August 12, 2005

Another Crepe and She's Le Happy

What's red, hip, and covered with fake flowers? It must be Le Happy, the cute little creperie/bar located about 16 blocks due west of my place. I went out for a solo crepe dinner last night to celebrate a good financial month of July, and it was an extremely pleasant experience.

Le Happy is a small, eye-catching establishment at NW 16th and Lovejoy. The exterior is bright yellow, with dark wood furniture and warm red walls inside. Having read the Citysearch profile of Le Happy, I was a little tentative to try it for the first time alone. Most Portland restaurants are very friendly and accomodating, but I've come across a few that relegate parties of one to uncomfortable seating areas and terrible service. Fortunately, my fears were unfounded at the romantic Le Happy. There are two eating bars, and the friendly staff put me at ease immediately. I was not even the only person there by myself for a light dinner.

I had the Faux Vegan, a savory buckwheat crepe with spinach, creme fraiche, crimini mushrooms and goat cheese, paired with a glass of tempranillo. The portion was small, but excellently prepared and presented. Le Happy also offers a "make your own" option in addition to the regular crepe menu selections. I am intrigued and will definitely be back to try it. The prices are more expensive than Vivace and Chez Machin, but Le Happy is my new favorite for a relaxing, laid-back gourmet treat. They open at 5pm, with happy hour discounts in effect between 5pm and 7pm weekdays. I suspect I may become a regular!

Posted by mara at 12:56 PM

July 25, 2005

The Breakfast Ratings

I love breakfast. It's the most important meal of the day. In the short months since I've moved to downtown Portland, I have discovered a number of close-in restaurants with delightful, cheap breakfast options (even for those of us who break our fast at noon on the weekends).

Vivace at NW 23rd and Pettygrove serves excellent crepes, both sweet and savory. The is housed in an old Victorian mansion which, according to legend, is haunted. Vivace's website mentions that the cafe was originally named Java Macabre, a playful reference to the old haunted house. They delicately explain that the name change was because a lot of people "got the wrong impression from the name". From what I heard, Java Macabre turned into a lounge spot for neighborhood mall-goths in the early 00s, who camped out for hours on end and scared the customers. The owner got tired of kicking the goths out, and changed the name and theme to appeal to clientele desiring the European Coffee Experience. Free wireless is a neat bonus, although it can be a little hard to find a seat when isolated people with laptops are taking up most of the tables. Still, the crepes and espresso drinks don't disappoint.

Just down the street, Chez Machin has a crepe cart at NW 23rd and Johnson. I'm a huge fan of the savory buckwheat crepes. The cart doesn't carry a selection of drinks, and the ambience is pure street cafe. For a more private dining experience, I plan to try the original Chez Machin at SE 35th and Hawthorne.

Closer to home, Byways Cafe in the Pearl is a strictly breakfast-and-lunch joint. The cafe has charming classic Americana kitsch appeal, from the pennants and doodads lining the walls to the cafeteria-style milk tap and formica tables. It's been called a "greasy spoon", but I felt the menu made up in freshness what it lacked in sheer innovation. The amaretto french toast is very popular, but they require 15 minutes to prepare it. Unfortunately, this also means not ordering breakfast at 11:45am when they stop serving at 12:00 on Saturday. Although I missed the french toast this last time, the oatmeal was a fine runner-up.

When my need for breakfast finds me on the east side of Portland, Grand Central Bakery on SE 23rd and Hawthorne has several great breakfasts for under $5. I'm a fan of the simple fried egg with toast and jam. The cinnamon rolls are fresh but slightly dry on the edges, which places them below "greatness" in my judgment. Grand Central focuses on what it does best -- being a bakery -- so this isn't really a place to sit and linger over a cup of tea.

Several weeks ago I had the pleasure of visiting the Bijou Cafe with some friends. One of the definitive "brunch spots" in town, I was impressed by the food quality and freshness at Bijou. My corn muffin was hot out of the oven, and I actually finished an entire omelette filled with veggies. I don't think Bijou will win any prizes for groundbreaking cuisine, but I left satisfied and in good company. I would hesitate to spend $11 on brunch regularly, and Bijou didn't really stand out as a spectacular treat. I'll be trying something different next time.

For more on local bites, ExtraMSG covers the Portland food scene in great detail.

Posted by mara at 3:57 PM