Restaurants & Bars

Another great gastrotrip to Portland for Vancouver, BC Hound

grayelf | Jun 7, 201210:44 AM     7

Since this is going to be a long report which I'll post in chunks with pictures, here are the highlights from our superb May trip to Portland – can’t wait to come back! (starred items were top five):

iced coffee at Red E’s
green salad at Foster Burger
breakfast sandwich with ham at downtown Bunk
empanadas from Pdx Argentina
*lamb rillette from Ned Ludd
1/3 lb burger at Matchbox Lounge
*Evoe (see report here http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/852569)
*semolina muffin and cannele from Courier
*Nuvrei’s cinnamon orange glazed Danish
*Chop garlic salami pie with arugula from Ken’s Artisan Pizza
Tadeo’s in B’ham on the way home (see report on another board here http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/8310...

Lowlights: WAY too many overly sweet items that to my palate should be savoury, Wildwood burger, Le Pigeon, Cascade sours, Olympic Provisions’ frank, Helser’s

Here’s my query thread where I got good advice from generous Portland Hounds: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/846961

Arrived in Portland at about 4 pm on a Thursday via the Alberta exit and nipped over to Killingsworth to check out the original Red E for coffee (next to Saraveza which looks like yet another great place for a beer). I had heard about Red E's from an article in the NY Times. It is a great shop with high ceilings and lots of room. One of the owners gave us a cappuccino (Heart Stereo which is 50% Brazilian and 50% Ethiopian, nice coffee but the milk was a bit sub par with big bubbles) and a wonderful iced coffee poured from what looks just like a beer tap [see photo]. We decided to go get ice cream as the day was warm and headed over to Ruby Jewel on Mississippi. I really liked the idea of an ice cream flight (six wee cups for six dollars served on a ice cream cone shaped “bat”) but we settled for regular cones as we wanted to walk. Neither of us were wowed by the ice cream here – we tried vanilla bean and salted caramel with chocolate which was too sweet and prolific. We stopped into Mr Green Beans to ogle the green coffee beans and the coffee gear. Amnesia Brewing looked like a great place for a brew, with outdoor seating and a bbq. The Prickly Ash cart looked worth pursuing for various roujiamo at the same corner as Prost, a German pub that beckoned from within a lovely heritage building. After a bit more ambling on Mississippi, including a stop at a really fun store called the Missing Link and a browse at The Meadow where we bought a Sahagun chocolate with popped corn in it (not salutary) and to pick up the chocolate bar from Woodblock that I’d read about (which I really like, very different than the dark chocolate I'm used to which for me is a good thing as I generally don't like dark chocolate), we headed to the hotel.

At 8 pm I called Toro Bravo and didn’t get an answer so we opted for Foster Burger. We had fun checking out all of the music show posters, having seen a surprising number of the bands in the 90s. It was pretty quiet at 8:15 pm but our booth was comfortable. Upright Wheat Sour #4 was on the draft menu and the server was kind enough to bring me a sample: floral, light on malt, not very sour, actually kind of watery with a tobacco-ey aftertaste. J went for a pint of a local dark draft whose name I can't make out in my notes except for the letters EBC ($4.50) which he reported to be a bit gnarly and hoppy before it mellowed out. The milkshake was as delicious as reported (I got a small vanilla for $4.50 that was not small, made with soft serve). J wanted a salad and since they were out of the wedge, opted for a small green salad ($4) with ranch, fresh peas and topnotch housemade pickled beets that weren’t sweet. We then split a Foster burger for $5.50 on a slightly sweet An Xuyan bun and a strong beefy taste and a regular poutine ($6) with properly squeaky Beechers’ curds, lovely gravy and great fries. This was a lot of food and drink for $25.50. No photos because it was too dark.

Coffeehouse NW was our next java target on Friday am where we tried a cappuccino with El Salvador and a mocha that was way too sweet (I'd ask for less chocolate next time). We also tried a bacon cheese scone from Kim Boyce’s Bakeshop. It was tasty despite the use of whole wheat flour but too sweet. Having last visited in chilly March we discovered this café is quite warm on a sunny day.

Then it was off to Cacao to pick up some lavender salted caramels for my SIL and to admire the treats in this beautiful and well laid out shop. I eyed the Batch ghost pepper choc ($2.50) and the gold leafed Alma offerings [see pix] but sadly we ran out of time and didn't make it back to Cacao to try the ghost.

Next was Powell’s to spend $88 on books without even leaving the front room. We stashed our treasures at the counter and headed over to the newest Bunk to share a breakfast sandwich. Dang, this is a cute shop. I’ve read complaints that you can’t dine in but we liked the seating set up, especially the tall counter chairs in the window. And what a fab sando. The egg was done perfectly, the Tillamook vintage white cheddar was tangy and savoury and the ham was hammy ($6) – the server steered me away from the bacon and the sausage options because they are sweet. Overheard another customer favourably comparing Bunk to Ike’s in SF.

Our contemplative time visiting The Grotto worked us up an appetite so we headed over to Thien Hong for an order of pepper-salted squid ($11.25) which wasn’t amazing but did have a certain addictive quality. It’s a huge order that we had to leave most of behind as we had other goals, namely Kesone for nam khao ($10.50). The young man who served us ordered it hot though it wasn’t particularly. I really enjoyed the sorrel leaves (which I later saw at the PSU farmers market) on the plate, and the dish was solid, if perhaps not quite up to my benchmark version at Ventian in Oakland. He also recommended the Thai Basil on Division, Thai Blues and Cha Ba Thai plus Isaan Thai which his uncle runs.

By this time it was Crazy Hour (M-F 2-5) at Killer Burger so we split a burger and fries ($4.95, regularly $7.95). This was a really solid burg for the money though the processed cheese was not to the SO’s taste (I have a soft spot for it but only on certain kinds of burgers), not as beefy as Foster’s but great crispy and non-sweet bacon. The fries were piping hot and well salted, ideal with a pint of Bloodshed Red Ale ($4) which was full of his beloved pub carpet flavours.

We had noticed Voodoo 2 on the way to The Grotto so no lineup and free parking = touristy stop! I had a Raspberry Romeo (real raspberries in the jelly!) and the SO had a Portland Cream, billed as the “official donut of Portland." Both were very nice if not terribly special. The brewed Stumptown hit the spot for the SO, who believes in coffee and donuts together. Loved that the parking space lines are painted in baby pink! We sat outside as it was a beautiful day and watched the group of kids at the next table who had driven 45 minutes to get the bucket o’ ’nuts (actually two buckets) which is about 40 donuts in a bucket. Also loved the ivy monster in the parking lot.

Friday night was dinner at Le Pigeon. We bumped into the chef, his wife and their baby in line at Spielman’s last trip and he came over to say hi which was nice on a busy Friday. We got seats at the end of the communal table at the back of the restaurant which I think are the best ones (apart from the bar which is not reservable). J tried a Spanish Mont Sant Granaxto D’A 2010 ($9) We decided to order three appetizers and the burger. The beet salad with mache, feta and peppers ($10) was solid apart from the slightly bizarre addition of raw uber hot pepper rounds that kinda killed the beet flavour. We found the foie gras to be too sweet and lacking in any foie flavour but it was well prepared. The pigeon tartare with fava beans, spicy garlic and pecorino broth ($15) came in a broth that tasted so strongly of pecorino that neither of us could tell what the meat was like and the favas were completely overwhelmed. The burger ($12) was a bit of a disaster as it was so smothered in wasabi that I couldn’t detect much else, including the blue cheese dressing. Until the second bite when I detected that the patty was not cooked properly. I had requested medium rare. The server noticed I wasn’t eating it and I mentioned that it seemed underdone. She whisked it away and soon returned saying “that burger was not rare, it was raw” and apologizing profusely. She said they would take it off the bill and asked if I wanted another but I was a bit put off so declined. This left us room for foie gras beignets which were delicious if again lacking in foie taste. The service was flawless but overall we were disappointed in the food. Perhaps we should have gone for mains instead?

After dinner, we headed over to Cascade to try some sours. I had two tasting flights at $8 for four two ounce pours. It struck me as odd how concerned the ’tender was about serving me these small pours but I guess they have a higher alcohol content than many of the other beers on offer. The server recommended the house made crackers as a palate cleanser which worked really well. I liked the strawberry, the vine and the apple the best though none of them really wowed me. Still a great way to sample a whack of sours at one go. J had a non-sour Cascade Stout ($4.50) for which he provided the following tasting notes: “liquid Eatmore with a bit of hot asphalt, a touch of mouldy coffee grounds, burnt hair and the smell of pumping gas.” Apparently these amount to a good beer as he thoroughly enjoyed it!
Pix: mocha and scone at NW Coffeehouse, breakfast sandwich at Bunk, gold Alma chocs at Cacao, squid at Thien Hong, nam khao at Kesone, burger at Killer, Le Pigeon, sours tasting at Cascade

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