Monday, January 26, 2015

Tapalaya

28 NE 28th Avenue
Happy Hour: 4 - 6 PM, daily

Disclaimer: Our food and drinks were complimentary, but--as always--all of our opinions are our own.

Tapalaya has been on my TOP FIVE happy hour list since the beginning of this blog. Our original reviews date back to the spring of 2010 and--after almost five years--Tapalaya still pulls ahead of so many other Portland establishments. That's pretty serious. We've been to hundreds of happy hours. So when they contacted us to try out their new menu, we made plans to be in as soon as possible.


While everyone's favorite Cajun & Creole dishes still appear, Chef Anh Luu has added an Asian twist to both the happy hour and dinner menus. No worries, they still offer Po'boys, Mac 'n' Cheese, and Jambalaya...but now they also have a Pork Belly Banh Mi, Boudin Egg Rolls, and a Crawfish Etouffee made with roasted chiles, lemongrass, and shrimp paste. The happy hour menu might look smaller than before, but that's only because so many of the sides are already available at such a discounted rate. And that's just one of the reasons why Tapalaya has always been on my list of favorites.

Although it can add up if you get too carried away, the concept of small plates is usually accompanied by small prices. At Tapalaya, I can easily fill up (whether I make it in before happy hour ends or not) without the worry of a hefty check. My favorite menu items--the ones I have ordered again and again--are all priced at four bucks and under.



With a new menu, however, I knew that I had to try something I hadn't already grown to love. I was a bit limited, though--being both a vegetarian and 38-weeks pregnant--so you'll have to wait for my cobloggers' perspectives to learn more about the fancy cocktails, the steamer clams, and the crawfish.


I did try the Mississippi Caviar ($3) made with black-eyed peas, bell peppers, red onions, and celery. It's dressed in a red wine vinaigrette and is a healthy addition to the meal (especially if you are like me and plan to follow it with Mac 'n' Cheese, Creamy Grits, and a Cornbread Muffin).


The Charred Brussels Sprouts were a favorite all around. Listed as a nightly special, these sprouts are halved, roasted, and topped with honey, chili & lime. It's the kind of recipe that might just change your opinion of the leafy green. I, however, have been a fan for years. It's all in the way you cook them. And next time I cook them, I'll probably be trying my best to recreate this same flavor combination. It was really quite addictive.



Although I had the chance to taste a few of the other plates served (the cornbread is a win every time and I especially enjoyed the texture of the stuffed mushrooms), the only other item I ordered that night was a small dish of the creamy grits. Included as an accompaniment to many other meaty entrees, these grits are available on the sides menu for just three bucks. Made with Bob's Red Mill stone-ground grits and topped with charred green onion butter, this dish is one that I could barely stop eating (and when you're 38-weeks pregnant, you're stomach doesn't have the capacity for overindulgence).


I loved everything about our most recent visit to Tapalaya (well, except the Hurricane...virgin Hurricanes are okay, but the real thing would have really made the meal) but it was the service that was most appreciated. Having witnessed that same genuine service at every table, it was obvious that this place really values their customers. And, based on the makeup of their clientele, it's clear that they value the whole family. (Yes, it's true. I will be focused on happy hours that accept small children from now on.)

With Mardi Gras just around the corner, it's probably a good time to start thinking about making reservations. The live music starts at six and there are still plenty of reservations available on Open Table. In addition to the festivities planned for Fat Tuesday, Tapalaya will be partnering with Breakside Brewery to host the second annual Lundi Gras. The special event includes a multi-course meal paired with five beers specially-curated for the dinner. Tickets are just $55 each and can be purchased through Eventbrite.

And if going out on a weeknight isn't your thing, make plans to stop in for brunch. Available on Fridays (yes, Fridays!), Saturdays, and Sundays from 9 AM until 3 PM, Tapalaya now offers a lengthy brunch menu, including a number of Benedicts and--my favorite--Beignets.

Food: Meets
Drinks: Meets
Service: Exceeds
Ambiance: Meets
Value: Exceeds

-b


Tapalaya on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Bazi Bierbrasserie

1522 SE 32nd Avenue
Happy Hour: 3 - 7 and 10 - close, Monday through Saturday
bazipdx.com

The three of us have been blogging about Portland's Happy Hours for more than five years. During that time, we've had three weddings, two pregnancies (only one month left and there will be two bloggin' babies), we've bought and sold houses, and we've taught hundreds of lessons to hundreds of students all while doing our best to keep up with this blog. This is post number 400. And although it's just another restaurant review, it feels like a pretty important milestone.


I've been to Bazi Bierbrasserie once before. I remember it well because it was my birthday and I was on a happy hour mission. Days later I flew to Washington, D.C. and returned just in time for the school year to begin. I got behind on blogging--really behind--and never finished the post. It's an awful feeling, leaving something unfinished, but I just didn't feel right about finishing the post without really remembering the experience. Now that I've been back, it's fresh.



Bazi is located just off of Hawthorne at SE 32nd Avenue. They are known quite well for their (what seems like an) endless list of fancy Belgian-inspired beers, but really the entire drink menu is extensive. It's a full-bar (and I do mean FULL), the wine list is just long enough, and the bier-cocktails were a big hit with my husband.


Happy Hour runs from 3 until 7 PM daily (although they are closed on Sundays until Spring) and again from ten until close. There are discounts on drinks--including a $5 cocktail of the day--and enough food options to make most anyone happen. As a vegetarian, I typically am left to pick between one or two items on a restaurant's happy hour menu. That's not the case at Bazi. Sure, they are not all healthy options...but there are enough meat-free items listed on the menu that I actually had a hard time making up my mind.


This time around, I enjoyed the Velgie Burger and an order of Flemish Frites. (I thought it was a typo at first, too. Unless they are big believers in copy and paste, that misspelling was completely intentional.) The Velgie Burger is a house-made lentil patty topped with a handful of greens, a mountain of fried leeks and comes sandwiched between a soft potato bun. I added a slice of Gruyere cheese. And after taking the first bite, I was especially thankful I had. Not just because it's Gruyere...but because lentil patties can be pretty soft. Without that cheesy top, I could have easily been wearing more of my meal than would have seemed possible.


The Flemish Frites are thin cut, tossed in sea salt, and served with a delicious aioli. The regular menu includes two other variations--the thin-cut fries tossed in truffle oil or the Street Frites, which are of a thicker cut. I had a hard time sharing these. It was a decently sized portion, but they were just too good to give up.

Also at the table was a plate of the Aged White Cheddar Mac and Cheese. With add-ons available, this macaroni and cheese (with a side salad, perhaps...or maybe a plate of Brussels Sprouts) would make for an excellent meal.



The Pork Belly Skewers, Spicy Grilled Shrimp, and an order of house-made deep fried Kale Chips rounded off the meal while--at the same time--giving us a really good sampling of all the menu had to offer. The shrimp seemed to be the favorite among the meat eaters but I was especially impressed with the kale chips. They honestly seemed to melt in my mouth.


Although they prefer cash and really appreciate limiting the number of credit cards at each table, the service at Bazi is pretty much right on target. The place was nearly empty at first (all but the bar, that is) but really picked up prior to kickoff--they've got quite the set up with a big screen and projector--and still our server was able to meet all of our needs.

Food: Meets
Drinks: Meets
Service: Meets
Ambiance: Meets (although it was a bit dark in there)
Value: Meets

-b

Bazi Bierbrasserie on Urbanspoon

Sunday, January 04, 2015

Chowzter North American Award Nomination - Pip's Original


Chowzter is dedicated to finding the Tastiest Fast Feasts across the world and we Portlandians are so lucky to have many of them in our very own city. Included in this year's nominations for Tastiest Fast Feast is the Raw Honey & Himalayan Sea Salt Doughnut from Pip's Original Doughnuts, a locally-owned cafe in NE Portland serving made-to-order mini doughnuts and house-made chai. We were lucky to be able to sit down with the owners, Nate and Jamie Snell, to find out more about the story of Pip's.


Pip's started as a desire to fulfill Jamie's need for a larger kitchen space for her catering business, Lamb's Table Catering. The couple had found the perfect location--but there was one small catch. Using the space for a kitchen alone was not enough. Nate and Jamie would need to have a store front--something for the community, something that fit the Fremont vibe.


Thinking back on time spent in Seattle and a memorable first bite from a street vendor frying doughnuts on the spot, the couple settled on a concept. These street donuts were good, but it was the emotional tie to the trip and that first bite that really influenced the Snells to make a better version of these freshly made mini doughnuts. Nate and Jamie want to give their customers an emotional experience. They want their customers to remember that first bite just as they had. And they have succeeded! According to Nate, "Pip's receives love letters from across the country" from those who have sampled the deliciousness but live too far from Portland to return when the cravings hit. Nate also shared with us how much he loves watching the faces of the older generation light up when they come in and eat Pip's for the first, second, or even third time. They express that these doughnuts are just like the ones that had growing up--back when everything was made fresh--but have not been able to find again since childhood.


As I sat in Pip's, watching the line grow, the tables fill, and the plates of doughnuts disappear, I could see that it wasn't just about a mid-day sweet treat. These people were creating emotionally-tied memories. There were groups of friends chatting, young adults playing scrabble, little kids enjoying the collection of classic books, and a few times during our conversation Nate and Jamie paused to greet customers by name. As posted on their Facebook page, "Good doughnuts are good memories; Once eaten, never forgotten".

Nate and Jamie not only had the vision for Pip's but they built it! They drew up the plans, pulled the permits, and really built Pip's Original from the ground up. They did not get bank funding but instead used all of their savings. They wrote on their Facebook page, " We opened the doors completely broke, just hoping and praying that we would make enough money to be able to keep those doors open and our people paid. Because we had no money to go out and buy things to decorate the shop, almost everything decorating the shop is from our house, including the vintage chandelier". When Nate spoke with us he explained that, if it wasn't for friends and family, Pip's would not have opened. It took the entire village to see Pip's through, hence the name Pip's from Dickens' Great Expectations.


Once the counter was in place and the kitchen was fully functioning, Nate and Jamie started working on the delicious design of their doughnuts. It is Jamie's great sense of taste and masterful mixing of ingredients that creates the recipes for the doughnuts and the house-made Chai. We ordered the chai flight--which includes all five flavors--ranging from the very floral to the oh-so smokey and a little bit of everything in between. My favorite was the King and I, a slightly smokey yet sweet mixture, but my co-blogger goes for the Heart of Gold every time. The EmmyLou is decaffeinated while the rest are not and all can be made with whole, skim, soy, hemp, or almond milk.


Fun fact: the honey used at Pip's comes from the local NE Portland neighborhood near Pip's. The community rents out a piece of their backyard to house the bees and then the honey is collected from different homes around the neighborhood. How awesome is that? Again, this shows Nate and Jamie's commitment to community.


The made-to-order doughnuts are mini in size but gigantic in flavor! The menu currently offers Cinnamon Sugar, Nutella & Sea Salt, the Dirty Wu (named after a character on the Portland-based TV show Grimm), Candied Bacon & Maple, Pineapple-Bourbon, and the Raw Honey & Sea Salt. It's really hard to choose a favorite because they are all so very delicious but I can at least narrow it down to my top three. The Cinnamon Sugar might sound too simple but life's beauty often comes in the simplicity. It is the perfect combination of sweet and warm, soft crunch. I also love the Dirty Wu. It is their everything doughnut. It comes sprinkled with cinnamon and sea salt and drizzled with raw honey and Nutella. The Raw Honey & Himalayan Sea Salt doughnut--nominated for this year's Tastiest Bakery Item at the North American Chowzter Awards--melts in your mouth, giving you the joy of sweet and salty at the same time.


Family, friends, generosity, and excellence seemed to me to be the underlying creed of Pip's. They put family first. And they treat their employees as family. They take every opportunity to give back--through donations of money, goods, and time. In everything they do, they strive for excellence. As stated on their Facebook page, "We understand that excellence is a burden but it is one we will gladly bear because daily shouldering the burden of excellence is the only way to fight against the human tendency towards complacency and apathy. And hubris". As a part of their commitment to excellence, Nate and Jamie have worked hard to select the perfect ingredients (from the organic soy shortening used in the fryers to the locally-produced honey drizzled on top) and the best methods. Because Pip's doughnuts are made to order and flash fried at temperatures higher than you might expect, they are made to be eaten immediately. Take out is available, of course, but if you do take some cold Pip's doughnuts to a friend, you're actually doing them a disservice! Bring your friends to Pip's, sit down, and create some awesome memories together. For now, that's the best way to experience a mini made-to-order doughnut. Someday soon, however, Pip's will be on the go! The Pip's mobile is in the making and we can't wait to see it on the road.

We'll be in New Orleans for the 2015 North American Chowzter Awards later this week. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram for up-to-the-minute details about the event.

-O

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Gustav's Pub & Grill

10350 SW Greenburg Road
Happy Hour: 2 - 6 PM, Monday through Saturday (bar only) and ALL DAY Sundays (everywhere)

Disclaimer: We were invited to attend a special blogger dinner at Gustav's Pub & Grill in Tigard as a part of the restaurant's new winter menu release. We received complimentary food and drinks, but--as always--all of our opinions are our own.


Gustav's has always been a family favorite. It's one of those places that can easily fit a party of ten (regardless of which location you frequent), offers menu items that please each and every family member (even the youngest), and provides a great value for the price paid. Plus, the service is always stellar (despite the special requests, overabundance of questions, and mess left behind when the entire family comes to town). It's an easy go-to every time.

Although I go in wanting the exact same meal (and when I say meal, I mean fondue) every time we go to Gustav's, their menu is always changing. It changes by the seasons--allowing the kitchen staff to make the most of fresh, local ingredients--and it changes, like all things should, to show improvement. Recently, we were invited to attend a special blogger dinner highlighting the new menu items available on their winter menu.



The blogger dinner began with a plate of pretzels and mustard--a perfect start, as we waited for the others to arrive. And although we were invited to take our pick from the cocktail menu, it was obvious that they were attempting to showcase the warm and wintery drinks that would go so well with the new menu items. There were at least four warm drinks listed on the menu--including the Hot Apple Strudel, made with Tuaca, Fireball, and hot apple cider.



The chef was out before long with a warm welcome and a description of the first course. The Schweinshaxe is a brined and roasted ham hock, served with creamy mashed potatoes, beer jus and fresh grated horseradish. While this was well-liked by every meat eater at the table, I happily crunched on a kale salad--topped with fresh apples, blue cheese, and hazelnuts (thanks again, Gustav's, for the special treatment).


The second course included grilled chicken breast, plenty of mushrooms, and a black pepper cream sauce all on top of a mountain of house-made spaetzle. I was especially pleased when the vegetarian alternative included spaetzle as well. Although the texture might not be for everyone, those little German dumplings are a serious comfort food, in my opinion.



The third course was the favorite of the evening, despite its difficult pronunciation. The Hausgemachte Kalbfleischflanzerl, more commonly referred to as pan-seared veal and pork meatballs, were served with a Bavarian potato salad and thinly sliced cucumbers and radishes. It was quite apparent--when looking around the table--that this was the meal people would be returning for, sooner rather than later. After pretzels, cocktails, ham, mashed potatoes, chicken and spaetzle, you'd expect the average foodie to start slowing down. That was not the case with these meatballs. They were just too good to go to waste.


The fourth--but not exactly final--course for the evening was a small sampling of the Bavarian chocolate mouse. Served in a wine glass and topped with a dollop of whipped cream and a sprinkling of espresso beans, this made for the perfect ending to an enjoyable evening.


Before leaving, the chef returned with his final words and a parting gift. As we packed our things to go, we were encouraged to take with us--not only a fresh pretzel sandwich, filled with soft cream cheese and sprinkled with chives--but a full growler. Growlers are the perfect take away, knowing that it can be refilled (at a discount every Monday and Tuesday) again and again. And again.


Although I feel full just thinking about all the food we ate that night, the happy hour menu--with its tiered ricing and variety--has me wanting more. Discounts on both food and drinks are available Monday through Saturday from 2 until 6 PM (in the bar) and again from 9 PM - close (throughout the restaurant). And you can enjoy the low prices all day long on Sundays (again, throughout the entire restaurant). My favorite, the original fondue, is priced at just $6 (down from almost $10 on the regular dinner menu) and the potato pancakes are just four bucks. Drinks are discounted, too, with prices starting as low as three dollars.

Food: Meets
Drinks: Meets
Service: Exceeds
Ambiance: Meets
Value: Meets

-b

Gustav's Pub & Grill on Urbanspoon






Thursday, October 30, 2014

Meriwether's

2601 NW Vaughn Street
Happy Hour: 4 - 6 PM daily (in the bar only - no minors)
www.meriwethersnw.com


Without happy hour discounts, there's a pretty good chance I would have never tried Meriwether's. The menu is appealing and I've heard great things, but the price points are just a little too steep for me. I was even a bit hesitant to try their happy hour after spotting reduced prices that were still in the double digits listed on their website. That, of course, was before I noticed the Pantry Board selections--allowing customers to pick one, three, or five small plates at a discount. And now that I've been to Meriwether's, I want to go back.





The Pantry Board selections include at least a dozen small plates, each perfectly presented in the cutest little wooden bowls or tiny cast iron skillets. The menu changes with the seasons but some staples remain constant. We had a hard time choosing (even after eliminating the majority of the meaty options). In the end, we decided on the deviled eggs, polenta fries, falafel, arancini, and the cheese and fruit pairing. The board was perfect for sharing and made it quite obvious that each dish at Meriwether's--no matter how big or small--is accompanied by some serious attention to detail.


Although the Pantry Board provided the two of us with an ample amount of flavors and textures, we felt it necessary to order just a little more. The Meriwether's Beet Salad is available on the bar menu for $13 ($10 during happy hour) and comes dressed with everything you'd expect. It's got great crunch and enough beets to make every bite perfect.


I didn't sample the Prosciutto and Greens Pizza but had to include it in the pictures. It's huge and piled high with Prosciutto. The Pancetta and Potato pizza is sure to be equally impressive. If only a veggie option were available.

Not ideal on a night like tonight, the garden patio is remarkable--full or color and life and dotted with the sweetest birdhouses--and a place you'll want to visit when the sun returns.

Food: Meets
Drinks: Meets
Service: Meets
Ambiance: Meets (although the discounts don't apply outside of the bar)
Value: Nearly Meets

-b

Meriwether's on Urbanspoon

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Relish Gastropub

6637 SE Milwaukie Avenue
Happy Hour: 3 - 6, Tuesday through Sunday

The sun came out today. The temperatures were back in the mid to upper seventies. It was like summer. And it was beautiful. But tomorrow it will rain. And I will be back in my classroom. The time I spend there has been keeping me from blogging for close to two months. It's been a busy start to the school year and there doesn't seem to be any sign that things will slow down in the near future. Luckily, happy hour is still available. And if I'm too tired to head out on a Friday night, there's always the weekend.


Relish offers happy hour on both Saturday and Sunday. Yes, they have discounts during the week (all but Monday, when they're close) but I'm most excited that they offer happy hour on the weekend because that's when I actually have time to go out.


We were there for an early dinner and had the opportunity to enjoy the last of summer on their over-sized patio. I'm sure it fills up fast, but we walked up just as happy hour was starting. It's right off the street, but traffic through that neighborhood isn't much of a bother at all.

With plans to call it an early dinner, we ordered enough to really fill up. There are plenty of options on the happy hour menu to do more than just snacking--and they've got an assortment of veggies, making this a meal that won't leave you feeling guilty.




I started with the grilled romaine salad--with a substitute for the tomato bacon jam, of course. Grilled romaine is something that I've only tried a few times, but I love it every time. I am not, however, quite ready to try it at home. I just don't want to ruin that smoky goodness by overdoing it. These perfectly blackened greens were topped with giant croutons and plenty of cheese. I snapped an extra picture of that salad as it's listed on the menu. The tomato jam is thick--thicker than any salad dressing I've grown accustomed to--but was apparently a wonderful addition.


Covered in garlic and red pepper flakes, the sauteed green beans were another menu option that makes happy hour at Relish more than just your typical fried food adventure. They were a bit pricey, given the season...but still quite delicious.


Not too pricey was the giant plate of garlic cheese bread. For three dollars, I was NOT expecting such an enormous serving. We ate as much as we could but had to leave some behind.


The gnudi was the most intriguing vegetarian item on the menu--but when I asked the server which was more of a meal, he suggested I go with the tofu and pea masala. Luckily, I was still able to have a bite of the gnudi. I enjoyed the textures and appreciated the roasted red pepper sauce (probably because I've been overwhelmed with the number of tomatoes--and all things tomato-related--that have come from my garden).



Served over rice noodles, the tofu and pea masala was an excellent suggestion. It inspired me to continue my search for the best tikka masala recipe--and I think I've finally found it. The tofu was a bit too chewy for me, but the flavors were perfect. And I love, love, loved the peas.

Sitting on the patio made for plenty of people watching. And many of those people were enjoying what appeared to be frozen yogurt. With a quick search, we learned that this happy hour was within walking distance of dessert. Including something sweet isn't a requirement for a happy hour to make it to the top of our list, but it helps. Being a few doors down from frozen yogurt is almost just as good.

Food: Meets
Drinks: Meets
Service: Meets
Ambiance: Meets
Value: Meets

-b

Relish Gastropub on Urbanspoon