Why I Write in Restaurants

It’s possible for a space to feel too comfortable.

Looking at my own “workspace” at home, it absolutely looks like I spend a lot of time sitting there. There’s an art print on the wall behind my comfortable high-backed chair from IKEA. There is a minimalist desk lamp (also from IKEA) that illuminates the space directly between my laptop’s keyboard, the coaster for my tea mug, and the stand where my iPad or phone controls my Pomodoro timer and music selection.

It is my preferred space for book work. It is my preferred space for editing and tweaking my own work. Beyond that little ring of light and cheap wood, though, the rest of the desk is chaos. It is too comfortable. One of my culinary teachers warned us that our workspace reflects our minds- if you have a messy workspace, you have a messy mind. Beyond my laptop, thar be dragons.

When it comes to this weekly blog, I feel like I have to go mobile. The wanderlust of the “nomadic entrepreneur” seizes on me, and I need to pack everything in a satchel and “find a place to write.”

Today, my “office” of the moment is My Vice. It has cocktails and a really good beef sandwich. The table is empty except for my typing machine and a late lunch. Arguably, I could save money and do this myself by cleaning my friggin’ desk up- but what’s the fun in that?

My name is Matt Strenger, and I do a lot of writing in bars.

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Review #17- My Vice

Where: 2035 SE Cesar E. Chavez Blvd., Portland Oregon

“Hey, want a seat?”
The door popped open so suddenly I almost gave myself whiplash after studying the menu taped to the inner window. It was a rainy day and I’d been walking nowhere in particular. I told Emily I was “taking a walk-“ which she knows is code for “I’m going out for a walk and also maybe to get beer or snacks, but I don’t want to admit it.” Today, I had my typing machines with me and figured I’d find a quiet outdoor bar to get some work done.

Coming down Cesar Chavez, I saw a new sign seemed to replace “Trinket” overnight next to the Joe Bike Bicycle Shop. A bold chef’s knife design with the simple words “My Vice” was tacked up on the wall of an improvised patio hanging out into the parking lot- now a normal feature of restaurants in the Age of COVID.

The inside of the cafe proper was painted a dark blue and it looked closed against the grey sky, so I leaned in just to read the menu- then Tarl, the bartender and co-owner, got my attention.

“Oh! Uh.. hey, I was just looking at the menu and, um… you know what? Sure.”
”Right on, man- go around the side to the patio and take a seat, I’ll be right with you.”

Mind the chandelier…
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Gimme More Than A Gimmick!

A few months ago, I had a great idea. I’d just recently found a great challah recipe from America’s Test Kitchen, and I had the thought, “You know, challah isn’t the same as brioche, but it’s close. Cinnamon rolls are made out of brioche… so what if I made challah out of 6 braided strands of cinnamon roll?

The bread came out interestingly layered and noticeably over-worked, but good. The next step was seeing how the bread would do as cinnamon French toast. When asked how I came up with it, I gave a joking answer of “I like cinnamon toast; if it’s worth doing, it’s worth overdoing.”

It’s a reductivist joke, and one that too many operations are taking literally. If you’re creating a dish, and you want it all to highlight and enhance a particular flavor, that requires fitness to do well.

If you’re going to go overboard, you’d better be able to swan dive.

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Why I Don’t Write Negative Restaurant Reviews

It takes some serious cajones to open up a new restaurant in thee middle of a pandemic. Even more so doing it in a city positively lousy with ramen shops.

When I saw the new storefront open up and a couple faces returning time and time again, I figured it was time to take them for a spin. I hadn’t written about ramen on the blog yet, and it’s the perfect weather for a bowl of hot noodles.

After two visits, trying their most popular bowl and a bowl of what they specialize in, I walked away feeling like I had wasted my money. If I am spending money on ramen and “I could have had a better dinner with a pack of Top Ramen and fixings from my fridge” floats through my mind, that’s a bad sign.

Tossing out half of the second disappointing bowl, I decided that the place did not merit a review. Not a bad review, or a complaint on Yelp- that’s not my way.

I don’t give bad reviews, anywhere, ever- and I have good reasons why.

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“No More Eulogies”- What’s Left of a Food Capital

Some people complain about doing anything with a mask on. For these folks, the idea of exercise while wearing one is dangerous, stupid, or just unthinkable.

The biggest annoyances regarding masks for me are 1. Having to hear these people whine about it, and 2. My glasses fogging up when I go on my runs around Mount Tabor.

As such, I didn’t really notice the first couple times I was hustling down Belmont and saw glassware lined up for sale in the window of The Cheese Shop. The third time, though, put a rock in my gut and stuck with me for the remaining three miles of the run.

Glassware for sale at a restaurant means “The End is Nigh”, and another food industry eulogy will need to be written.

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