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[PDX] Portland, Pearl District - 1st time, need recommendation for one dinner

1st time in Portland, $ no object, party of 4 adults, Friday night, staying at 5th Ave Suites, have a car, don't like loud restaurants, hate chains. We need yummy food and good service as my boyfriend and I have different priorities. Looking for something that would represent the tastes of Portland. I have read the boards, and it looks like Navarre, Le Pidgeon, Simpatica, Clarklewis, Wildwood, Andina, Park Kitchen, Alba Osteria, and Fenouil may fit our tastes. Please help, I can only pick one!!

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  1. Le Pigeon, Clarklewis, and Simpatica can be pretty noisy. Wildwood can be decently noisy if you're not in a booth. Park Kitchen has you jammed in pretty tight with other customers, so while I don't recall it being especially noisy, it's not exactly good for a private conversation. I would not describe Alba or Fenouil as noisy. However, I don't think either one of them say "Portland" especially well. One's pretty solidly Italian while the other is pretty solidly French. They're both quite good, but I don't know if you're getting food that you couldn't get elsewhere. Same with Andina, except it might be tougher to find Peruvian food depending on where you are.

    You might want to look at Hurley's or Paley's Place, especially the latter, which will have more ingredients from the NW. However, if it were me, I would probably go with Wildwood which is a happy medium and request a booth.

    1. Of the places you mentioned, I'd go with Alba or Navarre. Alba is northern Italian, so you understand.

      Navarre is usually pretty quiet early in the eve.

      Both are great places to eat!

      1 Reply
      1. re: MichaelG

        While I love Navarre and highly recommend it, I do think the service is a little idiosyncratic. They know the food and the wine very well, but sometimes they aren't real highly attentive. Maybe this is OK with you (it is with me) but I'd want you to know what to expect.

        Genoa is very quiet and has great service, and if money is really no object for you it could be just the place!

      2. I vote for Paley's Place (food and service are something special), and if you'd like to walk there, there's a very nice place to stay just 1 short block away at the Northrup Station:

        Paley's Place reviewed:

        1. I would concur with the recommendation for Paley's Place. I don't think there's any place that says "Portland" better. It can be a little cramped, but in a good dinner party kind of way if that makes any sense. Service is excellent and the "Northwest" food is very impressive. I also agree with the assessment that Alba and Fenouil are good, but not so different from other restaurants in other cities (and primarily Italian and French as pointed out). One other place to check out would be Alberta Street Oyster Bar & Grill. Don't let the name fool you. I haven't been there yet, but based on a recent article in Portland Monthly "Best Restaurants 2006: 15 Restaurants Changing the Way We Eat", it looks great. The sample dish in the picture was "heirloom pumpkin soup with chanterelles, chestnuts, foie gras and vanilla-scented apples". Le Pigeon is a place with a great feel and great food but the service is mixed: sometimes good, sometimes bad, and it will be near-impossible to get in with room for only about 25 and it being featured in the Portland Monthly article mentioned above along with the added distinction of the chef being voted "Chef of the Year".

          5 Replies
          1. re: daithimac

            Alberta Street is a good restaurant with interesting menu items, but it can get quite noisy as well.

            1. re: daithimac

              You're probably correct that a party of four wouldn't be able to get into Le Pigeon on a Friday night. But other diners shouldn't be discouraged from going because of the recent good press. I've heard that the wait for a table can be upwards of an hour on the weekends, but last Thursday we were able to walk right in after 9 PM and get a seat at the bar with a party of two. It was really good, too (and our service was excellent).

              1. re: Nettie

                I had good luck on a Thursday night too (party of 2 at the bar - hey, are you me??) and the service was excellent. More recently (but before the Portland Monthly press) I went on another weeknight and we waited for about 75 minutes for a table for two (the bar would have been fine too, the table just came up first) and the service was really bad (no cutlery when the main course arrived, wine order forgotten...taht kind of thing). But man I love that place - it's the feel and the attitude as much as the food for me.

                1. re: Nettie

                  I got into Pigeon with no wait and a party of three last Friday night (at a four-top, so we could have just as easilyl been four). I don't recall exactly what time it was, but it was distinctly early, but no earlier than 6, and perhaps pushing 7. RIGHT after we were seated, the floodgates opened, so we lucked out. And as the eve of Xmas weekend, it might have been unrepresentative. But if you can stand to dine early, go. (BTW, it would be my recommendation, both for the food and for the sheer Portlandness of it.)

                  1. re: purefog

                    We went to Le Pigoen at about 5:30 last Sat. night and had a choice of a two-top or sitting at the bar, and there was a 4-top available at that time. In about 5 minutes, that 4-top and every seat at the bar filled up and two other parties came in and put their names on the waiting list (they were referred to Doug Fir as a place to have a drink and wait for their cell phopne to ring). By about 5:45 the place was full with a waiting list...but if you get there before 5:30, you shouldn't have a problem.

                    Food was very good, btw. Great parnip and foie gras soup; beef cheeks bourguignon; flat iron steak; and honey/apricot cornbread with maple ice cream and bacon. I'd definitely recommend it.

              2. If you want a unique Portland experience, warm service, and good honest food that is very reasonably priced, Simpatica is my first choice in your list. It's not too noisy; no loud music; just lots of happy people chatting (Community seating.)
                Menu changes daily (you get the menu via their email list).

                Here is the menu for Friday 11-17-06. (Better call to see if they are not sold out already. (503)235-1600.


                Slow-Poached Tuna Salad with Olives, Eggs & Roasted Celery Root

                Soupe au Choux - Classic Cabbage & Pork Soup

                Roast New York Strip with Sweet & Sour Cipollini Onions & Roasted Fingerling Potatoes

                Hubbard Squash Tart with Spiced Whipped Cream

                Price per person is $35 plus Beverages & Gratuity
                Dinner begins at 7:30pm

                1. Thank you to all who made thier suggestions! We went with Wildwood and everything was wonderful, with exeption of the lamb.

                  What I can remember:

                  (KALE BRUSHETTA) - sounds strange I know, but was EXCELLENT. The Kale had been slow roasted and was just delish. If the waiter had not suggested it, I don't think we would have tried. I am so glad he did. I will probably try to figure this one out for home use.

                  (BUTTERNUT SQUASH TURNOVER - with duck confit) - This was mine and I only shared one bite with my honey as it was so good.

                  (GOAT CHEESE & SAGE PIZZA) - Appetizer. Had a wonderful flavor and was humoungous (for an appetizer). You could easily order this for a table appetizer for four.

                  (RUSSET POTATO GNOCCHI - fall vegetable ragoût, chestnuts and cashel blue cheese) - These gnocchi were great. The consistancy was right, and the ragout was so tasty. Not what you would think for a bunch of veggies. The only strange thing was the chestnuts. The texture was a little strange for the dish. But I ate the whole thing... Yum, yum!

                  (PAN SEARED PETRALE SOLE - truffled butternut squash, parsnips and brown butter hollandaise) - I didn't taste, but it was reported as very well cooked and there was none left on the plate at the end of the meal.

                  (CATTAIL CREEK FARM LAMB - saffron risotto, house made chorizo and pomegranate seeds) - My honey had this, and he said he had definately had better. I am not a lamb fan, so this dish came no where near my mouth.

                  (PAN ROASTED MUSCOVY DUCK - caramelized squash purée, brussels sprouts and orange brown butter) - I tried a bite of the duck and it was prepared wonderfully. The taste was so rich and flavorful.

                  (FLOURLESS CHOCOLATE CAKE - warm chocolate sauce, fennel ice cream and cocoa meringue cookie) - there were some unique spices in the chocolate cake that gave it a very unique taste. Fennel ice cream was a nice twist.

                  (DAGOBA DARK CHOCOLATE TRUFFLES) - who couldn't like dark chocolate dagoba truffels???

                  (2004 Bethel Heights Vineyard, "Estate", Willamette Valley, Pinot )- a little too young and sparkley for our table's taste. Waiter's suggestion, and it seemed that the waiter liked really light, young pinots. This one followed suit.

                  Overall, the restaurant was a great choice. Our waiter was a little stiff, but there were two or three others that we had interactions with and they were very funny and friendly. The dining area was nicely lit and the booths are very private. I would say that it was moderately noisy, but nothing we couldn't talk over comfortably.

                  Another yummy dinner...


                    1. Ok, going to Portland again! Yippe! Another chance to try a few restaurants! I think this time we are going to try to do lunch on the way in, and then lunch and dinner on the way out. So, plausably, I could make it to three restaurants! Anyone have good lunch recs?

                      P.S. I forgot to post about my other Portland experience, which was at Ten 01. We did lunch here, and I don't remember what we had, just that we liked it. I believe we also had a split of champagne and a glass of red with lunch. Sorry I can't be more specific! Thats what happens when you wait 6 months to post. Grrr..

                      4 Replies
                      1. re: soapgirl

                        Go to the new Lucier. See me earlier post, great new Portland spot.

                        1. re: soapgirl

                          Many places not open for lunch. Try Fenouil from your original list or Pok Pok for something completely different (easy bus ride). Or hit the food carts on Alder between 9th - 10th.
                          Also consider Sel Gris or Clyde Common for dinner.

                          1. re: soapgirl

                            Other good lunch recs are Wildwood, Kenny & Zuke's, Pambiche, Higgins (which I prefer for lunch over dinner anyway).

                            1. re: soapgirl

                              Thanks to all of those who have provided their gracious help here on the PDX board and beyond!

                            2. My vote: Alberta St Oyster Bar. If you want the creme de la creme, where only the most elegant will do, you might want to try Lucier. If you prefer fine dining in a more demure, classical setting, go for Paley's Place. If you want the same in a contemporary setting, go to Sel Gris. If you want to "open the windows" a little bit and have a room that's less dimly lit, but still want a classic, go for Wildwood. If you want to see a young rising star in a scene that is very much distinctly Portland, go to Le Pigeon.

                              1. Thanks for all the great suggestions! Now, I am finding it difficult to find a lunch place open on Sunday.... anybody have ideas?

                                Le Pigeon or Lucier might be winners for the dinner... well see!!

                                3 Replies
                                1. re: soapgirl

                                  How about trying a late brunch? For instance, Beast serves Sunday brunch from 11-2 according to their website (http://www.beastpdx.com/about). In the same nabe, Autentica serves a Mexican brunch. I know I've eaten lunch at Pambiche on Sundays if you're in the mood for Cuban food.

                                    1. re: SauceSupreme

                                      Kenny & Zuke's and Pambiche are two great recs. They are both open from breakfast until dinner on Sundays.

                                      Another great rec is Simpatica for brunch (there are some very lunchy things on the brunch menu). http://www.simpaticacatering.com/

                                  1. I am such a dork. I don't know why I thought we were having a Sunday lunch... we're not! Duh.

                                    So, I think for dinner I have it narrowed to:
                                    Paley's Place
                                    Alberta Street OB&G
                                    Le Pigeon

                                    For lunch, somehow I got stalled... so far I have Higgins and Fenouli, but now I know it is not Sunday, that makes a huge difference.

                                    For light pastry/coffee type breakfast what do you think about:
                                    Ken's Bakery & Cafe - and how about his pizza at the pizzaria??
                                    St. Honore

                                    5 Replies
                                    1. re: soapgirl

                                      Ken's Artisan Bakery would work.
                                      Ken's Artisan Pizza is fantastic but is dinner only, Tues-Sat.
                                      St. Honore is a good idea.

                                      This time, please report back. It encourages us to respond to other inquiries. = )

                                      1. re: Leonardo

                                        Leonardo, my original report on Wildwood is posted above. I just forgot to post about the other impromtu lunch spot we dined at.

                                        Ken's is on my list

                                      2. re: soapgirl

                                        What about Salty's on the Columbia - is this a total touristy trap, or is the seafood great like they say???

                                        1. re: soapgirl

                                          Yes, is a tourist trap. I don't know who "they" are.
                                          It's OK for happy hour and the view.
                                          Thanks for the thorough and helpful Wildwood report.

                                          1. re: soapgirl

                                            I got a certificate once from work for a free meal for two there. We went for brunch and for the price I paid it was totally worth it! But I certainly haven't gone back on my own dime.

                                        2. Thanks!! I think I'll stay away from Salty's...

                                          So, I think we are going to do Ken's Bakery for lunch (and take some tasty desserts and breads with us!!), and then Lucier for dinner. I almost did Le Pigeon... but maybe next time. I really wanted to do both, but dang, only time for one dinner!!

                                          1. Thanks to all of those who have provided their gracious help here on the PDX board and beyond!

                                            We ended up doing a lunch at Ken's Artisan Bakery and dinner at Lucier.

                                            Ken's Artisian Bakery
                                            Well, let me start with the good, and say the food was really fantastic. I went completely off the reservation and had a pulled pork sandwich and the BF had the Portabello croques monsieur. The pork had just the right amount of spice in the bbq and had been pulled perfectly, so that the fat had all been removed, and you were left with a juicy, tasty delight. One of the unique aspects was the sauce - it wasn't super heavy... kind of more like a marinade. Drippy yumminess on a wonderful ciabatta roll. The textures and flavors were magnificent.

                                            I managed to get a bite of the portabello croques monsieur. This tasty morsel was a baked delight. Served open faced on country bread, and with what I think was bechamel (maybe gruyre too) cheese, it was just awesome.

                                            We washed our lunch down with Limonatas, and were FULL!

                                            The down side to Ken's was, being from out of town, I guess I didn't know "where" to stand. I stood in front of the register for 10 minutes, and nobody helped me. They seemed very busy (with what, I don't know), and so I waited. Waited until a line formed at the pastry case, which was apparently where you were SUPPOSED to be if you wanted service. So, then I had to go to the back of the line (because like 5 people came in at the same time), and I waited another 10 minutes to get helped. ACK. So, I finally got to order, and she was very nice. But, because I ordered sandwiches, it took another 10 minutes for them to bake them to go. Normally, 10 minutes is no big deal, but add those waits together and you get 30 minutes!! Way to long to wait (before you even get your food) for two sandwiches. Moral of the story - don't be nice, be aggressive.


                                            7:00pm Reservation on a Saturday night


                                            The restaurant itself, was a tad hard to find, but that is because it is tucked behind two condos. Thankfully, they have put a sign out on the sidewalk, and when you see it, you know your close! The interior space was fantastic, it was clean lined, but not modern and the windows display a spectacular view of the river. While we had dinner, there were many other diners, and while the place hummed with a comfortable buzz, I was pleased to find that it was not overly noisy, as is the trend.


                                            As all the hype has eluded to, the service is done as a team effort. It seemed to really work out well, and we were never really in need of anything. There wasn't too much doting, but some of the “displays” were on the teeter totter edge of pretentious (Vinaigrette presentation on the salad – see below, and my BF thought the purse hanger on the table was a bit over the top). The sommelier really knew his wines, and made some great recommendations. The other stand out in service was Jeff, the maître fromager. We love cheese, and his service, knowledge and presentation was fantastic. The only complaint I have, was at the end of dinner, the team service “captian” brought the check without offering coffee (or dessert wines), which we wanted. When I mentioned it, the he said, no problem, they would bring it. Later, I apologized about giving him a hard time regarding the coffee, and instead of saying something like “oh, I should have offered it”, he said something to the effect of “oh, I have difficult tables all the time”. :o(


                                            Tasting Menu $100/pp, but you could do a three course plus wine and still be at about $85 - $100/pp



                                            List: Phenomenal!! We found great wines from all over the world, but also a great selection of wines from local wineries, and a ton of very small producers. Things you’ll know, but lots you won’t! Would take you a week to go through it wine by wine… as it was, it took us a good 15 minutes.

                                            Our wine for dinner was decided upon after conferring with the sommelier – he gave us many great choices, but again we went local with a small bottling from Dundee, OR, a 2005 Ayoub Pinot Noir. With only 220 cases in production, we figured it was a great way to try a smaller vintner. Fantastic wine with so many black fruit flavors!! It was rounded out perfectly by the delicate flavors picked up by the terroir - full of earth, and smokiness. YUM.

                                            We dove right in and did the chef's tasting menu – which was supposed to be formed around the availability of fresh heirloom tomatoes.

                                            (ROASTED LANGOUSTINE - foie gras cromesquis, tomato & pine needle eau de vie) – the langoustine (Norway lobsters – look like baby lobsters) were very tasty, and served tail in shell. The foie gras cromesquis was made just a tad too big for a one mouth tasty bite, as I think they are intended, so they needed to be cut on the plate. This was my first time trying a cromesquis in the states, and for those who don’t know… they are like little hors d’œuvre type creations with fois gras melted in the center of a breaded crust. Unfortunately, I found the middles to be a bit cool, and the foie gras a bit sweet. The pine needle eau de vie was, despite my reservations, rather tasty, crisp and light. I don’t remember any tomato on this plate, and I was looking, as the tasting menu was supposedly prepared around the heirloom tomato.

                                            (RABBIT LOIN PAUPIETTE & ROASTED LOBSTER - Haricots Verts and Armagnac Jus) – this was by far my favorite dish of the night (with the pheasant coming a close second). The rabbit was juicy, delicious, complimented perfectly by the Armagnac jus, just melt in your mouth and a wish you had more kind of food. Outstanding. The Haricots Verts were the smallest I have ever seen. The snappy texture was a great addition to the dish. The lobster was a small piece added as an aside to the rabbit, and although it was prepared perfectly and was tasty, the rabbit just stole the show.

                                            (WATERMELON CONSOMMÉ - basil & kumquat popsicle) – While this was tasty, the popsicle was a very hard to eat. The basil and kumquat were in layers with a metal “toothpick”. The problem was that the basil layer was frozen rock solid, while the kumquat base layer was melting onto the plate. The toothpick was not inserted all the way through the popsicle, and came right out when you tried to pick the thing up. Sticking it back through was impossible, because the basil ice was solid. So, after much juggling, poking, sliding, and playing we got the thing to slide off the plate and precariously balance on the toothpick just long enough for us to get it to our mouth. I could have done without the watermelon consommé – ah, it was ok. Nice thought on the intermezzo, but needs some tweaking.

                                            (CONFIT OF PHEASANT - seared scallop, potato galette, black licorice jus) – This dish was delicious. The confit was light, almost like a shredded pheasant and when eaten with the accompaniments, the flavors blended into a mouth watering delight. The scallop was cooked to perfection (and I am not a huge scallop fan). The black licorice jus was actually on the bottom of the plate and had a delectable slightly sweet, sticky, caramelized texture. Overall, just a wonderful dish!

                                            (HEIRLOOM TOMATO SALAD - green almonds, melon, brioche, ice wine vinaigrette) – So HERE are the tomatoes!! After 4 courses of no tomatoes on an heirloom tomato based tasting menu, it was nice to find them. The tomatoes themselves were delicious, and the ice wine vinaigrette was lovely… but served a bit pretentiously. It also felt a touch like chemistry class. The wait staff came out with the salads, and the dressing was in a test tube, corked and clasped in a set of reverse tongs (the kind that grip and you press to release). They shook it in front of us, making a big display and poured it on the salad. Well, it all just seemed a bit silly to me, but the dressing was good. The green almonds were “toasted”, but I found one with my teeth, and boy was it hard! I have bionic teeth (lots of reconstruction work), but still… these babies were like jaw breakers. Neither of us could eat them. The melon added a refreshing touch to the salad, but overall it was just a tomato salad. I would skip it if it were on the menu a la carte.

                                            (“WALK IN THE GARDEN” - fruit gaufrette, bruléed ravioli, fresh lychee fruit, sorbet (celery & ??)) - the bruleed ravioli was filled with sun dried tomatoes and the wrapper was candied pastry. To me, it was pretty un-tasty. We both left those on the plate. Lychee nuts are not my favorite… I tried them, but still didn’t like them! I think I ate one of the gaufrettes, but was so distracted by the ravioli, I don’t remember much about it. The sorbets were just a strange addition to a strange dessert. The celery sorbet would have made a lovely intermezzo.

                                            ** We added the rest (not on the tasting menu)

                                            CHEESE CART SERVICE - artisanal & farmstead cheese selection with accompaniments

                                            Clear Lake Blue
                                            Constant Bliss - Unpasturized Cow Milk
                                            Chevre Noir - Goat Milk Cheddar

                                            The cheese selection was unbelievable. All types and from many countries. Jeff, the maître fromager, was wonderful about informing us about cheeses we had never heard of. We picked three that were unknowns to us, one of them local. The Clear Lake Blue was the local cheese, and was my favorite. Tangy, creamy and wonderful. The Constant Bliss was the BF’s favorite, and was running a close second for me. Creamy wonderland for your palate. The Chevre Noir was nice, but next to the other selections, it was just lost. But you can believe we still ate it!! All cheese is yummy!! Each cheese was paired with an accompaniment, honey walnuts, champagne grapes and uh... somthing else (opps!! I forgot!). Too much wine.

                                            COFFEE – comes any way you like it (Americano, French press, drip, and all the espresso drinks). We got French press, and it was strong and dark.

                                            What a fabulous way to spend a Saturday night. The dinner, by and large, was relaxed, well timed and scrumptious. I would recommend Lucier in a heartbeat to anyone going to the Portland area.

                                            Ken's Artisan Bakery
                                            338 NW 21st Ave, Portland, OR 97209

                                            Lucier Restaurant
                                            1910 SW River Dr, Portland, OR 97201