Friday, September 30, 2011

The Grilled Cheese Grill

The Grilled Cheese Grill has two locations in Portland: one on NE Alberta St. and one on SE Ankeny. The latter location is known for their "double-decker bus setup." I ventured to NE Alberta and their original school bus for this trip. GCG is more than just straight-up grilled cheese sandwiches. They offer over 20 different sandwiches on their menu, ranging from the traditional grilled cheese to the "Cheesus," basically two grilled cheese sandwiches encasing a 1/3 lb. burger (with the usual burger toppings). GCG also offers sweet options as well, such as the "Jaime" (mascarpone, nutella, and grilled banana) and the "Elvis" (peanut butter and banana on white bread...add bacon to this for the Fat Elvis!).

How sweet is this bus?
The first thing that caught my eye was their school bus setup. A perfect way to trigger those days of getting on that school bus, a sack lunch in tow. Grilled cheese is one of the ultimate American comfort foods, and I always remember my grandma making me grilled cheese on sourdough bread in the morning before I headed to school.

I ordered their "Thriller" ($6.25): "Secret Aardvark Jerk Sauce Marinated Turkey, Colby Jack, Fresh Red Onion and Tomato on Sourdough." Colby cheese is a hybrid of Colby and Monterrey Jack cheeses, combining for a yellow-white look.

Menu, side 1 (as of September 2011)
Menu, side 2 (as of September 2011)
"Thriller" (Grilled Cheese Grill)
It was one of those (happy) life-or-death struggles with the cheese for about five minutes. Oozy, gooey cheese everywhere I took a bite. I still got the great turkey flavors and textures, despite the meat being infused with the pleasant, tangy aardvark sauce. It could be deemed spicy to a few people, but for me, it was very mild. The bite of the red onion also added a lovely crunch. Tomato in grilled cheese...can it get any more classic than that? The sourdough bread was grilled on the flattop to absolute crunchy perfection, Every bite I took could have created the ideal symphony of grilled cheese noshing.

The grilled cheese itself was obviously a bit greasy, and I probably would add on some roasted jalapenos next time (25 cents extra), but those are nitpicking concerns here.

The Thriller is a great, more adult take on grilled cheese. I must be getting pretty good at researching places to eat, because this was another home run. 8.5/10

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Grillery

(UPDATE #2: As of October 2012, I haven't seen any updates on The Grillery's blog or Facebook page in months. They had mentioned opening up again in June, but am not sure if they did open or are still in business. I have them marked as "closed," but hopefully it isn't for good. Heather and Travis have a great product, but competition is extremely tough with Portland having so many options.)

(UPDATE: I had passed by The Grillery a couple of times in December 2011, only to see the cart closed during normal lunch hours. Along with one of Heather's posts saying she would be leaving the cart, this led me to believe the cart had -- or would be -- closed for good. However, on 1/9/12, a Facebook post on The Grillery confirmed they were open again. I assume they took a winter vacation of sorts.)

The Grillery, led by Travis Tsosie and Heather Reeder, is a sliders-and-fries food cart on N Vancouver Ave. in Portland, Oregon. They are the new kids on the block, opening in early September 2011.

Che Cafe

(UPDATE 6/14/12: According to Food Carts Portland, Che Cafe is now at 7316 N Lombard, at the Kruger Farm Stand. They are now open Tue-Sun from 9 a.m. until late evening.)

Che Cafe is a food cart located on N Williams Ave. in Portland, Oregon. While their main menu focuses on lunch and dinner (usually burgers, sandwiches, and fries), they also have expanded hours on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays for breakfast (8 a.m. to 7 p.m.). Otherwise, they are open Monday through Wednesday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.

The first thing that caught my eye was their lovely mural. Although the cart is literally parked in a small alleyway near a coffee place, it helps them stand out just a bit more to get those customers rolling in.

Ryan and Terri run this food cart. According to their website, Ryan is a professional chef with a degree from the Scottsdale Culinary Institute. They named the cart after one of their beloved dogs, Che, which I thought was awesome.

I arrived a bit after 10 a.m. on a Friday. Che Cafe was doing breakfast that day, so they were open. Still, I inquired on whether the chef could prepare something off the lunch menu, and he had no problem doing so. Earned some brownie points right there, in my opinion. I went straight to the lunch menu and ordered their Sadie Black Bean Burger ($8): a homemade black bean burger topped with aioli served on a grilled onion bun. You get a choice of any or all toppings, including lettuce, tomato, sauteed mushrooms, caramelized onions (or fried onion strips), and choice of cheese. Of course, I asked for all those toppings, going with pepperjack cheese.

The burger came with a generous portion of fries (regular or cajun) and choice of sauce. I chose their cajun fries and went with their regular Mohawk sauce, an aioli of sriracha, ketchup, and mayonnaise.

Lunch/dinner menu (as of September 2011)
Several fry sauces to choose from
Sadie Black Bean Burger w/cajun fries and Mohawk sauce
The burger was delicious. The delicate black bean patty held its own among the sea of flavors here. Ryan knows how to cook, that's for sure. The onions were perfectly caramelized, the mushrooms wonderfully sauteed. Both beautifully coated the inside of the grilled onion bun. Many places opt for a sesame seed bun or a regular run of some sort. Not here. The onion bun assured each bite had awesome flavor, further pleasing the palate.

The fries were also very good, and the sweet/garlicky/spicy nature of the Mohawk fry sauce is a hit with me. The sauce is extremely mild for me, as a note, but maybe others will feel it more. I would have liked the fries in the fryer maybe a minute longer to crisp up more and get more golden brown. Just my personal preference, anyway. A great meal here in North Portland. Che Cafe is another place I definitely recommend! 8.25/10

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Rainbow Chinese Restaurant

Rainbow Chinese Restaurant is a Chinese restaurant that just opened in mid-September 2011. It is located where the old Full House restaurant was: on State Street in downtown Salem, Oregon.

Part of the lunch menu (as of September 2011)
I was looking at their menu outside when one of the employees greeted me, handing me a take-out menu. I figured, why not, let's try this place. Upon entering the establishment, I saw several 4-top tables and a few booths. The interior was bright and felt very spacious.

I had a craving for something spicy, so I ordered their chicken curry lunch ($4.95): a generous portion of chicken curry with fried rice, two crab puffs, and choice of soup. I asked for their Hot and Sour soup, and also requested the curry extra spicy.

Hot and sour soup
Chicken curry with fried rice and crab puffs
The soup was good, a slight tang that delivered for me. I would have liked just a bit more spice in there. The presentation was sloppy, more noticeable on the non-photographed side of the plate (I turned the dish around to take the photo).

Then it was on to the curry. I savored every bite of the juicy chicken. The vegetables were cooked to my liking: still a bit of crunch in them, similar to a stir fry. The curry flavor made its presence felt, although I was disappointed in the spice. I wanted more heat here, because that was by no means extra spicy food. On the menu, the curry had one of those chili pepper icons next to it. That means it should be spicy, right? Perhaps they didn't want a lawsuit on their hands or something? Bring the heat.

The fried rice was pretty good, to me, the run-of-the-mill, dry-grained (not sticky) rice with the carrots and peas and a little flavor.

The crab puffs were fried very nicely, a beautiful golden brown. However, I felt the filling had too much cream cheese, the texture of the crab getting lost in the shuffle. I couldn't tell if it was imitation or real, but I'd bet money that it was the former to save on costs.

The meal came with a side of red sauce, probably a sweet-sour variety. There was a dollop of Chinese mustard on one half of the red sauce for a bit of wasabi-like heat if I so chose.

I had some difficulty communicating with the staff. It's clear English is not their first language, but that can be a good thing because then the customer knows they are getting something authentic. While I had my concerns, it was still a nice first experience. A great portion for less than $5. 7.5/10

Cat Cavern

Cat Cavern is located in Salem, Oregon, on the Willamette University campus, second floor of the Putnam University Center.

Cat Cavern basically has a large communal dining area with the food in the back of the...cavernous room (pun intended). One has a choice of any (or all) of the following: burgers, quesadillas, sandwiches, wraps, and a salad bar with fresh fruits and vegetables.

I arrived around 11 a.m., right when the place was set to open for lunch. I opted for Bearcat Grill today, which serves scrumptious burgers and quesadillas.

I ordered the "Build-Your-Own Buffalo Burger" with all the toppings ($6.25): a buffalo patty (local Oregon buffalo), with grilled onions, sauteed mushrooms, crispy bacon, BBQ sauce, lettuce, tomato, raw red onion, and my choice of cheese (I went with pepperjack cheese today). All the delectable ingredients are encased between a toasted Cascade Baking Company white or wheat bun...I chose wheat.

Buffalo burger from Bearcat Grill inside Cat Cavern (Willamette University)
A decent-sized quality buffalo burger!
The awesome cross-section
Oh, how things would have been different had I gotten gourmet burgers like this when I was in undergrad...probably woulda gained a good 30 pounds over the semester. Just a delicious burger here. The buffalo patty -- which is much leaner than a beef patty -- still had some juiciness to it. The crispy bacon and the zip of the pepperjack alone would have been great with this burger. But then the perfectly sauteed mushrooms, the sweet-and-tangy BBQ sauce, and the refreshing raw vegetables made this a blissful experience. And a properly toasted bun to top it all off. One of those times where I wanted more than one stomach to keep eating. Probably the only thing I didn't care for on the plate was the dinky orange wedge I got.

Bearcat Grill has several burger choices, which actually surprised me. Perhaps it's partly because I stayed away from the cafeterias in undergrad, opting for (Americanized) Chinese food, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, Subway, or Jamba Juice.

Cat Cavern may not have the ambiance of a fine-dining restaurant, but it's still more than acceptable for a communal on-campus cafeteria. Worth the $6.25 and then some. I'll definitely be back for more of what Cat Cavern has to offer! 8.25/10

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Hot Pink Taco

Hot Pink Taco is a roving food truck in Portland, Oregon, that operates at nighttime. Hot Pink Taco is also under new management, according to the cart operators (the change was likely very recent).

Gotta love those pink chairs!

Menu (as of September 2011)
The prices on their truck are a bit higher than what was posted on their website, so expect to pay a bit more if you based your decision off their online menu.

I wanted to take one of my friends to this taco truck for three reasons: (1) their unique pink tortilla (made pink using a cherry extract); (2) they are a roving cart, so who knows where they will be next; and (3) I like tacos.

We each got an ancho chili chicken taco ($3 per taco): ancho chili chicken topped with jack cheese, pineapple mango salsa, lettuce, chipotle lime sauce, and cilantro inside their signature pink soft taco shell. My friend also ordered their pink lemonade.

Ancho Chili Chicken taco
Pink lemonade
I liked the taco. The chicken shredded apart very easily and packed great citrusy flavor from the salsa and the chipotle lime sauce.The refreshing salsa and cilantro really produced killer flavors to elevate the taco experience. I found out that HPT gets their pink tacos from a family in Eugene, pretty cool stuff there.

My friend said the pink lemonade was not that great. She expected fresh-squeezed lemonade, but it wasn't the case here.

HPT is looking to eventually find a good permanent food pod to park at and serve during lunch hours. One of their more recent lunch attempts (a few days prior to our visit) was a complete bomb, but I hope that they will try again. They should think about parking close to an established food pod, probably around SE or NE Portland (let's face it, there's really no place for a food cart to park on the street in downtown Portland). They aren't always out selling tacos, and if they do, it'll probably be nighttime, at least for now.

My first pink taco was a darn good one, but I also can't ignore the disappointment my friend had regarding the lemonade. 6.25/10

Monday, September 26, 2011

Awesome Cone

(UPDATE 5/23/12: Awesome Cone is now closed. Gonzo -- which used to be the One Hundred Miles cart on NE Alberta -- has taken that spot in the D-Street Noshery lot)

Awesome Cone, located at the D-Street Noshery food pod in Portland, Oregon, takes waffle cones to a new level. It's not ice cream or soft serve in those cones, we got real food here!

I had been eyeing this food cart for some time now, all because they have something called the "Pig Cone" ($6). It's a waffle cone stuffed with pulled pork (covered in a sweet, tangy BBQ sauce) and cole slaw.

Pig Cone

Closeup shot...not the best picture of the cole slaw at night, but it'll do
OK, this is the time where we need some gospel music and the right to change the name of the cone from the "Pig Cone" to "The World's Best Waffle Cone Idea." Good grief, how to describe this?

The BBQ sauce here made a huge statement. It had the tones of sweet and tang, but it also brought a nice kick to the party...unexpected, but excellent. The juicy pulled pork and the cole slaw...a harmonious combination.

I love that Awesome Cone runs frequent specials. They even have a waffle cone stuffed with chicken and dumplings. Yes, I'd take one of each, and I wish I could go twice on Sundays. I remember my first waffle cone (filled with ice cream, of course) in San Francisco when I was probably about 7-8 years old. Chalk up another glorious memory involving waffle cones about 20 years later. 9/10

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Herb's Mac & Cheese

(NOTE: Herb's Mac & Cheese is now at the Good Food Here pod near SE 43rd and Belmont)

(Second Review -- June 2012)

Herb's Mac & Cheese may be found at the D-Street Noshery food pod in Portland, Oregon. In a way, to me, it resembles a 1950s form of a diner food cart.

Saturday, September 24, 2011


Gamberetti's is an Italian restaurant located in Salem, Oregon. They moved to the Pringle Plaza downtown on September 7.

I went to get lunch with a friend at Gamberetti's the day after they moved to downtown Salem. Our server brought us some wonderful bread, which we enjoyed with some olive oil. After much deliberation on the lunch specials and the rest of the menu, I went with the grilled chicken sandwich ($7.25): grilled chicken, spinach, tomato, sundried tomato spread, pesto, and melted provolone cheese on a toasted Italian bread. The sandwich came with a choice ofsoup or salad, and I got the Caesar salad, dressing on the side.

My friend got the Pasta Nicola lunch special ($6.95): penne pasta topped with pancetta, tomatoes, and arugula in a spicy vermouth butter.

Lunch special menu
Free breadsticks
Grilled chicken sandwich with Caesar salad (dressing on the side)
The wonderful cross-section
The toasted bread was just perfect: crunchy on the outside (but not too crunchy), and soft/pillowy on the inside. The explosion of pesto and sundried tomato spread was the key to this sandwich, elevating an otherwise-average chicken sandwich into the stratosphere. The melted provolone brought everything together. The salad was very enjoyable, the dressing spot on in terms of flavor. I thought the chicken may have been the slightest bit dry in certain parts, but not an egregious violation there. The sandwich was still a huge success in my book.

My friend enjoyed her Pasta Nicola. Didn't take a photo of it, but her food looked good, I'll say that.

The interior of Gamberetti's has that upscale bistro-like quality to it. It's very spacious and even hosts a full bar. Pasta may not be high on my carbohydrates list (I'm more of a sandwich/wrap or brown rice person there), but Gamberetti's is a place I'd definitely return to. 8.5/10

Slice Brick Oven Pizza

(UPDATE: On 12/7/11, Food Carts Portland announced that Slice Brick Oven Pizza has closed and may re-open in summer 2012. I listed them as "on hiatus" for now.)

Slice Brick Oven Pizza is a pizza truck located at the D-Street Noshery food pod in Portland, Oregon.

They have your usual American classic pizzas, such as cheese and pepperoni; the Italian classics like the Margherita; and other specialty pizzas...can you say Truffle Pie? They can make whole pies of12 inches or 16 inches, but they also serve pizza slices (although the specialty pizzas are not sold by the slice).

A friend and I did our own food cart tour one night. We started at this cart and had a slice of Margherita pizza ($3.50).

Margherita pizza (from Slice Brick Oven Pizza)
It was good, but not the best. I really enjoyed the slightly charred crust that a brick oven will give a pizza. The fresh basil was cut chiffonade-style. The blend of basil, mozzarella, and pizza sauce reinforced why whomever invented the Margherita was a genius.

The pizza crust was extremely thin in the middle, so eating it New York style was a challenge here. I would have wanted real tomato slices on this pizza. Come on, it's not a Margherita pizza without the tomato slices! Not mind-blowing, but not horrible. 4.5/10

Friday, September 23, 2011

Goudy Commons (Part 2)

I returned to Goudy, taking a few trips to round out my eating experiences here.

First up, lunch. I wanted to try their wraps. Although the line for the wraps is easily the longest in Goudy, I patiently waited in line. By the way, at least on the day I went, the pizza line (of all places) was completely empty.

I got a custom-built wrap: a spinach tortilla stuffed with all their vegetables (such as spinach, tomato, broccoli, peppers, etc.), cheese, teriyaki chicken, buffalo chicken, Frank's Red Hot sauce, and sriracha. I then hit the salad bar for some roasted vegetables, salsa, and pickled jalapenos. People can also get white or brown rice in their wrap, but I bypassed that for more vegetables and meat. The total...just a bit over $7.

Wrap w/roasted vegetables
Cross-section of the wrap
When cutting into that wrap, I saw amazing, beautiful layers just waiting to be eaten. An ideal combination of crunchy/silky vegetables, spice kick, and savory poultry. The tangy, garlicky combination of sriracha and Frank's Red Hot Sauce marry well with the vegetables and the chicken. So many colors on my plate, and very satisfying in the stomach!

Next up, dinner! Goudy Commons features a $7, all-you-can-eat buffet. Salad, fresh fruit, pizza, pasta, beverages, vegan options, and dessert, all for the taking! Taking full advantage, I made three separate trips to get food (I doubt that was much of a surprise to anyone).

First up, some vegetarian/vegan options: whole wheat penne pasta, roasted vegetables, potato wedges, a soy/vegan dish (which I can't remember right now), and some pizza (one with pesto and another small portion of a cheese pizza).

I loaded up on carbohydrates for the first course. Each were average to good. The penne was nicely cooked, the vegetables were steamed and seasoned nicely. The pesto pizza was the winner for this plate. The right amount of melted cheese, and the crust had a welcoming pillowy consistency, similar to a good breadstick. The potato wedges were average and could have used a bit more time in the oven to get softer.

In round two: some brown rice, macaroni pasta salad, Caesar salad, and another slice of pizza (topped with mushrooms and olives).

This time, the tomato came through in the pizza sauce; nice chunks of tomato scattered over my serving. The nutty brown rice was cooked very nicely. I also enjoyed the macaroni salad. Perfectly cooked elbow macaroni dressed well with diced zucchini and julienne carrot. It's not Hawaiian macaroni salad, of course, but it worked for me. The Caesar salad was OK, but needed some Parmesan cheese, black pepper, and was a bit overdressed.

Finally, round three!

First, a nice pork tortilla soup with rice, black beans, and assorted vegetables. A comforting soup here that would really be a hit on a cold day (soup will start getting real popular in about a month or so).

The last course of the night...dessert! A small piece of white cake with a raspberry cream cheese frosting. A great fluffy cake here. Nice color and consistency on the raspberry cream cheese frosting, but let's face it, the presentation was boring. To be fair, this is a university cafeteria, so I'd be crazy to expect something like a five-layer cake.

For a mere $7, I enjoyed my all-you-can-eat Goudy experience. Definitely a good bang for your buck!

To continue my Goudy odyssey, I tried one of their breakfast items a few days later. Goudy serves breakfast until 10 a.m. (after which they will close for an hour to prep for lunch). I tried a pancake from the Willamette Grille section ($1.25). I'm not sure if this was planned, but my pancake looked like Mickey Mouse when delivered to me.

A...Mickey Mouse pancake?
Accompanied with a small helping of maple syrup
The pancake was beautifully prepared, light golden brown on the outside, fluffy on the inside. I wouldn't have minded the pancake staying a little longer on the flattop to get even more golden brown, but that's just me nitpicking. I wouldn't want super dry, tough pancakes, that's for sure!

Last, but not least, Willamette offers a special "small plates" menu at lunch on Thursdays. The small plates are generally different each week, but it consists of five high-end dishes that one would not associate with a university cafeteria. I was eager to try this out after my accounting exam wracked my brain earlier that morning.

I went on Thursday, September 22. The five dishes that day (a total of $14) were:

Seared Sea Scallop and Fresh Hood River Pear w/Lemon Olive Oil Drizzle ($3.50)
Soft Brie Cheese Polenta w/Crispy Fried Local Onion Rings ($2.75)
Drunken Local Honey Fig Tart w/Purple Haze Basil Salad ($3)
Forest Chanterelles Scramble w/Mozzarella Cheese and Zena Garlic ($3)
Halal Braised Goat Tangine w/Onions, Ginger, Garlic, Saffron, Allspice, and Fresh Naan Bread ($2.75)

Menu on Thursday, September 22, 2011
Soft Brie Cheese Polenta with Crispy Fried Local Onion Rings
Forest Chanterelles Scramble with Mozzarella Cheese and Zena Garlic

Halal Braised Goat Tangine with Onions, Ginger, Garlic, Saffron, and Allspice 
Seared Sea Scallop and Fresh Hood River Pear with Lemon Olive Oil Drizzle
Drunken Local Honey Fig Tart with Purple Haze Basil Salad
(the basil was from Good For You Farms in Silverton, Oregon)
My favorite was the cheese polenta. The burst of rich, cheesy, creamy polenta contrasted wonderfully with the crispy onion strips. Beautiful color on the onion strips here. Probably one of the few great dishes I had where I was happy for the small portion...otherwise I might not have finished everything!

The sea scallop dish was well-balanced. The lemon cut through the sweetness of the pear and worked well with the delicate scallop. The scallop had a lovely sear and cooked perfectly. If that was a fresh pear, it was likely very ripe because there was little firmness to it. The seared scallop's (temperature) heat and the lemon's acidity likely broke the pear's structure down a bit. It was the smallest dish on the menu -- and also the most expensive.

The fig tart had a nice sweetness to it without going overboard on that front. However, the mini pie shell was not very flaky and could have used a brushing of butter to get it golden brown. I guess Pie Spot in Portland spoiled me for good regarding excellent pies! I thought the sweet fig tart and zesty purple basil, when eaten together, was an interesting (not bad) combination.

I really enjoyed the chanterelles scramble. The mushrooms combined with what appeared (and tasted like) to be an Asian sauce to further that earthiness. I got a hint of garlic as I continued eating. However, I didn't detect any cheese in this one.

The goat dish was OK, but I felt the flavors were too muted here. To be fair, a slight essence of ginger and garlic resided in my mouth for a few hours after my meal. The chef braised the meat very well; it fell off the tiny bones without much of a struggle. However, I felt there was too much fat for my liking. And yes, the small bones had sharp edges on them. Don't eat the meat too fast...wouldn't want you swallowing that bone!

The naan bread was firm on the outside, but was boring and depressing to look at. My piece also had a large air pocket in it. Toasting or grilling the naan on the flattop before serving would have livened it up and created a more appealing exterior.

And with that, my Goudy experience is largely complete. My final thoughts here:

Overall, I was impressed with the Thursday small plates lunch menu. For a university cafeteria, they really can bring respectable to decent high-end cuisine, albeit with a few issues. But those issues, in turn, make me question whether it's worth it to get any or all the dishes (up to about $14 for all five courses). The exciting thing is they may do different dishes each week.

The breakfast was fine for what it was. They offer the usual breakfast selections, such as french toast, eggs, sausage, bacon, cereal, oatmeal, fruit, bagels, and coffee. It's good for the college student living in the dorms, but otherwise, I'd just eat something at home.

I did not really care too much for the dinner. Although it's all-you-can-eat, I only went up multiple times to try the various dishes, and many were average at best.

While I am reducing the rating for pedestrian breakfast and dinner offerings, Goudy is a solid lunch option, and I will continue to return for that. 6.5/10