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... 

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Portland Restaurant: Smallwares

What: Smallwares
Where: 4605 NE Fremont St
When: Daily 5pm - 10pm, Saturday & Sunday Brunch 11am - 3pm 
Honeys Heart: Clams in Black Bean Sauce

You know that problem that Katie and I have with Boke Bowl? The one where it's good, it's really good, but it's missing... something. We're left wishing there was a little something more. Especially for the price. It's not expensive, but it costs just enough that we are left wanting... something. Well, we recently had that same experience at Smallwares on NE Fremont.

I'm going to break it down in the order that items arrived. Our night started with the Brussels Sprouts ($8) in XO sauce with almond brittle and nigella seed. The sweetness of the almond brittle was a nice compliment to the savory brussels, but the portion is pretty conservative. 

Our second dish, and probably our second favorite, was the Scallop Sashimi ($11) with yuzu butter, vadouvan, bottarga, shiso. Again we ran into the issue of feeling like $11 was on the high end for the thin slices of scallop, especially with Daruma down the street. But in terms of flavor and presentation, we'll give it a thumbs up. 

Next up. Cocktails. Yes, they took a while to materialize. There was a private party in Barwares and the front of the restaurant seemed a bit overwhelmed. I got The Gin ($10) with gin, becherovka, lillet rouge, and amargo valet and Katie went for The Vodka ($10) with vodka, benedictine, lime, black pepper, and bitters. Katie didn't mind hers but I thought they were both too reminiscent of cold medicine, perhaps too heavy handed on the bitter liqueurs. 

We finished our Smallwares experience with the Clams ($13) with Chinese sausage, black bean sauce, ginger, and garlic. This was our favorite dish. The clams in the black bean sauce was unique and the basil pieces soaking in it were a welcomed surprise and pop of fresh flavor.  

Our dinner and drinks totaled $52 but we were still kind of hungry and the drinks weren't that satisfying- and we weren't so in awe of the meal that we didn't care. Thankfully it was just Katie and me. If the boys had joined we would have had to order at least double and it would have been a pricey night out. 

Maybe we're just too cheap, or our expectations are too high. How do we know for sure? More research! Tanuki is also on our list of Asian-influenced tapas-style places to compare with Boke Bowl and Smallwares. (Bamboo Izakaya was too but not anymore.)

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Macaron Day PDX: March 20, 2015

If you know me at all, you know that macarons are like, my favorite thing ever. 

I first fell in love with macarons when I was studying abroad back in 2007 and have been obsessed ever since.

#TBT to little Katie in Paris:

It's been easier and easier to get a good macaron stateside since they've become so popular in the last few years- and I'm definitely not complaining! In Portland, we now have enough pastry shops making macarons that such a thing as Macaron Day PDX has reason to exist.

Here's the deal: On March 20th, participating bakeries and patisseries will give a free macaron to customers who donate to Meals on Wheels (there is a $2 suggested minimum donation). Twelve different shops are participating with some locations making special macarons for the event.

I'll include a full list of participants below, but here are my top three picks for can't-miss macarons in Portland:

Nuvrei (NW 10th Ave)

Kel and I wrote about Nuvrei recently when we checked out their new Mac Bar. Marius Pop, who owns Nuvrei, is actually the one who orchestrated Macaron Day PDX and Nuvrei will be giving out commemorative tote bags to the first 100 customers on March 20th (note: the Mac Bar opens at 9am).

Farina Bakery

I've shared my love for Farina Bakery and Laura's macarons before and I'd say that if you're only going to make one stop for Macaron Day PDX, Farina Bakery should be it. Laura's macarons are always the perfect texture (light crunch on the outside, moist and cakey inside) and she manages to pack loads of flavor into them too.

My current favorite Farina flavor is Honey Pecan (think Mexican wedding cakes but in macaron form), but you really can't go wrong.

Pix Patisserie (E Burnside St)

I will start off by saying that Pix's macarons can be hit or miss texture-wise. But, they have a lot of really fun, experimental flavors that you're not going to find at other patisseries (Meka Leka Hi Meka Hiney Ho macaron with absinthe and chocolate-covered Pop Rocks, anyone?).

Other Macaron Day PDX Participants:

The Cakery (SW Capital Hwy)

Frice Pastry (4082 N Williams)

Hungry Heart Bakery (SE 80th Ave)

Ken's Artisan Baking (NW 21st Ave)

Maurice (921 SW Oak St)

Papa Haydn (NW 23rd Ave & SE Milwaukie)

Pearl Bakery (NW 9th Ave)

Petunia's Pies & Pastries (SW 12th Ave)

St. Honoré (SE Division, NW Thurman & Lake Oswego)

Also, fun fact: Did you know I have almost as many pics of macarons on my phone as I do of my cat? Oh, did you want to see some more of them? Ok!

Doug likes canelés, so that's why there's a bunch of them in there too. Canelé Day PDX next?

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Portland Restaurant: Breken Kitchen

What: Breken Kitchen
Where: 1800 NW 16th Ave
When: Monday - Friday 7am - 5pm
Honeys Heart: Breken Draper Chicken Bowl

I started a job at Children's Cancer Association about a month ago and along with new office digs comes the critical task of finding new coffee shops and lunch spots in close range. Coffee spot? Check. Ovation on NW Overton and 9th serves up a good latte and chai tea. Lunch spot? Check. In addition to Lovejoy Bakery and pretty much everything else closer to Naito in the Pearl, I have a new option! This took a little longer to find due to my initial lofty goal of packing lunch daily to be healthy and save money, but I was finally introduced to Breken Kitchen by some co-workers.

The menu breaks down pretty simply. Soups, sandwiches, bowls, and a lasagna of the day. Clearly I was initially tempted by the cheesy carb-loaded lasagna option, but per a recommendation and a slight obligation to my lunch-time goals I ordered the Breken Draper Chicken Bowl ($9.95) with brown or Jasmine rice, black beans, corn, pickled onions, cherry tomatoes, avocados, chimichurri and house made salsa.

The bowl is simple, but tasty and filling. Something that I could easily recreate, but it's definitely the kind of thing that tastes better when someone else makes it... and puts chimichurri sauce on it.

In my subsequent visit I tried the Albacore Tuna Melt ($9.50) with a simple green salad. The tuna is super simple and the sandwich only includes Tillamook Cheddar, so the star of this show is really Grand Central's fluffy Big Country Bread. It's really very simple comfort food, so maybe $9.50 is a stretch. I think at a future visit the Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup ($6.95) will still provide the benefit of that delicious bread, but for a slightly better deal.

Breken Kitchen also serves breakfast (yet to try) and sports a decent beverage menu. I ordered a latte made with Water Avenue Coffee and later saw that they have wine, cava, and beer. Drinking lunch anyone? Obviously only on Fridays when I work a half day...

Cute vibe, wifi, good food - simple, but satisfying - and multiple drink options. Probably best I didn't know about this when I was working from home.