Memorial Day Weekend 2014: Day 1 - Portland (Sen Yai, Uno Mas, Voodoo Doughnut)

A little less than a year ago, I embarked on a road trip to Seattle for a three day weekend (meaning that I really only got to spend about two days enjoying the city).  This time around, I decided to step up the crazy by going on the single strangest vacation of my life (so far)...

At roughly 5:30 on Saturday morning, we hit Starbucks for coffee and breakfast (I do NOT recommend the bacon Gouda breakfast sandwiches) before jumping on the freeway.  In one car rode myself, my roommate and her kids; in the other, my mother and sister.  In Boardman, we stopped to visit with my aunt for a few minutes and gas up the vehicles.  At that point, the roommate's kids hopped in the car with my Mom and Sis so their mother could crawl in my back seat, and then it was straight through to Portland.  We reconvened at a shopping mall that I don't recall the name of, where the roommate's BFF awaited to whisk her and the younger child away to the Oregon Coast.  

The older child would stay with me and my family, spending the rest of the day and part of Sunday exploring Portland.  Sunday evening we would drive to Albany to visit with my cousin and her kids, and after a bit of that I would continue on to the Coast alone to spend the night relaxing (and hopefully indulging my rarely-addressed seafood cravings).  Monday morning I would collect the roommate and younger kid, swing back by Albany for the older kid, and then head homeward.  Yes, I agree that it seems a bit insane looking at it all laid out like that, but at the time it seemed perfectly sensible (or maybe I was just glad to be out of town for the weekend).  We checked into our hotel, which was a lot nicer than I expected, even though they charge three bucks to rent one of their severely limited selection of videotapes and were completely out of complimentary cookies.  Then, it was on to lunch.

My last trip to Portland was back in May 2011.  At that time, a friend was strongly recommending that I check out Pok Pok, but it simply wasn't to be.   While researching dining destinations for this trip, I found out that Pok Pok has a few offshoots, including Sen Yai Noodles.  As interested as I was in Pok Pok, and as much as I trust my friend's opinion, noodle dishes are my biggest weakness when it comes to Thai food.  Pok Pok has some noodles scattered around their menu, but Sen Yai's menu is almost entirely comprised of noodle dishes, plus some very interesting-sounding Asian breakfast dishes.  I was ready to center my time in Portland around the various outposts of the Pok Pok empire.  The plan was to hit Sen Yai for a late lunch the first day, then again the following morning for breakfast, then dim sum for brunch, before finally hitting up Pok Pok for some take-out before leaving for Albany.

I honestly don't remember who had the idea to sit outside, but I rarely pass up on a chance to dine al fresco when it's offered because, honestly, it makes for better pictures.  Usually.  In this case, the patio area is covered in Singha umbrellas.  Yellow ones.  And the light passing through them turns everything beneath those umbrellas yellow.


It's worth mentioning here that the previous day, Portland announced the biggest boil water alert in their history.  It was lifted by the time we rolled into town, but many restaurants and stores were still playing catch-up.  The city issued instructions for making everything nice and safe, but we still weren't comfortable with the idea of drinking tap water, so we were dubious when our waiter brought a pitcher of ice water to the table.  He assured us that everything was fine, and given that the restaurant is owned by an internationally famous chef, I suppose it's possible that they were on top of the situation.  We still had no intentions of drinking it though.  I went with beer, maybe because I was inspired by the umbrellas.  Mom and Sis are both fans of Pad Thai (Phat Thai on Sen Yai's menu), so that's what they got; Phat Thai Jay (no animal products) for Sis, though I did talk her into adding the optional egg, and Phat Thai Ruam (with prawns and ground pork) for Mom.  The Tween isn't a particularly adventurous eater, so I ordered the Kuaytiaw Naam Kai (basically chicken noodle soup) for her.  I chose the Phat Sii Ew (more commonly known around here as Pad See-Ew), because it's one of my go-to dishes, and because Mom had ordered the other thing I was interested in, and this way I could try them both.

Kuaytiaw Naam Kai

The Tween said her food was "okay".  This is a pretty typical response from her.  Food for her seems to fall under the categories of horrible, okay, and amazing.  There's no "pretty good" on the scale.  Either way, she didn't eat much of it, and wasn't interested in taking the leftovers.  I didn't try it myself.

Phat Thai Jay in an omelet

Phat Thai Ruam

I might as well just cut to the chase here: neither Mom nor Sis dug their food.  Boise restaurants bring Pad Thai out pre-seasoned, while Sen Yai provides the traditional condiment caddy with sugar, vinegar, fish sauce and dried chiles (you can see it in the beer picture).  I've never been to Asia (sadly), but thanks to the internet and travel TV shows, I know that these condiments are indispensable for eating Pad Thai in Thailand.  Unfortunately, neither Mom or Sis were able to tailor the dish to their liking.  Sis' food had other unique problems, namely dry noodles (from not being stir-fried in rendered pork fat like the regular version), and shrimp, which seems odd in a dish boasting no animal products.  The omelet was nice though, and I took some of her noodles so I could play with the condiments a bit.  Nobody else in my party would ever return, but I'm fully convinced that if I had ordered the dish Mom got, I would have been perfectly happy.  I didn't order that dish, though.

I ordered the Phat Sii Ew instead.

Phat Sii Ew, or Pad See-Ew, or Phat Si Io, is a traditional Thai street food dish, which might explain why I adore it so much.  It's generally a simple preparation and has a pretty mild flavor.  It's basically comfort food, in other words, wide rice noodles stir fried with meat, egg, Chinese broccoli and soy sauce.  In this case though, there were some gristly bits of pork and almost no flavor.  I'm not exaggerating when I say that the version I had from a roadside shack in Mountain Home was better than this.  So the fact that nobody liked their food, including me (even though I knew for a fact there were other things on the menu I would have liked), kind of ruined it for me for the rest of the trip.  I regret that decision now, I really wanted to try Sen Yai's rice porridge and Pok Pok's famous chicken, but at the time my mood was a little poisoned.  The overly chatty hipster waiter probably didn't help either.  Why someone would go through all the trouble to create an authentic Thai atmosphere and serve authentic Thai food and then hire cheeseball waitstaff...I just don't get it.

After our disastrous lunch, the ladies wanted to go grocery shopping for snack foods, which means Whole Foods and Trader Joe's.  I was disappointed and a still little peckish, so I whipped out my trusty smart phone and found out that we were only minutes away from a taco joint that I had put on my list of possibilities.

Uno Mas Taquiza endeared itself to me very quickly.  The menu is small but diverse, the prices are excellent, and the people are friendly.  They also make a wide array of different sauces to top their tiny tacos.


I decided to order a taco for everyone (barring the Tween, she was only interested in going to a store to buy chocolate) as a peace offering for the lunch thing.  Bistek (steak) for mom, a Papa en Chile Verde (potato and green chile) steamed taco for Sis, and for myself one Mojo de Ajo (rock fish) taco and one Moronga (blood sausage) taco.  Having no idea what sauces would go best with these (I'm used to a choice of red or green), I filled some little cups with verde, avocado, chipotle, and jalapeno sauces.

Papa en Chile Verde steamed taco

Moronga and Bistek tacos

Mojo de Ajo taco

It quickly became obvious as we unwrapped these tacos in the car that things would get messy fast.  I would definitely return to Uno Mas, but I would stay there to eat next time.  Sis was impressed with her taco (I tried a bite and have to concur), Mom liked hers even if she wasn't blown away by it, and I was very happy with my blood sausage.  The trouble in paradise was the fish taco.  The second I opened the foil my sister remarked that it smelled "like an unclean woman".  I don't know about that, but I can tell you that the fish was very firm and had a strong fishy flavor.  Even the garlic lime dressing and addition of extra sauces couldn't kill it.  Still, at least this place had a 75% success rate with us.

After that it was back to the hotel to rest for a bit, then Sis and I explored the area around the hotel for a bit, and finally we all headed downtown to our final destination of the night: Voodoo Doughnut.

I catch flack from people around here for singing the praises of Voodoo Doughnut (previous review here), especially since Guru Donuts came on to the scene.  I've had exactly one donut hole from Guru, but I don't care how good they might be, it's not going to make me like Voodoo any less.  I love the dense, chewy bread, the ridiculously indulgent icing...the damned things aren't just doughnuts, they're pastries.  Voodoo is a pioneer in the field of artistic doughnut creations, but here's the crucial thing: they also sell standard doughnuts.  They have all the weird stuff, but if you want a cruller, a cake doughnut, a buttermilk bar, a glazed, an old fashioned, a lemon jelly filled, even a standard chocolate or maple bar...they've got all that.  I like doughnuts, and I don't always want novelty.  Of course I do want to explore Guru's options (should be easier once they move into their new digs), but if I just want a normal maple bar then it would seem that I'm shit out off luck, at least according to their published menu.

Anyway, after everyone had ordered all the usual Bacon Maple Bars and Portland Creams, I noticed we were only three away from a full dozen.  So, I told the guy behind the counter to surprise me with the last three.  He actually became very serious and thoughtful for a moment and said we needed a Captain My Captain, a Voodoo Bubble, and a Mango Tango.

Clockwise from top left: Mango Tango, Captain My Captain, Voodoo Bubble, Voodoo Doll

I never did try the Cap'n Crunch one, but I'm pretty sure I can imagine what it tastes like.  The ones my little group was interested in, though we had a bunch of doughnuts that we already knew we liked, were the bubble gum and the mango.  My Sister fell in love with the bubble gum doughnut, saying it tastes more like vanilla than anything else.  Someone said it tasted a little bit like cotton candy.  I didn't love it, I was just surprised that it was decent and not flat-out disgusting.  The one that got me was the Mango Tango.  It's pretty much like a jelly doughnut you would get around here, except the bread is better, it is literally bursting at the seams with mango jelly, and it's topped with vanilla icing dusted with Tang.  I was pretty sure I didn't even like mangoes, but this doughnut has me wanting to give them another try.

After putting a dent in our doughnut cache, we dropped the remainders back by the car, tried to walk over to the waterfront only to be blocked by a Fair of some kind, tipped a street musician, passed a lot of interesting food trucks and shacks that made me wish I was still hungry, then headed back to the hotel.  Some rest was needed, because the next day was going to be a big one...

Sen Yai on UrbanspoonUno Mas Taquiza on UrbanspoonVoodoo Doughnut on Urbanspoon

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