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Aug 7, 2008 12:09 PM

Top-notch, affordable, sublime Portland spots?

I'm taking the bf to Portland for a surprise trip next week (Thurs-Sat). It's not much time, and I want to hit up the very best downtown Portland has to offer. We're not on a budget, per se, but kind of.

Basically, I'm looking for dowtown Portland restaurants satisfying the following requirements:

- Reasonable portion sizes/small-plates style
- Captures the essence of Portland
- Local, top-quality ingredients
- Not "cheap", but won't break the bank; bistro-level pricing
- Gracious, intelligent, non-obtrusive service
- Affordable and locally focused wine selection
- Comfortable/casual, yet classy (no dress code, but no slobs either)
- Within walk/bus/cab distance from Hotel Monaco (SW Washington and SW 5th)
- Great happy hour a plus

To illustrate the types of places I'm talking about, some Seattle reference points are Tilth, Crush, Quinn's, Tavolata, How to Cook a Wolf, Le Pichet, Txori, La Carta de Oaxaca, TASTE at the Seattle Art Museum.

In perusing all of the Portland recs here on Chowhound, I've come up with the following potential places:

- Le Pigeon: Sounds pretty uniformly excellent
- Paley's Place
- Higgins
- Pok Pok
- Clyde Commons: The closest thing to a PDX version of Quinn's?
- ten01
- Sel Gris
- Carlyle: Sounds a bit on the fancy end?
- Simpatica: For good brunch?
- Park Kitchen
- Wildwood

Any light you wonderfully knowledgeable food-tastic folks could shed on some recommendations would be so appreciated--and I'd be sure to post back with a full review once we return.

<3 Young and Hungry

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  1. The two that should bubble up immediately are ten-01 and Clyde COMMON (not plural). ten-01 has the best wine list in the city and Clyde Common is, as ExtraMSG puts it, an Eastside restaurant in a downtown location (east of the river, away from downtown, is where it's at if you're looking for chow).

    ten01 has a great happy hour, as does Clyde Common. Both are among my favorite cocktail joints, too, along with Teardrop Lounge. Speaking from experience, all are "stumbling" distance from the Hotel Monaco.

    I would never dissuade anyone going to Pok Pok. While you're in that part of Portland, there's also Lauro and Pix Patisserie, and you can even visit the Stumptown Roaster if you're a coffee geek like me.

    The place where I think you'll really enjoy is Toro Bravo. It's kinda like Lark, but Lark is really stuffy by comparison, and Lark's got a much smaller small-plates menu than TB does. TB's menu also rotates on a regular basis, though you can always get the popular items like the sous vide pork.

    Two other places you didn't mention that I would seriously consider:

    Biwa (Japanese izakaya meets Pacific NW)
    Nostrana (rustic Italian, including my favorite pizza in the city)

    5 Replies
    1. re: SauceSupreme

      Thanks, SauceSupreme--it seems that you know exactly what I'm looking for.

      What's your opinion on Le Pigeon? The buzz has been deafening for it.

      I love, love, love, Lark--interesting to hear your opinion that it's stuffy. I feel like the interior, service, and presentation are relatively low-key, considering the quality of food, the reputation and the prices. It's one of the few places that seem to succeed at being comfortable without any sacrifice to quality.

      Nostrana's pizza--what's the style? Neopolitan? I am huge fan of Via Tribunali here in Seattle.

      And now that I've been doing some research, I'm wondering about food carts and inexpensive eats as well--bakeries, cafes, etc. I've heard Voodoo is great, and we have a Stumptown here, so I'm familiar with its high-quality coffee. That's probably material for another thread, but thought I'd ask since you seem to be the Portland authority around here. :D

      1. re: young and hungry

        The cart thing here is incredible: Sugar Cube for sweets, Samurai Bento, Spella Coffee, Give Pizza A Chance and their handmade sodas (unfortunately the best carts are M-F mostly lunch). Seeing as Stumptown has already expanded to Seattle, you should give Spella Coffee a try.

        Top bakeries: Pearl, Ken's Artisan Bakery. Go to Portland Farmers' Mkt on Saturday AM to check them out, as well as Pine State Biscuits!
        Favorite pizza: Ken's Artisan Pizza.

        Heartily agree that Teardrop Lounge is a don't-miss.
        Sel Gris is really expensive, IMHO "breaking the bank" as you say?

        I tip my hat to you for actually doing some research and thought into your post, and promising to report. You certainly wrote the book on how to make a visitor's request!

        1. re: Leonardo

          Thanks, Leonardo! We are sadly lacking in a strong street-food culture, although times are a' changin' with the likes of Pike St. Fish Fry and Skillet. Street food is one of my favorite parts of urban living, so I hope Seattle's options soon equal Portland's.

          What do you like at Teardrop, Pearl, Ken's, etc? I love to hear specific suggestions on what to order.

          1. re: young and hungry

            TB is most definately a special occasion place.

            Ken's Artisan Pizza has a 15,000 pound clay oven from France, where it is over 800 degrees. So the pizza cooks fast with minimal toppings. Get the margherita. Don't miss the seasonal roast vegie plate. If a weekend get there early or late, otherwise be prepared to wait!

            Pearl is great for lunch sandwiches, or just go to the PFM and get any baked good.

            What to drink at Teardrop? Anything. They have seasonal specials that highlight local produce (of course!). Great happy hour.

          2. re: Leonardo

            An interesting note about Spella. He is well-schooled in the Italian way of blending an roasting espresso, and so, uses a good Brazilian bean as the base for his blend, as he says, and do others, that Brazilian beans are almost always the base for "true" Italian espresso blends. He says, and others corroborate, that neither Stumptown, nor any of the other major roasters in town incorporate Brazilians in their espresso. I roast my own beans and am currently using a single Brasilian as my espresso of is fully balanced with lots of fruit, body and chocolate, among other characteristics. Most blend to achieve these qualities, using a single origin like the Cachoeira I'm using, is maybe a better way to go, I don't know. The point is, Spella is to be admired for his stand on the value of Brazilians which many here seem to, if not dismiss out of hand, at least choose to ignore. It's well worth stopping at his cart for an interesting chat.

      2. I'm actually in Seattle for the day with the intent to try out some of the spots that Y&H is using as a comparison. Just had lunch at Quinn's (and reporting from Caffe Vita next door).

        Based on my one meal, I'd say that Quinn's is actually more like Castagna here in Portland. Locavorish ingredients, great drink list, simple dishes well executed. They even share the zinc bar.

        Clyde Common exhibits more St. Johns "snout to tail" philosophy than either. The menu is just more daring. Again, I only have a short sample size, but I'd put CC ahead of Quinn's.

        I don't think that Lark is stuffy, only stuffy when comparing it to the totally laid back Toro Bravo. I think it's great also, and ranks right up there with Cafe Juanita in terms of favorite Seattle restaurants (though obviously CJ isn't in SEA proper).

        I am now noticing that Via Tribunali is down the block.

        2 Replies
        1. re: SauceSupreme

          What a coincidence! I hope you're enjoying some of my favorite spots!

          Quinn's is a home-run, and I'm so pleased you liked it. It epitomizes the type of place that gets me really excited about the direction contemporary American restaurants, especially in the Northwest, are heading. If it's between Castagna and Clyde Common, I think I'm going to go with CC--love snouts, love tails.

          Toro Bravo is officially on the list. Would you say it's special enough for a birthday dinner?

          And I do hope you had some pizza at Tribunali--they're one of the handful of certified Neopolitan pizzerias in the country!

          1. re: SauceSupreme

            Just thought of this--but if you're around for dinner, you should check out Txori in Belltown. It's a Spanish pintxos place run by the Harvest Vine folks (a fantastic restaurant, one of Seattle's best), and it sounds very similar to Toro Bravo.

            Pitch-perfect tapas, reasonably priced, flawlessly executed--I'm pretty sure you'd love it.

            1. Just got back from my day trip. Lunch at Quinn's which I already posted about. Having all day to think about it, I still stand by original assessment that Clyde has a more daring menu.

              I think both Quinn's and CC execute their menus very well, and I would be happy if either were to be my neighborhood gastropub. But sometimes I want duck heart ravioli, popcorn and pimenton, a whole fried fish and a shot of aquavit. For that reason, I'm glad I've got Clyde.

              Anyway, dinner was pizza at Via Tribunali. I gotta say I was a little underwhelmed, but I think us PDXers are pretty spoiled when it comes to pizza. Ken's Artisan Pizza, Apizza Scholls and Nostrana are all putting really effing great pizza. The most direct connection would be the Neapolitan pizza at Nostrana, but even *that's* not the most celebrated pizza in Portland (Ken's Artisan Pizza and Apizza Scholls tend to split the honors, with Scholls probably getting an edge). And Nostrana isn't a dedicated pizzeria.

              A caveat: I ordered prosciutto e funghi. Now, I was imagining it would be a mushroom pie with pieces of cured proscuitto on top. In truth, it was a ham and mushroom pizza. Now, I'm no pizza dummy, I know that too many toppings ruins a crust, and that's exactly what happened. The center got too soggy, and while the edge of the pie had nice char to it, that char didn't even extend an inch past the outer perimeter.

              What I need to do is go back to Via Tribunali and order something like the anchovy or a margherita pizza, something with the bare minimum of toppings and compare apples to apples (and specifically, crust to crust).

              Anyway, if Portland pizza is on your radar, definitely check out Ken's Artisan Pizza and Apizza Scholls. If small plates are on your radar, do Toro Bravo since it definitely fells more "special occasion" than CC, but I would recommend doing CC if you have time, particularly if you're a fan of Quinn's Pub.

              If it's cocktails you want, order what Leonardo recommended at Teardrop: "Anything." Keep in mind that they've got quite an extensive knowledge of cocktails, and will certainly appreciate it if you asked for the classics like a Last Word or Corpse Reviver #2 or a Hemingway Daquiri. Heck, I tell Teardrop rookies to order a gin and tonic, just so you get an idea that these guys aren't messing around and this isn't your typical bar. The seasonal menu they show you is just a small subset of the drinks they pour. Be sure to check out their collection of house-made bitters and tinctures.

              (And the bar that all of us PDX cocktailians are waiting for: Beaker and Flask, headed by Kevin Ludwig. Due to open any day now. The place where Kevin is working right now: Clyde Common.)

              2 Replies
              1. re: SauceSupreme

                Just arrived this afternoon in Portland, and have already hit up two on the list--Clyde Common for happy hour and ten01 for dinner.

                CC is awesome. Love the spartan, clean aesthetic--much airier and more industrial than Quinn's. We weren't very hungry at that point, so we went for some of the special happy hour cocktails. A standout was the Anemic Marty--a clever riff on a Blood Mary, with a pleasant vegetalness from the celery and a deliciously savory, spicy salted rim. We also tried a glass of Trillium absinthe (made in the Willamette Valley), poured out of a lovely absinthe fountain. Their tonic is housemade (with this unexpected, intense brown color), so I'd definitely recommend trying their gin and tonic--the complexity of flavor in homemade tonic blew my mind, and as soon as I get back I'm looking up how to concoct my own.

                We also split a plate of fries, served with a saucer of creme fraiche and harissa. The fries looked a little sad and pale upon arrival, but I think I'm just used to the overabundance of skin-on, limp, deep brown fries, which have become very popular (and which I incidentally do love). The fries were supercrisp, more Belgian frites-style, and the harissa was an unexpected, fun twist, but they weren't earthshattering. But for $3, a total steal, and a great pre-dinner snack.

                Then on to ten01. The condo-y exterior and aesthetic isn't usually my cup of tea, but the looks don't mean nearly as much as the food, as we all know. We were seated immediately, service was gracious and attentive. Started off with a plate of jamon serrano and the heirloom gazpacho. The gazpacho was wonderful, especially on such a hot day (record high of 101!)--such fresh flavor, with beautiful punctuations of bell pepper and perfectly poached shrimp for sweetness and substance.

                Mains were the day boat scallops (with chorizo) and honey-roasted squab. The squab was pretty great. Since squab is pretty measly in size, the kitchen more than made up for it by setting it atop a nicely crisped crepe stuffed with English peas and goat cheese--and then a heap of the loveliest Dungeness crab salad with grapefruit and zucchini ribbons. I almost wished I could've just had a bowlful of that salad--the crab was luscious and so, so sweet.

                To cap things off, we split the chocolate swirl cheesecake with blackberry puree, which was quite fine, although at this point I was too stuffed to notice much besides the superb quality of the chocolate. Followed by plate of complimentary sweets (the gelees were fantastic), I was pretty thankful our hotel is only a few blocks away.

                We also shared a bottle of a fantastically priced Willamette blanc de blanc, which was pleasantly dry and crisp with a great lemony acidity. At $39 a bottle, I'm making a note to see if Esquin carries it back home.

                So far, so... great! We're not quite sure what to hit up tomorrow, but a bacon maple bar at VooDoo is probably in the plans, and the raves about Ken's are pretty compelling... More (and photos) to follow!

                1. re: young and hungry

                  I'm telling ya, I think Ten-01 is really hitting its stride right now and is putting great stuff. Glad to hear you're having a great time. Stay cool.