Thursday, June 30, 2011

Over the Top

Over the Top, located at the A la Carts Food Pavilion in SE Portland, sells various wild game burgers. No generic beef burgers here, folks!

They have regular menu items such as buffalo, boar, and elk, but their special on June 24...rabbit!

Rabbit  burger special
Being the curious foodie that I am, I went for the rabbit special with slaw ($9).

Apples, crumbly blue cheese, onions, cabbage, tomato,  and perhaps a bit of lime

Rabbit burger
The lovely cross-section
The slaw was OK, not great. Sorry, just my personal preference on my dislike of blue cheese. I appreciate the combination of flavors the slaw had, from the sweet apple, to the zing of the blue cheese, to the crunchy cabbage. I believe I detected a bit of citrus in there, possibly lime juice, to bring all the flavors together. As a note, I probably would have downed the entire slaw in a minute without the blue cheese.

The rabbit burger (cooked to order) was an interesting experience. The cooks did an excellent job of cooking the ground rabbit, just extremely juicy. The best way I can describe the taste of rabbit: think of ground chicken, but with that gamy taste that could be off-putting to people. Personally, I don't mind the gaminess -- and I even think it is an interesting tangy taste. The burger could have been seasoned a little more to mask that gaminess.

I liked the freshness of the lettuce and tomato, and the caramelized onions provided a silky pleasurable feeling in my mouth. I also thought the sweet chili sauce enhanced the burger by giving it a sweet dimension.

But I had concerns with the burger. First, while the bottom bun was soft and wonderful, the top half of the bun got a bit too firm, to the point where I feared it was going stale. Buns should be soft, yet firm to hold the burger and other stuff inside. The combination of a soft bottom bun and a hard top bun made things messier than it should have been. The rabbit, the cheese, and the vegetables all wanted to escape that starchy capsule.

Second, the menu stated the rabbit special comes with fried jalapenos, sweet chili, sauteed kale and onions, lettuce, and tomato. I saw no fried jalapenos and no sauteed kale in my burger. Cheese was not advertised, but I got some in there (could have been provolone but I'm not sure).

Third, the service was generally good, but the last part of my ordering experience raised a slight red flag. I asked for a plastic knife to cut the burger in half (so I could take that great cross-section burger picture you see above). The guy in the food truck reached for a plastic knife and just tossed it on the counter for me to pick up. What if the counter was dirty? Utensils should always be kept as clean as possible. Handing me the plastic knife would have been a better option.

Over the Top did not impress me very much with their rabbit special, but it still deserves kudos for giving its customers a unique burger experience. There are still other items on the menu that I am willing to try. It's an average place for now, but I do plan to go back. That rating could change for the better if I get a kickass burger on my next visit. 5/10

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Easier Food Review Access

After getting some feedback from an awesome friend, my "Full List of Ratings" (on the right-hand column) now has a link to each individual review for faster, easier access, just in case any of you wanted to quickly know why I gave a place a certain score. I understand, as the number of reviews on his blog multiply over time, reviews can get lost in the shuffle.

It's safe to say Aaron's Food Adventures is more reader-friendly now! :-)

Salt & Straw Ice Cream


(Also read Part 2 from August 2011. I've been back many times since. One of my highest recommendations ever!)

Salt & Straw Ice Cream is an ice cream food cart on NE Alberta St. in Portland, Oregon. While they have only been open for about four weeks (as of the time of this writing), their unique (yet limited) selection of ice creams and sorbets have gotten rave reviews from customers.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Fifty Licks

Fifty Licks, located in SE Portland, sells ice cream and sorbet -- but it's not just the typical flavors. They take it to the next level, with at least six flavors ranging from the tropical (passion fruit sorbet) to their famous Stumptown Coffee ice cream -- and then into the more extreme with maple bacon ice cream.

Normally, one-scoop sugar cones go for $4 and two-scoop waffle cones go for $6! But on June 24, 2011, near the Umpqua bank on SE Hawthorne, Fifty Licks scooped out some FREE ice cream (just one-scoop sugar cones) from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.

Menu for 6/24/11 free ice cream!
Sugar cones!
Getting ready for the Fourth of July! How patriotic...
Like at other ice cream food trucks, I sampled all their flavors offered that day:

Tahitian Vanilla: This vanilla ice cream was not as "vanilla-y" as other vanilla ice creams I've had in the past. While Fifty Licks mentions combining a more tropical Tahitian vanilla with a smoky Mexican vanilla, I didn't really get too much of either in the sample. The ice cream was also a bit too much on the firm side.

Stumptown Coffee: Again, like at places such as Salt & Straw Ice Cream, this really reminded me of Kona Coffee ice cream I ate back in Hawaii. A must-try for the coffee lovers!

Maple with Bacon: The salty-sweet combination strikes again! Sweet maple combines with the salty bacon for a delectable treat! The bacon in the ice cream is prepared better here than at Salt & Straw -- and also has more of a presence here. It is best described as bacon with pancakes and maple syrup, but in ice cream form.

Caramelized Apple: Perhaps my personal favorite. I immediately got both the apple and the caramel. The apple had a bit of a sour apple taste -- likely done on purpose so the sweet caramel would not cause sweetness overkill.

Coconut Lemon Saffron Sorbet: Another personal favorite. The tropical coconut combines well with the lemon. I did get a subtle flowery hint from the saffron. Refreshing and very multi-dimensional on the flavors.

Passion Fruit Sorbet: Another tropical flavor here. Very simple sorbet, really. Passion fruit is front and center, nothing else detected. Should be popular with both mainlanders and Hawaii residents.

Fifty Licks even advertises a "Slabtown Whiskey" flavor on their Facebook page. If I ever go back and try that (or any other flavor), I'll let you guys know my thoughts on that as well.

Looking for a light, yet unique choice, I went with the coconut lemon saffron sorbet.

The sorbet was just so refreshing on a warm summer afternoon. The sugar cone was crunchy, and the patriotic cone holder will remind people of the upcoming Fourth of July holiday (and for me, it will also remind me to watch the Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest).

Fifty Licks has very good ice cream and sorbet, along with a few interesting (delicious) flavors, but I think other ice cream places are better. Other places have softer, creamier ice cream, along with more unique flavor choices. But don't let this stop you from checking Fifty Licks out for yourself! And perhaps one day, I will try that Slabtown Whiskey ice cream! 6.5/10

Monday, June 27, 2011


(Second Review -- February 2012)
(Third Review -- April 2012)

PBJ's, located on NW 23rd Ave. in Portland, Oregon, puts a unique take on the classic peanut butter and jelly sandwich. They serve various savory and sweet sandwiches, using their homemade peanut butter or almond butter (both are secret recipes).

I love it when families bring their children to such a place!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Sizzle Pie

Sizzle Pie, located on E Burnside St. in Portland, Oregon, serves up many versions of their thin-crust pizza.

Whether you are a vegetarian, omnivore, or even a vegan, Sizzle Pie has you covered. They have about 40 pizzas to choose from, including two different sizes for each one. You can also make your own pie, allowing for over a million combinations.

Sizzle Pie also offers a limited selection of beer, cider, champagne, and wine
After much deliberation, a friend and I split a regular-sized Slaughter of the Soil ($16). This pie has fresh spinach, fresh tomato, and artichoke hearts. While whole-wheat crust was advertised, the pizza maker informed us that they had just stopped selling their whole wheat dough. What a shame...I would have loved to try it.

Anyway, our pizza was baked to order, and about 15-20 minutes later, our pie arrived.

Regular-sized "Slaughter of the Soil"
The pizza was delicious. My friend and I each had our death struggles with the melted cheese (a special house blend) -- in a good way. The cooked spinach and tomato did not lose its flavor and actually enhanced our pizza experience.

I'm not sure if Sizzle Pie puts the cheese on before the sauce, but the way the tomato sauce is visible on the pizza's surface, I wouldn't be surprised if that were the case. I love it like that because the crust is not as likely to get soggy. And here, the crust was nice and crispy.

The pizza crust ends were still a little big for me; I prefer as thin a pizza as possible to get that cracker-like crunch. So far, JJ Dolan's still has the better pie in that regard.

Sizzle Pie also scores points for having chili pepper flakes, sriracha, Aardvark habanero sauce, and this lovely hot sauce:

Thai and True hot sauce is just plain awesome. After putting a bunch of it on our pizza, we were breaking a noticeable sweat. I love when that happens!

In a similar critique of JJ Dolan's, I also did not care for the loud music played at Sizzle Pie. If I wanted to loud music to play, I'll go to a club instead. When I am eating a meal with friends, I want to be able to carry on a nice conversation instead of being required to raise my voice over the blaring rock music.

We liked the waferboard and plywood decor, and the chairs, as simple as they look, were quite comfortable.

I would definitely get another pizza from Sizzle Pie. They do a great job with their product and they have a lot of options to choose from. 7.75/10

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Off the Griddle

(UPDATE 10/3/12: Off the Griddle has closed their food cart to focus on their brick-and-mortar restaurant. Check them out at AND Cafe!)

Off the Griddle, located in SE Portland at the A la Carts Food Pavilion (SE 50th and Ivon), sells vegetarian and vegan burgers.

One of my good friends from law school -- who also loves to seek out good food -- accompanied me on this food adventure. We split a Hot O.T.G. vegan burger ($6.50). The burger consists of a vegan patty (made from leeks, mushrooms, wild rice, and brown rice), Daiya vegan cheese, jalapenos, grilled onions, and a spicy tofu-avocado sauce.

Close-up of the cross-section
My friend and I really enjoyed this burger. The Dave's Killer Bread bun was one of the high points, in my opinion. The bun was soft, yet easily contained the patty, cheese, jalapenos, and sauce.

The Daiya vegan cheese is touted as one of the best vegan cheeses on the market (taking cheese taste and melting ability into account), and I can see why. It tastes pretty darn close to cheese and worked very well with the rest of the burger.

The jalapenos and the spicy tofu-avocado sauce brought a bit of healthy fat and mild heat to the party. It was the slightest nudge of heat for me, but it can be a good thing because too much spice will not allow me to enjoy the other flavors of the burger.

My friend and I gave the patty mostly positive reviews. The flavors were very good, and the rice gave the burger a bit of welcoming texture. However, we wanted the patty to be a bit firmer. I felt like we were eating a vegan cheesy Sloppy Joe instead of a burger.

$6.50 sounds about standard price for a non-fast food burger nowadays. The service was very good.

Overall, I really enjoyed Off the Griddle's burger and I recommend this place to anyone -- even if you aren't vegan. I will be back one day to try something else! 8/10

Coffee Can Cafe

Coffee Can Cafe, located in SE Portland at the A la Carts Food Pavilion, sells various coffee drinks and fruit smoothies. Coffee Can Cafe also has an expresso bar.

My friend got a small fresh brewed coffee with cream ($1.50). I took a sip of his coffee in the interest of science. Too watery, in my opinion, but I guess that's what happens when you get a brewed cup o' joe.

I don't see anything on the menu that really will make them stand out very much to make me return. Also, paying $3.50 for a 16 oz. smoothie doesn't appeal to me. I could get something similar at Jamba Juice -- and I could also get some type of free smoothie "boost" at Jamba as well. 3/10

Friday, June 24, 2011

Downtown Waffles

Downtown Waffles is a food cart located near the corner of Liberty St. and Chemeketa St. NE in downtown Salem, Oregon.

Menu (but you can also create your own for $4 as well!)
James Cloyd and his Downtown Waffles food cart
James Cloyd runs this food cart. I found him to be very friendly and personable. I have followed his Downtown Waffles Facebook page for some time now, and I've been wanting to try his waffles ever since. He appears to do just Brussels-style waffles, as opposed to the much sweeter Liege waffles. I prefer the Brussels can add sweetened toppings to the waffle if you want it that way.

While there are only four featured menu items -- each are $4 -- James allows you to create your own waffle for the same price. I chose peanut butter and Marionberry syrup for my waffle, and then when I noticed James had some fresh strawberries on his cart, I hulled the strawberries by hand and tossed a few in the waffle as well.

Belgian waffle w/peanut butter, Marionberry syrup, and fresh strawberries -- for $4
This waffle was damn good. Of course, the waffle was made to order. Despite the peanut butter and syrup's attempts to make the waffle soggier, the waffle did a pretty good job in holding up. The waffle itself was pliable, yet firm enough on the outside to keep all the contents contained. A good waffle sandwich, if there ever was one.

I liked the peanut butter and Marionberry syrup combination. The peanut butter gave some savoriness to the waffle, while the sweet syrup balanced the flavors. After all, it's similar to a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

I figured adding the strawberries would complement everything and add a further dimension to the waffle because it would bring something fresh to the dance. James had already mentioned to me that he was thinking of doing a waffle with Nutella and strawberries, which also sounds amazing.

$4 is a very reasonable price for a good-sized Belgian waffle (Brussels style), especially when you can make your own. I also like that the waffle is folded in half, with "toppings" like peanut butter, syrup, and fruit stuffed inside the waffle to make a sandwich. It's perfect for people on the go, such as state workers.

A few suggestions for James, if he happens to read this (or anyone following his Facebook page, for that matter).

(1) I did not see crunchy peanut butter on the food cart, and I think that could be a nice option for people (like myself) who prefer the crunchy peanut butter over the creamy stuff. Also, I think the peanuts in the crunchy peanut butter would add that extra textural dimension when put on the waffle.

(2) Perhaps a few more ingredients could be added to the cart. I am aware it's a food cart and not a full-blown kitchen, but maybe some whip cream (place it in a small cooler if you need to), cinnamon, and/or nuts could become regular topping items as well. Four to five choices is a good start, though.

(3) Not sure if it's crossed James' mind, but I'm wondering if he's thought of savory waffle options. Again, choices are limited because it's a food cart, but I'm thinking shredded chicken, basil, tomatoes, cheese, etc. A small cooler can be used to keep the items safe from spoilage.

(Disclaimer: My suggestions for James should be taken as just that -- suggestions -- and not as negatives. I think food reviewers like myself are put on this planet to push the boundaries of food establishments everywhere, not punish them. I also figure if James spends time getting suggestions from his Facebook fans, I'll add my two or three cents to the mix.)

Let's not lose sight of the big picture: I am a huge fan of Downtown Waffles, and this is definitely a place to go for a good waffle. 7/10

Asahi Grill

Asahi Grill, on Ward Avenue in Honolulu, Hawaii, mainly serves Japanese food, along with other various menu items. You won't see sushi at this place, though.

My parents and grandmother wanted to take me out to dinner one more time before I returned to Oregon. While Asahi Grill's signature item may be their Oxtail Soup or their Fried Rice (both from Kapiolani Coffee Shop), we all passed on that to try some other dishes. We split three dishes: the spicy ahi don, the char siu ramen, and the miso ramen.

Complementary miso soup
Spicy ahi don
Char siu ramen (shoyu broth)
Miso ramen
I thought the miso soup was pretty tasty, but nothing special. I liked the noodles in the miso soup...that set it apart from other miso soups I've had elsewhere. Other places only have tofu and seaweed in the soup.

I loved the presentation of the spicy ahi don. It reminded me of a deconstructed spicy tuna roll -- with avocado added to the mix. The spicy sauce was not spicy to me, but then again, it does take a bit of effort to make me taste the heat. A bit too much rice for my liking here. I would have preferred more fish and less rice in the meal. I would have also taken brown rice, but my mother and grandmother are not big fans of that stuff. The spicy ahi don cost over $11, which isn't too bad as a dinner menu item. A very nice house specialty here.

Both ramens were flavorful, and the noodles were cooked just right. I did not like the char siu pork only because all the pieces had a bunch of fat on them. Whatever happened to using lean cuts of pork? I really don't prefer one broth over the other here. I saw that they have tan tan mein (a spicier ramen), so maybe I should go with that if I ever went back. Or perhaps give their oxtail soup a whirl.

The service was very good. I also liked the bright lighting and decor wasn't formal stuff, but it at least had that contemporary feel to it. In the end, my family and I had an above-average experience. Four people went out to eat, spent a combined $26, and got stuffed. Not too shabby. 7/10

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Da Kitchen

Da Kitchen is located on Isenberg Street in Honolulu, Hawaii (near Puck's Alley and the University of Hawaii at Manoa).

Just thought this was cool to take a picture of
My father and I arrived five minutes before 11 a.m. for lunch. While waiting for the place to open, a few more people showed up.

Specials for June 20, 2011
We came for one thing: the signature Fried Spam Musubi ($4.95). Not knowing what we were getting ourselves into, my father got a garden burger ($7.50) and I got a Maui garden salad with their papaya seed dressing ($8.25).

Fried spam musubi (signature menu item)
Maui Garden Salad w/Papaya Seed Dressing
Garden Burger
A ton of food here folks. I guess my eyes were way too big for my stomach.

Personally, the fried spam musubi was not that great. It was just too big and too oily for me. I do appreciate the crunchy exterior (this is how fried items should be) and the properly cooked rice, but I probably won't order this again.

The salad was nice and refreshing. Fresh veggies here. I liked the papaya seed dressing; good sweetness and a little tang here. But again, not too much to write home about.

I liked the flavors of the actual garden burger, along with the texture of the brown rice in the patty. But for $7.50, the garden burger was quite pedestrian-looking. The macaroni salad lacked the peppery bite I wanted, and overloaded on the hard-boiled eggs.

Da Kitchen has a pretty good reputation; the people really started piling in while we were there. But both my father and I did not care much for this place. Perhaps we should have ordered different menu items, but we were not impressed with the food. The decor could have been a little better overall as well, and a bit more lighting would have been nice. 3/10