Thursday, January 26, 2012

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Woodsman Tavern Restaurant Review

Allyson and I really liked The Woodsman Tavern.

Let's start with a cozy atmosphere on a rainy, winter night. The building is a classic 1927 commercial building, with lots of brick, low ceilings, and great windows. The floor looks like it was created from reclaimed old wood, with darker and lighter pieces mixed up. The lighting includes dim, filament bulbs, and the bar features dark wood. Artful design touches that include large floral arrangements and a display of crab and clams on ice distinguish TWT from just any neighborhood bar where people have been spilling beers for decades.

The top-notch staff all look perfectly-Portland-Alt. Think of Abby from the television show NCIS. Each is really good at what she or he does; they are artfully tattooed; and they dress themselves. Please, no uniforms. TWT's theme is Portland and Oregon, not a Mexican village.

Barstools provided our front-row seats to bartenders who go above and beyond to mix a cocktail. The equipment used to make a hot toddy, with a flame below the glass beaker swirling the mix looked like something out of Breaking Bad. Iced beaker whirlpools took center stage for other drinks.

TWT's menu offers the raw seafood, hams, and very creative first and second plates. One of the plates included an apple-cabbage-slaw with grain mustard, which provided the perfect blend of sweet, savory, and texture. The trout was moist, flavorful and virtually without bones, despite keeping the rest of the fish, head through tail.

As I mentioned above, the staff could not be better: professional and positive, yet, still Portlandia. It's one thing to have a vision, it's another thing to have the money and skill to actualize it. Duane Sorenson did a great job with his second act to Stumptown: The Woodsman Tavern presents the winning trifecta of excellent atmosphere, staff and food.

The Woodsman Tavern on Urbanspoon

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Oven and Shaker Review

(click on menu to enlarge)

Oven and Shaker took over the friendly (and usually empty) Italian place at 1134 NW Everett in the Pearl. O&S kept the oven, but about everything else is different.

The dark, narrow, slice of what probably was an old warehouse building has the bar on one side, shared bistro tables with barstools, in the middle, and an edge of tables with regular chairs on the other side. Because older folks value comfortable chairs, the barstools probably helps keep O&S patrons the younger side of the population age curve. Taking a page out of the old movie “Cocktail,” O&S stocks its bar with tall, fit, handsome men. They keep the ladies returning, which attract the men, so the theory goes.

“Shaker” refers to cocktail shakers, and the Oven turns out pizzas. The food menu also offers salads, small plates and dessert. We started with the Kale salad, livened up with grapefruit, poppy seed fricco, and a nice vinaigrette. (Kale, of course. What else is growing these days in the Pacific Northwest?) The small plates are small, but mostly inexpensive. We tried the minestrone and bread fritter, which is not soup, but tasty soft triangles with the texture somewhere between bread and mashed potatoes. The lamb meatballs, also, tickled the tastebuds.

Next, we filled up on a pizza featuring roasted squash escarole and spiced walnuts. Other creative pizzas on the menu included Wild Fennel Sausage; White Truffle, Brussels Sprouts. No pepperoni or Hawai’ian pizza, here.

We skipped the cocktails and, instead, enjoyed glasses of the house red and house white wines. Both were quite good. (I’ve had some really bad house wines at some restaurants.)

Oven and Shaker deserves a thumbs-up. Although we feel bad for the nice people who used to occupy the space, the pros who run O&S are in a different league. They have transformed the location into a hip, Pearl hotspot with creative, good-tasting food that is priced reasonably.

Oven and Shaker on Urbanspoon

Friday, January 13, 2012

Zeppo Italian Restaurante Review

Zeppo on Urbanspoon

Zeppo is that Italian word for “jam-packed,” as in era zeppo de genti, or it was crammed with people. The owner of Zeppo Italian Restaurante often achieves that goal. Last evening, I got the last chair after work, before others had to stand at the bar. When the weather is good, the sidewalk is packed with tables and people, too.

Dim lighting, curtains, and booths create a cozy atmosphere. The servers are well-trained professionals who are appropriately attentive, without being obsequious or obnoxious.

The crowd consists of the Lake Oswego locals, confident-appearing and well-coiffed women and men looking for a decent meal out. Zeppo offers many wines by the glass. The menu includes upscale items, such as lamb shanks and herbed salmon, along with Italian basics, like spaghetti and meatballs. Whatever I’ve had at Zeppo over the years has been well prepared. Last night’s salmon was cooked to perfection. The portions are not huge, which was okay with me, because I had a taste for dessert.

Zeppo is a safe bet for a hassle-free good meal.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Ristretto Roasters Review & Comment

Ristretto Roaster’s newest location brightens a corner of the huge, renovated Schoolhouse Electric Building (pictured at bottom) in what, remains, industrial Portland. Graffiti-covered freight trains work on the adjacent tracks (not cute passenger trolleys), and men in dirty clothes work around the neighborhood. So, Ristretto Roasters and the furniture and lighting store provide a yupscale oasis in which guys can hang out with their laptops, and the wedding planners at the neighboring table could imagine a warm summer day in the middle of January.

The space features massive, old-growth beams above, brick walls, cement countertop, and wood floors.

The baristas dress nattily and are very knowledgeable. Mine explained to me why I like Central American coffees. It IS the bean and not just the roasting: less acidic and more flavorful than other beans. He took his time to set up the pour over, making sure it was dripping just so, and then he set the beaker to collect the liquid product. Yes, it’s a show, but a customer SHOULD get a show for a $2.50 cup of coffee, just as Huber’s gives a show for a $15.00 Spanish Coffee. The baristas set the coffee filter on a glass funnel, supported by a frame made from wood reclaimed during the renovation of the building. (See top picture). Glass makes sense for a lot of reasons, including cleaning the funnel and, who knows if I’m getting BPA from running hot water through my plastic funnel at home. The coffee was as good as it gets, and the scone complemented it well.

When the coffee tastes good and is served at a reasonable temperature, then one does not need to cool it down and cover it up with half & half and sugar. Yes, that comment is directed at you, Starbucks. As much as I wish I could enjoy a cup of coffee at my nearby Starbucks, I am consistently put off by coffee that is too hot to drink, and, when it is cool enough for human consumption, tastes like burnt toast.

There are several very good coffee shops in Portland, and Ristretto Roasters ranks among the best. To pick the best is like picking red over blue. Yet, in 2011, Zagat listed Ristretto Roasters as one of the “10 Coolest Independent Coffee Shops Across the U.S.”

Ristretto Roasters (NW Nicolai) on Urbanspoon