Well, it’s official: I am head over heels for Portland. The people are warm and friendly, the scenery’s spectacular (Fir trees! Mt. Hood! Columbia River!) and the arts are alive and well. But we’re really here for the food, yes? Yes, indeed.
Even the most casual observers of Portland’s food scene will first notice the trucks, mostly because they’re everywhere. Semi-permanent assemblies (or “pods” in the PDX vernacular) of food carts are rounded up on street perimeters, corralled in parking lots and wedged along the waterfront, on any sliver of tarmac large enough to accommodate a kitted-out Airstream. Yakisoba, schnitzel, tamales, crêpes, Southern soul food: Portland’s streets look like a UN assembly of cheap ethnic eats and gourmet-grub-on-wheels. I found myself overwhelmed by options, but the husband soldiered on in the direction of collards and pulled pork. (Bless that man.)
Other field notes include an abundance of stellar craft beers and ethereal pinot noir, and also Portland’s deeply entrenched farm-to-table ethos, with humanely raised meats and shout-outs to purveyors on every menu. They’ve been teased about getting a shade too precious about it (and hey, I’m writing from San Francisco here), but the bounty of the Pacific Northwest rightfully invokes a profound sense of pride and stewardship.
Our first night in, my cousin Larry booked us a table at Grüner, a new-ish downtown spot with a sleek aprés-ski interior and Alpine menu (Alsatian flatbreads, house-made sausages, Hungarian-style chicken), and afterwards we painted the town red with a little help from the Ninkasi Brewing Company and some newly minted friends. (One of whom, I might add, was a lettuce farmer in a knit cap. It was all very Portland.)
Next day, after a spin through the art museum, we hopped the bus (Portland’s public transit system gets high marks) to lunch at much-loved Pok Pok, a groovy southeast Asian place that I’d read about years ago in Gourmet (may she rest) and wanted to try ever since. Let’s just say I haven’t had Thai food of that caliber and quality since my honeymoon. In Thailand. You should go, and when you do, promise me you’ll order the fish sauce wings and a keffir lime-infused G&T. You’re welcome!
On Sunday, after a Stumptown cappuccino and a wander through some vintage shops, we made our way to brunch at Beast, a well-regarded little eatery with two communal tables and a fixed menu that give the place the air of a chic-and-easy dinner party. (Matt cackled all through brunch that someone had hijacked my brain and designed a restaurant: fresh dahlias, bentwood chairs, enamel-handled Lagouile knives, an all-female brigade.) The food was flawless, with a menu of plum clafoutis, poached duck egg on savory hash, frizzy salad with a skinny selection of cheeses and a diabolical chocolate truffle cake sauced with gingery-dark caramel. It was a remarkable meal, refined but utterly lacking in pretense. I can’t wait to go back.
Other highlights, in no particular order or context: wood-fired rabbit and rusticity at Ned Ludd; taking advantage of Oregon’s lack of sales tax (hello!) at Frances May; earthy, elegant Beaux Frères pinots from the Williamette Valley; an art house flick at Living Room Theatres; hiking to the top of Multnomah Falls; driving through the ridiculously scenic Columbia River Gorge; the warm, affectless service at the Nines hotel; making Portlandia jokes; the aptly-named, awesome Killer Red IRAs at Double Mountain Brewery in Hood River; catching up with the charming Thomas clan (hey, y’all!) at Larry’s home, just south of Portland’s famous rose gardens; wandering slack-jawed through the aisles of Powell’s Books; a pitch-perfect cocktail at Clyde Common.
And, I might mention, Portland’s real estate market is perfectly reasonable. Just saying.