Portland: So Much to Eat and So Little Time

I stopped in Portland, Oregon on my drive up to Seattle, Washington and Vancouver, B.C and then on the way back down. The last time I made this road trip it was with family over thirteen years ago. At that time, Portland did not have the food scene that it does today. I recall we had really good Chinese food in Portland Chinatown so we ate at the same restaurant on our return. On this trip, there were so many places to try there would be no time for any restaurant repeats.

Of all the stops, Portland impressed me the most in terms of the quality and variety of food. Here’s a summary of my best bites in Portland which might be helpful to anyone planning on visiting this culinary city:
Cuban Food

Pambiche is a Cuban restaurant located in Kerns where we had our first dinner. We shared a plate of tostanes, or fried green plantains. These crisp savory snacks are considered the french fries of the Caribbean.   

 Of the three dinner plates that my party ordered, it was the Rabo Encendido, oxtail plate that was the most successful. The tender oxtail is braised in a spicy creole wine sauce and served with white rice and amazing corn fritters.   

I have been drinking Portland’s Stumptown coffee for several years now. My local coffee shop in Oakland uses their beans for expresso beverages and also sells their beans. This was my first time going to an actual Stumptown coffee shop and I felt anticipation and excitement because I was such a big fan. I am still a big fan. 

 Ice cream
There is no excuse for any foodie city not to have a gourmet ice cream shop. In Portland that shop is Salt & Straw. It’s all about using the best seasonal and local ingredients and thinking up innovative flavors. With three shops in Portland and one is Los Angeles, I am sure there will be more Salt & Straw in my future. 

 Food Cart/Chinese
Mama Chow’s Kitchen is a cute food cart serving Chinese food and is parked in Downtown Portland amongst several other neighboring food trucks. The food truck scene is actually quite prevalent in Portland. We chose to go to Mama Chow’s Kitchen because this food cart has ties to Oakland. The owner Jeff is from Oakland and his family used to own and run Best Taste in Oakland Chinatown.   

 We picked up some wonton soup, lollipop wings, and garlic noodles. Lollipop wings are chicken wings that are cut in a way where the chicken is pushed up and you can hold the bone like you would for the stick of a lollipop. The crispiness of the chicken and the flavors of honey, soy, and garlic running through the lollipops are delicious and addictive. I prefer the garlic noodles from Mama Chow’s Kitchen to some of the most famous ones in San Francisco. The texture of these noodles were the perfect al dente and sometimes that’s all it takes.   

You can’t go to Portland and not stop at Voodoo Donuts. When you see people carrying their pink boxes it’s hard to ignore. With all the food I consumed, I just wanted to peek in and see what the hype was all about. When you stop at Voodoo Donuts for the first time, you can’t not get the voodoo doll.  

 I think someone played some voodoo on me because I left the shop with a pink box.   
 Indian Food

Dinner at Bollywood Theater was my favorite meal of this trip. Serving Indian street food, this Portland establishment creates a casual and fun dining experience. Where else can you eat and shop? To the left of Bollywood Theater is a market selling a large selection of Indian spices, ingredients, and products. Seating is available indoors as well as outdoors.  

We ordered quite a few dishes for the three of us. Surprisingly, my favorite dish was a vegetarian dish, dal and coconut curry. Lentils and seasonal vegetables are cooked in a coconut and curry sauce and served with saffron rice. I have to say that the only dancing happening at Bollywood Theater was my palate. 

Seattle Spots You Don’t Want to Miss

I spent 3 1/2 days in Seattle and 2 1/2 of those days were to attend the International Food Blogger’s Conference (IFBC). This left little time to eat out, but I did manage to squeeze in two new places and make return visits to two others.

The IFBC was filled with evening activities, so I was only able to eat out for dinner my first night. We ate at a sushi restaurant called Tsukushinbo located in the International District. Luckily we had reservations for our party of three so we didn’t have to wait.  

The sushi was fresh and reasonably priced. There was nothing fancy about this place. It was more of a neighborhood type restaurant. My favorite items were the Ora King Salmon sashimi and the uni, sea urchin. This New Zealand salmon was smooth and buttery. The uni tasted like it was fresh out of salt water, but ironically it came from Santa Barbara which I know produces some of the best uni.  

Here’s a collage of the dishes we shared. 
 The other place I tried for the first time is Humble Pie located on the outskirts of the International District. I would call Humble Pie a pizza shack.   
 You order at the window and can eat either in the partially enclosed space or completely outdoors. We ordered the pizza with sopressata, mushroom, kalamata olives, mozarella, and tomato sauce. It ranks pretty high in the thin crust wood fire oven pizza category in my book.  
 I had an hour and a half break for lunch from the conference on one day so I walked over to the famous Pike Place Market. I stood in line at Beecher’s, a cheese shop that also sells a few specialty items like mac and cheese, sandwiches, and soups. I think of them as the Cowgirl Creamery of Seattle. I previously had indulged in their “world’s best mac and cheese.” I wouldn’t call it the world’s best. I decided this time to get their grilled cheese sandwich and tomato soup. It was a great combination and hit the spot on this somewhat gloomy Seattle day. My tip for the soup is to either skip the croutons or ask for them on the side.

The number one thing that comes to mind when I hear the word Seattle is not rain or the Seahawks. It is the donuts from Dahlia’s Bakery. Ok, the second thing is the coconut cream pie. But I seriously cannot get enough of these freshly made to order pillows of goodness. They come hot out of the fryer and are doused in sugar before you get to add the mascarpone cheese and homemade jam. Yum! Go ahead and also order the coconut cream pie.  It’s good to have the ying and the yang.

Seattle is a great food city and such a perfect location for the IFBC.

IFBC: Field Trip to Miele

I have been writing my food blog for over five years and decided it was about time that I attend the International Food Bloggers Conference (IFBC) which was held this weekend in Seattle, Washington. I committed to write three blog posts having to do with the conference in order to save some money on the registration fees.  

This post is about my very first activity at the conference. It was an optional excursion that was sponsored by Miele. My first choice of excursions was actually sold out and I chose Miele because they are the makers of my prized vacuum cleaner that I love.   Twenty-one of us hopped on a bus and was taken to the beautiful Miele showroom in Bellevue. There we were greeted with smiles and champagne. We were divided into five groups to cook five different recipes using the hi-tech Miele appliances.
Here were the dishes we made:

Greek Salad

 Pasta Fagioli
 BBQ Pork Buns
 It was really fun to cook and then eat with others that have a similar passion for food. In hindsight, I realized that the attendees that I networked with the most by the end of the weekend were at this excursion. It was this interactive event which was the ice breaker. I was glad I signed up for this pre-conference event.  

F.O.B. Kitchen: A Filipino Pop Up

F.O.B. Kitchen has been popping up in a couple of locations in the Mission District of San Francisco. I crossed the Bay Bridge yesterday to have brunch at this pop up. F.O.B. Kitchen serves quality Filipino food. My understanding is that they do regular dinner service on Wednesdays and have had a few of these weekend brunches.    

Yesterday’s brunch location was at a bar called Cease and Desist. My friend and I were ready to eat. I had run four miles and she completed a long bike ride. We shared several items. We ordered the hot buttered bun, aka pan de sal which came with a house-made strawberry jam. What’s not to like about a warm buttered bun? The jam was not too sweet and offered a hint of tartness that I enjoyed.  
The meat lumpia at F.O.B. kitchen were filled with ground pork and water chestnuts. They were complimented with a Thai chili sauce. The lumpia came out hot and crispy and was a great starter. They also offer a vegetarian eggroll, but we didn’t go that route.
 The Tapsilog plate included thinly sliced marinated grass-fed beef, garlic fried rice, a sunny side egg, purple cabbage slaw, and fresh pineapple. The marinade on the beef had nice flavors, but the meat was missing a juiciness. Everything else on the plate was spot on.  
The Torta Talong is a charred eggplant omelette topped with shallots and tomatoes served with the same items as the other plate. It came with Jufran, a banana ketchup. I have a memory of eating this dish before many years ago, but this one was pretty awesome. Rarely do I think a vegetarian plate is better than a meat dish. This is one of those cases.  
 The dessert that was being served was a sweet lumpia filled with banana and nectarine. It came with macapuno, or coconut ice cream. This warm glazed crisp dessert had great texture and the flavors melded together perfectly.  
 You can interpret F.O.B. to mean what you want. I’m confident the F is for fresh because I clearly saw and tasted the freshness in all the dishes. This kitchen uses organic ingredients whenever possible. I might call it Fresh off Bon Vivant! Make sure you stay connected to F.O.B. Kitchen so you can hear about where they’ll be popping next!

Jack’s in Jack London Square

As we near the end of summer, it’s best to take advantage of the perfect weather we have in Oakland. I love to eat outside and my favorite place to do that is in Jack London Square. When it’s warm, you may also be looking to eat something on the lighter side. Jack’s Oyster Bar & Fish House fits the bill. Jack’s offers fresh, quality, and sustainable seafood. Eating here actually makes me feel like I am on vacation.

Jacks offers oysters on the half shell. Their daily featured oysters are $2.50 a piece, but during 3-6pm, it’s $1.50 a piece. With a mignonette sauce and a squeeze of lemon, raw oysters can be delightful.  I’ll take a dozen oysters, please. A nice beverage to wash those oysters down with is a rosé. 
 Another fresh offering from Jack’s is their peel and eat gulf prawns with cocktail sauce. These are large and meaty with a natural sweetness.
 I heard and saw so many pictures of the octopus at Jack’s that the last time I visited, I had to order it. The charred octopus with squash, rainbow carrot, potato, and pimento is a beautiful sight. You need a steak knife to get through this delicious chewy creature. The charring of the octopus not only puts a nice color on it, but it adds a great grill flavor.
 For dessert, I highly recommend their croissant bread pudding. It is a warm dessert with a crispy flakey texture mixed with a creamy custard and topped with ice cream. It’s absolutely scrumptious!  

Jack’s Oyster Bar & Fish House is a fun place where you can enjoy the scenery and have a small snack or enjoy a larger meal.  Reservations can be made at Opentable.

DIY: Red Hawk Potato Gratin

Who doesn’t like potatoes, cream, and cheese? If you are willing to fork out some cash for some Cowgirl Creamery cheese, I promise that you can produce a delicious potato gratin.  
Cowgirl Creamery in Point Reyes, California makes some of my favorite cheeses. The Marin County artisan business started in the 1990’s and has expanded to include a cheese shop in San Francisco’s Ferry Building. Although you can get their cheese at many Bay Area grocers including Whole Foods, they still make their rounds to Farmer’s Markets around the Bay Area including the Saturday market at Grand Lake in Oakland.  

Red Hawk is one of their most winningest cheeses and is the featured ingredient for this potato gratin recipe. Made from organic cow’s milk, Red Hawk is a triple-cream cheese that has been aged for four weeks and washed with a brine solution.  
This recipe for Red Hawk Potato Gratin is adapted from Cowgirl Creamery Cooks:

  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 medium sized onion, julienned
  • 3 cloves garlic, diced
  • 3 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, sliced thin
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 10 ounces Red Hawk, cut into wedges (including rind)



Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Heat a cast-iron skillet over medium heat and add butter and olive oil to pan. Add onions and garlic and sauté until soft (about ten minutes).

Turn off heat and add heavy whipping cream and half of the grated parmesan cheese.  Mix well.
Transfer half of the onion-cream mixture into a casserole dish, and layer half of the potatoes to the pan. Add half of the Red Hawk cheese wedges. 
Layer on the remaining potatoes, Red Hawk wedges, and the onion-cream mixture. Sprinkle with the rest of the Parmesan cheese.
Cover the casserole dish with foil and bake for 45 minutes. Remove foil and bake for another half hour or until the top is brown and bubbly.


The results are amazing.

Featuring Lithuanian Cuisine in Alameda

Mama Papa Lithuania claims to be the only restaurant serving Lithuanian food on the West Coast. If this is true, I am feeling very fortunate that it happens to be located in the 510. Located on Park Street in Alameda, Mama Papa Lithuania is a destination to explore Northern European cuisine.  

I had lunch there with a group of friends so we sampled quite a few dishes. We started the meal with some fried Lithuanian rye bread. This black bread is fried in oil and rubbed with a garlicky paste. Apparently it is a best selling snack in Lithuania. The rye bread is very dense and it was the flavor of the garlic that made it shine for me.
I really enjoyed the cucumber salad which is mixed in a yogurt dill sauce and tossed with green onions. I found it to be very refreshing and loved the dill flavor.
 We each had our own soup. Some of us got the cream of mushroom soup and others got the borscht with mushroom. The mushroom soup was the perfect balance of broth and cream. The flavors brought on by the mushrooms and onions made it heavenly and I loved it.

 The borscht was a mix of beet and chicken broth and contained vegetables. This soup was topped with a dollop of sour cream. I have had Russian borscht before and thought this version was superior. 
 We ordered some potato pancakes with and without meat. These were probably my least favorite items which was a surprise since I really like potato pancakes in general. I didn’t like the consistency of the potatoes and it felt a little greasy.  
 The flour dumplings were pretty awesome. These traditional Lithuanian dumplings are handmade and stuffed with various fillings. We got the flour dumplings with potato and cheese filling which were soft pillows of goodness.  
Our waitress recommended their best seller, the stuffed cabbage rolls. The outside of the roll is cabbage and the inside is stuffed with seasoned ground pork and rice. The dish is served with boiled potatoes and dill pickles and made complete with their homemade sauce. It was nice to include this in our variety so we could have some additional protein.
  The flavors of Lithuanian cuisine is fairly mild. Some commonalities in the dishes I found are potatoes, dill, and sour cream. I pretty much enjoy those ingredients so I will be back. Next time it should be dinner so I can wash the food down with some Lithuanian beer.