Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Vancouver, WA: A Little Italy Goes A Long Way In Downtown Vancouver

Little Italy’s Trattoria
901 Washington Street
Vancouver, WA 98660
Phone: (360) 737-2363
Facebook: LittleItalysTrattoria
Prices: $$$$

The first time my wife and I tried to eat here (last November), they were closed (during business hours) for renovations. The second time, they were open but out of veal, the dish I drove all the way across state lines to order. This review incorporates visits #2 and #3.
The place has the feel of an old, historic restaurant as you enter, but I was seated in the bar in the back which has recently been renovated from what I understand. There is another large dining room in between the two. The bar is dark and modern, and the drinks (based on what I saw on the menu) reasonable.
On Visit #2, the IPA and other drafts were $3.75 on the drink menu I received, so I ordered one to start, then another with my entree. When I was told they were out of veal after a busier than expected 4th of July weekend, I almost left, but was famished, so I ordered the Spaghetti Bolognese ($12) which was not bad. Most meals come with salad and garlic bread, a nice touch, my Caesar (or garden salad if you choose) being very good and the two pieces of garlic bread also very tasty. The Bolognese was a bit dry and lacked zest, nothing that some grated parmesan could not fix, making it much more flavorful.
I decided to give them the benefit of the doubt regarding the veal, so my friend and I returned the following Sunday for Visit #3. We ordered a bottle of Chianti ($20), a decent wine and value. My friend ordered a spaghetti dish topped with 5-6 shrimp tossed in an olive oil, garlic and lemon sauce which looked good, but was "nothing special" according to him. I finally got to try the Vitello (veal) Parmigiana ($19), an overly thick chop, not a cotoletta (cutlet) as is normally the case, buried under quite a bit of sauce and melted cheese that had been broiled a tad too long. Had the the same piece of veal been pounded out into a thin cutlet then breaded and fried, it would have appeared to be a much larger portion, perceived as a better value and a more appropriate presentation. I had Bolognese on the spaghetti once again with the same result as Visit #1. The marinara on the veal was actually pretty good.
When the check arrived on Visit #2, the IPAs were $5 instead of $3.75, so I asked why. "Oh, that's the Grand Opening menu ... You shouldn't have received that menu.", I was told. The bartender (and my server), a relative of the owners, quickly fixed the error and I paid the bill.
I really want to like this place because it would make a great new regular go-to spot for Italian now that we live in Portland. The owners and staff are all extremely nice, the environment a bit cheesy but welcoming, the prices relatively fair, and the food good, but not great. Saucier sauces, thinner veal, and a bit more seasoning would improve the experience, but if they have been using the same recipes (Neapolitan I was told) for 14 years, seeing change any time soon may be a pipedream. I have not found a decent, authentic, home-style, family Italian restaurant in the Portland area yet, having seen mostly foo-foo hangouts with tiny plates and big prices and very few that serve veal, a necessity in any Italian restaurant I am going to frequent.

CombatCritic Gives Little Italy's Trattoria 5 Bombs Out Of 10 ... More Bombs Are Better!

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Title: Vancouver, WA: A Little Italy Goes A Long Way In Downtown Vancouver

Key Words: CombatCritic, Italian, Italy, little, little Italy, Little Italy's Trattoria, menu, pasta, pizza, Portland, restaurant, review, trattoria, travel, TravelValue, value, Vancouver, WA, Yelp, Zomato

Translation for Civilians: Charlie-Mike = "Continue Mission"

Italian: Mama Mia - Best Italian West Of The Willamette!

Mama Mia Trattoria
439 SW 2nd Avenue
Portland, OR 97204
Southwest Portland, Downtown
Phone number (503) 295-6464
Prices: $$$$
Mama Mia, that's one spicy meatball! Actually, it was the tomato sauce accompanying the complimentary Calamari (normally $12.95) that was spicy, having added a sprinkling of chili flakes on top before serving. As a new member of their "VIP Club", we got the royal treatment, including the free appetizer and free garlic bread (on every visit). I also received a $15 off coupon for our first visit.

The corner restaurant hits you in the face as you cross the SE Morrison Bridge into downtown from the east. There is no free parking or validation here, so pay $2/hour on the street, more in a lot, or arrive after 7pm as we did to park on the street for free. The old corner building (early 1900s) has high ceilings and an open feeling. The decor is tasteful, but not "obviously" Italian in any way, shape or form, more like a high end steak house than a trattoria.
Our server, Kelly, was prompt, efficient and courteous from the get-go. She dropped off the surprise calamari, then the garlic bread, and after bringing my son the Veal Parmigiana instead of the Veal Scallopine all Marsala ($25.95) he had ordered, told him to taste it and take it home while they prepared his marsala. The calamari was good, although the breading could have been crispier and it was a tad greasy, but we barely made a dent because my son is not a seafood lover and I did not want to fill up before my entree arrived.

I had the Veal Parmesan ($25.95), two decent size cutlets breaded, fried and topped with marinara and their "house made" mozzarella accompanied by a small bowl of linguini with marinara sauce (soup or vegetable can be substituted for pasta). The veal was the best I have had in a while and the portion size reasonable considering the price. A dinner salad and some bread would be inexpensive additions to the entrees, making them seem like a better value although $26 for a nice veal dish is not unreasonable. I tasted my son's Veal Marsala which was also a decent size portion as well as being one of the best marsalas I have tasted in recent memory, thick and rich ... HOOAH!
In the end, we had the calamari ($12.95), an order of garlic bread ($4.95) two veal parmesans ($51.90), a veal marsala ($25.95), nearly $100 worth of food for $36.90 (after the $15 coupon was deducted) plus a healthy $15 tip for Kelly, bringing the total to a whopping $52 ... what a bahgain!

We will not get free calamari, an extra meal, or $15 off every time we come, but members of their VIP Club do get free garlic bread every visit as well as other discounts and offers throughout the year. So far, this is the best Italian restaurant I have tried (out of three) and expect to be back soon, bringing my Italian born better half next time. If she gives them her seal of approval, a massive compliment, I will note it here first.
You may ask why I do not give my top rating, so let me briefly clarify. My ratings are based on value, bang-for-the-buck, taking price, quality, preparation, ambience, service and other key factors into account. To receive 10 Bombs Out Of 10, the meal, service, decor, and price must be impeccable, flawless, and the best value money can buy. To get 9 Bombs, one or two minor flaws are normally noted, but otherwise the experience is top-notch. Unlike many so called critics, I do not throw around 9s and 10s (5 Stars on Yelp) like candy, so when you see a rating that high, you can bet your booty that you will be pleased as punch. In order to improve their rating, I would recommend the following:

1. Validate parking
2. Increase the temperature on the deep fryer (or do not let it sit too long before serving) for crispier calamari
3. Include a small dinner salad and bread with every entree
4. Make the side of pasta accompanying entrees a little bit larger
5. Put ice in the water or cool it before serving - room temperature water is a bummer

CombatCritic Gives Mama Mia Trattoria 8 Bombs Out Of 10 ... More Bombs Are Better!

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Title: Portland, OR: Mama Mia - Best Italian West Of The Willamette!

Key Words: Mama Mia Trattoria, mama mia, mama, mia, trattoria, Portland, downtown, Italian, veal, Italy, Oregon, CombatCritic, TravelValue, travel, value, restaurant, menu, review, Yelp, Zomato

Translation for Civilians: WTFO! = "What-The-Fuck ... Over!"

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Golf: The Great Blue ... Woo-Hoo - Robert Trent Jones At His Finest

Heron Lakes Golf Club
Great Blue Course
3500 N. Victory Blvd
Portland, OR 97217
North Portland, Kenton
Phone number: (503) 289-1818
Prices: $$$$

A fairly typical Robert Trent Jones design, what more can I say ... great layout and lots o' bunkers. They had a Friday "all the golf you can play" special ($30 - walking) which included two post round drinks (well drink or beer).

Unfortunately, the fairways are a little rough (pun intended), very tightly mowed and brown in many areas. With all of the water (Heron "Lakes"), you would think there would not be a problem watering fairways. The greens were in great shape for the most part, undulating and plush.

Fairway bunkers are strategically placed to suck in your ball and greens are elevated, surrounded by bunkers, water, and/or scrub, calling for accurate approach shots. There is water on most holes, sometimes all carry and other times adjoining the fairway and only in play on the most errant shots.

Deceiving from the tee, the holes look tighter than they really are, leaving plenty of room for most decent tees shots to find the short grass. The rough is not long, sometimes leaving you with a better lie than if you were in the fairway.

Unlike many golf courses, the staff were friendly and helpful from pro shop to snack bar to starter. The course is not quite as friendly, but we can thank Mr. Jones for that.

CombatCritic Gives Heron Lakes 7 Bombs Out Of 10 ... More Bombs Are Better!

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Title: Portland, OR: The Great Blue ... Woo-Hoo - Robert Trent Jones At His Finest

Key Words: Heron Lakes, Heron, lakes, lakem golf, course, golf course, public, Portland, Oregon, CombatCritic, TravelValue, travel, value, restaurant, menu, business, review, Yelp, Zomato

Translation for Civilians: S&G = "Shits & Grins"

Friday, June 23, 2017

Dive Bars: Live Music, Cheap Food And Drinks - HOOAH!

Spare Room Restaurant and Lounge
4830 NE 42nd Avenue
Portland, OR 97218
Northeast Portland, Cully
Phone number (503) 287-5800
Website: thespareroompdx.com
Prices: $$$$

Cheap drinks (Jim Beam and Coke - $3 - All Day/Every Day), food (ample menu and specials), and music (live/DJ/karaoke/free/cover) ... what more could you ask for!

Around the corner from my new temporary digs, I stopped by on Thursday night for a couple drinks and free, live music, unfortunately country on this night, but beggars can't be choosers. The bartender/hostess/server was very nice, well dressed, attractive and, most important, friendly. She also pours a strong drink ... HOOAH!

I did not stay long because I can only handle country in short bursts, but will return soon for one of their dinner specials (surf and turf, prime rib, meatloaf and mashed potatoes, etc.) and, hopefully, some rock and roll, jazz, or blues. The place is big and dark with an old fashioned feel, not extravagant and not seedy, just right. Two bars and dance floors in two adjoining big rooms with other spaces which I did not have a chance to explore. They also have gambling-type machines at the bar although I neither know Oregon's gambling laws nor if these machines are for used betting.

Most people seemed to know each other, but other than the bartender/server, nobody said a word to me or even looked like they wanted to although hugs abounded and conversations surrounded me. Not the welcome I would have liked, but as the new kid on the block, I expected little else.

CombatCritic Gives Spare Room Restaurant and Lounge An Initial 7 Bombs Out Of 10 With Room To Grow ... More Bombs Are Better!



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Title: Portland, OR: Live Music, Cheap Food And Drinks - HOOAH!

Key Words: Spare Room Restaurant and Lounge, spare, room, lounge, bar, music, live, karaoke, Portland, Oregon, NE, CombatCritic, TravelValue, travel, value, restaurant, menu, review, Yelp, Zomato

Translation for Civilians: S&G = "Shits & Grins"

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Restaurants:Petite Provence: On Again, Off Again ... C'est La Vie (That's Life)

Petite Provence
1824 NE Alberta Street
Portland, OR 97211
Phone number (503) 284-6564
Website: provencepdx.com
Prices: $$$$

Yay! I love French food and am not easily impressed, but I was impressed, at least on my first visit. That visit was for their Happy Hour, so I will reserve a couple of stars for future visits, one way or the other, depending on how dinner, lunch and breakfast pan out. Based on that single experience, I did not think things would digress, but time did tell and I was not nearly as impressed on my second visit.
Visit #1 - I had an IPA ($4) to start things off, then we ordered from the Happy Hour Menu (3-6PM - M-F), all about $5 each. In order to sample as many things as possible, my wife and I shared four Happy Hour plates, a Mushroom and Gruyere Crepe, Macaroni and Cheese Au Gratin with toast, Mussels in a Coconut Red Curry sauce with pom frites (French fries), and a Kobe Beef Slider also with pom frites.

The slider was good, but being only one small burger with aioli sauce on a bun and a paltry amount of fries, it was not the best value on the menu. The Mac and Cheese was plentiful and delicious with sauteed onion inside and baked with cheese and breadcrumbs on top, served with three pieces of grilled baguette toast. The crepes were small, a half each for a total of one full crepe, but savory with a nice white cheese sauce and sauteed mushrooms. Finally, my favorite, were the red curry mussels with 10-12 fresh mussels in a creamy, spicy, yummy red curry sauce with a decent portion of seasoned fries on the side.


Being one of four parties inside, the service was attentive, friendly and excellent. The place is quaint with lots of wood and a European feel and they even have tables on the sidewalk Parisian-style. They also have an array of baked goods (pastries, breads) and a huge display case full of delightful, sweet cakes, pies, tarts and other delectable morsels that dazzle the eye as well as the nose and tongue. My single complaint was the absence of paper towels in both (unisex) bathrooms, having had to dry my hands on toilet paper or toilet seat covers ... YUK.
For $28 and change plus tip ($35), we ate quite well and were stuffed by the time we left. No room for dessert, even though my wife has a sweet tooth the size of Manhattan and rarely passes on the final course. 
Visit #2 - I visited PP for the second time on Father's Day, arriving around 9PM after a round of golf (they close at 10PM). The sign said "please wait to be seated", so I stood there like a gidrulo (Italian dialect slang for "dumb ass", but literally meaning "cucumber") for a good five minutes while employees walked back and forth, ignoring me as if I were not there and not even saying "welcome, we'll be with you in a minute". I was finally approached by a server with a man-bun, taking me to a table outside on the sidewalk on the beautiful, mild late spring evening. 
Everything was going fine. Knowing they were closing in less than an hour and not wanting to waste time, I ordered an IPA and then asked my server for a bowl of French onion soup ($6.95) and the Chicken Cordon Bleu ($16) for my entree. Less than 10 minutes later, man-bun arrived with my soup AND entree ... at the same time! 

For those of you who know me, you know all too well that if you really want to piss me off, bring my entree while I am still eating my appetizer, soup, and/or salad. It is my ultimate pet peeve, so when the soup and entree arrived together, I was far less than pleased, asking the server to please take the entree away until I was done with my soup. Anybody who has been a server for a week or more knows that you never bring different courses together unless specifically asked to do so which I had not.
The soup was very average and I would not order it again at $6.95. Nuff said. The chicken was good, but a tad burnt, a little dry, and extremely hot (likely having sat under the warmer for 15-20 minutes while I ate my very hot soup). Sitting atop a very small portion of runny mashed potatoes with some green beans in between, the tarragon beurre blanc (tarragon, butter and white wine) sauce was tasty, but there was not nearly enough of it either. A little more sauce would have made the dry chicken a bit more palatable.
What a dilemma! Such a good experience on visit #1 only to be followed by a very mediocre experience on visit #2. I thought I had found our new Portland go-to spot on Alberta, but now I am not so sure. 

I look forward to returning at least one more time for happy hour, breakfast, lunch and/or dinner and hope all will be as delightful as it was on our initial experience. If not, we may not be back and may head down the street to Swiss Hibiscus or across town the Chez Machin where I know I will get a good, consistent meal and service.
CombatCritic Downgrades Petite Provence (Alberta) From 8 Bombs Out Of 10 To 7 Bombs Out Of 10 ... A Very Modest And Generous Deduction For Such Inexcusable Faux Pas ... More Bombs Are Better!
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Title: Portland, OR: On Again, Off Again ... C'est La Vie (That's Life)

Key Words: Petite Provence, French, cafe, bakery, boulangerie, Alameda, outdoor, seating, CombatCritic, TravelValue, travel, value, restaurant, menu, Portland, Oregon, business, review, Yelp, Zomato

Translation for Civilians: S&G = "Shits & Grins"

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Consumer Info: Ford Retaliates Against Disabled Veteran After Complaints Of Lying And Unprofessional Behavior By Dealer's Staff

Damerow Ford
12325 SW Canyon Road
Beaverton, OR 97005
Southwest Portland
Phone number (503) 644-1131
Website: damerowford.com
Prices: $$$$

I usually do not write about businesses without some sort of connection to travel and travelers, but I felt an exception was needed here. You will not believe what this Portland Ford dealer did!
Several Midwesterners I have talked to about our upcoming move to Portland, Oregon and familiar with the area have told me: "they don't like military/veterans out there" and "as a retired military officer moving to Portland, you will not be welcome there, they're way too liberal". I took it with a grain of salt because I have not experienced any negative attitudes during my visits, but I have also not spent a lot of time in Portland and I do not readily advertise my military background. After the experience I am about to tell you about, I am actually starting to have some concerns.

When you see a business on yelp* with 117 reviews and an average rating of less than 2.5 stars out of 5, there is something definitely rotten in Denmark or, in the case, Portland, Oregon. It is called Damerow Ford and here are some comments by their customers ...
"Absolutely the worst customer service I have ever experienced in my entire life."
"I will never return to Damerow Ford for anything. What a bunch of unprofessional, idiots."
"Landmark was very easy to work with and much more trustworthy, don't bother with these guys."
"Damerow Ford is the worst company I have ever dealt with. I regret buying my car from them."
Check their reviews on yelp*, it is all there in black and white. Now on to my experience. As a Ford shareholder, I expected much, much more from a company I own stock in.

Their salesperson and management wasted countless hours of my time over two months while TRYING to buy a car from them. They lied constantly, failed to read my emails or answer my questions, then had the nerve to REFUSE TO SELL ME A CAR because they were afraid of a poor review and retaliated against me for well making well substantiated complaints.

Ford provides incentives for good reviews or docks dealers for bad follow-up reviews from "customers", those who eventually purchase a vehicle. Thinking that I would give them a bad review because of their deceit and unprofessionalism, even though I gave my word on my honor as a retired Air Force officer that I would not if they FINALLY followed through with their promises, management decided not to take the chance and their general manager called me this evening and REFUSED TO SELL ME A CAR, retaliating against me for my complaints of lying and unprofessional behavior by his staff.

After complaints to management about their constant lies, unprofessional behavior, and not reading my emails or answering key questions, sales manager Kiyoshi Tsuji told me that he was hesitant to sell me the car because he thought I would give the dealership bad reviews no matter what happened. As a man of my word, I told him: "That's water under the bridge Kiyoshi. If there are no problems when I pick up my car on 5/13, everything is in order when I get there and I am happy with the transaction, I will absolutely write a positive review." Being deceitful himself (having promised to send me the paperwork by mail to complete the transaction not once, but twice, then refusing to follow through), he is apparently not used to dealing with people of honor, people with integrity. At the end of the conversation, which like all questionable phone calls I record, he agreed to "trust" me. He even offered to pick me up at the airport when I arrived and drive me to the dealership to take delivery of our new car. All he had been worried about was the customer satisfaction survey and yelp* reviews I could possibly write, potentially costing them Ford incentive money, not about making an unhappy customer happy.

Car salesmen and dealers are notorious liars and manipulators and Damerow Ford sits right at the top of the list. I have written many great reviews and a few bad ones, but Damerow Ford has earned the Top Spot on my "Wall of Shame". Shame on you Ali Bulgasem (Damerow Ford General Manager), Kiyoshi Tsuji (Damerow Ford Sales Manager), and June Jermany (Damerow Ford Salesman).

I have over 80 emails and phone recordings of conversations between myself and Damerow Ford employees, so if you doubt what I say, the pertinent ones will soon be published where 350,000 people a year read my reviews and where you will be able to see for yourself that I, unlike Damerow Ford, tell the truth.

I value honor and integrity, values that I live by every day of my life, having done so through 20+ years of military service to our great nation and ever since I retired in 2005. I simply do not tolerate liars, cheats, swindlers or unprofessional treatment of customers. 

My maxim during my many years of military service was to provide "outstanding customer service" to those who had no choice but to come to my squadron when they needed a car, to have it fixed, borrow (rent) a car or get a ride somewhere on base, or ship something anywhere in the world. That attitude earned me MAJCOM-level awards and my squadron the honor of being chosen "Air Force Transportation Squadron of the Year". 

I basically ran a car dealership, taxi/bus/car rental company, and FedEx hub all in one ... in a combat zone ... and it was much larger than Damerow Ford, with 1,300+ vehicles, 100+ mechanics, 70+ drivers, 40+ freight specialists and several administrative staff members. So, I know a little bit about running an efficient, customer-oriented organization. Ali Bulgasem, General Manager at Damerow Ford and the person who called me to tell me that he refused to sell me a car, and his employees at Damerow Ford could all learn quite a bit from my beliefs and service.

Why would a car dealer refuse to sell a car to a customer? Because they had something to lose, that is exactly why. Their "perfect" customer review rating and that Ford incentive for positive reviews were more important than following through with their promises and treating a customer professionally and with dignity and respect. They also do not like people who complain about their poor service and unprofessional behavior, so Ali Bugasem retaliated against me by refusing to follow through with a deal in which I had put more than 15% ($3,500) as a down payment on the vehicle.

Am I a demanding customer? You can bet your sweet ass I am. I demand professionalism, honesty, integrity, compassion, and to be treated with dignity and respect when I spend my hard earned money, nearly $23,000 in this case, at a business. Don't you?

I am still waiting for the $3,500 refund on the down payment I made on my credit card, having promised me they would hold the car until I got there next Saturday. That would be considered breach of contract in a court of law, but I will not even go there. Now I have to rent a car when I arrive in Portland instead of picking up the vehicle I put a large down payment on, costing me hundreds of extra dollars unnecessarily as well as more wasted time looking for a non-Ford to buy. Military Appreciation ... what a joke!
The last Ford I owned was a 1960 Ford Falcon station wagon, my first car. I have purchased mostly foreign cars over the years (Honda, VW and Nissan - all great cars), but decided to buy American-made this time, being a patriot and having heard that Ford has improved their products, safety, and reliability. Their cars may be better than they once were, but their customer service is the poorest I have seen in recent memory. Is it a coincidence that Ford's stock has tanked over 20% in the past year?

Complaints have been filed with the Oregon Attorney General, Federal Trade Commission and Better Business Bureau (Northwest) for breach of contract. I also sent a letter to the Ford Motor Company Board of Directors which, based on previous experience, will likely be ignored. I could sue Damerow Ford and win, but it is not worth my time, money or energy. I will just buy a new car from another dealer and manufacturer, unfortunately probably a Japanese or Korean company. So much for my attempt to buy a domestic car ... "Made in America". Do not say that I did not try.


What a nice "welcome" to our new home, Portland, Oregon. I hope this is not a sign of things to come, but in my 60 years on Earth, I have never experienced such flagrant unprofessional and aggressive behavior at a business, particularly one where I was trying to spend $23,000. Is it a fluke or were my Midwestern friends right? I hope it is the former because we have invested a lot of time, money and emotion in a cross country move to a place we hope to spend the remaining years of our lives ... feeling welcome and happy in our new home. Welcome to Portland?

CombatCritic Gives Damerow Ford 0 Bombs Out Of 10 ... The Lowest Of The Low ... But The TOP SPOT On My "Wall Of Shame" ... Shame on you Ali ... shame you Damerow Ford ... Shame on you Ford Motor Company!

0 Bombs Equates To "Lower Than FUBAR" ... Look That Up In Your Funk And Wagnalls Or Simply Visit My Blog. Just Google "CombatCritic"!


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Title: Portland, Oregon: Ford Retaliates Against Disabled Veteran After Complaints Of Lying And Unprofessional Behavior By Dealer's Staff

Key Words: Damerow Ford, Damerow, Ford, Portland, Beaverton, Oregon, 97005, lies, liar, lying, unprofessional, disabled, veteran, TravelValue, travel, value, product, business, review, Yelp

Translation for Civilians: FUBAR = "Fucked Up Beyond All Repair"