Sunday, March 31, 2013

Gruner

527 SW 12th Avenue
Happy Hour: 4:30 - 6 PM, Monday through Friday


Gruner has been on my happy hour to do list for almost as long as it's been open. For whatever reason, we haven't had the chance to make it here. Must have something to do with the weekday-only happy hour offerings. But that's why Spring Break is my official Happy Hour week. It gives me a chance to try out some of those places that are almost impossible to get to during the school year. I haven't been able to keep up with all of the writing, of course...but have officially outdone my Spring Break record by hitting a dozen new happy hours within the week.


Gruner was stop number one of two, so we were a bit selective on what we ordered and did our best to share everything. We ordered a few snacks and one drink each. It was enough to allow us the flavor experience without getting too full.


I was excited to try the Schwarzwalder Sling because it sounded refreshingly delicious and I was able to pronounce it. (Many thanks to Frau Breckon and two years of high school German, I can successfully order cocktails.) The Sling was made with Gin, Kirschwasser (which--I'm fairly certain--is called for in a number of fondue recipes), house-made grenadine, and soda water. I've given up my love of black cherry soda (it's just too sweet) but I loved the light cherry flavor this had to it.

As a snack, we ordered a bowl of the roasted pumpkin seeds, the polenta croquettes, and an order of the Hungarian cauliflower soup. I was apparently too excited when the soup arrived because I failed to take a picture of it. And it was so beautiful upon delivery, too. It had been topped with grated gruyere and it was easy to see the sweet and hot paprika.


The roasted pumpkin seeds were equally enjoyed by all three of us at the table. They were a perfect snack to share.


It was the polenta croquettes that became my ultimate favorite. I've already checked and know for sure that these are available on the dinner menu, too. (And next door at Kask.) They are similar to arancini balls that are on happy hour menus across Portland but are made with polenta instead of risotto. The crisp outside and melted cheese inside is by far what makes them so appealing. It's a perfect texture combination and so fun to eat.

Service was nearly perfect at Gruner. I was almost disappointed that we weren't planning to stay longer. I might be limited in what I can order (which is true at almost any German restaurant) but I am so ready to return for a full dinner. Hopefully the menu doesn't change too often because I already know what I want.

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

-b


Gruner on Urbanspoon

Southland Whiskey Kitchen

1422 NW 23rd Avenue
Happy Hour: 3:30 - 6 and 10 - close, daily


A new favorite! Almost everything on the menu is meat-laden and I still love it. Perhaps it was the perfectly sunny weekday afternoon that made it so enticing. We were able to get to the window seats before the crowd grew. And when I say window I mean garage-door, open-to-the-breeze, as-if-you-were-sitting-outside kind of window. If you can get there early enough to snag one of those tables, do it. It'll be worth your while. Promise.


Happy Hour at Southland Whiskey Kitchen runs from 3:30 to six everyday. They've got a pretty long list of food options, but if you are a vegetarian--like me--be sure to let them know. Even the mac and cheese has a bacon breadcrumb topping.



We started with drinks. It's a whiskey bar so I played the part. But I did pick the sweetest thing I could find on the happy hour drink menu. Or maybe a mint julep is sweeter. Now I suppose I will have to go back to taste test the two. I ordered the Southern Punch. It is peachy, but good good good.


First of the food items to arrive was the chopped salad. It's a Smoke Master Chop Salad which means--if you aren't a vegetarian--you'll enjoy the chopped romaine, cherry tomatoes, cucumber, red onion, red pepper, and smoked cheddar with a choice of chicken or pork. For me, it came without and I loved every bite. The cheddar chunks were a little too much, I suppose...not excessive, just more than I could finish. I will definitely order this again.


Next to arrive was a plate of fried chicken and collard greens. I didn't taste either, of course, but took note that they were both very well-liked. In fact, the deliciousness of the chicken might have lead to a truncated happy hour adventure. We were in a great neighborhood for multiple stops, but after having such great eats at the first place...we didn't last as long as planned.


The macaroni and cheese was just a side and for $2.50 the serving seemed just right. I am super thankful that our server was paying attention when we started to order. She recognized that I was meat-free right away and gave me all sorts of warning. You see, the mac and cheese is usually topped with bacon breadcrumbs. I love a good breadcrumb topping, but this was one I was ready to go without. The mac and cheese was thick and  had a little bit of spiciness to it. Nothing extreme, of course, just a little kick.


Last to arrive to our table was the plate of cornbread. We ordered this after learning that the hush puppies were more than just cornmeal. The cornbread was still moist (which is often hard to find) and served with a butter that might have had a little honey mixed in. I couldn't find any mention of it on the happy hour menu and forgot to ask, but definitely noticed some sweet qualities to the mix. I suppose, though, it could have been the cornbread. Either way, there was a presence of honey.

What intrigued me the most--and something that I didn't notice until the end of our visit--was that they offer flights. Whiskey flights. And more than just one. I sent a text (with picture included) to my husband almost immediately. And, I think, he--almost immediately--became jealous of my whereabouts. We will definitely go back. And I'm guessing it will be in the near future.

Food: Meets (or maybe I should say Meats)
Drinks: Meets
Service: Meets
Ambiance: Exceeds (especially on a sunny day)
Value: Exceeds

-b


Southland Whiskey Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Friday, March 29, 2013

Cibo

3593 SE Division
Happy Hour: 5 - 6:30


Dinner. I'm calling Happy Hour at Cibo dinner. Five dollars gets you a gigantic pizza that--especially when paired with a salad--can make a full-sized dinner easily. And Happy Hour is served throughout the entire establishment so there's not much worry about not getting a table. It's a perfect set up, really...and I think that the neighborhood knows it because the place definitely filled up as we were there.


We rolled in just as Cibo was opening. They don't open their doors until five. (I'm almost surprised that they don't offer lunch. Maybe that's still to come.) They gave us our choice of tables and we quickly began perusing the menus. There were a number of unfamiliar ingredients on the drink menu and so when the server arrived we hit him with all of our questions at once. He made it through every one and was able to answer them all with ease.

The drink menu must change frequently. What is online is definitely not all that they offer in the restaurant and--at one time--our server actually mentioned that one of the cocktails was brand new. It's nice to know that they are mixing things up. And I bet if I were to already have found a favorite, they would have the ingredients on hand even if it was no longer listed on the drink menu.


I opted for the Margarita Italiano. I'm not exactly sure what makes it different from any other twist on the traditional Margarita. It was good, came with a salted rim, and went well with the snacks we had selected.


To start, the three of us shared a plate of polenta fries. It seems that I love polenta no matter how it is made. These were perfectly crisp on the outside but with that creaminess still present on the inside. The marinara that accompanied the fries was missing something. I'm not sure what, but I think it had to do with its consistency. It had good flavor--and seemed to be quite fresh--but it didn't stick as well as it should have leaving very little to enjoy on each bite. Maybe if it were just a touch thicker.


The next to arrive at the table was the pizza. It was HUGE and that's why I know that this place would make a perfect happy hour for dinner. It came with a pair of scissors instead of a typical pizza cutter. Cutting through a pizza with a pair of scissors is not something I practice often. It was comical, but very efficient. I suppose that's why they do it. The pizza was simple. Just fresh mozzarella on a tomato base and a little torn basil to top it. I loved every bite. Even the crust. I suppose I will have to go back to try some of the other pizza offerings. There's one on the menu with mushrooms, seasonal veggies, and goat cheese that sounds intriguing.



We also tried the veggie bedoni. It was my first, but I recognize the concept. It reminded me of a piroshki. Or a teeny-tiny calzone. Ours was filled with collard greens and cheese but the original is stuffed with tomatoes, anchovies, and capers.

Happy Hour done right will always make me want to come back for dinner. That's a true sign of success, in my opinion. And I want to go back for dinner. Soon. Maybe next week.

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

-b


Cibo on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Lucca

3449 NE 24th
http://luccapdx.com/
Happy Hour Tuesday-Friday 2:30-5 p.m.


It's been a long time since I have done a Happy Hour review! I have a few backlogged that I need to catch up on, but I figured I would start with the most recent one...since I am sitting here eating the leftovers as I type! Why the long absence from Happy Hour? Well, for one thing, I have been busy with work...but also Happy Hour is a little less happy when you can't drink alcohol! I am very, very happy to be abstaining, though, because I am pregnant. :) (That beer in the picture belongs to my husband).


Happy Hour at Lucca is an early one, but it worked out fine for us since it is spring break. I do wonder if it would be busier if it ran a little longer. In any case, both my husband and I really enjoyed it. Although the food was slightly more expensive than a typical Happy Hour, the big portions made it a good value--and it made it dinner for us, which is my favorite kind of Happy Hour. We started with the skillet crisped potatoes ($4). These were really, really good! Soft and flavorful, they reminded us of a recipe my husband makes from the Pioneer Woman, hot crashed potatoes. These were even better, though, because of the spicy aioli dipping sauce. It had a smoky flavor, and even the potatoes seemed to be flavored with something extra special (definitely NOT rosemary, my least favorite herb).


I believe the wood-fired pizza is the full-size, for a discounted price ($9). These are probably big enough that you could share one and just get an appetizer or salad, but my husband is a big eater, and my baby is HUNGRY all the time, so we each got our own. I got the funghi pizza, which had all kinds of mushrooms and truffle oil. I was really enjoying it until I traded a piece with my husband. He got the salsicce and added an egg for an added charge of $1.50. His pizza was definitely the star of the table--it had house-made fennel sausage and a tomato base. I was seriously jealous. I didn't try the egg, but he said it was great. My pizza was great, too, don't get me wrong, but I will get the salsicce next time!


Now if I were drinking, they had something for every type of drinker; beer, wine, well drinks, and cosmos and lemon drops are all on special during Happy Hour. 

Service was also great--our server was on top of things (he offered me refills twice), he was friendly and genuine, and everything came out quickly without feeling rushed. Both of us left feeling exactly as you should after a good Happy Hour--like we wanted to come back again!

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

--E


Lucca on Urbanspoon

Xico

3715 SE Division
Happy Hour: 5 - 7 PM


If I were a meat eater, I might have LOVED this place. But I'm not. And I didn't. That doesn't mean, however, that I won't try it again. As soon as I see that they've added more to the list of options (for both the happy hour menu and the regular dinner menu), I'll be back. Portland is a very vegetarian-friendly city. Vegan-friendly, too. Maybe my expectations have been set too high? (I don't really think so.) Please, Xico--if you're reading this--consider offering more meat-free options. There are a lot of us out here and we would appreciate it.

What little I tasted was good--spicy, but good. We had a dish of the spiced peanuts and the Totopos con Chile. 


The peanuts were roasted and dusted with the same chile, lime, and salt mix that I encountered on my honeymoon while enjoying freshly cut coconut. It's good, but you have to be ready for it. Seriously, you have to keep our eye on the bowl. If you're not careful you might pick up the peanut that's nearly completely covered with chile powder. It's great in moderation but could do damage--to some of us--when too much gets in at once.


I wasn't prepared for the next plate to arrive. I had assumed chips and salsa. Wrong. Salsa and chips. But not the same salsa I have grown accustomed to. This was chile de arbol salsa. Spicy, yes. With a little smokiness to it.  And messy--as it was coating every chip. The cotija cheese and crema lightened the spice just enough. I probably could have used an extra napkin.


The margarita listed on the happy hour menu went perfectly with the two dishes we had ordered. House-made margaritas are always so refreshing. I'm just thankful that I haven't learned to dislike tequila the way so many others have.

I'm hoping for the opportunity to revisit Xico in the near future. I guess we'll see...

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

-b


Xico on Urbanspoon

New Thai Blues

4147 SE Division
Happy Hour: still in the works

New Thai Blues doesn't have a happy hour, yet. It's obvious that they are working on it, though. Just like they are working on new outdoor seating, new decor, and maybe even a little new construction. We actually watched a man (the owner, I'm assume) break out his power tools to hang a few items.


Just because they don't have happy hour didn't mean I was about to get up and walk out, though. That's not my style. Instead, we ordered off of the appetizer list. And since I hadn't had one in forever, I ordered a Thai Iced Coffee. They did have house drinks listed at just 6 bucks each...but the coffee was calling my name. (So was the mango and sticky rice, but I stayed strong on that one.)


Thai iced coffee is always a special treat. It is ridiculously sweet and has just a smidge more cream (or maybe it's half and half) than I'm used to. I love the appearance on delivery (how it is served in every Thai restaurant I've ever been to) and am always a little sad to stir out the smokey lines of cream. But to really enjoy it, I must. I loved every sip. Every single sip.


The appetizer list had a number of intriguing items listed--including pumpkin tempura and deep fried tofu. I'm excited to see what of the menu makes it on the list of discounted items during happy hour. Since we were making the most of the day (with plans to hit up more than one happy hour), we played it safe and ordered a single plate of salad rolls.


These were well done and came with more filling options than I'm used to seeing. Four to be exact. I have only ever had them with tofu, of course, but it was nice to see that they had shrimp and chicken on the menu too. Plain veggie, too, in case you aren't a fan of tofu. All are rolled with crisp veggies and come served with a thick peanut sauce.

We were the only seated customers at New Thai Blues--which worried me just a little--but walking back to my car after spending more time on Division I noticed that the place had filled up. Hopefully their happy hour--when it officially gets going--is a successful one. I will have to stop back in. And if it's the right kind of day, I can take advantage of the new outdoor seating.

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

-b


New Thai Blues on Urbanspoon

Monday, March 25, 2013

Imperial

410 SW Broadway
Happy Hour: 2 - 6 PM & 10 - midnight, daily


I've heard good things about all that Chef Vital Paley is doing for downtown Portland. Paley's Place has been around for some time, but the Portland Penny Diner and Imperial are both quite new. The Penny Diner is currently only open weekdays until 3, which is when most Happy Hours start. Thankfully, Imperial shares the same sidewalk. We stopped in on a Sunday afternoon to find that we had the place almost all to ourselves.

Happy Hour is only available at the bar. No worries, though, as there seems to be plenty of seating. With happy hour running as late as six o'clock, this place must see more action on the weekdays. Fridays, for sure.


We stopped in for a snack and some fancy cocktails after what seemed like a non-stop out-of-the-house-all-day kind of Sunday. The atmosphere was inviting, with a Madmen feel to it. Must have been all the brown hues and the sixties feel. The most impressive, in my opinion, was the open kitchen with flames growing higher and higher as they prepared for the dinner hour.


My husband is apparently on some sort of martini kick. This one came with just one olive and was most definitely meant for sipping. I didn't even dare take my turn. Too strong. Instead, I enjoyed a vodka gimlet. (More Julie and Julia than Madmen, but oh well....)

The gimlet was made with only fresh ingredients and appeared quickly after the order had been placed. The bartender took extra care to make it just so, using their signature big block ice cubes to bring it down to the most ideal temperature. I watched him stirring multiple cocktails as we waited for our food to arrive.

Since it was just a snack, we ordered a salad, a fresh roll, and a bowl of roasted hazelnuts.


The hazelnuts were a perfect Oregon treat, roasted and dusted with a kick of flavor. I enjoyed the crunch and having something quick to the table while we waited on the rest.


The salad was grilled--something I had yet to try. And now I want to try it again. I am going to have to do some research and test out what I find on the barbecue at home. It was only romaine, but the smokey flavors added so much appeal. I loved the feta, thinly sliced onions, and large cube croutons as well. Tomatoes, too. Every bite was near perfect.


It was the fresh roll that will have me coming back for more. It sounds silly, I know, but this roll was like an ultra dressed up, top-quality version of the rolls I grew up on in elementary school. School lunches aren't especially appealing these days (even more so to a vegetarian) and they weren't always that great growing up, but there were certain days--with certain foods--that stand out in my memory as being SO very worth the long line and less-than-friendly cooks. The rolls are one of those food items...and the rolls at Imperial are like that times ten.

We didn't stay long that afternoon, but that doesn't mean we won't be back. I can be ready for another grilled salad and fresh-baked roll or maybe even a full dinner anytime.

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

-b


Imperial on Urbanspoon

El Gaucho

319 SW Broadway
Happy Hour: 5 - 7 & 10 - close, Monday through Friday; 10 - close, Saturday;
All Night Happy Hour: 5 - close, Sunday


El Gaucho is where I will now forever go when I want to pretend that I have money. It is exactly what you would expect for a place that offers a fourteen dollar hamburger. The lighting is dim. The decor offers more than fresh flowers. And the servers are dressed UP.


As a vegetarian, I ended up ordering sides off of the regular menu. My husband, however, loved every bite of the over-priced burger. Since I do most of the cooking--and I don't cook meat--he tends to appreciate the meaty offerings when we are out for happy hour.


The hamburger was topped with bacon, crisp lettuce, tomato, and aioli spread heavily over the toasted bun. It was wrapped in checkered paper and towered over the teeny tiny gherkins that garnished the plate. It was impressive watching him take the first bite. I would have made a complete mess, but he managed to keep the burger together as he enjoyed bite after bite.


And I loved every bite of my plate of macaroni and cheese. It was made with the gemilli pasta I love so much. Each little twist did such an excellent job of holding onto the cheesy sauce. It meant that every bite was as delicious as the first. The sauce itself had a little texture to it. It wasn't as creamy as some, but was obvious that it was made with high quality cheese.


To share, we ordered a plate of broccoli. They offer many shareable sides on the regular dinner menu. I had a hard time deciding between the broccoli and asparagus as the both top my favorites and were both topped with the same lemon sauce. I was a little hesitant to order steamed broccoli as it so often is just past perfect, but this still had the crunch I love so much.


As we both ordered a glass of the house red--a Merlot from Walla Walla, it was brought to the table in a small carafe. The server was good about filling our glasses throughout the meal, making it seem as though each glass was more like a glass-and-a-half.

El Gaucho is not somewhere I plan to return to regularly. It will be perfect for special occasions, but adds up a little too fast for a regular outing. I will remember it when making recommendations, though. Especially when celebrations are in order.

Food: Meets
Drinks: Meets
Service: Meets
Ambiance: Meets
Value: Does Not Meet (a must for special occasions)

-b


El Gaucho on Urbanspoon