Thursday, July 30, 2009

Gotham Tavern - CLOSED

2240 N Interstate Ave
Happy Hour: weekdays, 4-7 & 9-close


Three dollar items on a happy hour menu will always pull me in, even if it's a place I've never even heard of. (And, that says a lot for me. If you've been reading long, you know that I don't even like to order something new when I walk into a restaurant. I prefer to play it safe. It's who I am.) This happy hour menu, though, wasn't too elaborate. Yes, there were a few items. Some that I've seen before (and am starting to believe that they are the "go to" items for a successful happy hour) and others that would probably be incredibly enticing (ceviche is such a fancy-sounding appetizer, don't you think?) if I were to eat meat and seafood. I don't. So, I had a choice between a quesadilla or the hot artichoke dip.

I chose the artichoke dip. It was good, at three dollars. It was not, however, that spectacular. Served with a mound of tortilla chips, it would be an easy crowd-pleaser. I, however, attend these happy hour functions in hopes that the food I order will serve as my evening meal. Tonight, it did not.



I was quite pleased with my drink order and have since tried my best to recreate one at home. At seven dollars, it may have been a little too steeply priced--given its ingredients. I will say, though, that the pink lemonade is a perfect choice on a hot, hot summer day. And, after two days in which the temperature in Portland was well over one hundred degrees...I needed something simple to cool off with. And, growing up on Shirley Temples has led me to believe that adding just the smallest amount of Grenadine is like pouring pure happiness into the glass. Just a little, of course. It's the best sugary sweetness around. And, it doesn't take much to sweeten a beverage.

The service at Gotham Tavern wasn't exactly what I had expected. It wasn't at all bad, just not what I expected. The server was prompt, brought us plenty of extra water (did I mention how hot it's been?), and didn't seem at all phased by the additional people arriving at our table well after she had taken our order.

I probably won't return to Gotham Tavern for happy hour but am interested in a few of their regular menu items (particularly, the portabella sandwich).

Food: Nearly Meets (mostly unoriginal)
Drink: Meets
Service: Meets
Ambiance: Meets (privacy of the "dining pods" is a plus
Value: Meets

-b

Gotham Tavern

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Rontoms, version two

Rontoms, in my opinion, is another one of those restaurants that just hasn't gotten things quite right (yet?) On a recent visit with a friend there was a lot to enjoy about the place, but I wasn't completely satisfied the way that I was when we went to Sapphire Hotel.


On the positive side, I loved the outdoor patio. There was a large, sunny area with plenty of tables to choose from. I thought it was a nice, relaxed atmosphere (although people who are sensitive to cigarette smoke might not like it--there were some smokers at various tables).


The waitress was also nice and friendly, although she seemed to be handling all of the tables on her own, which made things a little bit slow. I ordered a Diet Coke and vodka and it tasted rotten, and she was nice about replacing it with a vodka and grapefruit juice ($3 at Happy Hour). The food menu was small but the portion sizes were generous. I ordered the tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwich ($4 for both). Both were very delicious, and I was full after I finished! Not a bad meal for $7 total.

Things that I think could improve the Rontoms experience:

1. Having more exciting drinks on the Happy Hour menu (yes, it is a good deal to have $1 off well drinks, but a summer drink special or two couldn't hurt).

2. Having more servers to provide quicker service.

3. Having a sign outside (What the heck? "We've got a restaurant here, but we're too cool for a sign!")

4. Having more than five food choices on the Happy Hour menu. These were the Happy Hour specials: French Dip, Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup, Grilled Chicken Sandwich, Kabobs, Butter Lettuce Salad. (I'm pretty sure that I am not exaggerating!)

5. Having a better bathroom. There was one single coed bathroom available, unless there was one hidden in a place we could not find. There is no way that one bathroom can cover all of the people that could potentially be at this restaurant--it's HUGE! One toilet is not sufficient!

Food: Exceeds
Drink: Does Not Meet (rotten Diet Coke, no fun Happy Hour specials)
Service: Does Not Meet
Ambiance: Meets
Value: Exceeds

--E

Rontoms

600 E.Burnside
Portland, OR 97214
Happy Hour: 3 - 6:30


For someone who has never been there before, Rontoms is not easy to find. Yes, it's on the corner of Burnside and Sixth. But, there is absolutely no signage. Even the website is a blank screen. It's as if they are going through some sort of name change and the interim period has lasted just a little longer than expected. There is a picture cutout on the side of the building and that same picture is on the happy hour menu, but...if I was looking for Rontoms, I'm not even sure that I found it.


We walked into a very dark and ridiculously empty bar that was screaming industrial site from every corner. Even the bathroom, with its sliding door and concrete floors, had the feel that seems a little too overdone in some parts of Portland. Following another customer (who looked as if she knew what she was doing) into the patio area, we were welcomed with a HUGE enclosed patio, a number of picnic tables, an outdoor bar and THE FOOD WINDOW--connecting the kitchen with the patio area.


I almost want to say that the service at this restaurant was awful (with a capital A) but I know that it is just understaffed. As the time passed, more and more waitstaff came on making the experience much more pleasant. There was just one server when we first walked in at four-thirty. Poor thing. It's obvious that she knows what she is doing but is just too busy to do it right.


The happy hour menu is quite small but with a great selection. And at four dollars each, it's a great deal. I ordered both a butter lettuce salad (served with grape tomatoes and Gorgonzola cheese) and the tomato soup + grilled cheese. The tomato soup had an excellent consistency and was a common request on a hot summer day--causing me to believe that it's a favorite at this place. The grilled cheese had a little something extra as well. The green chiles were a great addition and something that I might try at home.


Missing at this restaurant (other than that oh-so-important-for-business sign out front) is a list of fancy drinks. Sure, I can drink my usual gin and tonic (with extra lime) but I would much rather try something sweet or refreshingly crisp, maybe with a sugared rim even. The well drinks are a dollar off during happy hour, bringing them from four (already a great deal) to three dollars each.

Food: Meets
Drink: Nearly Meets (boring!)
Service: Nearly Meets (perhaps they should hire a few more servers)
Ambiance: Exceeds (for outdoor seating, only)
Value: Exceeds

-b

Rontoms

Monday, July 20, 2009

Blue Monk

3341 SE Belmont
Happy Hour: 5 - 7 (8 in the basement)
and ALL DAY Sunday


There are certain things that I'm convinced are only done (or only done well, that is) in Portland. Perhaps there's a little bias in what I say. Perhaps it's because I haven't lived anywhere other than Portland in my adult life. Traveling, though--and even more so when I am entertaining a friend from out of the area who is enamored by what our little city has to offer--has led me to believe that Portland is special.

Happy Hour is one of those things that Portland does well. Really well. And, I am always pleased when I don't even make plans for eating cheaply and then just stumble (not literally) upon some great food deals. That's exactly what happened at the Blue Monk on Sunday. I had no idea that they offered happy hour all day on Sundays. I had only been there once before and never for dinner. I was so impressed and knew that--even though it wasn't one of our planned happy hour excursions--it needed to be included here.

The food menu isn't marked down to as little as three dollars like some places but when you combine a discount on food with a discount on drinks, it lends to a very good deal. I started by ordering a Ruby off of the cocktail menu. It was marked down to just $4.50 and were perfect. Vodka, Chambord, cranberry and lemon juice shaken and served in a martini glass with a powder sugar rim. My memory may not be perfect, but I feel that this might have been my first experience with a rim coating in powdered sugar. The look and the taste were great...but, I am very much a texture person and I missed those tiny granules. Sad, I know. It's not going to keep me from returning, though.


For dinner, I ordered the Parmesan Polenta priced at only $5.50. I am so not an expert when it comes to Polenta. I've only ordered it once before. When it was brought out from the kitchen, I was a little worried by it's appearance that it would be without much flavor at all. Two yellow triangles sat atop a pile of what looked like any basic chunky red sauce. I. Was. Wrong. They were perfect. The texture was impressive. The melted mozzarella complemented the flavors. And, that sauce was far more than what it appeared to be. It was full of sliced green olives, chunks of eggplant and the perfect amount of tomatoes. Obviously, I was pleased. And, a little surprised.


The only thing that I missed about this happy hour experience was the outdoor seating. But, if we had known about the prices and had planned on an early arrival like all the other places, it would have worked out. The surprise was nice. I loved the price and the food. Service, too. All around, I know that this is a place to which I will return.

Food: Exceeds
Drink: Meets
Service: Meets
Ambiance: Meets
Value: Meets

-b

Blue Monk

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Sapphire Hotel

A second, but similar, perspective.



With the temperature in Portland hitting the upper eighties, I was eager to sit outside at the Sapphire Hotel. I was a little worried to see that all (two) outdoor tables were already taken before opening for happy hour at four, but soon realized that these patrons were merely spilling over from the coffee shop next door. They quickly got up, offering empty tables to those of us waiting, as the sandwich board sign directing all to "eat ~ drink ~ kiss" at the Sapphire Hotel signified that the waitstaff and chef were ready to please. And that they did.

I was beyond impressed with the work of the server that day. She was friendly, attentive, and answered all of my questions. (I tend to ask quite a few...causing some to believe that I might just be a little high maintenance when it comes to dining out.) Starting as only a table of three and growing to nine (plus a baby, makes ten), she was able to accommodate all of our needs, and did so without showing any signs of irritation as she started from scratch with each new customer's arrival.


As a vegetarian, my choices are always limited. On Sapphire Hotel's dinner menu there really isn't much to choose from...but with happy hour, that's not the case. The pita pizza, which changes daily depending on the chef's creativity, always seems to be covered with an unusual mix of meat-free toppings. As that is what I ordered on my last visit, I chose to go with the artichoke dip for my afternoon meal. As you can easily see in the picture, it is literally covered in cheese. Not the healthiest of choices, I decided that I'd better order one of the two salads listed on the menu as well. It was ALSO covered with cheese. For some, this might be an issue. I, however, devoured both items (sharing the artichoke dip with those seated on my end of the table--prompting them to request a second order for when mine emptied).


To complement the warm summer day (and to save a few dollars by selecting the drink special - listed at five dollars with promises to change daily) I ordered the Gin & Ginger Lime Rickey. It was beyond refreshing. I was, however, urged to drink it slowly as the fresh ginger was testing me with each sip. Ginger is a flavor that I enjoy in small amounts and I am learning to appreciate more and more with each new experience.

Food: Meets
Drinks: Meets
Service: Meets
Ambiance: Exceeds (indoors or out)
Value: Meets

-b

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Sapphire Hotel


5008 SE Hawthorne
Happy Hour 4-6 p.m.

The Sapphire Hotel is one of those restaurants that is good for a variety of types of situations--it's fun for Happy Hour with friends, nice for a celebration dinner, and it's even a good place to go on a first date. While I have had problems with slow service here before, on this latest visit everything was nearly perfect. I highly recommend coming here for Happy Hour!

Since we were the first customers, we had our choice of tables. We decided to sit outside (there are two tables outside, both of which have umbrellas to help shield you from the sun). The weather was perfect, so that made our Happy Hour experience even better.

The Happy Hour menu was small, but it had enough items on it that everyone in our group found something they were interested in ordering. For drinks, they offered $4 well drinks, $4 house red or white wine, and a $5 speciality drink (today it was a Gin Rickey). I ordered the house red, and it had a light flavor that complemented my appetizers.

I ordered two items off of the Happy Hour menu--a Sapphire Salad ($3) and a Meze plate ($5). I was very impressed with both of my dishes. The salad was a good size for being $3, and it had mixed greens, a light vinaigrette, candied walnuts, and shaved Parmesan cheese. It was delicious. The Meze plate was also impressive. With hummus, toasted pita chips, tapenade (an olive dip), sliced cucumbers and grape tomatoes, and a mystery sauce, this was enough to fill me up. I did run out of pita chips before I was done with all of the hummus, but I was completely full by that time. These two appetizers were filling enough for me to make dinner out of Happy Hour!

Other people at our table were especially impressed with the artichoke and arugula dip ($6) and the corn and salmon cakes ($6). I got a bite of each and loved them both, too.

Finally, the service was really good. We had a fairly large party, and people arrived at different times. The waitress was very accommodating and attentive. She kept checking back with us to see if we needed more water or drinks, and the food came in a timely manner. We had a minor incident with the check not adding up correctly, but overall I thought the service was the best that I had experienced in awhile.

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

--E
Sapphire Hotel on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Pambiche, a Cuban Restaurant


I don't know if Pambiche is the only Cuban restaurant in Portland, but it is the only one that I have been to; it is so delicious that I have never bothered to find out if there are any others! It is one of my very favorite restaurants in Portland, and everyone who I have been there with has agreed it is an excellent restaurant.

One of the most frustrating things about Pambiche is that it is so popular that it is almost always crowded. Even though they have both indoor and outdoor seating (with heat lamps in the winter), there is still almost always a long wait. Coming at 4 p.m. during Happy Hour was perfect because there was plenty of seating left to chose from, and it wasn't too busy yet. The waitresses were sweet and attentive, and we received very good service.

The very best thing about this restaurant is the Palm Beach Cooler ($5); Pambiche doesn't have a liquor license, so their version of a Mojito is made with white wine. This is probably my favorite alcoholic drink of all time--it's just that good! I get at least one every time that I visit, and I have never been disappointed. I have heard they have good Sangria, but I have never tried it.

My very favorite meal here is the Plato Cubano. This is slow roasted pork with rice and beans (their black beans and rice are the best I have ever had). However, since we went during Happy Hour, I got the Moros and Cristianos ($2.75). This was a cup of rice mixed with black beans and the flavor of pork. I also got a ensalada fruta ($3) off of the regular menu. This was a mixture of pineapple, mango, and other exotic flavors. While I enjoyed my two dishes, I think there are probably better Happy Hour choices on the menu.

Food: Exceeds
Drinks: Exceeds
Service: Meets
Ambiance: Exceeds
Value: Exceeds (even during dinner, you will be more than satisfied with what you get for your money)
--E

Pambiche

2811 NE Glisan
Portland, Oregon 97232
la Hora del Amigo: weekdays, 2 to 6 PM


I'm not sure what it is exactly that pulls me pack to Pambiche again and again. The drinks, perhaps. The exceptional prices during what they call la Hora del Amigo (otherwise known as a very extended happy hour), possibly. Or, maybe it is the vibrant coloring working its magic to grab my attention (and the attention of my taste buds) and keep me wanting more. Whatever it may be, it's working.

Having eaten at Pambiche so many times has given me what I like to call the "frequent consumer's authority" to determine that the very best time to enjoy the Cuban cuisine is during happy hour. (And when I say happy hour, I mean every weekday from 2--yes, two!--until 6 PM and again on Friday and Saturday from 10 PM until midnight.) For dinner, it's a tight squeeze. For breakfast, I would expect the same. But, during a sunny afternoon (or even one with a little more gray) the outdoor seating seems to stretch on, providing ample seating for all those who wish to take advantage of the cheap eats and sensationally refreshing cocktails.

My favorite beverage, of course, is the Palm Beach Cooler. At only five dollars, it's a steal. It's similar to a mojito but made with white wine. And the sugar cane used as a garnish is saturated with the flavors of this South Florida favorite. I am no longer embarrassed to pull mine from the glass to enjoy while sipping on my beverage. Other drinks are made with cherries, olives, or fresh citrus and I won't waste those either.

The menus for all meals, including la Hora del Amigo, are quite extensive. I find myself going back and forth--using the dinner menu as a resource--to better understand the afternoon offerings. As a vegetarian, my choices are limited, but I have yet to order everything Pambiche offers during happy hour. I try something new each time I visit and have yet to be disappointed. Just in case, though, I always order what I like to think of as the perfect Cuban accompaniment. Labeled the Ensalada Caribena, the blend of cabbage, carrots, citrus and fresh herbs seems to be just the right mix to go side by side with a bite of just about anything else on the menu. Today it shared space on my fork with the spinach and cheese empanada. Last time, it did the same with the Yuca con Mojo.

I am committed to trying new locations for happy hour this summer. That, however, does not mean that I won't be back to Pambiche before the school year starts.

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

-b

Pambiche




Thursday, July 09, 2009

Three Degrees


I was really excited to check out Three Degrees. It’s downtown on the waterfront and its outside seating was great (my favorite for summertime dining). By the time I left I was somewhat disappointed though. I think the biggest thing you need to take into consideration before deciding to visit Three Degrees, is the amount of time you have. This is an establishment that you will only enjoy if you are on no time limit. The service was extremely slow and not very friendly. Slow wouldn’t have bothered me as much but then to add an unfriendly/non-smiling staff, brought the ambiance way down.

I’m a bargain hunter or some may call me cheap but the 3 dollar menu made me happy. There were several options to choose from. Low prices and many options leads to being able to have a variety of food, it’s one of the best things about HH. I started with the mixed greens like B but I wasn’t as impressed as she. You know when you buy a bag of salad and you have it sit in the fridge a bit too long and the greens get darker and a bit slimy on the edges? There were a few of those in my salad and it kind of grossed me out. I also had a cup of the tomato soup. Others thought it was a bit too acidic but I liked it. It was not a cream based soup so it was a healthier option. E and another friend started off with a cheese plate and they looked so delectable. Both ordered different cheeses and both got different breads. I liked E’s bread because it was whole grain bread and I’m trying to stay away from white. So I ordered the Brie cheese plate expecting to get what E got since that’s what she ordered too. Normally I like surprises but not when it comes to my food! I got the cheese plate and I had the Brie but that was the only thing that was the same. I had white bread instead of the wheat. I had dried cranberries with some nut confetti instead of E who had fresh strawberries, and I only had 2 crackers. Needless to say I was very disappointed with that. The only plus side was that I got to try three different small servings and I didn’t have to order a drink, I still got the HH prices. Cheap, thrifty, whatever you want to call it, it was a bargain. :)

I guess what I keep coming back to is that no matter the food/service disappointments the thing that really makes a meal is the company. I had a great time with my friends we talked non-stop and because we had so much to share the slow service wasn’t too noticeable until the very end. I would NEVER go there on a first date though, if you wanted to end it quickly what a nightmare. I would go there with someone I loved spending hours with and we had nowhere else to be except with each other. -O


Food: Conditionally Meets
Drink: NA
Service: Does Not Meet
Ambiance: Exceeds
Value: Exceeds (During HH)

Three Degrees


Every menu seems to include something that just doesn't fit. It's like walking into a pub and ordering a Thai dish. It doesn't quite work. And, it always seems to lead to disappointment. I think I'm now able to spot that one thing and have done my best to avoid it. At Three Degrees, there's one on the menu and then there is also something that doesn't quite fit about the entire experience.

Being someone who is overly optimistic (and all too supportive) I'm usually able to make up some sort of excuse about whatever it is that isn't quite up to par. At Three Degrees, the service is far from it...and, I'd like to believe that someone called in sick, or that there was a large, unexpected party on the other side of the restaurant monopolizing our poor server's time. Perhaps it really is that slow. And, perhaps it will keep some people from returning.

On a slow summer afternoon, though, it didn't matter how long I waited for the server to take my order or just how long it took for her to return the bill once everything had been processed. I was in full relaxation mode. I had nowhere to be and was honestly not even aware that it was taking so long. Maybe it was the pedicure I'd had earlier in the day or the two glasses of red wine that I was enjoying. Or, maybe it is simply the fact that I'm on summer vacation and not willing to let that feeling of anxiety creep in.

Along with my new found ability to spot the item on the menu that isn't a match, I also feel that I'm able to target the good deals. At Three Degrees--like most happy hour locations in Portland--the low prices are found on the food menu. They are then able to make up the difference through the price of the drinks. At Three Degrees, they offer three dollar food items. They also offer three dollar glasses of wine. One red and one white are offered at the discounted rate each day. That change, however, might lead to disappointment on a return visit. The selection of the day, for me, was a great fit and went well with my meal.


Playing it smart, I started with a salad and waited for all of the other food to come out before I ordered something a little more substantial. It's nice to get a look at the food that is being offered before making a selection and as we were the first to arrive for the afternoon's happy hour, it was nearly impossible to do so. The salad had a light vinaigrette (perfect, in my opinion), dried cranberries and manchego cheese all over mixed baby greens. It's not large enough to make a meal out of it...but, was well worth the three dollar price tag.

After the others received their selections, and I had a minute or two to see just what each of them thought, I ordered the grilled cheese sandwich. It took extra time, of course, but--as I was completely happy sipping my red wine--it mattered not. The sandwich was far from the typical grilled cheese. With chopped tomatoes, basil leaves and a white cheese on sourdough bread, I was quite impressed.

I finished my meal, a second glass of red wine and enjoyed the leisurely end to my experience at Three Degrees. With outdoor seating (including large wooden rocking chairs) overlooking the Willamette River, this restaurant has quite a bit to offer. On an overcast day in July, there weren't too many patrons other than those who were staying at the attached hotel. I'm pleased that our late arrival didn't mean a seat inside or even no seat at all. Perhaps this happy hour isn't as well known or perhaps the slow service we experienced today has led others to avoid the three dollar deals. I suppose that if the sun had been out, it could have been a completely different situation. Although I probably won't be back anytime soon, I won't write this place off just yet. I will remember, though, to arrive early and give myself plenty of time to enjoy what Three Degrees has to offer.

Food: Meets
Drink: Meets
Service: Does Not Meet
Ambiance: Exceeds (the noise of nearby construction was at no fault to the restaurant)
Value: Meets (Exceeds, if you stick with the discounted wine of the day)

-B

Three Degrees

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Three Degrees


I really wanted to like Three Degrees, but I have to say that overall I was not impressed. With a cute location and three dollar appetizers, what could go wrong? The service! I have come to accept that service in Portland sometimes leaves something to be desired, but I thought that the service at this place (particularly at the end) was pretty poor.

I ended up ordering a diet coke and vodka ($7.00, which is kind of expensive for a drink that is often as little as $3-4 at happy hour). It was put in a tall glass with extra diet coke just the way I ordered, so I have no complaints about that. I also ordered a cheese plate. There was a choice of three cheeses, so I chose brie. It came with bread, crackers, grapes, and a strawberry. The bread was good, and the cheese was good, too. However, it was a little out of balance with a giant amount of bread and crackers to go with a little tiny chunk of brie.
Other people at my table seemed pretty happy with what they ordered, although some thought the tomato soup was disappointing. The grilled cheese had tomato and basil and looked delicious. The french fry order was huge and also looked good.

The problem with the service was that not only was it fairly unfriendly, it was pretty slow, even when we were basically the only people there. At the end when she finally took our bill, it probably took literally twenty minutes before she came back with it. We were at the restaurant for more than two hours, and for much of that time we were actually done with our meal. Luckily, we were amusing ourselves by looking up the kids who we are getting next year on the forecasting website. Those who already had the kids last year told us what to expect about each one. If we had been in a hurry, I would have been really annoyed about the bill situation, but luckily we are teachers off for summer with no reason to rush!


Food: Meets
Drink: Does Not Meet (kind of expensive, but I guess this is downtown not Gresham)
Service: Does Not Meet
Ambiance: Meets
Value: Conditionally Meets (cheap appetizers, but you probably need more than one to really fill you up)

--E

Location: 1510 SW Harbor Way
Portland, OR 97201

Happy Hour 4-7 p.m.

Three Degrees on Urbanspoon