Spring report from a replete grayelf
Finally putting up this LOOONG post (see http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/890522 for the query thread if you’re interested).
Here's day one and two with some pix...
After a speedy drive down, we were ready for a Saraveza return visit, arriving just before happy hour at 3:50 pm. Not quite as good a pasty as last time with "corned" beef, cabbage and red potatoes. 8-oz Hair of the Dog Doggie Claws barley wine for the SO which grew on him. I had a Blenheim Ginger Ale which landed somewhere between ginger ale and ginger beer. $15 total.
We had a bit of rain while inside but it cleared up in time for our run to the hotel. Then Matchbox for awesome burger (best yet, perfectly rare) plus chips AND salad as the server brought the wrong side and then insisted on giving us the correct one as well. Commons Mirtle Farmhouse for J, which was a bit sour with a caramelly finish. They were setting up for a band as we left for our 8pm reservation at Wafu down the street. Not too busy so we had our pick of seats and opted for the beverage bar whilst waiting for a spot at the kitchen bar. We started off with a short Rogue Morimoto soba ale ($5) which did not impress (so far no Rogue offerings have) and lovely hibiscus Shirley with yuzu juice ($5). Very cool how bartenders here are equally keen to make you something tasty whether it is alcoholic or not.
We were trying not to overorder so of course the God of Good Things sent us a free order of edamame, which was tasty and filling, with togorashi, Sichuan salt and something dark -- maybe black bean sauce? The free-things-in-Portland trend continues. The sunomono with cucumber, avocado, habanero vinaigrette and kaiware ($4) was noodle free and therefore not what we were expecting but I loved it longtime. The SO thought the brined cuke was too salty.
Miso creamed kale with soy buttered mushrooms -- kale is definitely Having A Moment in Portland -- was a big hit for me ($7), rich and umami-laden. The fried duck drumettes looked so good being plated but were the disappointment of the meal, dried out and oversauced with a very strange side salad of the bits of celery I usually throw away and a lackluster ranch-style dressing ($10). To quote the SO: "There's a reason people don't eat duck wings" at least if they're cooked like this. And what's up with early 86es? We got the last order of duck at 8:15 on a Thursday?!
Bounced back for the final two dishes: the steak, miso and sake marinated chicken fried mushrooms and roasted garlic jus ($12) was a delicate marriage of flavours, and the meat was perfectly rare. The sashimi salad with hamachi, wasabi, tobiko, curly endive, seaweed, garlic and sesame vinaigrette ($14) was, while less original, well executed and the seaweed mixture was spot on. SO loved the hamachi.
Set out for Lauretta Jean’s not realizing there are two outposts. The one downtown is small and doesn’t have seats or cooked to order dishes, so we opted to head over to Courier instead as it was nearby. Mild cappuccino and lovely muffin with pear and their excellent house made vanilla syrup in a steamer (steamed milk – notice the vanilla bean flecks in the pic) plus a cannele for later (to try how they are after introducing the wax moulds). Love the beverage containers here as well.
The SO hit the record store (yes, really a record store) around the corner while I wandered over to Blue Star to secure a blueberry bourbon basil doughnut and a hard apple cider fritter. Had a look in the new Lardo’s window and noted with surprise that their signature porchetta is not on the posted menu.
Craving something savoury, I stopped by Bunk to grab a breakfast roll with bacon. Just as good as last time and well worth the $6; the rolls they use really are outstanding. The SO wanted to try another coffee place so we headed over to Maglia Rosa, located in a bike store. This cappuccino was made with Stumptown’s Valle de los Santos from Costa Rica. The barista was also talking up a new local roaster called Roseline that he was planning to feature the next day and we subsequently heard more about this newcomer so may be one to watch. We sat outside in the increasingly glorious weather and sampled our booty from Blue Star. The much-vaunted blueberry offering ($2.50) left me rather cold but the fritter ($2.75) was excellent, with lots of apple flavour, moist and dense but not kludgy with a crunchy carapace that was almost burnt-caramelized.
Strolled over to Echo Stereo (SO) to ogle the high end gear and 10th and Alder carts (me) to gaze soulfully at People’s Pig (next trip, next trip!).
Since the day was so unexpectedly perfect, we opted for an outdoor activity next, revisiting the Japanese Gardens. Saw the most enormous orange carp ever. Wonder if he would have been tastier as sashimi or grilled : -). All the natural beauty worked up an appetite for a lateish lunch at Evoe. Started with an elderflower spritzer ($5) using sparkling water and Nikolaihof syrup which so refreshing the SO searched out a bottle ($26) next door to take home. The SO indulged in a Double Mountain IRA (India Red Ale $5). A stunning salad of tiny whole mache, golden beets, pistachios and vinaigrette royale with a tiny hint of licorice flavour ($10) turned out to be the highlight of the trip and perhaps the best salad I’ve eaten. I nearly stabbed my beloved with a fork when he innocently tried to get the last bite!
Luckily, he was busy with a platter of foie gras au naturel ($14) that had been brined in salt and sugar, served with walnut toast and Seville marmalade. Even I, an inveterate furler toward all things livery, thought this buttery offering was delicious. Our third plate was a nifty vegetable take on goulash, with pork broth and baby turnips on top of a grilled white polenta cake ($10), a light but comforting dish.
How does chef Kevin Gibson get it so right every time? It’s like he has a blueprint of my palate stored on his cooking hard drive : -). With nary a misstep in three visits, Evoe is officially a must visit for us. And it doesn’t hurt that the semi-communal room layout is so conducive to chatting with your neighbours, which we did again.
Back to the hotel for a freshen up and rest before hitting Dove Vivi, only to find we’d missed the early window and there was a line up. Quick gear change to Uno Mas down the street instead, where we found no lineup and tried four tacos and a Jarritos for $11.75. The carnitas and fish tacos were very nice, the moronga too mild and the fried cheese just okay. Though a bit pricey for tacos, I’d like to come back and try the steamed tacos de canasta which are only available at lunch and have different fillings (the changes from the lunch to dinner menu are confusingly presented on the menu). The tortillas here are noteable. It was great to again be able to sit outside at this permanent food pod showcasing four or five places.
Dinner was at Smallwares where we met up with a couple we had met at last trip’s Racion popup. I started with a marionberry shrub and the SO tried an Everybody’s Country Boy IPA, both solid. Three local Netarts oysters ($2 a pop) were declared good, and an octopus, miso, pumpkin, radish, pine nut and chile dish ($12) impressed everyone, even non-octopus fan me, with the octopus being almost too tender. The Brussels sprouts in XO sauce with Satsuma and black bean ($9) was bursting with umami and well cooked. I was disappointed to find that my target dish, the mapo tofu, had come off the menu a scant four days previously. It had been replaced by a version of shrimp chawan mushi ($10) with chile, sherry cream, shiso and tarragon (which I fortunately couldn’t detect). I found this dish to be good but not outstanding, despite the top-notch custard base.
The one fail on the night was the short rib ($10) with corn cake (referred to as an arepa on the bill, which had I noted previously would have precluded ordering it, as my previous multiple experiences with arepas in Venezuela have not been salutary). Meat was blah, too chewy, cake was a puck, muddled flavours. The star of the show was the kale ($10) which was also a very generous portion and great for sharing. This dish was light and perfectly deep fried, with candied bacon, fish sauce and mint. I want to be buried in a coffin full of it.
We were full but decided to share one dessert and again got the last item in the house when we selected the special, a horchata pannacotta with date puree and a sherry reduction ($7). Really tiny for you duff hounds out there but fine for a one-bite-each finish. The use of sherry here is judicious, the room is nicely appointed if a bit loud with very awkward table legs, and the food was consistent enough to draw me back in the future. Get a window seat if you go.
photo one: Courier Coffee; two: Maglia Rosa; three: Blue Star doughnuts; four, five, six: mache salad, foie and spritzer at Evoe; seven: tacos from Uno Mas; eight and nine: hamachi and steak dishes at Wafu
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Day 3, more pix...
Off to PSU Market’s opening day for 2013 at 8:45. No Pine State this week and smaller than the last time we went. Kalefest (see photo). Picked up an almond butter with flax seed and agave syrup for $5 from Nut-Tricious Foods. Also a disappointing Ambrosia (watery and soft) and a Mountain Rose for $1 (which was also a bust, despite the beautiful red flesh inside). Noted Pono Farm whole hog catering.
Deaked over to Division to check out Lauretta Jean’s eggs Benedict. The Hollandaise sauce was just okay but the spuds (which they kindly subbed for the standard salad) were good and the biscuit was stellar, excellent crunch with a soft moist crumb. They’re available for $2.50 each which is prolly what I’d get next time. On the way back to the hotel to pick up the SO, I nabbed a croissant, a cannele and a frangipane from St Jack’s and a kouign amann and drop biscuit with lemon curd from Little T. The star was the frangipane which had brown butter in it, making the outside crispy and the inside moist. The SO lauded the croissant as well.
The biscuit was okay but a bit heavy and too sweet for me. The KA was leathery again and the cannele just plain bad – nearly broke a tooth on the exterior and the interior was so wet it seemed uncooked.
Coffee was needed to wash down these pastry samples so we headed over to Sterling. As noted elsewhere, this is really a darling small cafe, complete with table wraps and fresh flowers, and the service is as dapper as the barista’s clothing. The ham and butter baguette was delicious, as was the Monte Alegre cappuccino and the Two Tarts salted caramel syrup steamer. It didn’t hurt that the two fellows sitting next to us maintained a running commentary in lilting Italian.
Next it was off downtown for cappuccino number two of the day at the Third and Alder Barista. That day they were featuring Coava Benjamin Miranda from Honduras, and coincidentally one of the Coava roasters, Brian, had dropped in for a visit, so we got to meet the guy who most likely roasted the coffee in our cup. He gave us a bunch of great beer recommendations as well as talking coffee. So Portland! I couldn’t resist a Nuvrei cinnamon Danish, which was good as ever, but the SO’s blueberry/blackberry scone was just okay.
Then it was off across town to PDX 671 to try Guam food kelaguen mannok (a cold, spicy chopped chicken dish with onions and grated coconut with lemon and peppers) with tityas (tee-tee-jas) aka Chamorro flatbread for $7.75.
The food quotes on the wall above this pod are delightful, including “Ask not what you can do for your country. Ask what’s for lunch” from the redoubtable Orson Welles. The food was outstanding. Be sure to get a side of the soy based hot sauce.
Next stop was Tonkin dealership on 122nd where they had just received a truckload of Ferraris and Maseratis so needless to say it was quite an oglefest. Back into town for tasters at Upright Brewing with great jazz on the turntable in a basement. Picked up some lovely mustard there too.
Though it was now pouring rain, we decided to stick to our plan to try the Artigiano cart as they have a tent. The gorgonzola gnocchi with hazelnuts ($14.50 ) we shared didn’t need the $2 add on of bacon and while it was tender and nicely cooked, it was a bit underwhelming. Still impresses the heck out of me that this little trailer produces fresh pasta a la minute and I’d go back to try other dishes for sure, especially in warmer weather.
Dinner was at RiffleNW which was a bit more corporate than I like in terms of the ambiance. Also it is quite loud. We got a high window booth which would be very nice in the summer but was drafty that night. Since we’d had such great kale dishes so far, we opted to try the shaved kale salad with beets, crème fraiche and pinenuts ($12) which was too mulchy, lacking in the last three ingredients and had no acid in the vinaigrette to the degree that the dish was completely unbalanced. I hate salads that taste good for you : -). Once again, oddly, they were out of their special scallop app at 7:40 pm. My target dish, the Oregon Coast petrale sole with fried bones and sea urchin sauce ($28) was very well executed – love to crunch them deep fried bones! [see bad photo] -- apart from the several pin bones and one larger bone that were inadvertently left in the filet. It came with no sides at all which is a trend I don’t love but was fine in this case as we were trying to order lightly.
The SO selected the king salmon with hedgehog mushrooms and nettles in mushroom cream ($29). It was presented nicely rare and pronounced to be very fine. The SO enjoyed a nice dryish Sardinian Vermentino Catina Pedres di Gallura Brino 2011 ($9) while I left the ’tender to come up with a mocktail which was rather nice with cloves and other baking spices in evidence. The server asked what I thought of my main so I told him about the bones, and he looked stricken and rushed off without saying anything which seemed strange as he was otherwise very professional. Later he offered to comp dessert which we declined as we hadn’t planned to order any sweets. We found when we went to pay the bill that he had instead deducted the salad from the total which was classy. He noted there was a new person on the fish station. I’d go back for the mains as well prepared fish is hard to find.
Photo one and two: purple cauliflower and kale galore at PSU Market; three: baked offerings from St Jack's and Little T; four: Barista with Coava roaster; five and six: PDX 671 cart and snack; seven: Upright's taster; eight: Artigiano's gnocchi; eight: petrale at RiffleNW
Day 4, more pix...
Oblique Coffee is in a nice comfy old house in a lovely nabe but the espresso is not as complex as at some of the other places we've tried, though it is roasted inhouse. A bit overextracted too. The espresso was from Mexico, didn't get more deets from somewhat taciturn barista. They have a DJ on Sunday morning (!) and a great letter on the wall from a child whose dad had the temerity to spill his beverage. They carry Pearl Bakery baked goods. We tried a scone with orange and chocolate chips that was okay.
Our next stop was HA&VL which was full with a shortish wait. We got the mi quang (turmeric noodle soup) to share. I found the inclusion of head lettuce in the small plate of greens a bit offputting. The broth was a mite oily and to me lacking flavour but the SO was happy. There was some evil looking paste (crab?) on the table that I haven't seen before. Next we stopped at Fubonn for a look at this Asian/world food supermarket. Great gigantic aluminum rice pots and beer and wine plus customer service departments impressed. Also spanking clean and very well organized.
Snack stop at Best Baguette netted us a very respectable nem nuoung banh mi (it is an off menu special -- #25 -- which I discovered after using my terrible Vietnamese pronunciation). The meat was warm which was a nice touch, the bread was crusty but light and the veggies plentiful, though I could have done with a squirt more fish sauce ($3.85). Also tried the almond twirls (tuiles?) which were not bad for a box of several for $2.95.
The SO was ready for his second espresso of the day so we headed over to the original Stumptown outlet on SE Division. The room is a bit cold and severe but the coffee was on par with the other third wave shops we’ve tried in town. Had the Valle de los santos from Costa Rica, which was the same one we had at Maglia Rosa. We stopped at the A La Carts pod and noted that along with all the food there was also a hair salon on wheels. There sure are a lot of places to get your hair done, male or female, in Portland.
Podnah's was on the agenda next to share a Cobb salad, a great way to sample the bbq here but definitely NOT an appetizer per its placing on the menu. This salad was enough for two people, and now you can get it on Mondays too as they are open 7 days a week. We chose the blue cheese dressing ("not ranch" per the server). Appreciated that there is no bbq sauce on the meat itself but rather a thin vinegar sauce you can add, which it needed as though the flavour and texture was great, the brisket was a touch dry. The SO washed it down with an Oakshire O'Dark 30 CDA, nice and bitter but not hoppy with a good hit of malt and some coffee notes. There was a short wait for a table even at 2 pm.
We reparked on Alberta strategically so as to facilitate a nice long walk up and down. Salt and Straw pulled in the SO who enjoyed his double-fold vanilla cone. I remain unconvinced by the other whackier flavours though I tried several more samples; I also find the base a bit too rich and sweet.
We headed over to Spints but alas they are closed on Sunday so we walked over to Division and checked out a vintage store plus a cool Art-Deco-y Pepsi factory, then hit Navarre for three small plates: potato and nettle gratin, beet salad with lemon and bread crumbs and purple sprouting brocolli with lemon and olive oil (all $7).The brocolli and the gratin were the standouts, though they could afford to season everything a bit more. Very nice wee room with lots of kids in with their parentals for early dinners.
Headed back downtown to Powell's for another browse and then over to Ned Ludd for a light supper. The room was fullish but nice and calm with great jazz. Really liked our server here. We shared a sformatino of nettle and ricotta with an excellent cress salad, the chicories with bocerones and soft egg salad, and petrale sole with olives. All were spot on with lots of umami, nicely sized for sharing. The salads were outstanding. We finished with a white chocolate cremeux with Meyer lemon jam and pistachios. After a brunch and a dinner here, I am officially a Ned Ludd fan.
Photo one: Oblique; two: HA&VL; three: rice pots; four and five: banh mi and tuiles at Best Baguette; six and seven: Stumptown on Division; eight: Podnah's Cobb salad; nine: cone from Salt and Straw; ten: dishes at Navarre; eleven: petrale at RiffleNW
Day 5 and 6, yet more pix...
First coffee was at Barista in the Pearl. Panther East Coast cappuccino and an almond croissant fueled us for shopping and a trip to Nuvrei for a slightly disappointing savoury croissant with ham, cheese and bearnaise sauce. The disappointment was too much thyme (!) baked into the croissant itself.
Then it was over to Mississippi to check out coffee roasters at Mr Green Beans, where the excellent owner gave us a coffee roasting booklet for free. Off to Sellwood and Manao for pork knuckle and sai ooa (northern Thai sausage). Chef had brought in the knuckle for me as he is switching to shank (sniff!) and let me tell you it is worth phoning ahead to see if he can get it for you. This was on par with my favourite pork knuckle in SF, and came with a ridiculously good garlicky dipping sauce and some topnotch pickled greens. Sausage is made in house and was also excellent
Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge provided a perfect venue to walk off the porky goodness.
Then it was time for porter, Gigantic Brewing Time Travel Porter ($4.50) to be precise, described by the imbiber as "like a Coke but bitter" which is apparently a good thing. We checked out White Owl -- looks like a very fine and dirt cheap happy hour with 12 taps.
Matchbox beckoned again for a sour plus a burger which alas was more cooked than the pristine specimen enjoyed earlier in the visit. We headed over to Hawthorne and wandered up and down a bit, trying Assam tea from Firefox and a Jamaica redbush and vanilla tea "latte" from Common Grounds before our reservation (woot!) at Apizza Scholls.
The SO got the last pint of Amberson Valley Amber (again with the 86ing stuff early!) and I enjoyed a Moxie Original Elixir ($2.50). We shared a pie ($25) that was half bacon bianco (a white pie with house-cured bacon) and half Apizza amore. The former was my favourite, the latter the SO's and we couldn't finish it all. Then the bill came and the beer had been taken off as the server thought it wasn't up to snuff being the last of the batch. Nice.
Off to Courier again for a blood orange yogurt muffin, large vanilla steamer to go and cannele for $7, then to Coava for Costa Rica Girasoles and smoked cheddar pretzel (not very good, as I would have known if I’d reread my own notes about pretzels from Nuvrei). Nabbed a monkey bread for the road. Roaster Brian came out to say hi and we thanked him for his beer reccs. He gave us a “gateway” Americano made with natural process Kilenso Sidama. Took a bag of Benjamin Miranda from Honduras home.
Then we nipped over to the Cacao on Broadway which was out of what I was looking for so we went to the other and picked up a bunch of chocolates to take home as presents, including a crazy expensive ginger one from a small island in Africa (!).
Then we headed to Chef Naoko’s Bento for an early lunch. Tea and miso for the SO, an order of mocheese and two bentos, one with chicken korokke and the other with pork katsu. All very healthy and clean tasting, though the portions were very large and I’d share one bento next time. Thanks Portland Hounds for all your tips which contributed to another great eating trip.
Photo one and two: Barista Pearl; three, four and five: hock, sauce and sausage at Manao; six: porter at Gigantic; seven: pie at Apizza Scholls; eight: blood orange muffin from Courier; nine, ten and eleven: capp, espresso and monkey bread at Coava; twelve, thirteen, fourteen: tea and miso, mocheese and bento at Chef Naoko's
Thanks for the report!
Yes, we're are all about all things kale aren't we?
Apples this time of year are iffy even if looking lovely. The only longterm keepers I eat six months after harvest are braeburn & fuji.
Blue Star: I too was not impressed by the blueberry. Far prefer the key lime/Meyer lemon & the one with tiny chocolate balls.
Have a great trip -- you can miss, really, especially for great beer. June was our fifth trip in a year and a half, can't wait for October and the Fresh Hops fest for our sixth foray. Here are the links to all my reports in case you can't sleep tonight:
Feb/Mar 2012: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/838708
May 2012: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/852925
Oct 2012: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/876146
Apr 2013: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/898683
Jun 2013: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/908508