Non Gluten-Free Info: Portland Japanese Garden

If you haven’t been, you have to go see the Portland Japanese Garden!

I know this doesn’t have anything to do with gluten or eating, but Sienna and I talked about it and agreed that every once in a while we can bend the rules and write about something really fantastic that just has to do with Portland. Last Saturday we visited the Portland Japanese Garden. Since we moved to Oregon, I’ve had a lot of people tell me that I should go see the Portland Japanese Garden. I’ve been reluctant because there’s a Japanese garden in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, and although it’s OK, it’s really not what you would call a magical place (at least the times I went it wasn’t).

I should mention here that I happen to be a huge fan of the Portland Classical Chinese Garden. It’s one of my favorite places to visit in Portland. Also, during my one visit to Japan, I toured the famous Budhist Temple in Narita, which also has a fabulous garden. I’m kind of a sucker for gardens.

Now that I’ve been there, I wish that I had gone to the Portland Japanese Garden earlier! It’s really amazing. If you decide to go, make sure you allow at least a couple of hours to get a good experience.

The 5.5-acre garden was designed by Professor Takuma Tono, head of the Landscape Architecture Department of Tokyo Agricultural University. It was begun in 1963 and opened to the public in 1967. They have several kinds of garden there. They have the sort of raked sand garden one normally associates with Japanese gardens. Also, there is a Strolling Pond Garden with a Moon Bridge, a Tea Garden with a traditional tea house, a Zig Zag Bridge (my favorite place), a Natural Garden, and a Sand and Stone Garden. Along the way there are nice spots for quiet contemplation.

The Portland Japanese Garden also has a full event calendar. Among other things, they have Tea Ceremony Demonstrations and various gardening workshops like their Pine Pruning Workshop.

They have a bizarrely restrictive photography policy, so let me make it clear that I’m not a professional photographer and I’m not posting these photos for commercial, advertising, or promotional purposes. I understand the reasoning behind their policies. I just want to encourage everyone to go there.

Pond with Japanese Maple and Koi

Pond with Japanese Maple and Koi

Little Secret Spot

Little Secret Spot

Lovely Path

Lovely Path

Sand and Stone Garden

Sand and Stone Garden

Stairway Near the Sand and Stone Garden

Stairway Near the Sand and Stone Garden

We also planned our trip to coincide with the Bonsai Society of Portland show, so we got to see beautiful bonsai in the pavillion.

Flowering Cherry Bonsai

Flowering Cherry Bonsai

Wow Nice Companion plant

Wow Nice Companion plant

Dwarf Creeping Willow Bonsai

Dwarf Creeping Willow Bonsai

Portland Japanese Garden
611 SW Kingston Avenue
Portland, Oregon 97205
Portland Japanese Garden
(503) 223-1321

Restaurant Review: Virgo and Pisces

We’ve been really excited over the past couple of months about how many places here in Portland Oregon now offer gluten-free pizza! It’s really amazing, and would appear to mostly be thanks to one company, Nugrain Foods. Virgo and Pisces is one of the few places that make their own gluten-free pizza crust. Unfortunately, that’s about all I can say about their pizza right now because I didn’t try it during our visit to Virgo and Pisces.

Virgo and Pisces is located on NW 21st Street at Glisan, so it’s located in quite a hot-spot. They’re just a half a block away from the New Cascadia Traditional Bakery and Trader Joe’s. We went there at 7:00 PM on a Friday night.

Virgo and Pisces Gluten Free Pizza Sign

Being in such at hot-spot at 7:00 PM on a Friday night, we were worried that we would have to wait before we could sit down. On the plus side, that was not the case. On the minus side, the place was practically empty, which I never take as a good omen.

Virgo and Pisces is a bar and restaurant. One room is the bar and the other the restaurant. On one end of the restaurant room there is a small area where bands play. It looks like they have live music there on a regular basis, and as we ate, a band was setting up. We left before they started up, though (not because we weren’t interested – we usually love live music. We had a prior commitment.)

The space is nice. Our waitress was extremely helpful and the food came out promptly. Our one big complaint with the atmosphere was the music. The music playing in the bar was different from the music in the restaurant. That wouldn’t normally be a problem except that the music in the bar was turned up a lot louder, so we were treated to both at the same time. I find listening to two different pieces of music simultaneously to be jarring and annoyingly distracting.

Sienna got a hamburger (which was not gluten-free) and I ordered the fish and chips. I’ve been on quite the fish and chips jag (what with our recent review of the Starfish Gluten Free Battered Cod, the gluten free fish and chips at Hugo’s Restaurant in Los Angeles, and the gluten free fish and chips at the Hawthorne Fish House, we’ve been looking really seriously at battered and breaded fish. So I figured it would be worth doing. (By the way, Gina over at Gluten Free Gourmand has an excellent review of the Starfish Battered Halibut and Haddock.) At one point we had the idea that Virgo and Pisces had gluten-free pasta, but that is not the case. Virgo and Pisces also has gluten free beer. We’ll have to go back for their pizza sometime too.

Gluten Free Fish and Chips at Virgo and Pisces

So how was the food? The food was good. It was pretty standard bar food kind of fare. If I had to come up with a word to describe the food it would be “functional.” The thing with bar food is very often you’re really there for something else, like some live music, or to knock back some drinks with your friends. Very often bar food is just background filler, even at bars that are known for their food. The food at Virgo and Pisces is like that. The fish was tilapia. I usually love tilapia, but in this case it was a little tasteless. The fries were a hair too mushy. The coleslaw didn’t turn me on, but I’m not really a coleslaw fan. Sienna’s burger was good.

And that, dear reader, is about all I have to say about this place. I am curious about their pizza, but considering the place was empty on a Friday night, I don’t have big dreams about it. Maybe the place fills up once the music starts?

We want to know: Have you had the pizza at Virgo and Pisces? Let us know in the comments!

Times we have visited: 1 (So your mileage may vary.)
Overall rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars
Price compared to “regular”: Same

Virgo & Pisces
500 NW 21st Ave, Portland, Oregon 97209 / 503.517.8855
www.virgoandpisces.com

Restaurant Review: The Whole Bowl

Food Cart Culture in Portland Oregon

As Sunset Magazine recently pointed out, Portland is becoming known for its fabulous food carts. I personally love the whole food cart experience. It’s the closest you can get to buying a cooked treat on a beach in Bali without leaving the state. It makes a person feel international or maybe a little lawless. I also think that at best a food cart has a certain sincerity that is missing at a restaurant. As far as that goes, I’m not really sure what can be more sincere than a bowl of rice and beans done up with a sauce and some trimmings. This is a great description of the Whole Bowl.

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The Whole Bowl is something of a one trick pony. They offer two sizes of bowl with brown rice, red and black beans, fresh avocado, salsa, black olives, sour cream, cheddar cheese, cilantro, and their secret Tali Sauce. When ordering, you tell the server what you don’t want. If you skip the cheese and sour cream, you’ve got a vegan dish. Except for the cookies, everything they serve is gluten free (yay!) There was some confusion about the cheese there, but the owner contacted us to verify that their cheese is gluten-free (hooray!) They also serve chips, water, and a couple of beverages.

There are four locations. One is downtown, one on SE Hawthorne, one in the Pearl, and one is the Mo-Bowl, which I guess travels around.

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How is the food? It’s great. I personally have a weakness for rice and beans, because they go so great together. The Tali sauce is really wonderful, and the ingredients always seem to be fresh and tasty. I’ve noticed especially that they have a better line on getting good avocados than we seem to have. The Whole Bowl is also amazingly consistent for a restaurant in Portland. There’s something strange about Portland Oregon that makes excellent restaurants have bad nights and makes horrible restaurants have good nights. (What is that? Does anybody have a theory?)

gluten free whole bowl

And here it is. This is the big bowl with the whole shebang. It ends up being very satisfying. The sauce is very tasty, and like I said before, it’s hard to lose with rice and beans. Did I mention that the big bowl is $5.50? This makes the Whole Bowl a good destination when you want to get something quick and cheap on a busy afternoon or dinner.

We want to know: Have you been to the Whole Bowl downtown? Do you have a favorite food cart in Portland Oregon? I keep trying to figure out something else that would go great with one of these bowls. Any ideas? Let us know in the comments!

Times we have visited: a lot (So we feel very good about our rating.)
Overall rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Price compared to “regular”: Same

Whole Bowl
Rice and beans bowl with sauce.
www.thewholebowl.com
Multiple locations / 503.757.2695

Restaurant Review: Dessert at Papa Haydn

This last Friday we went to see the movie Coraline and decided that we wanted to get some dessert somewhere after the movie. So we got out our fancy celiac-friendly restaurant list and called around until we found a place that was still open. We ended up going to Papa Haydn on NW 23rd.

At 10:00 PM this Friday night, Papa Haydn was busy enough that there was a 20 minute wait for a table, which is pretty amazing for sleepy Portland Oregon. I could be wrong, but it looks to me like their dinner menu is actually shorter than their dessert menu. On the dessert menu they have a lot of things that I can eat. I’m going to let their descriptions paint the picture. These are all gluten-free:

Boccone Dolce – Swiss meringues drizzled with semi-sweet chocolate, layered with fresh fruit and chantilly cream.
Raspberry Gateau – Fallen chocolate souffle topped by whole berries and red current glaze. Bordered with bittersweet chocolate ganache.
Chocolate Cube – Chocolate cube filled with chocolate mousse.

Are you getting the idea yet? Maybe some pictures will help.

hummina hummina

hummina hummina

Oooo Baby!

Oooo Baby!

First the bad things: First, one of the hostesses (or maybe she was a waitress filling in for the hostess) was too cool to be friendly, which we found off-putting. Second, the coffee was awful. The Americano we ordered to replace the coffee was not as bad, but still disappointing. By awful I mean the coffee tasted like it had been brewed and then left on a burner for several hours. This, for a dessert place, is a major sin.

Now the good things:
Our waitress was very friendly and helpful. When asked about the gluten-free options, she was able to tell us what was available by checking a list they keep. There are enough options that most people will actually be stumped about what to order. I got the Chocolate Cube.

The Chocolate Cube

The Chocolate Cube

I could be wrong, but I think they keep these things chilled and then heat them up to room temperature when they serve them. It came with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and some nice chocolate and caramel drizzle. It was really amazing.

Sienna got some kind of hazelnut caramel crunch thing that wasn’t celiac-safe and that she ended up being kind of disappointed with. Partly because their caramel sauce had a butterscotch sort of flavor.

We were sufficiently impressed with Papa Haydn’s that we’ll definitely be visiting again. Have you been to Papa Haydn’s? Let us know what your experience was like! Also, we really want to know about your favorite gluten-free friendly dessert places in Portland Oregon. Leave a comment and let us know.

Times we have visited: 1 (So your experience may vary.)
Overall rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Price compared to “regular”: Same price, but expensive. Expect to pay $8 for a dessert.

Papa Haydn
701 NW 23rd Ave., Portland, Oregon 97210 / 503.228.7317
5829 SE Milwaukie Ave., Portland, Oregon 97202 / 503.232.9440
www.papahaydn.com

Valentines Day Treats from New Cascadia Traditional Bakery

Frosted gluten-free Sugar Cookies for Valentines Day

This just in – New Cascadia Traditional Bakery is offering special Valentines Day treats. Items may be reserved by calling their retail kiosk (at 503.887.4392) by Wednesday the 11th, or can be picked up (on a first-come-first-served basis.)

They have cookies and cakes. For the cakes they have chocolate, vegan chocolate, and vanilla almond cakes in a “perfect for two” size for $5.50. (Later note: We got a chocolate and it was AWESOME.)

Yowsa!

Gluten Free Chocolate Cake for Two

Happy Lunar New Year! Gung Hay Fat Choy!

People often ask me what I miss the most about living in San Francisco and my answer is always the same. I miss living next to Chinatown. I especially miss living next to Chinatown during the Lunar New Year celebrations. During this time, all of Chinatown is full of energy. There are lion dancers, firecrackers, moon cakes, and finally, the Chinese New Year Parade, with what seems like a million dragon dancers. Can you tell I miss it? I do.

Lion DancersLuckily, Portland has its own slice of Chinatown. Downtown at the Chinese Classical Garden, there is plenty to do and see during the 15 days starting January 26. They will have lion dances, painting demonstrations, Tai Chi fan and sword demonstrations, and live music. These events will culminate in a Lantern Viewing on Sunday, February 8. Download a PDF schedule of events here.

2009 is the year of the Ox. The ox is known to be intelligent, stable, patient, hard-working, and friendly, but can also be stubborn. People born in ox years tend to be planners, engineers or architects. Traditionally, you can expect the year of the ox one of prosperity through hard work, and a time where past obstacles are overcome.

Gung Hay Fat Choy!

Restaurant Review: P.F. Chang’s

Happy Year of the Ox! In honor of the Chinese New Year, I decided to review our one Chinese restaurant on the restaurant list. P.F. Chang’s is a restaurant chain and the Portland Oregon branch is in the Pearl, about a block away from Powell’s on Couch. It is large, popular, and always seems to be 85% full.

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Our Executive Researcher, Sienna, was out of town visiting her family, so I had to go it alone. I’m going to apologize because the food photos aren’t up to my usual standards. I was sitting at the bar with not one, not two, but three bartenders watching me. As a result I felt conspicuous taking photos of my food with a camera, so I covertly used my phone instead.

P.F. Changs has a completely separate gluten-free menu. It is very brief, and strangely omits all beef and pork dishes, but there’s enough on it that most people will probably be able to find something they want to eat. They even have a gluten-free appetizer, soup and a dessert. They also have a full bar.

I started with some Egg Drop Soup, which was a little salty for my taste, but the flavor was right. For my entree, I got the Lemon Chicken. The chicken comes breaded, which was a nice surprise, and is served with brocolli and thin slices of lemon. The whole dish smelled like garlic when they brought it out, which got me excited. Unfortunately, besides the garlic, the flavor of the dish was a little underwhelming. The chicken was done right, but I found myself eating the chicken with the lemon slices to provide flavor. Also the brocolli was overdone. At some point, I got to an area where the chicken had enough sauce on it, and suddenly BAM it was good. So the sauce is good they just need to hit all of the chicken with it. (Doh!)

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I finished the meal with their gluten-free dessert, the Flourless Chocolate Dome. This is a seriously chocolatey confection served with raspberry sauce and fresh berries. Imagine a quarter-inch thick piece of chocolate cake with something akin to a piece of fudge on top. I didn’t manage to make it through the whole thing, but I liked it.

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Notes from a second visit:
P.F. Chang’s has gluten-free soy sauce they can bring to your table. Our rice was dry like it had been left out and then microwaved. The Singapore Street Noodles are awesome! Very much like fried rice but with rice noodles. The Spicy Chicken is good but suffers from the same problem I had with the Lemon Chicken and that is: Not enough sauce. Maybe I should ask for extra sauce next time.

To wrap it up, I think P.F. Chang’s is a good place to get Americanized Chinese Food. I’ve eaten there before and I would go there again. Another nice thing about P.F. Chang’s is that they have their nutritional info available. When I was finished, the bartender brought me a fortune cookie, but he didn’t know if it was gluten-free or not. I figured it wasn’t, but I still broke it open to get my fortune. It said: “Your efforts in a critical area will soon be rewarded.” That sounds good to me!

Times we have visited: 3 (So we feel pretty good about our rating)
Overall rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Price compared to “regular”: Same price. Most dishes are around $12.

P.F. Changs
1139 NW Couch St.
Portland, Oregon 97209

Review: New Cascadia Traditional Bakery

Those of you who read our last review of the New Cascadia Traditional Bakery will know that we’re really excited about it. We think it’s a great place to get gluten-free food. We would like to make it clear that although the two reviews for today aren’t exactly gushing with praise, we’re still very much enthused about the bakery and think it’s one of a kind.

Today we’re going to sample their gluten-free cinnamon rolls and a sugar cookie. Let’s get to it.

You might not guess it because I’m usually so humble, but I consider myself a world-class expert on the subject of cinnamon rolls. I have even come up with a classification system for cinnamon rolls which you will no doubt find edifying for today’s review. There are three distinct cinnamon roll traditions in the world. These are:

  1. The classical pastry dough cinnamon roll. This is the dense, usually small cinnamon roll which most often features raisins, and a thin glaze. Very often these are baked a light brown. These can also sometimes have pecans.
  2. The huge bread-like pan cinnamon roll. These are the fluffy kind of cinnamon rolls you get at airports that are more of a cream color, rarely feature raisins, and have thick white frosting on them. These are more like what you get from the store in those tubes you smack against the counter to open.
  3. The donut cinnamon roll.  These are the flat cinnamon rolls that donut shops offer.

If you’re with me so far, you’re probably trying to figure out which is your favorite. I personally lean towards number 2, but only straight out of the oven. Number 3 is the best bet at a truck stop. Number 1 is more like what they made when I was a kid and can be good or bad, depending.

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The cinnamon rolls at New Cascadia are type 1. They are dense and have a thin glaze. They don’t have raisins. They smell divine in the oven, but unfortunately they didn’t live up to our hopes and dreams. The flavor was right, but while we didn’t exactly get them fresh out of the oven and thus think they may be better in the morning, we felt like ours were too dense, and also wished that they had more cinnamon in them.

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Next up are the gluten-free sugar cookies, which apparently are made with coconut flour. All I can say about these cookies is that they’re awesome! If you have celiac disease and have been dreaming about a real sugar cookie and wondering where you could get one, you should go there today!

That’s it for today’s review. We definitely have plans to keep going back to New Cascadia and will give you updates as they arrive.

Times we have visited: 1 (So your experience may vary)
Overall rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Price compared to “regular”: Somewhere around twice as expensive.

New Cascadia Traditional
2120 NW Glisan St
Portland, Oregon 97210

Review: New Cascadia Traditional Bakery

Today we’re going to review the New Cascadia Traditional Bakery, which is a great place for people with celiac disease or gluten allergy and I’ve got to say that we’re really excited about this place. Also, there is so much ground to cover that I’m going to do this review in two parts.

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New Cascadia Traditional describes itself as a dedicated gluten-free artisan bakery. They create breads, pastries, pies, cupcakes, and cookies. The bakery was started by a husband and wife who were dissatisfied with the gluten-free baked goods they found in stores and decided that they could do better. At first they sold their goods at the Portland Farmers Market, and later opened the store on NW Glisan.

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When we visited their store, the person behind the counter was very friendly and helpful. We discussed what flours we like to use for the breads we make. Sienna has felt for a while that our own home-baked breads taste a little funny, and they told us what flours would give a bread a funny taste. When asked about the ingredients of any of their breads, they were able to list them, which was really nice.

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For our first review, we got the Seeded Bread and the Sesame Batard. (For the record, the apple in the pictures is a gigantic honeycrisp and I think it makes both loaves look a little smaller than they really are.)

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The Seeded Bread is made to emulate a traditional German bread called Vollkornbrot. Dense and brown in color, this bread is flavorful, but not so flavorful that you couldn’t use it for a sandwich. It has sunflower, sesame, poppy, and pumpkin seeds on top and then sunflower seeds baked into it. The first time we tried the Seeded Bread, Sienna exclaimed that this is the kind of bread she wants to be able to make at home. It is absolutely perfect toasted with some hummus on it. It reminds me of the kind of whole wheat bread you can get with sesame seeds in it, but not as fluffy as most. Also a plus is that the bread toasts excellently.

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The Sesame Batard is a little more controversial. One problem you have when making gluten-free bread is that gluten is what makes the bread stick together and also makes the dough elastic. When you take out the gluten, very often you end up with bread that is more crumbly and more “cake-like” and won’t really stretch or bend. That is the case with the Sesame Batard. It is much more dense than a regular baguette and you won’t be able to tear off a hunk very easily because the bread is more hard. Despite my initial disappointment with the texture, there were some pluses that saved the bread for me. Plus number 1: It has a faint sour-dough flavor. Plus number 2: If you close your eyes and imagine that you’re eating a nice, dense, chewy New York style bagel, this bread has almost that exact flavor and texture. This bread is great next to a hearty bowl of soup or lightly toasted and buttered all by itself. And if you suffer from celiac disease and really miss having a baguette with a bottle of wine and hunk of cheese, I think it’s safe to say that this is as close as you’re going to get gluten-free.

That’s it for today. Next time we’ll review their cinnamon rolls and cookies.

Times we have visited: 2 (So we feel pretty good about our rating)
Overall rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Price compared to “regular”: Somewhere around twice as expensive for breads

New Cascadia Traditional
2120 NW Glisan St
Portland, Oregon 97210