LBB bacon and cheddar cheeseburger with fries.

LBB bacon and cheddar cheeseburger with fries.

Well, this could be a problem.

Just months after Bunk Bar opened up next to Salt and Straw, Little Big Burger moved into the space previously inhabited by Flywheel skate shop on Alberta and NE 21st. Painted ketchup red with the brief menu and appealing prices printed in white lettering on the exterior, LBB is hard to miss, and harder to resist.

Located 500-ish steps from our front door (not nearly enough to cancel out any inevitable calories)  we headed over on a recent Friday night to welcome the new burger-focused inhabitants to the neighborhood. We ordered at the counter and had a seat at the bar to watch the staff hustle to fill dozens of orders with systematic efficiency.

LBB pepper jack cheeseburger.

LBB pepper jack cheeseburger.

"This ain't made in Salt Lake City."

“This ain’t made in Salt Lake City.”

Quarter-pound, burgers –not quite skinny patty, but not thick either — are cooked on the flat-top to a caramelized crust and ever-so-slightly pink interior. The perfect proportion to the toasted brioche bun on which they’re served, burgers come with what I consider essential burger toppings: pickle, onion, shredded lettuce, and your choice of cheddar, Swiss, chevre, pepper jack or blue cheese, should you swing that way. On the side, you’ve got one heavenly choice: truffle fries. Still sizzling from the fryer, they’re tossed in salt and truffle oil, pretty much transforming into crack. And though the Camden fry sauce bottle clearly and defiantly states “This ain’t made in Salt Lake City,” it does the hometown stuff proud.

Greedily thinking one burger each may not be enough — LBBs are deceivingly petite — we ordered three, plus two orders of fries, all of which turned out to be way more than we needed. Poof. It vanished nonetheless.

See what I mean by “problem?”

So, LBB, welcome to the neighborhood. We are glad you’re here and look forward to indulging in more of your skinny-patty, fry-sauce-laden goodness.

 

 

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Fresh strawberries over biscuits. Summer.

Fresh strawberries over biscuits. Summer.

Portland is twitchy for summer.

For the past few weeks, a wet gloom has settled in, granting only brief merciful glimpses of warmth and sun. Then, June 1 dawns, and with it a glorious Saturday.

After a walk around the neighborhood, a drink or two at one of our favorite wine bars and dinner on Alberta Street, a sweet treat beckons. On the stroll home we duck into Pine State Biscuits for this beauty: Two biscuit halves topped with fresh, sweet strawberries and whipped cream.

SOS: summer on a shingle.

Minizo ramen

Happiness on a stick.

Minizo. Thanks for meeting me tonight. I know I shouldn’t … we shouldn’t. But the attraction is too great. It shouldn’t feel right — hot soup and steaming dumplings on a sun-baked August evening — but when that twilight breeze brushes my legs, well I can’t explain it. It just is right. It can’t be helped.

Stumpings

Tri-colored beauties.

You know I find you irresistible: your fresh handmade noodles boiled to order; the pinch of sprouts in the bottom of the bowl, awaiting the hot bath of broth; that soft-boiled egg, melting into the soup; the thinly sliced pork. Yes, I noticed it all. How could I not? All this cool confidence and yet you’re playful enough to display the plastic Godzilla on the counter. I’m feeling faint. Is it getting hotter? Or is it just me?

Stumplings, right next door, does not make this affair any easier. If I’m waiting, waiting for handmade noodles cooked to order, how can I resist handmade steamed dumplings? Yes, I am weak, but I am not ashamed. I am in love. It can’t be helped.

Now Open (Again): Aviary

January 1, 2012

Kerr canning jars with a sprig of rosemary are part of the table settings at Aviary.

Aviary is finally open again, months after a July 4th roof fire shuttered the chic small-plates eatery on Alberta Street. The space looks basically the same except for the addition of a sleek bar in back, much appreciated if you must wait for a table. Just as before, the menu features beautifully composed dishes with nicely balanced flavors. As before the fire, our only complaint is the sometimes-spotty service.

Nevertheless, we consider ourselves lucky to have Aviary back in the neighborhood, and we look forward to many more dinners. Here are some photos from our New Year’s Eve prix-fixe dinner.

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Bar Lolo's new look.

Bar Lolo's new look.

Hey, Lolo! (Sorry … Bar Lolo.) So great to see you the other night. It’s been a while, and we have to say you are looking good. Really good. You’ve taken some time to focus on yourself, and it has paid off.

It looks like you’ve kept the best of what attracted us to begin with, and made a few small, but standout changes. First, we adore the pops of color — those coral-crimson chairs and bar stools, the wall of colorful paella pans and the natural wood wine holder really stand out against the cool putty colored walls and floor. And the blinged-out longhorn cow skull over the door proves you haven’t lost your sense of humor. We’re also totally digging the fact that you’re really getting back to your tapas-bar roots. The high wooden tables along the window scream Madrid. I see J and I and our fellow neighborhoodies dropping in after work for a glass of Albariño, cider or a cocktail, and a few small bites before a night on the town.

You’ve also made a few positive changes to the menu. We sampled quite a few tapas last night, including our longtime favorite shredded romaine salad, but I have to say, those specials you whipped up: Warm mission figs topped with Serrano ham and Gorgonzola? Are you kidding me? I thought I’d died and gone to heaven with that salty-sweet medley. I’m so glad we placed a last-minute order for the special paella croquettes — crispy fried spheres, perfectly proportioned, oozing with hot saffron-scented paella, chicken and shrimp in the middle. Incredible. We also love that you ditched the full-size burger in favor of delicious mini lamb sliders. Such a treat. And though we didn’t need them, we could not resist the  piping-hot churros with chocolate and honey dipping sauces. You really outdid yourself.

It was good catching up, Lolo. You look good, and you seem to have your groove back. The makeover has done done wonders, and I hope it gets you the attention you deserve. Maybe we can hang out sometime?

Mash Tun: Summer Edition

August 6, 2011

Mash Tun's Fried Zucchini

Fried zucchini sticks. (Careful: HOT.)

Saturday night in early August. The seasons have shifted, but our cravings remain much the same. So we head down the street for the familiar burgers,  amiable service and laid-back vibe at our fave neighborhood brewpub.

+ daylight.

Mash Tun’s new outdoor patio (wisteria-covered trellis should start to fill in next year) is a welcome addition to the neighborhood. And  with Pine State Biscuits’ outdoor seating just next door, 22nd and Alberta is a corner to be reckoned with. (Oh … and we discovered the fried zucchini strips. Not listed on the menu as an app; only as a sandwich. Ask for them. Good stuff. )

Gotta love these recent stories from The Oregonian:

Portland restaurants help fireworks-damaged eatery on Northeast Alberta Street

Alberta Street businesses pull together after fire

Hats off to Umpqua Bank and Stumptown Coffee Roasters for offering a hand. Plus Andy Ricker of Pok Pok fame and the owners of Firehouse step up for one of our neighborhood faves that finds itself a bit down on its luck. It makes us that much happier that Ricker opened his takeout spot, Noi, in the area. He had our business before, but this is reinforcement. We’ll be popping into Firehouse sometime soon as well. Here’s hoping the folks at Aviary are back in business ASAP.

Lolo on Alberta

May 14, 2011

Lolo on Alberta

Hey, Lolo. I know, last night might have been unfair. It was what it was, though, and I hope we can work through it.

We realize that three weeks ago we were in Madrid, devouring delicious tapas and raciones, putting you at a disadvantage. Despite J’s craving for a burger last night, I felt like putting on heels and going somewhere lovely. And the last time we shared a meal together, you didn’t disappoint. But as when former classmates gather for a reunion, there’s bound to be some surprises, good and bad. And the distance between us has not been kind to you.

Not to be shallow, but let’s start with appearances. The good: Your nicely spaced dining room with heavy, white chairs, warmly patterned banquettes and gigantic chalkboards announcing wine and food specials are welcoming. We can’t figure out why you’re rarely more than half full. And, the not so good: Why did you make us stand at the doorway for what seemed like a long time before anyone greeted us? That and the lull between courses made us think you didn’t care. The ugly: Did you know your tabletops are sort of sticky? They look clean, but there’s some kind of residue that is, well, unappetizing.

Now, on to food. Not having had our Madrid-traditional large lunch, we were pretty hungry. I felt like a combo of small plates, and J spotted the burger, so that’s what we did. By far the winners of the whole evening were the two salads. The baby beet salad with gorgonzola and candied almonds, hazelnuts and walnuts was a divine crunchfest, and that shredded romaine salad with manchego cheese and a creamy, garlicky dressing was one I’d order again. Next up was the calamari, which was quite tasty with good texture. Nice. And the smoked paprika aioli was a nice touch, though the whole thing could have used a little acid. Lemon wedge, maybe. Then came the much-anticipated ham and cheese croquettes. Yours were golf-ball sized, a little large for my taste, and I’ll be honest: I’m not a fan of the potato-y texture in the center. Did you put potato in your bechamel? Tell the truth. And finally, the burger. I hate to be negative, but we were disappointed. Even the topping of blue cheese and romesco couldn’t pep up that underseasoned meat. It’s only saving grace were the gorgeous, crisp, thick, nicely seasoned homemade chips.

Oh, Lolo. Maybe our expectations were too high, and perhaps we had unfair comparisons lurking in the back of our minds. With such a great location and space, though, we want to work it out. You’ll need to work a little harder if you want to win us back.

Pork belly and braised cabbage.

You might be thinking, “Really. Out to dinner two nights in a row?” Believe me, it’s not the norm. But after having moved to the neighborhood, J and I feel a responsibility to contribute to Alberta Street’s success. And if that means eating out two nights in a row, so be it. It had been a few months since we visited del Inti, our neighborhood Peruvian bistro, and we could not stand the guilt if, god forbid, it closed its doors.

Not that it needs our humble contribution. By the looks of the steady clientele, this spot is a local favorite. Del Inti’s welcoming patio with its piped-out Latin tunes and roaring fire pit mark the spot on Alberta and 23rd. Inside, the open space contains a bustling exposed kitchen, a lively dine-in bar, and a comfortably spaced dining area. Colorful artwork, globe lighting, cork flooring and a garage-type door that opens from the bar onto the patio complete the sleek neighborhood vibe.

A half-dozen colorful ceviches open the menu, and choosing presents a challenge. We selected the ceviche mixto with cubed mahi, whole shrimp, thin-sliced octopus, red onion and a fiery rocoto leche de tigre sauce, all capped by a jaunty dime-size slice of habañero. Sweet potato provided textural contrast and cooled the palate.

From the small plates, we chose the empanada, a flaky, deep-fried turnover stuffed with beef, potato, raisins and olives served atop a mild, nutty ocopa sauce. Next, the “chancho,” a pork belly confit, crisped top and bottom, served atop braised purple cabbage and finished with crunchy green apple chimichurri. The cabbage and apple provided sweet-tart crunch to contrast the salty pork, which disappeared on the tongue. Beautiful.

For entrees, J’s soy-glazed hangar steak cooked to a tender, pink medium rare, complemented by portobello mushrooms, fried potatoes and rice. For me, a pan-roasted corvina with manila clams, pork sausage, tapenade alongside buttery carrot “pasta” cut into pappardelle-like ribbons, cooked to al dente. All delicious.

Apple crisp with carrot-lemon ice cream (yep, I said carrot and lemon) rounded out our Saturday night meal, and we walked home, satiated and so grateful to be living in this neighborhood.

Del Inti, you continue to surprise us with your flavors and unexpected contrasts. Nos gusta mucho y hasta pronto.

Mushroom Swiss burger and tomato, bleu cheese soup. Damn. Good.

I’m feeling sentimental.

It’s Sunday night, and J and I are in different cities. With our schedules you’d think we’d be used to separation. But we are seldom apart on weekends. So I am thinking about weekends past, and one in particular: last weekend and our Saturday-night burger fest at The Mash Tun.

Conveniently (and temptingly) located two blocks  from our house,  The Mash Tun is an Alberta Street brew pub with free pool, darts, a full bar and house-brewed suds.  It’s the first restaurant we went to when we moved to the neighborhood, and is usually the first place we think of on nights that we’ve made the effort to get dressed, but can’t muster any more energy than that.

Two giant brew kettles mark the entry on NE 22nd Ave and Alberta. Inside, the feel is casual and convivial with wood paneling, a central pool table and a jukebox that spins everything from 80s pop hits to downtempo jams. TVs hang in three corners for those with an eye on the game, and a pooch-friendly patio beckons in good weather. Most tables are filled with friends out for a casual night of conversation, pool, board games or tasty food.

The menu lists a range of pub favorites — fried apps, sandwiches, mini-pizzas, salads and the like. In an attempt to mask this as anything but an indulgence, J and I typically start with the big, beautiful beet salad. The greens are fresh, the beets plentiful, a little goat cheese adds tang and hazelnuts crunch it up. After that, it’s on to the entrees, and we’ve tried a few: the bratwurst is one tasty, tangy dog with sauerkraut; the BLATO (bacon, lettuce, avocado, tomato, onion on sourdough) is a good bet, always. But, truth be told, we’re here for the burgers. Big beefy patties are juicy and flavorful enough to laugh in the face of the tabletop condiments — I go without. My top choice is mushroom Swiss. J switches it up, but last weekend, it was the bleu burger with bacon. (Specify your burger temperature when you order or you’ll get medium.) Fry fanatics, listen up: the frenchies here are hit and miss, and it breaks my heart. But too often they are tepid and mushy. I now avoid them in favor of crunchy tots. A handful of house-brewed beers on tap wet the whistle, but there’s a full bar if your whistle cries out for a cocktail.

Sweetie, I miss you. I miss The Mash Tun. Here is to many more almost-lazy Saturday nights in our neighborhood haunt.