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Return Trip: Help me narrow down my dinners

  • c

Hey all,

Heading back to Portland from NY in a few months for three nights, and looking to narrow down some choices. One night will have to be Le Pigeon (I go here every time I'm in town, can't get enough). That leaves two night, and so far I was thinking about...

Nostrana - Eat a fair amount of Italian in NY. Still worth it?

Clyde Common - This menu really interests me. I'm into cocktails, but the rest of my party is not, so that should not really be a factor. Without the drinks, is it worth coming for just the food? If I do go, on a Thursday or weekend night (~6-8PM, 4 people) what kind of wait would I be looking at?

Toro Bravo - Have been wanting to try it for the last few years, but the inability to make reservations along with long waits scare me off. Others in my party are really not fans of long waits. Four people, peak dinner times, Thurs/Fri/Sat nights, how long of a wait should I expect? Is the neighborhood interesting (ie, if we went early knowing we would have to wait, is there stuff to browse in the area for an hour or two)?

Ned Ludd - Looks and sounds very Portland, which is great.

Aviary - A little concerned about the limited menu

Laurelhurst Market - Usually avoid steakhouses but this one looks interesting

Castagna - Also thought about eating here last year while Lightner was still at the helm. Now he's in NY, generating an insane amount of buzz, and charging $150 for meals in his tiny, likely very-hard-to-reserve space. Kicking myself as he's now cooking a bit out of my normal price range. But it sounds like the food is still great here?

Of course, I'm open to all suggestions...just didn't want to make another "tell me where to eat" thread. Staying downtown, but have a car so can go anywhere. Any type of food works, but would probably avoid any asian (although will be hitting Pok Pok for lunch). Prefer bigger, interesting flavors, lots of fresh/local produce, meat, etc.


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  1. All those places will have their advocates and detractors for variety of reasons. While it doesn't get lots of run and is probably seen as a passe recommendation but if you're looking for bigger, interesting flavors with local produce and meat I would have a hard time not pushing you to consider Wildwood. Dustin Clark can really freaking cook. The food there over the past couple/three years is totally top notch if what you are looking for is full on "NW cuisine." They have a good wine program and while they may not be as flat our cocktail-y as Clyde Common, Beaker, etc. they do have good bartenders that make good drinks. The clientele is certainly older than most of the places you describe so it won't be a raging time but the food and booze will be straight up what you are saying you are looking for. They also do lunch so maybe you could work it in there if you want more of an atmosphere laden environ for dinner.

    I haven't been to Toro Bravo in quite some time but I think an hour minimum is what you should bank on as far as a wait unless you want to eat at 5. There are a couple of bars nearby to pass the time. If you are going to be downtown and it's a "few months" from now the new Paley's might be open. From what I've heard the realistic opening point is probably around September. That might be something to keep your ear to the ground about.

    1. All great choices, including the WIldwood rec below.

      Yes, Clyde Common's food is a good reason to go there, even if you aren't into cocktails. Their menu is one of those "shopping list" types which drive me crazy, but the outcome always proves that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

      I love Nostrana and I am from NYC. It's a hard call. Cathy Whims is a great chef (nominated for waht seems like a bazillion years in a row for a James Beard Award - being dubbed the "Susan Lucci of the JBAs" these days. ;o) and the food is awesome...but I hear you. Then again that 2 kilo porterhouse, which is sublime and $60, would cost you over $100 in NYC, as would some of the $40 bottles of fabulous wine...and it's not likely you are going to be able to get Laughingstock Farms Pork in NYC. So yeah, I can make the argument, and mean it, either way...sorry! ;o)

      DItto for Laurelhurst Market...it is great - and you can have an amazing meal here even if you don't order steak. We have amazing farmers around here and the quality of the meat and the veggies is outrageous - LM, like Nostrana, has chefs that tend to err on the simple side of preps, letting the womderful ingredients take center stage.

      How about thisplan - if you feel that you really just want a simpler meal, instead of an entree with 20 ingredients (and it is truly possible that you might get palate fatigue) choose Nostrana or LM. A great steak, fabulous roast chicken, wonderful mussels/clams/oysters, delicious salads...these can be quite a restorative for a foodie on a mission with limited days in a land that is an embarrassment of riches. Sometimes I just want to share a big steak, a big salad and a bottle of wine, ya know?

      I love Aviary, everything I have had has been excellent...but yes, small menu. It's never been a problem for me, but I do understand.

      You could do a small plates crawl, if you can limit yourself at each stop and do both Aviary and Ned Ludd in the same night.

      1. Thanks for the replies! Wildwood has been on my radar the past few years, but have always gone with something else, thinking that it seemed a bit more staid than I was looking for. The current menu looks really good though, so I'll definitely add it to the list.

        This is too tough, everything looks great.

        Is Beast still good? Doesn't seem to get much note on CH anymore...

        3 Replies
        1. re: crsin

          Wildwood is a rare fine dining beast - it is open for lunch, even on Saturday...might be a way to try it without sacrificing a dinner spot. I love their crab cakes, and they make a great burger. I've been there for lunch and for dinner, many times, and I have never had a bad meal there.

          I haven't been to Beast. I love Naomi Pomeroy's food but I am not a huge fan of communal table dining, especially at that price point. On vacation, however, that might not be a bad thing - you can get to know some locals and ask some questions about places you want to go. Also, now that it is starting to get warm out, there are usually two 2-tops outside in addition to the communal tables inside. It's on my list, but price-wise it is a special occasion spot, and special does not jive with communal for me. She is going to be moving the restaurant downtown soon, though, so maybe that will change...

          If you want to try something that is unlike anything you have ever had, go to Tanuki. SIgn says "No sushi, no kids" and she means it. Say you want the omakase for $20 or $25 each and pick a bottle of sake out from a great list and prepare to be amazed. If you have more than 2 people, know that there is only one 4-top there and you will wait for it. And if crazy Japanese zombie strippers or animated x-rated hamsters aren't your thing...well, I guess Tanuki shouldn't be on your list. ;o)

          Yeah, there are a lot of great places to eat and drink around here. We're lucky and we know it. ;o)

          1. re: JillO

            Had a good streak going of Saturday lunches at Wildwood earlier in the year. While the menu isn't as extensive or intricate at lunch the food is terrific nonetheless and if you're a sitting in the bar and eating kind of person it's great. They also have a small patio if the weather is good.

            1. re: JillO

              Word on the Beast move is sometime after Labor Day; I was *promised* by Ms. Pomeroy on our most recent visit (March 2012) that it wouldn't interfere with an early September planned trip. And, it's very easy to ignore other diners at the same table, probably easier to ignore them than to draw them in. So I wouldn't let that stop me (we are also very much NOT communal table people).

          2. Not to muddy the waters for ya, but if you haven't been, St. Jack is awesome. Great food, fabulous cocktails, super wines (some of which are sold by the carafe, which I like). Frog legs are amazing, delicious charcuterie, specials like pied au cochon should not be missed...another spot where you can't go wrong. Reservations are definitely needed.

            1. By all means check out Little Bird. It's perfect for a light meal or something substantial. Highly recommend reservations. The bar has great cocktails. Wonderful vibe there. Second the recommendation of St. Jack. Roost for breakfast on the weekend. June for dinner. Biwa for ramen and izakaya noshing. Noisette for something a bit more substantial. And there's always Le Pigeon, too. Get there right before 5p and nab a seat at the bar to catch all the action the chefs have going on. Thursday's, Fridays and Saturdays are best. If you'll be here on the weekend, check out the PSU farmers market that opens at 8:30a. Great goodies to bring home and many choices for breakfast. Lastly, Frank's Noodle House for handmade/cut noodles. The dumplings are to die for.

              1. Thanks for the St. Jack rec. Worried it'd be too much French in a short trip with Le Pigeon (not that they're exactly serving up the classics at LP...). MsMora: already have plans for Le Pigeon, and therefore won't be doing Little Bird. Thanks for the other tips.

                Tanuki also looks cool. Unfortunately, a couple people in my party aren't fans of Japanese or Korean, so probably won't be going.

                I'm leaning toward crossing Nostrana, Aviary and Castagna off my list...at least they're at the bottom for now. So if you all had 2 nights, would you choose Ned Ludd, LM, Toro Bravo, and/or Clyde Common? I'm sure they're all great, but surely there are a couple that rise above the rest?

                Still open to suggestions, of course, if my list is missing something....

                6 Replies
                1. re: crsin

                  Personally, I'd go TB and CC, I'm not a huge Ned Ludd fan. Lots of folks are, though...

                  1. re: JillO

                    Thanks! I'm definitely leaning toward biting the bullet and doing Toro Bravo. My fellow diners won't be happy about the wait, but we usually do brunch and don't eat again until dinner so maybe we can get over there by 5 and avoid the crowds. After that, leaning toward Laurelhurst Market, but it's essentially tied with CC for me.

                    I love the idea of Ned Ludd, but the current menu doesn't really grab me as much as the others. Also, maybe I'm imagining things, but it seems like it's more limited than it was when I looked at it for trips in previous years (fewer sections, no more meat pies, etc.)

                    1. re: crsin

                      Yeah, I love Laurelhurst Market too. You will just have to plan another trip, crsin! ;o)

                  2. re: crsin

                    Was just there last weekend and ate dinners at Ned Ludd, Nostrana and Clyde Common. Of the 3, Clyde Common was the winner. While we wanted to love Ned Ludd it just didn't do it for us - nothing bad, just small misses. Nostrana had the most enjoyable cocktails and was local and lovely, but it's still Italian. Clyde Common's dessert menu was the most enjoyable and while I ate light (John's Vegetable plate), my friends about licked their plates clean. And with seating upstairs plus the communal-like tables downstairs you might have an easier time getting in to CC? Enjoy!

                    1. re: Celery

                      Interesting, thanks. I'm leaning toward dropping Ned Ludd from the list, but I'll see what the June menu has to offer.

                      It's really down to CC, Toro Bravo and Laurelhurst Market. Will probably do Laurelhurst, and play the other by ear, depending on the time we end up being ready to eat. If we're going to dinner during peak hours, I'll probably head to CC, since our hotel is down the street (assuming it's okay to put name on the list and come back later?) plus more seating it sounds like. If we end up eating early enough to avoid the crowd at TB, that will probably be the one.

                      Then again, if by some freak chance the stars align and I'm able to get two walk-in dinners in this trip, might just have to do both!

                      1. re: crsin

                        Dunno if you were interested in doing a brunch but we had a lovely one at Ned Ludd a week and a half ago on visit. Excellent lamb rillette. Could be a way to give them a try...

                  3. Read a bit on this, but couldn't get a clear answer: is it recommended that people do the tasting menu at Toro Bravo, or piece together their own? How many plates do you usually get per person with the $30pp tasting?

                    Still having a hell of a time deciding between TB, CC, and LM. Would it be worth it to skip a lunch at Pok Pok for a lunch at LM or CC, instead?

                    2 Replies
                      1. re: Leonardo

                        Will do. The other menus don't appeal to me as much for lunch.

                        Any insight re: TB tasting/chef's choice option?

                    1. We were at Castagna in mid-March of this year, and it was still excellent. Very, very modern; very, very MG. Still, it was >$300 for two with wine and tip for the large tasting menu, so be prepared. We'd go back again, but probably do the smaller menu. If you like places like Manresa (Los Gatos), you'll probably like Castagna.

                      Also highly recommended: Genoa. Very Washington D.C./East Coast polished. Creative wine choices, well-explained. Not too pretentious: the waiter joined in on a "Portlandia"-inspired joke about the provenance of ingredients in one dish.

                      Beast: one of our go-to places in Portland. Ignore the communal-table aspect; it's quite possible to ignore one's tablemates and not feel out of place. The food is excellent, but they are very serious about the no-substitutions rules. I think they loosened them up a bit for simple ingredients easily left out (e.g., a sprinkle of cheese left off a salad), but you should definitely call them first. Still, a top recommendation.

                      Not on your list: Gruner. Amazing modern (read: not biergarten) German. Definitely budget-savvy, as one can get good, affordable wines and appetizers that will dreamily fill but not break the bank. Quiet enough for conversation. Highly recommended.

                      I *love* the chicken-fried steak at The Original downtown; it's a nice flat-iron steak, not that nasty chewy stuff one usually gets, and is just excellent with a maple-bacon milkshake. Herself usually finds stuff to eat there; there is a broad range. I wouldn't burn a dinner on it, but definitely a brunch or breakfast.

                      Ned Ludd: we'll go back, if only for the wicked take they do on S'Mores, but the pork belly was just wrong (as in, grilled instead of braised or otherwise slow-cooked, so the fat was just Not Right), but the maple-glazed bacon was exceptional. We've only been once; might be an appetizer-place, or dessert after a Reggie at the (fairly close) Pine State Biscuits.

                      Two dinners and blow the budget: Tough choice, but probably Genoa and Castagna. A little more budget-savvy, Beast and Gruner. I'd happily eat at any of these again.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: w0x0f

                        Thanks for recs! Ate at Gruner during my last visit and loved it. Hate to repeat places when there are too many others to try (even though I'm already reapeating LP :)). Might reconsider beast, as I've wanted to go there for years. Communal seating doesnt bother me, either. It's quite easy to ignore the other people, then it's not different than eating in a resaurant with closely-spaced tables (though I could see how even that might not be desirable for a "special" dinner). Will keep the other choices in mind.

                      2. Hey guys-driving through town tomorrow and hitting Pok Pok for lunch on the way out. Just wanted to check in with you all to see if there are some "must order" dishes you all would suggest (aside from the wings)...

                        I realize a lot has been said about great dishes, but couldn't come up with any real consensus as I combed through old threads and blog posts. Any guidance with the menu? No problem ordering on our own, I just wanted to see if there were any items you all thought we'd be remiss for not ordering, or if there were any dishes (or menu sections) that aren't the best it has to offer.

                        Thanks again!

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: crsin

                          Green papaya salad, khao soi kai, sauteed river vegetable.

                          1. re: Leonardo

                            Thanks, had a great meal. Unfortunately we didn't make it until the transition period between lunch and dinner so we only had the abbreviated menu. Luckily the khao soi kai was on there, so ordered that along with papaya salad and some wings. All very good.

                            Will report back once we've returned and eaten our way through Portland.

                        2. Hey again-any last-minute suggestions for brunch on Saturday (ie tomorrow motning)? Staying downtown but willing to drive. Any new development for best breakfast in the city? Here are some I am considering:

                          Kenny & Zukes: at least one in our party won't be eating pastrami...are non-pastrami breakfast dishes good?

                          Mother's: has the convenience leg-up, but again, can drive and will if food is worth it


                          Screen Door: the fried chicken and waffles seem to be the most touted here, but pretty positive none of us would end up ordering it. Other dishes good enough to warrant the wait?

                          Another option would be to grab some random bites (plus pine state biscuits if they have them) at the Farmer's Market

                          Any suggestion/other recommendations? Also, what kind of wait will we be looking at on a Saturday around 10 or 11 (4 people)?

                          Thanks again!

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: crsin

                            Screen Door, about 1.5 hour wait.
                            Mother's, you can do better.
                            How about J & M Cafe?
                            Farmers Mkt is a great idea.
                            K & Z has plenty of good non pastrami choices.

                            1. re: Leonardo

                              Reiterating my Ned Ludd suggestion, will fit the bill good food wise and avoiding a wait wise. They also take reservations if you know your time. +1 on J&M also -- really good biscuits and crispy grits (sub them for the potatoes if you get 'em). No resos but I think it is less busy than many of the other brunch places. Laid back, sunny, no pretense here. Halfpint Coffee just next door worth a look also. Both would require driving but we found parking very easy at the former and not bad at the latter, free in both cases.

                              Lineup would be freakishly long at Pine State at that time if my May visit at opening is any indication. We opted for buying some lovely bread, cheese and fruit instead and feasting in our wee hotel kitchenette.

                            2. re: crsin

                              Thanks for the suggestions. Wasn't willing to do a 1.5hr wait, so gave K&Z a shot. Short wait (~10min) at around 10am. Had the swiss and pastrami omelette along with an egg cream, bagel and some latke. All very good. I'm really impressed with their pastrami. Smokey, and I even think I may prefer it to Katz's. Also really enjoyed their egg cream--nice, dense foam head on it.

                              Will definitely use both of your suggestions for tomorrow's breakfast.