97205

Monday, October 19, 2015

Delicious Lunch Adventure at Thrive Sauce & Bowls

Now that I have a baby, it's a little hard to stick to my usual food exploration routine, but I'm doing my best to manage (eh hem!). Actually, the baby is a great excuse to get out, as she loves movement and exploring new places - who would've thunk it, she must take after me?

Even though my little excursion to the new Thrive Sauce & Bowls
was sans baby Edie, it's definitely a place I'd like to return to again, especially since it seemed to be pretty family friendly.  My friend Annie and I greatly enjoyed our lunch there and I can confidently say we'll be back.

Given that Thrive started off as a food truck and now has a brick and mortar location is testament to its success and culinary greatness.  Their new restaurant has a fantastic location on NE Fremont Street and 46th Avenue - right in the center of that particular commercial hub.

Impressed by its cheery interior, the dining room is large and airy, boasting a beautiful hand painted mural that showcases a large carrot - no doubt connoting the fresh ingredients used in their dishes.  The rest of the ambiance mirrors that homemade vibe as well, with colorful chair cushions, little country knick knacks on the walls, fresh flowers on the tables and other lovely things.  I like how much room they have for both small and larger parties, with a few outdoor tables as well.

Even though there's a variety of items on the menu, Annie and I both had our eye on the prize and ordered bowls.  There were many flavors to choose from, and even a bowl of the day, which I ended up choosing. Overall, we were both happy and satiated at the end of our meal - so much so that I almost wasn't hungry for dinner that night. Well almost.

Cuban Bowl - As I mentioned above, this was the day's special and included a bevy of rich, flavorful ingredients.  The braised pork shoulder is what completely sold me along with fresh veggies such as red cabbage slaw, cilantro and a traditional mojo sauce.  Overall, it was very very good but I have to say it didn't taste very Cuban - instead it had more South Asian flavors.  The pork however, was really flavorful, not too fatty and totally submissive at the mere contact of the fork.

Japanese Bowl
- Annie ordered the Japanese bowl, which she also got with a protein addition of pork belly.  Even though she was warned it would be pretty fatty, Annie didn't mind and committed to the indulgence.  I had a bite too and loved how beautifully it was cooked, with little crunchy bits on the outside and a soft, almost sweet inside.  The freshness of the veggies such as cucumber, seaweed and cilantro cut all that richness.

Service and Cost:
I like that Thrive is an order at the counter kind of place so it eliminates all the formalities associated with dining out.  We didn't wait too long for our order which was great and the staff was lovely and good about clearing our plates when we were finished.

Costs are on the moderate side and while a little high for lunch, their portions are generous and therefore still offer good value.  My bowl set me back about $13 with tip while Annie's was more like $10.

3 Mmmms

Thrive Sauce & Bowls - 4641 NE Fremont Street, Portland OR 97213

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Bakeshop - Bringing Sweet Sophistication to the NE

Well readers, I'm back again after nearly a two month hiatus due to the fact that I've made ourselves a mini-me.  Yes, I've had a little girl! A daughter of my own who's a sweet little angel (well sometimes).  It's no doubt been a challenge getting back into my regular routine, but I haven't had a shortage of good things to eat, so here I go again, telling you about it.  

Just the other week, we had our lovely friends Sarah, Blair and little Franka in town from Calgary.  Looking to show them a good time and offer them some of Portland's impressive eats, I headed over to Bakeshop (on Meg's recommendation) to pick up a few morning pastries.  Needless to say, I wasn't disappointed by their selection and the quality was so superb that it left everyone raving about it and wanting more.

Situated in the heart of Rose City in the NE, Bakeshop is set amongst a fast burgeoning area of interesting businesses such as Case Study Coffee Roasters, a bevy of interesting food carts and such. 

The bakeshop itself isn't large but most of the space is taken up by the wholesale business and the actual kitchen where their delicious goodies get made.  There's a small section for retail too, which is lovely and boasts a beautiful display of goodies, but it's not exactly a place where you'd linger and just hang out.  For that reason, I asked for a box of pastries and took it home to enjoy in the comfort of our home with our friends.

Wow! There were so many beautiful and delicious looking pastries to choose from - one more elegant than the next. Overall, I think the sweets had a lot of visual appeal and you can tell they were made by pastry chefs rather than just really skilled self-taught bakers.  I know how that must sound, but I gotta give kudos to the refined talent.

Indulging in an assortment of things including their chocolate orange pecan scone, the banana chocolate muffin, the marionberry scone and the piece-de-resistance, fig frangipane, it was hard to choose a favorite.  All the pastries were made with care and really excellent ingredients, including delicious creamy butter.  The homemade fillings and accouterments such as the local marionberries and the figs added a special PDX touch.

Service and Cost:
Experiencing really nice and prompt service, I have no complaints.  As I mentioned, there's not much of an atmosphere in their retail business so I don't have too much to say, but overall, if you're looking to make a quick pastry run, you'll find that Bakeshop does the trick.

Costs aren't cheap but not exorbitantly expensive either for gourmet treats.  Smaller pastries will set you back between $2-$4 while the larger ones are more in the neighborhood of $5.

3 Mmmms

Bakeshop - 5351 NE Sandy Blvd, Portland OR 97213


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