Friday, April 17, 2015

Portland Restaurant: Bang Bang

What: Bang Bang
Where: 4727 NE Fremont
When: Wednesday - Monday 5pm - 12am
Honeys Heart: Curry

I spent a lot of time with my grandparents on NE Fremont as a child, which meant hitting up neighborhood staples like the Alameda Cafe, Staniches, McPeet's, or Perry's (miss the lemon drops so much!). Recently, food destinations like Smallwares; Bang Bang; and Batter, Griddle, and Drinkery are popping up on Fremont and it's a bit of a game changer for the street.

Katie and I made our way to Bang Bang a couple weeks ago. Bang Bang serves Thai drinking food- food that is saturated with flavor, be it spicy, rich, sweet, etc, because it is meant to be enjoyed with drinks that will dilute the flavors. The spot boasts an extensive late night menu after 10pm but our 5pm arrival meant we were much too early to take advantage of it (are we getting old?!). We were the third table seated, but before long there was a couple and their baby sitting next to us, and the remaining tables filled up shortly after.

Of course we started with cocktails. I had the Chef's Reward ($8) with Monopolowa, Campari, grapefruit juice, and Jacobsen Sea Salt, while Katie enjoyed a White Negroni ($8) with Aria Gin, Suze, and Cocci Americano.

Our waiter recommended three dishes between the two of us, but we opted for one starter and one curry and felt that was a pretty perfect portion. The Green Papaya Salad ($8) had herbs, tamarind, and veggies. The papaya strips were really long and there was a generous amount of dressing, which means Katie and I made a bit of a mess, but both of us were happy with this freshing salad.

For our main dish, we went with our waiters favorite, the Green Curry ($15) with a tea-cured egg, rau ram sausage, pork belly, cilantro, yam, long beans, and coconut rice. I had read reviews of how there were a lot of flavors happening in Bang Bang's dishes- too many, perhaps- and I can totally understand that feeling, but personally, I liked this!

There was a mix up in the kitchen so our curry took a long time and we were offered a dessert on the house, so obviously we ordered another cocktail. We got two Bang Bang Old Fashioned's ($9) which was strong, but good mix of bourbon, house-made cardamom bitters, sugar, and orange peel. Katie and I are doing such a good job drinking bourbon, and finding there are a lot of a cocktails we really like! 

For our complimentary dessert we chose the Thai Tea Cake ($7) which sounded like it would hit the spot with an almond crumble, galangal ice cream, and sweet lime. Unfortunately, the cake was mushy thanks to the Thai tea and the "sweet lime" sauce, which we mostly avoided, had an odd earthy flavor. The ice cream was good, but the overall texture on the plate was just not satisfying. 

I think if I lived in the NE Fremont neighborhood I would frequent Bang Bang more often, but it will definitely stay on my list as a place to revisit. Next up on the NE Fremont list is Batter, Griddle, and Drinkery inspired by the late night menu at the Original Hotcake House. The perk: it's a place to not only get your much needed late night waffle fix, but you can get cocktails too! 

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Craft Brewers Conference 2015- Where to Drink this Week (April 14-17)

This week, Portland gets to show off our beer-crazed city to the rest of the country during the Craft Brewers Conference (CBC).

This yearly conference gives over 11,000 brewing industry professionals the chance to partake in a week of brewing events, networking, collaborating, and, of course, enjoying each other's creations. The CBC itself is a closed event but don't worry- there are still lots of events that those of us not in the craft beer industry can be a part of!

 Here's where resident HHH beer expert Doug suggests drinking this week:

Tuesday: Founders Brewing Tap Takeover at Bailey's The Upper Lip

Bailey's annex bar will be pouring KBS, Founders' very rare and highly sought-after bourbon aged stout. Released for only one week out of the year in Grand Rapids, MI, this stout scores a 100 on Beer Advocate and a world ranking of #14. Is it all hype? Portland finally gets a chance to find out.
Tuesday, April 14 from 4-10pm at Bailey's The Upper Lip (720 SW Ankeny St.) 

Wednesday: Sour and Wild Invitational at Cascade Brewing Barrel House

No craft beer week is complete without checking out a few sour beers- and there is no better place to do so than Cascade, one of the top sour beer breweries in the world. This week-long event has gathered together some of the biggest names in the sour beer world. The lineup will change throughout the week but highlights include Almanac, Jester King, The Bruery, The Rare Barrel, Wicked Weed, and, of course, Cascade.
April 14-16 from 3-11pm, April 17 from 3pm-midnight, and April 18 from noon to midnight at Cascade Brewing Barrel House (939 SE Belmont St.). Cash only. Free entry.

Thursday: The Drinking Lot

Bailey's produces one of the most unique and exciting events of the week with this pop-up beer garden. With an ever-changing line-up, a giant tented area for drinking, and local food carts, this will be a popular place to hang out near the conference. Thursday will be special with a tap list that includes Kalamazoo's Bell's Brewery, one of the oldest craft breweries in the country.
April 14-18 from noon-10pm at the (usually) empty lot at 419 E Burnside. 21+ and cash only. 

Friday: Pioneers of Craft Beer at Horse Brass Pub

Finish the week with a pint at Portland's original craft beer bar while rubbing elbows with some of the biggest names of industry- The Widmer Brothers, Deschutes founder Gary Fish, and Ken Grossman from Sierra Nevada, just to name a few. It's a chance to try a catalog of beers that helped shape the country's beer scene with the brewers who created them.
April 17 from 6-9pm at Horse Brass Pub (4534 SE Belmont St.). No cover.


Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Portland Restaurant: Chizu

What: Chizu
Where: 1126 SW Alder
Honeys Heart: Cheese Omakase

I've been a big fan of Cheese Bar since Doug and I first visited a few years ago. Cheese Bar is owned by beloved Portland cheesemonger Steve Jones, so we always feel like we're in good hands there. The only problem? Cheese Bar is way out on SE 60th and Belmont- quite the trek for us NW folks.

That's why we were so happy to hear that Steve was opening a sister shop to Cheese Bar right next to Multnomah Whiskey Library.

We stopped by Chizu last week after our Portland Dining Month dinner at Departure (yeah we're fatties, don't judge!) and while there were definitely some newly-opened kinks to work out, we were mostly impressed with Steve's new Japanese-inspired spot.

Chizu's menu features about 30 different cheeses as well as other snacks, beer, wine, and sake. You can order your cheese a la carte (1 oz portions run $3-$6) or opt for the omakase.

With the omakase option, you choose how much you want to spend (we went with $20), and the Chizu staff will put together a plate based on your preferences. We told them that we weren't afraid of stinky cheeses and they nailed it. We ended up was a varied selection of cheeses that were all delicious, with plenty of crostinis, dried berries, and nuts too. Just don't ask me what the cheeses were because I don't remember.

As far as those little kinks, I think they'll figure them out as they get a little more experience. When we walked in, the music was so low that the place was practically silent- not the most inviting atmosphere to walk into. The door to Multnomah Whiskey Library also bangs pretty loudly when people go in and out and it echos through Chizu, especially with that music so low, so that's something they might want to remedy too.

But overall, we'll be back! I'm thinking a cheese omakase plate from Chizu followed by a few small plates at Clyde Common and then a nightcap at Kask would basically be my ideal night. Doug? Kelly? Anybody down?

Thursday, March 26, 2015

What's in a Name?: Restaurant Branding and the Closing of Bamboo Izakaya

Sad new, guys. I tried out Bamboo Izakaya last week and I really liked it. This is an accomplishment because some of the other Asian-inspired tapas spots I've been to recently have been a bust (looking at you, Boke Bowl and Smallwares).

But it doesn't really matter because the owners recently announced that Bamboo Izakaya will be transitioning into a Bamboo Sushi the first week of April. According to their press release, the owners say that "each evening since we've opened, we receive countless requests for sushi. We kindly let the guests know that sushi is not something that izakaya offer and that we are sure they will find something to delight their palate at Bamboo Izakaya. Without fail, almost every one of those guests leave to go and find sushi. Overall, the Izakaya, while a fun and delicious concept, does not carry the same appeal that sushi does."

To be truthful, this makes me really annoyed at all those people who left. I mean, come on. Read the sign before you go in! Do your research! Why'd you guys have to ruin it for the rest of us??

I'm going to try to be objective about the Bamboo situation though, because it is interesting when you think about it from a marketing perspective. When the owners decided to open an izakaya (for which they did years of research), they had the option of A) creating a new brand for their new concept or B) building on their successful "Bamboo" brand by opening a restaurant with similar aesthetics and a corresponding name.  

Micah Camden and Katie Poppe, arguably some of Portland's most successful restauranteurs, have gone with option A for most of their ventures. While there's definitely a playful tone across all of their restaurants, each "concept" has its own name and its own distinct brand (think Little Big Burger, Blue Star Donuts, Son of a Biscuit, and the upcoming Hop Dog).

The only place where Micah and Katie veered from this was with Boxer Ramen and Boxer Sushi- and it's worth noting that Boxer Sushi closed last September.

Many other Portland chefs and restauranteurs have also chosen to vary their restaurants' names even when the type of food served is similar. Kathy Whims has Nostrana and Oven and Shaker, Vitaly Paley has Paley's Place and Imperial, and Gabriel Rucker has Le Pigeon and Little Bird (though Gabriel's restaurants' names do at least hint at their association).

It's more difficult to think of examples of option B in Portland. John Gorham owns Tasty N' Sons and Tasty N' Alder which both follow the "Tasty N'" naming convention.

According to the restaurants' websites, Tasty N' Sons features dishes inspired by the East Coast while Tasty N' Alder "is a modern steakhouse". However, both sites do contain the exact same language about how their menus are "inspired by Chef Gorham’s travels and experiences with the vital immigrant community" so the concepts do seem more alike than not. It's also hard to imagine anyone sitting down at Tasty N' Alder only to get up and leave because its menu varies so widely from Tasty N' Sons'.

So when Bamboo's owners chose the option they did, they were trying something that is not at all common in the Portland restaurant scene. They decided to leverage their successful existing brand name to drive customers to a restaurant that did not serve the type of food that their brand had become known for- and that just did not work.

I guess when it's put that way, I can't be that upset that the average Portland restaurant-goer got so confused. You see "Bamboo" on the sign, you know Bamboo does great sushi, you get confused when there's not great sushi to be had. It's really a product of how well Bamboo associated their name with quality sushi. All in all, that association is great if you're sticking with the sushi business. It's only a problem when you're trying to branch out into something new.

Okay, so what have we learned? If you're going to open a restaurant with a new concept, choose a new name, especially if you've already established a brand that's very closely associated with a specific type of food. Also, Kel and I still don't have a good place to get good Asian tapas in this city. Except for maybe Tanuki. Stay tuned...