Food Adventures in Portland, Pt. 2: Bleu Cheese Ice Cream, Beer and Bread

Pho. I can't pronounce it properly but I can eat an entire bowl.

The food adventures continue here in Portlandia, since I’m still unemployed, unsupervised and killing time while I wait for a new job-type thing to become official. (Shh. Don’t wanna jinx it.) In this edition, we learn that I have a high, but not limitless, tolerance for woo-woo hippie crap.

The Delicious:

Pho at @Pho.com off SE 79th and Powell: This also wins Weirdest Name for a Restaurant award. I currently live way out in the sketch southeast part of Portland, but this area is blessed with awesome Asian restaurants. Pho is my favorite thing ever, though I’m embarrassed in restaurants because I never have the guts to say it ‘fuh’ like you’re supposed to. I point to the menu, like the hillbilly white lady I am.

Pho is a Vietnamese spicy soup of rice noodles and beef slices, topped with jalapenos, bean sprouts, fresh basil leaves and spritzes of lime juice. At this place, the $7 small lunch bowl was enormous (see lousy cell phone photo.) It will cure whatever ails you.

Ethiopian food at Queen of Sheba restaurant on MLK. I’m glad I had a friend in town joining me for dinner, because it turns out Ethiopian is served family-style, and without silverware. They don’t do appetizers, either, as the rather intimidating server lady told us. Ethiopian food is marked by spicy, curried stews of vegetables, lentils and beef, all served on spongy thin rounds of slightly sour bread called injera. One eats by scooping up food with pieces of bread, so you give up on seeming formal really quickly. Super tasty. I need people to visit so I can go out to Queen of Sheba again.

Crazy ice cream flavors at Salt & Straw on NE Alberta. I started with a taster of the Bone Marrow and Smoked Cherry, just to say I had, but can’t say I really dug the gamey, smokey flavors. I got a double-scoop of the Arbequina Olive Oil and the Pear and Bleu Cheese, and was quite pleased. The ice cream itself is only a little sweet, so the salty flavors play off it really well, and make it seem like you’re eating an avante-garde dinner in a cone. The pear and cheese, with chunks of real cheese complimenting the sweet crystallized bits of pear, was my favorite. It came in at six bucks for a double cone, but considering it was my dinner and I’d biked like 10 miles to get there, I feel it was totally worth it.

The Gross:

Kava picture, swiped off the Bula Kava site. This is exactly what it looks like, with self-righteous white girl substituted for indigenous peoples.

Kava at Bula Kava House on SE Division: I’d read about kava, a southern Pacific drink made from a kind of root, and how supposedly it has muscle-relaxing, anti-anxiety properties, and thought, ‘hell, let’s try this, it’s an easy bike trip down Division anyway.

People will pay all kinds of money for stuff if they think it’ll get ’em high, and the folks at Bula Kava house seem to know this, and they emphasize that only people over 18 should drink it and one shouldn’t drive afterwards. This is an excellent marketing strategy. What’s not so excellent is how kava actually tastes, “earthy and mild,” as the pleasant, dreadlocked girl behind the counter described it, or, you know, “like dirt,” which is how I’d describe it.

She demonstrated the several varieties they had available that day, which were behind her in what I’d mistaken for large tubs of dishwater when I came in. Reggae music was playing, of course. The “melo melo” variety was on sale for $3 a shell today, so I went with that. “It’s traditional to chug it, because then you feel the effects faster,” she said, and gave me pineapple on a stick as a chaser.

Allrighty, I thought, I’m pretty good at chugging liquids, and settled in at a table and knocked back the entire coconut-shell’s worth in two swallows and nearly gagged on the little gritty bits at the end. My throat immediately felt numb and and the lingering bitterness, like chewing on an aspirin, stuck on the back of my tongue. The pineapple did little to fix this. After waiting twenty minutes, I felt mostly irritated by the atmospheric reggae music.

Let me emphasize, for a moment, that I have some woo-woo hippie tendencies. I read Free Will Astrology. I drink kombucha on occasion. I own Buddhist prayer flags and am not Buddhist. But man, I am not sold on kava.

Maybe I wasn’t in the right mood, and maybe some people find kava fun (particularly, I’m guessing, if they’ve already partaken of some other, less-legal herbal anti-anxiety medication beforehand) but I can think of many legal things that soothe me, including knitting, beer and chamomile tea, and they’re not served in a coconut shell and don’t taste like dirt.

Afterwards, I stopped at a local food co-op and got a cup of coffee, which soothed my caffeine-withdrawal headache, and spurred me on to Hopworks Urban Brewery, where it happened to be happy hour, and got a nice big stein of dark beer. I felt curiously relaxed and mellow.

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