Weekend in Portland

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Powell's Books
This was my second visit to Portland, Oregon. The first time, I had been living in Seattle for two weeks to see if I wanted to move there. I decided a weekend in Portland to weigh my options was only fair. Back then, my limited research had us eating at some places that didn’t impress much, especially after hearing so much about this feisty food tradition (tattoos required). I decided I would need to put in the work for Round II.

I was in Portland this time to attend a Plate & Pitchfork farm dinner in Willamette Valley that Sunday (apparently I will fly for food). I was also curious to compare it to the Outstanding in the Field farm dinner I had attended a few months before in southern California. Plus, the trip was a huge excuse to drink Pinot Noir in Willamette Valley, something my friends and I kept vowing to do at dinner parties and then promptly forgot about.

But first, we explored Portland. Arriving very early on Friday morning, and burning time before we could even attempt an early check-in at our hotel, we aimed our car toward the Pearl Bakery (after printing out 20-plus pages in wine country Google Maps for the weekend, I decided to spring for GPS in the rental car—best decision I have ever made, even for Portland. Despite its modest size, the city can quickly turn into a maze, and every street is SW this and NE that. Good restaurants are hidden on side streets in residential neighborhoods—despite decent navigational instincts I have officially gotten lost twice trying to get to Thai landmark Pok Pok).

Pearl Bakery offerings

The cinnamon crown at Pearl Bakery was tasty and the caffeine was essential, but I was still starving. (You had to love that, as we sat there eating and sipping, a food tour came through, donned paper hats, and tromped through the cavernous baking facility in the back.)

Clyde Common bar

After checking in, and a power nap later, we walked over to Clyde Common for a nibble, the hip eatery attached to the hip Ace Hotel (I considered staying at the Ace but did I see what looked like gray army blankets on their website? Guess I’m not that hip). I realized I had enjoyed a cocktail and some popcorn at Clyde Common the last time I was in town, when it was boisterous and lively for happy hour. Now, arriving at the unfortunate no man’s land between lunch and dinner, we only had a few food options, and the ones we tried were pretty mediocre.

Clyde Common pimenton popcorn

I did, however, still enjoy that pimentòn popcorn. (And is that fry cook wearing a pressed white shirt and tie? Very cute but he must have an insane dry cleaning bill.)

Ace Hotel hipsters

The hipsters and their Macs in the lobby of the Ace. Just to the right was a photo booth. I watched a guy in skinny jeans, a beard, and a hat go inside and hold up a camera like he was taking a picture as the flashes went off. The ironic hipster has apparently left Williamsburg and headed west.

Stumptown coffee

I was still rather hungry at this point and steeled myself with a caffè macchiato at local coffee roaster Stumptown, also conveniently located off the Ace lobby.

Cacao Drink Chocolate

Just a few blocks away was Cacao and its thick European-style hot chocolate (motto: “Drink Chocolate”). I opted for Fran’s gray and smoked salt caramelsthe best.

Soon we turned our attention toward dinner at Beast, a meat-centric, fixed menu, communal dining experience that came highly recommended. Click here to read about our dinner at Beast.

Yul Brenner at the Hotel Deluxe

That night, Yul Brynner watched over us at the Hotel Deluxe (great beds, small rooms).

The next day, on advice from our table mates at Beast, we headed toward the Saturday farmers market at Portland State University. Click here to see photos from the farmer’s market.

But first we wandered to the Portland Saturday Market, a touristy vortex of local craft makers selling everything from bamboo flutes to handmade cribbage boards (don’t worry, I got you one).

Saturday morning line at Voodoo Doughnut

Luckily, we parked right in front of Voodoo Doughnut, notorious for unusual toppings like maple glaze and bacon strips or Tang and marshmallows. You might need to check out their website just for the photo of their “cock-n-balls” donut (scribbled on top: “Bite Me”). Just sayin’.

Proud owner of fruit loops Voodoo doughnut

We had no intention of standing in that long line, but this guy did (and he ain’t giving up the Fruit Loops for no one).

Rogue Ales stand at Saturday Market

At the market, Andrew honed in on the locally crafted beer. (By the way, that guy in the shades is not wanted in three states.)

Lunch was at Cafe Castagna. We wanted to try the more formal Castagna, whose Chef Matthew Lightner was named one of Food & Wine‘s best new chefs in 2010, but they’re only open for dinner and we needed to get on the road to wine country. (Side rant: Portland restaurants have such limited opening hours! Hard to hit all the places one would like in such a short trip. See recommended spots for next time at end of post. Would love opinions!)

Cafe Castagna caesar salad

A Beast diner recommended I get the Caesar salad at Cafe Castagna. It was pretty good, maybe 7 out of 10. Hard to beat San Francisco’s Zuni Café on that one.

Cafe Castagna pizza

Andrew raved about his spinach and sausage pizza but I thought the crust was crisp to the point of being a cracker and the toppings were beyond pungent.

Cafe Castagna local fish

I opted for local fish with a caper chimichurri and green beans. Again, good but not great.

I will say service was very friendly. When they fell behind with our order, they sent out some arancini to snack on. But even those were lacking flavor: essentially unsalted white rice that had been deep fried. No sauce in there, nada.

On the way back into town, I finally made it to Pok Pok, whose Thai wings had been named by Food & Wine as one of the top 10 dishes in 2007 (I guess working for sister magazine Travel + Leisure really seared my loyalty to company mags, jeez!).

Pok Pok green papaya and steak salads

I’m a sucker for green papaya salad so we started with that and Neua Naam Tok, a flank steak salad with fish sauce, lime, and chili powder (also recommended by a Beast diner). Yowza. The toasted rice powder gave it an amazing crunch, too. I would come back to Portland just for this dish.

Pok Pok wings

The famous oversize wings arrive: sweet, spicy, crusted in caramelized garlic. Delicious, though I might need to fast when I get home.

On second thought, nah!

Click here to read about our trip to Oregon wine country (Willamette Valley).

Recommended restaurants for next time:
Toro Bravo
for tapas
Apizza Scholls for pizza
Wildwood (“Portland’s Chez Panisse”)
Bunk for sandwiches
Screen Door, Tasty & Sons for breakfast
Beast for brunch
Assorted food carts

Other “Weekend” posts:
Napa Valley
Cabo San Lucas
Day trip: Tijuana

San Diego
Los Angeles
Palm Springs and Joshua Tree
Milwaukee (Yes, Milwaukee!)
Madison, Wisconsin

Sep. 07 2010 |
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