56 Hours in Portland; One goal. To eat at as many restaurants as our bodies could handle.
Things started on a depressing and expensive note, per usual, at the San Francisco airport. It was early morning, and options were limited. We ended up in Gordon Biersch, where we paid $55 per couple for this horrific spread:
Upon arrival in Portland, it took us a good hour and one train transfer to reach our hotel, the Radisson RiverPlace http://www.riverplacehotel.com/. It was a priceline “name your price” deal, and it’s located in the cuts, which is to say, it’s not a walkable locale. There is a street car right out front, but it’s a local number, so it’s slow and stops constantly. Not ideal for our purposes. Not ideal at all.
The Radisson is one of those extended stay jobs, and you could do worse, to be sure. It was nice to have lots of space, a little kitchenette, and a sitting area, and it was pretty sweet to have access to their market o’ junk food in the lobby, for a late night schmorgesborg, but that’ll come later.
If you had a rental car, or, if you weren’t on a punishing eating out schedule, I’m sure it would be a fine place to stay. For our purposes, though, it kinda sucked, and we ended up cabbing all over the place. Also, the view from the hotel is a power grid. You know.
We started with an attempt at a visit to Nong’s Khao Man Gai http://khaomangai.com/, located in the 10th and Alder food truck pod. Nong’s literally serves one dish (you guessed it…Khao Man Gai) and appears to be, by most accounts, the most popular of food trucks in Portland which is obviously saying a lot. We were pretty bummed to find it closed, but of course, we were surrounded by myriad other options to soothe our hunger pangs. We took one quick stroll to survey the offerings and chose to split the team. Randi and I went to procure a Gyro at the Gyro house, the boys went in for a sausage.
The Gyro House had a fairly significant line which they moved through pretty quickly.
We ordered a lamb gyro that was out. of. this. world.
I could bathe in tzatziki, and they definitely bathed that generous portion of meat in it, which made for one happy group of fatties. The boys returned with a phenomenal mess of meat and sauce from the sausage spot, and while they did me a solid photographing it, they forgot to photo the front, so I don’t know the name of the place. Also, I still don’t have the photo of the dog, but…coming soon. Anyhow, if you are standing on the street facing the Gyro House, the sausage spot in on the same block, pretty much on the opposite corner, to your left. We enjoyed it so much we vowed to go back for more, but alas, it was not meant to be.
Working our way through our list with geography in mind, the next stop was about six small blocks away at Maurice, http://www.mauricepdx.com/ a restaurant self-described as a “pastry luncheonette,” dubbed the #9 best new resto of the year by Bon Appetit, wherein a lemon soufflé is served which was discussed by Andrew Knowlton thusly: “I would happily eat her lemon-soufflé pudding cake for breakfast. Every. Single. Morning. All this from a guy who, nine times out of ten, orders whiskey for dessert. Yes, she’s that good.”
Maurice is a sweet and somewhat whimsical spot, with a sort of Parisian café feel to it, a warm little sanctuary. Everything about the place is pretty adorable, from the hand written menu’s
To the open kitchen with folks sitting around it sipping tea
To their plating, which makes their food look like tiny little works of art. Take this polenta clafouti, for instance
So pretty, right? Also, SO tasty. It was fairly cold out that day, and that clafouti was so hot and creamy inside, with a hot runny egg on top, garnished with fat, splendid, chunks of salt that woke the rich flavor and made it pop.
This was one of the specials, a lamb meatball and quince paste dish, with some sorrel to add herby balance. I just thought this was OK but the boys preferred it to the clafouti.
Of course, we were not leaving without taking the lemon soufflé for a spin
I definitely enjoyed this more than everyone else did. I adore lemon desserts and I was with a chocolate crowd, but overall they were just underwhelmed by it. It was piping hot which made me feel like I was getting a warm, lemony hug on my insides. The texture was kind of curdy. Does that even make sense? Anyway, I dug it but would not need to make a repeat visit for it. The clafouti on the other hand…
I panicked that we were leaving without having sampled enough baked goodness and bought this sphere of flaky butter
That was one awesome butter cookie.
It was time for a booze break at our favorite Portland
toilet bar, the Yamhill Pub.http://www.yelp.com/biz/yamhill-pub-portland
Pitchers of PBR..$7, super nice bartenders, and you know this bathroom has seen some things.
When 5:00 rolled around it was time to cab it over to Southeast Portland, to make our dinner reservation at Ava Genes. http://www.avagenes.com/
Those people are literally staring down the staff, willing the host and/or servers to open the doors and let them in. Ava Gene’s décor would best be described as both charming and hipster (at least in my world, it would)
The entire kitchen is open and exposed, with highly coveted bar seating for the culinary voyeur. The menu, a Roman affair, is composed of pasta and meat courses, but the crown jewel at Ava Gene’s is the giardini, which makes perfect sense when you know the kitchen is helmed by Joshua McFadden, who may well be referred to as “the vegetable whisperer.”
There is the option, in the giardini section, to order a tasting trio; we selected the pumpkin, brown butter, currants and pecans, the “Tuscan Cavalry,” a kale, sarvecchio, and filone dish (read: kale salad)…the third, possibly, was the pear, fennel, pine nuts and colatura? It would be helpful if I would write these things down as they happen. It’s possible that the third one is no longer on the menu, the photo doesn’t seem to match any of the dishes that are currently on offer. Sorry. I slack.
I was crazy for that bowl of pumpkin and brown butter. Like. CRAY. I totally pulled a dick move and ate way more than my fair share, and, oh well. No one else experienced the same intense form of rapture for it as I did, so, only fair. McFadden is totally known for being the master kale salad maker (and possibly the first to put an awesome one on a menu) and this version most definitely lived up to the reputation. Obviously, I haven’t much to say about the third one since I don’t even remember what it is. BUT. We all loved it, and I know that one of us hoovered that one the way I hoovered the pumpkin. Not sure who, but I know it happened.
For our pasta course we reluctantly went with Mikey’s choice of the orichette with sausage and broccoli. I dunno…yawn, right? Wrong. It was the most decadent, fabulous, rich, delicious, concoction. Also, Mikey required that we all fawn over him for making a good choice and kept referring to it as “his” as though we weren’t allowed more than a taste.
Look. That’s him hording it.
We finished up with our meat course, the pork with apples.
Apologies for that terrible photo. The pork was incredibly moist and tender, but overall, this dish was no one’s favorite and no hoarding or hoovering occurred.
Our next move was made via cab, over to the industrial district (according to yelp, I dunno) for a visit to Kachka for a little Russian fare. http://kachkapdx.com/
Of course, when we strolled in to Kachka and asked for a table without a reservation, the reaction could best be described as incredulity. The host predicted a two-hour wait which we happily accepted, having just eaten, and sent us a couple of doors down (next door?) to Dig a Pony, a big, dark, loungy, bar. http://digaponyportland.com/
It was happy hour, which meant a buck off wine, draught, and well drinks. Also, we were tempted to order some $4 hush puppies or perhaps a $3 plate of fries, but by some miracle, (divine intervention perhaps?) we showed restraint.
When we returned to Kachka, we were greeted with the most magical environment that transported us back to Eastern Europe; polka music, plastic table cloths, tin utensil holders adorned with painted flowers, big old laminated menus….I fell in love, before I had even one bite.
Again, sorry for the photo quality. Things are just going to get dark from here. Kachka’s menu only served to elevate our feelings of giddy excitement, being almost entirely dedicated to “zakuski,” (drinking snacks) with the most fabulously extensive list of vodkas, vodka cocktails, and vodka infusions to go along with it.
We ordered some vodka infusions (don’t ask me what flavor, we’re pretty late in the day here *cough cough*)
We started with the Russian version of a walkaway taco, the “Herring Under a Fur Coat;” a layer dip of sorts, comprised of herring, potatoes, carrots, beets, mayo, eggs.
I really dug this dish, the combo, I think, reminded me a bit of a blini loaded with caviar and the usual toppings; I loved both the egginess and the creaminess, but everyone else felt it was a bit bland.
We all adored the khachapuri, described on the menu as “smoked sulguni cheese wrapped in pillowy dough–like a crunchwrap and a cheese calzone had a lovechild” I mean…what’s not to love about that?
The dipping sauces that were served alongside, whatever they were, rocked. I believe one of them was something like a spiced nut puree, the other a fruity mango mixture of sorts.
Lastly, an order of cheese dumplings:
always a good choice. Just a reminder, polka music playing all along. So fun. Kachka was probably my favorite restaurant from this trip. It was just delightful.
For an edible nightcap, we headed to Biwa for a bowl of late night ramen. We tried walking there, which was a debacle, but really, it’s like four blocks from Kachka. We just made it ten, because, why not.
So Biwa. http://www.biwarestaurant.com/
I had read that it was the industry spot, where chef’s go late night for their ramen fix. I had also read that they had a great late night happy hour, at $5 bowl. We were seated, and then our server arrived and explained the menu. When he was done, I told him that we knew what we wanted, that we were there for the happy hour ramen. His response was…not favorable, and we were made to get up and wait for a seat at the bar (the only place they offer the HH ramen, which we obviously didn’t know previously, and whatever, fair enough). What happened then was a lot of nasty looks between kitchen staff (open kitchen, at the bar) and servers, which was, of course, uncomfortable for us and also, just not cool. I don’t really understand offering something (happy hour ramen) to get people in the door and then sneering at them when they show up for it.
Anyway. Some really delicious popcorn:
The server came to take our drink orders and when Jake asked for a list of unfiltered sake’s, she pointed to the $5 sake on the happy hour menu and said something snotty about how we were here for that, the cheap stuff, and then Jake was just at a point where he could not enjoy this place whatsoever.
I could care less that the server wasn’t impressed with me, and I went on to order the happy hour ramen with every add-on conceivable.
The ramen was totally satisfying to me. It was just fine. Jake hated it, and the place, so much, that he left and waited for us outside.
And finally, we took a cab back to the hotel to hibernate.