Don't call it happy hour; call it a degustation menu for early birds. This downtown in-stitution's new chef de cuisine, Adam Kekahuna, promised us that the 'Box's new happy-hour (4:30-6:30 pm Tuesday-Friday) menu would be a shout-out to his Hawaiian roots. He wasn't lying, but two-inch diameter servings of silky Ahi poke don't exactly equal the overstuffed box-lunch glory of his home state. Still, Kekahuna's four-tier $1-$4 menu is a magic trick. How does he pack the big flavors of smoky kalua pork, seared salmon and guacamole inside mini-boxes of fried taro and wontons? Sha-zam!
6:25 pm Friday, April 16 The Italian Joint (3145 SE Hawthorne Blvd., 234-3004)
Still hungry. Must forage for a second dinner. Luckily, the Joint, which took over the Sappho-centric Dive's tiny space last month, crafts filling tomato-sauced standards on the cheap. Only after we gorged ourselves on a spicy vat of minestrone soup, a mountain of sautéed veggies and a oozy, volcanic eruption of sausage lasagna and pork-'n'-veal meatballs did we wipe the olive oil off our chin and notice our milieu: a cramped, jolly box festooned with bar bottles, the sound of blues music and an auburn-haired server sporting motorcycle boots and a skull choker. A little bit The Lady and the Tramp, a lot more From Dusk 'Til Dawn, the Joint is where Sicilian grandmas and Matador hipsters could share a $9 liter of house red without raising an eyebrow--and probably already do.
6:45 pm Saturday, April 17Montego Bay (1239 SW Jefferson St., 228-1277)
Tropical dining so vivid that the Bite and our manly companion came out of this Jamaican kitchen with tan lines. At this genuine Jamaican kitchen, dinner is all about island flavors like . After savoring the ackee and salt fish, a crunchy, confetti-colored toss of pungent fish, peppers, onions and plump chunks of ackee fruit, Montego chef and Kingston native Opal Bailey clued us in to the fact that boiled ackee is the island equivalent of scrambled eggs. Who knew? Do try the dense, moist coconut bread, briny sautéed cabbage and boiled banana. Don't drink the rum coconut (a real coconut filled with a jigger of liqueur). It tastes like warm, alcoholic spit.
10 am Sunday, April 18Hands On Cafe (8245 SW Barnes Road, 297-1480)
The artists at Hands On, the Oregon College of Art and Craft's cafe, revel in experimentation as much as the school's students, and its Sunday brunch evolves every few weeks. After perusing student projects in the school gallery, the Bite watched the cooks create perfect buttermilk griddlecakes dressed with dollops of cream. Our brunch date focused on the composition of his own plate, devouring a flaky snapper, drizzled with lime butter and paired with a golden, poached egg. Most of the other diners looked like professors. If so, tenure tastes delicious.