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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Portland Food Adventure

I recently had a reason to make a visit to Portland which ended up being conveniently timed with a visit by my friend Rob, with whom, I normally travel around the Bay Area experiencing the food scene. In this case, we found ourselves in Portland with somewhat open schedules. It was time to wander about and find some food. The real start was Le Pigeon, with Chef Gabriel Rucker at the helm, we got to sit at the side counter and see all of the cooking fall into place. Here are a few highlights of a 7 course tasting menu. And yes, the photos are terrible. I used my phone with no flash, it was not up to the task.

Hamachi Tartare, salt-cured foie gras, truffle, macadamia nut

Agnolotti, parsley, garlic, crispy Maitake mushroom

Venison chuck and heart meatloaf, polenta, horseradish, balsamic onions

There were other dishes, including a two-for-one dessert course and a nifty little cheese plate at the end of the main course, which was a deft and flavorful way to prepare the palate for trhe Foie gras ice cream, profiterole and Amarone Cherries on custard. And in this case, given a limit of $200 for wine to match all of the courses, the somellier provided us with a split of Gruner veltliner and a lovely Rhone blend which worked well across the board. Each dish at Le Pigeon was perfectly executed and rang of flavor and technique, it was a perfect dinner. I believe the cooking and presentation here would hold up in San Francisco easily, which might not be the best thing for a person in Portland to hear, but, anyone who cares about food would appreciate what I am saying here.

We also found ourselves in a wandering mood and hit the following places:

Eat, an Oyster Bar, for some terrific oysters and a brew, Vaporizer, which was not only a perfect choice with oysters (not and easy pairing) but, is local to Oregon.

PokPok, for some of their justifiably famous wings.

Pine State Biscuits, for a fried chicken biscuit sandwich and a corndog, both cheap and good eating.

Wafu, for some tonkotsu ramen, using house made stock and ramen noodles, an amazing rendition of crispy pork belly bao and maybe the best kale dish, Creamed Kale with Butter-braised Shiitake, I have ever had.

Woodman's Tavern, where we had the American Ham plate, which was wonderful, a smoked lentil salad (maybe the killer dish of this meal) and some roasted cauliflower. We also got to chat with the owner, who also owns Stumptown Coffee.

There was also a visit to Kettlemen's Bagels, before the now inevitable change from boiled 'N.Y. Style' bagels to Einstein Brothers version of bagels. These were dense and chewy with the thin skin and malty taste which will sadly be lacking very soon. I did get a picture of this.
Rather obviously, lox, cream cheese, onions, capers, chips and pickle

The food scene is quite distinct from that of San Francisco, the East Bay or Los Angeles. Of course, there is a focus on the fresh ingredients, local sourcing, fine preparations and interesting matching of flavors and textures. What is different is in the viewpoint of much of the food, with very fine dining and 'everyman' food combining to make a distinctly Portland cuisine, crossing back and forth over the line between ridiculously hearty food and fine dining. There is nothing quite like the charceuterie, fried potatoes and uber beer-friendly fine dining I found in Portland.

The other thing I would note, with the exception of a visit to Gruner (which I overslept for), all of these places exist in the avenues and streets that are not a part of the downtown scene. I have had amazing haute cuisine, Peruvian food, the best biscuits and gravy ever, terrific beer and all of it decentralized and within 100 feet of residences. It marvel, as someone who has been immersed in planning and design efforts to recreate commercial sectors in a somewhat New urbanist model, how Portland seems to be revelling in a New Urbanist ideal, which seems to have never left.

This is a food city that deserves to be on every food persons list for mutliple visits. This is a chronicle of one of three visits, yet, I have not even covered one area of the City that I could easily have ridden a bike to each of these experiences. I can't imagine what the other districts will hold.


  1. I didn't know that Portland was a place to go for food... Are you going to write about the other two visits too?

  2. As they occur, yes. Portland has a vibrant food scene.