Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Vino Paradiso (now Coppia)

417 Northwest 10th Avenue
Happy Hour 4-6 p.m.

Vino Paradiso is a wine bar/restaurant in the Pearl. Happy Hour is new here, and unfortunately, the Happy Hour prices on food make you realize that you are indeed in the Pearl. Relatively speaking, six dollars for an appetizer isn't too bad, but the appetizers that we ordered were quite mini. Luckily, I had a big sandwich for lunch, so I wasn't terribly disappointed by the small portions.

On the positive side, the restaurant is bright and inviting. It seemed like it would be a nice place to come for dinner. The server was nice and offered extra bread when we got our cheese plates. The wine was good, and it is two dollars off at Happy Hour, so you can try a more expensive glass without spending too much money.

I ended up ordering the Italian Blend wine ($6 at Happy Hour). This was a refreshing white wine. I don't know much about wine, but I do know that I don't like most Chardonnays. This wine was perfect for a summer day--cold and mild in flavor. My favorite part about Vino Paradiso was the large selection of wines and the fact that the glass of wine came with a mini carafe of extra wine. This reminded me of ordering a milk shake at a diner and getting the extra bit of shake in the metal container--what's better than a drink that comes with more drink?! Not much.


My friends and I all decided to order the cheese plate ($6), thinking logically that cheese and wine go perfectly together. Maybe it was a mistake for all of us to order the same thing, because that meant we were all kind of disappointed. The cheese plate had two pieces of cheese, small slices of apple, some sort of chutney/nut mixture, and two slices of walnut bread. The server offered more bread, which included an olive bread. I liked the bread and apple, but the cheese wasn't my favorite, and it just wasn't that substantial.


The other items ordered by the table included a lamb burger, flatbread, and a salad. The flatbread and salad were normal sized, but the lamb burger was also mini (in its defense, it was awfully cute). Many other Happy Hours offer full-sized burgers for a similar price, so this was probably a disappointment. I didn't try any of the other food, so I am not sure how it was.

Overall, I thought that the drink specials were good, but the food portions need to be bigger (or cheaper) to compete with other Happy Hours in the area.

Food: Nearly Meets
Drinks: Meets
Service: Meets
Ambiance: Meets
Value: Does Not Meet

--E

Vino Paradiso on Urbanspoon

Friday, June 25, 2010

Mother's Bistro and Bar (Mother's Velvet Lounge)

212 SW Stark
Happy Hour: 3 - 6 PM, Tuesday through Friday



Mother's is most definitely a place to go with family. It's in the name, right? The first time I made it in for dinner we were celebrating my sister's birthday. It wasn't the largest table in the place, but everyone in our party (including my very young nephew) was pleased with the food and the service. For happy hour in the Velvet Room (attached to Mother's but with a second, separate entrance around the corner), it was equally as pleasing.

I entered earlier than the rest of the party and was greeted by multiple servers. I'm not sure if this would be considered a slow night for them...or, if they are always that quick to respond to their customers' needs. I appreciate efficient servers but even more so enjoy when servers make known that they are people and friendly people at that. It was obvious that many of the employees had certain tasks that needed to be completed before the dinner hour began in the adjoining dining room, but all of the servers were attentive to those of us joining them for the cheap eats and tasty drinks available during happy hour.


I started my evening with a Mama's Madras. Made with a mix of house-infused vodkas (both orange and lemon) as well as orange juice, cranberry juice and a touch of soda, the Madras is one of those drinks that can potentially do some serious damage. It had great citrus flavor and almost no hint of the alcohol contained within. Dangerous, I say...if you aren't opposed to paying seven dollars per cocktail.

The specialty cocktails were a bit spendy but definitely compensated for by the cheap eats available on the happy hour menu. The menu lists a variety of options--all reminiscent of things your own momma might make, but with a little more class and a higher level of presentation--all for just three dollars each. We decided on four items to share...but, as the resident vegetarian, I can only comment on the two that I tasted.


For only twelve dollars, we were able to cover the entire table with food options. We had the chicken quesadilla, the deviled eggs, the teenie-weenies, and an order of the fried ravioli. (I'm sure you can guess already which two I sampled.) All plates were cleared by the end of the meal and no complaints were made.


I was most impressed with the fried ravioli. I'm convinced that there are two main types of fried ravioli. First, there's the type that comes straight from the freezer bag (and what I first tried while living on campus during my first years of college) and then there's the kind that are made from real ravioli. This was definitely a fit in the latter category. They were served with a marinara sauce and sprinkled in parmesean cheese. Those flavors, in combination with the cheeses inside each little pasta pocket, were a great mix and made for a satisfying snack in the late afternoon. It would never be enough for a meal...but that's only based on the amount of food that I consume on any given day. With a salad and a glass of wine, this could be the ultimate Italian meal for someone with less of an appetite.

The deviled eggs were more about texture than flavor. I prefer the sweet relish version of deviled eggs (and I'm convinced I'm the minority) and was not as happy with this selection. I recognize that this is simply my own preference and will say nothing more about the eggs but that they had a smooth texture and were well-presented with a powdering of paprika.


We stayed long enough (after clearing the plates) for a second drink. I decided to go with Mom's cosmo. This cosmopolitan is much like every cosmopolitan but made with the house-infused vodka of the day. Like most cosmos, it was a SWEET drink. I'm all for sweet drinks, but this one was especially sweet near the end and started reminding me of sugary candies more than any cocktail.

Having been to Mother's in the past, and having enjoyed happy hour today, means that there is a strong guarantee that I'll be back here in the future. I think next time I'll have to stop in for some late-night dining. I am most intrigued by the tv dinners. I loved them as a kid...and, can only assume that--since the packaged varieties don't meet my vegetarian needs anymore--they will be more than pleasing. But, are they really wrapped in foil? And, will they come with the fruit compote that I remember so well?

Food: Meets
Drinks: Meets
Service: Meets
Ambiance: Exceeds
Value: Meets (food exceeds...but with the price of the cocktails included, it's meets for sure.

- b


Mother's Velvet Lounge & Cafe

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Seres Restaurant, another view

Seres Restaurant (formerly Sungari Pearl)
1105 Northwest Lovejoy Street

Happy Hour 3-7 daily, 3-close Tuesday

There were good things and bad things about our experience at Seres Restaurant. I loved the open, airy feel of the bar area. I didn't love that the restaurant wasn't open for service at the normal time (or at the time that the sign said it would be open after they were done with maintenance.) I loved the dish I ordered for myself, stir-fried chicken with fried potatoes. I didn't love the salad rolls that I ordered to share with a friend. I loved the silver chopsticks and the presentation of the food and drinks. I didn't love my drink, but I didn't hate it either.

I wanted to try Seres restaurant because I have found that it is very hard to find good Chinese food in Portland. I also know that they have a lot of specials, and I like it that they are trying to buy fresh, local, organic ingredients. I would definitely try it again for lunch or dinner, but as I mentioned, there were some things that disappointed me about my visit.

I liked the decor and ambiance, and the waiter/bartender was friendly and seemed happy we were there. The space was light and open without being over the top, and I felt comfortable. Sometimes I feel a little out of place if a restaurant seems too fancy or trendy, but I liked the atmosphere at Seres.

We started with drinks, and I ordered the Sweet and Sour drop ($6 during Happy Hour). It wasn't bad, but it didn't blow me away. It didn't really have a strong enough flavor, and I preferred my friend's Red Lotus drink. Another friend ordered the non-alcoholic pomegranate lemonade, but she was sick so I didn't get to try it. There were other items on the menu that also sounded intriguing, including a soju tonic, which the waiter said was a Korean drink (sort of like Sake?)


The tofu salad rolls ($4.50) were just not good. The rice paper wrapper felt thicker than normal, and the insides were tasteless. Even the peanut sauce was off. Salad rolls are one of my favorite appetizers, and I really was disappointed with these ones.


The highlight of the meal was the stir-fried chicken and fried potatoes ($4.50). This dish was full of flavor--it was spicy and seemed to have hints of vinegar and garlic. Having potatoes in a Chinese dish was an interesting twist that really worked! I would definitely order this dish again, and it was a substantial enough portion that I left Happy Hour feeling satisfied.


Food: Meets (except the salad rolls)
Drinks: Meets
Service: Meets
Ambiance: Exceeds
Value: Meets

--E

Seres Restaurant and Bar on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Seres Restaurant

1105 NW Lovejoy
Happy Hour: 3 - 7 PM, 3 PM - Closing on Tuesdays


We planned to meet at the doors to Seres around 3:30. One of the benefits of summer vacation is being able to drive downtown and get into places that are typically busy before most people are even off of work. When we arrived, we found a note on the door stating that they were to open at four, due to weekly maintenance. I'm not sure what weekly maintenance includes (a little hesitant to find out, in fact, in case it's related to a recent health inspection) but am a little disappointed in their professionalism if they can't figure out how to take care of business before the restaurant opens at three. I was even more disappointed when we walked in at four and were told that it would be fifteen minutes longer before we could be served food or drinks. Luckily, there was a great toy store around the corner (along with other shops) to keep us occupied during our wait.

Forty-five minutes is a long time to wait around for happy hour (expected at the dinner hour, sure) and if we hadn't been set on writing this review, I'm guessing we would have found something else in the neighborhood.


When we were finally seated, we were the only ones in the bar and were, therefore, getting all sorts of attention. Water, drinks, nicely laid out chopsticks and folded napkins. The presentation was great. In fact, the decor in the whole place is pretty fantastic. Simple, yet fantastic. They've got a few red lanterns, some orchids, a tile wall-hanging. It might not sound that fantastic, but the overall look of this restaurant is clean and aesthetically pleasing.


We started with drinks while looking over the food menu. Specialty cocktails are just six dollars (down from eight) during happy hour. I ordered the Red Lotus. It was heavy on the pomegranate but a great pick for a warm summer day.



The happy hour menu is quite long and contains many vegetarian options as well as a few gluten-free items. With the restaurant name change, they also gained a focus on serving more locally-grown and organic ingredients. I decided on the Moo Shu Sampler which usually comes with all three varieties (vegetable, pork and shrimp) but was made with just veggies for me. It came with three rice pancakes and a small bowl of plum sauce. It was quite similar to the Moo Shu I've had elsewhere but with larger cuts of vegetables (so much so, that you'd actually know what you are eating). I like that, but bit into one-too-many largely cut onions leaving me with an aftertaste that wouldn't go away until late in the evening.


We decided to order a small plate of salad rolls to split. They were nicely presented with a small dob of peanut sauce on the end of each roll. The flavor, however, was less appealing. All the ingredients seemed right...but, the ratio was off. They were a bit too heavy on cilantro which overpowered the rest of the flavors. And, the peanut sauce left a powdery residue behind with each bite. I make peanut sauce from a powder at home (it's quick and easy, right?) and it has never disappointed me like this did. We didn't even finish the plate.

Having been to Seres Restaurant only once (and knowing that I might have skipped right over their best food offerings) leads me to believe that I can't be completely disappointed. The restaurant itself is beautiful, the service was okay, and the food wasn't bad (just the salad rolls...and now I know not to order them again). I've heard that they offer great specials (two-for-one entrees certain days of the week and wine bottle specials on the weekends) and I'll probably be back for dinner another day. For happy hour, though, it doesn't top my list.

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

-b

Monday, June 21, 2010

Fifth Quadrant - a Lompoq Location

3901 N Williams
Happy Hour: Daily, 4 - 6 PM and 10 PM - 12 Midnight, ALL DAY Saturday and Sunday (Food specials not included)

We were looking specifically for one of those all-day Sunday happy hour places. There ARE quite a few. Using my usual happy hour "go-to" online resources, I thought I had found the perfect one. It was within walking distance (but the constant rain we've seen lately led us to drive--just in case is started pouring), they were serving happy hour all WEEKEND long, and they had quite a few veggie options on the menu (so said their website). We were, however, deceived. To clarify: Fifth Quadrant (and, I'm guessing the other four Lompoq locations) DOES NOT offer food specials during their weekend happy hour. You can still get their signature beer for $3.25, a discount on cocktails and on Sundays they have bloody Marys for only three bucks. But, the usual two dollar discount on appetizers DOES NOT apply.

That two dollar discount doesn't amount to much anyway, I suppose. It's two bucks off of any appetizer (excluding nachos and fries) but when you open the menu to make your selection from the appetizer list, there aren't too many items left to choose from. A six dollar hummus plate (that's after the discount) was the ONLY option for me as a vegetarian. Yes, there was a tasty sounding portobella mushroom sandwich on the other side of the menu's fold, but still.


I did order the hummus. It came with plenty of grilled pita bread (the ratio of pita to hummus is always a big concern for me), crumbled feta, diced tomatoes and red onions (which I avoided due to the bad breath factor--red onions are the worst for that), cucumbers, carrots and kalamata olives. It was good and all...but, I'm pretty sure I've had that exact same plate at other pubs around Portland. It's a standby, it seems...but, I guess I should be thankful that they have something I can eat. They even included the fact that it was a vegetarian garbanzo (or maybe they called them chickpeas, I can't quite recall) bean dip. Really? Is that what hummus is? I guess my grandma might not have known...but most people around here get it.


There was a lot of flavor in the hummus. A good amount of garlic (something I like) and the perfect hit of salt and, well, that flavor you get from feta (a flavor I completely despised as a child). The Bloody Mary, however, had about triple that flavor. For someone who's just working their way into the world of Bloody Marys (I only just tried one for the first time two weeks ago), it was a bit much. For three dollars, though, I didn't feel too bad leaving half of it behind. I'll try again another time. But, I know it will be many-a-Marys before they become one of my standbys.


The service wasn't too spectacular either. I'm guessing it's usually a pretty busy place (given the large patio off to the side--even more so when the sun's out and they can roll back the plastic) and they don't need to be too devoted to giving you all that you need. Busy places tend to just get by, you know. They bring you drinks, bring you food, and bring your bill. No special treatment.

Fifth quadrant does have its pluses, though. They have trivia nights, the bald guy brigade...and, when it's too busy you can swing around the corner (just past Pix) to one of the other Lompoq locations. The Fifth Quadrant thing does kinda irk me just a bit, though. As a math teacher, I'm pretty persistent on the quad in quadrilateral and the quad in quadrant carrying some sort of meaning. I guess I'll have to talk to one of the owners to get the story behind the name. Without hearing any stories, though, they have made a few other mistakes in the menu. I laughed just a little when I saw that they offer a "Your Killing Me Smalls" on their cocktail menu. Really? You are? Hmmmm...makes me wonder.

Food: Meets (unoriginal...but tasty)
Drinks: Nearly Meets (I'm sure it's great for beer drinkers)
Service: Nearly Meets
Ambiance: Meets
Value: Nearly Meets (meets on drinks, not on food)

-b


Fifth Quadrant

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Wild Abandon

2411 SE Belmont
Happy Hour: Weekdays, 4:30 - 6:30 PM (Closed Tuesdays)

We walked into Wild Abandon expecting a crowd after being forced to back out of the completely packed parking lot. Apparently it's a shared lot, because the place was close to empty. But by the time we left, almost every table had been taken (including three that were forced together for a large party) and there was a crowd waiting in the doorway. It seems that this place is more known for its dinner menu that the happy hour fare. I was impressed, though. And, many of the items on the happy hour menu are a direct duplicate, with a lesser price.

The building is almost hidden by a green sea of plants on the outside. Even the sign is hard to get a clear view of unless you are a ways back on the street. Inside, however, it takes on a completely different feel. And, to me, it felt like someone's grandma's house. There are funky mismatched lamps hanging above each table and in the corners of the room. And, the wall decor (which was labeled and priced, making me think it rotates over time) was a random collection of oil paintings.

The waiter brought over a stack of menus. There was the dinner menu (which looked pretty fantastic), a drink menu (which included a wine bottle special - just $20), and the happy hour menu (which ranged in price from $1 to $8 for food items and somewhere around $5 - $6 for most drinks).


We decided to get a few things that could easily be shared by (almost) everyone at the table. Altogether we ordered two oyster shooters (they are just a dollar each), a hamburger, the most amazingly dressed salad, and the goat cheese torte. As I wasn't about to bite into the hamburger (which was presented nicely and well-liked by those who ate it) I did consume the majority of the salad.


The salad was perfect for me as it was covered in cheese crumbles, currants, candied pecans, and grilled apples. The apples weren't that impressive and there were only a couple...but, the pecans were what made this salad so right for me. I'm not sure what makes pecans and walnuts so different when they look and taste so much the same..but, I do know that I have some sort of walnut intolerance (it's a family thing...we all suffer from it) that causes serious damage to the roof of my mouth. I've always loved this type of salad (and I think I've said before just how common this salad is) and I hate that I have to leave a pile of deliciously candied walnuts on the edge of my plate.


The goat cheese torte (which was a little pricey at $8 but discounted from the dinner menu where it's listed at $13) was a combination of flavors and textures presented beautifully but not really in the typical fashion of a torte. (Perhaps I need to experience more tortes to really understand.) The goat cheese and roasted garlic were covered with olive oil and a drizzle of a balsamic reduction and served with grilled bread.


To accompany the food choices, I selected a black currant lemon drop. It had the usual sugared rim but was definitely more than the usual lemon drop. I know I've had berry lemon drops before but I'm convinced that this was my first of the black currant variety. It's a fresh change and one that I'm sure I'll try again.

According to their website, this place has been around since the 90s and has been winning awards since the beginning. They've been listed in the Willamette Week's 100 Best multiple times and have been noted as being the best place for a date and the best place to kiss (must be the dim lighting). I know I'll be back sometime in the future but I do plan to make it for dinner next time. Dinner and a twenty-dollar bottle of wine (to share, of course). Before walking out I saw quite a few dinner selections being delivered to the tables around us and I am sure that I will enjoy one or more of the tastey options listed on the dinner menu.

Food: Exceeds
Drinks: Meets
Service: Meets
Ambiance: Nearly Meets (I know it's their thing...but, it's a little too reminiscent of a grandma's house)
Value: Meets

-b

Wild Abandon

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Salty's

3839 N.E. Marine Drive

Happy Hour Monday-Friday, 4-6 p.m., Sundays 4:30-close

We ended up heading to Salty's on Memorial Day just after 4 p.m. I had never been there before so wasn't sure what to expect, but I always heard good things about their brunch and dinner. The only thing that kept me away was the price, which made going for Happy Hour perfect!


The Happy Hour requires that you buy at least one drink, so I got a Bloody Mary ($4.25). You have to be in the right mood for Bloody Marys, and sometimes I feel like they are too spicy. This one was just perfect. It was garnished with two green olives and a pickled onion (which I did not eat since I hate onions). It was so good, in fact, that I ordered another one.


I ended up ordering a twisted Caesar salad ($1.99) and a cup of seafood chowder ($3.99). My boyfriend got the bacon cheeseburger ($6.99), coconut flaked prawns ($4.99) and beer-battered fries ($1.50). I enjoyed the Caesar salad, but I wasn't sure why it was considered "twisted." It seemed like a normal Caesar to me, and it was a good value for the price. The seafood chowder was also good, but nothing spectacular. Together, these items would not have filled me up at all. Luckily the serving of fries was pretty big, so I was able to steal some. The fries were really, really good and were a great deal. I would order them again next time.


I always shy away from ordering shrimp as an appetizer because they usually don't give you very many, which leaves me hungry and disappointed. My boyfriend made this mistake with the coconut flaked prawns. He received three prawns, which means they cost more than a dollar each, and I didn't really feel like they were worth the price. I also think that $6.99 isn't that great of a discount for a Happy Hour burger without fries, but he said it was a really good burger.


Overall, I enjoyed the food and drinks at Salty's. The service was friendly and attentive. One drawback I did notice about the Happy Hour menu, however, was the lack of vegetarian offerings. The only thing vegetarians can order are the fries, and possibly the twisted Caesar (depending on if it is made the traditional way or not). In fact, they don't really have any vegetarian options on the regular menu either. I doubt my vegetarian friends will want to come here for Happy Hour or dinner anytime soon.

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

--E
Salty's on the Columbia on Urbanspoon

Mother Maybel's Martinis - CLOSED (Now Clementine Bistro and Bar)

510 NE 28th Ave
Happy Hour: Monday - Thursday: 4 - 6PM, Friday: 2 - 6 PM, Tuesday - Saturday: 11PM - Midnight


Vegetarian sliders!?! I love this place already. The price is a bit steep in the end...but, if I go in next time with the right strategy I'll come out well-fed, slightly inebriated and with enough cash to continue on my way.


With plans to attend an art opening later that evening, our happy hour selection was all about location. And this place (which is somewhat new) was definitely in the right neighborhood. It's around the corner from Pambiche (a long-time favorite) and down the street from Tapalaya (which currently tops my list for food, drinks and value). The Kerns neighborhood could easily be the best happy hour neighborhood in all of Portland if these restaurants continue to exceed my expectations. (There's a new place opening soon...the paper was still on the windows last time I walked by...and I can't wait to see how it compares.)


There were four of us this time. We claimed the couch and chairs in the front part of the restaurant. (There are at least three different areas throughout the place. The view from the window made it seem quite small...but the place stretches through multiple rooms allowing for quite the crowd without all the noise.) The seating was ultra comfy and allowed for a very relaxing happy hour but the "coffee table" was barely big enough to hold all of our beverages, let alone the food items that followed. We were lucky to get out of there without any spills.


I ordered a cosmopolitan--which was listed on the chalkboard as one of the drink specials--for $5. The specialty cocktails are discounted during happy hour as well...but most of them were not as sweet as I like my drinks to be. I did take a sip of the Moscow Mule which might just take a place on my list of summer drink standbys. (All of my summer standbys seem to contain some sort of citrus...so this makes complete sense. They are all perfect for hot summer days...and nights.)


We each ordered two items off of the five dollar food menu. I was disappointed to learn that the grilled cheese and soup wasn't always grilled cheese and TOMATO soup. As it was a Friday, they were--of course--serving clam chowder. Clam Chowder is never an option for me (something about those clams...and, me being a vegetarian) but I don't really see the two going well together. Perhaps I'm wrong. I can't even remember the last time I had clam chowder. I'm guessing it's been over 18 years. Maybe clam chowder and grilled cheese DO make for good companions.

My second choice that night will now be my first choice EVERY time I return to Mother Maybel's. And, they are on both the happy hour menu (listed at 3 for $5) and the regular dinner menu (at $2 each). Mother Maybel's has the BEST vegetarian sliders ever. (Okay, I've only had vegetarian sliders once before--and they were just baby garden burgers--but these really are good enough to win the title.) They were tiny and cute (like all sliders are...that's the main appeal, right?) and covered with slices of marinated and grilled portobella mushrooms. So yummy. I want more just thinking about them. I did miss out on taking a picture of them, though. After that first bite I was too distracted to remember anything but my new found love of portobella sliders.



To accompany my sliders (and really, just because I wanted to try more from the menu) I ordered a plate of hushpuppies. They took a little longer to make--which turned out just fine as we were having a hard time making room on the table for all that we ordered. They were golden brown (not black and crispy like the hushpuppies I last tried at the Victory Bar) and served with a sweet jalapeno dip. I broke them apart in my hands to avoid biting into the whole thing at once and am SO glad that I did. On the last bite, I discovered that these hushpuppies were NOT vegetarian but contained bits of bacon. Thankfully those bits were large enough to be spotted and I avoided making a big mistake. The waiter was great about this and brought us a second plate (which ended up going home in a "to go" box) at no charge.

The service was a little less than consistent but easily explained when we learned that it was our server's first night. Knowing this, I can't complain that he took an extra minute or two to let us settle in. Plus, he was quick to return for drink orders when we all discovered that the discounted price was going to discontinue in minutes. He definitely gets points for helping us save a few bucks.

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

-b


Mother Maybel's Martinis