Pacific City to Oceanside, Tillamook County, Oregon Coast


Among the many sea stacks that are found along the Pacific Coast, Cannon Beach is famed as much for iconic Haystack Rock as for its art galleries, boutique shops and restaurants. It’s natural to think that Cannon Beach has the tallest stack along Oregon’s coast, maybe because of the town’s unverifiable claim (“third largest intertidal monolith in the world”), but the one in Pacific City, which also happens to be called Haystack Rock, is taller. Yet, for all its extra 92ft, its impact is not as dramatic because it’s dwarfed by Cape Kiwanda to the north and its greater distance offshore makes it seem smaller than Cannon Beach’s.

There’s more to like about Pacific City. The flat sandy beach is firm enough to walk and drive on. Many visitors park their vehicles on the beach and spend the day. It doesn’t attract nearly the crowds that Cannon Beach does, while having good amenities for tourists. We stayed at The Inn at Cape Kiwanda where every room has a terrific view of Haystack and the ocean. On summer days, like today, the temperatures are mild, rarely exceeding the 70s, which attracts many beachgoers, who tend to congregate between Kiwanda and the brewery. A short trudge to the south will give you all the solitude you might want.

Cape Kiwanda is an easy walk from the beach. You can get to the top by climbing what amounts to a giant sand dune, called the Great Dune, on the back end of its southern flank, or from access roads further north. We did the climb. Shifting sand made for tricky footing. When we reached solid sandstone, we got a panoramic view of the shoreline. Going back down was much easier, but not as fast as boys schussing down on their sandboards. The cape, consisting of brilliant but soft orange and yellow sandstone, still stands by the grace of Haystack Rock that has shielded it from the erosive force of rough waters. It would otherwise have disappeared long ago.

Pacific City beach from Cape Kiwanda (click to enlarge)

Pacific City beach from Cape Kiwanda (click to enlarge)

At low tide, tidepools can be explored on and between the rocky shoreline, heavily encrusted with mussels, barnacles, limpets and chitons, making for treacherous navigation. At least one tidepool harbored a colony of colorful anemones. A common murre, one of several indigenous seabirds, remained amazingly unperturbed by humans, even as a kid patted its back.

common murre

Common murre

Pacific City lies along the 40-mile loop called the Three Capes Scenic Route. Cape Meares, Cape Lookout and Cape Kiwanda, the last jutting out from Pacific City’s shore, make up the three headlands. It’s a beautiful drive that rivals any stretch that Oregon has to offer. Taking Sand Lake Road (part of the Scenic Loop) north out of Pacific City will lead to Cape Lookout and its state park via Cape Lookout Road. We stopped here for a brief hike along the South Trail to stretch our legs. The view out to sea and of Cape Kiwanda was largely obscured by trees. The trail dead-ended twenty minutes into the hike with a warning sign not to go any further, so we turned back and found a short path down to the beach before returning to our car. Though we didn’t take it, the longer 2.4-mile trail along the cape ends up at a viewpoint that gives you unobstructed views of Tillamook Head, Cape Falcon, Cape Meares, Three Arch Rocks, Cape Kiwanda, Haystack Rock, Cascade Head and Cape Foulweather, the only single spot along the coast where all these geographical features can be seen.

South Trail, Cape Lookout State Park, View toward Cape Kiwanda

South Trail, Cape Lookout State Park, View toward Cape Kiwanda

Our next stop was Oceanside. We only had time to get a glimpse of Three Arch Rocks, which stand about a half mile offshore, and have lunch at Roseanna’s Cafe, before heading out to Centralia, WA.

Three Arch Rocks from Roseanna's (Oceanside, OR)

Three Arch Rocks from Roseanna’s Cafe (Oceanside, OR)

Although not on the coastal roads, two nearby places are worth mentioning. At 319ft, Munson Creek Falls is the tallest in the Coast Range, located about 10 miles south of Tillamook. It’s only a quarter-mile walk from the parking lot to the viewing area. Unfortunately, storm damage caused the closure of the path closest to the falls. Still, a very good view can be had from the existing vantage point.

Munson Falls

Munson Falls

Without doubt the area’s most popular attraction, enticing 1 million visitors a year, is the Tillamook Cheese Factory in the city of Tillamook, first made famous by its award-winning cheddar. Nowadays, far from being the small facility that we remembered from decades past, it’s an enormous complex with two gift shops, gigantic ice cream parlor and café. Gone are the guided tours where you could actually watch employees making cheese, replaced by self-guided tours from viewing areas far above the factory floor. Despite making all sorts of cheese today, it seems the main attraction is a full line of premium ice creams served in two lines, each staffed by half a dozen servers. This place is a circus, to be sure, but worth at least one visit.

Tillamook ice cream lines

Tillamook ice cream lines

Tasting notes: Pelican Pub & Brewery (Yelp: 3.5/5.0; TripAdvisor: 4.0/5.0) in Pacific City has a prime spot on the beach. Here, you can get better-than-average grub, but more to the point, taste its award-winning beers. Try their delicious Kiwanda Cream Ale, for example. There’s an outdoor dining area facing the ocean that’s hugely popular with customers in the summer. The chef aspires to use the beers as ingredients in the menu items. There’s even a suggested beer pairing with each item. With very few restaurants open on Tuesdays in Pacific City, we wound up eating lunch and dinner at Pelican, across the street from the Inn. Roasted tomatoes were a tasty component of the Oregon Shrimp Niçoise Salad (☆☆½), a pretty good salad with lemon-caper vinaigrette. Their ‘fabulous clam chowder‘ would’ve lived up to its billing if the clams weren’t so minuscule, rubbery and sandy. The broth itself was very tasty and thick (☆☆½). One at least has to give credit to the kitchen for offering Sweet Potato Quinoa Cakes, more like a salad with arugula, roasted tomatoes and fried onion rings obscuring the yam patties underneath (☆☆☆). Fish Tacos sounded appealing, with another slight change-up with jicama lime slaw and Southwest quinoa salad. Two problems. The Alaskan cod had been previously frozen that rubbery flesh betrayed and the slaw tasted more vinegary than lime-y (☆☆).

As we were on the Oregon coast, what better opportunity than to smother ourselves with fried razor clams. I had read that Roseanna’s Cafe (Yelp: 3.5/5.0; TripAdvisor: 4.0/5.0) in Oceanside served a wonderful version, but alas it’s not on the regular menu, served only on occasion. The day of our visit was not one of them. So, we contented ourselves with beef and barley soup, a spectacular version marred only by over-saltiness (☆☆☆½). Even more spectacular was marionberry cobbler (☆☆☆☆). The marionberry is another of Oregon’s great contributions to the food world. The pie was still warm, the crust flaky and the vanilla ice cream likely Tillamook’s. You would hardly notice Roseanna’s as you’re driving along narrow Pacific Avenue, just as you wouldn’t realize what a very popular place this is until you step inside. As a bonus, you get a good look at Three Arch Rocks from any table by the window.

No visit to Tillamook County would be complete without a taste of ice cream at the Tillamook Cheese Factory. Tons of people had this is mind last Wednesday (August 5)—likely every day—when two separate lines form to get samples of 31 flavors. Recently, Tillamook introduced a line of ice creams, sold only in half-gallon sizes, that features locally grown fruit, such as Oregon Strawberry and Oregon Blueberry Patch. For my money though, I’m a big fan of their Marionberry Pie with its bits of pie crust and Oregon Black Cherry. At the factory, you could gorge yourself on a sampler called Tillamook Ice Cream Adventure, which offers a scoop of every ice cream they make, amounting to 31 scoops. Our sights were a little lower, opting for the 5 Scoop Sampler Dish. We chose Cinnamon HorchataCoffee Almond FudgeOregon Blueberry PatchWild Mountain Blackberry and an outstanding Oregon Hazelnut & Salted Caramel. Not to worry—each scoop is the size of a golf ball.

5 Scoop Sampler Dish

5 Scoop Sampler Dish

Looking Out to Sea, Cape Kiwanda, Oregon


The day was perfect for exploring at Cape Kiwanda. From the rocky shore, it’s natural to look out to sea.

Spruce Goose


Howard Hughes’ Spruce Goose has found a home in the most unlikely of places in McMinnville, Oregon, housed in the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum, having made its way from southern California. Originally built as a World War II transport aircraft, made entirely of wood, it retains the record of having the longest wingspan (almost 321ft) of any aircraft ever built. The Goose, technically labeled the Hughes H-4 Hercules, only made a single flight before being shelved but not forgotten.

The museum itself, consisting of three separate buildings spread over several acres, including an IMAX theater, is impressive. When first entering the main building, I was awestruck by the sheer size of the Spruce Goose, hovering over all the other vintage aircraft like a gigantic mother craft. The space building has as its centerpiece a complete Titan II missile.

space museum

It’s odd that there is such an impressive tribute to aviation and space technology in the middle of Oregon’s wine country, the Willamette Valley.

Tasting Notes: The first time I ever ate at Nick’s Italian Café (Yelp: 4.5/5.0; TripAdvisor: 4.0/5.0) was when my daughter was checking out Linfield College to go to school. At the time, Nick’s was a semi-formal restaurant that had the reputation for serving and especially promoting the region’s great wines, pinot noirs in particular. The wine list was compiled in an intimidating notebook though the wait staff was very helpful. The restaurant seemed to be the only serious dining venue in what was then McMinnville’s small town atmosphere. What stuck in all our minds—me, my wife and two daughters—was the outstanding minestrone soup. More than that, it was the first time we’d ever had a dollop of pesto in minestrone, which we regarded as divine inspiration. Today, more than thirty years later, Nick’s still stands but has been taken over by Nick’s daughter and son-in-law. The menu has been updated, the interior modernized and the atmosphere thankfully more casual than before. It is also surrounded by a more robust commercial district with other quality restaurant options. And, yes, the soup is still on the menu, listed as Classic Minestrone Soup (☆☆☆☆). While the entrées my wife and I ordered tonight was very good, the soup reigned supreme. I could eat a whole tureen of the stuff as dinner.

nick's minestrone

Ataula: Sublime Call ‘To the Table’ (Portland, OR)


I’ll say it right off. Ataula is the best tapas restaurant my wife and I have ever been to. Not only was the food consistently sublime but the wait staff was above reproach and the tab less than we expected to pay for such quality. Ataula is somewhat hidden away on a quiet side street of Portland’s Alphabet District and one might think that it, with its smallish place, might be regarded as a neighborhood restaurant, except that the kitchen, headed by Chef José Chesa, turns out carefully prepared and artfully presented dishes that caused a wider clientele to take notice. Open for only two years, it already is one of Portland’s best restaurants.

The menu is short, divided into three categories: tapas, per picar (finger foods), and paellas + rossejats. The last group is clearly more substantial (rossejat is similar to paella except that rice, vermicelli or both are browned before cooking), but the essential distinction between the first two categories wasn’t so clear, despite our waitress’ explanation.

To keep on the lighter side, we ordered just three tapas/picar items and a bottle of verdejo.

Nuestras bravas arrived at the table first, the chef’s take on classic patatas bravas. Five cubes were served on a wooden plank, topped with brava sauce and drizzled with milk alioli and parsley sauce. The exteriors were nicely crispy and the centers, perfectly done. My wife was the first to notice that the potato didn’t just yield to the bite in a solid piece as one would expect, but flaked like fish. Our waitress later revealed the labor that goes into making this dish. A potato is sliced thin with a mandoline, then put back together, cooked sous-vide, cut into cubes and fried. The sauce added a fresh tomato-paprika contrast. Outstanding. (☆☆☆☆)

Nuestras bravas

Nuestras bravas

Next came tomaquet, a salad of heirloom and cherry tomatoes, pickled piparras chiles, cucumber, olives, sea beans (agretti), dill, drizzled with a wonderful vinaigrette made with fruity arbequina olive oil. Salads of this perfection are rare. (☆☆☆☆)

Tomiquet

Tomiquet

One of the evening’s specials was thinly sliced, dry-cured bellota ham, which the chef was carving as we first sat down. Drizzled with olive oil, it was served with tomato sauce-slathered bread, not a baguette but softer, possibly coca bread which appears in other menu items. The premium ham was intensely flavored, drier than prosciutto, made from pigs that ideally forage in oak forests and feast on acorns. (☆☆☆☆)

Bellota

Bellota

In true Spanish tapas fashion, the portion sizes were reasonable (translation: we weren’t stuffed). What I’m leading up to is that we felt we had room to tackle one more item, for me maybe wondering if we could be dazzled yet again. Fried eggplant (berenjena) was another masterpiece from the kitchen, lightly crispy on the outside, velvety inside, with virtually no trace of oil, dusted with a Moroccan spice with cumin hints, and served with a thick romesco sauce. They were impossibly airy. (☆☆☆☆)

berenjena (fried eggplant)

berenjena (fried eggplant)

One of the waiters, who must double as sommelier, steered us to a fine bottle of Martinsancho verdejo, which went down easily with the entrées. So easily that the two of us polished off the whole bottle. It’s a good thing that we took the Tri-Met back to Gresham. Memories of our experience will linger for a long time.

ataula

Ataula
1818 NW 23rd Pl
Portland, OR 97210
503.894.8904
Hours: 4:30-10pm, Tu-Sa

Nicholas Restaurant (Gresham, OR)


After a long day’s drive in blistering heat into and out of Mount Rainier National Park and Mount St Helens Volcanic National Monument and checking into our motel, my wife and I were ready for a margarita and an ice cold beer. (Mis)guided by Quality Inn’s confusingly formatted list of recommended local restaurants in Gresham, we headed straight for what I thought was the address of a Mexican restaurant, but instead wound up at Nicholas, a Lebanese and Middle Eastern restaurant. It was too hot (over 100oF) to get back into the car, so we decided to stay.

The interior is spacious and dominated by sunflower-colored walls decorated with black-and-white photographs and oil paintings. The wait staff was cheerful and friendly and prone to use “we” when referring to “you,” which I personally find a tad annoying.

Each table had a tall pizza stand that I thought took up too much table space if I wasn’t going to order a pie. But the reason for it became obvious when an enormous, complimentary pita bread (☆☆☆½), fresh out of the oven, about 24″ across, was placed on top of the stand. You tear pieces off and dip them into the manakish (a blend of olive oil, oregano, thyme, dried mint and toasted sesame seeds), a dish of which was on every table, or into other spreads ordered from the menu. The menu is liberally sprinkled with pictures of many items to help those unfamiliar with the cuisine. To us, several things were very familiar because we had them at Omar Khyyam in Renton, which unfortunately closed for business several years ago. Here were the recognizable grape leaves, lentil soup, falafel, tabbouleh, hummus, baba ghanouj, fried cauliflower, shish tawouk, and kibbeh, but also many items we’d never heard of. As it turns out, there are in fact “pizzas” whose base is the enormous pita, topped with a variety of Lebanese ingredients, including lamb, chicken, manakish, spinach, and roasted spicy peppers (shatta).

For starters, our thirst for ice cold beers was satisfied with bottled hefeweizen and Laotian beer served with frosted mugs. I love when restaurants do that.

Our vegetarian mezza consisted of tabbouleh salad, hummus, falafel with tahziki, spinach pie and tiny manakish pie. All were delicious, though the highest praise goes to the tabbouleh (☆☆☆☆), in which quinoa substituted for the usual bulgur and lemon juice was used with restraint, and to the wonderful tahziki (☆☆☆½) that my wife seemed to put on everything.

Vegetarian mezza

Vegetarian mezza

Spinach and manakish pies (part of the vegetarian mezza)

Spinach and manakish pies (part of the vegetarian mezza)

The mezza and pita bread turned out to be enough food, so we began to wonder whether it was wise to have ordered the shish tawouk (chicken kabob). We soldiered on but without regret. This was a fine example (☆☆☆). It may not make us forget Omar’s splendid version, but the chicken pieces with onion and bell pepper slices were perfectly grilled, served with an outstanding toum. The rice was denser and mushier than we’ve had before, though its flavor was very good.

Chicken kabobs

Chicken kabobs

Nicholas opened its first restaurant in Portland in 1986. Two more followed, including the one in Gresham.

Nicholas Restaurant
323 N Main Ave.
Gresham, OR 97030
503.666.3333

 

No ‘Garbage’ Here: Luigi’s Italian Sandwiches (Medford, OR)


I thought I was in the wrong area, looking for Luigi’s Italian Sandwiches, surrounded by Macy’s, J. C. Penney, The Gap, Sports Authority, and the like. A neighborhood joint was what I was expecting. Then, I saw it, a small building sitting on the corner of Ohio and N Riverside, across the street from the sprawling Rogue Valley Mall.

I’m guessing little has changed since 1969 when Luigi’s first opened. There are a paltry few places to sit down outside, still more room than the few stools lined up next to a small counter along the south side of the walk-in area, no more than eight-ft square. It’s best to order take-out or eat in your car, which you can park in an equally small, tight lot.

Luigi's Italian Sandwiches

Luigi’s Italian Sandwiches

A dozen people were crammed inside, most of them waiting for their orders to be filled. The menu is thankfully perched above everyone’s head, easy to read. For me, it would be an obvious choice, the Garbage Grinder (labeled ‘World Famous’), the sandwich that brought Luigi’s fame. My wife spotted on the menu Luigi’s meatball sandwich, conjuring up visions of Pizza Napoli’s near LAX (now closed). All sandwiches can be ordered in three sizes: small (6″), regular (8″) or large (12″). We each ordered the small.

There are nine kinds of grinders, each with different fillings (including a vegetarian). All of them are served open-faced, exactly as they come out of the small, flat, stainless steel oven, like a pizza. And there the similarity to the pie doesn’t end because the bread is more pizza-like than, say, French roll, having a denser chew and developing a crackly exterior as it bakes. It is also thin, which places the emphasis as it should on the toppings. The ‘Garbage’ (image above) has salami, ham and pepperoni, two kinds of melted cheese (one of which is mozzarella) and their ‘secret’ sauce. After baking, the sandwich is topped with fresh vegetables: mild sliced onions, half moons of Roma tomatoes, green bell peppers, pickles, olive oil and something called EZ salt. Every sandwich is made-to-order, which can end up in a long wait when there are lots of customers, but the result is piping hot. Fold the sandwich over in half and eat. The Garbage Grinder (☆☆☆☆) is my third excellent dish I’ve enjoyed on this road trip.

The meatball sandwich came on a French roll. It too is baked, with a smear of house-made spaghetti sauce and minced onion and bell peppers and sliced mushrooms. My wife liked the sandwich (☆☆☆), especially its savory meatballs, though she prefers the southern Italian version which has a zestier sauce (marinara) and more of it, and no visible aromatic vegetables.

Meatball sandwich

Meatball sandwich

On the wall is a map of the U.S. where customers can place a push pin where they’re from. Started in February of this year, there were at least three pins from all 50 states, a remarkable statistic. It would be interesting if there was also a map of the world. Luigi’s claims to make 150-200 sandwiches per day. Is Luigi’s an excuse to stop in Medford when passing through again? It would be a great temptation, I’ll say that.

Luigi’s Italian Sandwiches
1819 N Riverside Ave
Medford, OR

Better Than Your Average Brew Pub: Falling Sky Brewing (Eugene, OR)


Craft breweries are springing up almost everywhere. The Pacific Northwest has seen its mini-explosion start business only within the last decade. It’s fun when the beer is served in a pub setting, even more so when there are noshes, too. Most of these places are content to sell burgers, fries and pizza, maybe chicken wings. It’s the rare pub that aspires to something more and succeed at it. Better still that its ingredients are sourced locally and has vegetarian and gluten-free options. Enter Falling Sky Brewing and Gastropub in 2011, which has received numerous commendations and a loyal following. In 2013, Falling Sky Pour House & Delicatessen opened with even a larger food menu and questions began to be raised if this could be the best brewpub in all of Oregon, which could tweak Portlanders. Zounds, they even do their own baking, smoking, curing, brining and fermenting.

Copper brewing equipment

Copper brewing equipment

Order counter

Order counter

Finding the place can be a bit tricky, located as it is in an alleyway. The tavern is spacious with communal beer hall tables from which can be seen their huge copper brewing equipment through large glass windows. The current beer list is printed on a blackboard, as are the specials and wine list. Their standard menu is also handed out before you order.

Flight of four beers

Flight of four beers

The list of house beers is impressive, covering the gamut of styles, from lagers to IPAs. And, if you have specific preferences about your beer but know nothing about Falling Sky’s offerings, a convenient system of classifying their beers is provided: alcohol percentage (ABV) and bitterness (IBU), which can sort of tell you what to expect. (Falling Sky also supplies a beer’s original gravity, or OG, number.) I had a four-beer flight: Ready to Mingle Belgian Single (4.6% ABV, 19 IBU), Morning After Pils (5.0% ABV, 25 IBU), Dr. Optic Standard Bitter (3.6% ABV, 28 IBU) and Mash Transit Ale (5.8% ABV, 40 IBU), all of which were pretty nice.

As I mentioned, the food menu is taken very seriously. Going through it gives an indication of how serious. For example, appetizers include roasted brussels sprouts with hazelnuts and pretzel sticks. The chicken wings are thankfully not buffaloed but coated in za’atar and honey. One of their favorites is poutine, that Canadian snack of fries topped with gravy and cheese curds. Falling Sky’s gravy is made from mushrooms. Their sandwiches include two vegetarian ones (one of them a burger), a lamb burger and a burger made from grass-fed local beef and served (hallelujah!) medium-rare, which can only be possible when the quality, safety and provenance of the meat can be verified. It would normally be VERY tempting.

Moules frites

Moules frite

But, we weren’t particularly hungry, so we settled for a shared house salad and moules frites, one of tonight’s specials. The salad with lemon-tahini dressing and Belgian-style hand-cut fries were very fine, but the mussels were outstanding (☆☆☆☆). The mollusks were perfectly cooked, meaty and succulent, bathed in a cream sauce with leeks and star anise. No spoon was provided, so both my wife and I polished off the broth with empty mussel shells. It’s tragic that this is not on the regular menu.

Falling Sky’s motto is LET IT POUR, which (aside from being a clever phrase) has significant meaning in this Land of the Ducks. When it rains, a discount is applied to your beer, which happens often.

Count me in for return visits whenever I’m back in town.

Falling Sky Brewing and Gastropub
1334 Oak Alley
Eugene, OR 97401
541.505.7096

Back to Taqueria Los Temos (Salem, OR)


The drive down through Oregon wasn’t the downpour that I had braced myself for. By the time we got to Salem though, it was drizzling and there was enough pall in the sky to call it gloomy. The atmosphere completely changed when we walked into Los Temos, a return visit to an outstanding taqueria after a hiatus of over a year. Unlike last time, the restaurant was packed with families out for Sunday lunch. The back room, dark back in 2013, was now jammed with customers being entertained by a mariachi band. We would’ve joined the festivities but for the fact that every table was taken.

Los Temos lacks in ‘atmosphere,’ by which I mean what Americans have come to expect as a large, modern restaurant with an equally large menu of Tex-Mex food and a bar. It is, after all, a taqueria, and one that seems to cater to the large Mexican population in and around Salem. It would scarcely attract passersby looking for a place to eat, even more so because it’s surrounded by agricultural fields. The building seems little more than a project of DYI amateurs. Different shades of brown paint hide imperfections in the interior wall plaster. The parking lot gets muddy during rains.

los temos

It’s all about the food, especially birria de chivo (goat stew). Great food is impossible to keep a secret. We don’t see birria tacos in the States much, but when you eat the stew with tortillas, it’s a no-brainer to offer them that way. Goat’s flavor profile is closer to lamb, which may explain why birria is made with mutton as well. My birria combination plate (with rice and beans) had enough filling for a half dozen soft tacos, which meant that my wife needn’t have gotten her two tacos of birria and adobada, even if the latter itself was very good. A generous stack of freshly made corn tortillas arrived with my order. And, like before, the consommé from the birria pot was divine, as good as the best jus that comes with French dip sandwiches. You could spoon the broth over the goat meat, but served in a styrofoam cup, I much prefer to drink it straight.

(Top to bottom) Condiment bowl of onion, cilantro and lime; chile sauce; birria de chico consommé

(Top to bottom) Condiment bowl of onion, cilantro and lime; chile sauce; birria de chivo consommé

Combination plate of birria de chivo

Combination plate of birria de chivo

Update (11-28-15): The drive down from Seattle today was sporadically foggy with temperatures in the frosty 30s. The sky was a brilliant blue in Salem. Naturally, I had to have the birria tacos, which did not disappoint.

IMG_9831

What caught our attention this time around was a special that Los Temos was offering, possibly for the season but also just as likely a specialty that will be available from now on: a stew made with goat, called caldo de birria, that everyone else in the restaurant seemed to have ordered that would have been the perfect antidote to the cold weather. Next time.

Related post

Los Temos Taqueria
7000 Portland Rd NE
Salem, OR 97305
503.463.6822

Black Cat Cantina (Portland, OR)—CLOSED


“What are your favorite things on the menu?” my wife asked. The waitress quickly glanced at her, then me, as if gauging what might appeal to us. “I would recommend the ceviché de camaron, shrimp mixed with mango and strawberry, chile and chopped cilantro. There are also lemon and lime juices in it. You will love it. Can I start you off with one?”

The statement was confidently made, my retelling not quite verbatim but accurate in style and delivery. She then went on in detail how each of the menu items we asked about (and some we didn’t) was prepared, down to the spices, herbs and seasonings. We were hooked by her explanations, given patiently and willingly. Was it possible that we had never had any better wait person who knew everything about the menu?

By herself, she was taking care of the entire dining area, at least when we arrived close to 6pm, of the Black Cat Cantina which a friend of ours (who knew we were in Portland) alerted us to by email just yesterday. We told him we would check it out. Located in east Portland (Gresham), the restaurant features food from Mexico and other parts of Latin America, mostly Argentina. Several of the menu items listed “Latin America” as the place of origin, not knowing if this meant that they were prepared beyond any single national border or the chef, who was trained in Mexico and Spain, was simply being creative with indigenous ingredients. It didn’t matter to us.

We started things off with cocktails. My Caipirinha del Norte (☆☆½) is a riff on the popular Brazilian drink, using limes, vodka instead of cachaça and muddled grapes instead of refined sugar. My wife’s El Paseo (☆☆½) margarita combined Gran Centenario tequila, lime juice, agave nectar and Grand Marnier, quite a tart and relatively weak version. To their credit, these drinks were not cloyingly sweet.

So, what about the ceviché mentioned at the beginning of the post? The waitress was right; we loved it (☆☆☆½). A little spicy from serrano chilés, the Mexican white shrimp were nicely “cooked” by the citrus juices, which themselves were wonderfully contrasted by the diced fruits. This was a very refreshing appetizer/salad.

Ceviché de camaron

Ceviché de camaron

I was swayed by the waitress’ description of the Argentine churrasco, a steak served with chimichurri sauce. According to her, the cut is an Argentine one called bife de chorizo, which she described as being just as flavorful as ribeye but not as marbled with fat. Similar to a New York steak, it is cut and trimmed differently, enough that Black Cat Cantina has to special-order them. It arrived as a 12-oz portion, about ¾-inch thick, with nice grill marks, some untrimmed (and tasty) exterior fat, and bursting with intense beef flavor. The tangy and assertive chimichurri, though flavorful, masked the steak’s flavor, so I wound up dipping cut meat pieces just slightly so as to engage in an authentic Argentine experience. As if sliced from polyhedrons of potatoes, papas bravas were flawless, crispy on the outside, fluffy on the inside, and wonderfully seasoned. Like the chimichurri, the accompanying catsup seemed superfluous. I loved this entire dish (☆☆☆☆), with or without the sauces.

Churrasco

Churrasco

Remembering the superb version she had at Señor Moose in Seattle, my wife picked the Pescado a la Veracruzana. Though the waitress called out the fish as petrale sole, it was actually tilapia, mingled in a robust sauce of tomatoes, black (instead of green) olives and plenty of capers (which made the dish salty), all served on a bed of perfectly cooked, flavorful Mexican rice. With a slight deduction for tilapia’s mildly muddy taste, my wife really enjoyed this otherwise perfect dish (☆☆☆½).

Pescado a la Veracruzana

Pescado a la Veracruzana

When the waitress asked if we enjoyed our meals, we were quick to answer in the affirmative.

“Is your name Liz?” I asked.

“Yes! How did you know?”

“I read about you on Yelp.” Yes, Liz (which she pronounces with a long “i”, like Leez) has impressed more customers than just us and the diners in the next booth.

“I love my job,” she beamed. Indeed she does, and her customers are just as glad.

Black Cat Bistro (** CLOSED **)
18901 E Burnside
Portland, OR 97233
503.912.3228

Thrill of Multnomah Falls (Troutdale, OR)


There are few things more thrilling than standing near a stupendous waterfall. The feeling is almost visceral, mesmerizing. Some people claim that they feel better when standing next to a waterfall, maybe having something to do with the production of enormous amounts of negative ions (oxygen molecules with an extra electron) that research has shown improves mood and rids the air of pollutants.

As our previous visits to Multnomah Falls were under less than ideal weather conditions, we decided at the last minute to take another trip there since there was little chance of rain today. Along the way, we also stopped to see Wahkeena Falls.

After Yosemite Falls, Multnomah Falls just outside Troutdale has been identified by the U. S. Forest Service as the tallest year-round waterfall in the nation. It can easily be reached from the Historic Columbia River Highway, only a half hour outside Portland. A short trail leads to a footbridge from which you can observe the upper falls more closely.

There would not have been such a spectacular attraction were it not for many major lava flows during the area’s geologic history. The devastating Missoula Floods that reshaped much of Washington State did much to create Multnomah’s present form. They ripped away the fractured basalt, leaving behind steep cliffs and cataracts.

multnomah falls