Sunday, November 27, 2011

Thankful for so much.

"A picture is worth 1,000 words."

Here are some pictures from Thanksgiving weekend that remind me of all of my many blessings.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Jake's Famous Crawfish? Skip it.

Jake's Famous Crawfish on Urbanspoon

A gift certificate got me into Jake's for the first time in a few years. Same ol' menu, except, "The steelhead is now wild," according to the waitress.

I had the fish. What fish? Trust me, when it is smothered in butter, salt, and pepper, it does not matter. It all tastes the same. When my face started getting flushed from the high sodium content, I wished they'd given me a feather and directions to a vomitorium. Honestly, the deep-fried gator at Gatorworld in Florida offers better seafood than this Portland landmark.

But never mind my opinion. Jake’s is always packed.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Restaurant Review: Bar Avignon

Bar Avignon on Urbanspoon

Avignon is a small city in France with a long, rich history. Bar Avignon a small restaurant in Portland with a long wine list that includes many French wines. The food, fortunately, is fresh, local Northwest, which is much more to my liking than French food. I suppose that’s why the owners named it Bar Avignon and not Restaurant Avignon.

On this chilly, black November night, Bar Avignon’s warm, soft lighting welcomed diners. The wall of wine bottles and the chalkboard admonition -- “I will not drink bad wine. I will not drink bad wine. . . . [a la Bart Simpson] –- make patrons forget that BA serves liquor, too. Background music remained in the background, and did not force loud conversation. The long bar transects almost the entire space and with tables along the edge. The clientele consisted mostly of nice-looking people in their 30s through 50s.

The food menu, although somewhat short, made our choices difficult, especially after we had a chance to see what others were eating. The delicious-sounding “Autumn vegetables with fig-hazelnut salsa” did not disappoint. The seared tuna with white bean puree was very tasty, but, even for a small plate, was VERY small. The entrees, however, are full-portioned and all looked good. BA offers one of each basic category: chicken, pork, pasta, beef, and seafood. We shared the chicken, which was moist and flavorful.

A thumbs up for Bar Avignon.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Restaurant Review: Gubanc's Pub in Lake Oswego

Consistent value sums up Gubanc’s, with good food, good prices, and professional servers
Gubanc's Pub on Urbanspoon
I drove past Gubanc’s 200+ times and never noticed it until a friend picked it for dinner about 10 years ago. It just blends into the other places along Lower Boone’s Ferry Road in Lake Grove. Consistency applies to the décor, too, which is a time capsule for 1970s Oregon: wood, smoked glass and ferns. Generally, the clientele is over age 40, too, and Gubanc’s is always busy for lunch and dinner.

The food is satisfying. Gubanc’s menu retains customer favorites, plus it offers a daily menu for something seasonal or new. The menu is pretty comprehensive, with fish, meat, poultry, soups. . . , and everything just fine. You will not rave to your friends about the artistry of presentation or a creative mélange of unique flavors, but the food always tastes fresh and is well prepared. I’ve never had a bad meal there in over 20 visits.

We go to Gubanc’s when we to relax and talk over our day, not for a special night out. If you want a good meal and if your dining companion is all the entertainment you want, then Gubanc's might be for you.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Three Perfect Days in the San Francisco Bay Area

I'd been meaning to visit San Francisco for some time. It'd been about 20 years. Now, we have a dear friend who lives in The City. With the Oregon Ducks scheduled for the Pac 12's biggest game of the season, the pull was too strong to resist a three-day weekend down south.

Friday, we walked miles around town, including past the tourist sites, which I'd wholly recommend skipping. You know the places: Chinatown stores, Fisherman's Wharf, and even the Buena Vista bar. I do not like crowds. I dislike crowds of tourists even more, although, it was fun to see comrades in Duck gear. An art / artifact gallery in the old Frank Lloyd Wright building on Maiden Lane near Union Square might have been the highlight of the day because of the interesting things inside. Breakfast at Sears is a tourist tradition and exemplifies the “old” San Francisco of dark wood, mini-tiled floors, and rich foods. There is a lot of shopping around Union Square, but we only hit a few stores. Down the road, just before the Chinatown gate, we stopped into a store full of big bright things. Inside, was a con artist trying to pass off made-in-China glass as fine Murano works of art. He was good, and I was gullible, but not quite naive enough. On the other hand, I COULD have purchased a lamp priced at $8,600 for a mere $200 . . . .

Better to spend money on an excellent Friday night dinner at La Mar, a Peruvian restaurant that features a variety of cebiches and "causas," (which are little columns of mashed potatoes topped with something special, whether it is tuna or crab or avocado, plus sauces) and other seafood.
Pisco is the Peru’s national booze, and La Mar mixes up a delicious Pisco Sour. What better way to spend an evening than to enjoy the company of people over great food and beverage? Local intelligence, thanks to Denise, is key to selecting a great restaurant.

Saturday, Denise walked us along Embarcadero to the Farmers' Market at the Ferry Building. Food vendors, outside, and restaurants, inside, offer breakfast and lunch. Even in November, there were several good-looking fresh-picked stands along with the "un-fresh" items such as devilishly sweet smoked salmon. Baked goods inside and out, plus cheeses and many other delights make a Saturday visit to the Ferry Building a hazard to one's dieting.

Then, down to The Farm to see the big football game.
Walking around the shaded grove where tailgaters had been partying for hours, we saw a very strong Oregon contingent. It seemed like almost as many fans wore Duck green as Cardinal red. In the sold out stadium, both sides nervously awaited the start of the game. Oregon's creativity, gutsy play calling, and big-play athletes on offense and defense tore the heart out of Stanford fans, who started the day with a chance to compete for a national championship, but went home knowing the Cardinal will not even win the Pac 12 conference.

Sunday lived up to its name: No fog, clear skies, and a temperature around 60 degrees. Once again, a great part of the day was a great meal with Denise: dim sum at Yank Sing, which people "in the know" tout as the best dim sum downtown. Certainly, it was the best I've had. Yank Sing is a busy place in a modern office tower. Many patrons plus many servers equals many food options, and they are all hot and fresh out of the kitchen.

Reluctantly, we pushed away from the table and rolled down to the car to continue our tour of the city, which included a quick stop for chocolate at Tcho (a local chocolate maker) before a look-see at Crissy Field (top photo), the former airstrip turned beach park with a view of the Golden Gate Bridge. Then, off to a quick view of the Pacific Coast before crossing the Golden Gate Bridge to enjoy a stroll in Sausalito. It was truly a gorgeous day, with big views of the San Francisco Bay ornamented with many sailboats.

All in all, a great weekend: Best friends, best foods, beautiful scenery and classic college football. (I posted a few more pictures here.)

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Oregon v. Stanford Preview & Prediction

When Oregon visits Stanford on Saturday, a streak will end. Stanford has the longest winning streak in big-time college football at 17. Oregon has won 18 consecutive conference games. The winner wins the Pac 12. If Stanford wins, it might play for the national championship. With so much at stake, ESPN will use its Game Day program to focus the eyes of the football nation on The Farm in Palo Alto, California.

Both teams, by turns, have looked great but beatable over the past few weeks. In it’s last game, Oregon State tested Stanford more than the 38-13 score would indicate. Once again, Stanford’s best wide receiver, Chris Owusu suffered a concussion. (If I were his dad, I’d urge him to retire. He’s suffered too many concussions.) Also missing for are two tight ends who have caught many of Andrew Luck’s passes.

By contrast, Oregon’s starting quarterback and best runner recently returned from injury. But Oregon’s offense did not impress me against Washington, despite the 34-17 score. Although Darron Thomas has performed brilliantly at times, at other times, he looks shaky, especially in the first couple possessions of big games. Oregon never quite replaced its clutch receiver from last year, Jeff Maehl. Against Washington, a few drops kept Oregon’s score down. Also, Oregon continues to have some issues with turnovers.

I focus on the offense, because offense dominated the last two meetings. In 2009, Stanford won 51-42 with methodical, run-first drives. 52 runs plus 20 passes for Stanford added up to 505 yards. Oregon’s 570 yards of offense made for an entertaining game. In 2010, the teams combined for 1144 yards of offense and 83 points in Oregon’s 52-31 home win. Perhaps the sad turning point in the 2010 game was another Chris Owusu knock out. He was out cold and dropped the ball before dropping to the ground. Oregon scooped it up and turned the game around.

Stanford will again rely on the run as much as possible to keep Oregon’s big-play athletes off the field. Stanford will march down the field and score. (It averages 44 points per regulation Pac-12 game). Oregon’s defense is looking pretty good and is pretty healthy (despite the absence of All-American Cliff Harris).

Oregon also averages about 44 p.p.g. against Pac-12 competition. Oregon will score on special teams to make up for whatever fumble or interception it gives away.

This is a tough game for picking a winner. As of this writing, the betting line is Stanford – 3.5 points. Three points is the home field advantage. I think Stanford’s loss of three pair of receiving hands will neutralize its home field advantage. In my mind, however, that only means that the slight tip in Stanford’s favor is gone, making the outcome a coin-flip. In Jeff Sagarin’s computer schemes, the predictor rating ranks Stanford above Oregon.

Oregon has too many game breakers. Final score: Oregon wins: 44 – 42.

P.S.: Look for the fun side show between mascots: the Stanford tree and Puddles, the Oregon duck. Here’s the tree taking care of the Virgina Tech Turkey. (Come on, who can’t beat up a turkey.) The Oregon Duck is known for Harley riding and a viscous smack-down of a Cougar.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Restaurant Review: Wafu

Wafu is the Japanese-inspired restaurant on 31st and SE Division. It occupies a long narrow space with a big group table, seats at the bar, seats around the kitchen and a few other tables. Big lantern lamps, pictured above, try to set the atmosphere.

Tonight, Wafu, dared to offer ceviche with Thai spices. I say "dared," because Wafu is a block away from Pok Pok, the very popular Thai restaurant. Pok Pok is so popular that it has an annex for people to wait. So, right in Pok Pok’s back yard, this two-month upstart restaurant offers something with Thai flavors. My verdict: Wafu’s Thai beat Pok Pok. The fresh herbs and chiles were perfectly balanced: a full-mouthed flavor without any too-hot burn. Also, the fish (tonight it was Mahi-Mahi) seemed much higher quality than the food I had eaten at Pok Pok.

Wafu’s gimmick is ramen noodles, but it is not the ramen you survived on during college. It is heartier, and Wafu offers choices of broths and “toppings,” such as pork, chicken or mushrooms. Here’s the menu. Additionally, Wafu posts its daily specials on the wall.
Wafu’s bartender was a real professional. He knew how to mix a cocktail with flare, shaking it cold high over his shoulder.

My recommendation? Next time your friends drag you to Pok Pok and Pok Pok tells you to wait at the Wiskey Soda Lounge, walk just another 20 yards or so to Wafu. The food is better, and you will be treated more as a welcomed guest than another number.
Wafu on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Restaurant Review: Bijou Cafe

Bijou Cafe on Urbanspoon Bijou Cafe is a breakfast-time institution. I’ve enjoyed many breakfasts in the light, airy space. It’s a low-key place to relax, despite the thousands of power breakfasts that have occurred there over the decades. The foods tend toward comfort food, with their muffins, pancakes, and omelets. Today, however, we tried it for lunch.

I could have had breakfast at 1:00 p.m., and, sadly, I should have. Bijou’s lunch menu is somewhat limited. Al’ had a fresh salad with chicken, which she enjoyed. I had the chicken enchilada, which was not so great. The flavor was kind of bland; the fragmentary tortilla was hard, almost crispy. My biggest issue was the rubbery chicken.

The friendly server attended to my cup of coffee. The restaurant remains a pleasant place to visit. But, I suppose, there’s a reason why people wait in line for breakfast, while there were plenty of tables free when we arrived for lunch.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Dear Ol' Dad

Most everything has "good news" and "bad news" components. The good news is that dad does not seem to age. The bad news is that if I inherited those genes, then I better keep working; None of this "live for today" mentality if I've only hit middle age at 53.

It was great to visit with Lorie and enjoy the company of Dad and Gloria. We stopped by the beach and different places in town. I got beaten soundly in Phase 10, and we enjoyed a walk downtown. But mostly, we just talked. That's what why we made the trip, just to see him, see how they are doing, and make sure all is as well.

But, dammit, be careful when climbing ladders, working on roofs, and careening around town in the van. ("Fasten your seatbelt.") I'd tell him to act his age, but there are at least three ages: chronological, physical, and that never-grown-up adolescent.