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.”
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.
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.
He was brand new. We had trained him for a week- he had a ways to go, but he took his tasks on, did the work asked, and didn’t make a fuss. He asked questions about the nuts and bolts of recipes, he asked about when we took breaks, and how he should clock in and out for them.
“Ten years in the business,” he said. “Started as a dishwasher at 16, worked up to prep, then line cook.” Covid took him out of the kitchen he’d called home and the bakery had work that needed doing. He wasn’t picky- he just needed to work.
Wednesday night, he went to party. Thursday morning, he never clocked in- a hangover made staying home more appealing than showing up for his shift.
A no call/no show. He can stay home as long as he likes now.
As the pandemic sunk its teeth into the American culinary industry, there was no shortage of worries and opinions to fill column inches. They included hopeful outlooks, doomsaying, and more than a few appeals to our elected leaders that they should stop resembling a monkey sodomizing sports equipment.
A few of those hot takes even came from me- but one in particular came from my therapist:
“You’ve mentioned before how you and your wife enjoy going out to eat together. That’s certainly tough right now, but there’s got to be ways to make do.”
“Making do” is one of those skills that we humans are great at, diseases be damned- and tonight I went out to dinner to see how some places are doing it.