Sunday, January 26, 2014

Sunday Brunch at Nel Centro

Oh Nel Centro. What can I say? I really, really wanted to like Nel Centro. I walk by it on my way home from work every evening, and people look reasonably content with the food that is before them. It's close to home, close to the office, from the outside looking in looked like it would be decent - I even read a couple of reviews online.. and yet.. I was very disappointed. 

My big mistake may have been going to Nel Centro for brunch instead of the more popular Happy Hour, but I was swayed by two separate blog reviews that named Nel Centro "their favorite brunch in Portland".  WHAT? Needless to say I'll not be reading those blogs again because clearly my taste is vastly different from the authors of those blogs. 


Perhaps my first clue as to the quality of the brunch at Nel Centro should have been the crowd in the dining room. The complete and utter lack of a crowd. In Portland even the worst establishments have couple of people milling about during brunch hours. 


The menu was boring an uninspiring. T had an omelet with smoked apples, brie, baby arugula and bacon ($13.00). Everything on the menu comes with potatoes and toast. 


I ordered the extremely boring eggs any style with bacon ($11.00). I don't even know where to begin. I'm not a fan of a meal where everything is pretty much the same color. The eggs were completely overcooked and unappetizing. The potatoes were incredibly greasy and under cooked, which made them like hard little grease covered rocks. The bacon was really tiny and fatty and was not the flavor of something I would choose to put in my mouth.  Yuck. 

If you'd like to check our Nel Centro for yourself, their website is www.nelcentro.com. They are located at 1408 SW 6th Ave in Portland. They are open for breakfast Mon-Fri from 6:30am - 10:30am and Saturday from 7:30am - 11:30am. Brunch is served on Sunday from 8:00am - 2:00pm. They are open for lunch Mon - Fri from 11:30am - 2:30pm  and dinner Sun - Thurs from 5:00pm - 9:00pm and Fri - Sat from 5:00pm - 10:00pm. 

Nel Centro on Urbanspoon

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Piattino in the Pearl - Classic Italian Small Bites

A couple of weeks ago a late lunch brought me to Piattino. It's walking distance to my office, which is always a tie-breaker when trying to choose somewhere to dine. A friend of mine, after discovering Piattino, ate there six times in seven days, he's usually not one to make a bad restaurant recommendation, so I figured I needed to give it a try. 




Piattino has a pretty great interior. So many places in Portland completely forget to address the aesthetics of their restaurant, I really appreciate it when a place takes some consideration into the entire dining experience. 

pizza oven


I really like the ceiling. And surprise! It's plastic sheeting available at Lowe's! I used this treatment in a powder room of a house I owned in California. LOVE IT. 

Anyways, on to the food!


Despite having an aversion to mushrooms T ordered the Truffle & Potato Ravioli ($12.00). They really aren't kidding about "small plates," the dish was definitely on the wimpy side, but he said it was very rich, and while he was still hungry after, he felt it was an okay price for the dish. Apparently the fennel sausage and the chanterelle conseva were a great combination, the chanterelle adding a rich buttery flavor to the dish. (Not being a mushroom lover myself, I declined tasting this mess dish)


What I ordered would never surprise anyone that knows me well. My obvious choice on the menu was the Soppressata e Cavolo pizza ($15.00). Spicy red pepper salami, kale (I love kale to the ends of the earth), garlic, chili oil, fresh mozzarella, tomato. My only gripe with the pizza is that the bottom of it was completely blackened and I had to peel the charred layer away in order to enjoy it. But it was worth doing, as the contrast of flavors was exceptional, with the crisp kale adding interest, and of course delicious kale flavoring. I really, really loved this pizza and would definitely like to return for one. Or two. 

I thought that my dish was excellent. The service left a lot to be desired (but we were there at 2:30pm on a Tuesday, so I'm thinking we probably didn't get the "A-team" wait staff) and there were a lot of flies buzzing around that really annoyed me, but I'll definitely return, as the kale pizza has captured my heart. 

If you'd like to check out Piattino for yourself, their website is www.piattinopdx.com. They are located at 1140 NW Everett Street in Portland (Pearl District). They are open Monday-Saturday 11:00am - 10:00pm. Happy Hour is daily from 3:00pm - 6:00pm. 


Piattino on Urbanspoon

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Dick's Kitchen

The other day I received a text message at work from a friend who wanted to go to lunch - because I failed to come up with somewhere, we ended up at Dick's Kitchen. I don't love it, I don't hate it either, I just feel like there are so many better places to eat in Portland. Don't get me wrong, Dick's has a pretty good selection, and they have a great variety of meats (buffalo anyone?), I just don't love the "vibe" in there, and I ALWAYS end up sitting by a table of weirdos. 


This visit was no exception to the rule. We ended up sitting next to two people who were clearly on a first date. The woman on the date was trying to convince the man that she had to travel with ziploc bags full of blood, and that it would be really hard for her to go to China because explaining her need to carry blood around would just be impossible. He kept asking her what was wrong with her that she would need to carry blood around, and she kept making up crazier and crazier responses. The guy definitely was a gentleman, if it were me on that date, I would have vaulted over the table and ran away from her as quickly as possible. 


T ordered the Miss Piggy Bacon Burger ($9.00) with Oregon blue cheese ($2.00) and an order of Not-Fries ($3.00). 


I ordered the Grilled cheese ($7.00) featuring Tillamook cheddar, Nueski's bacon and a tomato on white bread, and an order of Not-Fries ($3.00). The not fries, like everything else I've tried at Dick's are kind of boring, bland and lackluster, but the house made spicy ketchup kind of makes up for it. The sandwich was okay, but it was so greasy I could only eat half of it. I guess I should have expected it to be greasy, being filled with bacon and cheese and all, but it was just too much for me to handle. 

If you'd like to check out Dick's Kitchen for yourself, their website is www.dkportland.com. They are located at 704 NW 21st Ave in Portland and are open from 11:00am - 10:00pm seven days per week.

Dick's Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Bar Mingo

A night about to be spent at a film festival called for a pre-show dinner at Bar Mingo. I have to admit, I have the attention span of a gnat. I can barely sit through an entire movie, much less a film festival (which was thankfully made up of shorts), so of course the rational choice for a pre-film festival meal was a heavy Italian dinner at Bar Mingo. 


Bar Mingo is pretty cute with its little Vespa logo, and definitely fits in to it's NW 21st Ave location. 


They have a great seating area that you stumble into upon entry. The perfect place to wait for your party, or have a drink, or even eat a meal. 


The bar itself is also a great place to dine, and is my favorite place to grab a stool and admire the old barn doors used as decor. (also of note is the fun of watching the barkeeps squish lemons limes and oranges with the old fashioned juice press).


If you're at Bar Mingo on a Monday night, don't forget to order a bottle of wine - it's all 40% off. They have my favorite Penner Ash Pinot and it goes deliciously with everything on the menu. 


As usual T ordered the most boring thing on the menu - Bolognese style lasagna ($17.00). It is fine, but tastes about the same as any lasagna I've ever had anywhere else. I'm not really a fan of Bolognese sauce and prefer a veggie lasagna to one with meat, so this is not something that I would be likely to choose ever. 


I had my standby, the Vongole with Manila clams, pancetta, chili flakes and parsley ($17.00). The chefs at Bar Mingo hand make the pasta daily, so it's delicious and slightly chewy like homemade pasta should be. The sauce tastes of wine and garlic, and the generous helping of clams make the dish a sight to behold - it's lovely. 

If you'd like to check out Bar Mingo for yourself, their website is www.barmingonw.com. They are located at 811 NW 21st Ave in Portland and are open Sun-Thur 4:00pm - 11:00pm, Fri-Sat 4:00pm - 12:00am. Happy Hour is seven days per week from 4:00-6:00pm. 


Bar Mingo on Urbanspoon

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Kargi Gogo Georgian Food Cart

Every time I walk out of my office building I'm faced with the overwhelming number of food carts at the 10th & Alder pod. One of the carts is pretty adorable and always catches my eye, so I finally decided to give it a whirl. 


Authentic Georgian street food? Hocked by a super cute caricature of a little Georgian girl? SOLD. I hadn't had Georgian food since high school, so I was pretty happy to revisit this cuisine after so many years. 



They have a good sized menu for a street cart, but typical of other Georgian food I've had it's pretty bread heavy. 


I decided to go with the Supra Plate ($8.00) because I couldn't decide what I wanted, it seemed like the best option was to go with the one that features everything on the menu. 


Can you believe how cute the takeout container is? 


Here's everything waiting to be sampled. 


I started with the khinkali. Khinkali are large soup dumplings. You eat them with your hands, holding them by the "stem". They were really, really good and filled with pork and beef. I will definitely return for an order of khinkali on a cold rainy day.


The Village Salad was really good, but in my opinion had about six times the amount of dressing that it needed. A am always a fan of a tomato and cucumber salad, but the garlic dressing was just too overpowering, a little definitely goes a long way. 


The lobiani is probably really, really good (caramelized onions and beans stuffed into bread) but I'm not really a fan of beans, and with so much food to try, I gave it a nibble and moved on to the other items. 


The  khachapuri was delicious. It was like a grilled cheese sandwich but better. Kargi Gogo markets it as "perhaps the best cheese bread in the world". It doesn't remind me at all of any kind of cheesy bread I've ever had, but it is definitely something worth trying, and I far prefer it to anything offered at the neighboring Grilled Cheese Grill cart. 


I had never heard of badrijani before visiting Kargi GOGO. It was delicious grilled eggplant wrapped around a garlic/walnut paste, garnished with pomegranate seeds. It was very rich, and very garlicky, but also great and super unique.

If you'd like to check out Kargi Gogo for yourself, their website is www.kargigogo.com. They're located at the food cart pod at 10th & Alder, facing the Pittock Building on SW Washington Street and are open Mon-Sat from 11:00am - 4:00pm.


Kargi Gogo on Urbanspoon

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Pazzoria Bakery & Cafe

Pazzoria Bakery and Cafe is the more causal next door cousin to Pazzo Ristorante. 

It is quite adorable on the inside and I must say I am guilty of choosing it for lunch strictly on appearance alone.




It's very rare that I have a dining experience that is so awful that I want to simply walk out before my food even arrives, but my experience at Pazzoria was one such experience. I've not been to their sister restaurant, Pazzo, and will certainly give it a try, but I wouldn't eat at Pazzoria again, even if I was being paid to do so.



At first glance Pazzoria has a large and varied menu. I walked up to the counter (I was the only one in line) and couldn't get the attention of the two coworkers chatting at the cash register. I had my heart set on the tuna melt, and was disappointed when I overheard the male coworker say to the female, "GOD we have made SO MANY tuna melts today. If I have to make another one, I don't know what I'm going to do". I learned long ago to never, ever order anything that a restaurant employee doesn't want to make, I don't need any unadvertised ingredients making their way into my food. 

When I was able to get the attention of the employees I let them know that I had never been to Pazzoria before and asked if there was anything they recommended. They said "anything is good"... not helpful. I asked about the stromboli and based on the description it sounded great, so I ordered it with the spinach salad ($6.50). The woman who took my order then said, "can I con you into buying a cookie?" The thought that they would have to "con" someone into purchasing an item made me lose faith in the "bakery" portion of Pazzoria Italian BAKERY and Cafe. 

After I had ordered I stood at the counter waiting for my order (I wasn't given a number, and wasn't sure what I was supposed to do). When the woman noticed I was standing there she rolled her eyes at me, sighed and said, "we'll bring you your order."

There were four tables available when I went to sit down, unfortunately they were all dirty. I chose the least dirty of the tables, then set off to find a napkin or something to wipe it off with. Which is when I saw this: 



The only napkins available in the restaurant (according to the employee) are on this stand. See them on the very top shelf on the far left? I'm barely over 5' tall which meant that I couldn't reach them without grabbing the very bottom of the napkin dispenser and pulling it off the shelf (they are dispensed out of the top). I'm not sure what someone in a wheelchair, or someone shorter than me would do if they needed a napkin. 

After cleaning off my table I sat down and waited for my food to arrive. When the female employee brought it out, she kind of slid it across the table, spun around, and walked away. It was bizarre and the kind of thing you would expect an arch nemesis in a movie based in a high school to do. 

After my food was brought out, the dirty tables remained dirty. The two employees were leaning on the counter having a gossip session, meanwhile there were no clean tables. The male employee started talking to his coworker about how his girlfriend was taking him to Mazatlan, and the female employee started running her hands through her hair and talking about wondering if she should dye it. 



And here's my food. Looks appetizing, right? Not really? Yeah, I didn't think so either.



Close up of my spinach salad. It was supposed to be spinach, fennel, pine nuts, red onions balsamic and Parmesan. I didn't taste/see any fennel on the salad - which wouldn't have been the end of the world. My problem with the salad was that the onions were clearly well past their prime. Far past rotten. I wish they had photographed better, they were brown and off white in color. I tasted them just in case the weird color didn't affect the flavor, but they were awful. 



And here's the stromboli. It wasn't awful, but for a "bakery" it was a huge disappointment. The bread portion was hard, burnt in places, and didn't have much flavor. The cheese, sauce and meat were mediocre at best. 

As I was sitting, picking at my meal, kicking myself for eating at Pazzoria, the female employee dumped out the tips and started counting them. 

And then she did something that was truly unbelievable. 

She said, loudly to her male coworker, "GOD our customers SUCKED today. We have barely any tips." I feel like a far more appropriate statement from her would have been, "wow our service was awful and we were rude and didn't care about our customers, I'm not surprised they didn't tip us."

If you'd like to check out Pazzoria Italian Bakery & Cafe for yourself their website is http://www.pazzo.com/portland-bakery.phpThey are located at 627 SW Washington Street in downtown Portland. They are open Monday - Friday from 7:00am - 3:00pm.


Pazzoria Bakery & Cafe on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Island Grill Food Cart

Today I decided to visit one of my favorite food carts, Island Grill Hawaiian Barbecue. It has a lot going for it:

1) relatively quick service for a food cart
2) I can buy a huge super filling lunch for $5.00
3) they take credit/debit cards

With the invention of Square I just kind of expect all food carts to take credit cards, but unfortunately many of them still don't (in the pod at 10th & Alder I'd say about 40% take cards). I bank with an online bank so going to an ATM is a hassle which means I never, ever have cash. 


If you look closely in the picture above you'll see they've drawn a little Visa and Mastercard symbol on their chalkboard - that's the first thing I look for when I'm walking around the pod, is if they accept cards - if I don't see that they do, I keep walking until I find a cart that does. 

Island Grill has a pretty big menu for a food cart. 


I've had their spam musubi, teriyaki chicken and spicy chicken. The spicy chicken is definitely my favorite thing on their menu. After waiting for approximately 5 minutes I was presented with this wonderful little box.


And inside


I ordered the Mini Spicy Chicken ($5.00). It is more than enough food for one meal with a heaping pile of spicy chicken, a scoop of rice, and a scoop of macaroni salad. 


The spicy chicken is very good. Island Grill uses good quality chicken breast (some carts use a chicken product that I'm not really sure is actually chicken) and the sauce is sufficiently spicy without being overwhelming.


I dislike mayonnaise so I typically do not care for macaroni salad, but I really like it at Island Grill. They use a VERY heavy hand with the pepper when preparing their macaroni salad, which lends to a subtle smokey spicy flavor. 

If you'd like to check out Island Grill Hawaiian Barbecue for yourself, they're located at the food cart pod at SW 10th Ave & SW Alder Street in Portland, directly across from City Target on Alder Street. 

Island Grill Hawaiian Barbeque on Urbanspoon

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Sunday Brunch at Cafe Nell

So Sunday brunch found me at Cafe Nell. I had heard of Cafe Nell for about a year, but didn't really know where it was. It turns out I have driven/run/walked past Cafe Nell probably a dozen times, but had just never noticed it. It's in a rather nondescript little building in a mostly residential area. 






It has a super charming and cozy interior, with a HUGE fireplace (it was raging when I arrived, but by the time I went to take a photo it was a million degrees and they had let the fire die down. 



They have a great bar area, nice and long and perfect for people watching.



T and I sat in the dining room area of the restaurant, within reach of the blazing fire. 



T started off with the girliest of drinks on the menu, disguised as a manly drink, the "Bro-llini".. ($12.00), sparkling wine and peach puree in a pint glass. It was... gross. He's not one to leave alcohol in a glass, and he barely touched it. I tried it, and while I didn't find it offensive, it definitely isn't something I would ever order. 



I went for Cafe Nell's signature cocktail, the Mary Nell ($12.00 +2 to add bacon). I often say that the best part of a Bloody Mary is the garnish, and Cafe Nell didn't disappoint, this was pretty much a meal on a glass. Pickled green beans, cocktail onion, pepperoncini, green olive, celery stick, shrimp, chorizo, cheddar cheese and bacon. It was ridiculous, but also fun to nibble on. Unfortunately the Bloody Mary inside left a lot to be desired. I like a spicy Bloody Mary, like the ones at Lardo or Irving Street Kitchen - this one was just too bland. 



In a move that practically shocked me out of my chair, T bypassed the Creme Anglaise French Toast and went for a more grown up brunch choice, the Bacon, Tomato and Blue Omelet ($12.50). He asked twice for butter and jelly for his toast (because he couldn't go a meal without giving himself diabetes), unfortunately the server seemed to hate him and it wasn't brought to the table until he had finished his omelet and potatoes, but at least it arrived. 



I ordered the Shaved Ham and Gruyere Benedict ($15.00). It was good as Benedicts go, not a standout by any means, but not awful either. The ham was incredibly salty, which is just how I like it, but I feel like it might be a little too much salt for most people. I did not care for the potatoes at all. They were dry and seemed under cooked. 

Our server was rude and aloof during the entire meal, and was talking about other guests with another server within earshot of our table. I wanted to say something to him about how tacky this behavior was, but of course didn't say a word. 

I was very underwhelmed with the entire brunch experience at Cafe Nell - but I will definitely be returning to try their normal menu, as they have some very interesting items, like fries with clams - yes please!

If you'd like to check out Cafe Nell for yourself their website is www.cafenell.com They are located at 1987 NW Kearney Street in Portland. They are open Monday - Friday from 11:00am - 10:00pm, Saturday from 9:00am - 10:00pm and Sunday from 9:00am - 2:00pm. 


Cafe Nell on Urbanspoon