cheap eats- top 10 under $10

30 07 2010

ok, i’m done with my hopeless wallowing from yesterday.  i’m still feeling hopeless, but i’m taking a break from wallowing for a while, at least publicly. the brilliant @amycasey (worth the follow for you twitter geeks out there) recently suggested that i try the “small changes” plan, and i’m starting to think that it might be a good idea. perhaps if i can just force myself to focus on succeeding at one small element of life, i can use that momentum to pick up other small things as i go- eventually resulting in me actually having accomplished some of my goals (e.g.,having 2 month’s pay in my savings account, and fitting back into my size 8 jeans).

small task #1: stop spending so much goddamn money on eating out. i love eating out, and hells no i’m not going to stop, but i have decided that it’s time for me to take a big vacation from pricey pig-fests.  for the next month, unless it is a very special occasion (sort of like a very special episode, but with more gluttony and less emotional breakdowns), i’m going to try to keep my eating out budget to $10 or less. daunting, yes. but the benefits are two-fold! i will both A) spend less money, and B) by cutting out extras like appetizers, desserts, & booze… i should cut some calories as well. at least i hope so, because these size 12s are at MAX CAPACITY, and i will get back alley liposuction before i allow myself to go up another pants size.

in honor of this historic decision, i have decided to list my top ten things in town that are worth eating for under $10. not necessarily full meals, and definitely not always high end, but goddamn delicious and easily accessible.   i will probably be calling on this list fairly often over the next few weeks, so help a girl out, and gimme some more recommendations.

1. amatosbreakfast sandwich $2.29: cheap and dirty (and so simple, but shockingly delicious), but my absolute go-to whenever i’m broke and starving. it’s sort of like when i smoked, and cigarettes were only $2. you can always find enough couch/purse/street change to get a breakfast sandwich, and if you get them on toast (delicious non-wonderbread italian toast), it is both bigger, and better.

2. micuccisicilian slab $4.50: we’ve all heard what i have to say about the miraculous qualities of the sicilian slab. cliff’s notes version- shit is GOOD, and 1 piece will fill you up for at least two meals. also, totally worth getting into a noisy altercation with a stranger.

3. gilbert’s chower house grilled cheese $3.25: basically, this is what i get when i’m hungrier for more than just a breakfast sandwich.  simple and unpretentious, it’s got like an inch of cheese and really good bread. oh, and it comes with chips.

4. caiola’spolenta fries $5.95: caiola’s is my favorite restaurant in portland, perhaps anywhere. i have never had a bad meal there ever (from their superb sangria to that salty caramel cake that haunts my dreams), but if i had to choose only one food to eat for the rest of my life, it would probably be their polenta fries. no florid description of their crispy perfection and accompanying red chutney stuff could really do them justice. i know they’re not even close to a whole meal, but seriously, GO EAT THEM RIGHT NOW.

5. green elephantspicy vegetable medley stir fry $9: along with being the only 100% vegetarian restaurant in town, the green elephant is both totally tasty and extremely reasonable. they have a multitude of $9 entrees on the menu, but the spicy veggie medley is my favorite. but if you’re in the mood for something a little less healthy, i also recommend the king oyster mushroom tempura- rock ’em sock ’em fried mushroom action.

6. the maine squeezeamanda berry $5: i have a bigtime starch and fat problem. potatoes, bread, pasta… butter, cheese, cream sauce… you might notice that the majority of my top 10 faves are a combination of those very elements. however, every now and again even i hit the wall, and i start to feel like if i don’t get some fruits and veggies fast- i might die. maine squeeze will make you a giant-ass smoothie of delicious healthfulness for a mere five bucks. the amanda berry has the distinction of being one of the few smoothies on the menu without bananas (my arch nemesis), but you should eat them, they’re full of potassium and they’re good for leg cramps.

7. kamasouptraloaded baked potato soup $5.50: again, you’ve heard me do the dance of love for these guys, so i’ll keep it brief. a bowl of incredible soup (at a place that has more veg options than meat options) + a piece of bread roughly the size of small watermelon.

8. norm’s mashed potatoes $2.50: norm’s is tricky for me because it’s a BBQ joint (meat fiesta!), but the trick is in the side orders. a cereal bowl filled with buttery garlicy mashed potatoes and/or a hunk of home made corn bread that can double as a personal flotation device are only a few of the tasty, filling, and dirt cheap options on their side order menu. there might even be some vegetables in there, but who gives a crap about those?

9. otto–  cauliflower & mushroom pizza $3.00: i sing a lot of (well deserved) praises about micucci, but in the land of the thin crust, otto reigns supreme. innovative and flavorful, with a rotating cast of flavors from mashed potato to cheese tortellini, 3 big slices for 9 small dollars is a dinner to be proud of. actually, it’s kind of freaky that maine has such kick ass pizza. i thought we could only make lobster rolls and whoopie pies?

10. corner roompapparadelle & mushroom pasta $9: i can easily take down $60+ worth of food and beverage at the corner room without even thinking about it, but the beauty is that assuming i lay off the booze & desserts (although their stiletto & tiramisu are positively worth shanking for), i can get a perfectly serviceable and incredibly delicious dinner for just $9. all their pasta options come in whole or half orders ($15/$9), and the half order portions are more than enough food to constitute a full meal (especially if you ask for extra bread). the papparadelle dish is full of perfect home made hand cut pasta (double wide), floating in the kind of pitch perfect cream sauce that grocery store pasta dreams about.

HONORABLE MENTION hot suppa– fried green tomato eggs benedict ???: i’m fairly certain that it’s less than $10, but i couldn’t confirm, so i don’t feel like it’s fair to put it on the official list. regardless, even if you’re a canadian bacon loving carnivore, this is still one of the very best things to eat on the peninsula at ANY PRICE. it has the perfect balance of salt and fat and acid, and by far the best benedict i’ve ever had anywhere ever (and if there’s benedict, i will eat it).

a tale of two dinners.

10 03 2010

so restaurant week ends today, and i’m still on the fence about whether or not it’s really a good idea. i do love the concept of a 3 course fixed price menu. and who can argue with a reason to go and check out all sorts of the incredible restaurants that portland has to offer (did i mention that bon appetit called us america’s foodiest small town)? unfortunately, over the last 2 years my experiences have been so mixed that i’ve found myself turned off more restaurants than on. last year’s jaunt to the pepper club delivered a dry crumbling lentil loaf, and i haven’t been back since. this year, the farmer’s table disaster:

1. despite having a 7:30 reservation, arriving 5 minutes early, and seeing at least 2 empty tables in the dining room… we were told to wait at the bar for about 30 minutes before we were seated- at the corner of kitchen & bathroom. nice.

2. while seated at the bar, we were completely ignored for at least 15 minutes before someone came to take our drink orders, which then took another 15 minutes to prepare.

3. once seated at our really great table, our waitress took another 15 minutes to bring us bread and water. my bread had big chewy floury blobs in it. not good.

4. by the time our order was taken, they were already out of one of the appetizers, bummer. we ended  up getting the salad, but ordering the brie fritters off the regular menu as a supplement. theoretically these should have been amazing. too bad they were smothered in stone-cold overly sweet and weirdly bitter blueberry compote. oh, and our waitress neglected to give us plates (and then proceeded to ignore us until our salads arrived), so we both had to eat them out of the bowl in a way that was both awkward and messy (dear farmer’s table, i will not be apologizing for the blueberry stains on your tablecloth. you know what you’ve done.)

5. the salad was inedible. smothered in some sort of hydrochloric vinaigrette, there was so much acid that it burned our tongues and cheeks and we both gave up after about 2 bites.

6. the main courses were ludicrously unbalanced. the boyfriend got half a pig beautifully roasted and sitting on a bed of sexy looking red rice and root vegetables. i got a huge plate with a very small well (5″ in diamter?), half filled with some scraps of the worst hand made pasta i’d ever had (intermittently chewy and mushy). edible, but not good.

7. dessert was again, edible, but not good. my pineapple upside down cake had clearly never actually been upside down… the cake was dry and the pineapple was chewy and still tart. certainly not soft, brown, and deliciously carmelized (as should be required). the boyfriend’s lava cake looked like sad naked deflated cupcake- and neither of us could detect any actual lava inside. lame!

anyway, for our $30.01  each + cocktails + an off-menu appetizer + 20% tip even though the waitress completely didn’t deserve it… we felt more like we’d been mugged than had just come from a fine dining experience.  no me gusta!

this is where the on the fence part comes in. restaurant week should be about providing amazing food and reasonable prices in order to seduce new clientele into your establishment. but in my experience, things have felt hastily thrown together with a distinct sacrifice of quality.  also, the restaurants seem overwhelmed by the volume of people, and the service suffers gravely.  STEP IT UP PEOPLE!

for those of you who have bothered to make it this far (as i did promise you a tale of 2 dinners), we can still end this fairy tale with a happily ever after.  my second restaurant week selection, the corner room,  was phenomenal. i had been there before and enjoyed it, but with my reservations on how restaurant week can ruin things, i was curious to see how it held up.  well, i will spare you the jizz covered exaltations about every morsel, but let me just stay that it held right the fuck up. with gusto. a few small highlights:

1. the corner room stiletto  is hands down my favorite cocktail on the peninsula.

2. my main course was practically the same dish as i had at the farmer’s table in conception (handmade pasta with mushrooms and cream sauce), except that it was appropriately portioned and lick your plate tasty.

3. despite the fact that our food was big and delicious, the corner room was only $20.01 (the lowest restaurant week price point). plus, they only charged me an extra $2 for ordering a non-restaurant week dessert. (their tiramisu is panty dropping good).

4. our table was solid, and the service was perfection. thank you corner room for making us feel like we were worthy of dining in your restaurant.

i suppose that the moral of this lengthy tale is that a good restaurant is a good restaurant. and a really good restaurant can take a challenge like restaurant week, and make it fit seamlessly into their menu. as opposed to making you feel like you’re getting a cheap knock-off of their real food, and that you are not worthy of decent service. whether it’s $20.01 or $100.01, research before you eat. if i had asked some friends and done some online research first- i could have easily saved myself $100 and 2 hours of feeling like a second class citizen.