El Gauchos-Expensive as Hell.

We’ve been on vacation with Ross’ parents all week in Seattle.  They wanted to take us out to a really nice restaurant at some point on the trip, but really didn’t know where to go.  They had said they saw gift cards to some nice places at Costco that were a pretty good deal.  They were $80 for $100 to spend-like Groupon!  We hadn’t heard of any of the places they had there, and my Iphone was dead so I couldn’t Google any of them or their menus.  With some help of some nice folks that happened to be in the isle, we chose El Goucho.  I had heard of it before, as there’s one in downtown Portland.  I remembered someone at some point telling me something about the place…couldn’t remember who or exactly what…totally not helpful.  They decided to buy two of these cards and we took them to the register.  They guy ringing it up scanned the cards with eyebrows raised.  I asked if it was a good place.  He looked at me like I were insane and said ‘oh yes’.

We got to the car and used the Ipad to google the menu.  I felt the blood drain from my face as the menu loaded. See what I’m talking about: http://www.elgaucho. What we thought was probably way to much for two people to spend suddenly appeared to be way not enough. As I passed the menu around we began to figure out what the hell we were going to order. We also realized that we couldn’t get a glass of wine to go with our meal, so we cracked open a bottle and started passing it around. We also realized we were going to have to change into classier duds… that is out of whatever we happened to bring in our suitcases.

After a quick trip to a drug store for pantyhose and hair pins, we arrived looking…barely acceptable. I had nightmares of us not being allowed in but the minute I walked in I realized that this was the kind of joint that if you have the kind of money to eat here, you can dress however the hell you want. This is definitely one of those “old money” kind of places. Waiters in tuxes, white gloves, crumb-scrapers and table-side service. Incredibly old-fashioned. A place I could imagine Richard Geere’s character from Pretty Woman taking the newly-classed up whore Julia to. Thankfully Ross remembered at the very last second to pull my chair out for me as the hostess put the napkin in my lap.

I took some pictures in there, but you must forgive the quality. As you can imagine, this isn’t the kind of place you shoot a flash off in.

The bar where you can enjoy a $22 cocktail.
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The ‘Richies’ enjoying their rich-ass food.
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The Menu.
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If you look closely, you can see there is a bottle of wine on the menu for $1395. Made of Jesus’ own tears, apparently.
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Terribly blurry, but this is The sword. A fencing sword of meat set on fire at your table.
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They ordered the $135 Porterhouse steak (split 3 ways, but still!) and I opted for the scallops and shrimp scampi. The food arrived next to the table and carved and prepared table-side. The baked potato was ‘fluffed and dressed’ by a dude in a tux and white gloves. It took two waiters to serve our meal. They had a sense of humor though, and let me take some pics of them and their efforts.

Hooty-snooty.
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They asked me if I wanted to have the bone wrapped for a pet. Yes, yes I do.
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The meal was decadent. The chef sent us a basket of fruit and nuts to finish our meal, most of which was covertly stuffed in the doggie-bag for later. Even with splitting one entree 3 ways, we managed to have leftovers and go over the budget by $10. I must admit, it wasn’t the greatest meal I’ve ever had, although by far the most expensive. To be fair, they are known for their steaks. I did have a bite of the Porterhouse and it was something special. Suprisingly, the things I enjoyed the most were the sauteed tomatoes topped with parmesan and the corn. Yes, the $11 corn. I think this is the kind of place enjoyed by someone who wants that 5 star experience and service…and to watch for celebrities.  That night there were some professional ball-players in there.  I couldn’t tell you from what team.

Later…

Ham trying to tear the box from our hands.
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My dog, enjoying a $135 dog-treat.
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Brassiere Montmarte

626 SW Park Ave
Happy hour 2-6 every day
10-midnight every day but sunday

I stumbled upon this happy hour completely by accident.  We were wandering around downtown for a t least an hour, checking one happy hour after another.  Everyone seemed to have that standard happy hour menu I hate:  Fried crappy snacks, a sub-par burger, something that doesn’t qualify as “real food” like spiced nuts.  After almost settling on one of these spots out of desperation, I passed by Brassiere Montmarte.  They just happened to be on happy hour and the menu was nothing short of spectacular in both selection and price.  It was too good to be true.  There wasn’t a soul inside and I was terrified they were closed.  The bartender gladly welcomed us in, and for the first time in a while I was really excited to try a menu.

One of everything, please.
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The interior was charming, a massive space both romantic and comfortable.

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Options began at a mere $1 and topped out at $9 for the most expensive thing.  Most items were about $3-$6.   Selections include fresh local oysters, pommes frites with luxury ingredients like pork belly and foie gras, mac n cheese, french onion soup, croque monsieur, and what may be my new favorite burger in portland.

Croque Monsieur.Photobucket

The French onion soup.         Photobucket

Oyster.Photobucket

Mac & Cheese.Photobucket

The burger.Photobucket

Everything was spectacular. The burger was the clear standout. With a toasted brioche bun, tomato-bacon jam, melty cheese-it may knock The Matchbox Lounge out of my #1 spot for best. That, paired with some of the pork belly fries is a true meal to remember.  I will be retuning to this spot over and over again.

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The Matchbox Lounge

The Matchbox Lounge

3202 SE Division
Happy hour 4-6 pm Daily
The Matchbox Lounge is another one of those examples of “the better the happy hour, the more elusive it is”. Its located out on Division, so it’s a bit of a jaunt. Also, you only have 2 hours a day to catch it-between 4 and 6. All that being said, it is absolutely worth the trouble in order to get one of Portland’s best burgers at only $5.

The Lounge itself is cute, kind of romantic, and has rotating local art. It offers a full menu, none of which I’ve tried except for the burger.

Meat romance.
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Let’s get down to it: The burger. It literally melts in your mouth. Not only is it the best burger I’ve had to date, it’s one of the best things I’ve eaten in portland period. For $5 you get the standard burger served with house-made pickles. For $1 more, you can add extras like cheese and bacon. I usually add manchego and panchetta, bringing the grand total to $7 which is still a damn steal. One bite and you will be infuriated that Carl’s Junior dare sell a $6 burger when this burger exists for less. This is the burger that you will be comparing all others to from now on. I have stopped ordering burgers off of happy hour menus anywhere but here.

BEHOLD!
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I can say with full confidence that this IS the best burger in Portland.

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Shanghai Tunnel

Shanghai Tunnel

211 SW Ankeny

Happy hour 5-7 Daily

I initially checked this place out on the well-informed word of a good friend of mine. He told me to go there for Portland’s very best mac & cheese. I was skeptical, as I had heard this claim of other places before but this friend of mine was very convincing. I tried it, and I have to agree that it is one of the best mac and cheese dishes I’ve ever had. Alas, it is no longer offered on the happy hour menu, but totally worth the price. For an in-depth review of this stuff legends are made of, click here.

Moving on to the happy-hour fare. I have to say, you know a place has some good shit by how elusive it is to get it. True, the happy hour runs every day BUT its only from 5-7. Only two hours AND you’re going to have to pay for parking to get it. Is it worth it? VERY MUCH SO. Every single thing on the menu not only is a great value, its so tasty-and not just when you’re drunk! What of the decor and atmosphere? Some would describe it as “dank” others, “cozy”. I suppose it depends on whatever your personal sensibilities are. It personally reminds me of a speakeasy. You enter in off the street, pass a doorman into a generally deserted bar-or so it seems! Descend the back staircase and you are suddenly in a magical world of cheap snacks, terrible music, Big Game Hunter, and a whole hell of a lot of red. Is it no wonder its one of my favorite spots?

Samurai! Not just for bad tattoos any more!Photobucket

Try not to get claustrophobic.
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We went in there to do some damage. We ordered pretty much one of everything.

The potstickers $4Photobucket
Delightfully crispy but definitely not like the greasy sponges you get at sub-par takeout places. The filling is big and juicy and before you know it you’ve eaten the entire platter.

The B.A.M.F $6Photobucket
Its full name is of course “The Big Mother-Fucker” and that sir, it is. Big as in the patty, which is thick and hearty. Served with a big old pile of fries.

The noodle bowl $8-which apparently “rocks”
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You get to choose what kind of sauce and what kind of noodle-how can you go wrong? I hardly got to taste it, but what I did get was delicious.
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The Mac and Cheese $8Photobucket
Again, I already wrote this dish its own, special review. You don’t even need to read it. Just LOOK at it.

Where the magic happensPhotobucket

We suggest you come herePhotobucket

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Why I am the worst Portlander ever

I just moved to Portland from Fresno, CA and I am slowly realizing that me fitting in here has been an “epic fail”-as the kids would say (3 years ago).  Here’s why:

1.  I do not know how to ride a bike.

 That is correct.  I have never learned to ride a bike and I have moved to the most bike-ridingest city in the US possibly.  Bike riding is seriously a religion here and taken VERY seriously.  I feel like I’m hiding some deep, ugly secret.  Why don’t I just learn?  Because I’m afraid, that’s why.  The older I get, the less adventurous I get.  Who learns to ride a bike in their 30’s?  Even more bizarre, what happens if I have a child?  How the hell am I going to teach them how to ride one?  Do I continue this cycle of freakdom?  Of COURSE everyone has offered to teach me.  Yes, I have tried.  Guess what?  Its really, really hard.  

I’ll bet you’re wondering how this could happen.  See, I grew up in a very bad, gang-infested area of Fresno, CA.  The neighborhood wasn’t always so bad.  My parents grew up there.  Slowly over the years the decay set in.  My father didn’t want to move away from his parents, who lived in a house right around the block.  That was Dad though, always fearing change.  Also, I went to a  Catholic elementary school across town so there were no class-mates to join up with and no riding to school in the morning.  There I was, an only child in a terrible neighborhood-would you let your kid ride around on a bike? Probably not.

Exactly.
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2.  I will eat whatever.

I have no special food requirements whatsoever.  Everyone else here does, and if they don’t they have certain places they wont eat at or shop at based on some sort of principal.  I like to go everywhere and I really don’t care whether the food I’m eating is organic or grass-fed or what.  “Organic” to me just means “Costs more”, which I don’t like.  I’m broke.  Broke people have no business being selective about their food unless its for a medicinal or ethical reason.  

$15 for 4
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I grew up in a town with only strip malls and chain restaurants to patron so sometimes I just want to go to a damned Macaroni Grill or an Applebees.  Taco Bell is really, really good sometimes after a few drinks.  You don’t want to eat at some restaurant because you don’t agree with who’s beef they serve?  I will eat there.  I don’t care about that.  Which leads me to…

3.  I shop based on prices, not principal

I know the big corporations are evil and in the perfect world everyone would only support the locally-owned business man.  Unfortunately we do not live in anywhere near a perfect world.  I live in a world where I just moved to a new state and work 3 days a week therefore I need to shop where I can afford.  The big chains are always cheaper-by a LOT.  Yes, I will shop at WalMart and yes I understand that doing so makes me terrible. Pure, pure evil.  Don’t get me wrong, if I can find what I need at a thrift store that is always my first choice.  If it can’t be found there though and one store has a needed item for $40 and the big chain has it for $20, I’m sorry, I’m going to the $20 store no matter where it is.  

Bargain shopper!
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4.  I do not drink beer/ no interest in PBR

Self explanatory.  I loathe the taste of all beer so it is odd to move to a town with so many breweries and PBR flows as freely as tap water.  I wish I could take part in all these $1.00 beer specials.  

You know it tastes like pee.
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5.  I have a car, and love to drive it

When I first moved here I had big dreams of rarely using the car and taking the MAX and bus everywhere like a big city person.  Wow how chic and cosmopolitan  I’ll be!  The town I moved from had virtually no public transportation to speak of so I was really excited to finally be free of the shackles and bonds of my car.  The money I’ll save!  Traffic violations and fear of getting pulled over a thing of the past.  I tried it.  I had to walk a mile to the bus stop, get on one wrong bus (thanks handy Iphone app), get on a second wrong bus, find correct bus, transfer to the MAX, get off on nearest stop, walk 2 miles to destination-in the rain.  NOT FOR ME JACK.

Tres Chic
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6.  I don’t think that crazy get-up you have on makes you look ‘hip’.   You just look silly.

Maybe I’m getting too old to appreciate it any more.  Maybe this town is on another level I don’t get.  Either way, I find myself staring at some people’s fashion with my mouth agape.  For example, I was walking down Hawthorne one evening (enough said) when the weather was still warm.  I saw two girls standing in front of a bar, smoking cigarettes wearing I-shit-you-not fancy silk tops paired with adult diapers as shorts and cowboy boots.  One of the girls even had an ever-so-classy gold belly chain stretched across her Depends just to class it up.  As my also new-to-town companion and I rubbernecked at this spectacle, a guy struts past wearing oversized overalls, no shirt, no shoes, red bandana i.e: Dexy’s Midnight Runners.  Instantly I become my mother, trying to figure out my grunge phase in the 90’s.  Crazy kids!

…sigh…
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7.  So far, I do not really enjoy dining at food carts.

There are probably some seriously delicious food carts here.  I mean, that’s one of the things Portland is known nationally for.  I haven’t found the good ones yet, I guess.  The taco carts have been bland, some of the food I’ve tried has been of questionable quality and food-safety practices, and some have just been a tad bit pricey for what you get.  I don’t really care to sit outside and dine in the freezing-cold wind and rain.  Also, I like to have a glass of wine with my meal, not flies buzzing around what I’m about to put in my mouth.  “But what about poutine?”, the hipsters will cry.  Not a fan.  I also strongly dislike Pho.  

Curds?? I’ll pass.
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8.  I am not convinced that Kombucha is the miracle tonic others do.

I know what it is and what its made of.  NO THANK YOU.

NOOOOOOOOO!!!
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9.  I enjoy wearing make-up and dressing fancy.

I like wearing dresses, make-up, high-heels, dying my hair, wearing perfume AND deodorant. Many women here do NOT.

Big night out on the town!
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10.  People take themselves very, VERY seriously here.  I tend to be silly.

I am fully aware that many people will become enraged when they read this post and leave me tons of angry comments, lecturing me on my ignorance.  I may even get chased out of Portland with pitchforks and torches raised high by the good towns-folk.  This is because people here tend to take themselves way too seriously.  For a place with a slogan like “keep Portland Weird”, some residents can be quite intolerant of others.  I’ve also noticed a lot of self-promotion and social-ladder climbing going on, much like when I lived in LA.  

You may have to live here to get this
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Don’t get me wrong, I love Portland. I just hope it will love me just as much

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Shanghai Tunnel

“Mac and Cheese” $8
211 SW Ankeny

The very first time I came to visit Portland I was obsessed with Mac & Cheese and was absolutely delighted to discover that its kind of a “thing” here.  A good friend of mine insisted that Shanghai Tunnel has THE very best Mac & Cheese in town-no questions about it.  Years later I still may have to agree with him.

Although very unconventional, this is the only mac I can finish an entire bowl of and not get sick from all the grease and cheese.  The extra things added to it is what makes it my favorite, although may not me a more traditionalists cup o’ tea.

PhotobucketIts served with green onions, tomatoes, caramelized onions, tons of garlic, a delicious cheese blend, crispy burnt cheese flakes (the best part)-all blended together to make an amazing texture and taste.  Its also delightfully spicy and has a unique flavor that I could have sworn was a dash of black truffle oil but, after questioning the chef,  it in fact does not.

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So far in my quest for the best mac in portland, this is the one to beat.

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The gold dust meridian

“The Classic Mac” $5 happy hour

3267 SE Hawthorne Blvd


This had options to add bacon for $1 so of course we did.  The Gold Dust isn’t particularly known for their Mac & Cheese, so I’m going to cut them a little slack.  It looked awesome when it came out but I found it to be a bit tasteless with large chunks of bacon just kind of sitting on top.  I did enjoy the addition of bread-crumbs on top for texture. It wasn’t terrible but I probably wouldn’t order it again.  They have plenty of other tasty food to try.

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