Monday, May 21, 2012

Forktown Food Tours, Portland, Ore., Review

 The perfect long-weekend getaway for Southern Californians, Portland has an array of foodie-themed attractions, including Forktown Food Tours, a fun-filled culinary walking tour.
 
8 out of 10 Peppers = Spicy

One great thing about moving to the West Coast in my 20s is that the region is still full of discoveries for me. Whereas I've been up and down the Eastern Seaboard more times than I care to count, including month (or longer)-long stays in cities from Philadelphia, Pa., to Charlotte, N.C., not to mention our annual summer vacations in Hilton Head Island, S.C., the West is still largely wild to me. I have yet to do a trip to Seattle (toward the top of my travel list) or to Hawaii (at the top of my fantasy list).

I did, however, recently make it over to Portland, Ore. Spurred by a wedding of one of Nick's college roommates (they went to Lewis & Clark in Portland, and the groom recently moved back there), Nick and I took a Friday off work in order to spend a long weekend in this city that's all about buying local and being green. Portland is truly the perfect long-weekend travel destination for Southern Californians. The culture is similar to ours (farmers' markets, huge bookstores, enclaves of locally-owned businesses that support each other), it's fairly inexpensive (the public transit system is terrific; we got to our hotel easily on the light rail for only a few dollars), and the misty rainy skies will make your return to SoCal that much better (actually, we lucked out: It only rained for a few hours at the beginning of our trip, though that was enough for me to declare that I could never live in Portland.)

Plus, there's more than enough foodie fun (and other attractions) to fill up a long weekend. Nick and I opted to do a culinary walking tour by Forktown Food Tours. The company offers two regular tours -- the Alphabet District Tour and the North Portland Tour -- and we choose the Alphabet District one simply because it fit best into our schedule.

I'd absolutely recommend this tour, and, the next time I'm in Portland I'll likely try to fit in the North Portland Tour. Our guide, Heidi, was friendly and knowledgeable. At first, Nick and I were worried that we'd be the only two people on the tour, because we arrived about 10 minutes early and no one else was there, but within about five minutes of the tour start time, our full group of about 10 people had arrived, including another couple from Los Angeles.

One pleasant surprise on our tour is that in addition to sampling the food at various restaurants, we also got to sample some homemade brews. Portland is known for its locally made alcohol, including a huge assortment of beer (so much so that brew-focused tours exist) because the city has some of the naturally cleanest water in the U.S., which lends a distinctive flavor to its drinks. We sampled alcohol at several of the six restaurants we went to, plus we even went to one full-on distillery, Bull Run Distillery, which features rum and whiskey as its specialties.

I was thrilled with the "buy local" mentality of the city and of the restaurants. All of the food tasted so fresh, which makes sense because in some cases it literally came from a garden just steps away from the restaurant's doors. We had two salads during the tour, and both were simple yet spectacular. At Kenny & Zukes Sandwichworks, the employees went above and beyond to make Nick a sandwich that didn't contain beef. (The restaurant's specialty is pastrami, and we didn't think to tell Forktown ahead of time that Nick doesn't eat beef.)


My favorite spot on the tour was PBJ's Grilled. One critique I have with the other restaurants' samples is that they were too safe -- tasting like items that I make on a daily basis at home. But PBJ's Grilled really pushed the envelope. First of all, grilling a PB&J is brilliant. But beyond that, the combinations this food cart came up with are genius. We sampled a Spicy Thai sandwich, which contained orange marmalade, Sriracha, fresh basil, curry, and PBJ’s peanut butter. Doesn't that sound exotic and delicious? It's so perfect because Thai food normally has peanut sauce in it anyway, so it's just enough of a stretch to use peanut butter instead. We also sampled the Hot Hood (shown), which contained black cherry jam, jalapeno, applewood  smoked bacon, and PBJ’s peanut butter on challah bread. I loved the combination of the spicy with the sweet.

Unfortunately, the tour didn't take us to two of the foodie spots that Portland is most known for: Voodoo Doughnut and Stumptown Coffee. We did manage to make it to Voodoo Doughnut before we returned to LA, and Stumptown will be something we'll look forward to on a future trip.

It was also a bit of a bummer that the tour ran over time-wise, mostly because the first restaurant wasn't ready for us on time, so we had to postpone some other plans we had for that day. Also, the Alphabet District is one of the few places not on the light rail, so we wound up waiting and paying for a taxi to take us back to our hotel. (I was willing to brave the streetcar, but Nick had enough adventure for one day and said he'd pay for the cab.) If you're driving, Forktown advises looking for street parking though it cautions that "parking can be a challenge" in this neighborhood.

Overall, though, the food tour really was a great experience that I'd recommend. Walking is a great way to learn the city, especially if you happen to luck out and get a sunny day like we did. (The tours go rain or shine.) And, yes, I would probably go on the tour again just to get another grilled PB&J. (Can we get one of those carts in LA, please?!)

P.S. I didn't get to eat any Indian food in Portland but was thrilled to see several Indian food trucks. Here's a list of a few of them for you.

Forktown Food Tours, forktown.com, Portland, Ore. (503) 234-3663.

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Sunday, May 6, 2012

Ginger Curry Dressing and a Salad Dressing Shaker Giveaway

Shake things up with OXO's new Salad Dressing Shaker and this Indian-inspired dressing.

Ingredients:

1 cup plain yogurt
2.5 Tbps. ginger-garlic paste (available at Indian grocers; I used Vegi's brand)
1.5 tsp. curry powder (each blend is a little different; I used the Kroger/Ralph's blend cause I had it on hand)
1 Tbsp. honey

You'll Also Need:
(Optional) OXO Salad Dressing Shaker

Step-by-Step:
1. Using the handy measurements on the side of the OXO Salad Dressing Shaker, add one cup of plain yogurt.


2. Add the ginger-garlic paste.

3. Add the curry powder.

4. Top it off with the honey.


5. Stir with a spoon to blend, then finish combining by dressing in the Shaker.

 6. Pour over your favorite salad.

Makes about 1.25 cups dressing.

The AHH Factor: For much of my life, I've had a love-hate relationship with salad. I love the promise of it -- a plateful of healthful leafy greens topped with a vibrant array of colorful vegetables -- but in reality the promise almost always wilts when it comes to the dressing. I mean, when it comes to the calories, sometimes I'd be better off pouring a milkshake over my greens. And we've all heard the "dip, don't pour" calorie-counting advice, but, even then, I feel so guilty with every dip and dab that I usually resort to eating my salads without any dressing at all. Which, predictably, rather quickly results in my not eating salad, period.

Lately, with the encouragement of Nick, who loves salad (as does his mother), I've been reading salad dressing labels carefully to find ones I am comfortable with using. Sometimes I'll simply use olive oil, flavored vinegar, and seasonings. And I've found that with the right dressing, salad is a beautiful thing. It's a terrific means to adding more vegetables to our diets. (Yes, honey, you were right.)

With all that said, I'm especially thankful that kitchen tool maker OXO choose me to try out its new Salad Dressing Shaker. The Shaker is made of a BPA-free, break-resistant, and dishwasher safe material. Once ingredients are added, screw the top on, and shake to quickly mix dressings with no spills. The top lever flips back for pouring and forward to seal. Leftover dressing can be stored in the airtight Shaker inside the fridge, so you can eat your homemade dressing all week long.

I'm pleased with the measurements on the side. I love its vibrant green accents, similar to that of the salad you're pouring it in. (There's also a black-accented version.) It truly seems spill-proof and sturdy. It bills itself as having a "wide opening ideal for adding a range of ingredients like oil, vinegar, mayonnaise, mustard, garlic, onions, and spices." I associate yogurt with Indian food, so I made a yogurt-based dressing. The "shaking" part didn't work great, since both yogurt and honey are so thick. However, I gave the ingredients few simple stirs with a spoon and the dressing was good to go. To any OXO execs looking to make version 2.0, I'd suggest considering a blender ball, similar to the kind that are in protein shakers. However, I still think it's worth the money as my thick concoction poured pleasantly smoothly out of the spout. Plus, I've been re-using it for days because it stores easily in the fridge as a grab-and-pour dressing.

GIVEAWAY

Updated 5/14/12: Congratulations to reader John Billiris for winning the OXO Salad Dressing Shaker. The giveaway is now closed.

If you want to try out an OXO Salad Dressing Shaker, here's your opportunity to get one for FREE. I'll mail one lucky blog reader a Shaker. (It's a green one, like mine :) )

To enter, simply email me at sree [at] saagahh.com with the subject line "OXO Salad Dressing Shaker Giveaway." Include your name and address in the body of the email, as that's what I'll use to mail you the Shaker if you win.

For one extra entry into the giveaway, leave a comment below about what ingredients I should try in my Shaker next! (Tip: If you have a Gmail account, just sign in using the "Google account". If not, use the "Name/URL" option and feel free to leave the URL line blank.)

Rules: Open to U.S. residents only. Entries must be received by 5 p.m. Pacific Time on Friday, 5/11/12. The winner will be drawn using a random number generator. Odds of winning depend on number of eligible entries received.

Disclosure: OXO provided me with the Shaker I used for this dressing for free, plus provided for free the Shaker I'll be giving away (including shipping to pay for the giveaway), through its Blogger Outreach Program.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Tandoor-India, Santa Monica, Restaurant Review

A great value, Tandoor-India offers (mostly) above average Indian food at bargain prices (with free parking!).

7 out of 10 Peppers = Spicy

Date night is a minimum once-a-week ritual in our household, but since we had an entire Date Weekend recently via a friend's wedding in Portland, I was feeling frugal this past Saturday. Actually, before Nick calls me on it I should correct myself. I was feeling even more frugal than usual, if that's possible.

So when Nick said we should venture to Santa Monica for Indian food, I did a bit of Internet sleuthing. I found that Tandoor-India on Pico had free parking and, after a quick glance at the menu posted online when Nick wasn't looking, saw that the prices were really affordable. (Nick had that same realization later once inside the restaurant. Many entrees are under $10, and the lunch buffet is $7.50. I'm hoping he's happy with my decision!)

THE SETTING

The free parking is in a shared lot for the strip mall, which also contains a laundromat and a doughnut shop. Not high end by any stretch of the imagination, but there were several open spots, so I was happy. (There is also tons of parking on Pico, but I definitely saw parking meters there. Not sure what the enforcement hours are on those.) Inside, it is fairly generic with a yellow and orange color scheme, several booths on one side and typical two- and four-tops throughout. There is Indian-styled framed art on the walls. Curtains block busy Pico Boulevard from view, though I would have preferred the windows be uncovered to let in natural light. A deliciously pungent smell greeted us as we walked in, whetting our appetites.

Service was fast and cordial, through not especially friendly.

THE FOOD

The restaurant skimps on some things. Namely, no free papadum and no drink refills. (Or, at least, they never offered one for Nick's soda.) Still, for the prices, it's a great value.

An appetizer order of Keema Samosas came with two large samosas, which were golden crispy on the outside with dark ground lamb on the inside punctuated by a few peas. Nick, the samosa connoisseur, declared them "above average."

I revisited the thali (as I recently also opted for at New Delhi Palace) since it seemed a well-rounded representation of the menu. It was $10.50 and included naan and sides. My face fell as I noted the biggest portion went to rice, but I suppose in a way that is authentic. I choose the "Lamb Spinach" option for the meat. The spinach was exceptionally spiced and full of flavor. A few pieces of lamb were tough, but most were tender. The Daal was subtly spiced and delicious. The Salad, which I picked in lieu of Raita, was odd because the dressing was on the opposite side of the plate, and it took me asking a server to figure that out. (I initially though the chef had spilled some drippy liquid on my plate. Gross.) The Vegetable of the Day was a mix of potato, peas, and carrots, and I enjoyed their chunky texture.

The naan that came with my combo plate was plenty to share. However, it sported large burnt peaks and was dry.

Nick's Shrimp Biryani wasn't spicy enough. Oddly, the server never asked for our preferred spice level on any of the dishes. Biryani is typically one of the spicier dishes though, so Nick was disappointed. On the plus side, he noted that the shrimp tested "fresh."

Tandoor India, 2622 Pico Boulevard, Santa Monica 90405. (310) 581-9964.


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