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Restaurants & Bars 5

Portland Dining – an outsider’s perspective (long)

Mergar | May 6, 200602:33 PM

My husband and I were in the Portland area for a few days last week. The city itself was wonderful, and the people of Portland are the friendliest we have ever encountered. We really enjoyed our time there. The restaurants, however, were a mixed bag covering all prices ranges and food quality. The reviews of each restaurant below focus mainly on food, as we did not really encounter a bad wine list anywhere we went.
We started out at Wildwood on Friday night. First, it is important to know that this is a somewhat casual place, with only a few people wearing a fairly nice dress or dinner jacket. The food and service were both good, but not outstanding. We started with two appetizers, the first of which was clams simmered in saffron, garlic, and sun dried tomato broth. The broth was incredibly yummy, so much so that we dipped our table bread into it once we had eaten all the clams. The second appetizer was garden peppercress served with prosciutto, ricotta and fava beans, and it was very good as well. This first course was the best of the evening. As for the main entrees, the pan-seared halibut was respectable, while the Strawberry Mountain beef with fennel was good but not great. The meal ended with two desserts, a chocolate walnut torte that was decent and a rhubarb napoleon that was very good.
On Saturday, we headed out to the wine country. (Side note: The Archery Summit tour and Domaine Serene are not to be missed). For lunch we stopped by the Dundee Bistro. The restaurant itself was pleasantly decorated and the service was relaxed but attentive. We started with a platter of salmon pastrami, which is really good if you avoid the pickled items on the plate as their flavoring was overpowering to anything else on the plate. The lunch entrees we tried were a very nice bistro burger and an interesting plate of sausage with fennel accompanied by asparagus and polenta sides, which proved to be both hearty and tasty. For dinner, we traveled to the Joel Palmer House, and we each ordered the Mushroom Madness tasting menu. While this restaurant receives high marks for food in many other reviews, we were underwhelmed. Out of five courses, only two really stand out: the mushroom risotto (1st course) was yummy, and the desert plate featuring ice cream and cheesecake containing (you guessed it) mushrooms, which was remarkably tasty. Otherwise, neither of us was impressed by the food at the Joel Palmer House.
On Sunday, we were back in Portland for breakfast at Mother’s Bistro & Bar. In a word: mmm! The croissant was fresh, “Mike’s special scramble” with garlic, cheese, and prosciutto was great, and the “salmon hash” was incredibly creamy and enjoyable. For lunch, we ate at a little Eastern African stand at the Saturday Market, and it was very good for only $10. Sunday dinner, however, started out poorly. We went to Higgins Restaurant upon the recommendation of many different reviews. However, upon perusing the menu and hearing the specials, we were disappointed. Nothing appeared particularly inventive, and the lack of a tasting menu put us off. So my husband stepped outside, called down the street to the Heathman Restaurant, and 5 minutes later we were walking out of Higgins and into the Heathman. That’s probably the best food decision we could have made. The Heathman turned out to be absolutely fantastic. The meal began with our server asking how many courses we would like in our tasting menu (!), and after that the kitchen started turning out some of the best food we’ve had in a while. The amuse was a tantalizing beginning; the grouper was outstanding; the duck breast was great; and the desert sampler (4 different deserts) was awesome. Every course was memorable… and all that was with the award-winning executive chef nowhere to be seen! Everything about the Heathman was an incredible eating experience, one that I’d recommend to anyone, and the price was extremely reasonable for a 7-course tasting menu.
Monday found us on two different ends of the food spectrum. For lunch, we ate at Typhoon downtown on Broadway. We were later told that the Typhoon restaurants in other parts of Portland are much better than the one downtown. I hope that is true, because the food and tea at Typhoon downtown was fairly poor quality and dramatically overpriced. Moving on to dinner, we had reservations at Genoa. Due to the lucky timing of our trip, we ended up dining with 14 other people in a private winemaker’s dinner in a back room. This was a 5-course dinner with wine pairings from a local boutique winery, and everything was outstanding. The food was, in a word, wonderful. The antipasti course was Alaskan Halibut cheeks dusted in flour and seared to a perfection that melted in our mouths. This course was followed by a lovely scallop dish and a pasta dish redolent with tasty mushrooms called “cardoncello”. The principle course followed and consisted of medium rare grilled venison served with a red wine sauce, and as with the Halibut, the meat of this dish was perfectly tender and enjoyable. The night was topped off with honey gelato, a light dessert that was a very good conclusion to a superior meal. The food did not stand alone, though, in making this such a pleasurable experience. The service was wonderful, and wine was abundant, and the other diners were interesting and engaging dinner companions. We would highly recommend this experience to anyone. Thanks to Genoa, our trip to Portland ended on a high note.
So all and all, as I noted above, our dining experiences in Portland were pretty varied. We will definitely be back, with Genoa, the Heathman, and Mother’s brunch on our hit list.

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