I’m not sure I could cook properly with some tunes playing.
I blame it on my 80’s hair-band upbringing.
When things get hopping, I’m teetering in the weeds, and there are 20 plates waiting, I need me some Queen, AC-DC, Journey, Aerosmith, Van Halen (even with Sammy), or Mötley Crüe to keep the feet moving, (nothing better than “Home Sweet Home” to end a long night.)
When I’m home, however, I find I need a very different style…mellower, more relaxing. This is when The Eagles, Billy Joel, Paul Simon, and yes, maybe even a little Neil Diamond, call to me.
Lately, when I’m slinging in the home kitchen, I’ve been exploring more instrumental stuff, mostly jazz, or R&B. One of my new favorite instrumentalists is Alayna French, whose debut album, “Awakened to Reality” just released on Amazon.
“Victorious is He“(t2), and “High Tide” (t4) are SO good for writing…my other job, “Fight or Flight” (t6) is great kitchen music, and “Alone” (t1) is just plain awesome anytime, (my new morning meditation soundtrack).
I’ve been playing the album all day, I can’t remember the last time I liked EVERY track on an album.
Looking forward to more from Alayna French.
How about you? Do you need a little something to tap your toes to in the kitchen? Who bangs your gong, when the cookin’s on?
Chef Perry chefperryperkins.com
Disclaimer: This review is purely my own opinion. I have not received, nor will receive, any form of compensation or gratuity for the post or my review of any of this music. I paid full price for these songs.
“Blessed are you in your coming, blessed are you in your departure”
– Moroccan Blessing
Often, when I’ve had a particularly good work-week, or have accomplished a hard-to-achieve goal, I’ll reward myself by calling up some foodie friends and spending a long, decadent evening in one of our favorite restaurants.
Some guys golf, some guys gamble…I graze.
This week, we choseDar Essalam, a tiny Moroccan eatery in my hometown of Wilsonville, and, as always, I’m so glad we did.
The intimate dining area is decorated with Moroccan pottery, artwork, and gorgeous handcrafted furniture, while the air is redolent with cumin, paprika, cinnamon, and orange blossom. A spicy, mysterious aroma which completes the fantasy that we have stepped though some African wardrobe and found ourselves on the sultry streets of Marrakech.
OwnersAbdellah and Dee Elhabbassi, also the Executive Chefs, wait-staff, and greeters here, welcome us in with warm smiles and hugs, settling us into our chairs and chatting with us like long-lost family.
These two restaurateurs moved from Denver to Abdellah’s home town of Rabat, Morocco solely to study the finest Moroccan restaurants and traditional recipes before returning to open their own establishment, and they don’t hide themselves away in the kitchen.
Indeed, the allure of Dar Essalam, besides the outstanding menu, is the genuine hospitality, the obvious passion that the Elhabbassi family has for their work, and the love they feel for their customers.
Dar Essalam is translated House of Tranquility, and everything from the subdued lighting, to the dark woods and pastel walls, work in harmony to live up to the name. You can’t help but feel a little better, just walking in and sitting down.
Still, we’re here to eat…
Each meal begins with a progression of appetizers, starting with a deliciously mild hummus, served with pita, followed by a dark brown lentil soup in a rich beef broth that’s spiced with cilantro, cumin, and chili powder.
Finally, before your entrée arrives, you’re offered a sampler of four seasonal salads. Ours consisted of carrole a La sharmoula (cumin and cinnamon marinated carrots), julienned pickled beets, a fresh, crisp green bean salad, and finally, savory potato wedges with finely diced onions. Though completely different in flavors, this reminded m of what i enjoy about Korean food, the series of small plates called bonchon.
Wanting to try something new, we also ordered Bakola, a warm “Moroccan style” sautéed and marinated spinach topped with cream cheese, za’atar (a Middle Eastern spice blend), and pine nuts. This decadent spread is also served with warm pita wedges, and is very, very hard to stop eating.
All of this is washed down with generous tumblers of the amazing mint and orange blossom green ice tea, or small glasses of Dar Essalam’s aromatic blend of hot Chinese green and jasmine teas, made even more enticing by adding orange blossom water and then infusing it with fresh mint leaves.
My friend and fellow gastronome, Dane, will drink this sweet, exotic brew as fast as they refill the brass teapot.
Now, remember…you haven’t eaten dinner yet!
Entrees consist of a variety of tajines, which are a slowly simmered Moroccan dish that derives its name from the shallow earthenware pan and cone-shaped lid it is cooked, as well as served, in. The Elhabbassi’s tajines include lamb shank, beef oxtail, or saffron Cornish hen.
Also on the menu are hearty salads, a selection of grilled kabobs, and Pastilla, a dish involving layers of chicken accented with an exquisite spicing of saffron, parsley, coriander and cinnamon, all in a phyllo dough that’s lightly dusted with powdered sugar and cinnamon.
We tried several of the tajines, including my favorite: lamb shank with preserved lemon and artichokes. This is just one of several “savory” tajine options. Also offered are a variety of ingredients for sweet or spicy tajines as well.
Next, we shared another of my favorite dishes, The Sultan’s Platter, which consists of a generously mixed grill of beef, lamb, saffron chicken, and grilled prawn kabobs.
Just a side note: I’m a seafood junkie, with prawns being near the top of my list…and these were the best grilled shrimp I’ve ever tasted (and those who know me, know I don’t say the following lightly…) including my own.
The kabobs were served with a savory couscous, and several tajines of flatbread where scattered about the table.
All of these dishes are typically eaten with the first three fingers of the diner’s right hand, and with fresh, warm flatbread for sopping up the rich, flavorful sauce that fills the bottom of the tajine. Dane opted for the saffron Cornish hen, which was a thing of beauty.
Just as the first groans of sated pleasure were being uttered, it was time for dessert.
Feeling adventurous, I ordered the flan with orange essence, which turned out to be a small pot of creamy caramel wonderfulness, along with an assortment of light pastries, all dished up so artfully that I was almost afraid to disturb it…almost.
Others in the group shared Dar Essalam’s signature dessert, The Casablanca, which, after the long progression of dishes, can catch the breath of the heartiest of eaters.
The Casablanca is a buttery pastry stuffed with peaches, pears, and bananas, then dusted with powdered sugar and sprinkled with toasted almonds. It’s served fresh from the oven (order it at the start of your meal) and topped with a huge dollop of vanilla-bean ice cream.
Think of the best peach pie you’ve ever had, wrap it in puff-pastry, top it with really good ice cream, then times its goodness by three…and you’re getting close to what it’s like to finish your feast with The Casablanca.
Finally, after two hours, we concede…the Elhabbassi’s have won again, and we cannot eat another bite. After some after-dinner banter and laughs with our hosts, as well as some much-appreciated kitchen talk, we hoist our leftovers, and waddle out.
At the door, we receive a sprinkling of aromatic orange-blossom water on our hands from Abdellah (another Moroccan tradition) and another hug from Dee, along with the loan of an old family cookbook which has clearly been much loved. I had asked Dee’s advice on a Moroccan inspired barbecue recipe, and she insisted that I take her treasured cookbook home with me to study…with all the little hand-written notes still in it.
Really, that’s just the kind of people they are.
With what is certainly the finest restaurant in Wilsonville and, in my admittedly limited experience, quite possibly the best Moroccan restaurant in the state, Abdellah and Dee Elhabbassi aim to please…and with Dar Essalam’s marriage of superb food and warm hospitality, they’ve hit a bulls-eye.
Novelist, food blogger, and award winning travel writer, Perry P. Perkins lives with his wife Victoria and their daughter Grace, in the Pacific Northwest.
A third-generation chef, Perry has written for hundreds of magazines and anthologies, including: Oregon Coast, NW Travel, Today’s Dietitian, Escapees Magazine, The Dollar Stretcher, & Travel Through History. His inspirational stories have been included in eleven Chicken Soup anthologies as well.
Perry is the founder and CEO of the non-profit, MY KITCHEN Outreach Program, teaching hands on nutrition shopping and cooking classes for at-risk and special-needs kids.
I will try to keep this review short and sweet, as there’s no need to gild this lily. Babica Hen Cafe makes the best breakfast I’ve had in my home state of Oregon, period.
Ironically, it wasn’t the breakfast I planned to eat; it wasn’t even the breakfast I ordered…but it was awesome!
A lazy Sunday morning, scanning online reviews for a new place to take my family for breakfast, I find some very nice things said about a place called Babica Hen Cafe, about 15 minutes from my house. The positive comments and the words “Fried Chicken & Waffles”, sealed the deal.
Two things to know in advance…not negatives per se, but just things you ought to know, if you come to Babica on a weekend for breakfast or brunch:
1) Expect to wait. We were told 30 minutes (turned out to be 15), and were lucky that the weather allowed us to sit outside. A complimentary coffee bar for those waiting for a table was a very nice touch, and hinted at the level of customer service we would soon experience.
Also, once you’re at your table, don’t think the wait is over…our menus and beverages arrived almost immediately, and were attentively refilled. However, it was a good 15-20 minutes before our breakfasts arrived. I sense that Babica may have a bit more dining room than they have kitchen to support it. Luckily, both the service and the food made it worth the wait.
2) It’s not quiet. Don’t come here thinking you’re going to sip your coffee and think deep thoughts in peaceful silence…ain’t gonna happen. Sunday at 9:30am, the place was packed out and the noise level rated somewhere between rush-hour Starbucks (without the annoying tendency for grunge music) and a Jr. High lunch room.
Again…not necessarily a negative. With an energetic five-year-old sharing our table, it was nice not having to say “SHH!” every few seconds, or be apologizing to those seated at nearly tables for impromptu bursts of “The wheels on the bus…” Add to that a decent selection of jr. menu options, and I rate it a “kid friendly” environment.
Gracie ordered the Chocolate Chip Banana Pancakes ($5). A bit sweet for this guy, but two sticky thumbs up from the five year old.
Crispy chicken breast strips, with sweet potato mousse and rum caramel. Fried Chicken and Waffles ($10). This is what I came for, this is what I ordered, and make no mistake, this was very, very good, if a bit sweet for my breakfast tastes.
The chicken was moist on the inside/crispy on the outside, just as it should be. The mousse was light, creamy and decadent, and perfectly suited to the caramel sauce. The waffles, on both dishes, were absolutely perfect.
However, as a reviewer, I have a duty to my readers to taste every dish at the table (I do it all for you)…and, as good as this was, as soon as I tasted my wife’s order, I knew that my instincts had led me astray. Luckily, she (being a sweets girl) felt the same way, and a happy trade was made.
This…this dish right here…was one of the best breakfasts I’ve ever enjoyed in a restaurant. Anywhere. Ever.
Le Waffle Lyonnaise ($10) – Black forest ham, fried egg, and arugula, with tarragon hollandaise. Again, a perfect waffle, both the ham and egg cooked exactly as they should be, at least for my taste, with the egg turned quickly enough that I still had some warm, deliciously runny yolk to schmeer on each bite. (And, yes, you can tell with the first bite that these are local, farm fresh eggs…heavenly!)
As a chef, tarragon hollandaise is one of my favorite go-to sauces, and these guys know how to make it…but it was the contrast in temp, texture, and flavor of the fresh, cold, crisp arugula, paired against the hot and savory of the rest of the ingredients, that took this whole dish over the top.
Seriously, it was that good.
Our server, Adrian, was a big part of what made this a great experience, as well.
The place was packed, and every server was hopping and skippin’, but we never saw the bottom of our coffee cups, and every request and question we had was met with a smile, and a polite, even enthusiastic response. A sincere apology for the wait, made the wait much easier, and rescuing “the last caramel sticky bun” earned this guy hall-of-fame status in our book.
From what I could see, this level of service was standard operating procedure with the rest of the staff, as well. Refreshing.
I’m looking forward to heading back to Babica Hen Cafe for lunch. There’s a Mad Beaver Burger (Painted Hills ground beef, mad beaver sauce, fried onions, and blue cheese on a kaiser roll, add bacon), and a Bloody Maria, using a house-made mix and 1800 Reposado (one of my favorite tequilas) that’s calling out my name!
~ Chef Perry
From the website:
Join us for fresh breakfast and lunch made from the highest quality ingredients. Our eggs are local and farm fresh, the pork pasture raised in Oregon and the beef all natural. We make our own sausage, batters, sauces, baked goods, and even the jam is made in house. We are passionate about good food! Babica Hen serves breakfast and lunch as well as fresh baked goods and great coffee.
The onsite bakery features cupcakes, muffins, cookies, cinnamon rolls, sticky buns and other treats (gluten-free cupcakes and muffins as well.)
What I tried: Shoyu Chicken, Steamed Rice, Macaroni Salad, French Fries What I liked best: Macaroni Salad, French Fries Rating: 5/5 Stars
One line review: “Amazing food + Awesome service + Great prices = Perfect lunch spot.”
So, I took the kiddo on a walk today, taking advantage of the brief Oregon sunshine to head down to the Lake at the Commons (Tualatin) and watch the ducks , which is Gracie’s current favorite activity. Strolling the grounds I noticed a sign that read, “Roxy’s Island Grill – Now Open!”
Well…how could I pass up an offer like that?
As soon as I walked in, I noticed that, though small, the restaurant was spacious and bright, nicely decorated, but without any of that Tiki Bar cheese, and with a beautiful view of the lake from almost every table. If you like people-watching, there isn’t a bad seat in the house. Looks to max out at around 60, with both booth and table seating. About half the seats were taken, though with 2/3 of the orders being taken outside enjoy my the lake, the joint was hopping.
There was a pleasant hum of happy chatter and Island-style music, without either being annoying or overbearing. I noticed some friendly banter between some “regulars” and the kitchen…something I always take as a good sign. A big screen, mounted over the pass-through ran a nice (and silent) clip of Hawaiian video: surfing, beach walking, hula, etc.
In all it equated to a comfortable and relaxing vibe that I felt as soon as I walked in…sorta like the islands.
The menu was posted, along with color photos, along the order counter and I was, at first, a little disappointed at the lack of (what I consider) traditional dishes likelaulau, poke,spam musubi, etc.
Lots of great looking chicken dishes…but where was myKalua pig?Where was my lomi-lomi?
In all fairness they did have one of my top five dishes, Loco Moco, but still warm from our walk, it sounded a little heavy, so I skipped it in favor of something new.
Okay, next comes service. The lined moved quickly for a Friday lunch-hour, as it always does when I can’t make up my mind, and soon Michelle greeted Gracie and I with a sincere smile, asking what we would like. I asked (as I always do) what she recommended and, instead of just rattling off a menu item (or worse, “Oh, it’s all good!”), she asked if this was our first time to Roxy’s. I replied that it was, though I was familiar with the cuisine. No sooner had I said that, than Michelle disappeared behind the counter and reappeared with a small sample plate of several of the featured menu items. Very nice!
There was also a wide selection of Hawaiian sodas, which I love, to choose from. As I was doing a review, I stuck with water…but next time!
All of the samples were very good, and I settled on the Shoyu Chicken, rice, and macaroni salad for me, and a side of fries that I had bribed my daughter with, to get her away from the ducks. The total came to a wallet-friendly $8.50. I did a double-take at the menu, sure enough – plate lunches start at $6.50, burgers at $4.
Roxy’s tally rose to 3 for 3.
So, the kid and I went to find a booth and wait for our food. I stopped and grabbed some napkins and chopsticks (NOT snap-aparts…another smiley-face for Roxy’s) and the self-service area was organized and clean. In fact, if that kind of thing is important to you, the whole place was immaculate and gleaming.
Almost as soon as we were seated, Michelle arrived with our food. Gracie was drumming the table and I shushed her, to which our server replied, “Oh, it’s okay, we’re all loud here!” Kid friendly – Check.
Related note:When Gracie asked me for some water, Michelle was passing by and overheard, then brought us TWO glasses of water, from the “self-service” area. Again – very nice customer service!
So, last but not least…the food. The chicken was perfectly cooked, shredded soft and moist, lots of ginger and sweet with shoyu, but not overpowering (I could still taste the chicken) Not being a huge fan ‘o bird, I’ll say that this was very good chicken, which is high praise for me.
I added a little rooster sauce to mine to kick it up a bit, but if you don’t like the heat, it’s probably perfect, as is.
Oh, and there was a LOT of it. At least 2-3 large chicken thighs, in big shredded chunks, two big scoops of rice, and a big scoop of mac salad. Between the meat, rice, and salad, this would easily have served Victoria and me as a shared lunch. As it was, even with the kid picking at it, I brought half home.
The rice was hot and cooked correctly. Really, what can you say about rice…it’s good or it’s bad, this was good. The macaroni salad…well…
Let’s talk about the macaroni salad. This is a Hawaiian plate-lunch staple, and I’ve tried it on every island I’ve been to, and that’s most of them. On top of that, I make a freakin’ awesome mac salad myself, so I have pretty high standards. Let me give this a line of its own so as not to understate it…
Best. Macaroni Salad. Ever.
Dude, no joke, this was some killer salad…creamy, but not just a spoon full of mayo, you know? Al-dente pasta with shredded carrots, chopped green onion, and lots of black pepper. The extra pepper is what put it over the top. Not flaming, but just a little kick in mouth to balance out the sweetness and the egg whites in the mayo. I could do just this mac salad for lunch and be happy. I was sad to eat the last bite.
Ironically, the other truly awesome menu item was the fries. The dude in the black Cuervo t-shirt, slinging the hash in Roxy’s kitchen…that man knows how to make fries.
Perfectly golden brown, served salty and straight from the fryolater, still too hot to touch (as they should be), they were exactly what a fry is supposed to be, crispy on the outside, with a soft pillowy center, and so full of flavor that you have to keep eating them ever as you’re scorching your lips.
Even my four-year-old, a true French-fry connoisseur, stopped wide-eyed and said, “Daddy, these are REALLY yummy!”
I can’t say anything to top that.
So, what’s wrong with Roxy’s Island Grill?
I have but one complaint…it’s a little out of the way. Unless you’re pretty familiar with the Tualatin area, or have a good GPS, it might be a little tricky to find.
Worse case scenario…find the lake, park, and walk around it until you hit Roxy’s (right next to Hayden’s.)
So, that’s my review. Wonderful food, wonderful people, and prices that encourage budget-conscious folks (like me) to become regulars.
BTW – once I was home and looking over the to-go menu, I was kicking myself for not noticing that the special of the day was Kalua Pork! Oh well, just means I gotta go back next Friday…or Tuesday…yeah, Tuesday sounds better…
See you there!
So, I couldn’t wait until tomorrow, I took the took the girls back to Roxy’s tonight.
Had the best grilled teriyaki chicken sandwich I have ever eaten…including my own! The pile of thick cut chicken thighs were perfectly tender, the sauce was sticky and wonderful with just the right balance of sweet and soy, and the grilled pineapple ring was the icing on the cake.
This is not a sandwich to approach timidly, it’s big and it’s messy, and you just gotta commit. It’s SO worth the extra napkins.
Even Vic, who has never liked cooked pineapple on anything, told me that this was what she would be ordering every time she came back. That’s a heck of a review right there!
Add and order of fries to this, and the new love of my life, the canned Strawberry Lilikoi juice, and you have a basket meal that I would put up against any diner, drive in, or dive…anywhere. There was a whole new crew working both the kitchen and front of house tonight and, once again, service was exceptional. Outandingly friendly people.
Seriously, these people aren’t paying me to write this stuff! It’s just THAT good!
Check out the menu
(prices are at the time of review)
Plate Lunch: $6.50 Choice of three sides: steamed rice, mac salad, or garden salad Chicken Katsu Hamburger Steak Orange Chicken Sweet Garlic Chicken Kalbi Chicken Teriyaki Chicken Shoyu Chicken
House Specials Loco Moco – $7 Teriyaki Beef – $7 Kalbi Ribs – $8 Saimin – $6.50
Keiki (Children) $4.50 Served with steamed rice, veggies, or friend noodles Teriyaki Chicken Friend Noodles Shoyu Chicken Kalbi Chicken
On The Bun Teriyaki Burger – $4 Gravy Burger – $4 Teriyaki Beef – $5 Teriyaki Chicken – $4 Add mac salad, garden salad, or fries for .75
Pho TNT Phone: (503) 241-5085 Address 120 SW Ankeny St Portland, Oregon 97204 (Just West of the Skidmore Fountain) Map
Hours Open everyday, 11am – 6pm.
What I’ve tried: Beef Pho Bo Shrimp Salad Rolls Grilled Pork with Noodles Vietnamese Iced Coffee
What I liked best: Pho Bo
Rating: 5/5 Stars
One line review:“Best Pho I’ve had, in Portland or anywhere else!”
Pho TNT is located on the first floor of the building by the Ankeny Arcade where the Saturday Market is held every weekend. In fact, we stumbled in to escape the deluge last Saturday, and were certainly happy we did.
Without waxing too poetic, let me just say that this was, hands down, the best bowl of pho bo I’ve ever eaten and, as one of my all-time favorite foods…I’ve eaten a lot of it! Fantastic pho is all about the broth, and that’s where so many pho joints here in the states fall short, with the broth often tasting like little more than a can of warmed beef broth.
At Pho TNT, the broth was absolutely amazing. I could have happily slurped down bowl after bowl of the stuff with nothing in it, it’s that good. You can tell there’s some real work behind it, rich and deep in a way that can’t be faked, seasoned exotically with real beef-marrow stock, charred onions, and a pleasantly not-overwhelming note of star anise (another problem often found with other local purveyors.)
The “large” for $8 is huge, with plenty of brisket and beef tendon (my favorites) but you can “choose your own adventure” here, with nearly a dozen ingredient choices making up an huge variety of options. Pho comes with all of the usual suspects for garnish, and there’s chili paste and Sriracha on each table.
The shrimp salad rolls where delicious (and also quite large) and the peanut sauce was perfectly respectable. The Vietnamese iced coffee will take the enamel off your teeth…in a good way, and the grilled pork was tasty, if a little firm (which again, is traditional).
My six-year-old daughter, a wizened gastronome, took one taste of my pho and declared, “This place is like paradise!”
The atmosphere is a little rugged, but I like that…reminiscent of a hawker stall on the streets of Hanoi. In fact, that’s exactly what it feels like, and the quality of the food is just as authentic.
Everything is made fresh, and we were told that all ingredients are sourced from local grocery stores. When I tried to order a banh-mi sandwich, the owner pointed to a bakery up the street and told me that had no sandwiches today because the bakery was closed this weekend to everything but Easter business.
One warning…on market days, a concert tent is set up directly across from the entrance of Pho TNT, and the quality of the music blasting from the speakers is…well…open to interpretation.
Fun, delicious, a little clunky, a lot quirky, the whole experience screams “Portland.”
I’m looking forward to seeing what it’s like on a quiet weekday afternoon.