Portland in August?
- equilibrist Jun 7, 2008 05:56 PM
I'm planning a trip from NYC to Portland, most likely in August and probably the week before Labor Day. I suspect the weather will be great then, but my question is whether there is any kind of tradition of restaurants closing during any part of August for vacation--as they sometimes do in Europe (and even certain restaurants with European owners in New York). Would it be a good time to visit the city? Thoughts? Suggestions for other times of year, or must-try dining experiences? I really haven't even started doing any research yet, but some of the restaurants I've heard have good word of mouth include
Lovely Hula Hands
and is Bread and Ink still a spot worth checking out? I remember eating there many years ago but don't know what it's like these days.
Those are all great choices...except Bread & Ink. Their best days were 20 years ago. I can't comprehend how they keep going.
Also consider Sel Gris, Wildwood, & Fife.
It's possible a small number of places will be closed, but the majority of what you mention will be open. Check their websites. It's a great time to visit! The Portland Farmers' Market will be at its peak. On the other hand, September weather is also outstanding, and you have better assurance that all places will be open.
Ditto--I had a bad experience with a scallop past its prime the last time I ate at Bread and Ink several years ago, and I haven't gone back.
Wasn't Sahagun closed for a large percentage of last August? That's about the only closure I can think of (and if they're open and you like chocolate, that's a great place to go--if not, go to Cacao).
Several years ago I looked at the rainfall statistics for the year. While September is drier than June, August is by far the driest month on average. It could rain then, of course, but it's less likely than other months. And summers here can be really nice--not too hot, and not humid.
It's true that last August Sahagun was closed the entire month. But other years it was somewhat less than that. I don't know the vacation schedule this year. To get your fix of handmade artisan single-origin truffles if they are closed, go to Alma.
Even though you are from NY, I"ll have the nerve to suggest you check out the pizza at Ken's Artisan.
As I'm getting closer to my trip, I'd like to re-solicit you Portland hounds' expert advice. After doing more research, I've decided that I definitely want to check out Le Pigeon and add Beast to the list--the chef's menu sounds amazing. Anyone want to weigh in on this?
Then, I was thinking I'd choose one of either Higgins, Paley's Place, or Wildwood, which all seem to offer quintessentially northwest cuisine. What are people's preferences?
I thought I'd definitely try to check out both Pok Pok and Lovely Hula Hands for less expensive meals--can't break the bank on every meal.
Clyde Common is definitely in the cards, at least for the bar menu, maybe more.
I definitely want to have some good Pac Northwest Oysters and it looks like Alberta Oyster Bar is the best choice for this (the rest of the menu sounds appealing as well). I realize that lots of places offer oysters as an app, but Alberta seems to have the biggest selection of oysters. Is there anyplace else for oysters I should know about?
Toro Bravo--I love tapas, but I can't seem to find a menu at their site. Is this someplace I shouldn't miss?
Finally, as it turns out, I will be traveling solo. Are these places a single diner will feel comfortable? Or, rather, will I get any resistance to making reservation for one at any of them? I'm fine with eating at the bar (in fact I like it) as long as I'm not crowded and jostled by others angling for a seat. I'm assuming that at a restaurant like Beast with a communal table, they won't mind seating a solo?
Thanks again for your thoughts.
Though not from Portland, I have been there quite a bit the last two years and had some excellent meals. Just two weeks ago I had some of the best yet.
Toro Bravo is a definite must. You will have to wait in line, but it is worth it. Wonderful food.
It is tough for me to choose between Paley's and WIldwood. I have eaten at both three times and loved them both every time. Two weeks ago, both meals were top notch. (The salads at Wildwood were mindblowing.) Personally, I'd go for those two rather than something like Le Pigeon. But that is just me.
Finally, we had another incredible meal at Fratelli. It was at the end of a trip all around Oregon and we just wanted some italian. Wow. This place was terrific; it beautifully combines Italian with some pacific northwest sensibility. The Lasagna was maybe the best I have ever had.
Finally, I personally have eaten at all but Toro Bravo solo. There is a chef's bar at Toro Bravo where you could dine solo, but it is probably the least 'solo' friendly. All the others were lovely when I dined alone.
re: Tom P
Toro Bravo is a great place to dine solo. You will have to wait for a bar seat but usually not very long and they have a small waiting area where you can grab a drink in the meantime.
I actually enjoy dining solo so I can sit at the bar and watch it all go down in the kitchen. As I no longer work in the restaurant business, I usually go to restaurants where you can sit and watch the kitchen execute the meals. I find it fascinating.
Other great places to dine solo are: Higgins, Clyde Common, Ten-01, Fratelli, Southpark. And although they all do not necessarily have open kitchens, they have nice bar areas to dine in. Just to name a few but there are many more.
June Menu for Toro Bravo: http://www.pfmenus.com/?p=70
In my book it is a MUST.
For solo dining at the bar, I'd be happy at Le Pigeon, Higgins (they have a more casual pub portion), Wildwood, PokPok, and ToroBravo. You may want to make a LePigeon reservation.
Lovely Hula Hands - perhaps not so much solo (but a great place for dinner).
The other places you mentioned I can't speak to.
Just had dinner at Wildwood on Saturday the 16th. Very nice restaurant with good local ingredients, and a great place for either solo or group dining. It has about a 10 seat bar (there are also tables in the bar) that was completely empty at 7:30 on a Sat. night. I booked reservations the day before, and this is another plus.
Great list! Sort of.
The follow up comments are spot on.
Another place to consider is Carlyle. It has to be one of the best places that just hums along consistently putting out remarkable food with graceful service. Also great for solo dining.
I rank it far and above Higgins, Paley's, and Park Kitchen. These places are good mind you but I feel as though they went pop when their only peers were places like The Olive Garden.
At the very least, better to go with some of the other suggestions like Ten01, ABSOBG, Wildwood, Sel Gris, or Toro Bravo.
Also something to think about since you were interested in the Bread and Ink is Simpatica, wonderful.
Have a great trip.
Every place you mentioned is worth trying, but here is my two cents.
I just ate at Wildwood last week and it was top-to-bottom an excellent meal. I mean excellent. I was really impressed. Not to say it will do that for everyone, but they are on their game right now as far as I am concerned.
Le Pigeon, Toro Bravo and Beast are musts. You just have to eat there. They are amazing. Those chefs have serious talent and care about what they put on your plate. I will also say that Fife does some real simple, wonderful food.
And lastly, if you can find the time or way to fit it in, go eat brunch at the Country Cat. Get the fried chicken and a basket of cinnamon rolls. Just do it. That chicken is sublime. Everyone says: "It's too far out there!", but really it isn't that hard to find.
Country Cat is too far out there from where? If you're downtown, four miles or so straight up burnside to 82nd hang a right, up to stark and hang another right. I agree, it is easy enough to find. And there is no place I've found so far in Portland where I'm uncomfortable dining alone. Hope you enjoy your stay.
i'd have to echo the Ten01 suggestions. If you are wanting a great burger, check out Life of Riley's (tavern).
feel like supporting soon-to-be chefs? check out the 4 course dinner at OCI - for 14 bucks, it's a great deal, and the food is great!
Thanks to everyone for your help in setting my Portland dining itinerary. I'm now back and had a fantastic time. Part of the reason for my trip was to see if I could imagine myself living in Portland--and based on my eating experiences, at least, I'd have to say yes!
FIrst, sadly, the places that were originally on my definite to-do list but which I didn't get to. I like to tell myself that this just means I have to come back sometime soon and try them. I didn't get to Toro Bravo--I know it's supposed to be fantastic and I love tapas, but I do eat a lot of it in New York and LA and other cities, and it didn't seem to be as quintessentially Portland/Northwest as some of the other experiences.
Secondly, and I can't even really answer why, I didn't make it to Le Pigeon. This is a real regret. I had told myself that I would go the last night I was there before an evening flight, but it was Sunday and it was raining and I was short on time, and it seemed too difficult to find it on foot, and later cab back to my hotel (the Ace) and then make my way to the airport. So, next time.
Because I was staying at the Ace, Clyde Common was my go-to spot a lot of the time. I made my way through their bar snacks and cocktail list (loved the Anemic Marty, with seasoned vodka and celery juice, and the cocktail with rye and blackberries--forget the name). Also ate dinner at the bar there and had a memorable meal including a peach shortcake with black-pepper ice cream and basil syrup.
I checked out many of the happy hour cocktail specials in the Pearl District and particularly enjoyed Ten01’s happy hour—had dollar oysters and $5 wines, plus (another night) a drink with tequila, lime, grapefruit soda and bitters on the rocks. Mmm.
I ate lunch at Wildwood one day, and although the food wasn't the best I've ever had, sitting outside on their porch was so pleasant and my server was so helpful and welcoming (an experience I had repeatedly in PDX, not just at restaurants) that it was one of my more memorable meals. Lunch was a panzanella to start, but not a traditional one--the bread/croutons retained their crunchiness and were served with red and yellow cherry tomatoes as well as basil, cucumber and wax beans. I followed that with an Oregon albacore tuna salad with pink Chioggia beets, peaches, arugula, fennel, and onion. The menu description on the tuna salad also promised some ricotta salata which, sadly, did not materialize.
What else--I hit Park Kitchen for lunch and had a wonderful chilled melon soup with feta and almonds, as well as their famous house-made hot dog, which I just could not finish.
I also dined at the bar at Alberta Oyster Bar one night, though I didn't delve too deeply into their menu--I stuck to oysters and then a scallop dish with some pork belly, which was supposedly an appetizer but together with the oysters made for plenty for me.
I had lunch at Pok Pok one day with a friend of a friend. I think I need to find out more about what makes this place so great, because I don’t think we ordered all that well, or it just wasn’t that memorable. My friend had a pork dish recommended by our waiter, which she pronounced monotonous (I forget the name, but I tasted it and agreed). I had the Pok Pok special of sticky rice, roasted game hen, and papaya salad, and while it was fine, it wasn’t anything I’d recommend highly to anyone. Frankly I don’t know all that much about the nuances of Thai food but I feel as though I’ve had better Thai in LA (Saladang and some others I’m forgetting) and in NY and DC than I did at Pok Pok.
I found that as the week went on my appetite seemed to shrink—since this was somewhat more of an eating trip than is usual for me, I was hardly able to face big dinners by the end of the trip (one reason I didn’t go to Le Pigeon that last night, I think). That meant that I had a light-ish dinner at Paley’s the night I ate there—two appetizers and sorbet. My salad was fantastic—perfectly ripe pears with prosciutto and goat cheese and maybe something else. Then I had Dungeness crab cake sliders, which were maybe a tad disappointing. I hadn’t had any Dungeness crab yet in PDX and wanted to do so, but I found that the crab taste was a little overwhelmed by a kind of spicy squash/tomato salsa that came on the sliders. They were also a little messy, which I don’t mind, but I thought the crab flavor got lost somewhat. It also doesn’t help that I have ties to Baltimore and I’m very particular about my crab cakes! Anyway, service couldn’t have been nicer at Paley’s; my server brought me complimentary cookies and dessert wine to go with my sorbets.
Finally, my big splurge of the week—Beast, which I actually went to mid-week, which is good because my appetite was still relatively intact. The thing that stands out most to me from that meal is the concept, the extended, no-choices menu and communal dining, ideas that I like a lot in theory but which were made somewhat awkward by the fact that I was seated with a group of three (a father, his daughter and the daughter’s boyfriend) with no one else at our table (there were four other empty seats at the long table for the entire meal), yet we were all seated as though we were one party and it made it necessary to converse at least somewhat throughout the meal—which I didn’t really mind but which I felt somewhat bad about for the other people involved. It was definitely awkward, but the dining experience was worth it. I did think the menu felt a little heavy for the season—not the meat aspect of it, just the dishes chosen. For example, the starter was a “summer vegetable soup with grape-leaf and pine-nut salsa,” but it wasn’t at all light—rather, more like a hearty vegetable stew you’d expect to get in mid-winter, with squash and maybe even eggplant (I’m not remembering). I loved the charcuterie and foie gras bon bon that came later, though, and the dessert was a highlight—fig, caramel, and chocolate tarts with black pepper and cardamom ice cream.
Sorry for the length of this report, but thanks again to all Portland hounds for your help!
If you're comparing Pok Pok to Saladang, then perhaps you need to explore more of the Thai options in Los Angeles as well... places like Jitlada, Sanamluang and Ruen Pair.
(By and large, the consensus among frequent visitors of both NYC and LA is that, other than Sriprahai, LA beats NYC, and Sriprahai is only a push.)
I think Pok Pok fits better if PDX had a true Thai Town, but then again, only one city has a Thai Town (again, Los Angeles, whose Thai population is so huge it actually has *two* Thai Towns). I say that because with Pok Pok's focus on Chiang Mai and Isaan style Thai food, it would be a fantastic part of a Thai neighborhood where you could have Thai food from other regions as well.
But as it is, Pok Pok is Portland's lone shining example of regional Thai, but even outside of that context I think it's still quite good. Reading the rest of your post, it seems like you were surprised that it was so (lack-of-a- better-word) straightforward.
Toro Bravo would have been excellent barometer for this, as it is straightforward tapas. Classic tapas done very well. And certainly, certain dishes at Clyde Common also reflect this aesthetic: my favorite dish of the moment there is the lomo and soft scrambled egg. Imaginative and daring? Hardly. Sublime and delicious? Most certainly.
I understand your sentiment with regards to crab cakes. I grew up in Norfolk, Virginia, and I love me some blue crab. PDX seems to lack a truly great seafood place on par with Hungry Cat and Providence, let alone Le Bernardin. Alberta St Oyster Bar is prolly the closest we get, and it's a young restaurant still so great things might be yet to come.
Glad to hear you had a great time, and I hope you get a chance to visit again soon. There's even more good chow waiting, and you've barely scratched the surface.
Quoting the above post: "Toro Bravo would have been excellent barometer for this, as it is straightforward tapas. Classic tapas done very well."
This place does not do classic tapas with "classic tapas" flavors. Neither are they straightforward...nothing I had there in my visit was really faithful to Spanish sensibilities, flavors were out of balance, dishes overly complicated, and not at all pleasing....to me. The name is Spanish, but the food really isn't. "Inspired" maybe, as their website attests, but certainly not the real deal.... why this place gets such raves is beyond me. Spanish pals agree that it has little to do with Spain.
Oh I agree with you, and I was in no way going to put it up there with any place in San Sebastian, but my point was that the OP seemed to be looking for a certain menu approach, and I would have been curious as to what they'd done with a dish composed of, say, just fried padrons.
Oh, well, fried padron peppers with a good olive oil and salt are one of my absolute favorites, and I've eaten them in several cities although none have been as memorable as those I've had in Barcelona. I also love a well-prepared patatas bravas with a side of spicy salsa brava and aioli, a plate of boquerones, and many other simple dishes. In fact, I much prefer simple and elegant of almost anything rather than anything overly fussy--which is, I think, why I was a bit disappointed at Pok Pok with my semi-dry game hen and a papaya salad that was just eh. If it's going to be simple, it's gotta have flavors that shine through! But I think I just need help in ordering better at Thai places. I've never been to Thailand and I don't know the cuisines. By the way, we have some new Thai place, Rhong Tiam, in NY in the west village that is getting very good notices. Some people are saying it's better than Sripraphai, but I haven't tried it yet.
One question I had about Pok Pok was about their drinks with fruit vinegars (I think). They sounded quite intriguing but I ended up having a local (forget what) draft beer instead. What are the vinegar drinks like? Are they a regional specialty?
The drinking vinegars are mixed with soda water to give it fizz and to help dilute the acidity. Think of it like really tasty Sprite. Pok Pok and Tanuki both have drinking vinegar on the menu, and a lot of Korean markets carry drinking vinegar. My favorite drinking vinegar flavor is mulberry, at Tanuki.
Speaking of simple dishes, the lomo and soft-scrambled eggs at Clyde Common are no longer on the menu. *weep*