Monday, January 26, 2015

Tapalaya

28 NE 28th Avenue
Happy Hour: 4 - 6 PM, daily

Disclaimer: Our food and drinks were complimentary, but--as always--all of our opinions are our own.

Tapalaya has been on my TOP FIVE happy hour list since the beginning of this blog. Our original reviews date back to the spring of 2010 and--after almost five years--Tapalaya still pulls ahead of so many other Portland establishments. That's pretty serious. We've been to hundreds of happy hours. So when they contacted us to try out their new menu, we made plans to be in as soon as possible.


While everyone's favorite Cajun & Creole dishes still appear, Chef Anh Luu has added an Asian twist to both the happy hour and dinner menus. No worries, they still offer Po'boys, Mac 'n' Cheese, and Jambalaya...but now they also have a Pork Belly Banh Mi, Boudin Egg Rolls, and a Crawfish Etouffee made with roasted chiles, lemongrass, and shrimp paste. The happy hour menu might look smaller than before, but that's only because so many of the sides are already available at such a discounted rate. And that's just one of the reasons why Tapalaya has always been on my list of favorites.

Although it can add up if you get too carried away, the concept of small plates is usually accompanied by small prices. At Tapalaya, I can easily fill up (whether I make it in before happy hour ends or not) without the worry of a hefty check. My favorite menu items--the ones I have ordered again and again--are all priced at four bucks and under.



With a new menu, however, I knew that I had to try something I hadn't already grown to love. I was a bit limited, though--being both a vegetarian and 38-weeks pregnant--so you'll have to wait for my cobloggers' perspectives to learn more about the fancy cocktails, the steamer clams, and the crawfish.


I did try the Mississippi Caviar ($3) made with black-eyed peas, bell peppers, red onions, and celery. It's dressed in a red wine vinaigrette and is a healthy addition to the meal (especially if you are like me and plan to follow it with Mac 'n' Cheese, Creamy Grits, and a Cornbread Muffin).


The Charred Brussels Sprouts were a favorite all around. Listed as a nightly special, these sprouts are halved, roasted, and topped with honey, chili & lime. It's the kind of recipe that might just change your opinion of the leafy green. I, however, have been a fan for years. It's all in the way you cook them. And next time I cook them, I'll probably be trying my best to recreate this same flavor combination. It was really quite addictive.



Although I had the chance to taste a few of the other plates served (the cornbread is a win every time and I especially enjoyed the texture of the stuffed mushrooms), the only other item I ordered that night was a small dish of the creamy grits. Included as an accompaniment to many other meaty entrees, these grits are available on the sides menu for just three bucks. Made with Bob's Red Mill stone-ground grits and topped with charred green onion butter, this dish is one that I could barely stop eating (and when you're 38-weeks pregnant, you're stomach doesn't have the capacity for overindulgence).


I loved everything about our most recent visit to Tapalaya (well, except the Hurricane...virgin Hurricanes are okay, but the real thing would have really made the meal) but it was the service that was most appreciated. Having witnessed that same genuine service at every table, it was obvious that this place really values their customers. And, based on the makeup of their clientele, it's clear that they value the whole family. (Yes, it's true. I will be focused on happy hours that accept small children from now on.)

With Mardi Gras just around the corner, it's probably a good time to start thinking about making reservations. The live music starts at six and there are still plenty of reservations available on Open Table. In addition to the festivities planned for Fat Tuesday, Tapalaya will be partnering with Breakside Brewery to host the second annual Lundi Gras. The special event includes a multi-course meal paired with five beers specially-curated for the dinner. Tickets are just $55 each and can be purchased through Eventbrite.

And if going out on a weeknight isn't your thing, make plans to stop in for brunch. Available on Fridays (yes, Fridays!), Saturdays, and Sundays from 9 AM until 3 PM, Tapalaya now offers a lengthy brunch menu, including a number of Benedicts and--my favorite--Beignets.

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

-b


Tapalaya on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Bazi Bierbrasserie

1522 SE 32nd Avenue
Happy Hour: 3 - 7 and 10 - close, Monday through Saturday
bazipdx.com

The three of us have been blogging about Portland's Happy Hours for more than five years. During that time, we've had three weddings, two pregnancies (only one month left and there will be two bloggin' babies), we've bought and sold houses, and we've taught hundreds of lessons to hundreds of students all while doing our best to keep up with this blog. This is post number 400. And although it's just another restaurant review, it feels like a pretty important milestone.


I've been to Bazi Bierbrasserie once before. I remember it well because it was my birthday and I was on a happy hour mission. Days later I flew to Washington, D.C. and returned just in time for the school year to begin. I got behind on blogging--really behind--and never finished the post. It's an awful feeling, leaving something unfinished, but I just didn't feel right about finishing the post without really remembering the experience. Now that I've been back, it's fresh.



Bazi is located just off of Hawthorne at SE 32nd Avenue. They are known quite well for their (what seems like an) endless list of fancy Belgian-inspired beers, but really the entire drink menu is extensive. It's a full-bar (and I do mean FULL), the wine list is just long enough, and the bier-cocktails were a big hit with my husband.


Happy Hour runs from 3 until 7 PM daily (although they are closed on Sundays until Spring) and again from ten until close. There are discounts on drinks--including a $5 cocktail of the day--and enough food options to make most anyone happen. As a vegetarian, I typically am left to pick between one or two items on a restaurant's happy hour menu. That's not the case at Bazi. Sure, they are not all healthy options...but there are enough meat-free items listed on the menu that I actually had a hard time making up my mind.


This time around, I enjoyed the Velgie Burger and an order of Flemish Frites. (I thought it was a typo at first, too. Unless they are big believers in copy and paste, that misspelling was completely intentional.) The Velgie Burger is a house-made lentil patty topped with a handful of greens, a mountain of fried leeks and comes sandwiched between a soft potato bun. I added a slice of Gruyere cheese. And after taking the first bite, I was especially thankful I had. Not just because it's Gruyere...but because lentil patties can be pretty soft. Without that cheesy top, I could have easily been wearing more of my meal than would have seemed possible.


The Flemish Frites are thin cut, tossed in sea salt, and served with a delicious aioli. The regular menu includes two other variations--the thin-cut fries tossed in truffle oil or the Street Frites, which are of a thicker cut. I had a hard time sharing these. It was a decently sized portion, but they were just too good to give up.

Also at the table was a plate of the Aged White Cheddar Mac and Cheese. With add-ons available, this macaroni and cheese (with a side salad, perhaps...or maybe a plate of Brussels Sprouts) would make for an excellent meal.



The Pork Belly Skewers, Spicy Grilled Shrimp, and an order of house-made deep fried Kale Chips rounded off the meal while--at the same time--giving us a really good sampling of all the menu had to offer. The shrimp seemed to be the favorite among the meat eaters but I was especially impressed with the kale chips. They honestly seemed to melt in my mouth.


Although they prefer cash and really appreciate limiting the number of credit cards at each table, the service at Bazi is pretty much right on target. The place was nearly empty at first (all but the bar, that is) but really picked up prior to kickoff--they've got quite the set up with a big screen and projector--and still our server was able to meet all of our needs.

Food: Meets
Drinks: Meets
Service: Meets
Ambiance: Meets (although it was a bit dark in there)
Value: Meets

-b

Bazi Bierbrasserie on Urbanspoon

Sunday, January 04, 2015

Chowzter North American Award Nomination - Pip's Original


Chowzter is dedicated to finding the Tastiest Fast Feasts across the world and we Portlandians are so lucky to have many of them in our very own city. Included in this year's nominations for Tastiest Fast Feast is the Raw Honey & Himalayan Sea Salt Doughnut from Pip's Original Doughnuts, a locally-owned cafe in NE Portland serving made-to-order mini doughnuts and house-made chai. We were lucky to be able to sit down with the owners, Nate and Jamie Snell, to find out more about the story of Pip's.


Pip's started as a desire to fulfill Jamie's need for a larger kitchen space for her catering business, Lamb's Table Catering. The couple had found the perfect location--but there was one small catch. Using the space for a kitchen alone was not enough. Nate and Jamie would need to have a store front--something for the community, something that fit the Fremont vibe.


Thinking back on time spent in Seattle and a memorable first bite from a street vendor frying doughnuts on the spot, the couple settled on a concept. These street donuts were good, but it was the emotional tie to the trip and that first bite that really influenced the Snells to make a better version of these freshly made mini doughnuts. Nate and Jamie want to give their customers an emotional experience. They want their customers to remember that first bite just as they had. And they have succeeded! According to Nate, "Pip's receives love letters from across the country" from those who have sampled the deliciousness but live too far from Portland to return when the cravings hit. Nate also shared with us how much he loves watching the faces of the older generation light up when they come in and eat Pip's for the first, second, or even third time. They express that these doughnuts are just like the ones that had growing up--back when everything was made fresh--but have not been able to find again since childhood.


As I sat in Pip's, watching the line grow, the tables fill, and the plates of doughnuts disappear, I could see that it wasn't just about a mid-day sweet treat. These people were creating emotionally-tied memories. There were groups of friends chatting, young adults playing scrabble, little kids enjoying the collection of classic books, and a few times during our conversation Nate and Jamie paused to greet customers by name. As posted on their Facebook page, "Good doughnuts are good memories; Once eaten, never forgotten".

Nate and Jamie not only had the vision for Pip's but they built it! They drew up the plans, pulled the permits, and really built Pip's Original from the ground up. They did not get bank funding but instead used all of their savings. They wrote on their Facebook page, " We opened the doors completely broke, just hoping and praying that we would make enough money to be able to keep those doors open and our people paid. Because we had no money to go out and buy things to decorate the shop, almost everything decorating the shop is from our house, including the vintage chandelier". When Nate spoke with us he explained that, if it wasn't for friends and family, Pip's would not have opened. It took the entire village to see Pip's through, hence the name Pip's from Dickens' Great Expectations.


Once the counter was in place and the kitchen was fully functioning, Nate and Jamie started working on the delicious design of their doughnuts. It is Jamie's great sense of taste and masterful mixing of ingredients that creates the recipes for the doughnuts and the house-made Chai. We ordered the chai flight--which includes all five flavors--ranging from the very floral to the oh-so smokey and a little bit of everything in between. My favorite was the King and I, a slightly smokey yet sweet mixture, but my co-blogger goes for the Heart of Gold every time. The EmmyLou is decaffeinated while the rest are not and all can be made with whole, skim, soy, hemp, or almond milk.


Fun fact: the honey used at Pip's comes from the local NE Portland neighborhood near Pip's. The community rents out a piece of their backyard to house the bees and then the honey is collected from different homes around the neighborhood. How awesome is that? Again, this shows Nate and Jamie's commitment to community.


The made-to-order doughnuts are mini in size but gigantic in flavor! The menu currently offers Cinnamon Sugar, Nutella & Sea Salt, the Dirty Wu (named after a character on the Portland-based TV show Grimm), Candied Bacon & Maple, Pineapple-Bourbon, and the Raw Honey & Sea Salt. It's really hard to choose a favorite because they are all so very delicious but I can at least narrow it down to my top three. The Cinnamon Sugar might sound too simple but life's beauty often comes in the simplicity. It is the perfect combination of sweet and warm, soft crunch. I also love the Dirty Wu. It is their everything doughnut. It comes sprinkled with cinnamon and sea salt and drizzled with raw honey and Nutella. The Raw Honey & Himalayan Sea Salt doughnut--nominated for this year's Tastiest Bakery Item at the North American Chowzter Awards--melts in your mouth, giving you the joy of sweet and salty at the same time.


Family, friends, generosity, and excellence seemed to me to be the underlying creed of Pip's. They put family first. And they treat their employees as family. They take every opportunity to give back--through donations of money, goods, and time. In everything they do, they strive for excellence. As stated on their Facebook page, "We understand that excellence is a burden but it is one we will gladly bear because daily shouldering the burden of excellence is the only way to fight against the human tendency towards complacency and apathy. And hubris". As a part of their commitment to excellence, Nate and Jamie have worked hard to select the perfect ingredients (from the organic soy shortening used in the fryers to the locally-produced honey drizzled on top) and the best methods. Because Pip's doughnuts are made to order and flash fried at temperatures higher than you might expect, they are made to be eaten immediately. Take out is available, of course, but if you do take some cold Pip's doughnuts to a friend, you're actually doing them a disservice! Bring your friends to Pip's, sit down, and create some awesome memories together. For now, that's the best way to experience a mini made-to-order doughnut. Someday soon, however, Pip's will be on the go! The Pip's mobile is in the making and we can't wait to see it on the road.

We'll be in New Orleans for the 2015 North American Chowzter Awards later this week. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram for up-to-the-minute details about the event.

-O