Choices: Move to Portland or Stay in Oakland?
- mmerino Jul 29, 2009 05:11 PM
I have an offer on the table to relocate to Portland from Oakland, CA. I love the food here in the Bay Area. No question. I hear great things about the food scene in Portland but have yet to have had a really memorable, more expensive, "experiential" meal. Last summer I had Paleys and this last trip I had Serrato. Meh on both. Neither wowed me and some of the food was downright poorly executed & concepted. maybe poor choices? Just sort of forgettable-with the exception of the Wild Boar pasta at Serrato. That was pretty great. But the cheese plate was weird with smoked Gouda and marcona Almonds on a supposed Italian AntiPasti plate. Packaged Salumis too. Boo.
I also had Pine State(?) Biscuit OMG-best ever! and Clyde on Stark, which I liked for lunch. Nice, interesting, fresh. Went to the Farmers market at the college both times-awesome as well.
I love our ethnic blend here in the Bay you can have cheap lao, Viet, Burmese, etc all withing a small radius as well as a wide variety of Chinese regional cuisine. Is there that type of hole in the wall as well as "fanicer" food in portland?
I have a son who lives in Berkeley. He and his wife would move to the northwest in a second if the job opportunities were right for them. I also have three sons in Portland, and they seem quite well fed. I love the food scene in Portland, particularly the small ethnic neighborhood restaurants. Portland is affordable and easy to get around in.
Portland has a great food scene if you are looking for actual food. When I hear "experiential" food, I think of gastronomy, something Portland has a lack of. Please correct me if I'm wrong.
There are plenty of places that do really great and inventive things with familiar food, but few places that add that extra unexpected zing. The "fancier" places in Portland sometimes go that route, but rarely. I think this will change soon though. All this great food in Portland has sort of appeared in the last ten years or so, so "fancy" food may be on the way. And what is the definition of "fancy" anyway? Are you looking for the dining experience or the food itself?
As for food diversity, it does exist, but not nearly in the capacity that the bay area has. You will find yourself searching more, driving more (or taking the great public transit) and going to the same places more often if you are looking for good lao, Vietnamese, Burmese, etc.
All that being said, you will DEFINITELY not be ill-fed if you came to Portland. Quite the contrary But holding Portland next to the Bay Area is like putting a calculator next to a super computer.
don't make your decision based on food, unless you are considering Galicia, Tuscany, Piedmont, Sichuan provence, some places in France, etc. Decide because the overall quality of life is better (or not). Portland still has cheaper real estate and rents than the East Bay, and it is generally less hassle overall. Not as tense. (I lived in Albany, worked in Emeryville, my kid now lives in Oakland and I can't talk him into leaving in spite of the gunshots in his neighborhood.)
Portland has some ok food, the hipsters have managed to create an impression of this as a major food town, which, compared to the East Bay, it is not. The Asian food thing here is pretty mediocre, generally speaking. Chinese food is practically non-existent, Vietnamese consists mainly of the same menu of pho, banh mi, and noodles, xeroxed over and over again, with only the restaurant name changed from place to place, Thai is not that great, over all, though you will hear much about Pok Pok and its "authentic" food...i doubt the 'tude of the servers is authentically Thai, more like the same sort of thing you get at certain record stores in Berkeley, Austin, the East Village..."how cool am I? I work here, you don't...." Beer is pretty decent, coffee can be good, but I'm not always sure it is as good as it thinks it is, and so on. The farmers' mkts can be good, even great. Forget the Burmese, Nepalese, Cambodian of Oakland/Berkeley. And Lao only exists in the odd dish or two at a couple of places. Indian can be edible, if you go to Beaverton or Hillsboro (again, places that are rarely if ever mentioned on any of the local gourmand boards). Italian is mostly blah, and the one place that is excellent, better than Oliveto in my never humble opinion, is rarely mentioned in the replies to posts on any of the local food boards looking for the best Portland has to offer: Alba Osteria, the only restaurant in the USA that has a 100% piemontese wine list, and a menu to match....the flavors I get there are identical to those I've had in Piedmont---but most people here ignore it, maybe because they don't understand the menu???? No lasagna, no spaghetti, no linguine, no alfredo nuttin'. Go figure. In 20 years, this town might have a more mature food scene, but in my opinion, most of the places here wanna be new and creative, but don't have the real experience to do it correctly. My opinion.
Berkeley's gourmet ghetto wasn't born in a day, so maybe someday. For example, though it's not the greatest in the world, I'd rather have tapas at Cesar on Shattuck any day than the much lauded Toro Bravo here which everyone raves about and says is one of the best restaurants in town. It simply is not, or, maybe it is, and my point is proven!!!
But, overall, I think that it's easier to live here, a bit cheaper, less traffic, etc. Folks are not quite as PC and humorless (though sometimes I think they are catching up...today I read a satiric, very tongue-in-cheek piece in the paper about the new fashion accessory here, the bicycle and how many buy them and only walk them to show off their hardware and their adherence to green ideas....almost every comment on the piece that appeared on the OregonLive website (and a local bike site) was highly critical...no one seemed to notice the guy was not being serious...and some seemed to want to crucify him...too much...come on folks, do they not teach Swift in English lit in this state???) Honestly, if the food is your only tie breaker, stay there!!!! (now let the stoning begin...) Otherwise, come up, and relax....and make a few trips a year back to the BA to eat.
Fantastic post. Can't say I agree with everything, but a lot of great points and amusing anecdotes. Totally agree that Alba is fantastic.
But after 20 years watching the food scene evolve here, I'd say the best Portland has to offer is not the super-high end like Paleys, Sel Gris, Ten-01, etc., but the sweet spot just below those ultra-elite places. I'm talking about Le Pigeon, Apizza Scholls, Laurehurst Market, Clyde Common, and yes, even Toro Bravo when all those small plates fall squarely into place as they can and often do.
MichaelG: "But after 20 years watching the food scene evolve here, I'd say the best Portland has to offer is not the super-high end ..."
Well, yes. We grew up in Berkeley. We have a "second home" in Oakland where we stay when we visit our son and his wife who live in San Francisco; when we are in the Bay Area, we dine out every single night. If you can afford very, very high dinner ticket dining, undoubtedly the Bay Area offers a greater range. But for the restaurant that you want to go out to spontaneously when you do not want to cook at home, Portland leaves the Bay Area in the dust.
We could get by with only three Portland "low end" restaurants: Gravy on N. Mississippi, for breakfast and brunch and lunch, and Zilla on NE Alberta and Allora on NW 9th for dinner. Sure, we really like Alba Osteria, and -- when we are prepared to swallow the 1000% wine mark-up -- we enjoy the food and service at Castagna. But, why? Allora pretty much supplants both of them, and who needs the extortion for beverages?
Wow. Thank you all for your thoughtful feedback. Wow again. I really appreciate the thoughts you shared & can completely see where you are coming from. All things being equal, my gut says Portland! I feel like you all contributed to my comfort level of going in with my eyes open. I look at this as an opportunity to explore a new frontier & get a better quality of life.
Again , thanks. Now to sign the offer :)
i moved here from oakland in 2005 and never looked back. i can't speak to the fancy stuff like paleys because we never go. there is not the same kind of ethnic concentration as there is in the Bay area. but the "bistros" (a term i use loosely) are creative and reasonably priced, the wine is tops, and portland's specialty, the focussed, kind of geeked-out shop, is something to behold. I'm talking about places like Pine State, Bunk, Ken's Artisan Pizza, Biwa, Toro Bravo... places where they just found a niche (or made one up) and went for it. flavors are superb, ingredients are top notch, and, unlike food of this quality in the Bay area, we can afford it in portland.
You'll miss Vik and the Fruitvale taco trucks, make no mistake. But in our experience it's been a net gain.
Well, let's see: Pine State is awful...the sausage gravy is toooooo sweet (I've never, ever had sweet sausage gravy anywhere in the south, where I'm from...please, come to my house, i'll make it the way it should be), the biscuits are so-so...nuff said. Ken's is ok, not as great as folks in a place that don't have much on which to judge think it is....Toro Bravo is wildly overrated, and not really very true to the Spanish sensibilities they apparently seem to draw from; sorry, I just don't agree, the Bay Area has truly Spanish/tapas places that DO offer something close to Spanish practices...Toro Bravo is an "Emperor's New Clothes" sort of place in my opinion. Portland WANTS to be rated along side SF, NY, NOLA, etc, but honestly, it just isn't there in most cases...I've lived in all those places and know something of what I speak. Oh, I forgot...Bunk is truly bunk...i had a really crappy sandwich there.. cost eight bux, no. please, what was I thinking???? And my dining companion on that visit had an eight buck banh mi that was not as half as good as the three buck versions at several Viet joints within a 3-4 mile radius. Give me a break...and to add insult to injury, ya gotta wait at least 30 minutes for this crappy mediocrity. A friend who runs a PDX restaurant that actually DOES hit its mark says that PDX suffers from an inferiority complex and desperately need to be compared to SF, LA, NY, etc to feel valid, and those comparisons just don't hold up. Wish it were so, but it just isn't....
You really are comparing apples to oranges, a region with over 7,000,000 people vs. a regional population of at most 800,000 (which probably includes dogs) just doesn't match.
I love Portland, I love living in Portland - in summer it is simply heaven on earth. But trying to compare it to some of the great food cities is ridiculous - and most of the people who live here realize that.
What we do have is an amazing food scene for a population of our size that is vibrant, interesting, and is supported by the locals. You can eat very well in this town, better than in most. But comparing it to the Bay area culinary-wise? Silly. Whining because it doesn't compare? Childish.
Oh, and the best sandwich in the world is a Laurelhurst Market.
Ignoring the restaurants for a minute, in Portland I like the immediacy of the food. You're minutes from many local organic farms, wild berries and truffles, small commercial food companies and an exceptional wine region between Portland and Salem. Or drive west and buy a bag of Alaska spot prawns right off the boat in Ilwaco, WA near Astoria. California has its gems, but in terms of truly local, sustainable food sources Portland and the Willamette Valley are as good as it gets.
mmmerino, I absolutely love Portland so my opinion is probably biased not to mention that I have never lived in Oakland or even spent that much time there so I really can't base my comments on comparing the Oakland dining scene to Portland's. All that I can say is that I faced the same question about 11 years ago when I decided to leave my home and return to school. I eventually based my decision to move here on the fact that where I lived servers were paid $2.15 and hour as opposed to Portland's much higher minimum wage of I think $6.50 an hour (at the time) which was a huge difference for a soon to be student.
The first year after I moved here, I wondered what the heck I was thinking. The restaurant scene at that time in Portland was very lacking but eventually one new place opened and then another and soon we had so many great choices that we didn't have before and now look at us, getting all of this attention.
My point of this rant is, if you want to compare Portland restaurants to Oakland/San Francisco, LA, NY, London, Paris, etc, etc we are little fish. However, you will find your favorite Portland restaurants, you will continue to love your Oakland favorites as well as have your favorites everywhere else you travel on a regular basis. Why does one favorite somewhere else have to be better than the other favorite here? And this I'm not necessarily directing towards you but to the comments that over and over compare the restaurants here to those in other cities. I travel all over the place, I have favorites everywhere I go and I never say, "oh this foie gras is so much better (in x city) than at Sel Gris in Portland." I simply enjoy it while I'm dining on it if it is enjoyable, and then I come home and go have foie gras where I enjoy having it here.
All of that being said, it sounds to me like you have a pretty good comprehension of what Portland is about and really the decision to move here should be based on so much more (or perhaps less)! OK so I'm done trying to be all philosophical, Portland is a wonderful city with many great restaurants and if you choose to move here, I have a feeling you'll grow to love it.
Having lived in the Bay Area, NYC, Boston, Seattle, and a few other cities, as would generally say that you can find better high-end restaurants and a better, broader range of ethnic food elsewhere. This should make sense, as restaurants in larger population centers need to diversify (cuisine, specialties, price point) in order to stand apart from the crowd. You could call Portland a major city, but that's a bit of a stretch. I'm sure as it grows, so will our options and the competition between restaurants - for our dollars and tastebuds (which I'm looking forward to)
What I would say is that Portland likely has the best "food scene per capita" or "food interest per capita" of any place in the US. (if I can coin a phrase here...). We honestly have some fantastic spots and a receptive, enthusiastic community here which I love. If you compare the scene here to the Bay Area, we'll definitely fall a bit short in some areas, but try comparing it to a similar-sized city... Ever hear of the Oklahoma City food scene? Cleveland? Milwaukee?
re: Kazy Ctn
I moved here a year ago after 33 years in silicon valley/SFBA and have never, ever looked back. Move to Portland, and you can actually afford to eat everywhere you want to go, whenever you want to go! The people are far more friendly, the quality of life is superior, public transportation exists in a meaningful capacity, and you aren't surrounded by the nasty, empty, greedy culture that defines the peninsula. Living here is a cocktail to the bay area's trip to the gym that you plug into Excel from your iPhone.