Category Archives: Reviews

Easy smoking in La Caja China – A-MAZE-N-PELLET-SMOKER review.

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Every once in a great while you come across a cooking/bbq add-on that is everything a good accessory should be…simple to use (read: idiot proof) and simple to maintain, making the job at hand less (not more) complicated.

Something that’s 100% effective.

Something that truly lives up to its own marketing hype.

This weekend I found just such a product – the “New” A-MAZE-N-PELLET-SMOKER (AMNPS) by A-MAZE-N-PRODUCTS.

First, a little background…

I already own two models of “smoke units” for my various smokers, grills, and La Caja Chinas.

Each is basically effective, in that it imparts a good smoke flavor to the meat that’s cooking. The first is attractively priced at around $50, but very complicated to use, has a major learning curve, and requires the use a proprietary pellet “cartridge” to use. The second is less complicated, allows for non-proprietary pellets/chips, but is 8X more expensive as the first.

Both require an electrical plug in.

http://i0.wp.com/burninlovebbq.files.wordpress.com/2011/07/post2.jpg?resize=262%2C196Now, I can complicate a whole pig roast (see my step-by-step video) with just a pig and fire…without tossing in a, sometimes moody, smoke gadget. When it comes to bbq, I’m definitely more Fred Flintstone than James Bond. I want something that’s a no brainer, I want it to be something I don’t have to make a special plan for (I do a lot of cooking in campgrounds, in the mountains, and at the beach, where electricity can be problematic), and I don’t want to spend an arm and a leg to get it.

Finally…I’ve found something that fits all of my requirements, and requires no “Mods” or drilling of holes in my La Caja China.

The AMNPS is a light weight, durable and portable smoke generator designed to burn pellets or sawdust. The new AMNPS will produce smoke during cold smoking and hot smoking, tested up to 275°. They are versatile enough to be used in just about any smoker or a grill.

At less than fifty-bucks, with no moving parts, no electricity required, and no “special needs”, the AMNPS is built to perform flawlessly for the biggest idiot around…and this weekend it did just that in my La Caja China Semi Pro, at our annual church camp-out and pig roast!

I left the two end rails off my La Caja China for airflow (this creates a ¼ inch gap at either end) and set the smoker on a small piece of foil, directly on top of, and centered on, the pig rack. I used a mix of apple and alder wood pellets, filling the channels of the AMNPS about 2/3 of the way up…lit the pellets with a torch, though a small hole in the end of the smoker, and closed up the La Caja China.  That’s it!

Literally, if you can open a bag of pellets, and light a propane torch…you have mastered all of the skills required to use the A-MAZE-N-PELLET-SMOKER.

Note: It took me a while but the “MAZE” in “A-MAZE-N”…it’s a maze…get it? I told you it was idiot proof!

So, my only concern was that the heat from the underside of La Caja China’s coal pan would be intense enough to get all of the pellets smoking at one time, which would defeat the purpose of a long, slow smoke. My worry was for naught…I peeked at around 2.5 hours (I know, I know, I always say “no peeking” but these were special circumstances!) and the AMNPS had run about ½ the course. I checked again at 5.5 hours and it had burned to the end.

So it works…you don’t have to peek for yourself. Rule #1 – No Peeking!

The mix of pellets gave a perfect subtly sweet/smoky flavor to our 85lb pig, creating a beautiful 1/2 to 3/4 inch “smoke ring” on the shoulders and hams. In fact, my pastor, who’s also a foodie and bbq junkie, took one look at the pellet smoker, and spent the rest of the weekend trying to talk me out of it!

I doubt I’ll ever use either of my other “smoke units” again…I’m totally sold out on the AMNPS. I’ll be updating the “smoking” recommendations in all of our cookbooks in the next few weeks, to recommend this pellet smoker…that’s how serious I am about it.

If you have a La Caja China, another brand of pig roasting box, or any smoker or grill that requires a smoking accessory, you need an A-MAZE-N-PELLET-SMOKER.

Tell ’em Perry sent you!

Okay, I gotta go eat some leftover pig now.

Happy Q’ing!

-Chef Perry

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Why Should You Buy La Caja China BBQ?

A shout-out for my boys at La Caja China…


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Foodie Books (I only read ’em for the articles…)

I like to read about food.

Not just cookbooks, though I can spend long hours on the couch perusing those as well, but books about food, food history, and food culture.

Books like The Belly of Paris by Emile Zola, and The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen by Jacques Pepin have changed the way I look at food, and the respect I have for it, and the process that get’s it to my table.

The Nasty Bits by Anthony Bourdain (regardless of what I think of Tony, personally, it’s a fantastic book) and The Whole Beast, by Fergus Henderson, have sent me on a culinary adventure (usually flying solo, lol) far beyond the walls of sterilized, saran-wrapped “stuff marts” into a Wonka-esque world of offal wonderfulness.

Anyway, I like to read about food.

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Want to turn your La Caja China into an Uber-Smoker?…For free?

Hey all,

http://i2.wp.com/media-cache-ec0.pinimg.com/736x/23/19/de/2319decb48c7b8c586d4550d37398e8a.jpg?resize=198%2C261Okay, so we all know that I love my La Caja China (all of them), and, if you’ve read my smoker accessory review, you know I’m equally enamored with the A-MAZE-N Pellet Smoker (AMNPS).

Yesterday, I had the honor of sharing this amazing device with none other than my grilling guru, Mr. Steven Raichlen, (author of “The Barbecue Bible”, which is my gold standard for bbq/grilling cookbooks) who had posted the following message on his Facebook page:

“Yes, I’ve used caja chinas & they give you amazingly moist tender pork. Drawback is you don’t get a wood smoker flavor.”

Well, you know I couldn’t let that go…so I (very politely) replied that you could, indeed, get great smoke flavor in anything you roast in La Caja China, and pointed him to our review of the AMNPS. This morning, the awesome Mr. Raichlen posted the following…

“This in from Perry P: a smoker device you can use with a caja china. I stand corrected & and we all stand to eat like kings!”

http://i0.wp.com/burninlovebbq.files.wordpress.com/2011/07/post2.jpg?resize=204%2C153Well, needless to say…my hat doesn’t fit too well this morning!

In honor of my 5 seconds of fame, the equally awesome Todd Johnson, over at A-MAZE-N Products, LLC  (owner and creator of the AMNPS) has generously offered to donate a brand new A-MAZE-N Pellet Smoker, as a prize for the best barbecue photo posted on our Facebook page.

As if that weren’t enough…I’m going to throw in a copy of any one of our barbecue cookbooks (La Caja China Cooking, La Caja China World, or MEAT FIRE GOOD), for the winner, as well…just ’cause.

The rules:

  • 1 photo per person. (G-rated, must be your photo, preferably with no minors in the shot.)
  • We’re looking for finished foodie shots of meat on the grill, in the Caja China, in your Weber, your pit…you name it. Show us what you would add smoke to, with your free A-MAZE-N Pellet Smoker, the next time you barbecue!
  • Contest ends Wednesday, February 29 (‘cause that’s leap-day, and I thought it was cool.)
  • Please do not post contact/mailing information, we’ll contact the winner.

Oh, and just to tease you…in June, I’m going to give away a MAJOR PRIZE here on Burnin’ Love BBQ (no, not a leg-lamp) for the best photo taken using the AMNPS! Seriously…this is going to be a biggie!

Any questions? Post them below, or on our Facebook post!

Okay, let’s see ’em!

-Perry

PS – Again, my review is here, if you’d like to see more of my thoughts on the A-MAZE-N Smoker.

Want to take the hassle out of meal planning? For super-simple, healthy and delicious dinner recipes, check out our FREE weekly meal plans and shopping lists! Your free membership helps us teach valuable cooking skills to at-risk youth!

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What’s your favorite cookbook?

I own a lot of cookbooks…a LOT of cookbooks, and the list is growing at a rapid rate. However, if I were told I had 5 minutes to get out of my house and leave everything behind but an armload of my favorite cookbooks…there are five or six that would immediately pop to mind.

Besides my own cookbooks, or course (wink wink), these would top the list!

The Barbecue Bible by Steven Raichlen

A fascinating look at live-fire cooking around the world. Lots more than just a cookbook!

A 900,000-copy bestseller and winner of the IACP/Julia Child Cookbook Award, The Barbecue! Bible includes full-color photographs illustrating food preparation, grilling techniques, ingredients, and of course those irresistible finished dishes. A new section has been added with answers to the most frequently asked grilling questions, plus Steven’s proven tips, quick solutions to common mistakes, and more.

And then there’s the literal meat of the book: more than 500 of the very best barbecue recipes, inventive, delicious, unexpected, easy-to-make, and guaranteed to capture great grill flavors from around the world.

Holy Smoke: The Big Book of North Carolina Barbecue By John Shelton Reed, Dale Volberg Reed

Lots of strong opinions, family histories, and great bbq recipes!

North Carolina is home to the longest continuous barbecue tradition on the North American mainland. Authoritative, spirited, and opinionated (in the best way), Holy Smoke is a passionate exploration of the lore, recipes, traditions, and people who have helped shape North Carolina’s signature slow-food dish.

Three barbecue devotees, John Shelton Reed, Dale Volberg Reed, and William McKinney, trace the origins of North Carolina ‘cue and the emergence of the heated rivalry between Eastern and Piedmont styles. They provide detailed instructions for cooking barbecue at home, along with recipes for the traditional array of side dishes that should accompany it. The final section of the book presents some of the people who cook barbecue for a living, recording firsthand what experts say about the past and future of North Carolina barbecue.

Filled with historic and contemporary photographs showing centuries of North Carolina’s “barbeculture,” as the authors call it, Holy Smoke is one of a kind, offering a comprehensive exploration of the Tar Heel barbecue tradition.

Sam Choys Sampler: Hawaiis Favorite Recipes by Sam Choy

Picked this one up on a whim, in Oahu…and fell in love with it. My daughter’s birthday luau each year is a big hit, largely due to the great recipes and info in this cookbook!

Sam’s recipes reflect a melding of East and West, with distinctive Polynesian flourishes and some highly innovative twists that could have been conceived only in the creative and original mind of Chef Choy.

Here are over 80 recipes including both Sam’s innovations as well as his renditions of Island favorites. They range from simple preparations like poke, an addictively delicious raw seafood appetizer, to elaborate and beautiful dishes like Sautéed Island Fish Trio, sure to dazzle the table and palate at your next dinner party.

All the recipes use readily available ingredients. Where hard to find ingredients are involved, a guide to mail and Internet sources will give mainland readers access to poi, tropical fruits and even fresh fish.

White Trash Cooking II: Recipes for Gatherins (Vol 2) Ernest M. Mickler

I found this treasure several years ago at a school book sale in Portland. Not only are the recipes and back-stories great, but the photographs from the autor’s “tour de white-trash” will have you howling or cringing depending on just how much your family tree forks (or doesn’t!)

From Oleen’s Stuffed Pepper Slippers and Franceen’s Good Ol’ Meat to Mrs. Tooler Doolus’s Oven Spaghetti and Bobbie’s Lemon/Lime Jell-O Cake Supreme, Ernie Mickler has collected another whopping batch of the“most magnannygoshus” recipes of the Very Deepest South. Previously known as SINKIN SPELLS, HOT FLASHES, FITS AND CRAVINS, this collection has a new name and a new cover that calls to mind its best-selling brother, WHITE TRASH COOKING. Same good eatin’, though.

The Joy of Oysters By Lori McKean, Don Smith, Bill Whitbeck

Oysters being my favorite food, this cookbook was recommended to me by “Dan the Oysterman” in Oysterville, Wa. If you think you’ve had oysters every possible way…you’re wrong…by several dozen recipes, lol. A great, and comprehensive cookbook.

The Joy of Oysters tells the story of oysters in North America from the first settlers to the latest harvests of these delectable morsels by dedicated oystermen and women on every shoreline. Discover the details of each oyster species, how they are grown and how the most famous oyster restaurants prepare them for their customers. Join in the fun with tales of oyster festivals from Florida to New England to the Pacific Coast.

The Joy of Oysters is the perfect gift for that friend who can’t get enough Bluepoints or Belons, Hog Island Kumamotos or Westcott Bay Petites. Whether you like your oysters live on the half shell, baked, fried, curried or served up plump in a traditional oyster stew, The Joy of Oysters will fill your need for all things oyster.

The Wise Guy Cookbook: My Favorite Recipes From My Life as a Goodfella to Cooking on the Run By Henry Hill

If you want an American’s guide to real Italian food…this is the book for you. Liking the movie, “Goodfellas” doesn’t hurt either!

Henry Hill was a born wiseguy, and his love of food got him through both the good and bad times. Even cooking on the run in the Federal Witness Protection Program-where prosciutto was impossible to find and gravy was something you put on mashed potatoes-he managed to keep good Italian food on the table. He still brings this flair for improvisation to his cooking. No recipe is set in stone. And substitutions are listed just in case.

Now, in his inimitable style, Hill tells some spicy stories of his life in the Mob and out, and shows readers how to whip up his favorite dishes, Sicilian-style-recipes to make even the toughest tough-guy beg for more…

Mom’s Antipasto € Sunday Gravy (Meat Sauce) € Cheaters Chicken Stock € Striped Bass for Paulie € Fat Larry’s Pizza Dough € Henry’s Kickback Antipasti Hero € Sicilian Easter Bread with Colored Eggs € Clams Casino € Osso Bucco € Oven Penitentiary Sauce with Sausage € Michael’s Favorite Ziti with Meat Sauce € and many others

***

A couple of others that must at least get a nod would be Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book (Thanks, Mama!) , and Mastering the Art of French Cooking by my all time favorite chef…Mrs. Julia Child

So, there you have it…a bit eclectic perhaps, but I’d feel pretty well armed with this stack.

What about you? What book, or books rise to the top of your gastronomic library?

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In response to: Portland code cops crack down on food carts

Found this article, “Portland code cops crack down on food carts” over at OregonLive.com and, needless to say, I became irked…

Excerpt:

“Consider it a cautionary tale, in the event summer weather ever returns: Portland’s Bureau of Development Services, the agency responsible for enforcing city codes and getting rid of nuisances, will impose monthly fines on food cart operators who leave tables and chairs on sidewalks outside their businesses after receiving written warnings. Although restaurants are permitted to have outdoor seating on city sidewalks, food carts are not, a BDS spokesman said Thursday.” (Read the entire article here)

My response:

I forget…is it “Keep Portland Weird” or “Keep Portland Stupid?” Portland’s Bureau of Development Services seems confused as well.

I’m sure glad that there’s nothing more important in the entire city of Portland for these bean-counting bureaucrats to focus their beady little eyes, and ticket pads,  on than…of my God, the horror…FOOD CARTS!

It’s a good thing they don’t have any real work to do, unemployment would be even higher!

Food carts (yes, with tables and chairs) seem to work just fine in crowded cities all over the world, and in fact are a major tourist draw (note to Portland’s Bureau of Development Services…TOURISTS = MONEY, just FYI…)

Consider the fact that our Portland chefs, our food, and, more specifically, our food carts have been getting high praise of late. Fox News calls Portland’s gourmet food cart scene a “Phenomenon” and “a sublime gourmet experience…redefining Portland, Oregon’s already idiosyncratic, artisanal food scene.”  and Budget Travel  rated Portland the best city for food cart culture…in the world!

Unfortunately without having SOMEONE to fine, most of these city-desk knobs would be out of a job, so I guess it’s in their best interest to make the vendors job harder, and the customers experience less convenient, to justify their paper-pushing. Congratulations on giving people one less reason to go downtown.

– Perry

Perry P. Perkins
Author & Food Blogger
www.burninloveblog.com

So, yeah…I think that pretty much sums it up.

Feel free to visit Oregonlive.com and leave your own thoughts. You can contact Portland’s Bureau of Development Services here: bps@portlandoregon.gov and here: 503-823-7700…at least I think you can. The page’s informtion was last updated in 2006, but, you know…they’ve been busy dealing with bistro-table related emergencies and all…

By the way, to find some our Portland’s awesome food cart vendors, visit Food Carts Portland.

Hey, when you go…piss off a bureaucrat…bring your own chair!

-Perry

PS – There’s a great new book out on the Portland food cart scene, “Cartopia: Portland’s Food Cart Revolution” by Kelly Rodgers & Kelley Roy –  which tells, through stories and photography, how the perfect storm of Portland’s independent culture, artisan economy, and “foodie” scene created the food cart revolution.

“Portland has over 500 food carts, some clustered into “pods” in parking lots and others staking their solitary claim on the sidewalk. Artisanal, quirky, independent, and an exceptional value, these food carts are the perfect symbol of what Portland is all about.

As authors Kelly Rodgers and Kelley Roy explore the factors that have placed Portland in the street-food spotlight, they also document the personality and character of the Portland carts, and by extension, Portland itself.” (from Amazon.com)

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Millie’s BBQ Sauce Review

Since my childhood, I can remember my mother Millie cooking so many delicious southern dishes using her famous sauce.  Millie’s memory still lives on in our family, as she has inspired my wife and I to re-create this one of a kind sweet and tasty barbecue sauce. 

– Craig & Toni Brown

The first commercial barbecue sauce was made by H.J. Heinz Co. in 1948, and today there are hundreds if not thousands of varieties of jars, jugs, and bottles available.

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Texas Pepper Jelly’s Pineapple Habanero. Review & Recipe

A couple of weeks back, Texas Pepper Jelly owner Craig Sherry was kind enough to answer my Facebook plea for an Apple Habanero Jelly (that recipe is still in the works…it will be awesome) and while I was perusing his website, I couldn’t pass up the chance to order a 2-oz bottle of Pineapple Habanero while I was there.

I’ll tell you this…I’ll never order that two ounce bottle again…I’m gonna be a 12-oz bottle customer from now on!

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Fat Freddy’s Diner Review

Fat Freddy’s Diner
6315 Pacific Ave
Pacific City, Oregon 97135
(503) 965-6012

What we tried: lot’s of stuff (see below)
What I liked best: Bacon Mushroom Swiss Burger
Rating: 5/5 Stars

One line review: “Burgers and fries the way they oughta be!”

After a long day of playing on the beach in Pacific City, I shuffled into the Pelican Pub and was shocked and disappointed at the jump in menu prices. As much as I love a tall Tsunami Stout, I was footing the bill for the group, and still wanted to make my mortgage payment this month, so I decided that perhaps we should explore other options.

Victoria and I have visited Pacific City many times, including an anniversary week-end, and there’s a little grub shack on the corner of the main drag named Fat Freddy’s that we’ve always meant to stop in at, but never have. (Note: they aren’t always open for dinner in the off-season, so call ahead!).

So, given it’s proximity, and with a couple of ravaging youths in the van with us, it seemed like the ideal time to give it a try. Boy, am I glad we did!

Known locally for their burgers and shakes, Fat Freddy’s has a walk “To Go” window, which we didn’t use, but would be great fun if you were just walking around town checking out the wine shops and antique stores (which just about sums up Pacific City), instead we availed ourselves of the small dining room.

Redolent with the aromas of frying burgers and deep-fried mushrooms, your cholesterol can rise several points just by breathing the air…in other words, it was perfect.

Both the dining area and bathrooms were very well maintained and very clean with a lot of fun, old photos, license plates from around the country, and an article about the airplane that crashed into the restaurant years ago, on the wall. The airstrip is still located directly across the street, seemingly pointed directly and our table, and we did have one pulse-jumping take-off buzz the roof while we were there. The kids loved it!

So, enough atmosphere, let’s get down to it…

The Original Fat Freddy

I was going to order the namesake “Fat Freddy Burger” – which comes with standard burger fixin’s plus bacon, fried egg, and cheese.

Served with fries, the house special comes in 1/4lb (Mini-Freddy), 1/2lb (The Original), and a whopping 3/4lb “Ultimate Freddy”, but the waitress recommended the Bacon Swiss Mushroom as “to die for” and, being my favorite burger combo, how could I say no?

Besides, Johnathan, our token teenager, was more than happy to face down the Fat Freddy (it never stood a chance.)

My burger was fantastic, with that unmatchable fried-on-a-greasy-grill flavor.

Bacon Mushroom Swiss Burger

The fixings were crisp and fresh, including the mushrooms (NOT canned) which were sauteed to a slightly chewy, perfectly caramelized mahogany, just the way I like them.

The coup ‘de grace on this burger, however, was the bacon. Typically, bacon on a cheeseburger is cooked limp (or, god forbid, those pre-cooked, plastic-wrapped dog-treats warmed on the grill.) Freddy’s cooks fresh, thick-cut bacon to a crispy well-done brown that some folks might consider overcooked, but that I feel creates a rich, nutty flavor and “meat crouton” crunch that’s the perfect  contrast to a moist burger and crisp veggies.

By the unhinging of his jaw, Jonathan made it clear that The Freddy met with his approval, and Victoria had very complimentary things to say about her California grilled chicken sandwich and Mountain Blackberry/Banana Milkshake (an off-menu combo that they happily concocted at her request.)

Then there were the fries….Sweet Lord in heaven…the fries! Fresh cut, double-dipped, seasoned French fries; the salty skins crunching between your teeth like potato chips, revealing a hot, steamy baked-potato center. Gracie, our resident French fry connoisseur, gave them two sandy thumbs up…and she’s never wrong.

Seriously, these were in the top 5 of any fries I’ve ever had.

French Fry Bliss

Speaking of our junior-foodie, Freddy’s provided her with a cup of crayons and an activity page, without even being asked, and had a deck of cards on each table, as well. Which segues nicely into…

Service was a pleasant surprise, as well.

Too often, these diners, drive-ins, and dives are manned (or, more appropriately, womanned) by impatient, Flo-esque, “kiss my grits” kinda waitresses, who never look up from their order pads, and raise a penciled-in eye-brow at any special request.

Our waitress, however, was very friendly, helpful, and very, very patient with us (Gracie informed her, at every pause in the order-taking process that she wanted fries AND ketchup). Her laughter, knowledge of the menu, and obvious enjoyment of the food were infectious, and our anticipation level jumped several notches by the time she left with our order.

I wish I’d gotten her name, she deserves a raise.

Burger prices ranged from $7-$15, and the menu includes a good variety of gourmet salads, appetizers, hot & cold sandwiches, and classic seafood dinner combos, as well. Sure, we could have saved a few bucks and gotten a dollar-menu cardboard burger from some fast-food joint on 101, but where’s the fun it that? Lord knows, we already have enough of those places back home.

Also, the portions are generous enough that light eaters could easily split a burger and fries, maybe add a side-salad, and enjoy a very nice meal.

Fat Freddy’s is exactly the kind of great food/great fun one-of-a-kind place that becomes the icing on the cake for those “family summer beach-trip” memories. Next time you’re near Pacific City, I strongly recommend Freddy’s.

I know we’ll be going back!

-Perry

About Fat Freddy’s

Fat Freddy’s is a “must stop” when you visit Pacific City.  It is one of the oldest buildings still in use in Pacific City.  Freddy opened the charming burger diner in 1985 with the idea of serving the best burger possible at a fair price.  He became an immediate success and a landmark as well.  Freddy retired in 1992 and the present owners, Art and Tammy, picked up the tradition as Freddy handed down the secrets to his burger success.

Although Art and Tammy have maintained Freddy’s name and reputation for quality food and service, they have applied their own charm to make the diner one of the most talked about and fun eateries in PC.

Fat Freddy’s has become a meeting place for family and friends and is walking distance to the beach.  Check out the antique photos of Pacific City on the wall and watch the planes land on the PC airport right across the street (keep your head down).  Bring Mom, Dad, Grandma and the Kids and enjoy their old fashion milk shakes, onion rings, fish & chips, sandwiches, and Kids menu. And of course, you can’t say you’ve visited PC without experiencing the famous “Fat Freddy Burger”….(the way burgers were meant to be!)

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Bambuza Vietnam Grill Review

Bambuza Vietnam Grill

7628 SW Nyberg St
Tualatin, OR 97062
(503) 692-9800
www.bambuza.com
Also at: 12720 SW Walker Rd. Beaverton, OR

What we tried:

Bambuza salad rolls $4.90
Banh Mi Thit Heo Nuong $4.90
Hanoi beef pho $7.90
Coconut summer rolls $4.90
bia 33 – Vietnam beer $4.50
Bubble Tea Smoothie, Coffee flavor $3.50

What I liked best: Bambuza salad rolls, Hanoi beef pho

Rating: 4/5 Stars

One line review:

“Very good food + New and interesting flavors + Fair price = I’ll be back.”

Pho [pron: faa] is a Vietnamese noodle soup, usually served with beef (phở bò) or chicken (phở gà). The soup includes rice noodles, and is often served with Vietnamese basil, lime, bean sprouts that are added to the soup by the diner.  The specific place of origin appears to be southwest of Hanoi in Nam Dinh province, then a substantial textile market, where  cooks sought to please both Vietnamese (with local rice noodles, of Chinese origin) and French tastes (cattle before the  French arrival being beasts of burden, not frequently sources of beef). It was first sold by vendors from large boxes, until the first phở restaurant was opened in the 1920s in Hanoi.

Phở is served in a bowl with a specific cut of white rice noodles (called bánh phở’) in clear beef broth, with slim cuts of beef (steak, fatty flank, lean flank, brisket). Variations feature tendon, tripe, meatballs, chicken  leg, chicken breast, or other chicken organs. “With the lot” (made with all or most of the shop’s chicken and cattle offerings, including chicken hearts and livers and beef tripe and tendons) is known as phở đặc biệt (“specialty phở”) – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ph%E1%BB%9F

So, I’ve been driving past the sign for this place for months now, and every time I notice it, I think, Dang, I gotta go try that!  Bambuza Vietnam Grill sits at the intersection of I-5 and Nyberg Road, at the Tualatin Exit (turn like your going to Fred Meyer, then hang another left.)

Now besides that fact that it’s someplace new to me, and a type of food I’ve never had, I really had no overwhelmingly compelling reason to go seeking Vietnamese food, except for the fact that I’ve been watching Bourdain and Zimmern slurping down Pho for a year now, and I gotta try it…

So, what did I think…

First of all, don’t pre-judge this joint, and don’t be fooled because it’s in a strip mall. This place is the real deal! The food is shockingly fresh, hand made to order, beautifully plated, and served to your table on real plate ware. Drinks are served in wine glasses, and though there’s a busy murmur and some kitchen noise, it’s still quiet enough to enjoy polite conversation, which was a good thing, as fellow foodie Anthony Wilkinson, author of the big guy sharing food in Portland blog, joined me in this adventure.

Tony and I came ready to eat and review, cameras in hand, and we weren’t disappointed.

The Bambuza Salad Rolls were the first thing I tried, and they set the mood for the rest of the meal. Looks like a few chilled salad greens wrapped in rice paper, which made me think, Meh… but the first bite was explosive with the flavors of  fresh raw basil and cilantro. It’s like a spring garden with a touch of frost blossoming in your mouth!

The shrimp were perfectly steamed and chilled. The leaf lettuce was super-fresh and crisp, and the three large rolls were served with a slightly sweet peanut dipping sauce what played a beautiful counter-point to the bitterness of the fresh greens.

Honestly, for most folks, this would have made a refreshing and satisfying light lunch. Of course, neither Tony nor I are anything like most folks, we came here with a job to do, and thus…we pressed on.

Banh Mi Thit Heo Nuong (Vietnamese Grilled Pork Sandwich): made with a short Vietnamese baguette, mayo, pickled carrot, cilantro, and grilled marinated pork.

This was Tony’s entree, which he was kind enough to share with me.  An excellent sandwich, the pork was tender and moist, and grilled in a Hoisin-esque sauce with a nice balance of savory and sweet.

The roll was fresh, and soft with a good crust that gave a nice crackle with disintegrating with each bite.

Again, what really stood out was the burst of flavor from the fresh cilantro and the tang of the pickled carrots.  Personally, I could have used a little more meat on the roll, but otherwise it was very tasty.

Hanoi Beef Pho: The signature Vietnamese noodle soup with fresh rice stick noodles in fragrant beef broth. Served with a side  of bean-sprouts, jalapenos, lime wedge, and fresh basil.

The choice of beef cuts included thin-sliced leansteak, brisket, beef meatballs or a combo.

This is what I came for, and I chose the brisket (shocker, huh?)

Okay, so the good news first…the broth was amazing, rich and beefy without being greasy or over salted. The bean sprouts have a nice fresh crunch and the pepper added a nice burn. The portion was HUGE. Feeds two, easily.

But…the brisket was disappointing.

Now, I completely recognize that this is a “cultural preference” thing, but Pho calls for thin slices of raw brisket to be cooked in the soup broth.

My fellow bbq folk are cringing already.

Brisket is a tough cut of cow that requires (for western tastes) VERY low and slow cooking to break down the fibers and create a butter-soft meat. Any other style of cooking produces shoe-leather.

The brisket in the Pho required a LOT Of chewing and, given my preconceived notions of what brisket should feel like in my mouth, cast a shadow over what otherwise would have been one of the best bowls of soup I’ve ever eaten.  This was NOT the kitchen’s fault, it was my own ignorance over how the dish was to be prepared. If I’d have done a little research, I’d have skipped the brisket.

I’m  looking forward to going back and trying the other Pho options at Bambuza.

Coconut summer rolls: fresh rice paper rolls with fresh coconut meat, tofu, and roasted peanuts wrapped with lettuce, carrots  and bean sprouts served with peanut sauce. These were good, but I didn’t really get any coconut flavor out of them. The only thing that really differentiated them from the salad rolls was the lack of basil and shrimp. Next time, I’ll stick to the former.

Wrapping up with the beverages. I found the bia 33, a Vietnamese beer, to be very flowery, bitter in a “perfumey” way, and not at all to my liking. Though, it was well chilled, and severed in a classy wine glass.

Tony had a coffee-flavored Bubble Tea Smoothie, which, personally, I found to be a freak-show in a glass. It was served with a straw that you could have sucked a bowling-ball through (should have been my first warning) and came off, at first, as a pretty standard, and good, frappuccino, EXCEPT that there was a layer of huge tapioca pearls hidden in the bottom.

Again, a cultural thing, but when I’m expecting a coffee smoothie and I suddenly find myself with a mouthful of fish eyeballs…I’m gonna pass, thanks.

Tony found my reaction very amusing. I was just glad that nothing embarrassing happened.

Overall – excellent food, portions, and pricing.

Left full, with another whole meal in my to-go bag, and a big smile on my face. I’ll definitely be going back!

So, if you like Vietnamese food…go to Bambuza Vietnam Grill. If you’ve never tried Vietnamese food…go to Bambuza Vietnam Grill.

Bring someone with you whose never tried it…order them a Smoothie. Bring a camera.

Just don’t sit directly across from them.

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