Tuesday, August 3, 2010
I became fully smitten by Portland last summer during my first visit there (to attend my first OITF dinner). I couldn't wait to return and so we did - this time with a couple more peeps who are now Portland-converts as well.
I think what is most appealing (to me, anyway) is the uber-casual vibe of the city combined with an extreme appreciation for all things culinary (not to mention the wine). There is huge devotion to the "FLOSS" concept - Fresh, Local, Organic, Seasonal, Sustainable. But's it's not just an acronym, it's a way of life and everyone is quite serious about it ... and in a lovely, sincere way ... like how else would it be, anyway?
The Hilton in downtown Portland is the only certified green Hilton in the country - and the certification is definitley not a "name only" kind of thing but translates into physical aspects of the room (low-flow toilets and showerheads, smaller basins resulting in 50% less water use) to the city-wide "Fork it Over" program wherein local hotels and restaurants donate daily to the local food bank - and plenty of other cool ideas which are just a matter of practicality to this community.
So - back to the food - again, the "farm to table" mentality we've all come to know and love is really the only way people are eating in Portland and it makes for some fantastic grub. We had an absolutely lovely meal at Castagna where Chef Matthew Lighner (among Food & Wine Mag Best New Chefs) creates visually stunning plates of dishes that provided some of the more unusual and delicious cuisine of the trip. Standouts were the Bison (carpaccio style) withfresh currants, malt, hops and hazelnuts (simply divine) and a gorgeous Wild chinook salmon, sugar-snap peas, smoked lardo and jamón broth (you had me at lardo) and of course the gorgeous "pork fat" spread with crushed sunflower seeds and the "brown butter" (which was like brown-butter concentrate atop butter) for our olive-oil basted (translation fried) rolls.
But of course you can't talk about Portland without talking about the Food Trucks in Portland. Oh how I wish Houston could get it together with this concept because it is really, truly an exciting way to eat and enjoy such diverse cuisine prepared by folks who are clearly just as devoted as any restaurateur. Much has been written about Houston's challenges with this (google Houston Food Trucks) so I'd just like to say how much I thoroughly enoyed some of the best greek food I've ever tasted (a gyro with meat that was actually chunky with the best tzaki and bread ever); czech food - I had the daily special which was some kind of heavenly goulash seemingly made up of tiny, happy gnocci and roasted garlic and chicken and I don't know what all else but it totally rocked.
There are several "pods" o' food trucks in Portland that take up a large parking lot basically ... with anywhere from 10-15 carts in various parts of the city. Thai, Vietnamese, BBQ (actually some of the best pulled pork I've ever tasted), grilled-cheese specific, you name it. I just wish I'd had more time to eat more from them. I loved everything about the process and all at such a great value!
We did a really fun "epicurean walking tour" that was such a great way to learn about the local history and also sample some of the best foodie goods in the city including a behind the scenes bread tasting at Pearl Bakery. I was seriously in heaven here ... breads the likes of which I've never tasted. No preservatives, no dough conditioners, unbleached wheat flour ... you get the message (FLOSS!). We loved the Gibassier bread with anise and orange peel, unique to the area, but derived from a Turkish style bread originally, and we finished with the bouchon - a light bread made with 72% chocolate and a little bit of almond paste. The texture was unreal.
A highlight for me was the "drinking chocolate" at Cacoa. If there were ever a store created especially for me ... this was it and I've never tasted anything like this chocolate which was like cocoa on steroids (not that I'll ever be able to drink regular cocoa again). It was 72% chocolate from Equidor melted and then mixed with equal parts cream and whole milk. I need a moment just to contemplate it once again ... wow. They also carried specialty chocolate from all over the world including gorgeous single-origin bars - and taken a step further - bars made from single-origin beans and a single-harvest, etc. They also carried Sahagun chocolate, which is a local Portland chocolatier with very limited hours so I was quite relieved to find some of their amazing bars including one with pistachios and cranberries. These folks are serious about their chocolate. Respect.
We also made our way to the In Good Taste Cooking School we had a series of tastings ... a Fat Barrel Pinot Noir (from the Willamette Valley) and then onward to a condiment tasting of Dulcet ketchup and mustard. We tasted the Peppery Moroccan Ketchup (some of the spices included cinnamon, ginger and cayenne), the Madras Curry Mustard and the Moroccan Mustard. We also tasted the black truffle infused salt fusion blend. And what a cookbook collection they had in this place!
The next stop was the Tea Zone and Camellia lounge. On the tea tasting, we first tried the Dragon Pearl Jasmine Green Tea, next had the oolong, and last the black tea with rose aroma. Served with the tea were two tea cookies - a lemon ice box and a pink raspberry, both covered in powdered sugar. Along with our teas, the cocktail we ordered to share was the #1 Fun (a mix of black currant tea vodka, blueberry/strawberry vodka, fresh lemon, sugar syrup and hibiscus, served up). This was such a cool place - I would totally hang out here if I was lucky enough to ever live in Portland.
The sixth stop on the tour was Hot Lips Pizza in the Ecotrust Building. The first pizza was a chicken with mushroom and red bell pepper and the second was asparagus, mushroom, roasted garlic and feta (fantastic combination!). Very fresh and delish.
The last stop for us was Ringlers Tavern at The Crystal Ballroom, which is a McMenamins project. Before a tour of the ballroom with the bouncing dance floor, we had a beer tasting of McMenamins beer - the first, the Ruby (a raspberry infused light beer), the second, the Terminator, which was a dark stout, and the third a somewhat light IPA (thank you beer-drinking friends for drinking most of mine - ha!).
Our final meal in Portland was my very favorite - at Pok Pok. Thai like I've never had before and Thai worth traveling to Portland for even if you do nothing else! They are known for their chicken wings - Fresh natural chicken wings marinated in fish sauce, garlic and sugar, deep fried, tossed in caramelized Phu Quoc fish sauce and garlic and served with Vietnamese table salad. We also had a gorgeous soup - Khao Soi Kai -
a Northern Thai mild curry noodle soup made with a "secret" curry paste recipe, natural chicken on the bone and house-pressed fresh coconut milk. It was served with pickled mustard greens, shallots, crispy yellow noodles and roasted chili paste, noted as a Chiang Mai specialty, with Burmese origins. Just incredible flavors and textures ... we wanted to lick the bowl. The final dish we devoured was the Muu Paa Kham Waan - Boar collar meat rubbed with garlic, coriander root and black pepper, glazed with soy and sugar, grilled over charcoal. It was served with chilled mustard greens and a spicy chili-lime-garlic sauce and the bartender called it "Northern Thai drinking food". It was spicy but so flavorful and fun to eat with little handfuls of rice. We were in heaven and we can't wait to return to Portland
Posted by Jodie Eisenhardt at Tuesday, August 03, 2010