Thursday, July 28, 2011

Henry's 12th Street Tavern

10 NW 12th Street
Happy Hour: Monday through Saturday, 3 - 6 PM
Late Night Happy Hour: Monday through Thursday 9 - 11 PM, Friday 10 PM - 1 AM
All Day Happy Hour: Sunday 11 AM - 11 PM


Henry's is one the biggest bars that I can think of in all of Portland. There are so many tables and they are almost always full. It's almost ridiculous to think that you can walk through both the upper and lower level and not find a place to sit...but it happens all the time. And that is exactly what makes summer break happy hours all the more fun...we can start as early as we want. Getting here during the school year before the tables fill up would be nearly impossible.


We were seriously disappointed to learn that the discounted food offered during happy hour does not apply to the outdoor seating at Henry's. It was a beautiful day and (because we were determined to benefit from the happy hour pricing) we were forced to sit inside.


Drinks aren't included in the discounts during happy hour at Henry's (whether you sit inside or out). I opted for a classic Mojito (to start) which was perfect for the warm summer day and one of the better priced drinks. It was also the drink of choice at the table with two of us ordering the classic and one a fruitier version.


While waiting for the fourth to arrive, we shared an order of the Gorgonzola Fries. They are waffle cut fries with the typical seasoning but topped with a cheesy sauce and a generous sprinkling of crumbled Gorgonzola. (It might be one of the most unhealthy options listed on the menu...but I kinda liked it.) It's a fairly big pile of fries so I highly recommend sharing this dish.

Later in the evening, we ordered more plates to try. I sampled the macaroni and cheese which was creamy and cheesy but needed a bit more flavor to it. I also had a bite or two of the spinach dip. It was served with tortilla chips, meaning it had a great saltiness to it that made me want more (but wasn't the best I've ever had).


After all that salt, I needed something sweet. I opted for the raspberry drop (highly recommended by our server) which was yummy...and sticky. You can tell by the picture that the bartender went a little overboard when sugaring the rim of the martini glass.

I think it's the ambiance that brings people to Henry's. The foods okay. The drinks are decently priced. But I'm convinced that it's the atmosphere that keeps this place so crowded.

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

-b

Henry's 12th Street Tavern

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Kin

524 NW 14th Avenue
Happy Hour: 5 - 6, Tuesday through Friday


Why have I never heard of this place before? It's newer, yes. But why didn't I know it had opened? I suppose I do rely on the internet for a lot of my restaurant research. Perhaps it's time that I get a subscription to Portland Monthly or something similar so that I can KEEP UP.

Happy hour only lasts one hour at Kin, from five to six. It's a perfect lead into dinner which is what I'll try next. They have all sorts of food options, including quite a few vegetarian-friendly dishes. There were three of us this time, so we were able to try almost everything on the menu.


To start, we shared the garbanzo bean puree and an order of wontons. The wontons had THE best flavor of all the dishes I sampled. They were full of corn and coconut and came with a small dish of sweet chili sauce. I know that there was something else in there, though. It couldn't have been the coconut alone adding all that flavor. Wontons are so often stuffed with crab or shrimp or something else I can't eat that I miss out on their crispy fabulousness. Thank you, Kin, for making sure that I get to enjoy this yummy treat, too.


The bean puree had great texture and was a filling dish served with grilled ciabatta bread. The bread was most definitely grilled upon order (everything at Kin is SO fresh) and came with a smokey flavor.


After sharing the first two plates, we each ordered something to try. I opted for the Chinese Eggplant. It was glazed with Miso and came served on a bed of slightly cooked Bok Choy and green beans. I loved the flavor and especially appreciated that this eggplant didn't have the tough skin that it so often has. With the Miso glaze, however, it did seem a bit salty. (That's typical of the dish though, right?)

Not all of the dishes made it to the table at the same time. This, I'm sure, is simply because the kitchen is small and there is so much value in serving each dish when it is at its prime. Having already shared two plates, I was not concerned. If this had been a family dinner, though, I have a feeling that it might cause an issue (unless, of course, you are a part of a family that doesn't require all to have been served before a single fork gets lifted off of the table). I just wouldn't want to be the last person served, I guess.




The remaining dishes were all meat options and so I cannot say too much. The steamed buns were the most popular (and a lot easier to eat than the Malaysian-style chicken wings).


To drink, I went with a cocktail they call The Downpour. It's made of Aviation Gin, fresh grapefruit juice, St. Germain, muddled mint and agave nectar. I haven't always been a fan of grapefruit juice but this drink was done quite well.

Service was exceptional at Kin and something that, in my opinion, makes for a great restaurant (and a return visit). Our server was quick to accommodate all of our needs (and answer all of our questions). She gave great recommendations and didn't mind one bit when we placed a very-last-second order just as happy hour was about to end.

Food: Meets
Drinks: Meets
Service: Exceeds
Ambiance: Meets
Value: Meets (but seems a little pricey for dinner--it might be out of my range)

-b

Kin

Bluehour

250 NW 13th Avenue
Happy Hour: 4 - 6:30 daily


Bluehour's happy hour is appropriately titled Happy Bluehour and includes all sorts of great discounts. One that I didn't take advantage of (but plan to someday soon) is the twenty dollar bottle of wine. The menu lists three to choose from and my guess is that (since the three listed online differ from what I saw on the menu) they rotate through their stock frequently. Regardless of what's listed (especially if it's a hot summer day and you are sitting outside), I suggest going for something chilled. Not because it's more refreshing or anything like that. But because if you do, the server will bring out this fantastic contraption that attaches to the table to keep your bottle at just the right temperature. (I know, I know. It's the little things. I'm just so used to the boring ol' ice bucket that sits ON TOP of the table. This one saves space. So smart!)


Before learning of the twenty dollar deal on wine (and of the fancy contraption), I had already set my eyes on the Moscow Mule. My boyfriend has been ordering them a lot lately and I've liked what I've tried...plus, I love lime. And ginger's okay, too. As long as it's not too strong. The Moscow Mule is one of the six dollar cocktails listed on the menu. They also have discounts on beer but you know that's not my thing.


The six dollar price tag isn't the best I've seen...but is nothing in comparison to the nine dollar "birthday drink" that was ordered later on. (Not for me, my birthday's still a month away. I ordered a second Moscow Mule...that's how good they are.) For nine dollars, this slender wine glass came less than half full of vodka, strawberry puree, and a balsamic reduction swirl (that looks like a pair of lips from this angle). Nine dollars. Wow. They must have been handpicked strawberries, or something. It was good, though. I had a sip. Super sweet and something that even I (with a major sweet tooth) couldn't have more than one.


To share (and to snack on while we continued to peruse the menu--it's a long one), we ordered the crispy chickpeas. I've had them at a couple of other places and I really like them. Chickpeas are big all of a sudden...and not just for the fantastic hummus they make. I've also found roasted chickpeas (a peanut substitute?) that come in all sorts of flavors--both spicy and sweet--at certain grocery stores. I'll continue to support the chickpea movement. I might even try making crispy chickpeas at home. These ones were lightly coated in a smoked paprika oil. Yum! And crispy, for sure.


After asking for suggestions (our server pointed out the steak frites--one of the most expensive and only full-sized meal listed on the happy hour menu --before I mentioned that I didn't eat meat), I ordered the grilled vegetable slider. It had two or three veggies that had been nicely roasted and a spoonful of pesto. The flavor was great and the bread had the best chewiness to it...but the pesto was a bit oily.


Another slider making an appearance at the table was made of one giant meatball and not quite enough tomato sauce. After taking a picture, the meatball was smashed into place (making it just a wee bit easier to eat). Seriously, whose mouth is big enough? Since I wasn't about to take a bite, I had to ask the meater what she thought. Her answer: good, but in need of more sauce.

Service was great to start at Bluehour (it was also nearly empty) but kind of trickled down in its greatness as the hour went on (and the tables filled up). I'm fairly certain that there was just the one guy taking care of everyone--inside and out. So to the people of Bluehour I say, hire some more staff. I'd be more likely to come back if you do.

Food: Meets
Drinks: Meets
Service: Nearly Meets
Ambiance: Meets
Value: Meets (unless you order the nine dollar strawberry cocktail)

-b


Bluehour

50 Plates

333 NW 13th Avenue
Happy Hour: 3 - 6 and 9 - close, Monday through Thursday;
3 - 6 and 10 - close, First Thursdays, Friday, and Saturday;
4 - close Sundays


I have to admit, I was expecting to be seriously disappointed with the happy hour at 50 plates. I can remember looking at their website last summer, thinking it would be one that we could skip...that they just didn't have enough to offer. And then again before heading out the door yesterday, I checked the website finding just a few things listed on their happy hour menu. Four food items, to be exact. And only one of them vegetarian-friendly. Apparently, I was wrong to have such poor expectations. I was not disappointed in their happy hour at all. Now I'm only disappointed with their website. You can do better, 50 Plates. And you should if you want to get new business. So many of us check menus online before going out. I know I do it to be sure that there will be something that I can eat. And I know I am not the only one.

We walked in just as happy hour started. It starts at three, which is fantastic during the summer months. We can get in before any rush of the nine-to-fivers come piling in. It was definitely quiet that early on but the outdoor seating filled up quickly, despite the rain clouds.


The happy hour menu has fifteen food items to choose from (not four as I had once thought...again with the website). The prices range from one to six dollars, which means you can get quite a few plates for very few bucks. And you'll need to get more than one...since they are all so tiny. Itty bitty, really. (I wasn't the one who said it, but I can't NOT repeat the witty claim that you won't get full at 50 Plates unless you eat all 50 plates.) It does make for good sharing, though, and I like the idea of having lots of little flavors than being stuck with one I just don't like.


The back of the menu lists all sorts of fancy cocktails for nine dollars apiece. On the inside, however, is a short list of discounted drinks. And on that list was one of my favorites. So I ordered a Vodka Gimlet. And it was one of the better Gimlets I've had to date. On the other side of the table was a drink that will never make it to the top of my list of favorites. Anything that bitter will never be my go-to. They call it an Americano for a reason I don't yet know and it's made with Campari. We had to look that one up...and probably should have done so prior to ordering it. Some people might enjoy the bitter flavor of the Americano...but neither of us did.


While waiting for our first order, the server (who had done a pretty fantastic job so far) brought out a cup of popcorn. It was covered with garlic powder, Parmesan, and dill. I had never thought to put dill on popcorn before...but I like the idea and will try it again, I am sure.


We started with the Hush Puppies. They had some sort of fancy pepper and hominy mixed in prior to frying and were served with a spicy sour cream. There were just two of them, so we each had a bite. I especially liked the textures as they changed so much between the light and crispy outer layer and the soft fluffy insides. The sauce went well but wasn't exactly spicy.


After the first tiny plate, we decided to order separately. (That meant, of course, that some not-so-vegetarian things would be coming to the table.) I ordered the mac and cheese and on the other side of the table was the Monte Cristo. Someday I need to try a no-meat Monte Cristo. I like the idea of mixing the savory with the sweet. This one was served with powdered sugar and two Amerena cherries.


The mac and cheese was creamy and cheesy and came with a good amount of breadcrumbs on top. I saw it go into the wood-fired oven and was a little worried when one of the cooks brought it straight to the table from there. So hot! After waiting a minute or two, I could finally taste what I was eating. It was yummy but not enough to bring me back. I'll be back, though, but to try one of the other forty-some plates.

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

-b

50 Plates

Friday, July 15, 2011

Bartini

2108 NW Glisan St.
Happy Hour: All Day Sunday (4 - 11 PM), All Day Monday (4 - Midnight), 4 - 6:30 and 9:30 - close Tuesday through Thursday, 4 - 6:30 Friday and Saturday


Half-price martinis! (I know. It's hardly a sentence...but it's really all I need to say.) Bartini has half-price martinis during happy hour. And they have happy hour every day of the week. They also have one of the longest martini menus I have ever seen. It's almost overwhelming.

We made it to happy hour at Bartini shortly after they opened at four. (I highly recommend doing all that you can to get there right at opening or you might not be able to find a seat. The place fills up fast.) We decided on a table outside despite the cloudy forecast (it was just barely starting to rain when we left).


It took additional time to study the menus (both martini and food menus, that is) but our server was right there ready to take our order. (She also helped in the decision-making process...because I was so overwhelmed.) I went with one of her favorites, the HMB, and across the table was the Peach Bliss. The HMB was a mix of muddled cucumber and basil, fresh lemon juice, and citrus vodka. And the Peach Bliss was made of muddled blueberries, blueberry vodka and peach puree. Both were refreshingly tasty and fun to drink. Yes, fun.


The food menu is a long one, too. (And it's not the same as what is currently posted on the internet...so don't get your heart set on the bruschetta martini like I did.) With all of those options, we had to order quite a few plates. Variety is SO important.


The smoked cheddar fondue was a must since Bartini is attached to Urban Fondue...making it their specialty. I was a little concerned at first when I saw brown spots in the cheese and had to put off my first bite. (Smoked flavors always make me think of bacon...and seeing brown spots while thinking about smoked flavors led me to believe that this dish was not a vegetarian option. I was wrong. They were just spots.) It was served with a bowl of cubed bread but we could have opted to add on asparagus, fruit, a meat item of some sort, or button mushrooms. With all that we ordered, we decided to stick to the cubed bread. I've never been too keen on cheddar as being the number one choice for fondue, but this was pretty good. The consistency was good too, which is always a concern when making fondue.


More bread and cheese came in the form of the roasted vegetable flatbread. I can't be one hundred percent sure about what veggies were one top but the combination seemed to go well enough. There might have been an asparagus spear, but it's hard to say. Most of the veggies were so small that they became unidentifiable. Next time, I'll probably skip this one. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't exactly good either.


The pulled pork sandwich (obviously not something that I ordered) received the same vote. But...she did mention that no pulled pork sandwich has been that great after a visit to North Carolina (where pulled pork sandwiches are their specialty).


My favorite item (despite the chewy mushrooms) was the grilled polenta. I have recently (okay, it's been close to two years now) decided that polenta is one of my favorite things to order. And I've liked it in all of its forms (of which, there are plenty). I just need to learn how to make it at home.


With such a great deal on martinis, we had to get more than one each. For my second drink I ordered the Coconut Mojitotini. I loved the sprinkling of coconut on top. Also at the table was one of the many cosmopolitans. This one had a splash of champagne that almost overpowered the rest of the flavors. (So if you don't LOVE champagne, we suggest that you skip this one and go straight for the Snickertini...because it tastes like a Snickers. And who wouldn't LOVE that.)

Bartini definitely passed the test. They have great service, a huge selection, and discounts on both food AND drinks. But they get extra credit for having half-price martinis.

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

-b

Bartini

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Casa del Matador

2424 East Burnside
Happy Hour: 4 - 6 PM and 10 PM - 1 AM


Casa del Matador (more commonly known--but with risk for confusing it with The Matador on West Burnside--as The Matador) has the BEST margaritas that I've had in a very long time. And there are so many to choose from. I was in the middle of deciding between two when I picked a third based on the server's suggestion (and she wasn't even talking to me). SO good!


After all that debate, I ended up ordering the Tamarind Margarita (just eight dollars) and was completely satisfied. The rim of the pint glass had a thick dusting of cinnamon and sugar that added so much to the experience with its sweet smell.


Knowing in advance that the Texas Size Nachos were of a fairly good size (not exactly the size of Texas but bordering on gigantic), the three of us decided to split the plate. I also ordered the Romaine salad (with a dressing that did not contain anchovy paste).


The salad was a covered in a cotija cheese and had plenty of tomatoes and what looked like (but didn't carry the heat of) jalapeno peppers. My dressing was on the side and had a great flavor (it was a creamy balsamic) but wasn't exactly necessary with all of the flavors of the salad. It was definitely a good sized portion but still seemed a bit high in price at five dollars.


And then there were the nachos. And there were so many of them. They were covered in black beans (something that I LOVE) and had a great deal of guacamole and fresh pico de gallo. Plenty of cheese, too. If I had ordered these on my own I would have been SO overwhelmed...but going in on the order made this the perfect sized meal.


Our server was pretty fantastic, too. The place wasn't exactly busy, but she was quick to return with water, brought extra salsa out for our nachos, and offered up the dessert menu in a not-too-pushy-but-awfully-convincing manner...which is exactly why we split the Chocolate Decadence before leaving. And it was decadent. The chocolate cake is nearly flourless (so says the menu) and served warm with one scoop of vanilla ice cream and the most amazing caramel sauce. It's not on the happy hour menu (too bad) but at six dollars, this dessert was SO worth it. (And it was worth the calories, too.) I recommend it to everyone who stops by, whether it be for happy hour or dinner.

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

-b

Casa del Matador

Monday, July 11, 2011

Big Bowl in Chicago

60 E Ohio Street
Chicago, Illinois
Happy Hour: 3 - 6


This is my new favorite place. Seriously, I've never really liked Chinese food...and I like this. They use all sorts of fresh veggies, have plenty of vegetarian options, and work really hard to do what they can to run an almost completely "green" establishment. I only wish it weren't so far away.


During my stay in Chicago, I ate at Big Bowl twice. Once for dinner (which included a super yummy Thai Iced Coffee dessert) and again for happy hour. I would go again if there were one near me...but apparently they are only in Chicago, a few towns in Minnesota, and the D.C. area. Too bad. Their "green" way of running the restaurant is so Portland. They even have paper straws. Oh, and the server's uniform is made from bamboo.

When I was there for dinner, I had the hardest time trying to decide what to have. There are plenty of vegetarian options. So many, in fact, that they have an entire page in the menu devoted to the non meat-eaters. In the end (and with a little suggestive help from our server), I ordered the "fill your own bowl" stir fry with a Kung Pao sauce. This do-it-yourself business is three times better (and cleaner) than any Mongolian grill I've ever been to. Plus, there's no risk when choosing a sauce since they have the main ingredients put together for you. So yummy. And so many fresh veggies. I loved every bite.

Back for happy hour a week (or so) later, I found myself with that same problem. So many veggie options. We ended up ordering four items (which kept the two of us plenty full while out on the architecture boat tour--a must, if you've never been) to share. Well, one of them I didn't touch...but the rest were plenty to keep me satisfied until later that evening.


First to the table was the plate of spicy peanut noodles. I love the way they are plated...as if the bowl tipped over it was so full. The noodles were good and the sauce far better than the stuff I make at home.


The chicken egg rolls seemed to be a big hit. They were served with two dipping sauces. In fact, everything came that way. There were so many sauces to choose from. I liked all but the mustard sauce...too spicy for me. And it's not a regular heat spice, it's that horseradish spice that I just can't do.


The salad rolls were my absolute favorite. They called them fresh summer rolls...but anyone who eats Thai food as regularly as I do knows that they are called salad rolls. They came with peanut sauce and a sweet chili sauce. (In my opinion, the peanut sauce went better with the flavors of the salad rolls.)


And then there was the veggie gyoza. They were good...but a tiny bit oily. I am sure I wouldn't have liked them nearly as much if they hadn't been pan fried...but it made them a little bit oily, is all. They came with more sauces as you can see from the picture. So many sauces made for so many different flavor combinations. I loved it.


To wash it all down, both of us went with the specialty cocktail of the day. It was light and refreshing, only five dollars, and mixed with their own house-made ginger ale.

I'm not sure how long it will take to convince the people of Big Bowl to move to Portland, but once they do I'll be there. Weekly.

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


-b


Big Bowl