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Mar 13, 2012 01:21 PM

One happy elf: REALLY LONG trip report from Vancouver BC Hound

Reporting back on our Feb 29-Mar4 trip to Portland. Thanks to all the Hounds who contributed on this thread to making our trip a success. We’re already planning to head back in May and make use of some more of your tips. I'll post each day with some pictures to break this loooonggg report up a bit ;-).


After a nasty blizzardy drive down punctuated by tasty Mexican it was straight off to the newish outpost of Ristretto by Tasty’n’Sons for a restorative beverage and a blueberry doughnut at around 4 pm. This is a coffee bar that at first appears to be a bit cold but is actually quite comfortable and the coffee is taken seriously. Good start to our coffee tasting forays, and we got a couple of tips for others from the friendly barista Josh.

Originally we’d planned to take it easy and just hit Violetta near the hotel for a burg and an early night but our travelling companions were having none of that! No, it was off to Teardrop Cocktail Lounge for happy hour. We all ordered non-happy hour beverages except for the SO who took advantage of the dollar off beer. S had a Pimm’s cup which he was warned came without any vegetables, I asked the waiter/bartender to make me up something (he arrived at a Pink Lady based on my preferences and wasn’t far off, with the added grenadine and apple jack) and J had an Artistaint (Hayman’s Old Tom gin, Cynar, St Germain elderflower and lemon) that we declared the drink of the day. Cocktails clock in at between $9 and $10 at this modern space with tables around the edge and a bar in the centre. We preferred the atmosphere at happy hour to later (we stopped in again on Friday night as J was craving another Artistaint) when it became a bit cougary/pickupy and a tad too loud for us. Nice touches on the menu: provenance of cocktail recipes and glossary provided.

Deschutes was just around the corner and our next target, as J had not had a burger and beer since going gluten-free a number of months ago and this brewpub boasted both. S and J had the gf burger (beef and elk respectively) and pronounced them both satisfying though the buns don’t have the structural integrity of gluten-infected ones. The gluten-free NW Pale Ale was pretty tasty, even though it wasn’t exactly like “real” beer. SO and I shared a regular beef burger which was nicely cooked to medium rare and much better than 99% of the burgers I’ve tried at home but really just a good burger, nothing special. We had fun trying a “bat” of five beer samples between us, including Bachelor bitter, Mirror Pond Cask (SO’s 2nd favourite), Black Butte Porter, Nitro Obsidian Stout (SO’s favourite), Prussman Porter and Los Muertos, a tamarind sour. Actually, I had the sour and he drank the rest, which suited me fine! This is what Yaletown Brewery and places like that are trying to be at home. It was pretty slammed for a Wednesday night though we were seated immediately, the way it should be.

As we were leaving, we asked the staff at the front where we could go nearby for another cocktail. We were directed to a place beside the Ace Hotel which turned out to be Clyde Common. I had considered CC for our Friday dinner but decided against it partly because of the communal tables. We said we wanted drinks and the server was going to put us at the bar but since it was slowish she kindly offered us space at one of the tables. It was very inviting and the shared seating was not a problem at all. We all ordered beverages (Heavy Petting for J: Monopolowa vodka, grapefruit juice, Aperol, quinine syrup, lemon peel $9; Barrel aged martini for S: Beefeater gin aged for two months in Tuthilltown Whiskey barrels, Dolin dry vermouth, orange bitters, lemon peel $10; a Strega Sour for me: Broker’s gin, Strega, lemon juice, egg whites, tea-infused honey syrup $9 and a Ninkasi Believer Red from Eugene on tap $5 for the SO). We decided to take advantage of the serendipity and share an appetizer and an entrée. The starter we selected was a duck confit ($11) with greens, a sweet wine vinaigrette, olives and a soft egg and it was delightful if not inventive, particularly the olives.

The main was one of the better ones I’ve ever had in this type of restaurant and included half a substantial roasted game hen, Brussels sprouts, spaetzle, lardon and mustard vinaigrette ($23). This was a steal and done to perfection; I ate every bit of skin and gnawed on the bones. The accompaniments were spot on, savoury and delicious. I suspect such a dish if available at home would have been at least $10 more. I’ve heard that CC can be a little uneven but they hit it out of the park on these two dishes.

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  1. Thursday

    Later brunch at J&M Café. Really excellent biscuits here, with the horizontal separations and lightness I seek, and the sausage gravy was toothsome if not hot enough. The crispy grits were also top notch, though I should have subbed them for the potatoes as I faced a carb overload. J had a delicious scramble that included kale, which is an idea I'm stealing. This is a lovely, sunny breakfast place and I would return in a heartbeat.

    It also happens to be next door to the “secret” Half Pint Coffee House (supplied with beans by Mudd Roaster near Olympic Provisions). Owner Marcus has been in the coffee biz one way or another for 26 years and he is a true amateur, his love for all things coffee reflected in every aspect of his tiny coffee house. He has lots of antique coffee gear, including an awesome grinder that looks more like a Wurlitzer jukebox. He also loves to talk coffee which led to us receiving a latte “to sip on” while he prepared the requested cappuccino. (We heard from another barista that the most popular orders in Portland are lattes and americanos, which was kind of interesting.) Anyway, the latte/capp were on point, as was my mexi-chile, kind of a spicy version of a mocha with Ibarra chocolate, cocoa nibs and cayenne that was rich and creamy with a little bite, maybe a touch heavy on the sugar.

    After taking in the view from the Pittock Mansion and the Japanese and Chinese Gardens, it was time for a tea snack at Ken’s Artisan Pastry on Glisan, where we tried a ham, gruyere and thyme croissant, a Portland Danish with the ubiquitous marionberries and the much vaunted canele. All were delicious, though I wasn’t a huge fan of the inside of the canele as it was quite sad and wet. The outside was phenomenal with a light crunch that I take it comes from the traditional use of wax in the moulds. We came back on our way out of town on Sunday and there were no canele so I was glad we indulged earlier. They also had full slices (!) of bread out to sample which were really top notch. I actually “stole” one as I thought they were for people ordering soup but found out later that they often put out such large samples. This was our first but by no means our last encounter with the Portland generosity of sampling items.

    An early dinner at Chiang Mai (no resos) saw us seated immediately at about 6:30 and then the place filled up. Our friends came with us so we were able to sample more. Overall I applaud the attention to detail and the fresh ingredients but I was not knocked out by this meal. I don’t think we ordered very well, inadvertently getting two starters that were both very sweet, but the yam woon sen (!) and pork curry were also sweet. The best dish was the one I had come expressly to try, the Thai version of nam khao, and the dessert was excellent, based on a family recipe. It was a coconut custard inside a baked kabocha (see terrible photo). I would return but take direction from the proprietors about what to order that would be less leaning toward sweet. Ridiculously good value for dinner as well.

    After a wander up and down Hawthorne (what a great neighbourhood for food and other delights) we sought out Bushwhacker Cidery which is quite difficult to find and is actually in a little strip mall and had a sampler there just before they closed at 10. Very friendly and pubby and we were gratified to enjoy the housemade cider called Red Headed Stranger the most.

    Photos from left to right: biscuits and sausage gravy at J&M; scramble at J&M; view from the wee mezzanine of Half Pint; front and back view of grinder at Half Pint; treats at Ken's Artisan Bakery; cross section of ham croissant at Ken's; really bad photo of great dessert at Chiang Mai

    7 Replies
    1. re: grayelf


      We started the day at Coava, a nifty space shared with a wooodworking shop where the coffee also impressed (we tried a capp each with the respective beans of the day and vowed to return to get a bag later in the stay, which we did). We sampled a lovely cinnamon Danish from Nuvrei pastries that was kind of a mashup between a danish and a doughnut.

      Next we made a bee line for Little T American Bakery to get their kouign amann (four when I called, one left when we arrived, woot!) which I stashed for a tea snack later. Spielman’s was our next coffee tasting target, and was my favourite of the trip. We also met the chef/owner of Le Pigeon and Little Bird in the lineup with his wife and young ’un and ended up chatting with them for a bit.

      Needing more substantial sustenance we decided to chance Bakery Bar even though we’d be hitting it at the brunch witching hour of 11. It was packed when we arrived but a table freed up just as we needed it and we enjoyed a shared order of biscuits and sausage gravy, though the biscuits were not as good as J&M’s and I found the gravy heavy on the rosemary, huge portion overall. The eggs were the best I’ve tasted in recent memory with flavourful orange yolks. Apparently the farm that supplies them ran out of the white ones and gave them brown instead.

      We continued our coffee juggernaut with a stop at Heart, which I wasn’t a big fan of either for the coffee or the ambiance. Plus the chairs were strangely short.

      After visiting the excellent Portland Art Gallery, we hoofed it to Tabor for a late lunch. This was perhaps the biggest disappointment of the trip. The schnitzelwich weighs a pound which should have tipped me off that it wouldn’t be my kind of sandwich. I also didn’t see that you could get half one till after my order was placed. Anyway we got that plus the fried muenster sandwich and an order of the halusky for $24 and had enough food for at least four people but we tossed most of it because it wasn’t very tasty. The muenster sandwich was the best of the lot but I doubt I’d return. Fans should note that they were closing shortly for an extended period as the owner was going back to Czechoslovakia for a conference. Not a salutary introduction to the vaunted Pdx food carts but all would be forgiven the next day at Lardo…

      After Powell’s for a much-too-short browse, a tea snack at Ace Stumptown to try the kouign amann, some pu-erh tea for the SO and a Queen’s iced tea for me. The SO liked the kouign amann so much I suggested he nab another (yes, they get their pastries from Little T and there was one left even though it was four in the afternoon). I found the bottom of the kouign amann to be a bit leathery for my taste but the top was buttery, caramelized crunchy and delicious.

      We had a 7:30 reservation at Metrovino and found free parking across the street which impressed the heck out of us on a Friday night. We encountered our first attitude since arriving from the server who seemed to be a bit off her game all night, quoting the wrong pasta special and failing to mention that the cider listed as draught was actually bottled, among other minor faux pas. Since only one of us ordered wine we probably missed the major draw for Metrovino, which is the 60-odd by-the-glass offerings of wine. We ordered Ken’s Artisan bread for $3 which came with a slightly odd blob of pesto-y oil dip and tried the beet and the cauliflower salad which were both solid if not particularly imaginative.

      We’d booked one of the two tables in the place where you can order from both the bar and the regular menu as I wanted access to the burger, which was a stunner. Even the lack of fries (burger with a salad, for shame!) did not detract from the perfection of this double-pattied wonder ($15). The duck confit was also very nice as was the flank steak, whereas the pasta special wasn’t very special after all and expensive at $25 for a relatively small, meat-free portion. We shared a coconut lime pannacotta that was reasonably interesting but for a strange tuft of microgreens on top that detracted from the overall effect.

      This was the most expensive meal of the trip and still quite reasonable at $225 all in but the addition of a 20% autograt threw us a little, as we were a party of four and there was no heads up about this being included. I’d go back for the burger. We moved on to Beaker and Flask for decent cocktails in a funky but fairly empty room (a bit surprising on a Friday night till we learned they close at 11) and were driven away by the truly awful music on a mediocre sound system. We closed out the evening with a return to the Teardrop.

      Pix l to r: Coava; Coava capp and Nuvrei Danish; kouign amann from Little T; biscuits from Bakery Bar; capp at Heart; haluska, schnitzelwich and muenster from Tabor; tea at Stumptown Ace

      1. re: grayelf


        We decided to try Lovejoy Bakery’s egg and fontina breaky sandwich plus a date Danish. This bakery is in a fairly new complex and is quite modern looking inside. It is also very large so despite the lineup to order it was easy to find a shared table. I loved the sandwich (what’s not to love about melty Fontina in fluffy scrambled eggs enrobed in a perfect ciabatta bun) and J took to the date Danish. Next stop on our coffee tour was Coffeehouse NW with yet more Rejuvenation fixtures and dapper baristas. Cappucino here was on point with particularly lovely milk, I was told a combination of organic and Sunshine. They use Sterling coffee.

        On the way back from the craft market in Oldtown, we spotted Floyd’s Coffee Shop, whose name has personal connections for me – is it any good, Portland Hounds?

        We were starting to think lunch and Lardo. After initial disappointment in finding they were out of fries, and that the fried curds at Rockabillie’s next door had been off the menu for a while, I recovered enough to order a porchetta sandwich. When I explained we had come all the way from Vancouver BC to try the fries, the owner said conspiratorially that he would “hook me up” if there were enough fries left after he finished filling a huge special order. He came up trumps and we had our fries, gratis no less. Dang, Portlanders are generous. The fries were worth the suspense, second only to ones cooked in duck fat in my book. And a bonus was the spectacular homemade ketchup – I finally begin to understand why people love ketchup on fries so much after tasting this one.

        You can’t come to Portland without having a Stumptown, so we tried the Coeur d’Afrique in a cappuccino at Barista on Alberta. This is a very nice café and the SO's favourite aesthetically.

        Instead of a tea snack, it was time for a happy hour burger at Matchbox. This burger is better than any burgers I’ve tried in Vancouver. And it’s $5. Just sayin’. Done to order, of course. We added Manchego for a buck. This is a good place to bring smalls for the discount menu as it is not pubby at all. I had an excellent whisky sour complete with amarena cherry for $5 and the SO had a pint of Fort George 1811 lager for $3.50 (!) which he remarked was quite hoppy but without any bitterness. He also received a generous taste of the Victory Dry nitro stout from Ireland they had on tap (free of course). Our server kindly explained what nitro meant and I promptly forgot but it has something to do with making it smoother and creamier.

        We made it to Grǘner with not a moment to spare and were seated in a corner table. We opted for a draft beer (10 Barrel Sinistor Black Ale; $8) and a Citro e Spezie (Small's gin, Cocchi Americano, tangerine juice, bay leaf, black pepper $10). Another successful Oregon beer, and a less successful cocktail in which the individual ingredients weren't apparent nor was it better than the sum of its parts. A basket of bread and soft pretzels was very good and gratis. We started out with polenta croquettes stuffed with raclette ($5) which were delightful if light on the cheese. The SO went with the salad of frisee, radicchio, endive, kohlrabi, carrots and radishes ($10) which was quite light and had asiago cheese and lemon cream. I love dumplings and the beet-ricotta ones with pickled beets on the side ($13) were a bit pricey but super light. J had the mustard spaetzle with guinea hen ragu ($22) which was tasty and moderately sized. I made the mistake of trying the spaetzle and had to have a side for myself ($4). These are really outstanding. I lost my head and ordered the choucroute garni ($26) which came with full-size saucisson and bratwurst, three medallions of cured pork tenderloin (perfectly cooked with a solid centre of pink but no hint of curing), a large piece of braised pork belly and a veritable Mt Hood of sauerkraut. Plus two tiny pointless Yukon gold spuds which I ignored. Needless to say I only tasted the sausages and left most of the very good sauerkraut behind. No room whatsoever for dessert.

        After dinner we met a friend at Bailey’s Taphouse for a few beer, including Lucky Lab Rose City Red (Portland; $2.50 for 10 oz), Caldera Oatmeal Stout (Ashland, OR; $2.50 for 10 oz), Stone/Elysian/Bruery La Citueilla Callente pumpkin ale (Escondido CA; $4 for 12 oz), Lompoc Cherry Christmas Sour (Portland; $5.50 for 12 oz). What a great little spot, lots of choice (19 on tap that night) and really good value. Love that you can get 10 or 20 oz glasses in many of the pours and that the electronic board updates you on how much is left in each cask, not to mention what has been recently tapped.

        Pix l to r: egg wich and danish at Lovejoy; capp at Coffeehouse NW; porchetta and fries at Lardo; porchetta interior; capp at Barista; beverages at Matchbox; burger and sample at Matchbox

        1. re: grayelf


          We checked out of the hotel by 9 am and headed to Fuller’s as we wanted to stay in the Pearl, targeting a 12 noon liftoff. This was an okay choice, though everything seemed a bit underseasoned and oddly, not greasy enough for a greasy spoon. I enjoyed my corned beef hash well enough, but J wasn’t thrilled with his “famous” omelette and as posted online this place suffers from the $2 too much rule. It is very cute with the double-U-shaped seating and the original diner feel. Also dug the free parking till 1 pm on Sundays!

          The owner of Coffeehouse NW had suggested we try the Sterling stand (they are affiliated) if we had a chance which we did on our last coffee stop before heading home. I had an excellent mocha, my second favourite of the trip and J had a capp that he liked so much he took a 10 oz bag of it home. It was La Bisunga from Costa Rica. It was also ideally situated next to a Trader Joe’s for a choc covered pomegranate seed stockup. We popped into Moonstruck and I picked up all their salted caramel offerings, including a delectable dulce de leche. By this time Northwest Sweets had opened (they open at 11 in the winter, not 10 as noted online). Their soft caramels are rightfully revered. I particularly liked the peanut and plain, was less enamoured of the bacon which I found tasted of artificial smoke to me.

          Since we were close by we went back to Ken’s Artisan Pastries for an apple galette and a morning bun with orange zest for the road. A final stop at Walgreen’s for David’s pumpkin seeds and we were on the road at noon.

          As I said, we’ll be back, and soon.

          Pix l to r: Fuller's, hash, omelette; Sterling, drinks; Ken's morning bun

          1. re: grayelf

            Great trip report!! Thanks so much for reporting back and I am so glad you had a good trip here!

            1. re: grayelf

              One of the best PDX reports ever. Thanks. Hurry back. Make sure you're here over a Saturday morning for Portland Farmers Mkt.
              Compulsory 20% tip for four at Metrovino that wasn't even warned about? Never heard of such a thing. Disturbing.

              1. re: Leonardo

                *Blushing* -- glad you enjoyed! We're planning to come again for the Victoria Day long weekend, that's May 17-22 so you don't have to google it :-). Portland FM definitely top priority. Also eating a bunch more of your excellent burgers. Just found out today that the only place that does a burger I like here at home is closing, wah!

                And no, there was no warning re the autograt.

                1. re: grayelf

                  OK Grayelf, you have no excuses left to *not* start your own food blog !

                  Fab reports, btw.

                  Day 2-1/2 here in PDX. Wow what freaky weather is this (we're in Lake Oswego).

                  Yesterday (Mon) only highlight for me was a visit to St. Honore Boulangerie/Patisserie. Good, but not out-of-this-world, almond croissant and chausson aux pommes. Paninis were better.

                  Made it to Pine State Biscuits today for lunch, just avoided the lunch crowd and even got a table. I had the Reggie, LR. Jr. had plain biscuit with just bacon, wife had an assortment of side dishes (said somethin' about watching her waistline ....... yeah right sure, tryin' to guilt-trip me). Reggie was fab, as was Jr's bacon strips. Brought an extra biscuit home for later-evening enjoyment with apple butter. It's all good.

                  Tomorrow (Wed) agenda includes Podnah's as highlight of my day.

                  Btw Grayelf, Willamette Weekly just came out with their 2012 Cheap Eats edition. I have hardcopy I can bring home for ya if you wish, let me know. Here's the same in bits & bytes:


      2. Thank you for the fabulous report...I will be checking in with you when we visit Vancouver!!!

        1 Reply
        1. re: cheeseisheaven

          Thanks, and please do come visit the Vancouver/BC board when you come up. It really didn't dawn on me till we did the drive how close our two cities are. And it seems there are some complementary cuisine styles between the two locales.

          As soon as we get back from San Francisco, I'll be back pestering y'all for new ideas for our May trip ;-).

        2. hi from one vancouverite (the real one in Canada) to another -- check out the farmers' market in Lake O (Lake Oswego) -- it should be up and running by the time you are back down for victoria day wkd

          and if you are done with Trader Joe's (gasp, is there a Cdn who is?) - we go to Grocery Outlet - it's a bit of a garage sale place but you never know what treasure you'll find - the people are very helpful etc etc.

          4 Replies
          1. re: Georgia Strait

            Grayelf, if you do end up back in PDX, and have the chance to go to Lake Oswego farmers market, also check out St. Honore Bakery in the central Lake View Village:


            I had an ok light lunch there. It'd be cool to hear what you think of them.

            1. re: LotusRapper

              Thanks for the Lake O reccs, will add them to my "outside Pdx" lists. As for which Vancouver is "real-er" I daresay the one in Washington is just as real as our hometown. I had to stipulate Vancouver BC whenever people asked where I was from or they'd think I just drove over the bridge :-).

              1. re: grayelf

                I kept saying that too when PDX folks asked where I'm from. "The colder one", I replied.

                To be fair, Vancouver WA deserves credit to being the "first" Vancouver, incorporated in 1857, while Vancouver BC was incorporated in 1886.

                1. re: grayelf

                  Check out Mijune's post on St. Honore ......