A while back, Bite Club was cruising down a junky stretch of North Mississippi Avenue when--both confused and delighted--we slammed on the brakes of our 1976 Skylark. The culprit? A pink house--glowing like a big rosy nipple in the middle of the No Po scrap metal wilderness. Its cryptic sign read Lovely Hula Hands (938 N Cook St., 445-9910).
Hula what? Intrigued, we ventured inside.
Hula is Portland sisters Sarah and Jane Minnick's elegantly comfy supper spot, serving time-warp libations like Milk Punch (as in a wallop of Bushmills) and globetrotting vittles since opening Oct. 24.
Sarah's boyfriend, Jesse Garcia, cooks--offering a curious-but-tasty menu that ranges from Painted Hills burgers to Korean lettuce wraps. Garcia also serves the simple dishes that charmed the Minnick sisters when he was a chef at Fellini back in 1997, like red beans and rice, and salmon katsu, an upscale version of fish sticks.
Last year, this old timey-obsessed crew saved their future Hula home from demolition. They restored the building from a shag-carpeted flophouse back to its gleaming 1910 bones, right down to the small dining room's vintage wallpaper.
As for the mysterious moniker: It's a song title Sarah and Garcia plucked off a dusty 78-speed record years ago. "Nothin' is hula here but the name," Sarah says. Still, it looks lovely and its owners are handy in the kitchen so far. Just don't expect poi.
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Heading across the river, we found another food family venture. At O, Cielo! (911 SW 10th Ave., 222-5004) Rome-born Stefano Bruschi usually waxes Italiano from behind the deli case while co-owner/wife Betty Schmidt runs the kitchen. But this week, like some Trading Spaces spin-off, the downtown lunch favorite is trading staff.
Stefano's brother Maurizio, who owns San Francisco's Ristorante Ideale, is winging his way to Portland to give his sister-in-law a crash course in Italian deli rosticceria dishes. Stefano will spend the week in California manning Ideale's bar.
"It's a marathon cooking class from my very own gourmet chef," says Schmidt, who originally learned to cook from Mamma Bruschi in Rome. "With the Bruschi family you can't not learn about food. It's what they live and breathe. You learn by osmosis."
Sample Schmidt's lessons, from potato croquettes and baby pizzas to suppli (deep-fried rice balls filled with mozzarella) at O, Cielo! this week.
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Carafe: Portland's most chi-chi concession stand? Chef-owner Pascal Sauton revealed that ballet and opera fans are dashing across Market Street from the Keller Auditorium during performance intermissions for dry martinis at the Parisian bistro's bar. "They say it is faster and better than waiting at the Keller," Sauton says.