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Last Sunday my aunt was in town visiting, so my second cousin and I showed her around the city. We went all sorts of places– there was an awesome 24-hour music festival going on at Weidan+Kennedy, a large advertising firm here in town. We also schmoozed around in Cargo, a totally awesome import store down on 13th Ave. But my favorite thing, by far, was visiting the Chinese Classical Garden, which is just starting it’s spring blooms.

I’ve been in love with the Chinese Classical since the first time I came to Portland– in fact, it was one of the first places my mom took me and I immediately fell and fell hard. It takes up a bare city block, and yet I could spend the entire day in it, wandering through each separate area, enjoying the blooms and beautiful ponds. Last sunday was breath-taking, with the plums, the camelias, and all of the trees starting to leaf out.

Graceful

The water bridge, through the branches of a tree whose name I can’t remember…

Trinity Pink

I’m passionately in love with fruit tree blossoms. They smell pretty, they look pretty, and they make tasty things appear like magic! Here are some of the ornamental plums from the “plum blossoms on cracked ice” side garden.

Wizened Ancient

In the same side garden are a lot of sweet penjing, Chinese bonsai trees. I love this old fellow with all of the plum petals around his roots.

Duck

DUCK! The only one there– he looked a bit lonely.

(Image from One Big Kitchen)

That’s right. Three exclamation points. What is the reason for such exuberance, you may rightly ask?

Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations: The Pacific Northwest episode.

I found it while poking around on YouTube, land of all things bizarre and viral, and it really epitomizes why I moved up here, and why you’ll have to pry my cold, dead fingers from the streetcar railings when I’m gone. It explores the amazing variety of fresh ingredients, the passion that chefs up here exhibit for their art, the crazy and friendly atmosphere, and the grungy, anything-goes attitude.

He visits Portland, Seattle, and the Puget Sound, and finds amazing food everywhere he goes. Unsurprising to those of us who live here; we know that good food is only a few doors down, a few blocks away. There’s really no need to go to Pizza Hut when you’ve got Apizza Scholls, or even Hot Lips, just a streetcar ride away. I’ve been to NYC twice, and I can honestly say that I’ve found more good food, more affordably here in Portland, than anywhere in the big Apple. (I’m sure there’re places I haven’t seen. Want to prove me wrong? I’ll gladly fly over there to be gastronomically escorted around the city.)

Check out the episode. It’s definitely worth the look!

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

I feel so inspired! Maybe I’ll actually get around to submitting a recipe this week!

(I have no photos currently! I’m sorry– I will try to take one and upload it tomorrow)

I’ve gone to a couple of pretty good restaurants in the week since I arrived here. The Green Onion, however, takes the cake. Or the falafel, as the case may be. Yummy Persian food!

SERVICE: The owners serve the tables ( I think this is the norm for most evenings). They are wonderful, open people, always willing to describe a dish to you or recommend a meal. The service is prompt and precise. A++!

ATMOSPHERE: The Green Onion is based inside a refurbished old house on the Portland State University campus. The dining room is small, but when you consider The Cave (the downstairs dining room and performance space), there really is quite a lot of room to eat. The decor is Persian, and the space is small and cozy.

PRESENTATION: I had the buffet, which I highly recommend. Other than that, plating is traditional and uncomplicated.

FOOD: I haven’t had much experience with any other Persian food before this restaurant, so I can’t really say how this adds up. What I can say is that the food is utterly delicious. I’d recommend it to anyone!

Gluten Free?: Yes! Just mention it to the server beforehand and he or she will point out everything on the menu you can eat.

Sorry no posts yesterday– my sister and my friends held a (sort of) surprise going-away party for me at our favorite sushi bar in town. What with the dinner and playing video games after, we didn’t get home until almost midnight. I’m a zombie right now, but a happy one!

Two reviews in one week? She must be low on topics for conversation! (Not really– I’m just low on topics for conversation that don’t involve my leaving for college next week.)

SERVICE: Excellent service. The waitstaff are always cheerful, prompt, and knowledgeable about the food. Refills on hot tea are frequent.

ATMOSPHERE: The walls are the color of green tea ice cream. If you can actually hear it over the sounds of people talking, laughing, and enjoying themselves, the sound system plays constant elevator music. It’s rather reminiscent of a dentists waiting room (minus the fish tank and the poster-sized photos of teeth)– not the excellent sushi bar that it is. Nevertheless, it isn’t uncomfortable. Just a bit stark.

PRESENTATION: The cups, bowls and plates are all of classic Japanese design– the sushi presentation is unassuming. At Hiro’s, the art of the food is it’s flavor.

FOOD: Hiro’s serves all of the classic favorite sushi rolls, as well as some truly wonderful original creations. The fish is fresh and delicate, the cuts are divine. Along with sushi they also offer many other classic Japanese dishes. I love the spider roll (deep-fried soft shell crab), the gyu don (marinated thinly sliced beef over rice), and the tempura udon (udon noodles in savory broth with deep-fried shrimp, bell pepper, onion, and yam).

Gluten Free?: Most of the sushi rolls are gluten-free; avoid anything with sauce, or that is deep fried (tempura). My sister’s favorites are the spicy salmon with asparagus and the spicy tuna rolls.

Haven’t done a restaurant review in a while, and we just had lunch here so– there you go!

This restaurant is a real favorite with my family. Reliable and awesome gluten-free food, especially ethnic food, is really hard to come by– that’s why Dara Thai is such a gem!

SERVICE: This is probably one of the very few short-comings of Dara Thai: the service is lamentably slow. I can’t really make any excuses for them other than the fact that the food is definitely worth the wait.

ATMOSPHERE: Based in a renovated shopfront in the old-town part of Flagstaff, there really isn’t another restaurant quite like Dara Thai. From the kitschy mural on the back wall and the lace curtains, to the neon beer signs, the hand carved Thai sculptures, and the photos of the King and Queen of Thailand hanging by the bar, you know down to your bones that you’re in the right place for good (if a little Americanized) Thai food. It’s a place you can come as you are, from dinner before prom to lunch after a long hike.

PRESENTATION: You get rice. And your entree. Unless your entree is rice. The garnish consists of maybe crushed peanuts, maybe an orange slice, maybe cilantro. Four-star flourishes aren’t exactly the point here– it’s all going to the same place, anyway.

FOOD: Reliably tasty and very large portions for a very low price. I recommend going at lunch, when you get a complementary salad or soup, and the prices are about two dollars less. Dishes I suggest you try: EVERYTHING! Really, I haven’t tasted anything at Dara that was anything less than wonderful. If you’re gluten-free, avoid things with brown sauce. All of the curries are safe, and the Pad Thai is to die for. Be cautious when ordering the spice level– they go on a 1-5 scale. My sister gets a number five, but personally I can’t taste the food when It’s that spicy. Not to mention you’ll feel it majorly later…

Gluten Free?: Yes! See above for ordering assistance. Little Celiacs may frolic here!

A sweet little hole-in-the-wall nook. Webpage is found here.

SERVICE: The whole shop is run by one person– they make the crepes, fill them, take your payment etc. Consequently, you’re given a nice little time to sit and enjoy the scenery, and to drink your GuS (Grown Up Soda) Ginger Ale.

ATMOSPHERE: Out of doors dining experience. Half of the little shop has a roof, the other half doesn’t. Walls? On two sides, provided by the building it’s backed against. The decoration is reminiscent of a little cafe in Paris– without the incessant cloud cover and gloomy looking street performers.

PRESENTATION: Your GIGANTIC crepe is handed to you on a classy black plastic plate, folded around itself and it’s contents. The appearance is one of quick elegance-meets Saturday afternoon picnic. (I kid, I kid….)

FOOD: The crepes are a little tough… Of course, I’m spoiled rotten with the tender gluten-free crepes we make in my family. I ordered the Crepes Genevieve, which was a simple crepe sprinkled with lemon juice and a tiny amount of sugar, folded and then drizzled with a lovely raspberry sauce and a flurry of powdered sugar. The failing I’ve found with most store-bought crepes is the fact that they are made so sweet you can’t even taste the ingredients. The crepes Genevieve was a breath of fresh air! the tartness of the raspberries and the lemon shone through the faint sweetness of the sugars like a beacon. I’d definitely order it again!

GLUTEN FREE?: I’m afraid not… Though I’ll post my recipe for gluten free crepes later, so you can enjoy them in your own home.

(The photo isn’t one I took– I couldn’t find any pictures of the outside of the restaurant, so even though I didn’t order the crab legs,  I’m settling with this.)

When we asked for a recommendation for a good place to get seafood in Olympia, we were directed to Oyster House.

SERVICE: A wee bit slow (which appears to be a pretty common complaint with this venue). I don’t know if it’s under staffing, or if it’s just a dearth of training that causes the problem.

ATMOSPHERE: A seafood sports bar with lots of large televisions hanging all around, displaying various expressions of testosterone, such as car racing, football, and sport fishing. I would love it if the windows were wider and the TV’s were limited to the bar area only. The view outside is lovely, and having a large bearded man mouthing enthusiastically about, apparently, fly fishing in Alaska is severely distracting.

PRESENTATION: Not much to talk about. Every meal comes with a large, freshly baked roll, and a dollop of herbaceous garlic butter.

FOOD: DELICIOUS! I had the linguini alfredo with tiger shrimp, and was delighted by the large amount of very coursely chopped garlic I found in the sauce. I would certainly go again. Next time, I’d like to try the fried halibut and chips…

GLUTEN FREE?: Depends on what you order. They are willing to help you along with making good menu choices for diet concerns. My mother and sister had the grilled fish, which was apparently quite good, if a little dry.

We ate here both breakfast and dinner on Friday. The food was better than that at the Paradise Inn, and cheaper too. Sadly, still harshly limited gluten-free options.

SERVICE: A bit slow. I think they were rather severely understaffed, as the same fellow who was waiting tables at breakfast was still waiting at dinner. Nevertheless, a good staff who work well and are efficient.

ATMOSPHERE: More homey than the dining hall at Paradise. The dining room is small, with lots of windows, photos of the mountain from various angles, and small hanging chandeliers.

PRESENTATION: Unassuming and down to earth. Everything on the plate was there to be eaten, no ridiculous little prigs of parsley or twists of lemon rind.

FOOD: Actually, quite good. I had the pot roast served on mashed potatoes, and the roast was tender and moist (not overcooked, the failing of most pot roasts) and the gravy was rich and flavorful. But, like any Steven Spielberg movie, the lead was only second best when compared to the supporting actors. On the side of the roast was a pile of tender, lightly steamed young asparagus topped with a healthy dollop of the best hollandaise sauce I have ever tasted. It was made with high quality butter, and you could taste the fragrance of it with every bite. Quite a good meal.

I wouldn’t be so disenchanted with the dear NP Inn, if only the chef had been flexible enough to make a gluten-free entree for my mother and sister. As it was, they dined on spinach salad.

We ate here our first night staying at the Lodge. Honestly, one meal was quite enough.

SERVICE: Actually, the service was the best part of the restaurant experience. The waitstaff were cheerful and willing to help, and if I’d actually drank all the water they gave me I would have been water-logged. Positive and attentive servers are one positive point for this restaurant.

ATMOSPHERE: The lodge had recently been remodeled such that you couldn’t tell it had been remodeled, and the atmosphere was that of a gigantic log cabin. I felt dwarfed by the large dinning hall, which was scaled to seat something like two hundred people.

PRESENTATION: Elegant and simple. Really, the food looked better than it tasted.

FOOD: Not unpleasant, but unimaginative. Not worth the exorbitant prices being charged for it. The main problem I had with both of the restaurants on the mountain that we tried, was that, since they have a monopoly on all food eaten in the park, they didn’t feel any reason to improve their standards. $20 for a Coq au Vin that more closely resembles a chicken casserole made with cream of mushroom soup than the chicken breast baked with dry local Riesling, fresh vegetables, and creme fraiche that the menu describes? Not something I’ll do twice.

GLUTEN FREE NOTE: Neither of the Inns on the mountain really could supply anything safely gluten free. If you’re celiac, or wheat intolerant, it’s advisable that you bring your own food rather than rely on the National Park Service to help you. That is, unless you really like having spinach salad and ice cream for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Well, I’m BlogHungry!

Actually, I’m not, but this awesome dude certainly is! His blog has recipes, reviews, style, and sass. If you’re starving for good writing, witty commentary, totally sweet recipes, and hard-hitting (yet entertaining) restaurant reviews, check him out!

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I want to be like him if I grow up…