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Portland Trip Report

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What a week! My husband and I just returned home to San Francisco from our annual trip to Portland, where we ate our way around the city yet again (ah life is rough). Our trip report:

Hits:
Pok Pok.
We were blown away by the quality here. Every dish delivered clean flavors, my tamarind whiskey sour was incredible and the service was totally charming. We especially loved the crepe with mussels. Btw, we grabbed a quick drink at Victory Bar while waiting for our table and wished we had time to explore its cocktails longer. We'll make sure to factor that in on our next visit.

Toro Bravo.
Could this place really be worth all the hype? Yes. Everything was wonderful -- Even the olives were something special. Our favorite was the eggplant with lamb ragu and mint. Also loved the flatbread with the heirloom tomatoes. And again, the service was attentive without being overbearing. Plus, we lucked out and didn't even have to wait for a table.

Helser's.
I resisted ordering one of the several dutch babies on the menu because I was in an eggs Florentine mood, but I can't wait to come back and explore their menu more. Their Hollandaise is lighter and more lemony than most I've had, which I really loved. It far exceeded Bijou in our minds.

Higgins.
We had our first meal of the trip here as well as our last -- this place has our hearts. The menu is always full of both adventurous and comforting foods, and the service is always great. My only gripe is that their wines by the glass aren't local enough! There was only 1 Oregon white when we were there, out of I think 7. Tiny complaint, but there it is.

Café Nell.
If I lived in the Pearl this would be my go-to place. Great menu, with good price/portion ratio (smaller portions but smaller prices too). Service is a tiny bit scattered, but the food is great. My husband's lamb burger was incredible and I had the most delicious roasted squash/arugula/chanterelle salad! We had lunch here, but I can imagine during dinner it's probably a VERY loud place.

Laurelhurst Market.
Perfectly prepared food. The gnocchi starter with cream and mushrooms and corn was breathtaking in its balance between the sweet lightness of the gnocchi and the rich sweetness of the sauce. My steak was prepared perfectly, and my husband loved his cheeseburger. The service here was enthusiastic without feeling forced - everyone really seemed happy to serving people this food. Love that.

Misses:
Mama's.
This place was just tattered and worn…kind of tacky. Our waitress was great, but my frittata was so overcooked, it was like a Frisbee. I couldn't eat it. Fortunately, my husband liked it (??) so we switched. I took over working on eating his incredibly rich salmon hash, which was swimming in cream. I didn't get too far. One look around the dining room and I could see it was a total tourist trap. I know not all places that are popular with tourists are bad (here in SF Dottie's is still the BEST place for breakfast in town), but I kind of felt like a sucker walking out of here.

The Heathman.
We stayed here, but only ate one breakfast and one dinner. The smoked salmon on our breakfast bagel platter was divine, but dinner was a bit eh. The wine list was great but the menu felt stuck in 1996. Roasted beets with balsalmic reduction…crab cakes…Everything was prepared fine, but nothing was very exciting. And the dining room was overly lit and felt almost cafeteria-like. I don't think we'll dine here again.

Wildwood.
We dined here on a Monday night, which might explain (but does not excuse) the sub par service and poorly executed meal we had. The mussels appetizer was indeed amazing as it's purported to be, and it, along with the wine we ordered, saved the night from being a failure. But my gnocchi appetizer was bland and my chicken entrée was charred on the outside and red near the bone on the inside. To their credit, they offered to fix it, but I was already so full from the mussels (that portion is huge) and our day of eating that I just avoided that half of the chicken and was fine. The manager was really great but the kitchen was sloppy.

Miscellaneous impressions:
Horsebrass Pub - our favorite spot in town, what a gem!

Barista- great coffees, better than our stumptown experience…the people who worked here actually smiled and made eye contact with us.

Huong's and Ziba's food carts - we wished we could try more, but these both delivered great quality and a fair price. Cufte with the white sauce, chicken bahn mi. Great lunch!

Old Lompoc - beer here was a bit of a letdown, but we loved the back patio area and the menu seemed slightly above your average pub food.

Henry's - any place that has 100 beers on tap is fine by me. Plus, the staff we dealt with really knew their stuff. My garlic noodles with tofu dish was surprisingly delicious.

Huber's - we went back to get a drink at the bar here in the afternoon and it was kind of depressing. I think late night it's probably a great place for a nightcap?

Btw, we took the bus everywhere. Portland's public transportation is so much better than SF's! Can't wait for next year's trip, when we'll return to Le Pigeon and finally get to try Paley's, Tanuki, Beaker & Flask, and any other place you guys praise. Thanks for all your tips!

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  1. Wow... thanks! I live in Seattle and this inspires a fun foodie trip*

    1. Thanks for the report! Hope you didn't gain too much weight!

      Old favorites such as Higgins sometimes are taken for granted and ignored in favor of whatever is the hot new thing. Their praise is well-deserved. It rubs me the wrong way to find so many places that don't carry enough Oregon wine, especially with our locally sourced food craze. Am I the only one?

      Beaker & Flask, while seemingly billing itself as a bar, at least to me the food is even more noteworthy.

      Glad I can actually enjoy Horse Brass now that it is smoke-free! Before the new law, it was dreadful.

      You mean Mama Mia's? Never been. Thanks for the heads up.

      Barista is not a roaster as Stumptown is (but I agree about the attitude difference). They use beans from Stumptown, Ritual, and Counter Culture among others. Other local roasters you should try are Spella & Ristretto. A new coffee place that is down-home and cozy as opposed to the usual industrial vibe is Cartola.

      Some places that get suggested over and over again such as Pok Pok and TB provoke at times a backlash from some, dismissing anyone who recommends them as being unoriginal. They remain my favorites, and I'm glad you enjoyed. They are recommended for good reason. By your next trip, Pok Pok will have a bar across the street.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Leonardo

        sorry - I meant Mother's Bistro & Bar...never again.

        1. re: Absonot

          OK thanks for the clarification. Same owner!