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Dec 1, 2006 08:15 PM

Portland and Willamette food and vineyard recommendations, please!

My husband and I are newly married and looking to spend a special birthday out in OR in January. We are looking for a restaurant for one night in Portland: he does not like anything too stuffy or formal; also we would like pacific northwest type cuisine--i.e. not french or italian food we could get elsewhere and a romantic/pretty venue--fabuluous food. Lots of requirements, I know! Any ideas?
then, heading to Willamette for two nights. i read some of the old posts on vineyards, but there is nothing recent. what are some of the best smalmer producers/cool tasting rooms/fabulous pinots? Heard about Domaine Serene and Drouhin...what else...esp. if anyone knows what they are pouring right now--new vintages in? And then, need a cute lunch place and a great dinner place with local food. Painted Lady is closed (o would be our first choice) and Joel Palmer seems a bit too stuffy/menu with many items I can have at home. any ideas/help is greatly appreciated! thanks!

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  1. It's probably much tougher to find a stuffy/formal restaurant in Portland than the opposite. I would say among the places you might hear about, the ones that would probably be a bit too much in that direction would be Paley's Place, Hurley's, and Genoa.

    The tough part is having something be both romantic and casual, I would say. Usually those two descriptions are somewhat inversely related.

    I would say you'd find a happy medium at Wildwood. It's also very NW-focused. A little more on the casual side is Park Kitchen. Again, very NW-focused. I think someone could argue that clarklewis is more romantic than PK because it's so damned dark inside, but I find the industrial interior and uncomfortable chairs conducive to romance only in the same way that a horror movie is: in the latter, the machete wielding nutjob causes your date to seek comfort in your arms, in the former, the torturific furniture requires a post-meal massage. But the food is good, even if a bit spottier with their chef on leave. Le Pigeon is another that is a bit more casual than PK, I would say, but also very good and still somewhat local.

    3 Replies
    1. re: extramsg

      thanks for the insight. I agree with your comments, as romantic tends to associate with formal. Would prefer fun and local cuisine (not too trendy, though) over that. that said, wildwood sounds the best fo those, although I was a bit turned off that the entrees were the list you find everywhere nowadays, one pork, duck, steak, lamb, etc. Other thoughts were 1010 in the pearl and alberta street oyster (love their menu)! thoughts about these three choices? thanks!

      1. re: ljero

        Yeah, that can be annoying. You'll find that the most interesting stuff is what's around the mains or what's in the appetizers, often. It's safer for a decent sized restaurant. Le Pigeon does a lot of interesting meats. Things like pig's tail and beef cheeks.

        Also, one I didn't mention is Alberta Street Oyster Bar. Still relatively local, at least as romantic as Park Kitchen, probably moreso. The strikes against it are that it's not especially close to downtown and they really need a pastry chef who knows what they're doing.

        And really, if you want, most places around here that make good food have a decent amount of local ingredients. There's a lot less effort to ship things in from all over the globe like you find in, say, Chicago or NY fine dining.

      2. re: extramsg

        Genoa is wonderful, and not stuffy. It is what I would consider, comfortable. The dining concept is both gracious, leisurely and enjoyable. Old World qualities with New World approach. I've normally dined with a small group of friends and noticed most tables of couples out for a romantic dinner.

        Higgins is another place to consider. Nice wine list with knowledgeable staff.

        Domaine Drouhin has some fabulous wines, as does Domaine Serene. But don't overlook the other smaller producers. If you want a local's suggestion, drop by Liner and Elsen wine merchant. Bob (the owner) would be able to provide some suggestions based on what you want to experience in your travels through the vineyards. If you head west toward McMinnville try Nick's Italian Cafe. I venture to guess you can get Italian anywhere, but you can't get Nick's cuisine.

        Congratulations, best wishes, and happy birthday!

      3. One idea would be to go to Albert St Oyster Bar for dinner (it's not _that_ far from downtown) and then stop at Pix for dessert--the one on N Williams wouldn't be too far out of your way going back to downtown. The atmosphere isn't at all stuffy, but you'd enjoy it as a couple on a romantic night, and the desserts are awesome.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Nettie

          A good idea and what my wife and I did the last time we went. (Although we did try a dessert at ASOBG.) They do have a fixed price tasting menu, too, that doesn't include dessert.

        2. So weare down to Paley's Place, Wildwood (a high booth) and ASOBG for dinner. All things considered what has the best PNW food, atmosphere, etc.? We were also considering a Portland Happy Hour, too...maybe Fenouil? thoughts? Staying at 5th Avenue Suites (unless someone has beetter idea), if that helps any.thanks so much!

          1 Reply
          1. re: ljero

            They're different, so it depends on you. Paley's is the most formal and arguably the most stuffy of the three. I don't think it's truly stuffy, but depending on your husband he could perceive it as such. Alberta Street is the least formal/stuffy. The dining room is shaped around the bar. It's simple, moderately casual, but elegant/chic, with nice windows looking out to the street and mild lighting. Wildwood is somewhere in the middle, I'd say. ASOB will be the noisiest. Paley's the least so. Wildwood has a nice bar where you can watch your food be prepared in front of you. I enjoy sitting there the most. It's also the most NW ingredient focused of the three.

            Here's a pic of ASOB's interior:


            It's the least formal, so the others will be less casual than that.

          2. P.S. What is atmosphere at Pix like? Desserts there sound great (checkout their site) but not many pics. What are they known for? Usually not much of a dessert freak, but love dessert wines, etc and on thursday they have that weekly tasting--anjyone done it?
            Could it be possible to do happy hour, then dinner, then dessert--movable feast?

            3 Replies
            1. re: ljero

              I have pics of the inside at Pix. Their north Portland location is much more comfortable:


              You can't see the seating in that pic, but it gives you an idea of the interior.

              1. re: ljero

                I'm having a hard time thinking of how to describe the atmosphere at Pix. The typical customers are younger urban hipster types, but as someone who can no longer be classified as young, I don't feel uncomfortable there. I would certainly say that it isn't stuffy (don't they sell Bazooka Joe bubble gum in addition to the higher end desserts?)

                I'm not a drinker, but I do seem to remember dessert wines there. My husband likes dessert wines, but he generally gets the beers (dessert beers?) at Pix--they have a great selection that you don't see at other places in town.

                1. re: Nettie

                  They have a full bar. They do a beer float on occasion.

              2. Pix has a great menu of dessert wines, beers, etc. and their desserts are some of the best in town. I think that they always have stout floats available. My current favorite dessert there is a seasonal one - the Ichabod Creme: a crisp crust filled with spiced almond cream and pecans, golden caramel, and topped off with a pumpkin crème brûlée. YUM!!!

                For the dinner in PDX, though, I would recommend Carlyle (, though they also have a great happy hour. If you want to stick to downtown happy hours, saucebox's happy hour has both food and drinks that are discounted and very tasty. (


                In wine country, if you are looking for places where you don't need an appointment to taste (in addition to Domaine Serene and Domaine Drouhin), I would recommend:
                Adelsheim (
                Bergstrom (
                )Cuneo (
                )Scott Paul (


                Adelsheim and Bergstrom are close to each other in Newberg, and Cuneo and Scott Paul are very close together in Carlton.

                There is also The Eyrie ( in Dundee, and down near Salem there is Cristom ( and Bethel Heights (

                If you want to make some appointments to taste, in Newberg (or close by) there is Owen Roe ( and Patricia Green (; in Carlton there is Lemelson ( and Belle Pente (, and down by Salem is Brickhouse Vineyards.

                These places to eat in wine country (other than the Painted Lady, which is great) have received good reviews here and at

                La Rambla - McMinnville (
                )Nick's Italian Cafe - McMinnville(
                )Orchards Bistro - MicMinnville
                Cuvee - Carlton
                French Bear - Newberg