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May 21, 2009 09:00 AM

Help with Portland and Willamette Valley stops.

I will be heading out to Portland for 4 nights on June 2nd. I am going with 4 other people very interested in good food. I have found such a HUGE array of restuarants that it boggles the mind. I knew Portland was a foodie town but was honestly quite shocked to see just how many places are seemingly producing such great food.
We have on the list: Pok Pok, Toro Bravo, Sel Gris, Le Pigeon, Wildwood, Paley's Place, Carlyle, possibly ten01, and bluehour (for lunch.) What should we just not miss?

Which is better Biwa or Tanuki?

We are also going to Willamette one day for wine tastings, another day to the coast to hike, and possibly returning one night to eat in Willamette.

Where would you recommend, Joel Palmer house or Tina's Dundee? Typically, how long a drive would it be to get to either of those places from downtown PDX? Is it worth driving out there to eat 2 nights out of 4 to hit those places or would you recommend staying in town? **One of us will have to drive out there and we all like our wine!**

I have tried to do my homework on the topic and have obsessed over it for a few days. Any help would be appreciated.

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  1. First off, I commuted from the SW suburbs to McMinnville for many years, so I will tell you for downtown to Dundee allow 45 minutes [you might think that it's not that far, but you will be slowed down quite a bit by traffic in Newberg and Tigard/Sherwood (your best option from downtown is to go south on I5 to the Durham exit and take Durham road west to 99W--this allows you to avoid the worst traffic of Tigard)]. I would probably just go out there for one night, myself, if you're interested in food. I've been to Tina's and I really like it. I haven't been to Joel Palmer House, but from what I've heard it sounds more interesting than Tina's.

    Biwa vs Tanuki: I really like both of these so it's hard to choose. For a group of foodies from out of town I'd probably go with Tanuki. Biwa has a larger menu that could be less challenging for people who might have an issue with some of the more exotic ingredients--most people I can think of would be able to have ramen and skewers at Biwa (as long as they avoid the chicken hearts), but might have trouble finding something they would be comfortable with at Tanuki.

    Of your current list, that sounds good to me, but I'm not a big fan of Wildwood or Paley's so I would avoid those. YMMV--other people ARE big fans, but they don't live up to the hype for me. Bluehour doesn't seem that unique to Portland to me, so I wouldn't advise it for people from out of town. There have been reports of ten01 slipping since their head chef left a few months ago, but since they are open for lunch you might find an open slot for them.

    4 Replies
    1. re: Nettie

      Re: ten01-- I've been a big fan of the happy hour for awhile now, but just went last night and can tell you that the quality and quantity have both slipped and the price point has gone up. I need to find a new favorite happy hour.
      I'd do Clyde Common over bluehour. They have a decent happy hour, too, and are very "Portland".
      Also: if you are here on a day that Simpatica is open (Fri/Sat prix fix dinner, weekend brunch), I HIGHLY recommend it. Also fantastic is Beast. The Simpatica guys have recently opened a butcher shop-- and though this is a recent development, they've been at the forefront of fantastic charcuterie and meat in Portland for years with their Viande Meats. Anyway, I think the new butcher shop has sandwiches and picnic fare that would be worth a stop on your way out to wine country.
      I've already said it elsewhere, but Pok Pok and Toro Bravo (run by John Gorham, formerly of Viande Meats) are two of my faves. Amazing, both.
      As for eating in wine country, there are some great chef out there, but in my opinion, nothing to match the daring, affordability and deliciousness to be had in Portland.

      1. re: eating as a fine art

        Thank you both for the replies. I am pretty sure from what I have gathered that Pok Pok and Toro Bravo are must do's. I have heard a lot about Simpatica but we are leaving on Saturday morning and wont be able to hit the brunch. Is this really the place to go for anything other than brunch considering we are not much for the communal dining thing.? Also, have either of you tried Sel Gris and is it worth a stop? I have heard good things from the board but is it a good representation of Portland?

      2. re: Nettie

        Nettie, thanks for the driving info. We are from Kentucky and have never been to the area before so it seems that the info we are going to have regarding driving would either be from google maps or the old-fashioned map, disregarding traffic. Is the way you mentioned a more scenic route as well as being a bit faster?
        Also, we are foodies but I am not sure that many of us are going to be up for sampling skewered chicken hearts. Aside from that, I assume that Tanuki offers some tame options as well that rival those of Biwa? I heard about Biwa's pork belly skewers and that has me reconsidering my decision! Are they both close to downtown?
        Thanks for your help!

        1. re: naughtyb

          You don't have to eat chicken hearts at either Biwa or Tanuki! I think that generally Biwa's menu would be more tame than Tanuki--you can see a sample of both menus here: I know that they change the menu at Tanuki very very frequently, but they often have pork belly as well. If you follow them on Twitter I think they post updates about what they're currently offering.

          The Durham road option is faster, but not more scenic--you get to look at subdivisions rather than strip malls! That's a small part of the drive, though, just to get out of the suburbs around Portland. Between Sherwood and Newberg on highway 99W is scenic and between Newberg and Dundee and the area around Dundee is also quite pretty. If you want pretty and slower, take I5 south to Wilsonville road and take that to Newberg--I'm not sure quite how long that will take, though!

      3. naughtyb: "Which is better Biwa or Tanuki?"
        It depends on what the meaning of "is" is.
        Actually, it depends on what you mean by "better." Are you looking for Japanese food? At the top of the Tanuki menu is kimchee. Now, kimchee is an interesting food, and can be quite good; this is not meant to be a knock on kimchee. But, on the menu of a Japanese restaurant, kimchee is like a hamburger on the menu of an Italian restaurant or ketchup on the table at a French restaurant.

        You are driving down to the Coast and back; you will be west of town. Stop in Hillsboro -- it is pretty much on your route -- and enjoy yourself at Syun, if you want Japanese food.

        6 Replies
        1. re: Politeness

          From the Biwa menu: "Kimchi, like grilled meat, is one of many Korean additions to the Japanese table." I was just reading an interesting discussion somewhere on where the chef at Tanuki was talking about how after WWII when the Japanese were hurting economically, they started eating food from the cheap Korean food stalls in Japan, including kimchi (now, of course, I can't find this discussion).

          1. re: Nettie

            I don't think any one cuisine exists in a vacuum; if you ask me everyone's eating some derivation of Chinese, Mediterranean and Mesoamerican food.

            I've been to many other izakayas that have Korean items on the menu, and I don't have a problem with it -- the distance from, say, oshinko to kimchi is much much shorter than spaghetti to a hamburger (to use Politeness example).

            In the beginning, Tanuki billed itself as an Okinawan izakaya, which means that it's draws even more Korean influences, including some dishes you really won't find on mainland Japan like chanpuru. Lately I've seen Korean and Filipino items pop up here and there, but the core of the menu is still the kushiyaki, onigiri, oshinko, etc etc.

            Neither Biwa nor Tanuki are what I would call a traditional izakaya; for that you can go to Syun or Yuzu, but then again the traditional izakayas don't elicit the "Wow" factor from me. Solid, delicious food, certainly, and filled with many of my favorites like tori karaage and what not, but one of the things that I like about Portland is that there are restaurants that are pushing the limit.

            Sometimes you're in the mood for a big plate of spaghetti and meatballs. If that's the case, then Alba Osteria is probably not going to be for you. ("Raw beef at an Italian place?!?") Pok Pok ain't your usual Thai joint (featuring dishes from all over SE Asia, like Vietnamese and Laos in addition to Thailand).

            And similarly, the reason why we recommend Biwa or Tanuki is because it -isn't- a traditional izakaya. Not sure where naughtyb is hailing from, but you're more likely to find a Syun or Yuzu anywhere else on the West Coast; really not likely to find a Biwa or Tanuki until you get to Vancouver BC.

            1. re: Nettie

              Nettie, that discussion is in the Biwa post on that food board.

              Also of note while discussing some misguided notion of "authenticity".
              No authentic or traditional izakaya serves sushi.
              Sushi-ya is sushi-ya... izakaya is izakaya.

              Just sayin'.

              1. re: quovadis

                Thanks! If anyone else is interested, the discussion about the evolution of Japanese food is here:

            2. re: Politeness

              Kimchee is not "like a hamburger at an Italian restaurant".

              Kimchee is the #1 selling pickle in Japan and has been for almost 10 years. In fact, Japan has it's own national style of kimchee (often spelled kimuchi in romanji) that is specific and unique in flavour. Most, if not all izakaya..including Biwa, which you claim to enjoy have some form of kimchi... because kimchi has replaced takuan and oshinko as drinking food pickle of choice in Japan..starting in 1998 & becoming undisputed #1 in 2000.

              1. re: quovadis

                quovadis, I have not claimed to enjoy Biwa, which we have yet to visit. I have lived a good portion of my life in Japan, and visit Japan about twice a year these days. Our home (I say immodestly) is the best Japanese dining establishment -- by a wide margin -- in Portland. Finding kimchee on the menu in a Japanese restaurant IS like finding a hamburger on the menu at an Italian restaurant.

                Portland Japanese eateries "always" -- at least from the early 1970s, when we moved back here -- have had kimchee available to diners; off the menu, ask the waitperson for it. Never on the menu. A good portion of the clientele of Japanese restaurants in Portland has been ethnic Korean people, who like kimchee (as do I), and good businesspeople running Japanese restaurants always have made sure that their customers are happy. (In fact, I wonder if the diners are happy, given the generally low quality of the kimchee here, but that is a separate issue.) But (to revert to another of my analogies), any Japanese restaurant that wants to be taken seriously would no more proclaim its kimchee by putting it on the menu than a French restaurant would list ketchup on the menu (though ketchup probably could be had at most French restaurants if you ask the waitperson for it).

                If you regard resistance to bowdlerization to be a "misguided notion of authenticity" then you have missed my point entirely.

            3. Nick's Italian Cafe for lunch or dinner in McMinnville. New kitchen with wood-fired oven (phenomenal pizza - try potato & sage or speck & arugula), hand-cut pastas, killer wine list...