Hellooo, Portland! Mr Taster, formerly of the Los Angeles Chowhound Tasters, is here

Looks like I’m the first one to the party. Welcome. Thanks, me.

For those of you who don’t know me, I fell in love with Chowhound in the early days of 2003. The resident Los Angeles hounds educated and informed me about all manner of regional, non-American cookery, and it’s been a crazy, wild ride ever since. I’ve since spent about a year and a half traveling through SE Asia, China and Taiwan with my wife, who I met back in 2004. She’s from Taiwan, and my then-newfound interest and education in regional Chinese cookery sparked a connection. In many ways, she was the key that helped me to unlock the less accessible mysteries of LA’s Chinese San Gabriel Valley, and that curiosity led to where I am today. Which is to say, an overinformed, opinionated critic of Chinese food with a breadth of experience to draw upon, though I am no expert. To some extent, I know what the Chinese expectations are, and can parse why things are presented or prepared a certain way, which may run afoul of non-Chinese expectations. I do speak and read some Mandarin, though I’m not fluent.

But in Portland, a town not exactly known for it’s cultural diversity (nor for it’s breadth of Chinese cuisine), I’ve found there’s not that many people like me. (If you’re out there, please contribute here!)

I’ve encountered people in other food boards that are unaware and/or uninterested in learning about regional Chinese cookery, instead happy to sing the praises of places whose food would not stand up to any level of Chinese scrutiny…

One of the things I’ve observed in my time here is that this is a small town-- certainly smaller than LA, and as a result people know their neighbors. And when you know your neighbors, it’s hard sometimes to be truthful with them about their faults. While that makes for a better overall quality of life, it means there really is no source (that I’ve found) of truly critical (albeit honest and informed) opinions. I’ve had a few exchanged with Michael Russel of the Oregonian, and he does seem to have at least some practical knowledge of having traveled in Asia, and knowing what certain foods are meant to taste like-- without being “reinvented” for a Portland taste or aesthetic. That’s a valuable perspective, and a rare one, as far as I’m concerned. And that’s what I hope to contribute here, as long as there’s an audience willing to listen, and to have a dialogue with.

Please let me know you’re out there. Let’s have a conversation.

Mr Taster


Welcome back to the melting pot, MrTaster!

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Thanks J_L_

Good to be here.

Now let’s see if we can convince a few Portlanders to join in!

Mr Taster

Mr. Taster – hope you are enjoying PDX…i married a girl from there and spent a lot of time back and forth and living up there too. We return often. The one place I keep going back to when I’m downtown is Mother’s for their incredible biscuits and gravy. I think there are a few other spots in Portland that do a killer job with that dish. I also tend to enjoy Lucky Labradors for chilling and drinking beer. Much different scene than LA as you obviously recognize especially with Chinese food. I’ve found the wine tours and such there to be on a very high level and that’s worth checking out. peace out

Thanks for the suggestions, JJ.

Haven’t been to Mother’s, but I’ll add it to my ever-growing list. For such a relatively small city, there’s an overwhelming number of places to try. I can tell that it’ll take a while for me to get a real grasp on the food scene here.

Keep the tips coming-- I’m happy to hear any recommendations!

Mr Taster

Hi Mr. Taster!

Welcome to Food Talk Central! :smile:

Stop by the LA board from time to time.

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I’ll do that. Will be back in town Oct 22-25 for a wedding and will likely take a look at what’s new.

Mr Taster

Hey Taster. Welcome to the fucking board.


Good to see you here. Saw the Fred Armisen/Jerry Seinfeld episode of “Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee” and it gave me a major hankering to have a cup of joe in Portland! In the episode, they were at Coava Coffee Roasters.

Fred Armisen is terrible and as much as i love PDX that show sucked…ok, moving on…i do enjoy those seinfeld shows tho!

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a fun spot to go to at night with your partner is the portland city grill, live piano music and great views of the bridges etc…food sort of basic, but drinks and snacks music and atmosphere…a classy different edge to portland from the usual tit spikes and neck tattoos.

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Lol don’t beat around the bush yo. Yeah I thought the episode was weak but I zoned in on Seinfeld’s reaction to the coffee and I was like damn, I gotta get me some!

Snoozer I meant portlandia. But Fred a is terrible. But I love pdx.

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Hi MrTater,

I live 30-40 minutes from PDX . It depends if you ask me or my husband. We moved here about 15years ago from Los Angeles. Unfortunately we do not get to Portland to eat much anymore. We did when we first moved here but I guess we have grown lazy. We like to cook and we like our view so we find it hard to get ourselves to drive to Portland for dinner. For one thing we like to drink and the winding hwy to our house is not a good idea for us after a few glasses of wine but we also find that much of the food in Portland is over-hyped and sort of boring. I will be looking forward to reading your reviews in hopes that it inspires us to get out more. We really need to. I growing mossy. It is not really fair for us to judge the food scene since we do not really participate in it.

I will especially enjoy hearing about any Asian food finds. We occasionally enjoy dim some at Wong King’s. The one on Division. I was told by a waiter at http://vancouver.tasteofsichuan.com/ that the Hong Kong Cafe has the best dim sum in Portland. We have yet to try it. Have you? We had a nice lunch at a place I think called happy something (Happy Chinese?) when it first opened. We ate either mussels or clams and they were very fresh and flavorful. The staff was friendly and the restaurant comfortable. We planned to go back but when we are in the area it is usually to early to eat. It is across the street from Fubonn on 82nd where I sometimes shop. For all I know the restaurant has closed it has been a while since I have been in the area.

People at portlandfood.org seem to like Taste of Sichuan. I was less than impressed. Their dumplings were pretty good, their fish was bad. Do you see yourself eating in Vancouver? If so I would be interested in your views of Tangs Wok. http://www.tangs-wok.com/ You need to ask for the Chinese menu. They call it the secret authentic menu which I find silly and annoying but whatever, They are nice and unpretentious. I think the Chinese menu at the restaurant has more on it than the one online. So far I have tried the beef noodle soup. I liked it in-spite of it having a bit too much sesame oil for my tastes. I would not go out of my way to try it but if you ever find yourself on 164th in Vancouver you might give it a shot. It is across the street from New Seasons. Taste of Sichuan is just up the street if you are interested. Sorry for the rambling…

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Hi snoozebutton

I’ve seen that episode. I, too, find Fred Armisen an oddball, but knowing that Seinfeld also felt that way about him, and found humor in his idiosyncrasies, somehow made him funnier to me. I like the observation that Seinfeld made about Portlandia, which is that none of the quirky characters in the show think that anything they’re doing is funny, and that’s what makes the humor work. It’s kind of the same thing for Fred Armisen, the man.

Coava (the coffee roaster that the episode takes place in) is a quintessential hipster coffee shop in that they utilize under roasted beans that give the coffee what I find to be an unappealing sourness. I’m just not sure why Seinfeld waxes poetic about the stuff. I prefer a properly medium roasted espresso blend, like the ones at Caffe Spella and Caffe Umbria. Caffe Spella is a Portland original, and has been, for a long time now, using a traditional medium roast espresso blend (before the so-called “third wave” of single origin, under roasted sour coffee became so popular). Caffe Umbria came from Seattle, who never seemed to jump on the third wave wagon. On my first visit to Seattle, I was fully expecting to taste their take on the third wave/sour coffee phenomenon, and was pleasantly surprised to find lovely, complex medium roasts everywhere I tried.

Mr Taster

Hi Rainycatcooks

Pleased to meet you. I’ve been to Taste of Sichuan several times, and I’ve mostly enjoyed the dishes I’ve tried there. I like that they have the cold deli case of “small eats” (小吃) which I’d grown used to seeing at my favorite Sichuanese restaurants in Los Angeles. The best restaurants have an extraordinarily broad selection of different “small eats”, and you get to pick 3 or 4 as an appetizer for a relatively low price. I found the dish know (in Chinese) as “water boiled fish” (水煮魚) to be quite good (despite the innocuous-sounding name, it’s boneless chunks of a tender white fish cooked in chili oil, served with cabbage and eaten over rice). I did not like the knife cut noodles, which they have on the menu but is not at all a Sichuanese specialty. The one thing I learned eating regional Chinese specialties- stick with what the restaurant is known for. Menus are often fleshed out with “filler” - dishes that the restaurant doesn’t specialize in or prepare to a Chinese standard of excellence, but is there to try to please people who are looking for something different. If you’re not interested in trying the Sichuanese specialties, I’d go elsewhere. (And yes, I’m looking squarely at you, Taste of Sichuan 小籠包!)

And thank you very much for the recommendation to try out the so-called “secret authentic menu” at Tang’s Wok. I’ll be curious to try it out and talk with the chef, to see where he’s from and what his specialties are.

Oh, and as much as I understand your distaste for the “secret menu” practice, Chinese restaurants do this for a practical reason. Americanized Chinese food is a formula that we have acculturated to. We, as a culture, have a broadly understood interpretation and expectation of Chinese food-- we all know beef & broccoli, General Tso’s Chicken/Orange chicken, sweet and sour pork, egg foo yung, wonton soup. What Americans have not acculturated to, in any kind of meaningful way, is beef noodle soup (which often has slithery, tender strips of tendon, prized by the Chinese), dongpo pork (which has a thick later of skin and fat attached to the meat), and countless other dishes that Chinese restaurants really take a risk on by selling them to people who don’t know or understand the food. Someone who receives dongpo pork and complains about there being too much skin and fat speaks more of their own ignorance of the dish, moreso than the chef’s skill at preparing it. Chinese restaurateurs got tired of throwing away perfectly good food because it wasn’t made to the expectations of beef & broccoli Americans. Eventually, the “secret menu” was born as much as a way of ensuring that Chinese customers, with Chinese expectations, got the food they knew and expected, as much as it was a way to keep out American customers with American expectations from being served something that challenged their cultural understanding and expectations of Chinese food.

So you see, it really doesn’t have anything to do with elitism or preferential treatment-- it has only to do with trying to make the customer comfortable and fulfill their expectations. If you’re ever offered a fork instead of chopsticks, the same rationale applies. They’re trying to meet your expectations-- not make you feel inferior by assuming you’re such a stupid American that you’re incapable of using chopsticks.

The interesting thing happening now is that Americans, in larger and larger numbers, are becoming more educated and adventurous in their dining choices, and are starting to seek out the real stuff. Chinese restaurateurs are still unaccustomed to this-- too many bad memories of perfectly prepared food being sent back to the kitchen. I think we’re in a transitional period now- as regional Chinese food slowly grows in popularity, it’ll be interesting to see in a generation whether the “secret menu” becomes less and less a thing.

Mr Taster

I just looked a bit closer at Tang’s Wok… and, WOW!

The so-called “secret” menu has several Taiwanese specialty dishes, like minced pork over rice and beef noodle soup. I love that there’s another source for Taiwanese food in the area, even if they’re not advertising it as such.

And as an added bonus, Mr. & Mrs. Tang were trained in New York style Chinese cooking! For those who don’t know me, I was weaned on that style of Chinese American cooking-- I still miss those glorious, fat, dark brown eggrolls with the crispy, chewy, blistered skin.

If, at the same restaurant, my Lovely Tasting Assistant™ (LTA™) and I can eat a bowl of beef noodle soup and a side of julienned pig ears, I’ll be one happy lao wai.

Mr Taster


I am in no way offended by the two menu system. I understand how silly people can be about food they do not understand. I will never understand why people freak out about a whole fish for example. I have many times ordered something and have been told that I will not like it. It is sort of annoying to be put in the situation of having to beg to be served a dish but I realize that they have reason to be cautious.

Unfortunately the beef noodle soup at Tangs did not have tendon it. I really love tendon. I will try the pork dish you mentioned next time. Thanks for the suggestion.

Which Taste of Sichuan did you go too? I did not see a deli case at the Vancouver location. Next time I will try the water boiled fish. I had the spicy black bean one. I did not feel that it was very fresh but I will give them another shot at it.

ETA: I want to make it clear that my make me beg for a dish is not referring to Tangs. The woman who runs it is happy to give me what I call the other menu and she always brings me chopsticks. Tangs does a lot of take out business at lunchtime of the typical American Chinese type dishes. I suspect most of them have no idea about the other menu available and probably do not care.

hello mr taster, did you give up on chowhound? you know me as ritabwh at chowhound.

I actually enjoyed that show - Armisen (and Portlandia - the show, and the city) are not for everyone though, so it’s all good.

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