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Please help decide: Special occasion dinner (Portland)

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I've been reading through old threads, so have a general idea of what some of the most beloved Portland chow spots are, but was hoping you all could help by giving me some more tailored advice. We are going to be in Portland for two nights in July (staying near SW Washington & SW 5th ave.). We're looking for one "special occasion" spot (an anniversary), and one "anything" spot (you name it) for our dinners.

Also open to any particularly great places for lunch. We love Bijou Cafe for breakfast (possibly some of the best breakfasts I've had anywhere--love the freshness, quality of ingredients, vibe, etc.), so we're most likely to eat there, unless someone can recommend a place that they feel is head-and-shoulder above it.

For dinner, we're not looking for any particular type of food per se, but would really like a few places that truly exemplify Portland (sorry, I know this is what EVERYONE says they want, but your city just has so much awesome character), with a lot of flavor and personality. Some great "local" seafood dishes are a plus, as well as other fresh, high quality ingredients...just something that's really unique to your area. It'd be great if it were walkable from where we are staying, but we will have a car, so will travel if it's worth it.

Ideas so far:
special occasion-
Sel Gris
Higgins (is this still any good? it seems like talk of this place has dipped way down)

2nd night-
Beast (looks like a fun, different place, but not sure if the communal table is the best option)
Le Pigeon (is this also communal?? Better than Beast?)
Any of the above (paley's, sel gris; Carlyle? Clyde Common?)

will continue to research and add to the list. Any help appreciated.

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  1. Hi. Thanks for doing some research and making known your preferences.

    Beast is great but they have a lot of rules: no substitutions, specific seatings and don't be late! etc. So if that fits your style, by all means go.

    Paley's is still my go-to for special occasion. For many others that title has shifted to Sel Gris. Former is an easy ride on the 17 bus, latter on the 14.

    As for "anything" spot the 2nd night, I'd consider Pambiche (Cuban!), Ken's Artisan Pizza, Pok Pok, Podnah's, or Navarre. Navarre was surprisingly yet deservedly named The Oregonian's Restaurant of the Year.

    While I like Bijou, if you're here Saturday AM why not consider Portland Farmers' Market? http://www.portlandfarmersmarket.org/ There are several vendors from which you could put together a breakfast including Pine State Biscuits, several coffee places, Tastebud Farms (mobile wood fired oven), etc. Buy some berries and wash them off in a drinking fountain. Easy free bus ride up 5th Ave on 8 or 9 bus to Montgomery.

    Have a great time. Please report back.

    3 Replies
    1. re: Leonardo

      Thanks for the info, I'll read up on your suggestions. Unfortunately, we will not be there on a Saturday.

      I'm having a tough time guaging if people think Paley's has the "wow" factor (pardon the lame terminology) that, say, Sel Gris seems to have. Does it, or is it basically solid/dependable food? Obviously nothing wrong with the latter, but I'm hoping to find something that'll really make an impression food-wise. If so, I'm thinking of possibly just doing Sel Gris one night, Paley's the other (maybe for the anniversary). It's tough, though, to give up options which sound so great (especially Le Pigeon and Beast). If only more time...

      Another thing I was curious about: do the other restaurants I mentioned (Sel Gris, Le Pigeon, Beast) place the same emphasis on using fresh oregon-based ingredients as Paley's?

      EDIT: just noticed Beast is closed Monday and Tuesday which I'm pretty sure are the nights we will be there. Scratch it off the list.

      1. re: crsin

        Unless it's some chain (steakhouses, PF Chang etc) pretty much every place is on the localvore bandwagon!

        Also seriously consider Toro Bravo.

        And for your second breakfast Kenny & Zuke's, only a six minute walk from your hotel.

      2. Thanks, will try to check out K&Z. Is Broder worth a visit for breakfast?
        Toro Bravo sounds great but, while I'm willing to wait in long lines for good food, family is not-so-much, so this sort of wipes out Toro Bravo and PokPok...I'm hoping to get places where reservations can be made (or wait is usually short) for dinner.

        I think for both dinners (unless someone has more recs, which are more than welcome), I've reduced it down to Sel Gris, Paley's, and Le Pigeon. Which two would you choose??

        Paley's sounds like it would have the most identifiably "Portland-esque" food, Sel Gris more imaginative/exciting food (although chef's counter seems like the most fun, but probably not best for an anniversary, huh?), and Le Pigeon interesting/creative food in a much more laid-back venue. All of which have something really appealing, so I'm hoping someone can tell me I'm wrong here.

        Still welcoming any/all recommendations. This includes lunch, though we're most likely to try to find lunch depending on where we happen to be at the time (maybe at least a rec near Powells?).

        3 Replies
        1. re: crsin

          Laurelhurst Market is new, but from all reports, killing on all fronts!

          also, for the WOW factor(agreed, lame term.;-p) Paley's is much more stoic and stayed. Sel Gris is more the cool, urban, modern place with great food. If youre looking to be impressed and impress a diverse group, Sel Gris would be my choice.

          all that being said, TB is soooo worth it if you can figure out a way to swing the wait. Which by the way isnt that that bad if you get there early-ish, like 530.

          1. re: crsin

            K & Z is a block from Powell's so that's a lunch option. While in that area, if you love chocolate you must go to Sahagun and have their new iced cocoa or iced chocolate, or the new housemade single-origin chocolate sherbet.

            Everyone has their own idea of "romantic", you know? So it's a hard call. For me, chef's counter would be perfect for an anniversary.

            Le Pigeon is great for a taste of Portland that's creative and has that PacNW grit, grunge, and plethora of tattoos.

            Yes, Broder is worth the trip.

            Don't be scared by the crowd stories of TB. Go early on a weeknight. Same for Pok Pok.

            1. re: Leonardo

              Good to know...the scene at Le Pigeon that you describe is primarily what's attractive to me. Seems like a nice contrast to a more polished place like Sel Gris. The anniversary is actually not mine. I'm the 3rd wheel, so I'd say romance is already shot. I'm just trying to find the best possible place for them, and was a little concerned about eating the bar with 3 people (more difficult to talk), but it does sound like the best seat in the house.

              I'm definitely planning on hitting Sahagun

          2. I personally would dump Paley's, over the hill and sliding.

            K&Z is good for breakfast or lunch, just get pastrami for one or both. Close to Powell's.

            Sel Gris is at the top right now. Le Pigeon is fun, expecially if you can sit at the bar, otherwise you will be at a shared table. I personally like Carlyle, great food, quieter than most places, you can actually carry on a conversation.

            1. Le Pigeon is by far the best dinner I've had lately. It is communal eating, but I loved the vibe. My husband and I went for our anniversary-- I wouldn't call it romantic neccissarily, but the food was so wonderful that our experience was really great. I like Le Pigeon a lot more than Paley's Place and Higgins. I haven't been to Sel Gris yet.

              1. Thanks for all the recs so far. It's sounding like Paley's might not be the best option if looking for something that stands out. Le Pigeon being french, and Sel Gris being at least french-influenced, I thought this would be too monotonous, but they're obviously different enough that it wouldn't matter.

                Toro Bravo seems to be a favorite, so there must be something to it. Honestly, though, is there anything about it that can't be found at any other really good spanish tapas place around the country??

                Keep the suggestions coming...

                1. I love Toro Bravo, and I adore Sel Gris (esp for a special occasion) but if you want to stay close to home base, think about Davis Street Tavern (5th and Davis).

                  K& Z's is a great place for lunch or breakfast.

                  P.S. - If you want o got Toro Bravo, get there at 4:45pm. Doors open at 5 and you will not have to wait more than 15 min. for a table. Well worth it, IMO.

                  1. Le Pigeon is the best food, and best when sitting at their counter which they don't reserve. Go early or late and you will be fine. Have a drink first at the quirky Doug Fir down the street. I am not a fan of communal dining for "special occansions" but for some reason sitting at their counter watching them design and prepare your food is total entertainment for us. Altho Navarre has gotten the nod as restaurant of the year, not for special occassion, just a little too chaotic. Our favoriate second choice for special occasion would be Carlyle....again we prefer sitting at their bar.....this is romantic, tucked in with private cozy lighting dining on appetizers. Sel Gris is pretty and good, but not #1...yet. We love Andina for the most unusal food in town, if you can tolerate glasses of water down your back and no one caring....the food is sooo good! Just maybe a little too tight at their hectic hours.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Nancy Gorshe

                      Our personal favorite is Carlyle, although I'm not sure it meets your criteria for being a uniquely Portland experience. Le Pigeon, I think, may be a better choice for that. The food is solid, and the counter is fun. I'd also tout Toro Bravo as a fun dining experience; it's all about sharing, nibbling, sampling, etc.

                    2. I had a similar list to yours for a recent visit to Portland. Due to time constraints, we only went to Sel Gris. It was late-ish on a Wed night and we sat at the counter, which was really fun. Overall the food was great, but in hindsight, I would have ordered differently (esp. I'd try the fish which seemed to be the most popular dish out of the kitchen) because I ordered heavier dishes but since it ended up being so hot at the counter (you're very close to the kitchen) I ended wishing I'd ordered a lighter main. Definitely recommended.

                      We also had dinner at our old fav Tabla - the food was excellent and the price is right, but they had squeezed some extra tables in making it uncomfortable and really loud. The service was also a bit off - wine pairings for the same dishes were different on our table vs. the two tables next to us. Luckily, I think I got the correct ones but other diners complained that their pairings were incorrect and really clashed with the food. Still recommended (if they have sweetbreads, get them!).

                      We didn't make it to Pok Pok, but will next time.

                      1. Thanks for all the new responses. I ended up making reservations at Le Pigeon and Sel Gris. Did not request the counter at Sel Gris, since there will be more than two of us, so it'd probably make it difficult to talk (plus, as akq notes, being hot the whole meal isn't so appealing). Will report back after we eat.

                        We still have 3 breakfasts and 2-3 lunches unaccounted for, so please keep 'em coming. Any really good seafood-focused restaurants?

                        Also, any recommendations of great areas of the city to explore, places you'd recommend going, etc., would be appreciated. (I know, I might get into trouble for non-food discussion, but thought it might be worth a shot...)

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: crsin

                          I love Meat Cheese Bread and Bunk for sandwiches for lunch. I believe that both offer breakfast as well, but I don't have any experience with it at either place. I would recommend Evoe for lunch but it's only open Weds-Sun. I used to think ten01 was the best high-end lunch, but I've heard that the new chef has been kind of uneven.

                          1. re: crsin

                            We didn't make it there, but one place on my list for breakfast was Broder.

                          2. Curious: is running out of dishes common at Sel Gris? I just read several blog entries in a row where they noted ordering something that they had ran out of. Obviously, this is a risk you take if a restaurant uses seasonal non-bulk ingredients, but I just wanted to know if this is a common occurance, in which case I will change my reservations to an earlier time (right now it's a little after 7PM).

                            1. Recently returned from spending a couple days in your phenomenal city, so thought I should report back (details for the sake of any future searches):

                              As noted above, we went with Le Pigeon and Sel Gris. We first hit Le Pigeon, and I was blown away. Everything (EVERYTHING) was fantastic. Really enjoyed the vibe of the place. Early week dining meant a communal table with just us for virtually the entire meal. Service was great--the server was very knowledgeable and impressively fluent on the menu. While the brief descriptions on the menu were enticing enough, it was really interesting to hear the detailed descriptions and see dishes in person. Turns out everything went completely against my expectations of what the dish was/could be--all were incredibly creative and deciding amongst such unique and great-sounding items is enough to make you downright (and embarassingly) giddy and troubled (in a Sophie's Choice sort of way). Had the cheese plate and, while i don't recall the specific cheeses, all were great and really delicious paired with the awesome cracker sprinkled with clumps of grey salt, and quince jelly. The pork belly salad was incredible and was far more than the sum of its parts. The meat itself was so flavorful, well cooked and tasted great with the salad, I was more than happy to suffocate my healthy-eating conscience with a large slab of pig fat. Wanting to contrast the rich pork belly with something light, I topped it off with the the (hanger?) steak with bone marrow vinaigrette, and potatoes sauteed in duck fat. The steak and potatoes were, again, fantastic and insanely flavorful. There were so many other high-quality ingredients that snuck their way into the dish, I can't begin to remember them, but together made an incredible plate of food. At this point, really craving something "lighter," the bacon cornbread and lavender panna cotta deserts were excellent. Also tried bites of the scallops and halibut, both tremendous.

                              Followed this meal with Sel Gris, which we were also uniformly enamored with. Eating at LP the night before made the menu at Sel Gris seem tame by comparisson, but the meal was virtually flawless. The place was unexpectedly very busy. According to the waitress, part of the staff was sent home during an early lull, so they were short-handed, but this really didn't show, and the server even brought over some wine (gratis) to make up for any waiting--a really nice gesture and totally unecessary (though more than welcome) since the service was great. Atmosphere was very nice--really liked the open kitchen--and provided a very different feel from that of LP. Started with the calamari, which I can confidently proclaim the best calamari I have had...anywhere. The asparagus salad was really terrific and beyond what was expected, including some excellent smoked trout and fresh vegetables. Loved the pork tenderloin--interestingly and deliciously paired with a slightly tart rhubarb-based sauce. At the eminent risk of being overly effusive, I will note that the gnocchi served with the pork was also some of the most perfectly-prepared and tasty gnocchi I've eaten, and could have absolutely had an entire entree-sized bowl of it. Nothing but very stellar reviews on the multiple other items had around the table.

                              If it's not obvious, we really enjoyed our meals in your city, and I'm beyond envious of those of you with these great spots in your backyard. Only wish I had had time to do some more eating. Next year...

                              Thanks for the input. All worked out great.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: crsin

                                Le Pigeon and Sel Gris back-to-back! I love it!

                                Thanks for the report back. Glad to hear you enjoyed yourself. Come back any time.