PDX: Salt and Straw

The haggard DC weather has really been cramping my style. I’m a fairly big cold-sweet-treat aficionado. I love my ColdStone, I love my FroYo, I love those stupid ice pops everyone eats in the summer that is essentially colored sugar water in plastic packets. To be frozen to the bone every day of my life has been harshing my mellow to say the least.

So, while I was in The Land of Dreams, one of the biggest recommendations I got was to have a go at Salt & Straw, Portland’s farm-to-cone ice cream shop, where I’d find the best and the brightest ice cream this crazy world has to offer.

saltandstraw1Oh boy, did I EVER! The menu at Salt and Straw greatly surpassed my expectations, thinking it would be just a really tasty place with normal flavors. Not at all! These were the most unique and well-thought out combinations I had ever heard of in my life, and I couldn’t wait to test them all. Which I did. saltandstraw2For ice cream this good, you’re certainly bound to wait and luckily I was in good company with my Portlandian soulsister, Kenzie and her sweet man James. This smashing couple was the beacon of light to my trip in Portland, taking me on a nice traipse around the city to see all the pretty things and giving me the toppest of notch, insider-foodie-scoop restaurant and shopping recommendations. Most importantly, telling me which flavors I absolutely had to test out at Salt & Straw.

saltandstraw4As you wade your way through the epic Disneyland-like line, you can check out the locally inspired ingredients on display throughout the store, and sample as many flavors as you’d like served adorably on a silver, vintage spoon. I tested out nearly all of them, and settled on three beautiful scoops.saltandstraw5

Arbequina Olive Oil - Who eats olive-oil flavored ice cream? I do. And guess who else does? Oprah! This flavor was named as one of her favorite things in her Oprah Magazine’s April issue. It was expertly concocted – savory with a noticeable olive oil flavor, but also very smooth with a hint of floral sweetness. The olive oil comes from Red Ridge Farms’ Oregon Olive Mill in Dundee Hills just outside of Portland.

Honey Lavender- I guess I was really jiving to try some new flavors that night! After testing nearly all the flavors, I selected honey lavender for its uniquely  fragrant, flowery lavender flavor, that meshed well with honey. These flavors with the texture of ice cream made it incredibly perfect to the palate.

Pots of Gold and Rainbows - Lucky Charms was the cereal that got me through my epic boarding school years at Andover, so I absolutely went for this lucky, colorful treat. All of the flavors you find in the quintessential breakfast bowl are incredibly present in this scoop, and it was déjà vu for days in my mouth.

You’ve 100% GOTTA HAVE IT all at Salt & Straw. At only  one-$ and with multiple locations and incredibly designed flavors, it’s definitely, definitely, DEFINITELY worth the undeniably long line. Do it to it, friends.

Salt & Straw

3345 SE Division Street

Portland, Oregon

Salt & Straw on Urbanspoon

PDX: Lovejoy Bakers

Last month, I got to live my lifelong dream and escape the arctic tundra of DC for the verdant valleys of Portland, Oregon. I’m surprised I made it back to the east coast, but somehow I did and I’m back, and every single day I’ve thought about hopping a flight back to Portland to give in to my cravings for a snack or a sammy from this very locale.

Each day, in between training sessions, we caught bites at Lovejoy Bakers, expertly located just across the street from the studio. Out of convenience, necessity, and also gluttony, I got to test out a good bit of the menu over the course of my long weekend there, and I became full-fledged obsessed with everything they had to offer.

lovejoy1Lovejoy Bakers is a corner cafe and deli in the heart of the Pearl District, a gorgeous area of Portland noted for art galleries, shops, and a speckling of boutique fitness studios, also home to the famous Powell’s City of Books.  Pop in for breakfast or lunch, and you’ll find a healthy mix of all kinds of humans, enjoying a wide spread of pastries, sandwiches, salads and soups. With an epic menu of delicious foods to choose from, I drove myself nuts every breakfast and lunch deciding what to select (yep, it was so good I often went twice in one day). lovejoy3The first lunch, I ordered the seasonal turkey sandwich on country loaf with avocado, bacon, house cranberry relish, and mascarpone cheese. Light but filling with all of things I love best on Turkey without overdoing it on the “no-no” toppings, I pretty much inhaled the whole thing in one swoop. I loved the light mascarpone in place of traditional mayonnaise, that allowed the avocado to take the wheel in adding a sense of heartiness to the sandwich. The tangy cranberry relish was just the right amount of zest to keep me interested bite to bite. A+ sandwich, if you ask me. lovejoy4Full disclosure: I spotted this next dish on the menu the very first moment I walked into Lovejoy. After all, it contains my two favorite things rolled into one. However, surrounded by the fittest/prettiest people I’ve ever met in my life, I got cold feet and, as you know, settled in for the turkey sandwich. Which was not a bad call but…

But, by day two, I realized that, while food is fuel, I would really hate myself for not testing it out with such limited time in Portland. After working up the courage to reveal my inner whale to my new friends, I ordered the duck confit banh mi, dressed in typical banh mi fashion with pickled daikon, carrots, cilantro, jalapeno, and Vietnamese aioli.

I cannot express how much joy this sandwich brought me. I ate in silence in a sea of chatty gals, relishing every single bite, zoning the eff out as I fell into a deep haze of paradise. And then I came back to reality and it was all gone, and I wept. Just kidding, I held it together and no one judged me so it was a good day at Lovejoy Bakers.

lovejoy5My last and final day, after realizing that perhaps duck confit was not the best bet for an afternoon chock-full of exercise, I reverted back to my healthy ways and opted for the smashed chickpea sandwich, served with roasted red peppers, herb salad, and zesty lemon slices on a multi-grain sandwich. Light and refreshing, I actually loved the uber-thin slices of lemon that were incorporated into sandwich, as if it were any old topping, adding tons of fresh flavor to the already delicious smashed chickpeas. Taste-sensitive humans beware, the lemon can be a little too potent if you don’t know what to expect.  But I did, and I loved it.

Most notable and not pictured,  the steel-cut oats with brown sugar brûlée. I had this for breakfast EVERY SINGLE MORNING and I do not regret it, only regretting that I cannot recreate this dish to enjoy for myself. Ok, realistically, I probably can, but I’m a little lazy and also lack a brûlée-ing torch (late b-day present, anyone?).  As you can imagine, it was divine. So divine and untainted that I could not disgrace it by photographing it, the same way Beyonce hid Blue Ivy away from the world for a point in time. JK, I was just hungry and impatient.

Lovejoy Bakers is a slice of heaven on earth. At a single $, when I return to Portland, I’ve gotta have it, especially for breakfast and lunch, which I did basically every single day I was there. So now that I’ve showed you all that you need to know about the world, you have two options: build a second location in DC right next to me right now, or ship me away on an airplane to bring me back already. Choose wisely.

Lovejoy Bakers

939 NW 10th Avenue

Portland, Oregon

Lovejoy Bakers on Urbanspoon

NYC: Murray’s Cheese Bar

 

I have one more foodventure to share before I end this everlasting, all-day foodie Friday, an adventure to a land of a certain food that is near and dear to my heart and my tummy.

CHEESE. QUESO. FROMAGE.

God, I’m craving a huge ass wheel of brie right now, so writing this post will be rough and full of yearning.

murrays4As recommended by my soulsista, Vicki (adorably photographed above) and perfectly located less than a block away from my AirBnB in the West Village, we totes mcgoats had to get in on that ish. You can’t just walk by a place with signange for a “Cheese Bar” and  ignore it. At least I can’t. murrays 1Because we’re all fatties who had already eaten a fairly early brunch, we settled for an afternoon snack to kill time before dinner. Classic shenanigans for this food-loving crew! It’s so wrong but it’s also very right.

This fun farmtable-meets-cutesy brunch atmosphere was super adorable, and very full of cheese. Two essential things that are right after my own heart. And, to add even more icing on top of the most perfect cake, possibly more importantly…murrays 2If you make it to Murray’s for brunch, you can enjoy a flight of mimosas with your cheese! Lychee, normal orange, and blood orange. It’s sickening how much this place just gets me. A nice sampling of some fresh juices and champagne really set the second half of our day straight. murrays3We ordered the Cheesemonger’s choice of five cheeses and three meats, each perfectly paired with an accent of the Cheesemonger’s choosing. I honestly can’t remember what the cheese master selected for us that afternoon (oops, just being a terrible food blogger and failing), but I do know that each type was freakin’ delicious and expertly chosen. I’d probably trust this guy with my life after his smart selection.

 Ah Murray’s. I like it, I love it, and more importantly, I gotta have it. Even for this mid-day snack, I was super impressed by everything it had going on. At  two-$$, this cheese-lover knows where she’d spend all of the monies if she lived in the big city. Plus, the fun doesn’t stop here! You can go to their storefront right next door after your taste testing, to purchase your favorite fromage finds for your home. Get after it.

 

Murray’s Cheese Bar

264 Bleeker Street 

New York, NY 

 

 
Murray's Cheese Bar on Urbanspoon

NYC: Kenka

Second stop in the hot to trot big city, along the sprawling offerings on St. Mark’s Place is Kenka Izakaya, which Cammyboy deems boasts Japanese cuisine better than Japan.

kenka 7

kenka 8

I honestly had no idea where to begin while navigating the menu, so with an expert on Japanese cuisine in tow, I left Cameron to his devices in ordering what he thought was the best and the brightest  Japan has to offer. Kenka 1

A plate of chicken karaage plopped into our laps quite quickly, chicken fried to perfection. Hungover from a wild night at the Jane Hotel (lol), we demolished these glorified nuggets fairly quickly.

kenka 2

The ever-favorite takoyaki floated to our table next,  batter-fried octopus balls topped with takoyaki sauce (a Worcestershire like mayonnaise) and sprinkled with dried bonito fish. Yummy in my tummy! I am finally grasping everyone’s obsession with the unique layers of flavor in this dish.

kenka 3

For myself, I ordered the Taiwanese-style ramen to heal my hungover heart and soul. This thing was large and in charge, and tasty with ground pork and green onions incorporated into the mix. Super healing, but not quite as well thought out or complex as the Ramens that have floated in and out of my past.

kenka 4

While I’ll never really understand exactly how someone decided this very specific portion of a fish would yield a very specific flavor (I’m impatient and uncurious I guess), I really did enjoy the Hamachi Kama, the collar of a yellow tuna, so tender and deliciously flavored, lightly salted during preparation. Some light googlings yield that the Hamachi Kama is rumored to be rare and reserved for either the best, most well-behaved guests or the head chef, so I like to think we were somewhat special. But patience is not only in discovery but also in consumption, as you certainly had to dig around, scouring for every delicious bit of this tasty little thing.

Boom boom pow. As an amateur in the unknown realm of Japanese food, I really liked it at Kenka Izakaya. With a quirky, authentic ambiance and at only one $ (especially considering their excellent Happy Hour pricing), we uncovered some excellent grinds on the cheaps. Plus, you get to make your own cotton candy at the end of it all. Isn’t that nice?

Kenka

25 St. Mark’s Place

New York, NY

Kenka on Urbanspoon

NYC: Cafe Katja

Ugh ya caught me again! Being all busy and up in the world,  travelling like there’s no tomorrow and like I have eight banks full of dollars. Whatever, I am back and in action, and I have a plethora of adventures to share from near and from far and I can’t wait to live through them again with you.

Lordy, lordy, do we have some catching up to do! I’m not even sure where to start. I think a good place to begin is right where I left off,  a little over a month ago for my sweet bestie boy Cameron’s birthday weekend in New York City.

cafe katja

For my far and few followers from up north, here’s a post where I pour one out for my New York homies, and feature a tender little place with wonderful German eats called Cafe Katja on the Lower East Side.

Because I become so overwhelmed by all the options and offerings in the city and it was, after all, the birthday boy’s day, I let Cameron take the wheel on navigating the Yelps for a suitable dinner. I’m lucky to have a best friend with such great taste, because feast we did.  I was too excited to see everyone, and even my wizard of a camera had no patience for the mood lightning that night, so I’ll fail you on procuring a wealth of images this time and this time alone, but I can certainly tell you all about it.

cafe katja 2

Showing up anywhere on the evening of Valentine’s Day is a risk in itself, and as a group of six I began to experience major anxiety about not being able to eat at a normal hour, but we were seated after only a slight wait, albeit cozily.

To drink, I ordered the alpina, featuring blue gin, lillet, elderflower and pastis,  a lovely gin drink that sipped smoothly and florally. Vicki and Spencer ordered the lower east cider, which is the closest thing to delicious apple butterbeer the world will ever encounter, and a drink I wish I’d had more than a sip of.

To start, we ordered the pretzel with spreads and the landjäger, homemade pickles, pictured above. A soft and solid pretzel came alongside a butter-like dip to ease our appetites into dinner, and perhaps they truly weren’t anything special but I’ve somehow blacked the pickles out of my memory.

To feast, the table shared several portions of the sausage sampler, featuring an assortment of sausages and porkbelly on a large bed of sauerkraut and dumplings. The sausages they presented were tasty and flavorful, but my mind can’t stop thinking about the pork belly. As any good pork belly does, layers of rich flavors melted right in my mouth.  With what seemed like an endless serving of delicious dumplings and sauerkraut, I couldn’t stop picking at the plate and sneaking bites.

At two of three $$, I loved it at Cafe Katja for it’s comfy-cozy, romantic ambiance, the delicious pork belly, and the unique drink offerings, and I’d certainly return if I’m hankering for hearty German eats and able to ignore the beck and call of every other adorable restaurant that lines the streets of New York.

Cafe Katja

79 Orchard Street

New York, NY

Cafe Katja on Urbanspoon

Mari Vanna

Since I was travelling in New York on Valentine’s Day, Logan and I had a belated celebration at Mari Vanna in Dupont Circle a few days after I returned. We had heard from a few friends that Mari Vanna boasted very authentic Russian food and an ambiance that would rank high on my scale of approval. With those two opinions up in the air, this was a surefire bet to please us both. How could we not?

mari vanna - facade - daily love affairMari Vanna was the coziest, most adorable atmosphere one could have ever procured. If Anthropologie were commissioned to design a Russian restaurant, this would be it. Dangling, white chandeliers contrasted with exposed brick and antiqued furniture to fill the room with an easy brightness, and all my favorite decorative highlights of florally patterned linens, stark-white doilies, and bohemian china gave me a sense that this might actually be someone’s comfy home as a restaurant-in-disguise.

mari vanna - interior - daily love affairWe were seated by one of the windows, intimately excluded from the spirited, cozy crowd that night filling nearly every seat in the main dining room and upstairs. The jovial man on an accordion hopped around periodically, stopping everyone mid-conversation to add even more to the vibe. Loved it.

mari vanna - daily love affairWith a massive selection of house-made vodkas, I knew I had to sample a sip of something at Mari Vanna, and went for the grusha. A potent cocktail featuring pear-infused vodka made in house, mixed with elderflower liqueur (amongst a few other things I can no longer recall) and served with Prosecco, it is safe to say I was heavily tipsy after about half of this refreshing bad boy. Very nice. I’d definitely order this again!

mari vanna - bread - daily love affairMy addiction to the bread basket at dinner is real and it is rough, so when the bread arrived, my heart began to race with all of the emotions in my carb-loving body. Radishes, green onion, sunflower oil, salt? Where is the butter? What is a girl to do with all of these things? I texted Karel, my Siberian-tiger of a bestie, who advised us to add some salt and green onion with each bite. Actually, this proved extremely yummy, and bonus points for not feeling as terrible about myself as I usually do with my generous smears of butter.

mari vanna - homemade blinis with ground beef - daily love affairWe ordered the meat blinis ($15)traditional pan-fried Russian roll-ups featuring ground beef and a side of sour cream. Like mini Russian burritos, the blinis were really freakin’ tasty and I was sad to see them all disappear so quickly but a hungry gal’s gotta do what a hungry gal’s gotta do. Bai. mari vanna 6Up next was a precious pot of Siberian pelmini ($17), traditional, hand-made Russian dumplings filled with seasoned ground meats and veggies, made in an extremely laborious process. A nice little fact I just learned after perusing the internets on Russian cuisine: the meat-filled pelmini are not to be confused with vareniki, which are the veggie counterpart. Anyway, as a dumpling aficionado I was pleased with these adorable little bites, some with a bigger kick of dill than the others, and all without a doubt dipped in sour cream.  

mari vanna - daily love affairKnowing we couldn’t survive off of small plates and small plates alone, we also ordered the black cod entree  ($25) to share. The salty crispiness of the skin contrasting with the buttery smoothness of the meat is done really well here, and the kicks of balsamic and olive oil are excellent accent notes to this delicate fish. I also really liked the grilled tomato that came alongside.

mari vanna - medovik - daily love affairNo meal is complete without dessert, so we shared the most traditional Russian dessert recommended to us by the staff, the medovik ($10), a honey cake topped with a lovely, powdered-sugar bumblebee. One of the most popular cakes in Russia, it alternates thin, delicate layers of honey cake and a sour-cream like filling. Super delicious, but extra rich. I’m talking so rich and hearty that after a full blown meal, it only took a few bites of this and I was all set.

If I’m ranking just the scene which is unparalleled with it’s gorgeous decor and upbeat ambiance, I’ve gotta have it. And if I’m ranking it as solely a special occasion, I’d say that I loved my experience here. However, in the broader scheme of of the meal and when considering my return, I’ve decided that I just liked it.  While it was delicious in all aspects, I will say that I was a little put off by it’s final price tag at three of three $$$, that didn’t quite match my expectations based on what was consumed. But, while I might not necessarily splurge on a full shebang of a meal again, I’m certainly returning for drinks and small plates (ie. DFD. Dumplings for Days).

Pro tip: Definitely order some vodka, and check out the super cool vintage toilets that extend to the ceilings in the bathrooms. Random pro tip, but definitely cool.

Mari Vanna

1141 Connecticut Avenue NW

Washington, DC

Mari Vanna on Urbanspoon