Monday, January 21, 2013

The Box Social

3971 N Williams
Happy Hour: 4 - 6 daily, 11 - close Sunday - Thursday


If you've been reading this even somewhat consistently, you know that you always get more from me than just a restaurant review. I don't journal, I blog. So when I write, I write about me maybe just a little more than I should. Through my posts, you have probably learned that I don't eat meat, that I am a major math geek, maybe even that I can't eat walnuts. And in the past year or so, you've probably noticed that I went from sharing a table with my boyfriend, to my fiance, and now to my husband. Now that we are married, we are ready to start the home-buying process. You get to be a part of that, too. You see, happy hour is great for socializing with friends and enjoying discounted meals...but it can also be the perfect place to plan the next day's open house expedition. And that's exactly what we did.


We met at The Box Social on a Saturday afternoon ready to map out the tour of open houses. With food and drinks--at a discount--this was feeling less like a chore than I had expected. Now if only we could afford to do this every weekend AND still buy a house.


I opted for one of the fancy craft cocktails offered at a discount during happy hour. Called the Doc Holiday, it was a mix of vodka, lemon, honey, ginger, champagne, and something called SNAP. I had to do a little research on that one. Art in the Age Craft Spirits out of Pennsylvania created SNAP when they declared that other alcoholic ginger products on the market weren't performing up to par.


My husband ordered his usual--a whiskey sour. Made the egg white way, this whiskey sour was far from usual. Egg whites in a cocktail can lead to a disaster (we have learned), but it seems that the people of The Box Social know what they're doing. It was so tasty, I would order one. And I don't really like whiskey.

Snacking was a definite MUST during our planning session. We opted for some easy to share items plus an extra for me. (I was hungry!).


The hummus plate came with an assortment of dippable items. The olives were delicious on their own, as were the almonds. The hummus was darker in color (making me curious to know if there was some sort of secret ingredient in the mix) and topped with a plentiful pour of oil.


I was more than excited about the presentation of the house-made croutons that can be ordered just to snack on (like popcorn, I suppose) but were a part of my tomato soup plans. They were delivered to the table in a paper sack. SO cute. And delicious...with just the right amount of Parmesan cheese.


The tomato soup had a bit of a roasted quality to it and had just the slightest amount of texture to it. It was drizzled with some basil creme fraiche. I ordered it for me but was willing to share.


It was the warmed spinach dip that topped the list of snackability that night. We didn't exactly fight over the last slice of toasted baguette...but it was obvious that we all wanted it. Spinach dip is so often listed on happy hour menus that I've come to avoid it. (Unlike macaroni and cheese, which I will order almost every time...) This version, however, was one that I will go back for.

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

-b


The Box Social on Urbanspoon

Sunday, January 06, 2013

Villa la Bella

Isla Mujeres, Mexico
Happy Hour: Fridays, 5 - 7 PM


After booking our flight and the hotel, a lot of my research for our big trip consisted of what to do and where to eat. I was super excited to see that there was a restaurant right on the water that had swings--yes, swings--at the bar. It turned out that there were many, many restaurants right on the water WITH swings at the bar. I guess it's more common than I had assumed.


Relaxing on a swing at the bar can be the most dreamy thing to do on a sunny afternoon. It can also prove to be just a little dangerous. (Watch your knees, people!) Having multiple opportunities to practice my swinging technique while dining on the island made it that much easier to get past the danger zone and hit the point of ultimate relaxation. Ahhh!


The cutest swings of all were completely hidden from our view until one of the last nights on the island. I had spotted this place--the place with beer so cold it'll hurt your teeth--when I was out running. They had a sign advertising Happy Hour (my favorite thing to spot while on vacation--or, really, anywhere) on Fridays from 5 - 7.


Villa la Bella is a bed and breakfast located just on the ocean. They have suites and poolside bungalows--both with air conditioning--available at pretty decent prices. It was opened by a very fashionable woman from South Carolina (with the most adorable accent) and her husband. We met Bella, too. She's a sweetheart of a dog living her day-to-day in paradise.

There was no food menu available during happy hour. They serve breakfast to those staying at the Villa but don't have a full kitchen attached to the bar. They have blenders, though. And adorable coconut shell glasses for whatever you order.



I started with a scratch-made margarita but moved onto the most delicious pina colada when I saw it prepared with all of the garnishes. Not only did it have the biggest wedge of fresh pineapple but a mountain of shredded coconut to top off the flavor and presentation. (Seriously, a coconut shell with a blended drink--properly garnished--and sipped while swinging...that's BLISS.)


Although not as exciting, the beer my husband ordered did come with its own special additions. No, not a garnish. A koozie. All beer ordered here comes with a special Villa la Bella koozie. I guess that's how they keep the beer so cold.


We were surprised halfway through our second round by an offering of free appetizers. (I guess that's part of what makes Happy Hour so happy at Villa la Bella.) A delivery of pizza from Barlito (a small restaurant we passed on several occasions in downtown Isla Mujeres) was sliced into squares and passed from patron to patron.


We were only on the Island for ten days. If we had stayed longer, I'm sure we would have gone again. Now, we'll just have to remember it for next time (because I've already decided that there WILL be a next time.)

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

-b

Compadres

Isla Mujeres, Mexico

We didn't travel all the way to the Caribbean Ocean just for happy hour. We were there for our honeymoon. We were there to celebrate our wedding, relax after all the planning that went into that one night, and to just enjoy each other for a few days. It was the most amazing vacation ever. Mostly because all of the other vacationing I do comes tacked onto the end of a work-related conference or convention. Even growing up, all of the trips we took were to visit family. Even the trip to Disneyland included stops to see cousins. That, and my mom's high school reunion. They were never just because. This trip didn't come with any family visits, workshops, or required meetings. This trip was just because. And we made the most of it.


Happy Hour on the island was not at all like Portland Happy Hours. There was not a special menu. There weren't any discounts on food. Even the times weren't exactly set in stone. But they did have drink specials.


We decided on outdoor seating (with lows in the upper 60s and highs in the low 80s, we almost always sat outside) at Compadres when we saw that they were advertising "2 X 65" Mojitos. (Good thing I've been pushing the multiplication facts so hard at school this year. I was ready for the quick Pesos-to-Dollars conversions.) 65 pesos for two Mojitos (made with fresh mint, mind you) is a pretty stellar deal, in my opinion. That's less than three bucks a pop. And they weren't teeny-tiny or anything.

There were plenty of vegetarian options on the menu, so we stayed for dinner (and a second round). This was the end to our first full day on the island. We didn't find many more happy hours, but we did enjoy trying new restaurants (and new foods) while we were on the island.

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

-b

Friday, January 04, 2013

Blooming Moon Spa

1920 N Killingsworth Avenue
Happy Hour: 4 - 6 Wednesday through Friday

This might not be the most typical happy hour. They still have food, yes. And wine, that is true. But it's the ambiance and the service that makes it so amazing. (Really, it's the service more than anything.) Happy Hour at Blooming Moon Spa includes a plate of fancy cheeses, a few pickled veggies, slices of a rustic baguette, and a FOOT MASSAGE. They only offer happy hour Wednesdays through Fridays between four and six (and you'll need to make an appointment) but it is SO worth it. I went to celebrate my sister's birthday. They have space for two at a time making it the perfect retreat for sisters, close friends, or couples.


Blooming Moon Spa is in one of the cutest little old houses on Killingworth Avenue sandwiched between The Hop & Vine and Di Prima Dolce. I mention both, of course, because the cheese plate came from The Hop & Vine and when I first made the appointment they offered to pick up something sweet at the Italian bakery next door--Di Prima Dolce--knowing that we would be celebrating my sister's birthday. It's a perfect location for a business that goes above and beyond. And it's only a block or two away from my sister's house.

We had both been before for massages (amazing massages) but had yet to try out any of the other services. They offer facials, non-toxic pedicures, waxing, etc. And they even have memberships making a monthly massage more affordable.


Both of us started with our feet in the water. We nibbled on the cheese plate that had been brought over from next door and sipped on the wine while the massage therapist got everything in order. She was super friendly and didn't mind too much that I kept pulling out my camera (perhaps it was the first photo-documented foot soak happy hour).


The foot massage was amazing. I will most definitely return. Again and again and again. I'm even considering the membership so that I can get the benefit of a monthly massage and receive discounts on the extras (which, hopefully, include more foot massage happy hours).


With only one massage therapist for two sisters, we had plenty of time to enjoy a second glass of wine (no worries, we were only walking home after it was all over). We had the choice between red or white wine during our massage but I did read that they also offer a special Tequila Wax special (liquid courage, they called it).


The cheese plate could have used a bit more bread. Of course, that's the opinion of two very like-minded, carb-loving sisters. I suppose next time we'll have to make a special request. The cheese was delicious, though. And the pickled veggies added their own special crunch.


Now I just need to call and make another appointment. I hope you will too.

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

-b

Broadway Grill & Brewery

1700 NE Broadway
Happy Hour: 2 - 6 AND 9 - close, daily

Long before winter break started--on a rainy Sunday afternoon--I had the longest list of schoolwork to accomplish and thought it best to do so over happy hour. Makes sense, right? So I met with my favorite math nerd and my husband (who had his own work to do) at Broadway Grill & Brewery.


I knew that we were going to need a place with lots of space. Broadway Grill & Brewery has massive tables and almost every one of them is tucked away in a booth making it a little less obvious that we were hard at work while everyone else was watching the game.


This place is the direct relative of the Old Market Pub in SW Portland. This, of course, is why the menu looks so familiar. We were just there earlier this year. I even ordered the same thing...but upgraded it for two bucks to make it more of a meal.


I ordered the Tex Mex Wrap, this time smothered with enchilada sauce and cheese. It was delicious and filled me up completely. I paired it with a Bloody Mary (only $2.99 on Sundays) so I was a little overwhelmed by all of the tomato-based foods by the end of the meal.


Everyone else at the table ordered soup. The daily special was a potato-bacon-something-or-other. It looked thick and delicious but was a little heavy on the bacon (and I'm not just saying that because one crumble of bacon would be too much for me).



The chili is always on the menu and can be served many ways. (Their menu is LONG...but you will quickly notice that some of the mainstays are built in to a lot of the other menu options.)


And since the word Brewery fits in the name of this place, it made sense that at least one of us would choose a beer off the menu. This one was super frothy and looked as though I might actually like it--if only it were as chocolatey as it looked and didn't taste like beer at all.

Service was exceptional at the start but our stay lasted long enough that we were there into the next shift. And without the proper hand off, we were left to find our own way to the bill at the end of our stay. Service was always a little inconsistent at Old Market, too. It's just something that you have to expect, I guess.

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

-b


Broadway Grill & Brewery on Urbanspoon