Another great gastrotrip to Portland for Vancouver, BC Hound
Since this is going to be a long report which I'll post in chunks with pictures, here are the highlights from our superb May trip to Portland – can’t wait to come back! (starred items were top five):
iced coffee at Red E’s
green salad at Foster Burger
breakfast sandwich with ham at downtown Bunk
empanadas from Pdx Argentina
*lamb rillette from Ned Ludd
1/3 lb burger at Matchbox Lounge
*Evoe (see report here http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/852569
)*semolina muffin and cannele from Courier
*Nuvrei’s cinnamon orange glazed Danish
*Chop garlic salami pie with arugula from Ken’s Artisan Pizza
Tadeo’s in B’ham on the way home (see report on another board here http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/831017#7367038
Lowlights: WAY too many overly sweet items that to my palate should be savoury, Wildwood burger, Le Pigeon, Cascade sours, Olympic Provisions’ frank, Helser’s
Here’s my query thread where I got good advice from generous Portland Hounds: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/846961
Arrived in Portland at about 4 pm on a Thursday via the Alberta exit and nipped over to Killingsworth to check out the original Red E for coffee (next to Saraveza which looks like yet another great place for a beer). I had heard about Red E's from an article in the NY Times. It is a great shop with high ceilings and lots of room. One of the owners gave us a cappuccino (Heart Stereo which is 50% Brazilian and 50% Ethiopian, nice coffee but the milk was a bit sub par with big bubbles) and a wonderful iced coffee poured from what looks just like a beer tap [see photo]. We decided to go get ice cream as the day was warm and headed over to Ruby Jewel on Mississippi. I really liked the idea of an ice cream flight (six wee cups for six dollars served on a ice cream cone shaped “bat”) but we settled for regular cones as we wanted to walk. Neither of us were wowed by the ice cream here – we tried vanilla bean and salted caramel with chocolate which was too sweet and prolific. We stopped into Mr Green Beans to ogle the green coffee beans and the coffee gear. Amnesia Brewing looked like a great place for a brew, with outdoor seating and a bbq. The Prickly Ash cart looked worth pursuing for various roujiamo at the same corner as Prost, a German pub that beckoned from within a lovely heritage building. After a bit more ambling on Mississippi, including a stop at a really fun store called the Missing Link and a browse at The Meadow where we bought a Sahagun chocolate with popped corn in it (not salutary) and to pick up the chocolate bar from Woodblock that I’d read about (which I really like, very different than the dark chocolate I'm used to which for me is a good thing as I generally don't like dark chocolate), we headed to the hotel.
At 8 pm I called Toro Bravo and didn’t get an answer so we opted for Foster Burger. We had fun checking out all of the music show posters, having seen a surprising number of the bands in the 90s. It was pretty quiet at 8:15 pm but our booth was comfortable. Upright Wheat Sour #4 was on the draft menu and the server was kind enough to bring me a sample: floral, light on malt, not very sour, actually kind of watery with a tobacco-ey aftertaste. J went for a pint of a local dark draft whose name I can't make out in my notes except for the letters EBC ($4.50) which he reported to be a bit gnarly and hoppy before it mellowed out. The milkshake was as delicious as reported (I got a small vanilla for $4.50 that was not small, made with soft serve). J wanted a salad and since they were out of the wedge, opted for a small green salad ($4) with ranch, fresh peas and topnotch housemade pickled beets that weren’t sweet. We then split a Foster burger for $5.50 on a slightly sweet An Xuyan bun and a strong beefy taste and a regular poutine ($6) with properly squeaky Beechers’ curds, lovely gravy and great fries. This was a lot of food and drink for $25.50. No photos because it was too dark.
Coffeehouse NW was our next java target on Friday am where we tried a cappuccino with El Salvador and a mocha that was way too sweet (I'd ask for less chocolate next time). We also tried a bacon cheese scone from Kim Boyce’s Bakeshop. It was tasty despite the use of whole wheat flour but too sweet. Having last visited in chilly March we discovered this café is quite warm on a sunny day.
Then it was off to Cacao to pick up some lavender salted caramels for my SIL and to admire the treats in this beautiful and well laid out shop. I eyed the Batch ghost pepper choc ($2.50) and the gold leafed Alma offerings [see pix] but sadly we ran out of time and didn't make it back to Cacao to try the ghost.
Next was Powell’s to spend $88 on books without even leaving the front room. We stashed our treasures at the counter and headed over to the newest Bunk to share a breakfast sandwich. Dang, this is a cute shop. I’ve read complaints that you can’t dine in but we liked the seating set up, especially the tall counter chairs in the window. And what a fab sando. The egg was done perfectly, the Tillamook vintage white cheddar was tangy and savoury and the ham was hammy ($6) – the server steered me away from the bacon and the sausage options because they are sweet. Overheard another customer favourably comparing Bunk to Ike’s in SF.
Our contemplative time visiting The Grotto worked us up an appetite so we headed over to Thien Hong for an order of pepper-salted squid ($11.25) which wasn’t amazing but did have a certain addictive quality. It’s a huge order that we had to leave most of behind as we had other goals, namely Kesone for nam khao ($10.50). The young man who served us ordered it hot though it wasn’t particularly. I really enjoyed the sorrel leaves (which I later saw at the PSU farmers market) on the plate, and the dish was solid, if perhaps not quite up to my benchmark version at Ventian in Oakland. He also recommended the Thai Basil on Division, Thai Blues and Cha Ba Thai plus Isaan Thai which his uncle runs.
By this time it was Crazy Hour (M-F 2-5) at Killer Burger so we split a burger and fries ($4.95, regularly $7.95). This was a really solid burg for the money though the processed cheese was not to the SO’s taste (I have a soft spot for it but only on certain kinds of burgers), not as beefy as Foster’s but great crispy and non-sweet bacon. The fries were piping hot and well salted, ideal with a pint of Bloodshed Red Ale ($4) which was full of his beloved pub carpet flavours.
We had noticed Voodoo 2 on the way to The Grotto so no lineup and free parking = touristy stop! I had a Raspberry Romeo (real raspberries in the jelly!) and the SO had a Portland Cream, billed as the “official donut of Portland." Both were very nice if not terribly special. The brewed Stumptown hit the spot for the SO, who believes in coffee and donuts together. Loved that the parking space lines are painted in baby pink! We sat outside as it was a beautiful day and watched the group of kids at the next table who had driven 45 minutes to get the bucket o’ ’nuts (actually two buckets) which is about 40 donuts in a bucket. Also loved the ivy monster in the parking lot.
Friday night was dinner at Le Pigeon. We bumped into the chef, his wife and their baby in line at Spielman’s last trip and he came over to say hi which was nice on a busy Friday. We got seats at the end of the communal table at the back of the restaurant which I think are the best ones (apart from the bar which is not reservable). J tried a Spanish Mont Sant Granaxto D’A 2010 ($9) We decided to order three appetizers and the burger. The beet salad with mache, feta and peppers ($10) was solid apart from the slightly bizarre addition of raw uber hot pepper rounds that kinda killed the beet flavour. We found the foie gras to be too sweet and lacking in any foie flavour but it was well prepared. The pigeon tartare with fava beans, spicy garlic and pecorino broth ($15) came in a broth that tasted so strongly of pecorino that neither of us could tell what the meat was like and the favas were completely overwhelmed. The burger ($12) was a bit of a disaster as it was so smothered in wasabi that I couldn’t detect much else, including the blue cheese dressing. Until the second bite when I detected that the patty was not cooked properly. I had requested medium rare. The server noticed I wasn’t eating it and I mentioned that it seemed underdone. She whisked it away and soon returned saying “that burger was not rare, it was raw” and apologizing profusely. She said they would take it off the bill and asked if I wanted another but I was a bit put off so declined. This left us room for foie gras beignets which were delicious if again lacking in foie taste. The service was flawless but overall we were disappointed in the food. Perhaps we should have gone for mains instead?
After dinner, we headed over to Cascade to try some sours. I had two tasting flights at $8 for four two ounce pours. It struck me as odd how concerned the ’tender was about serving me these small pours but I guess they have a higher alcohol content than many of the other beers on offer. The server recommended the house made crackers as a palate cleanser which worked really well. I liked the strawberry, the vine and the apple the best though none of them really wowed me. Still a great way to sample a whack of sours at one go. J had a non-sour Cascade Stout ($4.50) for which he provided the following tasting notes: “liquid Eatmore with a bit of hot asphalt, a touch of mouldy coffee grounds, burnt hair and the smell of pumping gas.” Apparently these amount to a good beer as he thoroughly enjoyed it!
Pix: mocha and scone at NW Coffeehouse, breakfast sandwich at Bunk, gold Alma chocs at Cacao, squid at Thien Hong, nam khao at Kesone, burger at Killer, Le Pigeon, sours tasting at Cascade
On Saturday morning, I headed down to the PSU Farmers' Market (the real one) for opening at 8:30. I noticed as I did the rounds that by 8:45 there was already a big lineup for Pine State. After scouting, I decided on a 4-oz round of Ancient Heritage Dairy’s Valentine cheese from Madras, Oregon made on May 1 (a lovely soft sheeps’ milk cheese that could have been a tiny bit riper as the sample one was http://ancientheritagedairy.com/boxed... ), a baguette from Pearl Bakery and some Spice apples from Draper Girls Country Farm in Hood River, breakfast of Champions. I also picked up a lemon bar (very nice), a brownie and a rhubarb sandy at 90 cents a pop from Two Tarts for later, plus drinking vinegars from Blossom Vinegars (mango habanero as a gift for a mango loving foodie friend plus two cherry based ones), iridescent green chocolate frogs from Alma for Mum and a piece of peppermint bark from Seely Family Farms. I was also tickled to note that there are wine vendors at this open air farm market, which would never be allowed back home. The produce was gorgeous and way ahead of Vancouver, with trays of lovely wee strawberries going like hotcakes. And I got cheap parking within a block!
After our market-sourced repast we headed over to Coava for a restorative macchiato for J (Guatemalan San Rafael) where I finally got a pic of our fave table/drill press, then it was off on our quest for a lighting fixture.
Our next eating stop was an unnecessary 1 pm reservation for lunch at Wildwood. They have a spacious parking lot and a lovely little patio but the meal was a little disappointing. It started off well with a beer for J and an unusual salad of asparagus, strawberries, prosciutto, basil, goat cheese, saba and pistachio ($11). I’m going to have to try the strawberry and basil combo at home. The house ground beef hamburger was overdone and bland with a too sweet bun and sad fries ($14 with unremarkable cheese). J’s hand made asparagus linguine was better with plenty of the titular veggy and morels plus green garlic, a sunny egg and River’s Edge Sunset Bay chevre ($17 with crispy prosciutto added). Sadly, the linguine was also overcooked. Considering one entire side of the menu is taken up by the local farmers and purveyors they use, I didn’t see it on the plate or in the restaurant which indoors came off as quite corporate, almost chain-y feeling.
Since I only ate half my burger I had room for dessert and we looked into Salt and Straw nearby (complete zoo) and tried to get some caramels from Northwest Sweets which alas has changed hands. As I mentioned elsewhere, Steve Gazda is now the pastry chef for what looks to be a fine addition to the Oregon dining scene, Paulee. We decided to head back over to Mr Green Beans where I purchased an entry level Hario pourover. Our final fixtures stop was Schoolhouse Electronics which turned out to be too modern for what we had in mind but the trip wasn't wasted as we discovered another outpost of Ristretto at which to sample a cappucino.
Next up was the Alberta district where we hit up two Mexican groceries and strolled in the suddenly very warm afternoon. There was a lull at this Salt and Straw and we had several tastes. J got a black currant sorbet that was intensely flavoured and somehow overly rich despite being a sorbet. The flavours I tried suffered from the same issue: I can’t imagine eating a whole cone of any of them, though the rhubarb and anise crumble was tasty in a spoon. I opted for a serviceable slice of Tahitian vanilla salted caramel apple pie at Random Order. Then we spotted the Argentina Pdx truck and I destroyed two empanadas (they are really empanaditas). They were both delightful, well executed flaky pastry surrounding a beef and a spinach filling respectively. The chimichurri, provided when requested, was just okay. There was a big table of Argentinians next to us who seemed to be enjoying the fare as well. Notice I said table – this is one of the food trailers that has its own covered seating area, woot!
Dinner was at Aviary. This is a nice room, especially if you get a seat around the edge (well, as long as you don’t have to sit on the poorly designed wooden benches that are higher at the front). I hemmed and hawed about a cocktail and then ordered the Flippin’ Wood which they were out of at 8:15 on a Saturday night (!) but enjoyed the replacement suggestion which was called One Night in Bangkok and consisted of vodka, kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass, lime, simple syrup and sesame glass ($9). I believe J had a pint of Anderson Valley-Boont amber ($4). The server suggested we try four plates which turned out to be more than enough. We had the oxtail croquettes with tomato jam ($9) which I found far too sweet even without the jam but J. liked. Next came the fried chicken skin salad with watermelon, bitter greens and baba ganoush ($10). I was quite a fan of the skin whereas J was not, so I ate most of it while he enjoyed the greens and watermelon. We also tried the warm vegetable salad with asparagus, fava beans, sugar snap peas, black olive cake and gruyere ($12) which we both appreciated, though I’d call them snow peas rather than snap. The crispy pig ear with coconut rice, Chinese sausage and avocado ($13) was very filling. J wasn’t a fan of the rice but I liked it. This repast cost us $57 and we couldn’t finish the last dish. I’d go back and try all different dishes.
Pix: strawberries, Chop Charcuterie, Valentine cheese at PSU Farmers Market, Coava drill press table and capp, Wilwood strawberry salad, pasta and burger, Ristretto cap and interior, empanadas from Pdx Argentina.
On Sunday, we hied ourselves to Ned Ludd for our (unnecessary) 10:30 brunch reservation. It was almost empty when we arrived but still very welcoming as the décor is rustic and the room is laid out in several smaller areas. There is a patio that would be lovely on a sunny day which this was not – the rains came overnight. We had a window seat in front of the patio, next best thing. They don’t make much of the fact that all the food is cooked in a wood oven on the menu but you can check it out if you like. J ordered a brewed Heart coffee (El Limonar from Guatemala) which he characterized as intense. We started with a pot of lamb rillette with vollkorn brot and excellent housemade pickles – mushrooms and asparagus -- ($9) which was seasoned perfectly and just lamby enough. All the plats looked good but we settled on pancetta, poached egg, soft polenta, mushrooms, asparagus and arugula ($13) for me and vegetable hash with sunny eggs and toast ($11) for J. My eggs were a bit hard (J’s were perfect) and my dish could have been warmer but these were both excellent and just creative enough to be interesting without stepping too far out of the brunch comfort food zone. I would return.
Later we swung by Clive to get the hours off the door (their website is a bit confusing, hope to make it there next trip) and deeked into Bunk Bar to try a cubano ($9). We had planned to go to the first Bunk on Morrison but since this one was right here… This struck me as a good sandwich not a great one, quite greasy and a bit one dimensional in taste. We did not finish the one we split, though we loved the potato chips (commercial Kettle Chips but very tasty) and one of the hot sauces, Red Pepper Sauce by Portland Pepper Sauce Company which they supply to provide some needed zip. Staffers couldn’t tell me much about it so I’ll have to try emailing the company. We pushed on to Evoe on Hawthorne. I liked it so much I’ve already done a post on it which you can find here: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/852569
We went next door to drool over the selections at Pastaworks (hello, wild local coral mushrooms). Back out on Hawthorne, we saw our favourite cart name so far: Fried Egg I’m in Love.
Cleverly emerging from Mt Tabor Park right at Division, we made a beeline for Matchbox Lounge and their happy hour 1/3 pound burger with Painted Hills beef ($5) which had been haunting me since March. It was as good as last time even minus the manchego and being just a hair overcooked. We also tried radishes with ramp butter ($4) and a couple of cocktails: the Bees Knees ($7) with Tanqueray Gin, Honey Syrup and lemon, shaken and served up, and the Ginger Snap ($5) with bourbon, ginger ale, fresh ginger and Angostura bitters for me -- good thing I wasn't driving after these strong libations. J had a Ninkasi Spring Reign ($3.50) which was just okay. We also checked out the solar eclipse.
We had unnecessary 8 pm reservations at Cassidy's which I had picked in large part because they had petrale sole on the menu, one of my favourite fish and difficult to get in restaurants at home. The waiter said they were subbing rockfish till it was used up (ack!) but when I told him it was our reason for coming, he persuaded the kitchen to serve up the real deal. The resulting pan-seared petrale sole with salsa verde, arborio rice croquette and grilled asparagus ($19) coulda been more seared but was nicely cooked and tasted just right. J had a (huge, too big to finish) half order of the seasonal daily risotto with asparagus and mushrooms which was a little sweet ($9!). My drink was a Prudence ($8) with Pimms, Smith and Cross rum, lemon, Earl Grey syrup, soda and J had a Fort George Working Girl Coffee Porter ($5.75) which he enjoyed very much. The service was attentive but relaxed, kinda like the room, which reminded me of an old fashioned pub in a hotel.
Pix: lamb rillette, room, polenta, veg hash at Ned Ludd, porchetta and hot sauce at Bunk Bar, mushrooms, Bee's Knees, radishes, burger and ginger drink at Matchbox, drinks and petrale sole at Cassidy's
On Monday the PNW weather caught up with us and it was pouring by the time we hit Courier Coffee for a cold brewed coffee (Colombian), cappuccino (Salvadoran, too mild for J), a wonderful, moist, crunchy pear semolina muffin (not too sweet or greasy) and a cannele (which we shared later) as good or better than the one we had from Ken’s in March. I wish J liked the coffee here more as it's a great little café and I'd happily return for the baked goods alone, all made in house in a tiny oven. I really like their ice cubes as well which are big and square, requiring only one per drink and thus less dilution. A note that the downtown Heart in the bike shop is already closed according to both our investigations and the barista at Courier.
I thought about supplementing with a porchetta from People’s Pig but alas it was closed, prolly ’cause of the precipitation, as only the Frying Scotsman was open for business at that pod. Still looking for a bit more of a nosh, we returned to Nuvrei and hit it right for the savoury and decadent sesame pretzel croissant with ham, Emmenthaler and béchamel ($4.50) , which looks burnt but isn't and the orange and apricot glazed cinnamon danish ($3), which was as good as last trip's at Coava and just as Grinchy looking. Methinks the pastry designer at Nuvrei has a sense of humour. Note to anyone dining in on a cold day: the tall chairs in the corner of the front window are best.
Next up was a trip to Olympic Provisions in the NW. It's a bright high ceilinged setting that was rather loud at 1:30 pm on Monday. I had just read that their frank ($7) had been selected as a top taste of 2012 by a local mag so we decided to try that, along with a pork rillette hand pie ($6), which was savoury and flaky with good accompaniments, especially the sweet pickles which I am not usually loving. The frank had great relish that I put on the hand pie, and the bun was nice, but the sausage itself was way too bitter and hoppy tasting (cooked in beer I was told after) so that you couldn't taste the meat, and it had no snap at all. Neither of us got it and we left most of it on the plate. I tried a Steve Smith iced tea ($2.50) and J had an Oakshire Line Dry Rye pale ale from Eugene, OR ($6).
Part of the reason we picked this Olympic Provisions was its proximity to Steve Smith Tea where we hied ourselves to next for a tasting of the bottled white and berry teas and two free sample bags (normally $1 each). This is a gorgeous retail outlet and the teas are lovely. We wandered down the street a bit further to find Breken Kitchen and a chance for J to try a hot Steve Smith tea called Brahmin ($2.50), their version of English Breakfast.
Since we were on that side of the river later, we went back to Coava again for a final coffee and to grab a pound to take home. I had been wanting to try one of the many celebrated pizza places in town. Since 5 pm was approaching, we scooted over to Ken’s Artisan Pizza and waited 15 minutes for opening (we were 14th and 15th in line). J had a Full Sail Ltd 5 from Hood, OR -- a good, malty amber -- and our server suggested the Chop garlic salami pie ($14) with added arugula ($2). For me, this was the best pizza evah though once again I would have found the sauce too sweet without the arugula. I had to force myself not to eat the crust and fill up too much. The dried chiles and crunchy salt added a bit of zip. The pizza ovens were also v. cool to look at. When J gallantly went to get the car as the skies opened, he noted that Bamboo Sushi smelled great next door.
We had reservations at Nostrana for dinner that night. You might be wondering why we didn't wait and have pizza there. I had been told that Ken's wasn't really Neapolitan style and Nostrana's was. I'm not a Naples-style pizza fan at all, having tried places at home and in SF that serve it and even trying it a bunch of times in Naples. So Ken's was the pre-appetizer! For our shared app at Nostrana, we sampled the Viridian Farms asparagus carpaccio with lemon vinaigrette, hard boiled egg, shaved pecorino and chive blossoms ($11, really fine dish, total spring in a bowl, already replicated at home twice). Since it was "meatball Monday" we tried the pork and beef ones with capellini, parmigiano and Marcella's number 3 tomato butter sauce ($15). Sadly the 'balls were overdone and hard, the sauce (once again, with the sweet) a tad too sweet but the pasta was perfectly cooked. Our shared main was king salmon with Castelvetrano olive tapenade, Umbrian lentils, and asparagus ($26). The salmon was almost underdone (thank heavens), the asparagus had lovely, crunchy, wood-singed tips, while the lentils were too sweet for me and a bit kludgy. The butterscotch budino was comped re the bad 'balls which was a nice and unexpected touch. J had the wine flight of three New Oregonians ($16): Teutonic Pinot meunier 2010 (Borgo Pass Vineyard), Matello 'Fool's Journey' 2009 Deux Vert Vineyard 83% Syrah, 17% Viognier and Cameron 'Arley's Leap' Pinot Noir 2009 (I actually liked the Syrah, which is unusual for me as I am not a fan of red wine, but then again I do like Viognier). The room was jammed on a Monday, not overly loud but rather a pleasant buzz, in part likely that we were seated along the window.
For our last day, I had planned an early lunch at Gruner to try their burger but the SO really wanted to take me to Helser’s. We shared the bacon cheddar hash ($8.95) and ham benedict ($9.75) plus house coffee ($2.50), overall a bit disappointing as he had really enjoyed it twice previously when he got the veg benedict. The orders were too large to finish as promised. Once again we really liked one of the bottled sauces on the table and not just because of the awesome name: Secret Aadvark habanero.
Fittingly we hit Ristretto by Tasty'n'Son's for coffee and a sour cream bar doughnut from Tonali's for the road (this was the first place we ever went in Portland). We missed all the turnoffs for Seattle Mexican/Vietnamese (express lanes) so the doughnut came in handy and was well executed with a crunchy exterior and a light but cakey interior.
Thanks again to all who contributed to our great trip. We’re looking forward to returning.
Pix: muffins and coffees, cannele at Courier, sesame croissant and Danish at Nuvrei, iced tea and hand pie, beer and frank at Olympic, room and pizzaiolo at Ken's, Ken's pie, asparagus salad and room at Nostrana, benny, hash and hot sauce at Helser's,
Glad you enjoyed it (and amazed you actually read it). I ran out of time to write shorter :-). You're absolutely right about only scratching the surface. I've found so many places to read about Portland that my "to try" list is still growing and of course there are new places opening up.
Your reports may be the best-written ever from a PDX visitor.
Notes: Kettle chips, while indeed commercial, are from Salem OR.
Glad you found some still-good apples at Draper Girls, cold-storaged from last fall. I had some heirloom fujis that were way past their peak.
I'm enjoying a Full Sail Ltd 5 while typing this.
Next time try Sahagun's signature chocolate, the Lucious Caramel. Cacao has them.
Ristretto was just voted best coffee roaster and best coffeehouse on http://www.portlandfoodanddrink.com/
Yes the strawberries...I'm eating a pint per day!
No wine sold at open air markets in BC? Horrors!
Next time try Little T Bakery.
Yes we're excited about the arrival of Paulee.
"We hied ourselves..."? Never heard that expression!
Thanks, Leonardo, you're very kind. Didn't know those chips were from Salem. I saw your recco for the Luscious Caramel but sadly after we were at Cacao. Next time! And we sampled Little T's kouign amann twice on our March trip. I had hoped to go again this time but alas didn't make it there. So many pastries, so little time :-).