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Portland is Weird

October 8, 2011

Legend of the Eating Hero

Before my first visit to Portland this last year, many of my friends and families gave me the caution that Portland is weird. I didn’t have an exact understanding of what this meant, other than the notion that the Northwest has historically been considered a haven for the “Hippies, liberals, and tree-huggers.”  That being said, I hoped Portland was weird; at least this meant that its cuisine offerings would not be bland. It did not disappoint.  I spent a three-day period traveling around to local spots, suburban eateries, and enjoying the incessant rain, abundance of Thai and sushi restaurants and a Chinese and Japanese garden. It was a trip that was as memorable as the occasion for which I had traveled.

Thanks to the Food Network, Bourdain and a series of web sites, I decided to make my destination to the following spots:

  • Voodoo Donuts
  • Otto’s Sausage Kitchen and Meat Market
  • Pok Pok
  • Lan Su Gardens
  • Japanese Gardens
  • Powell Books

There were other sites I visited and dined at but they were unplanned and will be covered towards the end of this post.

My first full day in Portland was met with the constant mist and rain this region is known for. Luckily, I had the world’s largest umbrella and a luxury SUV to shuttle me around (Thanks Paul).  My first “food” stop: Voodoo Donuts. Featured on just about every travel and food show, Voodoo Donuts seeks to be the perfect representation of the “Keep Portland Weird” slogan, plastered across various walls, billboards and bumper stickers in the city.  The go-and-buy local slogan could be no truer than in Voodoo. I was advised to arrive early since long lines usually form quickly.  I didn’t arrive early.  The rain poured hardest when in line and the building is perfectly situated on a corner building with shoddy roofing drainage. Fortunately, my umbrella, while awkwardly large kept me dry. The total wait time was about 30 minutes until  I reached the entrance only to be crowded into a small front cashier area surrounded by obnoxious teenagers with only enough cash to buy one donut (I guess it was worth their wait).

I was cursed to wait in the rain

As soon as I entered, it was like an explosion of awkward. A large donut and graffiti-laden ATM greeted me.  So what’s special about Voodoo’s you’re wondering? Well, honestly, it’s the boldness in toppings and nothing else.  Before fans of Voodoo begin a critique of my “small” blog, let me preface that my family had been involved in the donut trade (lol) for well over 20 years. My father and uncles have owned, worked as bakers, and managed many donut shops and growing up, I was exposed to the delicious delicacy that is the donut. So I feel that in the regards of donuts, I know my stuff.  If you’re wondering about the flavors and toppings they offer, take a peak at the types below:

  • Voodoo Doll- Raised yeast doughnut filled with raspberry jelly topped with chocolate frosting and a pretzel stake! (characteristics of Voodoo Dolls are all different)
  • Portland Cream -Raised yeast doughnut filled with Bavarian cream with chocolate on the top and two eyeballs!
  • Captain my Captain -Raised yeast doughnut with vanilla frosting and Captain Crunch!
  • The Loop -Raised yeast doughnut with vanilla frosting and Fruit Loops!
  • Grape Ape – Raised yeast doughnut with vanilla frosting, grape dust and lavender sprinkles!
  • Diablos Rex -Chocolate cake doughnut with chocolate frosting, red sprinkles, vanilla pentagram and chocolate chips in the middle!
  • Gay Bar -Raised yeast doughnut chocked full of luscious cream and all the colors of the rainbow!
  • Dirt doughnut -Raised yeast doughnut with vanilla frosting and Oreos!
  • Maple Blazer Blunt -It’s a raised doughnut rolled into a blunt with maple frosting and red sprinkle ember, prices vary due to Blazer Mania!
  • Marshall Matters – Plain cake doughnut with vanilla frosting and mini M&M’s!
  • Arnold Palmer -Plain cake doughnut with vanilla frosting and lemonade/ice tea dust on top!
  • Butterfingering -Chocolate cake doughnut with vanilla frosting and Butterfinger crumbles!
  • Dubble Bubble -Raised yeast doughnut with vanilla frosting, bubble gum dust and a piece of bubble gum

Voodoo doesn’t lack in the creativity and some of their product names are clever. Aside from the sexually suggestive Gay Bar or blatantly sexual cock-n-balls, the Marshall Matters, Diablos Rex, and Old Dirty Bastard have a certain ring to it when ordering.  But what about the flavor?  Well, cake speaking, the donuts are solid, there is nothing glorious since the owners and bakers know how a cake donut is properly made (This isn’t a Krispy Kreme type establishment). But some of the flavors, popular as they are, were too much. Any donut with cereal was the victim of stale bites. For a place that produced in mass demand, it seems strange that the donuts would have this problem.  In addition to the unique frosting, Voodoo also had it’s claim to the Boston Creme with its counterpart the Portland creme.  It was the best donut by far but nowhere near Kane’s donuts in Saugus, MA or the overloaded creme bombs I used to make when I was a young kid. The Old Dirty Bastard was old, dirty, and bastardized.  My young cousins loved the abundance of sweetnesss but the frosting, peanut butter and chocolate was too much. The maple bar was as any bacon-lover would expect, tasty. Pair maple with bacon and you have a winner.

Mojo Crepes

http://www.mojocrepes.com/

The view from above -

I’ve always loved Crepes. They take the flavor of pancakes without the bulkiness.  Best of all, they can be had as either a dessert (nutella being my favorite) or as a meal in the form of a Crepe Sandwich. Crepes were once a blooming business for Utah during the late 90’s and early 2000’s. But  the craze quickly became a fad and many places such as the European Connection  and a Taste of Europe closed shop. After arriving to Portland, my cousin took me to this nearby spot that specializes in Japanese Crepes.  These Crepes are folded in cone shape and stuffed with ice cream or shaved iced mixed with an assortment of spreads such as Nutella, Peanut Butter, Sweetened Condensed Milk,  Chocolate Syrup and many other tasty items. You can customize your own mix with fruits and cookies or pick from many of the pre-determined Crepe Menu.

Bun Bo Hue

BBH!

People will often speak of Pho as their favorite noodle soup and as much as I love Pho, my favorite noodle soup is easily Bun Bo Hue. Distinct for it’s spicy, lemon grass infused broth, any true Vietnamese, let alone Southeast Asian, will know the great taste that a bowl of Bun Bo Hue – Hue style, with pig blood and hocks, truly offers. The broth is clear and the noodles a thick rice noodle. It’s best served with many of the usual garnishes of Pho (including banana blossoms and various mints) but can be enjoyed best with coagulated pigs blood and ham hock and a bunch of chili sauce (at least in my opinion). My cousin’s husband invited me to his favorite spot and I wasn’t at all disappointed. The place reminded me of being back in Los Angeles as a child and feeling like a part of a special Asian community with all the memories and common identity associate with food. I did have to add a bit more hot oil and chili sauce to my bowl but the service was sweet and the experience uniquely Asian.

Fuji

http://fujis.us/

I’ll be quick on Fuji but put simply, it’s nice to have connections in Sushi and even nicer when the Sushi is high quality, well produced, and in copious amounts.

Free sushi is the best sushi

Otto’s Sausage Kitchen –

It may not look pretty but it tasted amazing

https://www.ottossausage.com/

I happened upon this place when searching online for some of the best hot dogs in the US – I had already been to Steve’s Snappin’ Dogs in Denver, so when I heard that Otto’s was nationally known – I took a detour out of my long day to find it. I was happy I did.  I had just barely finished my meal at Pok Pok (I’ll share that experience later), when I realized I was extremely close to Otto’s. Having served the Portland area as a full butcher shop for over 80 years, Otto’s is known for one thing – meat. I walked up to the butcher shop with such excitement and even more so when I peaked into their back room to see them carving up a hanging ham – how much fresher can you get! On this day, they had a barbecue cooking up dogs in the front – a daily occurrence. I ordered their traditional wieners smothered in some spicy mustard and the flavor was instant. Unlike hot dogs which have the obvious processed and artificial taste, this hot dog had a meatier flavor more akin to sausage.  I then went into the store and was in Heaven. I’ve always dreamed of having a personal butcher, one whom I could go to to get the usual fresh cut steaks or custom orders. When I walked into Otto’s I was living that dream. Cases and cases with meat and samples! I bought myself a few sticks of their incredible homemade pepperoni and a pound of their Bockwurst and wieners.  The Bockwurst was incredible – a German sausage that had a milder and sweet flavor.  After getting my treats to go – I had another two classic wieners and imagined sharing the joy with my friends back home.

This post is getting a bit long

Pok Pok

http://www.pokpokpdx.com/

A helping of wings - think Wingers Sticky Fingers but Vietnamese style

Lastly – there’s Pok Pok – I saw this place on TV while watching my favorite show Diners, Drive-ins and Dives – what I remember most from the show was how Thai food was lovingly presented by a อเมริกัน who seemed to convey passion and love for the food. I also remember the word “authentic” being used casually in the spotlight by a bunch of white folks and to lend credibility to that – one Thai male.   The food looked incredible in the video as it usually does on TV and I must say that it looked just as appetizing in person – BUT – and that’s one HUGE BUT, I wasn’t impressed. For one, the prices were high, even for someone who had a no budget plan for the trip.  Granted, this is coming from a bias viewpoint and one who has been fortunate to eat the actual foods in their native homeland – but I just felt like I was paying a price I shouldn’t have to.  I ordered one dish – the Vietnamese Sauce Wings. My waitress suggested it, informing me that it was among the favorite dishes for locals so I bit. And bite  I did. There is no hiding the fish sauce in this dish. I love fish sauce like any other Southeast Asian but there was just too much of it here. I can see the allure of so-called trendy and hip eaters or those who assume they are in Portland; the dish was salty, bold, and a direct opposite of American fare so it’s understandable that such a vibrant take on Thai and SE cuisine would be so popular.  I won’t take anything away from the chef. I can tell he knows his stuff but if you’re looking for good Thai or Southeast Asian food in Portland, it’s easier to venture out away from the burbs and find the Asian community and their more “authentic” offering.

Lan Su Gardens and Japanese Garden

http://www.portlandchinesegarden.org/

I'd love to host a party or wedding here!

http://japanesegarden.com/

If you are even in Portland, there are two places you  need to visit. They are Lan Su Gardens and the Japanese Tea Garden. Each are recreations or representations of their respective cultures and history and each lets you forget for a moment that you’re in an American city. I could spend an entire day meditating and relaxing in both but unfortunately my parking meeting wouldn’t allow it. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves

Conclusion:

My trip to Portland was amazing. It had been a long time since I really indulged myself during a vacation and food-wise, Portland does not disappoint. It has it’s ups and downs and is truly a foodie city. If you want to relax, have your skin constantly moisturized by the incessant rain, and just enjoy the eclectic simplicity of being hip – then visit. Just make sure you don’t say you’d like a plastic bag when you’re at the grocery store.

A Rose by any other name...

Friend Meter: EVERYONE!

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I’ll be posting a few videos in a few days!

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Maurilios – A fast post

October 8, 2011
3078 W 7800 S
West Jordan, UT
(801) 563-7447
$
 

I’ve been sitting on this post for a while now and I realize that if I don’t post it, it may end up being too late –

I often separate restaurant style Italian food into two categories, those that cater to the high-end and “authentic” Tuscan/Sicilian/Italian sounding food and Italian-American food.

Very similar to the glorious bastardization of Chinese food in America (think Panda Express or any hyphenated ethnic cuisine) Italian food is more American than Italian. Don’t get me wrong, I love this type of food. I grew up eating spaghetti with a thick meat sauce, layers of lasagna with cheese and meat and garlic, garlic, garlic! This includes Fazolis, Coachmans, Spaghetti Factory, Michellina’s frozen dinners and school lunch.  – Italian food was carb loaded and simplistic and my first exposure to non-Asian food at home. I’ve posted previously about my childhood memories eating Italian-American food from what people would consider microwave, canned, or low class but I loved every bite! For a poor refugee family as mine – this was a specialty and a gateway food.

Maurilios fits this weird circle of food for me. The food is obviously not on the same level as some of my favorite higher end Italian spots but I was satisfied with what they offered. I didn’t have high expectations at all.  But sadly that probably doesn’t fare well for this place. The restaurant opened not so long ago in the plaza that previously housed Eatz-a-pizza and Mountain Mike’s Pizza unsuccessfully.  I drive by often and hope that this same fate doesn’t befall them. We need more small businesses and restaurants have a soft spot in my palate.

During my first visit, we were greeted by the owner or wife of the owner who was very warm and friendly. She did her best to accommodate us and provided us with the option of a pizza buffet (salad and soup). The seating had the same feel of the prior establishments with a large open kitchen area that was clearly in view from any seat. I was a bit skeptical because at first sight, the place didn’t seem to offer anything really appetizing.  I knew not to expect Cucina Toscana and it’s good that I didn’t. The food was flavorful, albeit a bit salty but generous enough that myself and my guest felt the money we spent matched what we received. Some may argue otherwise. The lasagna was pleasing enough but the pizza looked depressing. The “garlic” bread had a bland texture to it. It won’t blow your mind away with its offerings but for a small restaurant it doesn’t make any bold offerings and fortunately delivers on those lower expectations. I’ve gone twice and while some dishes were hit or miss (Ravioli being a miss), takeout afforded me a larger portion and for someone with a quick feenin’ for Italian a satisfiable Chicken Parm. It’s okay. I’ll leave it at that, it’s okay.   I may however opt to go to Fazoli’s down the street instead next time though recent banners I’ve seen advertising lunch specials or even an insert in the menu advertising Mexican food have me curious with raised eyebrow.  Here’s a few pictures from one of my visits.

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