La Taq, smoke covered Tex Mex

Since I’ve received the devastating news that Esparza’s had closed its doors forever, I need to find something to replace that gaping hole in my heart, and belly.  Having heard that Podnah’s Pit had a little Tex-Mex brother (or sister) next door, and I was going to dine with my sister, sans child, it seemed like as good a time as any to give it a shot.

First thing to note, is that it is a NO MINORS allowed on the premises.  So if you wanted to go get some tacos and take your kid, you better hoof it over to Alberta street, because it isn’t happening here.  It also opens at 5, and we got there are 5:15 and it is a good thing we did.

The space is small, but there is reasonable space for people to belly-up to the bar, or the small shelf along the back wall, where you can set a drink.  When the weather is nice, there are a couple of outdoor standing bar rows as well.  Since we arrived fairly early on a Friday, we took one of the few booths.

The menu has some standards, like a couple enchilada platters, tortilla soup, standard fare.  All items that are nice to see, I hate it when places try to get too fancy with their Mex fare.  We started with the chips and salsa, which costs $2:

$2 La Taq chips and salsa

What you can barely see on each side of the chips (as I take terrible phone pics) are the two salsas that come with the chips.  The red on the left is slightly spicy and had a well rounded flavor.  Kind of like a ranchera salsa.  The green on the right is the salsa verde, which is in no way spicy and has a slightly smoky flavor.  The chips are super salty, which I like, and they are made in house, so they are thick and crisp and they were gone in a matter of minutes.

Obviously, I ordered a beer, the list isn’t great.  I got Caldera IPA in a can for $4, but my sister explored one of their more inventive cocktails.  They actually have a somewhat extensive list of cocktails, but I prefer beer with my Mex.  I’m not mad at this though.

Tacos are $2.50 and are street sized tacos.  Meaning, they are small.  The shrimp taco is a buck more, I think, but I didn’t get one.  I’ve learned a valuable lesson about tasting the rainbow of meats, so I stuck with pork for this adventure.  I got one pork carnitas taco, and my sister got the avocado taco:

La Taq street taco

As you can see, they are not huge.  But they pack a good flavor.  Since I have two more items to come after this, I am in no way the least bit worried that I will be hungry.  Besides, the service was efficient and attentive and friendly.  I like these guys.

The next item to come was the tamale.  I chose the pork verde and it weighs in at $3.  The thing is with prices such as these, I feel like I ought to order several items, but that isn’t the case.  Except with the tacos; they are small.  Not unusually small, but you’d most def need a few of them.  Back to the tamale.  It comes alone on the plate, but covered in verde sauce and it is a real treat.  The meat is tender and no sketchy bits in it at all.  But it isn’t quite as good as the one you can get at the tamale booth at the Hollywood farmers market:

La Taq $3 tamale

Hey, does that look like the verde that came with my chips?  It most certainly does, but I’m not mad at this at all.  Like I said, it is a winner.  At this point, I am fairly satisfied and am concerned that I still have an item coming.  With good reason.  I ordered the pork sopes.  In my mind, I’m thinking about the small ones I had on my last trip to Mexico.  What comes is the same thing in theory:  it’s the closest thing I’ve found back in the States, but it is huge.

Whaaaaa?  It takes up the whole plate!

Whaaaaa? It takes up the whole plate!

Uh oh.  I’m in trouble when they lay this thing down in front of me.  After all, this isn’t an eating contest.  The sopes is like a corn tortilla kind of cake, hard to describe except to say it is similar to a tostada, but the corn maize is fried and thick so its kind of soft.  Not for picking up and eating.  Also, they are traditionally about the size of a fist, but as you can see, this is the fist of a giant.  For $4, my sopes comes traditionally:  layered with beans, the pork, lettuce, cheese and a creme drizzle on top.  Also, bathed in the salsa verde.  It is a delight.  Again, all of the flavors come together nicely and the meat is tender and well cooked.  I can’t finish it.  How sad.

Next time, I will focus on the beef dishes.  Things to note:  the pork is suspiciously of the same as Podnah’s next door, probably is the same pork, but that is totally ok by me.  I’m curious to see how the smoked brisket enchiladas are, but I have a friend who’d be mighty angry if I left her out of this…..

Hey!  You can see my 1 minute video of La Taq if you look for me:  Jadeddinerpdx on Tastemade!

https://www.tastemade.com/@jadeddinerpdx/nIrJ91MURRKWxYSdo4R71w

Tapas Throwdown Showdown Part II: Bar Vivant

I’ve been waiting for this place.  The background goes like this: once upon a time, there was a fantastic little tapas spot off of Hawthorne, where EVOE now lives, it was called Bar Pastiche and it was a slice of heaven.  As in, even though food items were around $0.50 – $2.00 and wine pours were on average $4, my husband (then just my BF) and I would spend a good $80 or so just hanging out and eating snacks and drinking.  Then came Toro Bravo, nearer to our home, but disappointing in comparison.  Then Bar Pastiche closes, I believe the rumor at the time was that the folks at Pix who were associated with it, closed Bar Pastiche to focus on the Pix side.  That may or may not have been true or the whole truth, but it seeded my personal boycott on Pix, that pretty much existed up until now.  All places that claim to serve tapas are compared to my memory of Bar Pastiche, and probably memories of too much wine, and by now, are probably totally distorted but that is me.

That being said, Bar Vivant is here and I can remove the boycott!

Located in a totally weird spot near 22nd and NE side of Burnside, we had a bit of trouble finding parking, so we ended up a few blocks away and walked in, no big deal.  I notice that they have the GREEN minors sign, which to me, equals a green light for me to bring my child.  Upon entering, the atmosphere is lush and eclectic and I am immediately drawn in to the Savory side, where the glass case displays the offering of small plates.  A little disappointing, because my memory is of multiple cases with far more offering than what I see before me now, but I am immediately excited by the items I do see.  In my heart of hearts, I am hoping they will add more as things pick up.  It wasn’t busy when we went in.  There were like 3 tables the whole time I was there, I hope this is because we went kind of early.

We ordered a bottle of wine, because it is a better deal to do so than it is to buy multiple glasses of wine.  I think our bottle was $25.  There is a wide selection of wines.  You can buy more and less expensive ones, all depending upon what you are looking for.

IMG_1450

We started with the chorizo, because no Spanish meal is complete without it, and I’m a big fan.  This is an order of two;  because there are two of us and I don’t want to share it.  Of course, it it Olympic Provisions.  I love Olympic Provisions, but I do have to say that their products are pretty accessible, so I can get these at all of the farmers’ markets, as well as the grocery stores I haunt.  Still though, tasty, and basically the standard by which most others would be judged.

IMG_1451

Now the egg salad stuffed roasted pepper on crostini arrives.  I like that they used capers in the mix, and obviously some paprika in there as well.  I like eggy items, and I think that it was a pretty good bang for the buck.

IMG_1452

I am a sucker for ham cheese and pickle.  Especially when it has a little piece of brie smeared underneath it.  All of these are on a nice crusty piece of baguette.  I want to say it is Pearl, but it could be Lovejoy Bakery as well.  Since the bread is the base, I don’t focus on it as much because in this case, the toppings are the stars.

IMG_1453

I like shrimp but my husband doesn’t, so lonely….

My little single shrimp on a pick with a tomato.  It was nice, but I don’t know that I would do it again.  I am hesitant about shrimp that sits in a case like that.  But, it didn’t taste off at all, and I wasn’t ill later on.  I know that doesn’t sound like a strong sell, but I was really into the meat and cheese happening here.

IMG_1454

Ham, it is a big leg out front where they shave it off, almost crispy.  Served with bread.  I don’t know how my husband felt about it.  Actually I think I do, it was a borderline item for him.  I admit, the ham was almost greasy as well as crispy.  But it was salty and tasty and mild.  The husband is just a chicken, even though he ate it.

IMG_1455

The mushroom stuffed pastry was up next.  It was flaky and flavorful and I wish I had ordered two of them, so that I didn’t have to share it.

IMG_1456

Cheese plate, covered a bit more on its own on this site under my cheese musings.  It was on the cheap, as far as cheese plates go, and it was almost too much to eat.  Almost.  But we soldiered through and ate it all.  No joke, this is some good cheese!

IMG_1458

Our last food item to arrive was the tortilla.  Served cold with a slightly tangy tomato sauce atop and an aioli as well.  I liked it, because I like tortilla.  It wasn’t out of this world or anything, but I also think that one needs to get larger items like this in order to anchor down a meal of small bits.

After eating all of the cheese, we weren’t really up for dessert.  But, they have espresso here, so we got two of those.  They have a machine here, and good coffee.  After all is said and done, our bill was around $65 for two people, including the wine and coffee, but not including the tip.

All in all, a pleasant experience and we will most definitely return.

Cheese pleaser: Bar Vivant

As part of my Tapas Showdown Throwdown, we ventured into Bar Vivant, the new-ish venture by the folks at Pix.  Although I plan to talk about the entire experience separately, I felt the cheese plate especially worth mentioning.  Most items on the menu are much much cheaper ($1-5), the cheese plate weighed in at around $10.  Really in cheese plate standards, it’s a bargain.

IMG_1456

We chose the plate with 3 cheese varieties, which came with a candied pear, mixed nuts and berries, quince and sliced baguette.  It was almost too much cheese to eat.  Almost.  As seen below, I inserted a highly precise measuring tool (wine bottle cork) onto the plate to illustrate how thickly sliced pieces of cheese we were given:

ImageThank you, Bar Vivant.  Thank you for being an example of how it should be done.  In all seriousness, though, it was high quality and high value and most definitely a reason in and of itself to go to this place.  Go here!  You can find it near NE 22nd and Burnside.  I want this to work, but not so much so that I cannot find a seat when I wander in.

Tapas Throwdown Showdown Part I – Patanegra -Closed May 11, 2013

The first place we’ve decided to go to to do this “research” is Patanegra.  This place has been around since forever for a reason:  it’s good.  But how good is it?  I guess we will know at the end of it all.  Since small plates require ordering many items and thus, many dollars, my husband and I have recruited another couple to go on this adventure with us.

We have a reservation.  An early one, really, 6:30.  When we arrived, there were a few people sitting at the bar, and two other tables.  We were greeted and seated promptly.  Upon reviewing the menu, the standard items can be found here.  I like that it is a standard list of standard Spanish tapas items; the gent who served us was obviously the owner and obviously Spanish.  That immediately gives it a bit of cred in my book.  He is friendly and lists off some delightful specials, we start with white wine from their extensive list of reasonably priced wines, along with the standard beginner items: chorizo platter ($14), assortment of cheeses ($12) and the cornerstone item that ought to be on every tapas list: tortilla (large, $9).

ImageThe tortilla comes out first, cold, the way I like it.  One thing I like to do when going for small plates, is to anchor it with a more hearty item.  The tortilla is such an item. I wish that there were an aioli to go along with it, but no matter, we are off to a great start.  The large gives you 4 wedges and lucky for us, there were 4 of us, so it worked out fine.

The next items to appear are the chorizo and the cheese.

ImageAlthough I’m pretty sure there are 4 different meats listed on the menu, I’m also pretty sure that only 3 different kinds appear on the board.  They were tasty.  It’s difficult, when it comes to salamis: there are many fantastic ones out there that blow my mind, that I cannot say this is the best I’ve had, but it is really solid, nonetheless.  I just wish there were more of it.  This is by no means a slight against this plate, it was good for sure, but my standards are getting pretty high these days.

ImageWe also dig into the cheeses.  Pictured above is $12 worth of cheese.  It is not the best value in cheese plates I have ever had, but it certainly isn’t the worst.  I’ve been straight up offended by the amount of cheese offered up in other places, and not in a good way.  Knowing how much cheese I can buy for my money, I wish they were a little more generous here.  There were sliced pieces of stale-ish baguette, mildly toasted to go along with.  The cheeses were nice.  I liked the selection.  I couldn’t quite hear what they were, as the place is starting to fill up and get pretty vibrant at this point.

We ordered our next round:  ham wrapped dates ($14), and salt cod fritters ($12).

Image

These came out pretty smoking hot.  I must confess that these are not usually my fave, but the sauce that came along with was a bit spicy and a bit delicious.  They are also a good size, but sadly, as you can see, there are 5 fritters and 4 of us.  It always seems to go this way.  Oh well.  We all had one.  One of my fellow diners cut the last one in half, not able to bring himself to be “that guy.”  The other half sat there and grew cold (until I broke down and ate it later).

Along come the dates, which again, I’m not usually a huge fan of, but am willing to give it a shot.  These did not really change my mind.  Here lies a plate full of ham wrapped dates, they did not all get eaten.  Maybe they really were not great, or maybe there were too many of them.

ImageAt this point, the entire place is bustling.  There might be one or two open tables, but that’s about it.  Our server/owner is the only person who is the server in the place, and he is hustling from table to table.   We have now run out of wine and could become desperate if something doesn’t happen soon.  Luckily, my secret prayer for wine was heard, and he appears.  This time we order red, along with the special empanadas ($10) and the ling cod ($15).

ImageAh!  4 hot empanadas arrive in short order.  There may only be one guy working the floor (along with the hostess, who fills waters, takes plates), but the kitchen keeps cranking it out.  The same sauce that we received with the fritters accompanies the empanadas and we are all glad of this.  These were a delight.  Too bad they are the “special” and not a regular item.  We gobbled them up post haste.  Fabulous.

The ling cod special also arrives.

ImageI wish I could cook fish as well as this was done.  It was perfectly flaky but not over or under cooked, which is usually where I get all sorts of sketched out.  The fish was resting on a nice ratatouille, with a mild red pepper sauce on top.  The fish had a nice salty seasoned taste to it.  I was happy.

At this point, we ordered the creme brûlée for desert (not pictured).  The crust was nice, but it was chilled, which wasn’t my thing.  A bit creamy and sweet.  It almost seemed like custard instead.

There is an espresso machine on the premises, so we were able to get macchiatos to go with dessert.  Those were nice.  Although coffee in this town is fantastic, too many places in town are only doing drip or french press.  I’m getting sick of people not investing in a good machine and short cutting it by charging me big dollars for french press coffee.  It’s not novelty; it’s cheap.  I have that when I go camping.

Our total bill for 4 people was around $250, which included 2 bottles of wine.  We had a lovely time, the ambience was nice.  The service, although it fell off for an almost critical moment, was knowledgeable and engaged.  The food, was quality, although some items were a bit smaller than I’d have liked, and some may not have been my first item choice.  But all being said, I would and will go again.  That says something.  There are definitely items that we did not get that I would like to go back for.

Slow Burger

On my quest to eat at all of the shops the Oceans have to offer, I’ve once again dragged my co-workers down for a lunchtime burgerfest.  Luckily, we got there right about 11:30, just before it got really kind of busy.  On a workday lunch hour, it’s best to really keep the whole affair to about an hour, even if the boss is out with the group.  First thing I noticed was the beer tap with the lovely hop that signifies Double Mountain, but like I said, it was a work lunch so none of this for me today, sadly.  The girl at the counter was a bit aloof, and certainly a little bit of a snit.  I consider not returning, based on her behavior.

The menu offers 3 meat burgers and a seasonal.  There is a token veggie offering as well, but I’m not going into that.  Another thing to note, is that the is they offer any of these burgers in slider form.  The burgers are huge, half pound numbers and the sliders are 3oz.  As the curt little lady at the counter told me “that is a little less than half the size of a regular burger.”  No geniuses working here folks, just great mathematicians.  Nevermind if you don’t get the joke.

I ordered two sliders and they are more than plenty for me.  I got the #3 (blue cheese, pancetta, and grape tomato relish), the seasonal (jalapeño, bacon, and pickle), and an order of the fries.  The fries are delicious by the way, covered in sea salt and for me, the perfect cut. After my food sat at the counter for awhile (along with other outgoing items from the kitchen), we took it upon ourselves to gather our own food by reaching over the counter, as the girl working there couldn’t be bothered with delivering food while it was still warm.  That being said, we all started digging in.  Every burger comes out piled high, no matter if it is a slider or a regular sized burger. I began with the #3 thinking the seasonal would be too strong in flavor for me to really get into the flavor of the other one.

#3 Mini - Blue cheese, pancetta and grape tomato relish

#3 Mini – Blue cheese, pancetta and grape tomato relish

Even the mini is significant in size, I’m immediately sorry I got 2 plus and order of fries, only because I am not going to be productive at work for the rest of the afternoon.  I forgot to order my burgers more well than rare, but that isn’t as much of a problem when you get the mini.  Besides, my burgers got to sit up on the counter, like I said, for a few minutes before my friends took action on their own.  The grape tomato relish was a really nice touch.  The pancetta was salty and delicious, as was the cheese.  I couldn’t really taste much of the burger but it seemed like the meat was good quality.

Seasonal Mini - jalapeños, pepper jack, bacon, slaw, pickle

Seasonal Mini – jalapeños, pepper jack, bacon, slaw, pickle

After downing the first mini, I embark on the second.  Those who cannot do a touch of spice ought not go for this one.  I love spicy and this burger was spicy due to the raw jalapeños topping it off.  To be honest, it is a nice concept, but there was a little too much going on with this one to be able to tell what flavor was happening.  I liked it, but I wouldn’t say that this, or the first one, was the best burger I’d ever had.  I know, Slow Burger is supposed to be one of “the best” burgers here in Portland, but I just don’t see it.  Yes, they were creative and put a lot of interesting and high end tasty stuff all over the place, making it interesting.  But the burger itself doesn’t stand out in any way.  It was more like a fancy wrapped present, but once you opened it, you got a pair of socks.  I kind of think that “the best” burger can stand on its own, regardless of the pomp around it.  This is the case here.  Did I like it?  Yes.  Will I go again?  Yes.  Is it one of the best burgers I’ve had?  No.  I’d still give that a tie between the G&G or Freehouse.

Bin 21

One thing I really like about Bin 21 is their happy hour.  That, and the fact I can find a good place to sit, bring or not bring my kid, and the service is always relaxed and friendly.  Obviously, the people here care about what they are doing.  They have a nice happy hour, starting with a reasonable glass of wine or beer and the wine pours are generous.  These people want you to enjoy yourself and they want you to come back.  I hope you will, I want to see it work.  Not too much though, because I still want a table open for when I show up.

Image

St Jack Cheese Plate

On a birthday dinner for my husband, we started with a cheese plate.  I would like to show you the photo of the abomination that was presented to us.  For $20, you too can be presented with what I would compare to the wine taste.  As in, “yes, it is good, we shall have the rest…” although there was no “rest” just an embarrassingly small amount of cheese, on the largest plate I’d ever seen.  I might add, the table was small, so a giant, mostly empty plate really stood out.  It was as if they wanted to accentuate the fact that they were serving a small amount of food to us, as if to thumb their nose at us.  I’m not sure if they realize that there is a New Seasons Market only blocks away.  I might have been better off had I bought cheese there, brought it in, and paid a “corkage” fee, like I might with wine, knowing there is at least 100% markup.  Maybe it would come to this.  The 1/4 of a thinly sliced apple, during apple harvest season, added a nice touch.  Hopefully the objects in the picture don’t appear larger than they were; the top cheese slice(s) were wafer thin and about 2″ x 2″, the middle piece was less than 1/2″ thick, as was the bottom piece.  The cube of quince, which was the size of a bouillon cube, added extra insult upon the injury.  On a scale of 1 to 10, this cheese plate is about a 4.  That is because at least the cheese was tasty, and the apple was in season.  However, I would recommend you give this a pass, and save your money for dessert.

Image

The cheese plate introduction

Why can't I get this in Portland on the cheap???

Why can’t I get this in Portland on the cheap??? The random cheese plate in Paris only costs a few Euros.

I am a lover of cheese.  And nothing makes me happier than the sight of a great cheese plate on a menu.  One of the great things about living in Portland, is the access to great cheese.  I live blocks from a Whole Foods, and they have a fantastic selection.  Even better, I live within walking distance to Foster and Dobbs, which is a pretty serious cheese situation.  Our farmers markets are packed with fresh and not so fresh cheeses, I mean, I can even go to the nearby Trader Joe’s and get a great cheese set up, and not spend much to have it.  So what is the story with the cheese plates in restaurants in this city?  Some are to die for and some are downright embarrassing.  This category will specialize in cheese.  It’s my own little experiment. My own personal rant maybe.  This section will be growing as I go, so follow along with me on my journey.  Hell, I’m likely to even share my own cheesemaking experiences, if I go through with them. We shall see how that goes.  Maybe brewing our own beer is enough….for now.

Smallwares

1/12/13

Image

The chances are, the more people make a big deal out of something, the less likely I am to like it.  Or even go to it.  I, probably like many Portlanders, am a Contrarian.  You call something restaurant of the year, I will call it rubbish.  Nothing ever lives up to the hype.  Knowing this, I’ve been hesitant to try out Smallwares, which has opened up in the Beaumont-Wilshire neighborhood, a mere hop from my house.

Image

I booked a reservation using OpenTable, because I try to get points whenever I can.  The family came along, because I noticed they had a kid’s menu, so to me, that says I’m saving babysitting right off the bat.

We were welcomed by a friendly staff, who seated us immediately.  The place wasn’t exactly hoppin, but it is a bit early with a child in tow. The atmosphere is kind of what I would expect from a place that serves Asian inspired small plates.  Take that how you wish.

I started with The Gin, which had kaffir lime leaves, marionberry shrub, and lime.  It shows up in a large tumbler and had great pucker power.  I liked it, but it’s hard for me not to like booze.  The husband ordered The Vodka, which had benedictine, lime juice, bitters and black pepper. It showed up in a little girly glass, but don’t be fooled, it was strong tasting. We started with the kimchi, which had cabbage, daikon, and pear.  It was solid, but a little sweet.  It wasn’t the best kimchi I’ve ever had, but I’d get it again.  Then the eggplant appeared.  Chunks of eggplant with chinese sausage come on top of a tahini yogurt dressing.  There wasn’t a whole lot of the chinese sausage, and it was sweet with more of a salami consistency.  I liked it, the vinegar dressing and the tahini made an interesting flavor.

Image

We waited a little while for our third item.  It gave us some time to put our hands on our wine glasses to warm our wine.  I appreciate a place that serves a decent sized wine pour, and serves it in a real wine glass.  Unfortunately, not only was it pretty cold inside, but the wine storage area must have been even colder.  It was basically refrigerated red wine.  Good thing it arrived early so I could try to bring it up in temp.  For $1 you can get noodles or rice for a child.  There are various add-on’s to that.  We went with chicken and veggies, which brought her meal up to $4.  A fairly substantial sized bowl with noodles, chicken, and veggies show up, and the child chowed on it happily for the entire time.  She even ate some of the kale.  Of course, I ate some of the kale too.  It was tasty, almost sweet, none of the bitterness I usually associate with kale.  This means, next time I come I will order the kale salad. Finally, our somen noodles arrive with its various dressings.  We were told it was more “substantial,” but I’m not sure that that is true.  I’m not sure if its not true either.  It was a bowl of semi-spicy noodles with some dressings and it was nice.  That was all of the food we’d ordered, and I wasn’t sure if we ordered quite enough.  But, the dessert menu came and there was cinnamon ice cream with Coava coffee and condensed milk.  I don’t think I’ve seen Coava mentioned at any restaurant I’ve been to, maybe I’m not paying attention.  But I was this night, so that is what we got.  A small bowl with a scoop of the ice cream shows up with a tiny pitcher containing coffee and condensed milk, which was poured over it.  Super tasty.  We devoured it in about 60 seconds.  Sadly, this item was $8.  I’m thinking it could have been either a little less expensive or a little bigger.  That isn’t really the going rate for a small scoop of ice cream and maybe 4 tablespoons of coffee and milk.  However, everything on the menu was interesting and tasty enough, that the husband and I decided we would be back.  We’d probably order all things we hadn’t tried this time, which shows how curious we are about it.