Archive for the ‘Portland Restaurants’ Category

You’ve got to admire the simplicity of a food cart that serves one dish.  Or the outright brazenness perhaps – this, this is exactly what you want to eat.

Nong’s Khao Man Gai is a cart that does exactly that.  There’s something pretty zen about a cart that makes the same meal over and over again day in and day out.   Their dish is pretty simple: boiled chicken, sauce, rice, and broth, but there’s more to it than it sounds.

I haven’t been to Thailand, but from I’ve read, khao man gai is a common street food dish in Thailand.  The recipe on one website is prefaced by the description of the dish as a ” ‘high end’ street vendor dish because it’s more complicated to make, and requires a fairly sophisticated cart and tools.”

The cart owner is originally from Thailand, but she spent some time working in one of Portland’s most highly rated Thai restaurants, Pok Pok, before venturing out on her own.

Here’s the cart:


Nong's Khao Man Gai - SW 10th and Alder

So, there are a few options – the regular khao man gai  ($6) which is a butcher-paper wrapped pile of sticky rice cooked in chicken broth, topped with slices of boiled-till-tender chicken, cilantro, cucumber slices, and a little container of sauce.  This package is presented to you like an origami present all folded up, a rubber band holding it together, and then slipped on top, there is another little container of broth and a spoon/napkin.

You can also add extra chicken, chicken livers, extra sauce, or supersize your khao man gai (piset).

The Menu!

Drink Menu

One of the highlights of the drink menu is the Vietnamese coffee (made with Portland’s Stumptown Coffee!) which I prefer to the often overly-sweet Thai iced tea.  The rich, strongly brewed coffee is complimented by sweetened condensed milk.

Nong's description of Khao Man Gai

So, as described above, one of the key parts of the khao man gai is the sauce.  I mean, otherwise it’d be kind of dull – chicken + rice?  The sauce is zippy, a little spicy but not much, and definitely garlic-filled.  It’s very fresh tasting, definitely not from a bottle, and it has that magic that a good Thai dish has – a balance of tangy and sweet and spicy, all at once.

I forgot to take a picture of the cute wrapping job or the even cuter food cart lady herself (her and her crew are usually jamming out to some good beats while chopping chicken furiously).  There’s usually a long line for this dish, and I hear she frequently sells out for the day.

The package unwrapped, with broth to the left and sauce on top.

Now with the sauce poured on top.

The broth is very simple – it usually has a wisp of greens or some bitter melon, not much else.  Somehow – add all together this becomes  a special dish that is both exotic and comforting at the same time.  It’s a bit like a deconstructed chicken noodle soup with a little extra zing.  I must admit this week’s serving of chicken wasn’t my favorite – a few “bits” were left that were a bit ugly, but that’s the risk of eating meat, I suppose (this is one of my rare meat-excursions).  That won’t stop me, I’ll be back again for this magic combo.

Essential Details:

Nong’s Khao Man Gai
Corner of SW 10th & Alder, Portland
Open M-F, 10am until sold out!

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In early December, a piece in the Oregonian’s A & E section about places in Portland serving fancy hot chocolate drinks caught my eye.  It named a few places I was familiar with already such as Cacao (great chocolate drinks & addictive 50 cent salted caramels by their register – hello, storefront by the Heathman!) and Pix Patisserie.  I noted one I had to yet to try – Alma Chocolate – located in one of my favorite neighborhoods I’ve lived in Portland along the restaurant row of NE 28th and Burnside.   Mmm… fancy hot chocolate on a gray Portland winter day, yes please!

I had the luck to enter a drawing while waiting for my drink, and the even better luck to actually win!  I was quite shocked to get a message on my cell phone one Sunday in January summoning me to pick up my prize bag, with the instructions that today was best to claim my prize, as something about “fresh cookies being baked.”

Needless to say, we fit that into our errands for the day and arrived at Alma at the same time as the other drawing winner.   We went through swift negotiations that would impress the U.N. as we determined that I would take the “salty/smoky” bag and she would take the “spicy” bag.  Okay, there wasn’t much to negotiate over – either way, we were going home with a bag of loot, chocolate loot.

Alma bag contents

Contents of my bag from Alma Chocolate

I was quite stunned actually at my winnings and mumbling something that hopefully sounded like “thanks” as I high-tailed it out of there, before they could decide they’d made a mistake.  Once safely in the car, I delved into my findings and felt giddy like a contestant on the Price is Right.  I had about a 1/2 dozen fresh cookies (one of each kind offered that day), 3 packages of various chocolate barks, a small bag of tea, and a jar of Alma’s housemade caramel sauce, all with a salty or smoky tea theme.

Alma cookies

My share of the Alma cookies

Once home, cookies were sampled with our afternoon tea.  It gets a little fuzzy here as let’s be honest, we basically gobbled them up, but let’s just say they were good!  In particular, I believe it was a salted peanut butter chunk one that made me especially pleased.  The size of the cookies was just right – I split each with my fellow and still had a good taste of each.  They weren’t over-sized either – which means you can easily try a few at a time, an option I always like as I like to try everything!

Over the next few weeks, I rationed out my prize, nibbling little chunks of the various bars:

*Salted Nutty Toffee Mini Bar – a small candy bar of dark chocolate speckled on top with crunchy chunks of nuts & toffee & sea salt

*Pistachio Toffee – a layer of thin dark chocolate sandwiched onto crunchy toffee thick with pistachios

*Salted Peanut Milk Chocolate Bark – my favorite of all three – the chocolate in this one had a slight peanut buttery taste, like a really excellent Reese’s Peanut Butter cup

So I’m trying to be critical here, but I really found little fault in any of the items.  To me, there are few combos more divine than chocolate + salt. This bag of treats has only made me more excited to return and sample more of their items, especially their truffles.  Some of their goods like the chocolate icons gilded in 23k edible gold leaf are amazing to look at, and they also do fun seasonal shapes like owls or Day of the Dead skeletons.

As an added bonus, my Chinook book (I keep mentioning this book, as it’s got some awesome deals at local businesses) has a coupon for a free truffle with purchase of a drink.  Uh, twist my arm?

I have two items left in my bag o’goodies – a small baggie of bulk lapsang souchong tea and lapsang souchong caramel sauce.  The sauce’s first ingredient is cream, followed by sweeteners and butter — I think this will be to my liking!

The only dilemma is what to serve it on, besides spooning it straight of the jar.  Vanilla ice cream seems obvious, but I am also think it might be nice drizzled over some roasted pears or a simple cake of some sort.  Ideas, anyone?

I’ll share in my next post a surprising use for the lapsang souchong tea.

Essential Details:

Alma Chocolate
140 NE 28th Ave
Portland, OR 97232
There is an online store if you don’t live in PDX, but if you are one of the lucky ones, current hours of their shop are Mon-Sat 10am-6pm, Sun 11am-4pm

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My fellow and I have lived in the Woodlawn neighborhood in NE Portland, Oregon, for nearly 2 years now as renters.  I quite it like it – it’s about 5 miles to work by bike, and we’ve got 2 bus lines close by as well.  The much-more famous Alberta Arts neighborhood is just up the road, far enough away to keep the chaos of Last Thursday (a monthly street fair that at its best is an art fair & at its worst, a mob of drunks)  at arms’ reach.  And, our neighborhood park is lovely with big trees, open lawns, and basketball courts we use a lot come spring.

We moved in at a time, too, when Woodlawn was just coming back to life.  The main business street, NE Dekum, still doesn’t have a lot, but two new restaurants opened up right around the time we moved here.


Photo of exterior from Firehouse's website

One of them is Firehouse, housed in an old firehouse, natch.  It features a wood-burning oven and simple Italian-influenced foods.  We attended their New Year Eve dinner for the 2nd time in a row this year, as last year’s dinner was such a feast.  This year’s meal featured 5 courses for $50 which was a great value for the quality (and amounts!) of food we got.

As we walked up, a member of their staff was roasting chestnuts and serving them in a little paper cones.  I felt a bit like a squirrel chomping away, but it was a novel treat while awaiting our table.

The first course was actually three small plates – a hard sheep’s milk cheese drizzled with honey & Marcona almonds, warm rosemary-marinated green olives, and chopped roasted beets with small crumbles of cheese and nuts.  The beets were a substitution for their pate as we don’t eat meat.  My only complaint was the beets were chopped a little too small, making it hard to stab them with my fork in a graceful manner.

The olives were one of the standouts of the meal – sounds silly, right?  But, I really enjoyed their warmth and deep rosemary flavor.  At home, I usually take them out of the depths of a cold fridge and plop out of their  jar or deli container into a bowl.  The warmth really made them more enjoyable and deepened the flavor.

The salad course came out next, featuring greens, thinly sliced fennel, and blood orange segments.  This salad was okay, but it didn’t knock me out.  There were too many greens, and it became a bit monotonous.  Perhaps a smaller portion and a few large slices of oranges would have struck a better balance.

Photos from Firehouse's website

My eyes grew wide at the next course that emerged from their wood-fired oven  – a full large-dinner plate sized pizza for the two of us.  It had scattered small bits of truffle – the ‘shroom kind, not the chocolate kind, that is.  Mmmm – my 1st time eating truffles on a pizza – they added a nice salty flavor.

We both had the same main – a seafood bouillabaisse featuring local cod, crab, and mussels.  The broth was tomato-based with hints of fennel.

There were three options for dessert.  By this time, I was feeling pretty stuffed to the brim.  However, when our pear-apple strudel and chocolate cassata siciliana cake arrived, I caught a 2nd wind and devoured my shares of both.

The pear-apple strudel had a flaky delicious pastry strips on top of tender fruit and wasn’t overly sweet.  It was dressed simply with a light chantilly cream.  It was the first time I can recall having a cassata – it was a layered chocolate cake, with a lighter chocolate filling (ricotta, perhaps, according to wikipedia) and finely chopped pistachios.  To the side was a kumquat marmalade which added a nice tangy finish to the cake.

I’ve heard rumors (ok – more than that, as they came from the owner of Firehouse) that the pastry chef will soon open a coffee/bake shop across the street from Firehouse, and  I can hardly wait!  The desserts on NYE, plus a chocolate torte I had at Firehouse a few weeks ago (very similar to Orangette’s “winning-hearts-and-minds chocolate cake”) have been some of the highlights of my meals at Firehouse.

As we left, several of the staff in the open kitchen paused in their preparations to wish us a Happy New Year.  It was a simple moment, but it left me feeling warm as we headed outside into the darkness to await 2010.

Essential Details:

711 NE Dekum, Portland, OR 97211
Winter Hours: Wed, Thurs, Sun 5pm-9pm; Fri & Sat 5pm-10pm

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