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Restaurants & Bars

Eugene update

Dan R. | Jan 14, 200210:00 PM

Hello, hounds. Since reports on Eugene are few and far between, here are a few updates to fill in the gaps. I am sad to announce the demise of Café Navarro. Went by a few weeks ago and found a very Eugene closing sign announcing simply that all things must change with a picture of a globe. Wherever Navarro’s guiding spirit has gone, I hope that all is well with him.

I’ve also had a couple of questionable fish experiences at Full Boat since I wrote last. That grieves me too since I’m *such* a fan of their fish tacos. I still recommend it, but it doesn’t have the comforting sterility of Newmans by a long shot. Also, on the Newmans tip: cheese. I have just learned that this is the place to go. Also a source for Pantescan capers if anyone is in the market.

I’ve had a couple of excellent experiences at Toshi’s Ramen. A relative newcomer: very simple, good prices and superbly fresh and chewy noodles. Butter is strangely dominant here, so be alert and ask if that’s not your bag. I highly recommend their pork, and have splurged and had extra slices in my bowl.

A newcomer on which I’m currently undecided is Humble Bagel for dinner. I can’t remember how many nights they do it. The food I’ve had is good and has the great virtues of feeling home-cooked and a little bit improvised (and the potential liabilities of the same). In a way that is becoming familiar to me, this place hasn’t really figured out what they’re trying to do. In the daytime, they set a new standard in slow service. At night, when you’re sitting, the ponderousness doesn’t seem so strange, but don’t go here for a quick meal. Friends who have eaten at Humble more than me say that it can be downright good. I’ll be going back to find out.

Also: the newest of the new: Bamboo, an Oriental (and I use the word advisedly) spinoff of Marche, in the same mini-mall, 5th St. Public Market. This is a strange place. Actually, it’s less a spinoff of Marche than a spinoff of a spinoff of Marche. Used to be that Marche had an Asian “street food” stand in the Public Market (basically Pad Thai and Chow Fun slinging). That place was pretty bad: soppy, oversweet and oversauced noodles. Bamboo has taken that bad food and preserved it perfectly. They’ve also made some other bad decisions: papaya salad (and I was **so** happy to find papaya salad in Eugene) that is all acid and nothing else, no peanuts or shrimp or palm sugar or crab juice to mellow and balance it. Frankly, it was almost inedible. HOWEVER...they served a miso-cured smoked sea bass (it seems to me that there are too many processes in the description to be plausible, but anyway) that is really, really tasty and could work at the pricier (or spendier as we say here) Marche. I’m wondering if there’s a division of labor in the kitchen between the street food dishes and the bonafide dinner dishes. Haven’t tried enough to know. But on the basis of the excellent fish, I want to go back and see. The other appealing thing about this place is that although the kitchen closes at 10, the bar (a *real* bar) is open until 1 and you can get sushi from a small sushi bar until then. This makes it somewhat unique in Eugene where BIG ANNOUNCEMENT the great cheap Korean place in Rite Aid has just extended their hours to 9pm from their previous and idiosyncratic 8:25pm closing time. Also good at Bamboo: cold sakes of various sorts. I would steer away from the sake infusions, but it turns out that there is a sake factory in Forest Grove or Cottage Grove (they couldn’t remember) which means that you can get unfiltered sake here which is very, very special. If you haven’t had it, don’t walk, run. It looks like milk, has a bit of chew to it, and really expresses the ricey origin of the brew. If I had my choice here, I would be drinking the Sho Chiku Bai version from the factory in Berkeley, but I don’t and I’m happy with this. Speaking of which, when you are in Berkeley, don’t miss the sake tasting room at Sho Chiku Bai. There, you can have the freshest unfiltered sake possible, and it will make you happy.

Also speaking of drinking: I am frustrated that Ring of Fire has gotten into an infusion rut. It used to be that the infusions changed a bit, and the best of the best was the cucumber infused vodka from which a truly sublime martini could be mixed. That’s been missing forever. Meanwhile, the one I like which is the spicy tequila, can be too hot for my mood sometimes. So, please, Ring of Fire, bring back the cucumber vodka. Also strange about this place: utter inflexibility in drink mixing. The infusions are married to particular mixes and they won’t freelance at all. Strange strange strange. So many good things not being created. And all of the current infusions are married to sweet things (margarita mix, zombie, what have you): nothing dry or semi-dry. When you drink here, make sure to ask for garlic chips.

Next door to Ring of Fire is another newcomer, this time a simple pho joint connected to a new pan-Asian market. Not stellar, but good, has vegetarian options, and I think will probably be getting better as they get their deal down. I’m very fond of restaurants inside grocery stores (though have only dreamed of and never been to the Texas barbeque places that seem to set the standard as far as this goes), and there is the double advantage of being able to choose any variety of grass jelly drink to go with your meal. The folks who run this place were so nice to us and happily found some extra basil on the store side of the place to dress up our pho. With some attention, this could end up being a real destination.

Brief note on Corvallis: wild mushrooms at Big River.
Brief note on Portland: new Shabu-Shabu on Hawthorne.

Besides all this, I’m still waiting for anyone to fill me in on the lore surrounding “Tiger’s Milk”, this brew beginning from the water in which clams are steamed, spiced up with green tabasco and fit for drinking. Anyone know more about this??

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