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Jun 8, 2014 10:51 PM

Reporting on our 9th eatfest in Portland

Thanks once again for your advice and tips on my enquiry thread:

We arrived in time for happy hour at a place recommended online by a local chef. The Box Social is more of a bar than a pub, but they had a nice selection of beers on tap, keeping the SO happy, while I went for the Dirty Little Thief (spiced tequila, sage, pineapple and lime). I liked this drink but it was a leetle too spicy to be truly refreshing. We also tried the cauliflower dip, which was fine. Nice to sit outside in the sun after a day in the car.

Quick stop at the hotel to check in and change for our early dinner at Lang Baan, the set menu Thai spot behind Paa Dee. Reservations are held here on a credit card, which always makes me nervous, but we made it on time for the 6 pm seating and chose the $40 option.

We started by ordering a Sasquatch IPA and a shochu-based cocktail called The Waterfall which also included lemon, shrub, simple syrup cucumber and thyme ($8). Both were tasty when they finally arrived from next door after the third course (we did receive an apology for the wait).

We liked some of the dishes quite a bit but 70% were just way too sweet, a problem for us in all the Portland Thai restaurants we’ve tried. The presentation is quite polished, and the service is trying hard to be so, but the whole thing comes off a bit precious. And the rice was way overcooked, which seems like a fail for this type of offering. The staff behind the counter were certainly pushing it out from under their baseball hats (sort of a uniform? See pic).

After dinner we wandered the area a bit. We popped into Staccato Gelato as the source of the tasty looking moderately sized doughnuts we had seen in passersby’s paws. They looked very worthy and were only $1.25 to $2 (hello, Fairy Princess ’nut: see pic) but we were just too full. We also stopped in at Jimmy Mak's to suss it out, snagging a free parking spot in front at 8:45 on a Friday, woot, then wandered around that hood for a bit before turning in early.

Did a quick run to the PSU Farmers Market on Saturday morning. There was easy parking even at 9:45 but it was really busy.

We’re always happy to find good coffee near our hotel and so were delighted when Barista opened up a fourth outpost on NW 23rd. They aren’t doing pourovers at this location but excellent cold brewed Coava-blend coffee was a fine substitute (and they are batch brewing on a Fetco which would also have worked).

Shoutout to the super friendly staff at this location who answered all of my annoying questions with a right good will. Our first foray into Roman Candle baked goods was half successful: my kouign amann was very tasty if a bit lighter (see cross section photo) than my standing favourite Starter KA from SF, whereas the SO’s scone was too sweet and a bit heavy. He very much enjoyed his cappuccino from Ceremony in Md, a nice Bolivian.

Big Ass Sandwiches’ SE truck was our lunch goal to try the Rich Wich (roast beef, bacon, grilled onions, béchamel cheese sauce and FRENCH FRIES, yes, in the sando $10.50). Thank the gods that we only ordered one between us as these puppies live up to the truck’s name. I couldn’t finish half, but I wanted to. Food comas were discussed with other diners. 

Happy hour found us at Burnside Brewing for cornmeal fried pickles ($5), “Cohiba cigar” kobe oxtail and ash ($5) plus a scotch egg ($3). The SO was very happy with his Baltic Porter (reserve; 8%; packs a punch) while I tried the Sweet Heat as a sample, an apricot and scotch bonnet wheat ale that wasn’t my style, and the spring rye, also not my fave, landing up with an excellent Portland Cider Co Sorta Sweet cider ($4 for 12 oz). The nibbles were well executed as well. The only downside was the unusually douchy behaviour of several of the groups on the patio, one of whom was *gulp* Canadian.

We headed over to Tarad Thai to scope it out for another time (too warm inside but snagged some inexpensive Thai products). Robo Taco netted us the best tacos my SO has had yet – he said he’s finally starting to get the Mexican food thing, ironically in a resto entirely devoid of any nacionales. The tacos were pretty outstanding (al pastor, carnitas and pescado), and the tortillas were great. They were using a different kind of cabbage on the fish taco to good effect. And the authentically massive orange medio litro de Fanta didn’t hurt either. Man cannot live by porter alone!

Second dinner was at Davenport. They were pretty slammed and we had to wait 20 minutes past our reservation but it was not a hardship because we knew we were heading for the good stuff. There were perfect raw radishes as an amuse, then nettle ravioli, a bowl of spring (soup, that is), a marvelous endive salad, two perfect scallops, a ridiculously tasty pork belly and egg dish, all for $71 before tip.

Beautiful setting, genteel fellow diners, lowkey but excellent service. Just about ideal. And they got us out in time to catch a late screening at the Lloyd Centre cinema. We'd hoped to go to one of your cool vintage theatres but Hotel Budapest wasn't playing at any of them.

Big pic: spicy cocktail at Box Social, plating and baseball capped chefs at Lang Baan, random signage, doughnuts at Staccato, breakfast and kouign amann closeup at Barista NW, porter, snacks and cider at Burnside Brewing, a bad picture of a great dish: the pork belly at Davenport

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  1. Zipped out to Frice the next day but they didn't have anything interesting on offer, no chiboust and out of quiche at 10:30, so we schlepped over to newish coffee shop St Simon for a poorly executed and oversized "cappuccino" of Bella Aurora from Nicaragua and a cup of Coava's El Gorrion from French press plus two really execrable pastries from Sugar Cube, a strawberry rhubarb tart with little of either and awful pastry plus a fairly disgusting cinnamon bun with orange frosting. Tossed out most of it and slunk over to Swift's Lounge to lick our wounds.

    Started off well with decent OJ on the patio but then the rains came and we had to wedge inside at the too loud, pongy and overcrowded bar. Then they brought the wrong food. Then they brought the right food but most of it was lukewarm or completely cold after a longish wait. The confit duck leg on the waffles was well done but oversalted by a large margin and the waffles were a bit soggy, and I wasn't a fan of the icing sugar on them. The grits were okay, and the bacon was tasty. They took a dollar off the bill for the cold egg. Doubt we'd return but it was a heckuva lot of food for $23.

    Hoping to bounce back from the coffee disappointment, we headed to the Barista on Alberta and snagged the last kouign amann, along with a very good cappuccino and a Stumptown cold brew. Such a pretty Mistral they have there! We trotted up and down Alberta between crazy rain squalls and bursts of thunder, checking out a bunch of great galleries a bit further out than we've ventured in the past. Also saw our first free electric car charging station, woot!

    Also popped into Tonalli's (see excellent sign in photo) who supplied the very first thing I ever ate in Portland (a blueberry old fashioned at the original Ristretto).

    Then it was over to the Mississippi district to nab a whack of green coffee beans at Mr Greenbean's, do some more strolling and hit happy hour at The North Light.

    I'd read about the chicken lollipops and the potato puffs but the star turned out to be the burger which we got on a whim. Ordered medium rare, it was leaning a bit toward rare which suited us just fine but made the server nervous enough to mention it. Really solid -- maybe my new fave in Portland. Fries were salty goodness too.

    House made tonic shrub with Gordon's gin was tasty if not super special. SO enjoyed his Point Blank Red from Barley Brown in Baker City. Housemade chocolate mints for afters, gratis. Nice. We'd return, though would request a regular table as the booths are a bit uncomfortable.

    Dinner was at St Jack in the their newish NW location. We'd never been to the old one to dine, just to pick up patisserie, so nothing to compare it to except other French restaurants. And alas, it came up short on several counts. Started off well when we were able to move from the dining room to the lounge without a fuss (dining room is very loud, kinda dark and a bit cramped when full as it was that night). We had a lovely, engaged server. But the food didn't cut it.

    My French Pearl cocktail was okay but not special, and of course the SO enjoyed his Upright 7 Saison (he allows as to how Upright is his current favourite brewery). The burger was dry and had so much hot mustard on it that it was all I could taste. The server noticed me trying to scrape it off and offered to replace the bun which was nice. The bun that came was completely bare so that made the rest of the burger even drier :-(. The frisee salad was tasty though there were some brown bits that indicated it could have been fresher, but the much vaunted butter lettuce salad didn't have any oomph.

    The SO enjoyed his clams as long as he picked out the masses of capers which were really salty. The side of frites was so salty I could barely eat them and left more than half -- and I am a salt freak. I should have sent them back too but couldn't bear to after the burger fuss. I see they charged me a fiver for them so I guess I should have. Needless to say, we didn't bother with dessert. Shame, really, as the lounge area is very nice.

    Big pic: Mistral at Barista on Alberta, free electric car charging, Please do not tap on the glass: it scares the donuts sign at Tonali, g&t shrub at North Light, burger and cross section at North Light, Upright 7 Saison at St Jack

    7 Replies
    1. re: grayelf

      Tuesday morning saw us braving the 'burbs to give Baker and Spice a go. While the products were by and large good, particularly the off-menu granola parfait, we missed the "Portland" vibe and alas the scones were once again too sweet and a bit heavy.

      The SO needed a proper coffee so he dropped me at Macy's and headed to Spella for the now-expectedly excellent cappuccino. Then we headed over to Nordstrom Rack to stock up on shirts for himself.

      Quick stop to sample the tacos at Taqueria Portland (formerly of St John's) in a slightly strange, strip mallesque complex. Though a bit fast foody in ambiance , the Mexican telly playing and the quality of the eats were there. The fish taco was HUGE and tasty, carnitas taco was more the regular size and also good. Salsas could use a little work. Would return for sure.

      We nipped over to a cupping of Rwanda Gitesi at Portland Roasters, along with a bunch of Mexican business folk who were on a tour. Superb facility and great knowledgeable leader, recommended. Our teacher brewed up some of the coffee for us to try and we talked "shop" with him and one of the other attendees afterward, a recent transplant to Portland who used to be a barista.

      I'd tried a couple of items from Fleur de Lis at coffee shops around town. It's quite a nifty setup with indoor and outdoor seating but the food left much to be desired, as did the service. The Cubano came untoasted, and was returned to me with the bite I had taken out of it but grilled :-(. I'm not generally a stickler for hygiene but that gave me the yicks. The sandwich even after grilling was just okay, lacking a decent amount of filling and expensive for what it was. The salted caramel brownie was also just okay.

      Check out the collection of great mugs (see photo) at Pip's Original where we stopped for some made-to-order mini-doughnuts that put the ones you get at (state) fairs to shame. V. cool that each of the four can be a different flavour. We tried them all and thought the strawberry rhubarb one was the best; I'd pass on the addition of peanut butter next time. The raw honey and sea salt was a close second. I didn't love the nutella and sea salt but that's no surprise as I'm not a fan of hazelnut. The cinnamon sugar was, well, sugary and cinnamony. Really worth a stop.

      And now for the opposite end of the doughnut spectrum -- Annie's. Totally unhipster, straight up doughnut shop, obviously there for many years, super reasonable prices, brown crayon water coffee, fluorescent lights and no loo. But oh, the buttermilk bar! The sine qua non of fried dough. I would commit petty crimes to get my mitts on one of these babies. The apple cake one was nice but a bit too cake spiced for us. I'll be back for that bar. I can see why they won a mention in Saveur Magazine and why people were ordering dozens to go even at 2 in the afternoon.

      After all that sugar, we needed a palate cleanser, so off to Coalition we went. I tried their Space Fruit citrus infused IPA but it was too hoppy and after a few more tastes settled on the Miss Kitty Red, whereas the SO went for the Bump's Bitter ESB. This is a straight up beer drinkin' room with a cute little side patio that would be SO illegal back home -- we sat out front as there was some unfortunate construction noise in behind that day. Lovely sunny tables and a great spot.

      Savoy Tavern's burger was next up and was disappointing in general and compared to our first time there. The wings were better although they serve them whole which is terribly awkward to eat. Okay cocktail here that I subbed for my usual whiskey sour when they said they don't make them (!). Room was really warm as well so overall not a super experience. Walked off a few calories at the Rose Test Garden in Washington Park, where the roses were just beginning to come out for the year. Saw some spectacular clematis as well.

      After a bit of down time at the hotel, it was off to Davenport for our second visit this trip. They had let us know that Nike had bought out 2/3 of the restaurant, as it happened for an impromptu celebration of the gay marriage law change so we were expecting some revelry. Once again, we waited 20 minutes for our table but forewarned is forearmed so not a problem. We did ask to move a table over as there was a bit of a breeze.

      Started with a vegetarian fritto misto that wasn't the best dish we've had here, though it was intriguing to try a deep fried radish. Next up, the wondrous cauliflower soup, which was followed by the best petrale sole EVAH (and I love petrale sole). They had kindly held an order for me as I missed it last time. This dish was cooked to perfection, light, moist, crunchy on one side and simply seasoned to preserve the delicate taste of the sole. Then the squid came, and I must admit, it looked kinda ugly, but it was delicious, and I don't usually love squid. The SO was waxing rhapsodic about it for days after. Really stellar.

      We finished with two salads, my favourite beet one, which alas had slightly too-soft beets this time, and a "freckles" romaine salad that was good but perhaps a mite bland. Despite the small missteps, another wonderful meal at Davenport, now officially my favourite place in Portland.

      Wednesday morning saw us back at Barista on 23rd, where the SO tried the granola (served with very tasty TJ's European style yogurt, agave syrup and salt) and I got yet another ka from Roman Candle for the road later.

      I was holding out for the breakfast burrito from Meat Cheese Bread, which was very well executed and a bit of a relief after all those sweet breakfast pastries. We took two of the green bean sandwiches for our lunch, and a blondie which turned out to be too sweet to eat. With the SO wanting to avoid hitting Seattle rush hour, we left a bit earlier than usual and thus endeth our eighth visit to your beautiful city.

      Pix are: granola "parfait" at Baker and Spice, fish taco at Portland Taco, cupping at Portland Roasting, cool cups at Pip's Original plus four of their tiny 'nuts (note quarter at top for sizing), doughnuts at Annie's, Coalition Brewing, bad picture of amazing petrale sole dish at Davenport

      1. re: grayelf

        Thanks for the detailed report, as always! I'm with you, I didn't dig the burger because of the mustard sauce either. But I *have* had great cocktails there...

        1. re: grayelf

          So enjoyed your very informative posts on Portland, grayelf. I was there last month but deliberately avoided reading the Portland thread before the trip because everything was pretty mapped out, and I knew I'd be very bummed about all the places I couldn't get to. But I'm taking notes for the next trip. Your photo from Barista on Alberta did jump out at me as we were served by--and had a great conversation with--the same two baristas in the photo. I also had a kouign amann there w/my beautiful latte. I can only afford about one KA a year so I'm no expert--I've never had a bad one--but I thought it was fabulous. (Also snuck in a little snack from one of the mini food truck courts while on Alberta: nice dumplings and a taste of a surprisingly good "paleo chili.")

          1. re: nomadchowwoman

            Glad you're finding my ramblings useful, nomad! Good to know that the dumpling truck on AB is worthy -- we eyed it that day but the weather was so crazy we passed.

            I also wanted to mention that we have had one very good, outstanding even, scone multiple times in Portland. It is the figgy buckwheat one from Kim Boyce's Bakeshop, available at various and sundry coffeehouses as well. V. cool that she uses wholewheat flour in her baking:

            1. re: grayelf

              Was at Bakeshop today and spoke with Kim herself, she of the James Beard Award for her book. The figgy scone is one of my faves but today we had the strawberry buckwheat scone, blueberry bran muffin, and the savory croissant of ricotta parmesan & tomato. Incredible. If you can, always try making it to the shop itself. If not, Ristretto carries product, as well as the coffee cart SW Alder between 10-11th.

              Re movie theatres: yes the vintage are fine, but I also like Living Room Theatres. Good food, nice happy hour, and Mon-Tue are only half price!

              1. re: Leonardo

                Good point about going to the source. I've yet to see anything savoury of hers in outside venues, and that croissant sounds right up my street.

                One of the reasons I like the figgy so much is it's modulated sweetness. I had a cheese scone of hers at Northwest that was too sweet to be called savoury IMO.

                Thanks for the Living Room comments -- I've often thought they'd be ideal on a rainy afternoon.

        2. Next morning we swung by St Honore where a kouign amann leapt into my hands without my volition :-). Very similar to the one from Roman Candle; I'd be hard pressed to choose a favourite between the two. We also had a look into Roman Candle in search of savoury pastries but they didn't have much of anything on hand.

          Morning coffee was at the new Coava on a slightly secluded stretch of Hawthorne. Another great, though entirely different, space for them. Lovely service, and pastries from Little T (they used to use Nuvrei but they appear to be getting out of the wholesale side). The strawberry mint (!) danish was especially good, the lemon scone less so -- come to think of it we haven't had much luck generally with scones in Portland, I wonder why? SO had a spot-on cappuccino from Kenya and I enjoyed an outstanding cold brew, best of the trip. A pit stop at Centaur Guitar and Old Town Music for more Telecaster hunting.

          I had need of a mini-Game-of-Thrones-inspired door knocker and Hippo delivered. Dang, I love that place, but it takes a chunk out of you, there's so much to look at. So we needed another coffee and sought out Portland Roasters chic little cafe for a macchiato with a Costa Rican called Las Lajas, "honey processed." Another great space, with additional outdoor seating and goodies from Pearl Bakery, and they have a cupping at noon on Tuesdays which we resolved to return for. They are also one of only two places in town carrying Kalitas.

          The barista suggested we check out Produce Row to split a "hot brown" and since it was past lunch time, we did. Filling but well executed hot sandwich with turkey, mornay sauce, whiskey hot sauce, a baked egg and pork belly on thick toast, washed down with a Two Beers ISA. The SO fancied a salad so we got half salad, half fries, and the fries were very good indeed. We ended up getting a full portion for $2 after a kitchen mixup -- the fry sauce is tasty, and they are beer battered but they seem a bit dear for $6 regularly. Their patio is the place to sit on a warm day.

          We continued the sandwich theme with a revisit of Meat Cheese Bread for our beloved green bean sando. Gawd, I love those things! We took it next door to Beer where the garrulous tapman shared many samples with us -- the SO ended up with the Calapooia Santi-Amber. We talked food and drink with a fellow at the bar and the table next to it, getting into a discussion about Ava Gene, with a vote for and a vote against. I hadn't been drawn to the room based on a peep in when we were at Roman Candle, I'd heard it was loud, and I got cold feet and canceled in lieu of another meal at Davenport.

          Next we headed over to Belmont for a wander. We looked into Migration nearby on Glisan but the SO had requested something cold and fruity so it was time for la hora del amigo at Pambiche's across the street. We indulged in the Morir Soñando (orange juice milkshake) and Limonada de Guarapo (lemonade with sugar cane), both delicious and a steal at one dollar off the already reasonable regular prices.

          For snacks, ensalada de remolacha (beet salad) and masitas (crunchy pork nuggets). Both were good but the masitas were the winners, particularly with the SO who is not normally a fan of deep fried things. We sat outside and our waiter was stellar.

          It was time to collect beer to bring home so off we went to Beer Mongers, who had the hockey game on, bless 'em. The SO checked the score, then grabbed a couple of bottles. Then we trekked out to John's Marketplace, which is a bit of a schlep but worth it. What a treasure trove of fine beers! Love the shelves of recommended beers.

          We stocked up and just as we were leaving, I discovered a large display of the one beer I'd been hoping to find: Ten Barrels summer Radler, inaccurately called Swill. Crowing with delight, I snaffled two six packs and fled with my booty. I am being quite miserly with it as I know it won't come around again till next May, but I'm looking forward to tasting it on draft again once the Ten Barrels pub opens in Portland.

          Rookie mistake on Monday night: forgot to check whether American Local was open and found ourselves standing in front of a locked door at 8 pm. Quickly regrouped by driving past Kachka's which looked busy and was parking-deprived, so bounced over to Cooper's Hall.

          Snagged the last spot in their private parking lot (!) and without any wait settled into the cavernous but somehow inviting space to enjoy some wine tasters (#1 Pinot Noir from Coopers Hall and #7 Syrah/Viognier from Matello, interesting use of a white grape in a red blend) and a topnotch cocktail (the Cue Lazarus with Beefeaters, lemon, apricot, Dolin dry and absinthe -- I asked for it on the rocks instead of up and they obliged -- this was the top beverage of the trip for me).

          We got a tasty half chicken for $10 ($10!!!!) which was huge and an excellent side of brussels sprouts and were very happy. Even the strawberry shortcake was worthy, and I am a giant snob about that dessert as my mum makes the best in the universe :-). Outstanding service as well, a must try, and super reasonable, especially if you share.

          Big pic: breakfast at the Coava on Hawthorne plus two interior shots, "patio" seating at Portland Roasters, actual patio at Produce Row plus fries and hot brown sandwich, green bean sando at Meat Cheese Bread, drinks and masitas at Pambiche, blurry but delicious cocktail and wine barrels at Cooper's Hall

          4 Replies
          1. re: grayelf

            Drat, I somehow reversed the last two entries, so the days are out of order. Sorry about that!

            1. re: grayelf

              Thanks as always for your in-depth report (those lazy guys who post to ask for recommendations without having done any research should just follow you!). I'm feeling a little sad on your behalf though because it seems the food was often disappointing this time.

              1. re: Chatsworth

                Shucks, you're too kind (but don't stop, LOL). And don't be sad. Yeah, we kissed a couple frogs but overall we had many good and even outstanding bites. It's one of the reasons we share everything and try to eat at a lot of places. Then if you hit some meh dishes it doesn't impact as heavily. I tend to remember the good stuff and kind of gloss over the less-than-perfect offerings in my mind, so that is all to the good.

                1. re: Chatsworth

                  Chatsworth, when people post requests for recs without having done an ounce of research, I ignore them. If they won't lift a finger to help themselves, why should I bother helping them?