Food Day

by J.D. Roth

Saturday was a brilliant day. The sun shone. We worked in the yard. We listened to opera. Best of all, we indulged in some of Portland’s finest food.

Sagahún is a tiny chocolate shop located just north of Burnside on 16th. (The actual address is 10 NW 16th Ave.) I’ve been hearing about this place for weeks. On our drive to pick up AmyJo, I had Kris read a doting profile of the owner to me out of a local hispanic paper. ExtraMSG, a Portland-area foodblog, recently raved about Sahagún’s hot chocolate:

At $4.00 each, they aren’t cheap. But they’re unequivocally worth every penny. Easily the best hot chocolate in this survey and truly ruined me for the others since I had this one first.

You all know how much I love my hot chocolate. I went in prepared to be blown away.

I was disappointed.

This was not the best hot chocolate I’d ever had. It wasn’t even the second best hot chocolate I’d ever had. It wasn’t even close. Don’t get me wrong: it’s fine stuff, but it’s no better than my dear-departed chantico (though it’s a different kind of drinking chocolate, to be sure), and it’s certainly not worth the trouble, the time, or the cost. The stuff I make for myself at home is still the best hot chocolate ever; why should I drive all the way to downtown Portland to spend $4 on an inferior cup of hot chocolate? Answer: I shouldn’t, and I won’t.

We also picked up some miscellaneous chocolate bits at Sahagún, including the pepitapapa, which is a candy made from bittersweet chocolate, chili peppers, and pumpkin seeds. Again, this wasn’t as good as I had hoped. Nor was the cherry-cashew cluster.

Sahagún let me down; I feel deceived by the hype. My expectations were too high. I may return again, but it’s not a priority.

Ken’s Artisan Bakery
Ken’s Artisan Bakery, on the other hand, is sure to become a regular stop for me and Kris when we’re downtown. This homey little bistro is located a short walk from Sahagún, at NW 21st and Flanders. Many people seemed to be picking up bread products to go, but there are several tables available for those who would prefer to sit and chat with friends.

Ken’s offers an assortment of fresh crusty breads, of course, but there’s so much more to choose from: tarts, croissants, pastries, and more. (I went home with a lovely brownie.) On Monday nights they do pizza! (I’ve got to try that.)

Kris had a savory ham-and-cheese filled croissant. I tried a bite and wished I had ordered one, too. I contented myself with a cinnamon roll, but not a gloopy gooey cinnamon roll. (Not that there’s anything wrong with gloppy gooey cinnamon rolls.) It was a light, flaky cinnamon roll with a sugary glaze. Different, but delicious.

In many ways, Ken’s reminded me of Willamette‘s Bistro back when it was a swank little coffee house (as opposed to now). I love that the bakery’s web site features little essays on baking.

Ken’s Artisan Bakery is a gem.

Pix Patisserie
On a whim, we stopped by Pix Patisserie on north Williams. “This place is good,” Amy Jo told us, enthusiastic. Pix seemed like a cross between Sahagún and Ken’s Artisan bakery: there was a case of hand-made chocolates, but there was also a case of pastries. And behind the counter was a vast assortment of liquor. Is the place also a licensed bar?

I loved what little I saw of Pix Patisserie. I loved the gaudy red wallpaper. I loved the absurd chocolates for sale. (Buy hand-crafted chocolate chess pieces for $20 per set.) I loved the various savory croissants that were available. (I took home one embedded with chorizo sausage, which made a nice breakfast Sunday morning.)

We didn’t spend much time here, but I’m sure we’ll return soon.

To cap off our evening, we joined the Gingeriches and the Proffitt-Smiths at Sinju to celebrate Jeremy’s birthday. We’ve been to Sinju once before (with Dave and Karen), but it didn’t leave any sort of impression, for good or ill. This time it did.

This time, Sinju was simply amazing.

As before, we were ushered to a private, screened room. We took off our shoes and sat at the recessed table. I ordered sake. “I’m getting better at sushi, but I still can’t eat it without alcohol to grease the way,” I explained. “Hey — this is hot,” I said when my sake came. The rest of the party laughed. Apparently it’s supposed to be served hot. And you know what? I liked it this time. (I’ve never liked sake before, but I’ve only tried it cold.)

We ordered appetizers: chicken karaage (fried chicken with garlic ginger sauce), gyoza (pan-fried dumpling filled with beef, pork and vegetables), and the ahi tower. The gyoza was outstanding. While we waited for our meals to arrive, I shared the special sake I’d brought for Jeremy: Scottish Lagavulin sake!

Dinner was alarming. The waitress kept bringing more and more food. Had we asked for all this? First she brought individual dinners for those who had ordered them. Then she brought a boat of sashimi nearly as long as the table. (Seriously: this was a boat — a stylized wooden ship.) Then, to top it all off, she delivered a heavy tray packed with sushi rolls.

The only disappointment of the evening was the salmon teriyaki portion of my combination dinner. The chicken teriyaki, on the other hand, was wonderful, sweet and smoky and cooked to perfection. The sinju steak was good, too, pungent with ginger and a little bit crispy from the bread coating.

After dinner, I joined Jeremy outside for a brief smoke. I bathed in the scent of the cloves. “You reek,” Kris told me when I returned to the table, but I didn’t care.

What a marvelous day for a food-lover.

(And remember: we squeezed in sod-removal, too. Amazing!)

p.s. Apparently Sinju has a second location at Bridgeport Village, the new mall in Tualatin. We may have to add that to our list of regular restaurants.

Updated: 06 March 2006

Do what's right. Do your best. Accept the outcome.
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