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Restaurants & Bars 7

Portland report (long)

Tom Meg | Dec 12, 200402:49 PM

I've had some nice eating experiences so far.

I went to Mother's Bistro twice. First for an excellent breakfast, biscuits and gravy. Biscuits were rich, yet fluffy and tender, split longways and grilled face down until darkly browned, making a nice crisp platform for the gravy, which was smooth and honest tasting. Sausage bits were meaty and tender and pleasantly spicy. On the side were two perfect SSU eggs, and some delicious, darkly-roasted rosemary potatoes. It was a weekday, so it wasn't mobbed, and the servers were charming and attentive. It was a great first meal in Portland.

My second visit, a few days later for dinner, was good, but the service was a little spacier. I ordered a special of brisket, cooked with onions and potatoes. Feeling the need for some green vegetables, I ordered a side of "sauteed seasonal vegetables". The brisket arrived as advertised, and on the side of the plate was a generous pile of broccoli sauteed with garlic. A few seconds later, the waiter brought out a small plate of, guess what--MORE broccoli sauteed with garlic. I love broccoli and should probably eat it more often, but this was a little silly. It all tasted fine though. I ordered peanut butter pie for dessert. I always hope that someone will come up with my ideal version of this dish--one that's full of real salty peanutty flavor. This wasn't it, but it was definitely one of the better versions I've had.

With dinner I drank the seasonal beer special, Snowcap Ale. When dessert arrived, the waiter mumbled something as he set the pie in front of me. I couldn't quite hear what he said, so I just blurted out "Thanks!" A minute later, he brought me a second pint of Snowcap Ale. Thinking I had somehow earned a freebie I happily began drinking it. About halfway through, I did a mental instant replay of what the waiter said as he gave me my dessert. It must have been "Another Snowcap?"

I've had breakfast at the hotel (Heathman) once. It was so so. I had thought about getting something healthy like a fruit plate or oatmeal, but they have an extensive hash selection (corned beef, smoked salmon, Hangtown fry), and corned beef hash , when done right, is one of my favorite things in the world, so I had to try it.

It was as impressively plated (the two eggs on top looked like they had been poached in an ice cream scoop), and it was definitely not from a can, but I don't think the cook understands what's so great about hash. For me, good hash is all about crustiness vs softness. This was ALL gloppy softness, with the occasional unpleasant crunch of an undercooked onion. Meat was too finely chopped. Potatoes tasted wet and soggy. Whoever made it wasn't patient enough to let a much of a crust develop. And rather than ketchup, it was served with what the waiter described as a "special Thai sauce". Sorry, but Sriracha is neither special nor Thai, but it sure tastes weird first thing in the morning on hash.

I've been to Ken's Artisan Bakery 3-4 times already. The first time I went early in the morning and had an excellent cannele, a flakey buttery croissant, and a disappointing almond croissant. It was chewy, tough, and greasy--maybe it was fate punishing me for having 3 pastries for breakfast. Next day I had a mereingue-y sandwich-style pistachio macaroon--although it was super sweet and bright green, I'm a sucker for all things nutty, and I appreciated the prominent nut flavor of this item. I also had a pumpkin macaroon, which tasted mainly of pumpkin pie spices rather than the actual vegetable, but I could have been too zonked out by the sugar at that point to notice. Yesterday I had a great oatmeal cookie flavored with orange zest. This cookie isn't super rich, but has lots of great oat flavor, and a perfectly calibrated tender-crisp texture that was satisfying nonetheless. I love this bakery. It's one of the things in Portland that I miss most when I'm home in Queens.

I went to Typhoon! twice. I find this place reliably good, and consistent with my observation that the baseline level of quality of Thai restaurants on the west coast is much higher than out east. Everything tasted fresh and prepared with care. The King's curry with tofu was unflinchingly funky-tasting (from the fermented shrimp paste) and spicy. The papaya salad was super fresh and crisp and plenty spicy. I LOVE the fact that they serve miang kum (a good version of it at that), which is all but impossible to find in NYC. It's not that this place is super-authentic. I once asked the waitress for some fish sauce with chili peppers, and was told "sorry, we're out of fish sauce"--a Thai restaurant out of fish sauce??? But the chef seems to care deeply about freshness and balance, and proud of her food. For that reason I wouldn't be embarrassed to take Thai friends to this place.

Went to Southpark once. I had beet risotto with dungeness crab. It was OK. It was a competently made beet risotto with a few hunks of crab set on top. I would have liked it more if the risotto had been made with crab stock and the hunks of crab mixed in. As it was, two elements just didn't seem to have much to do with each other.

Had dinner at Pazzo. Agnolotti with duck and pumpkin and thyme. I think the pasta dough was too thick, and I couldn't taste the thyme at all--this dish could have used some more herbiness for balance. It was all so heavy and thick-tasting. Dessert was a plum tart with zabaglione. Tart dough was undercooked and floury-tasting. There was a bed of crumble with sliced baked plums on top. Not very well-integrated. The zabaglione was actually a scoop of ice cream (which arrived frozen rock solid). I left feeling disappointed, and walked to Maya's Mexican Kitchen and had a fish taco for about three bucks which made me feel much better again.

This morning, I was going to return to Mother's for breakfast, but was put off by the huge line. I happened upon Lorn and Dottie's Luncheonette, which was busy, but there was no wait. I sat at the counter and ate one of the best waffles I've ever had. It's made with a yeast batter, and is creamy and tender on the inside, yet light and crisp on the outside. It arrives without piles of fruit or powdered sugar. Just a little butter on the side and a mini-pitcher of maple syrup. It was just perfect. I don't surf this board regularly, so maybe people sing the praises of this waffle all the time here. If they don't, they should. It was the best thing I've eaten so far in Portland.

Sorry to go on and on...


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