Saturday, December 5, 2009

Cheese, Mushrooms, and Fresh Fish Oh My!

Okay, I know that's not the most appealing combination. But these were the food themes of our most recent trip to Portland, Oregon, home of some of the best food and shopping I've ever experienced.

Day 1 was spent walking around the Pearl District, an up and coming neighborhood full of trendy little boutiques. My favorite: Cargo, which is a basically a warehouse of interesting kitsch from all over the world. You could find practically anything here from matches and candles to hanging lanterns to slippers to living room furniture. For dinner, we hit Navarre, known for excellent tapas featuring dishes from Southern France and Northern Spain. With a daily rotating menu, you're in for a surprise every time you go, which makes for a lot of regulars. All of the food was amazing, but the standout dish for me here was a salad studded with candied fennel and grilled chanterelles. What an amazing combination of woody, sweet, and salty at the same time. And this is not something you can just make at home easily, which was a bonus for us!

Day 2 featured a walking tour of Nob Hill, where we found a mix of national chain stores (i.e., Williams-Sonoma, Pottery Barn and the Gap) as well as smaller funky, locally-owned shops. Our faves were a home store called Manor which sells unique whimsical but tasteful home furnishings and a tiny place aptly named a little box of jewels, a storefront featuring the wares of a local jewelry designer and metalsmith who specializes in classic-but-edgy-at-the-same-time one of a kind pieces, including necklaces, earrings, and bracelets. For dinner in Nob Hill, we checked out Paley's Place, well-known for its use of local, organic foods. Located in an old mansion, Paley's has a very homey, comfortable feel. Dishes were again classic European. Dinner was great, but bakerbiker and I were both in love with our dessert - a course of 3 cheeses: an Italian sheep's milk tartufo (Il Boschetto) that tasted like creamy, smoky truffles, a local Oregon goat cheese wrapped in maple leaves, also smoky but a great complement to the Italian sheep, and Rogue's Blue Cheese, a very tasty, pungent local cow's milk cheese. These were all accompanied by a homemade quince compote, candied nuts, and small toasts. AMAZING.

On Day 3, we hit Hawthorne Blvd, an edgy, hip neighborhood full of vintage shops. Our favorite: Vintage Pink which was just crammed full of vintage wares from every era. Can't wait to go back! For dinner, we went to Simpatica Dining Club. A BIG shoutout goes to our friend Sarah who recommended it, for we would never have found it if it weren't for her. And boy was it worth it. Simpatica is located in what feels like a church basement. From the outside, you would never know the amazing food that is being turned out by this place. Simpatica is a catering company and started offering prix fixe dinners on Friday and Saturday nights a few years ago as well as a reputedly amazing Sunday brunch (Food & Wine just named their fried chicken and waffles breakfast one of the best dishes under $12 of 2009). We started with a Provencal Crab Bisque with Rouille and Crusty Bread - out of this world. The chef explained that the crabs are handpicked and cooked with the fats so that you get a real meaty crab taste. And he wasn't lying! Next course was a fresh palate cleanser - Bibb Lettuce with Tarragon Dressing and Breakfast Radish. Now, I usually don't like for restaurants to dress my salads for me because they are so often overdressed. But this was one of the most perfectly dressed salads I've ever had. Dressing was creamy but not overpowering and the radishes added a nice little kick. The main dish of the evening was a Pan Roasted Halibut with Olive Oil Poached Potatoes, Grilled Artichokes and Sauce Vierge. All we can say is: WOW. First of all, the potatoes were poached in a ton of olive oil for a long period of time. This allowed them to retain moisture and take on the flavor of the oil really nicely. The halibut was cooked perfectly, but for me, the sauce was the winner - it was a parsley and olive oil sauce that was light but full of flavor. And for dessert: a Warm Persimmon Cake with Apple Quince Confiture, which was the perfect end to a four-course meal - not too sweet, but just sweet enough. Wonderful meal. Then we all rolled home to bed.

Day 4: we hit NE Portland, another recommendation from our friend Sarah who described it as "Brooklyn-y." And was she right! More fun little shops and boutiques. For lunch, we went to Por Que No, a great little taqueria. My faves: fish and shrimp ceviche with spicy cucumbers and chips, fish tacos, and an out-of-this world fresh hibiscus tea.

For dinner, we drove out to Pok Pok, which features street foods from Southeast Asia. I found the best lime soda I've had outside of India here. Try it if you go! The food here is atomically spicy, which was great for me (not so great for everyone at the table, though!). But our adventurous group was game to try everything. Our favorite by consensus: Khanom Jiin Kaeng Kiaw Waan Leuk Chin Plaa which is a green curry with homemade fish balls, vermicelli, fried dry anchovies, salted eggs, pickled garlic, Thai eggplant, and Holy Basil. Holy cow - this was amazing. It had a lot of flavor and depth without being overwhelming. A great crowd pleaser.

Overall a great trip, but we can't wait to go back because there were so many more places we were dying to try. Thanks, Portland!

1 comment:

  1. i love your descriptions, ila. keep this up!