Luna Red @ SLO Restaurant Month

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I can’t believe I’ve never seen the inside of this beauty.

For those who don’th know, January is San Luis Obispo’s Restaurant Month, which means Noelle is a happy girl! Every January, participating restaurants in SLO county offer up prix-fixe menus at $30-40 per person. It’s a lovely way to sample restaurants that might normally be out of your price range, and I certainly look forward to it every year. So, this month, I’m going to try to visit as many participating restaurants as my budget will allow!

Luna Red is a Spanish/tapas restaurant located right next to the Mission. I’ve been here before, but I sat on their lovely outdoor patio and just shared a cheese board with a friend. Last night was crazy rainy, so I got a chance to see the interior, which was absolutely gorgeous! Of course, it’s harder to take pictures of your food when the lighting is dimmed, but the romantic ambiance definitely makes up for it. We ordered some of the restaurant’s house sangria, and dug in.

First Course

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Pincho – a small snack served on grilled toast

For the first course, we were both allowed to pick two “pinchos” from a list including varieties such as “quinoa and roasted red pepper”, “tuna ceviche and cucumber” and “soft egg and bacon”. Nik chose the “chorizo and blue cheese” and the “soft egg and bacon” (top), and I chose the “tuna ceviche and cucumber” and “poached albacore and whipped avocado”. I was expecting these appetizers to be bite-sized, but I was pleasantly surprised that they were a few bites each! Each was completely different and uniquely delicious! The tuna ceviche was bursting with unexpected flavor. The soft bacon and egg was comforting and hearty. The poached albacore was perfect, and the whipped avocado made it something special. “Like a really fancy tuna sandwich” was how I think we described it. The chorizo was killer, and though the blue cheese was also very strong, somehow the two flavors didn’t overwhelm.

Second Course

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Green Salad

The second course was a choice between a green salad and the vegetarian soup of the day, so of course we each chose something different and split. The salad featured roasted beets,  (though the menu advertised the salad as having roasted apples) lavender-chili walnuts, big rock blue cheese, red onions, and a citrus-sherry vinaigrette. I’m not a huge salad person or a beet person, but this was very refreshing and balanced. The lavender-chili walnuts were definitely my favorite part of the dish!

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Vegetarian Soup of the Day

The soup of the day was an eggplant and winter squash bisque, and it was perfect for a stormy night. It was very hearty and comforting. I’m not sure what the garnish was, but it was some sort of roasted mild chili. The soup comes with a side of the softest bread I’ve ever eaten, which was perfect for dunking in the rich soup.

Third Course

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Chuleta Valluna 

For the third course, Nik chose the Chuleta Valluna, which was a crispy pork chop on a bed of whipped avocado and guajillo-tomato sauce, topped with sweet potato shoestrings. I’ve never had a pork-chop quite like this, and definitely never as large. I’m not sure what the chop was breaded in, but it was perfectly crispy and blackened. The guajillo-tomato sauce added a kick to the dish, and the whipped avocado cooled it down. My favorite part was the shoestring sweet potatoes, which added the perfect crunch! Nik claims this is the best pork-chop he’s ever eaten.

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Moqueca 

I ordered the Moqueca, which is a Brazilian coconut-tomato stew with wild fish, octopus, clams, shrimps, and scallops, all over a bed of white rice. Oh my god, this was amazing! The broth alone was so thick and flavorful, I could have drank it on its own. I love coconut milk in soup, but I’ve never had it in a tomato-based broth. I couldn’t believe how many different kinds of seafood they managed to pack into one dish, but I definitely appreciated it. My only complaint was that there was some sand left in the clams, so they were a little gritty. Other than that, everything was perfect. The shrimps were perfect, the fish was tender and flaky, the octopus was the opposite of chewy, and the two huge scallops were the star of the show. They were perfectly seared, and so buttery and sweet. I love when you can cut through your scallop with your spoon! So delicious!

Altogether, our meal cost $30 per person. There was an option to add a fourth dessert course for $40, but we were more than stuffed with just three courses. Our leftovers made a yummy lunch the next day! We both left more satisfied than we’ve been with a meal in a long time, and I’d definitely recommend trying Luna Red’s Restaurant Month Menu before January is over. There are so many other restaurants to try, but you will not be disappointed with this one in the slightest!

 

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Eating My way Through Greece

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Hey everyone! This post is a little different than anything I’ve done before. Those who know me are aware that this year I was lucky enough to travel to Greece with Nik. We stayed in both Athens and Santorini, and of course, one of the main things I was excited about was trying all of the delicious Greek food! This was truly the trip of a lifetime. I saw awe-inspiring ruins, beautiful architecture, drank delicious beer, met wonderful people, witnessed heavenly sunsets, and sampled some incredible Greek cuisine.

Our first day in Greece was spent sleeping off the awful jetlag, which was made worse by the fact that I am apparently incapable of falling asleep on a plane, no matter how exhausted I am! When we finally woke up, it was 9pm and our tummies were rumbling. We ventured out and found a crowded restaurant with tables sprawling out onto the street. We tried some Greek beer, called Mythos, and ordered some Saganaki, which is a traditional Greek appetizer of a pan-fried firm cheese. Holy yum, can it get any better than fried cheese? This was a heavy dish, but the accompanying lemon slice helped cut through the delicious greasiness. Mythos beer is smooth, flavorful, and goes down like water. It was our favorite beer of the trip!

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Gyros. This is what I came to Greece for.

I knew I had to order Gyros first thing. I love a good Gyro and was so excited to try the authentic version. It did not disappoint. At only 2,30€, a good Gyro makes a great budget lunch or dinner. You can find them on any street, but make sure you wander away from the touristy areas to avoid being over charged.

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A typical Greek restaurant sprawling out into the street. Wish we had restaurants like this in the US!
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The Gelato in Greece rivals that of its neighbor, Italy! Soooo creamy and yummy!

Athens is definitely a foodies paradise. There is plenty of traditional Greek food, but also a surprising amount of great Global cuisine. The amount of restaurants, dessert cafes, coffee bars, and specialty shops is enough to keep even the most ravenous foodie satisfied for months!

The specialty shops are where you want to go for all of your souvenir needs. Peruse Monastiraki’s winding flea market, but wander away from the crowds to purchase your goodies; you’ll save so much money shopping away from the touristy areas! Pictured above is a shop we found that sells all sorts of specialty olive oil, oregano, honey, Greek candies, nuts, ouzo, and tins of gourmet seafood in herbed oil.

Speaking of ouzo, we knew we had to try it even though neither of us thought we would like it. Ouzo is an anise-flavoured aperitif that is widely consumed in Greece. It’s interesting because it is a clear liquor, but when mixed with water (the most common way it is drunk) it takes on a milky color. In my opinion, ouzo is disgusting, but that’s because I hate black licorice, and ouzo tastes like liquid black licorice x100. This stuff is crazy strong, and if you like the taste of licorice, I’m sure you’ll enjoy it!
Also pictured above is Nik enjoying a classic Greek salad, which consists of cucumbers, tomatoes, red onion, feta, olive oil, and oregano. We ate so much of this salad during our trip, even for breakfast most mornings!

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One of the many Koulouri stands all over Athens

The Greeks aren’t big on breakfast, and most of them prefer to grab something quick to eat with their morning coffee. Koulouri, one of the most popular street foods in Greece, is the breakfast of choice. Koulouri is a bread ring covered in toasted sesame seeds. They are crunchy on the outside, soft and chewy on the inside, and the sesame offers a nice, subtle flavor that is perfect to snack on. We picked up a few for breakfast while we walked around the stunning Temple of Zeus.

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Me and Nik at the Temple of Zeus
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Perfect Falafel!

For my vegetarian readers who want more than salad and bread rings for dinner, Athens has the best falafel I’ve ever tasted! They are offered at many of the same places Gyros are offered, but there are a few stands and shops that sell only falafel. The one we tried was perfect; the falafel was so crunchy on the outside and perfectly soft on the inside. Not dry at all like many falafels I’ve had in America. The tahini sauce is also out of this world! And don’t get me started on how soft and warm all the pita is. I will never be able to eat pita at home again.

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Brettos Bar, the most famous bar in Athens

No trip to another country is complete without checking out the nightlife. I’d heard of Brettos Bar and I knew I had to go there because it just looked so beautiful! The cocktails here are a bit pricey, but there are so many different flavored liquors and plenty of options for every taste. We made a few friends here from all over the world as well. It’s a great place to come and stay for a while!

Another thing I was surprised to find in Greece were crepes! Not only that, they were the best crepes I have ever tasted! The shop we found was right off of Monastiraki square, so we could sit outside and watch the hustle and bustle of city life while enjoying our treats. My crepe had ham, cheese, tomato, and cheese salad. Delicious!

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What a great view for lunch!
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Hazy view of Athens from the Plaka district.

Off we go to Santorini!

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Domatokeftedes and Salmon Pasta

Santorini is known for its sweet, rich tomatoes, and many restaurants on the island feature tomatoes prominently on their menu. First thing upon arriving in Thira, we went out to dinner and tried some delicious Domatokeftedes, or Tomato fritters. This was my favorite meal of the trip, hands down. The fritters were perfectly balanced, the dough was nice and rich, and the tomatoes were so sweet and tangy. The fritters were extremely crispy, and came with a basil lemon aioli for dipping. The salmon pasta was out of this world as well. It was dressed in a tomato based vodka cream sauce, and the salmon was lightly smoked and so flaky and tender. I’ve spent so many hours trying to recreate these two dishes, they were absolutely perfect!

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Santorini has got to be the most beautiful place on Earth
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Shrimp Saganaki in Oia

Saganaki is a traditional Greek dish named after the pan in which it’s prepared. The shrimps were huge and so, so fresh! As always, the tomatoes took this dish to the next level.

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Tiny Greek Coffee!
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Grilled Shrimp
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Grilled Octopus

The Greeks I talked to said the best way to enjoy fresh seafood in Greece was simply grilled with olive oil and lemon, and I could not agree more. I had some of the best seafood of my life in Santorini, including probably the most tender, butter-like octopus in the world. Even if you’re not a fan of Octopus because of the chewy texture, you’ll love it here. It’s absolutely delightful!

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That famous Santorini sunset

Cheers everybody! We had such a wonderful time in Greece and I hope I fit everything in this very very long review of Greek food. I skipped out on Baklava, which you should definitely not, because it’s delicious and rich. I just didn’t get a picture! I have fallen in love with Greece, and cannot wait to go back someday. I hope you have a great time there if you decide to go, and make sure you make the most of the trip by eating everything in sight!

Opa!

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Beda’s Biergarten

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Super cute, authentic exterior and patio

3230 Broad St
San Luis Obispo, CA 93401
805-439-2729
Website

German food is pretty hard to come by in California, especially on the Central Coast! When I heard about this place, I was so excited to try it out. I’d never tried German food before and was excited to taste something new. The restaurant is adorable, and has a quaint little outdoor patio so you can sip your beer and enjoy some SLO sunshine. It was cold out so we opted to sit inside, but I’ll be back to dine on the patio as soon as winter is over! Inside is pretty cramped but we managed to find a table for four of us.

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Gulasch Pommes Frites

We started out with beer (yes, it comes in boots here!), wine, and the Gulasch Pommes Frites. Holy moly, this dish is pure comfort food! Beda’s makes their own french fries and tops them with hearty Gulasch (a meat stew seasoned with paprika), smoked Gouda and onions. This is a great starter, but I could definitely order it as a main dish as well. The fries were fresh and crispy, and the perfect vehicle for the heavy Gulasch. The meat was extremely juicy and a bit smoky, and the Gouda was the cherry on top of this beautiful dish. You will not be disappointed with Gulasch Pommes Frites!

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Schnitzel Wiener Art

It took some effort to say the name of this dish without cracking a silly grin, but we managed and it was delicious. I’d never tried Schnitzel and I happily tried this pork version. I believe traditional Schnitzel is made with veal, but pork was a fine substitute. The meat was perfectly tender and the breading was crispy and flavorful. This was definitely the most traditional German dish we ordered!

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Schnitzelbrot

I ordered the Schnizelbrot, which was pork Schnitzel, caramelized onion, tomatoes, baby kale and lemon aioli on a Pretzel Roll. This was one of my favorite sandwiches I’ve had in quite a while! The Schnitzel lends itself perfectly to a sandwich, and the lemon aioli brightened up the heavy fried pork and gave everything a fresh zing. The caramelized onions were perfect as well, and the Pretzel Roll….Oh, the Pretzel Roll was like a dream! The sandwich comes with fries or a salad, but we substituted our side for Rotkohl, which is a warm red cabbage. This was so yummy and different; the cabbage was sweet and tasted as if it was boiled in a savory cider, complete with mulling spices. So delicious.

If you’re craving something different in SLO, look no further than this gem. I certainly felt like I was in a cheerful German pub, full of beer and warmth. If you’re feeling daring, order your German beer in a boot-shaped glass, but beware; it looks like an epic serving! Prost!

Chop Street

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Stylish, modern interior

779 Price St
Pismo Beach, CA 93449
805-295-6497
Website

Chop Street recently popped up in Downtown Pismo Beach, and I am a huge fan. Everything on the menu screams healthy, local, and fresh. They have a great selection of awesome salads, as well as burgers and street food, such as fish tacos and tri-tip. There’s a great outdoor seating area, and the interior is casual and romantic.

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Citrus and herb smoked salmon salad

We started off with a salad to share. The citrus and herb smoked salmon salad was a great choice. The smoked salmon was very subtly smoked, and didn’t overwhelm the rest of the salad, which consisted of the Chop lettuce blend,  cherry tomatoes, fresh herb blend, and a citrus vinaigrette. It was refreshing and light, and although the picture doesn’t do it justice (it was getting pretty dark) it was a beautiful plate!
We also ordered the Slo-Co Brussels sprouts, which are beautifully plated as well, and prepared with bacon, Gorgonzola, and topped with a balsamic reduction. We usually love these, and have ordered them before, but tonight they tasted a bit earthy, as if they weren’t cleaned all the way.

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Slo-Co Brussels Sprouts and Loaded Tater Tots

The Loaded Tater Tots are my favorite thing on the menu. Any restaurant that makes their own tots is a good one in my book. These ones are loaded with bacon, goat cheese, scallions, red desert spice, and ranch. They are absolutely perfect, do not miss these!

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Luau Burger and Sweet Potato Fries

By this time we were already stuffed, but our burger was coming so we took a few bites and took the rest home! The Luau Burger is topped with spiced pineapple chutney, bacon, smoked mozzarella, grilled onion, and Wild Jack sauce. It was perfectly cooked, and the spiced pineapple chutney was definitely different, and worked very well with the grilled onion and bacon. It added just a hint of tangy sweetness. The sweet potato fries are nice and crispy, and not too sweet.

This place is always solid, and they have great beer and wine choices as well. It’s a bit cheaper than dining at similar restaurants in downtown SLO, which makes it one of our favorites. The salad was $7, the Tots and Brussels were $9 and $8 respectively, and the burger was $11. Check this place out for something other than fried seafood in Pismo!

Fay’s Fusion

 

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Asian Sliders

220 Hinds Ave
Pismo Beach, CA 93449
805-295-6668
Website

I can’t count the number of times I’ve walked past Fay’s Fusion (formerly Tao Asian Fusion) when I’m in Pismo and never thought twice. I thought it was just your run-of-the-mill Chinese restaurant, but today Nik really wanted to try it, so we decided to go for a light lunch. My first impression of this place was so incorrect! In fact, I was blown away! Faye, the owner, says that she didn’t want to be limited when developing the menu. It boasts a little bit of everything, from Chinese to Thai, with a creative twist on each dish that keeps the menu fresh and modern.

We tried two things, the Asian sliders and the Shrimp Dumpling Noodle soup.
The Asian Sliders (above) were delightful. The menu didn’t specify what kind of sliders they were, so I was assuming they were just like burgers. I was wrong, and I was glad I was wrong. Instead, they were very similar to pork bao, which are little steamed buns filled with BBQ pork. The buns were so soft and pillowy, with the most perfect texture. The pork was extremely flavorful and tender, but I wish there was more of it! The sliders were balanced, but the pork was just so good that I wanted more. They were topped with Asian slaw and house-made Mandarin sauce.

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Shrimp Dumpling Noodle Soup

The Shrimp Dumpling soup was our second choice. The broth was subtle and fragrant, and provided the perfect slate for the shrimp dumplings to sing. The bok choy was tender, and the carrots added a little bit of crunch that offset the creaminess of the boiled egg. The noodles were flavorful and perfectly cooked. The dumplings were definitely the star, filled with plump, juicy shrimp, tasting so fresh and sweet that it was reminiscent of buttery lobster. The dumpling skin was pleasantly doughy and chewy. Eating these made me regret not ordering the steamed dumpling combo. Dumplings are definitely the star of this restaurant! Make sure you order something with dumplings when you try Fay’s Fusion! They are heavenly.

On my next visit I will definitely be ordering the Assorted Gourmet Dumplings and the Ahi & Avocado Lettuce (seared ahi, avocado, waffle fries, cucumber wasabi ranch, Asian slaw…yum.) Other menu items to peruse include “Sticky Fingers” (chicken tenders in General Tso’s sauce), Sesame Balls, Thai Peanut Shrimp, Calamari, and a Chilled Buckwheat Noodle salad that sounds divine. Next time. Definitely. I’ll have to update this review in the future, because there are so many things to try at Fay’s Fusion! Prices for the items I ordered were $12.25 for the Asian Sliders and $10.95 for the Shrimp Dumpling Soup. I cannot recommend trying this place more!

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An unassuming exterior boasts a masterful menu!

Metro Brew Co.

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One of the best patios in SLO!

1040 Broad Street
San Luis Obispo, CA, 93401
805-439-4200
Website

Metro Brew is a modern, sleek, and stylish brewpub located in the prime location formerly housing Creekside Brewing Company. The inside is crisp and clean, though I’ve been told local artists will soon be painting the white walls with murals. I definitely can’t wait to see the finished interior!

As of right now, Metro still lacks a brew master, so for the time being they are pouring other local beers, which sits fine with me, though I will definitely be back when the project comes to fruition!

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Tot L’ Recall

Metro Brew has cornered the market on bar food. It seems crazy to say it so soon after they’ve opened, but damn. This place knows what you want to eat with a beer. And it’s CHEAP. (as in price, not quality!)

We tried the Tot L’ Recall, which starts with a base of Metro’s crispy sweet potato tots, smothered in their flavorful “Underground Chili” and cheese, garnished with sour pickled red onions and a perfectly poached egg. The tots sweetness is perfectly tempered by the acidic crunch of the pickled onions, while their crispy exterior serves as the perfect vehicle for the delicious, flavorful chili. The poached egg brings the whole dish together and elevates it to the next level. Oh, and did I mention it’s only $6.50??

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Chicken and Waffles

I’ve heard great things about the Chicken and Waffles here from multiple people, so I of course I had to try them. Oh lord. These are seriously my idea of heaven. The Belgian waffle is more like a couple of super crispy donuts dusted with powdered sugar. The chicken is flavorful, not spicy, but with a tangy kick. The entire creation is drizzled with a house made warm maple syrup that has been flambeed with spiced rum. A sprinkle of candied bacon and roasted pecans finish off this decadent creation. I probably gained 10 pounds just looking at this dish, which I am super into. It was so worth it. At only $7, it’s half the price of any other chicken and waffle dish I’ve had in SLO, and it knocks them all our of the park. Do not miss this one!

This place has definitely become a staple for me. I’d definitely bring my friends here after a night of drinking, or before to carbo-load. It has something for everyone, and the price point cannot be beat! Do yourself a favor and snag a spot on the beautiful patio or check out the full bar downstairs!

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Enjoy!

Poke Chef

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580 California Blvd,
San Luis Obispo, CA
805-996-0038
Website

It’s been quite a while since my last post. Life got very busy up in Portland, and now, a year later, I find myself back on the Central Coast of California. (There are worse places to end up.) A lot has changed, but I’m still a food-obsessed hedon. Enough about me, on to the FOOD.
It was kind of hard to believe that San Luis Obispo didn’t have a poke restaurant, until now. For those of you who don’t know, poke is a Hawaiian dish that is basically a raw fish salad. It is usually served as an appetizer, but as it gains popularity in the continental U.S., it’s easy to find entrée sized portions of this delicious stuff. When Poke Chef opened in SLO, I had to try it. The small eatery is located next to The Boba Stop on California Blvd, and if you ask me, boba tea and poke make a perfect combo.

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The shop offers build-your-own poke bowls and sushi burritos, but there are a handful of Signature bowls that you can choose from as well. You choose your base of rice, salad, chips, or kale, then your proteins. Some options include Ahi tuna, Salmon, Scallops, and cooked shrimp. From there, you add veggie mix-ins, sauces, and toppings. (My favorite is the crispy garlic!)
I’ve been to Poke Chef twice already. The first visit, I decided to try a sushi burrito. I can’t remember exactly what I put in it, but I know it included marinated ahi, salmon, edamame, seaweed salad, and spicy mayo. It was delightful! For such an unassuming little shop, the fish is very fresh and flavorful, and the rest of the ingredients compliment the star of the dish expertly. The portion was huge, even at the “Junior” size. I had to take the second half home!

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My second time at Poke Chef, I decided to try one of their Signature bowls. These come in the “Big” size by default, so be prepared to share or eat your weight in fish. (“Big” isn’t even the biggest size on the menu!) This is a great option if you’ve never had poke before and you’re feeling daunted by the menu options. The spicy tuna bowl came with ahi tuna, spicy mashed ahi, albacore, edamame, cucumber, green onion, seaweed salad, topped with spicy mayo and house ponzu sauce. I also added crispy garlic to my bowl, and chose a base of half brown rice and half salad. This was delicious! My only critique would be that I would have preferred just a bit more sauce on mine, especially the ponzu, which was sweet and rich. I think having the undressed greens underneath made it feel just a bit more dry than the sushi burrito.
The seaweed salad may just be my favorite thing on the menu. I would gladly order a pound of it and eat it throughout the week, if they offered such a thing. (please, offer such a thing!) It’s got such a lovely, sweet pickled flavor. I could eat it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
I love this place. It’s a great, healthy option for pescatarians, and there are even some vegan options. (Think marinated tofu and shiitake mushrooms.) There are four sizes to choose from:
Freshman: $7.95
Junior: $9.95
Big: $12.50
Kahuna: $15.00
If you love poke, or if you’ve never tried poke and want to give it a shot, this is the place for you!

 

 

Luc Lac @ Happy Hour

Absolutely awesome space!
Absolutely awesome space!

835 SW 2nd Ave.
Portland, OR 97204
503-222-0047
Website

When I first learned about Luc Lac’s happy hour, I thought it was way too good to be true. 20 different small-ish plates at only $2-3 a pop? And it’s also one of the most talked about Vietnamese spots in the city? And they have some pretty inventive and delicious cocktails? How? How could this be real?
But it is real, and we feasted and drank while enjoying the first rain Portland’s seen in a long time!

Sassy Sour
Sassy Sour

We waited in a short line until 4:00, when Luc Lac opens its doors. It’s an order at the counter, get your own water and utensils kind of place, which I like. I’m also glad we got here early, because it filled up fast! I ordered the Sassy Sour, made with four roses bourbon, a house-made Thai tea-kaffir lime leaf syrup, fresh mango, and lime. If you’re a fan of Thai tea, you will love this. It was creamy and tangy and had a subtle spice. I like that all the cocktails Luc Lac offers are made with fresh Thai and Vietnamese ingredients. Definitely not your typical happy hour experience!

Cream cheese won-tons
Cream cheese won-tons

We basically ordered everything on the happy hour menu since it’s really hard for me to make decisions. The basic cream cheese won-tons were a step above your typical Chinese restaurant fare. They were hot and melty and even a little bit earthy. The pork and shrimp spring rolls (below) were some of the best I’ve ever had, and the bite of fresh mint surprised me. The peanut sauce was perfection.

Pork and shrimp spring rolls.
Pork and shrimp spring rolls.
“La Lot”

The La Lot was a spiced grilled ground beef mixture wrapped in betel leaves, which are known for their healing properties. It was pleasantly hearty, and the beef had a lot of great flavor and was very tender. The mussels, steamed in a luscious garlicy tamarind-lemongrass broth, (below) were out of this world. This dish was both of our favorites. Luc Lac is known for its pho, so it’s no mystery that they know how to make a great broth. This dish proves it at a fraction of the price! $2? Are you kidding me?

Mussels from Luc Lac's happy hour menu
Mussels from Luc Lac’s happy hour menu
Coconut Shrimp
Coconut Shrimp

My least favorite dish was the coconut shrimp. It was still really good, but it didn’t have the same kick as the other dishes. The steak rolls (below) on the other hand, were tender and flavorful and stuffed with sweet red peppers and other sautéed vegetables. The broth was swimming with green onions and tangy fish sauce. Superb!

$2 steak roll.
$2 steak roll.

I can say without a doubt that we’ve found a gem here, and we are certainly not the first to find it! Happy hour is 4-7 daily, with $4 beers, $6 special cocktails, $2 small plates, and $3 salads. Even without the generous happy hour, the pho is reasonably priced and the menu looks delicious. Service was quick and friendly and I cannot wait to go back. If you’re in Portland even for one day, you should not miss this place. And, call me so I can come too!

VERSUS- Maylin Chavez & Melissa Mayer VS Andrew Gregory

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Peach soda, carrot soup, and a bunch of other yummies

So today I’m writing something a little different than my usual reviews! I had the amazing opportunity to go to the third installment of VERSUS last night- a competitive dinner series held at Plaza del Toro that pits local chefs against each other, with the guests voting and the winner’s proceeds going to a charity of their choice. Tonight we would be trying six courses by Maylin Chavez and Melissa Mayer from Olympia Oyster Bar and Andrew Gregory from Woodsman Tavern. All of the dishes would include seasonal ingredients; the first with green beans, the second with peaches, and the third with tomatoes. I’d never been to anything like this before, and I was so excited to see and taste some amazing, creative dishes! I’m not going to reveal who I voted for, because all three chefs did some pretty incredible things!

Round 1: Green Beans

Chavez and Mayer:

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“Beans in the Garden”- cured kampachi, two minute quail egg, wild flowers

The presentation of this dish was amazing. I’ve always wanted to try food this beautiful! The cured kampachi, which is a type of fish, was excellent, and it paired well with the sour cream, which cut the saltiness of the fish. There was a little salad of a couple things I wasn’t sure I knew what they were, and it was tasty and acidic. The quail egg was perfectly cooked. The green beans were on top of a puree that I believe included green beans, mint, and lemon. It was really refreshing and paired well with the fish. My problem with this dish is I didn’t know how to eat it. I wasn’t sure where to begin, and which items should be eaten together. It was so whimsical and elevated that I don’t really care!

Gregory:

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Fermented and raw green beans, blue potato, romanesco, parsley, picante provolone, “wishbone” dressing, grated meat stick

I was immediately more comfortable with this dish because I understood what it was, which was a salad. It was delightfully acidic, and the raw green beans were a nice counterpoint. Everything was so crisp! The blue potatoes were beautiful, and imparted so much earthy, meaty flavor. So delicious.

Round 2: Peaches

Chavez and Mayer:

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“Peaches in the Sea”- baird peaches, summerstone oysters

Chavez and Mayer really upped the bar in the next round, when they presented us with three trays of their famous oysters, all dressed and presented in different ways, and all incorporating peach in some way. The picture above is the “naked-katafi” oyster. The oyster was cooked through and wrapped in thin pieces of pastry, and had a sort of spicy peach jam on top. This bite was incredible! It was probably my favorite thing I tried tonight.
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I don’t know which picture is of which oyster, but there was one that was grilled with mole blanco, and one that was dressed with ceviche. They were all beautiful, as you can see from the pictures, and it’s obvious why these two ladies are known for their oysters!

Gregory:

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chicken liver & foie gras, peach butter, cashew, everything rye, jalapeno

I’ve never tried foie gras before, so I was excited when I saw it was on the menu! I tried all the components separately before combining them all on the little pieces of toast. The foie gras and chicken liver mousse was decadent. I’ve never eaten anything so creamy and light, and the flavor was rich and smoky. Now I know what all the fuss is about! The peach butter was savory and spicy, and paired well with the rich mousse. With the crunchy rye, everything felt right together, with the sliced peaches and jalapeno brightening up the heavy flavors of this dish.

Round 3: Tomatoes

Chavez and Mayer:

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“Tomatoes in Wonderland”- confit, compressed, chapulines, sorbet, water, flower

I’ve never seen a dish quite like this one! It was like a little pond filled with tomatoes prepared all different ways! Roasted, grilled, marinated, raw, everything you could possibly think to do with a tomato was in this dish, including turned into tiny balls of savory sorbet. The chapulín was a nice crunchy counterpoint that perfectly brought together the Alice in Wonderland theme. (Just so you know, chapulines are grasshoppers).

Gregory:

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“chipped beef” smoked beef & clams, tomato & uni gravy, green tomato, sourdough, aged sherry

What this dish lacked in presentation, it made up for in amazing flavor. First off, I don’t like uni. I think the texture is just weird. Gregory made it into a tomato gravy. The smoky, rich flavor of the uni made me really appreciate such a weird ingredient, and I applaud him for his creativity! The beef was tender and well cooked, and the clams were buttery and delicious. The green tomato was really needed to cut the rich sauce! I believe everyone licked their plates.

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Peach Baked Alaska, raspberry

Dessert was served by Plaza del Toro’s pastry chef, Carrie Merrill. Oh my god. This was incredible! I don’t even have words at this moment to describe how amazing this dessert was. The portion size was huge but I don’t think anyone left a crumb on their plates! The peach ice cream was the star.

Congratulations to everyone involved in Versus, especially Andrew Gregory, the winner of the competition! It was such an honor to try every dish!
I had such an amazing time, and the cherry on top was that both of our $50 dinners were comp’d! Thank you, stranger!

Altabira

Drinks with a kick-ass city view!
Drinks with a kick-ass city view!

1021 NE Grand Ave.
Portland, OR 97232
503-963-3600
Website

Last night I had the chance to try Chef David Machado’s new restaurant, Altabira! This was fun for me as a budding food journalist! It was a one-of-a-kind experience dining at a one day-old restaurant. I had no yelp rating, no reviews, and no idea what to expect. Time to form some opinions for myself!
Before we get to the food, let me just say how breathtaking the dining room is! With huge floor-to-ceiling windows, precise edges, and minimalistic modern décor, Altabira makes you feel like you’re stepping into a James Bond movie, or an ultra-sleek rich-people club that you definitely can’t afford to step into! Located on the top floor of the new Hotel Eastlund in the Lloyd District, the restaurant offers some amazing city views. There’s also a patio equipped with fire-pits, windbreakers, and heaters, although we didn’t need them because it was such a gorgeous day!

Braised Rabbit and Vegetable Pot Pie
Braised Rabbit and Vegetable Pot Pie

Whenever I see rabbit on a menu I have to grab it, because it’s so rare for some reason! This dish was amazing. Rabbit is very similar to chicken in texture, so it worked well in a pot-pie. The extra little bit of gamey flavor made this pot-pie spectacular. I liked that there was only a topping of flaky pastry, so that the filling was really the star. The pastry was lovely, and just a wee bit doughy in the middle, just the way I like it.
We also ordered a cocktail called the “Ginger Island”, which was made with Rum, lime, vanilla, and Ginger Beer. It was also awesome! Well-balanced and not overly sweet.

Roasted Chicken from Altabira
Roasted Chicken from Altabira

Nik ordered the Roasted Chicken with Ricotta Spaetzle, Sweet Corn and Oyster Mushrooms, and it ended up being my favorite of the two dishes! The corn and mushrooms worked surprisingly well together to create a meaty, smoky hash that offered some crunch to the soft, pillowy spaetzle. The chicken was perfectly cooked, juicy and bursting with flavor. I don’t usually go for chicken because I prefer red meat, but this dish was spot on.

Dessert by Pastry Chef Natalie Harkness
Dessert by Pastry Chef Natalie Harkness

I make myself choose between an appetizer and a dessert because money. I’m so glad I chose dessert! We ordered the Strawberry Rhubarb Crostata with Brown Butter Ice Cream. Oh my god. There’s no other way to describe it other than that all the individual components sing together. The flaky pastry, the tart rhubarb, the luscious strawberries, salty caramel, and the nutty brown butter ice cream- I’m now in paradise. Natalie Harkness, you are an angel. (I like dessert, can you tell?)
Check this restaurant out now before it starts getting hard to get a reservation! I can tell this is going to become a happening place! Prices were great too, nothing on the dinner menu was over $24. I will definitely be back and can’t wait to see how this restaurant evolves and finds its own!