I keep trying to find time to edit this more and a month has now passed since our visit, so I'd better post but be warned, it's a doozy...
Since this is going to be a long report which I'll post in chunks with pictures, here are the highs and lows from our highly enjoyable November trip to Portland – our third time this calendar year and I’m hungry for more:
Highlights: burgers! at Gruner, Matchbox, Café Castagna, fresh hops!!, Evoe, padrones
Lowlights: more disappointing food trucks, the bad la lot at Luc Lac
Here’s my query thread where I got good advice from generous Portland Hounds: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/869249
Arrived in Portland at about 5 pm and headed to Saraveza for happy hour. We got the special pastie with roasted pork loin, apples, white beans and cilantro to share. It was very tasty but did seem a tad dear at $9, though it was beautifully plated in halves for us and came with some mighty fine pickles. We accompanied our snack with Alesmith Speedway stout imperial with coffee for the SO (very espresso-y) and a Boneyard Girl Beer (tart/acid notes) for meafter the beertender kindly allowed me several tastes ($5 each plus $1 off re happy hour M-F 4-6). Later he brought over two wee snifters of the stout plus one of their fancy Nutella Love cupcakes to share gratis. What is it with Portlandians and free stuff? So awesome and a great welcome back to the city.
We checked in and unpacked, then it was off to Luc Lac to try our "luc" (sorry!) without a reservation. We were seated after a 10 minute wait that included ordering at the till at 7:50 but it took till 8:30 for the food to come out. When we inquired about the delay we were told it was because they were slammed but that seemed lame. Good thing we had snacked earlier. The women at the next table said they waited a long time for their food also.
We ordered the eponymous bo luc lac ($15) which was very good, though the dipping sauce was so oversalted it ruined my last two bites. The side of nem nuong was also tasty though weirdly served cold, and the la lot ($4) was a complete flop as it was also cold and rubbery, tasting like it had been made too far in advance. The bo tai chanh ($7) was good but had too many onions for me and the SO found it too one note, just limes, plus he thought it had been prepped too far ahead as well. We ordered a side of regular rice as we’re not fans of the tomato rice that is the typical side for the luc lac. I tried two cocktails which seemed a bit pricey but were successful, particularly the sassy sour. It’s a cute space but considering you do everything yourself apart from bussing your own table it is not good value, especially compared to our usual Viet haunts back home. I’d consider returning for the luc lac as a snack when it wasn’t busy. No pix, too dark.
We got to Courier at 9:45 where a solid espresso (“San Luis farm El Salvador Bourbon varietal natural Aug crop arrival”) from the moustachio’d barista made a good impression on the SO. I had a wonderfully floral but assertive black tea from Foxfire called Mt Hood Sunrise – also noted the Jarbralter (petit latte served in a short mason jar). We split one of their moist and just rightly sweet pear muffins with a cannele secreted about my person for later. And yes it was as good as last time if a tiny bit overcooked on the outside. After the requisite soujourn at Powell's we had a squint at Morso's (on the list) and Maglia Rosa, the newish espresso counter in the bike shop, hoping that the owner would be pulling shots but alas not today.
Our lunch target was Gruner for the burger ($11) and it did not disappoint. Portland knows how to do burgers, people. Juicy, thick, done to a perfect mid rare with just the right amount of fixings and a perfect potato bun. Sigh. SO went for the “Gruben” ($11) which he liked but didn’t think was a full-on wow (unbeknownst to me he is a bit of a Reuben snob from his days on the Prairies and found the sauerkraut a bit weak, not nearly sour enough and the brisket a bit stringy). The bread was quite overtoasted which was a drawback. The pickled eggs ($4) we had to start were spot on, just tart enough and lovely to look at with their beet marinade. And of course tiny raspberry filled doughnuts ($8) for dessert because, well, tiny doughnuts! We washed it all down with the Oktoberfest beer flight, $14 for three seven-ounce pours of Weltenburger Heffe Hell Weissbier (DE), Occidental Dunkel (OR) and Weissenohe Monk’s Fest (DE).
Needing a pick me up after a whack of antiquing and some eye candy at Clive Coffee (great timers), Water Avenue Coffee seemed an obvious choice that afternoon. On a sunny day, the light just pours into this high ceilinged narrow space. We sat at the counter by the window and enjoyed a latte and a Chemex pourover plus a Fleur de Lis orange scone which was not too sweet and dry in that goes-with-coffee-well sort of way – same appeal as a biscotti. The espresso (El Salvador Buena Vista) was well received, not too acidic, while I found the pourover (El Salvador Las Delicias) a bit too earthy and resorted to cream to doctor it a bit for my tastes.
For dinner we had reservations at Pata Negra where my padron jones was addressed in a deliciously classic way. When I made the reservation, I asked the chef (who answered the phone) whether he would still have padrones and he said he would order extra. That's some service. We also enjoyed a great tortilla, crunchy bacalao croquetas with pointless tomato sauce, tender if a bit underseasoned pincho moruno, and gambas al ajillo, whose expertly prepared sauce was sopped up using the strangely lame bread like croutons. The $10 glass of tempranillo was unmemorable enough to prompt the SO to say “I should only drink beer in Portland.” This is the kind of tapas bar I wish we had in Vancouver still (they are all fusiony and sorta modernist now) where you can get well prepared classic Spanish dishes for a reasonable price in a relaxed and inviting setting. All told our small tapas cost $41 and we were plenty full and happy. After dinner we popped into the Food Front coop across the corner and found Portland Red Pepper Sauce for $3.99 plus Aadvark was a couple of bucks cheaper than at Pastaworks so note to self.