If there just wasn't smoking at the bar, I think I'd find myself at Saucebox a lot more often. But even though I went early and there were only a couple people smoking at the bar, I was still getting a little congested and my clothes had a little bit of a stink to them by the end of my meal. Most truck stops are probably worse, but I have a tendency to avoid even the best of those, too, if they don't have a well segregated non-smoking section. Anyway, out with the bad, and in with the good. Here's the 25 for $25 menu (my report follows):
soup of they day
thai steamed tapioca dumpling with stir-fried chicken, garlic, cilantro and palm sugar
crispy sweet potato spring rolls with lettuce, cilantro, and a sour-lime dipping sauce
autumn vegetable pot with spiced, seasonal vegetables, mushrooms, baked tofu, and soy-lime dressing
javanese roasted salmon: line-caught salmon with a sauce of soy, hot pepper, garlic, palm sugar and lime, served with sauteed spinach, crispy fried leeks and jasmine rice
spicy korean baby back ribs cooked slowly and served with saucebox kimchee and jasmine rice
chocolate pot de creme with sesame cookie
cookie plate featuring a variety of house made cookies and truffles
crispy rice pudding spring rolls with chocolate dipping sauce
My wife got the 25 for $25. I ordered off the normal menu basically because one thing caught my eye more than anything. She ordered the sweet potato spring rolls, the salmon, and the rice pudding spring rolls. I ordered a banana blossom salad, the pork claypot, and the icebox, a selection of ice creams.
A nice little touch is the free edamame they bring out. I'm not sure how they make them, but they're quite salty which is good. I assume they blanch them in a highly salted water and then let them cool, possibly in the salted water. But I have no idea. They give you a pile of them still in the pods and you can suck them out or open them up and eat the beans. My wife and I both liked them a lot.
The sweet potato spring rolls were tasty but not overwhelmingly sweet potatoey because of a judicious use of rice in the rolls. They were light and crisp with a decent presentation. The sauce had a nice sour and slightly spicy flavor that went well with her dish and mine, actually. I imagine it'd go good on just about anything. I'd say the portion could have been a little bigger, but it's only a $6 appetizer on the normal menu.
My banana blossom salad was good as well and came with poached shrimp, roasted peanuts, onion, cilantro and fried rice crackers. The rice crackers looked like sheets of chicharron with shrimp pieces of some sort embedded in them providing a surprisingly pleasant and subtle flavor. I liked dipping them in my wife's sour-lime sauce. I think I like Pho Van's banana blossom salad a little better, but its close. Regardless, it's a good salad and banana blossoms are a good ingredient and the rice crackers with the shrimp was a nice addition. $9
My wife's salmon came out perched on a mound of spinach surrounded by the deep brown soy-flavored sauce. Delicately covering the salmon another couple inches was some very light and crispy julienned leeks. The salmon was cooked medium rare (they "warn" you ahead of time) and quite a large portion. I would guess that it's 8 ozs, which is a lot of salmon, imo. My wife generally won't eat more than 4-6 ozs when I make salmon for her, and she didn't get through this piece. It had a pleasant flavor and texture, but I don't know that there was much that was special about it. The sauce was decent, but mostly just tasted of soy. It was good enough, but nothing special overall.
The claypot pork, which is marinated and braised in a Vietnamese caramel sauce wit hfresh chilies, lemon grass, kaffir lime, thai basil and cilantro, and served with rice, was quite good. Not great, but quite good. I think the stewing juices need to be thickened. It would make a big difference if they were able to cling to the pork more. But that said, it still was nice and pork was quite tender and the sauce had a nice range of flavors including a subtle but welcome black pepper flavor. I had some claypot chicken when I was in SF this summer -- at Slanted Door -- that was probably better, but not a lot better. I think this one would challenge if the sauce was thicker if only because the pork was much better than the chicken. Claypot dishes are always a nice presentation if nothing else. But this dish was a lot more than just presentation. Yum. $14.
My wife's dessert spring rolls were as good as we hoped. They had the lightest and crispiest wrappers and were about the size of a tube of lipstick. I think there were about 4 of them or so. They came with a dark chocolate dipping sauce that really went wonderfully with the creamy, sweet pudding interior of the rolls. A good dessert and just the type of thing that ethnic restaurants should be doing on their dessert menus. A simple but creative and tasty dessert.
They had six flavors in the "icebox" to choose from, including passion fruit, pineapple, and coconut sorbet (there was one more that I can't remember). But I chose the two ice creams, cinnamon and honey. They came in a crispy won-ton wrapper style cup coasted in granulated sugar. They were quite good, both of them. The cinnamon may have had too much of that "dryness" to it that cinnamon has. But it was a wonderful flavor with a good texture. It went great with the honey which was creamier and milder though deceptive in that it held up to the cinnamon surprisingly well. I liked it. $6.
Saucebox has an Asian chic interior with dark walls and square Asian lamps throughout relecting off the large mirror over the bar area and the smaller, but lengthy mirror on the other side of the room. It's colorful mural is surprisingly not out of place. Though it appears to be chic, it's never far from Portland's heart, I think, with the staff clad in black pants and t-shirts, many tight and sleeveless, tattoos showing. Most of the staff, like much of the waitstaff in Portland restaurants, but maybe even moreso here, has that artist/skater, I-dye-my-hair-black-because-I-got-tired-of-it-being-bleached-plantinum look. Which is fine with me as an almost-native Oregonian who grew up one of those. There were a couple in business suits, lesbians out front kissing, people in t-shirts and jeans with backpacks inside -- a real mixed bag. Which is fine with me, too. I worry that places like that will be too chic, like Bluehour's bar scene appears to be, not that that matters too much to me since I don't drink. But it's the reason I'm wary about trying Aura.
Oh, one more thing, Saucebox has a few nice non-alcoholic choices from their drink menu. My wife had a cucumber-lemonade and I had a lemongrass soda, which interestingly tasted more like a rosewater soda, I would think. But I've never had lemongrass syrup straight before, so what do I know. They were $3 each and came in very tall drink glasses.