Astoria, Oregon: The Highlights

Astoria Oregon

After we moved out of Vancouver, we spent a week traveling through Oregon. We drove to our first stop, Astoria, home of such major motion picture locations as “The Goonies.” If you ever find yourself in this coastal city, I recommend getting a riverfront room at The Hampton Inn. You’ll have a lovely view of the Columbia River and an easy walk to downtown.

Astoria ColumnAstoria has a charming small town feel, with many stately homes dotting its hillsides. Climb one hill high enough and you’ll reach the Astoria Column, known as the “crowning monument” among 12 historical markers located between St. Paul, Minnesota, and Astoria, Oregon. The column commemorates Astoria’s early explorers—Captains Robert Gray, William Clark and Meriwether Lewis. You can take the stairs inside the column to the top for a bird’s-eye view of the coast.

Fort George AstoriaFor food and craft beer, try Fort George Brewery + Public House. I was quite happy with my burrito and the stout (my favorite type of beer) from our tasting flight the night we stayed in town. It’s a two-floor eatery/bar with a lively scene and live music. You’ll see a good mix of folks, from young singles to families hanging out.

Pig N Pancake

For brunch, I really liked Pig ‘N Pancake, a diner started by a married couple in 1961 that has since expanded to several locations in Oregon. I ordered buckwheat pancakes with a dungeness crab and cheese omelette. The buckwheat sat heavily, and I didn’t need to order the omelette to get full, but indulge I did.

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Vancouver: The Final Highlights

Save on Meats door

It’s been about a month since we moved out of Vancouver, and a post is in order to pay homage to our final days there. This will undoubtedly be food-related because Vancouver is such a foodie town, and we wanted to make sure we hit all the highlights before we headed out for good.

Sura pork and kimchi

Sura Korean Royal Cuisine
We decided on Sura on Robson St. for dinner one rainy evening. The large dining room was busy, despite it being a weeknight. We ordered three mains: seafood pancake (a classic that I like to order at Korean restaurants), beef short ribs (which we’ve become quite good at making ourselves with a homemade marinade) and kimchi with pork slices. The pork dish stood out because it was something I’d never encountered before: tender pork with a rind of fat served with large leaves of kimchi cabbage in a sour/savory broth. Bonus: You get an endless serving of small sides throughout the meal (I recommend the seaweed).

Save on Meats chicken and waffles

Save On Meats
We finally visited Save On Meats for brunch. We used to pass by it while driving through Hastings St. and have been wanting to stop in purely for how entertaining the signage is–it’s a big pink pig with the name of the shop very visible from the street. One side is a diner, and the other is a butcher shop (currently closed for renovation). This joint has been around since 1957, and it’s been updated to cater to hispter cool with young servers and a foodie spin on classic diner grub.  I ordered the fried chicken and waffles, served with two large pieces of boneless chicken in a crispy batter on housemade buttermilk waffles, plus an order of two sunnyside-up eggs. I eagerly poured gravy onto everything.

Wildebeest horse tartare

Wildebeest
We had our last dinner in Vancouver at Wildebeest, a casual fine-dining establishment on West Hastings in the business district. This place has an excellent menu. We ordered a lot. For the appetizers: foie gras torchon, horse tartare and roasted sweetbreads. For the entrees: pork belly and scallops, and pan-seared rockfish. I also got a side of brussels sprouts. All the dishes were delicious and plated artfully. This was the first time I’d ever eaten horse, and I really liked the tartare version. It was served with a sous-vide egg yolk, which, when mixed in with the tartare, enhances the silken texture. We enjoyed this meal more than the one we had at Hawksworth; the cuisine is equal in quality, with more selection and a stylish, unpretentious atmosphere.

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Pho 75, Arlington, VA

Pho 75

Now that I’m back at the office, I’ve begun to revisit old haunts. The first on the list is Pho 75, to which I’ve already returned three times in the last 2.5 weeks that I’ve been back in the area.

The neighborhood has become gentrified, with a lot of pricey apartments and restaurants coming up in the last few years, but Pho 75 is surviving easily with an untroubled transition. It used to be a hidden-gem hole in the wall, but nowadays the dining room is often full of millennials, office workers and neighborhood folks contentedly sipping or slurping big bowls of delicious broth soaking through rice noodles.

You can get a regular or large bowl, plus your choice of meat, and the pho is served with a plate of fresh mint leaves and bean sprouts. It’s a good balance of carbs, protein and veg, with an umami broth that I assume is simmering away all day to intensify the flavor.

I recommend getting a large bowl with fat brisket. The brisket is sliced ultrathin, including a rind of fat, which is close to melting in tenderness. You can walk away very full for less than $10.

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Spinach Tortellini With Prosciutto

Tortellini with prosciutto

Hi, folks. It’s been a while since I posted. Been busy with traveling. We moved out of Vancouver at the close of our tour, then spent time on the Oregon coast, Portland, and Florida.

I’m now back in Washington, D.C. for a year. So far, the spring days are warm and long and full of sunshine. The trees are budding, and there’s an ease in the air. A welcoming return.

Hubby’s on a business trip this week, and I’m back into daily life in D.C., which has been very busy and enjoyable thus far.

I’m keeping weeknight dinners simple now that I’m working in an office again. The special for tonight: fresh pasta tossed with some veg and topped with prosciutto. I dined with a glass of chilled red wine and tuned into TCM, my favorite channel. The movie: “1776”. The meal: comforting and elegant.

Ingredients:

1 pack of fresh spinach-filled tortellini
5-7 small tomatoes (cherry tomato size), sliced
1/2 pack of white mushrooms, sliced
1/4 bag of arugula
parmesan to taste
salt to taste
olive oil to taste
4 prosciutto slices, chopped

Bring water and salt to a boil in a medium pot, and cook the tortellini. Fresh pasta is quick to cook; I recommend about 5 min. Drain the pasta when ready and set aside.

Saute the tomatoes, mushrooms and arugula in the pot with olive oil, then stir in the pasta. Add more olive oil, parmesan and salt to taste, then turn off the heat. Plate the pasta, and garnish with the prosciutto.

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R&B Brewing Co.

R&B brewery

R&B Brewing has been in East Van since 1997, and it’s expanded in the last year to include the Ale & Pizza House under the same roof. When we visited last summer, the interior of the new space was finished, but it wasn’t open yet because the restaurant license hadn’t come through at the time.

When we visited earlier in March, the place was in full swing; a hotbed of hipsterdom with casually stylish folks nursing beers and eating pizzas as curated music grooved through the room via the many surrounding speakers. The atmosphere is like the living room of a culture vulture: records on display, a piano near the bar with sheet music, book shelves above a seating area, and tables made of reclaimed wood. The dining space was full, and more people kept coming in. Luckily, we were able to snag a corner at the bench seating by the windows. We ordered several tasting flights, and the two standouts for me were the Raven Cream Ale and the Dude Chilling Pale Ale.

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Nero Belgian Waffle Bar

We’ve passed by Nero Belgian Waffle Bar many times. It’s in our neighborhood, and we looked upon it as part of the local scenery, without ever venturing inside.

Oh, what we were missing.

We had a Liège for the first time just in the last few weeks. We walked over after dinner with friends on Robson Street, and they introduced us to these lovely, sweet waffles. They’re small and dense and filled with a bit of cream. And butter. I tasted a lot of butter.

They’re amazing.

I don’t tend to be blown away by sweets (my palate loves savory dishes), but these babies are sublime. They’re so good, you have to eat one to understand. Then, you’ll be hooked.

The outlet on Robson has a tiny dining space, so I recommend buying a box of Liège and savoring at your leisure at home.

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Vij’s in Vancouver

Vijs appetizers

The ricotta-stuffed naan and squash appetizers at Vij’s.

Before we leave Vancouver, which, alas, is soon, we’re making it a point to try restaurants that have been on our radar. Vij’s, now in Cambie Village, is one of them. Vij’s has a great reputation around town (as well as in Toronto, from what we overheard from fellow diners). The man behind the restaurant is a friend of Anthony Bourdain and has appeared on “No Reservations”.

We had dinner at Vij’s on Saturday, and, as their website does warn, there was a line when we walked up to the restaurant a little after 5 p.m. Reservations aren’t allowed, so it’s typical for a line to form before the 5:30 p.m. opening time.

Thankfully, the line was short when we showed up, with only a few people waiting in front of us. We waited about 20 min. before the doors opened, and a server came out while we were waiting to offer everyone fries in a coating of paprika and salt. I don’t remember what the server said the fries were made of, but I’m guessing by the texture and taste that they were cassava or taro fries.

Vijs lamb posicles

The lamb popsicles entree at Vij’s.

The dining room reminded me of being on a cruise ship. Now, I’ve never actually been on a cruise ship, but the open dining room, the arrangement of the tables and the pattern on the carpet had the look and feel of a cruise ship space. Lanterns with a cutout pattern made for romantic lighting.

Once we were seated, a server came by and offered pakoras to everyone in the dining room. Everyone was also served chai. I give the restaurant high points for hospitality because of these gestures.

We ordered the appetizer special of the evening: ricotta-stuffed naan. Two of the pieces were overly charred, but all in all, I thought the combo of the ricotta and what tasted like chickpea paste was delicious. It was a good combo with our other appetizer, Vij’s Monarch Butterfly, which is raw sugar and ghee braised squash with wood ear mushrooms in a coconut milk sauce that we used as a dip for the stuffed naan.

Vijs duck breast

The duck breast entree at Vij’s.

For the entrees, we had the lamb popsicles and the duck breast. Both were good, but given the restaurant’s reputation, we were expecting more inventive takes, like what we saw with certain dishes at Hawksworth. Our entrees were served in curry sauces, red for the duck breast and a citrus-y cream for the lamb.

The mains come with long-grain rice and naan sides. The server will give you more sides with no extra charge, so you’ll definitely be full.

The verdict: A very good, classy, filling meal with points for hospitality, although the menu wasn’t as inventive as we expected.

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