So, as I mentioned at the beginning of the week, my husband and I intended to spend just a few days in Portland, Oregon, over the Christmas holidays. The plan was to come home Sunday, but then our Sunday flight got cancelled. And then our Tuesday flight got cancelled.
And then we said what the heck, and spent the rest of the week getting unabashedly fat on Portland.
We finally went home that Saturday, heavier and wiser and pretty seriously acquainted with one of America's best food cities. Yum.
Top ten things we tasted:
- chicken wings at Pok Pok. I thought I had read about this restaurant in Food & Wine ages and ages ago, but it turns out "ages and ages" was 2009 (it had to have been this article), so I'm a little unclear on the timeline. Oops. What I'm not unclear on is the sweet hot sticky perfection of these wings, and I don't even generally order wings. Everything we had at Pok Pok (boar collar, catfish on vermicelli, half a chili crab) was absolutely delicious, and this was the best of the lot.
- crispy potatoes at Gruner. I guess they have a longer name on the menu: "fried smashed Yellow Finn potatoes, special sauce." Not sure what makes the sauce special, other than its heavy helping of awesome. But this came recommended by a local, and I might have passed it up otherwise, and thank goodness that didn't happen. Because this was a thing of joy. Joy and cardiac danger.
- bacon maple bar at Voodoo Doughnut. Yes, it's the famous maple-bacon donut. Yes, it's that good. Yes, it's totally worth it, especially if you split it with a friend. Stand in line in the rain, then walk half a block down to Stumptown. Chances are you won't be the only one there with a pink Voodoo box in hand.
- lobster and celery root soup with smoked char roe at Beast. Overall we found that Portland was incredibly affordable compared to NYC -- I mean, everything's affordable compared to NYC, but Portland is really well-priced, plus there's no sales tax. This meal was our most expensive by far, because we were lucky enough to snag a couple seats to their New Year's Eve extravaganza, and MAN. Even with seven courses we weren't stuffed, which is good, since this was on Friday and you can see how we ate the rest of the week. Anyway, I don't even like roe, but every little smoky, salty, only slightly fishy pop took this dish to a whole new beautiful level.
- rib-eye steak at Castagna. This was another splurge, and it happened that they were having a "Basque Cider House Dinner" the only night we could make it. So whether this is their usual mode or not, it rocked. And the rockingest thing was a thick, smoky, perfectly pink steak to go with ever-flowing bottomless cider and giddy, cheerful conversation. (The steak also came with potatoes so perfectly creamy in the middle and crispy on the outside we demanded the secret: boil, cool, shallow-fry.)
- chicken and rice at Nong's Khao Man Gai. Portland's food cart scene is lively and impressive, and the carts are arranged in "pods" in parking lots around town, so you can just hit a pod and go from truck to truck. We had a lot of wonderful lunches this way (Bosnian pitas! duck confit!) but my favorite was this Thai food stand that only sells this particular item: poached chicken and rice with a sweet, tangy sauce on the side. The day we went, they also had fried chicken skin available on the side, which certainly didn't hurt matters any.
- polenta at Tasty n Sons. Super-wonderful family-style brunch, and I don't even remember what the polenta came with -- someone else ordered it, I think there were some eggs, and maybe sausage -- but I just kept sneaking bites of this creamy, cheesy, dense-but-in-a-good-way polenta, and would've happily made it my whole meal. Even over the bacon-wrapped dates, and that's saying something.
- rose macaron at Pix Patisserie. Just a lovely little French macaron: classic, simple, rosy. Done.
- goat cheese ravioli at Lucy's Table. One other thing about the Portland food scene that we don't have back home in NYC: really, really good happy hour specials. I'm talking about $2-ish local microbrews-ish and $4 cocktails that aren't just watery, flat margarita-type things, but real, thoughtful, tasty cocktails. And the food that goes with them is heavily discounted, which of course makes everything taste better. Not that these ravioli -- stuffed with goat cheese (!) in brown butter (!) really need the help.
- and last but certainly not least, the burger at Wildwood. Because sometimes you just want a burger. A really good burger. With one of the city's best cocktails on the side (see above note about happy hour -- Wildwood's is excellent on all fronts.) It makes your whole night. Sitting at the bar, chatting with the genius behind the bar about rosemary-infused cider syrup, learning and sharing and laughing and eating and drinking things that make you smile. Really couldn't ask for more.
So even after 10 days in Portland, and even knowing how long it'll take me to work off these indulgences on the stationary bike, I'm happy to go back at any time!
Bonus note, and a prediction: at Pok Pok they serve something called drinking vinegar. A little bit of flavored vinegar -- could be tamarind, plum, yuzu, anything -- is put in the bottom of a glass with some ice, then the glass is filled up with tonic or soda. And it is gooood. I expect it to be the next big thing in New York, and maybe even nationwide, before 2011 is over.