Monday, May 31, 2010

Clay's Smokehouse

This Memorial Day weekend we dined at Clay's. They have wonderful smoked barbecue chicken, and you get a complete dinner with their poppyseed slaw & taters. Steve had the short spare ribs, and they were delicious. I would always order the chicken, but 1/4 chicken just seemed excessive to me that particular evening (early eve on a Saturday-- the place was filled, even all the outdoor tables, by the time we left -- which wasn't that long!) So I went out on a limb and ordered the pork loin sandwich on a good seemingly-homemade bun. It had not applesauce, but a kind of apple filling inside that was just tart enough to complement the pork. I ate the whole dang thang.
I also had a microbrew on tap, which was a nice additive to the dinner.
We love Clay's because it is great food, a funky atmosphere not unlike Esparza's, with things hanging on the ceiling, unique artwork, posters, and lots of doodads to look at while one dines. With that kind of decor, there's a whimsical casualness that contributes to the ambience. One can relax, knowing the food will be good and that the service is not casual, but rather quite efficient; and that the place will be packed if you don't arrive early!

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Pok Pok

We ate at Pok Pok Saturday night. Wow. It's so great to dine out where the experience hits all the marks.
The food is extremely special. I had one of the house specialties, Kai Yaang, a charcoal roasted game hen, served with an addictive spicy sweet dipping sauce. It also came with a tamarind dipping sauce, which didn't quite ring my bell, although it was very unique to this diner. I ate the entire half hen, although one can order a whole bird as well. My companion had the short ribs, which he loved, and which also came with the sweet and sour dipping sauce I had, plus one other. They offer three kinds of rice: sticky, jasmine, and coconut. I chose sticky, which they serve in a sort of wicker or bamboo cup that you push up as you go along, and I was advised the way to eat it was with the fingers. My companion chose the coconut rice, which didn't have a strong coconut flavor, more of a slight hint, and that kind is not to be eaten with the fingers.
I should tell you there was a good chance we wouldn't have eaten there at all when we walked up and let the hostess know that it was a "dinner for two;" she said there would be an hour and 1/2 wait time. Steve & I looked at each other and he said "No." We turned to walk away, but then she said if you would like to eat in the bar, we have two seats there. Sounded good to us. We followed her into this densely-filled area where, indeed, two seats were waiting for us at the bar counter. On the way in we'd passed what seemed an almost carnival-like atmosphere at the outside tables, with the tarps and poles, outdoor pole heaters, and people laughing, talking, drinking, and eating. It's fun to be there -- the place is packed, but the tables are far apart enough where you don't feel literally packed in -- and people seemed to relish it all.
We loved the bar. It felt as though we were in Thailand or Bali or somewhere in Southeast Asia, but definitely not in Portland, Oregon. I love that, where a restaurant has so much atmosphere and ambience that you feel transported to another country just for the time that you are dining there. To be enjoying food in a place you've never been before can be truly enchanting.
The bartender, who was also our server, was very knowledgable about the food, how it's eaten and with what, and was a total whiz on the drinks. He worked nonstop while we sat there eating and drinking (me: canned guava juice; he: fresh Thai iced tea). The drinks were fascinating to watch being made; very different from a standard U.S. bar menu, and appealing to the eye. Since most of the food prices were moderate, we believe that Pok Pok makes much of their profit from their drinks menu. The bartender, by the way, was very professional, and friendly.
To go to a place because you're wondering what the fuss is all about, then find it is entirely devoid of pretentiousness or trendiness is so refreshing. Sure, it was voted Restaurant of the Year by the Oregonian's Diner magazine approx 3 yrs ago. And sure, there's a line every time we've driven or walked by the place. But there are a dozen hints that this establishment is serious about its food and drinks. From the moment the hostess called us back, to the bartender telling us more about the menu than just a cursory glance, to the wonderful food placed before us, announcing to us what each dish was, to the moderate prices, here is a place that has it all.
Great food, great drinks, great atmosphere. What's not to love?