Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Anniversary in Portlandia

Zack and I recently celebrated our eighth anniversary with an overnight jaunt to Portland.  I always have a long list of places I want to check out there, recommended by friends, articles I've read and the like.  We are never disappointed by the wealth of culinary treasures there and this time was no different.  In fact, it was one of the best.  Here's the rundown.

Paley's Place is a Portland institution in fine dining and the Imperial is a recently opened more casual experience by Vitaly Paley, an incredibly well respected chef.  The vibe is loungy.  Pretty dark and moody even at lunch time and definitely hipster, in that upscale sort of way.  I thought it would be a nice lunch, but was completely surprised by how incredibly good each bite was and how much care was put into everything, and an outstanding value to boot.  For instance, the house made Parker house roll, arrives hot and glistening, deep golden brown and salted top with soft butter to slather.  We thought we'd share one but immediately ordered another.  This was our first meal of the trip so we wanted to go easy, opting to share a pilaf stuffed roasted poblano pepper with roasted butternut squash, chestnuts and a walnut cream. ($12)  WHAT?  Ridiculously flavorful.  The vegetables all treated with utmost care to bring out their fullest flavor.  Then, a side of wood fire roasted carrots in a mustard maple vinaigrette. ($6)  These carrots were so good I promptly stated I'd rather be eating them than duck fat french fries.  The cocktails were also excellent, mine a blend of aperol, grapefruit, gin and rose prosecco.  His,  a hearty bourbon cocktail with hickory vermouth.  At $8 each, at least 25% less than the same cocktails cost in Seattle.  The experience was absolutely wonderful and got the trip started off on the VERY right foot.

After an afternoon of nothing much, a little shopping, a little relaxing, it was time to go to Snacky Hour.  Toro Bravo is one of Portlands best loved restaurants, a Spanish tapas spot that is perennially packed.  They don't take reservations and we are not fans of waiting, so when that is the case, we always show up when the place is about to open.  Good thing too!  We were first in line and the place was full in 20 minutes.  Here we shared a few pinxtos - or snacks of just a bite or two each, and a few tapas, snacks of 6-10 bites.  Melted leeks topped with romescu sauce were delicious, as was a sweetly spiced ground lamb with yogurt and flatbread.  Everything was inexpensive - $3 - $9 and delicious.  Cava was the perfect accompaniment.  The menu is so extensive and I look forward to going back again to try more.  

Our "real" dinner reservation was at 7pm so we headed next.  Folks, what a dear dear meal this was to us.  The ambiance of the space is dimly lit, wood paneled and definitely fits the expectation its name creates,   From the first moment they were so welcoming, with absolutely no hint of hipster nonchalance.  They wished us happy anniversary and gave us half pours of champagne for a toast, starting things off beautifully.  The menu is a nod to American classics.  We started with a couple snacks - a single chicken wing, an order of deviled eggs and a beef sausage with mustard.  Each thing was so deeply flavorful we were in a constant state of exclamation.  There was such great and overwhelming care taken with every element.  All sausages and meats (with the exception of a few curated American hams) are butchered and cured and smoked and in all ways made from scratch in house.  With yes, a Portlandia level of care.  We shared shepherds pie for the main course.  How could it be so good?  So many layers of flavor, such deep smokiness to the filling and perfectly cooked vegetables at the same time.  I was deeply challenged as a cook by their care in the details.  I've already seen it influence me, which I think is awesome.

Our actual anniversary dawned beautifully sunny, just like it was 8 years ago.  I love a morning run on vacation so I was off by 7am leaving Zack to a rare chance to sleep-in.  I started out from our hotel in the Pearl District and headed for coffee.  Sterling Coffee Roasters had been recently recommended.  It's on 21st just a block or so from Ken's Artisan Bakery, so I stopped in their for one of their famous cannelle and jogged it over to Sterling for a cappuccino.  The recommendation was right on.  A beautifully roasted cup of coffee.  Not at all bitter or burnt, but flavorful and nuanced.  I had 2 bites of the cannelle, which was good for sure, but not mind-blowing for me.  The rest fed the birds.  Back on my feet and through the Pearl and over the Hawthorne Bridge, down Ladd and up Division to Little T American Baker.  
This bakery has been winning raves and the baguette is particularly well spoken of.  As it happens, when it comes to bakeries, I'll take a baguette with butter and jam over just about anything else anyway, so I ordered their skinny short version and my second cup of the day and sat down to enjoy.  It was excellent.  Lovely crust and moist crumb.  I was pleased.  I ate some of that and started to wonder where was next.  I looked for bakeries nearby and found one called Le Cookie Monkey a couple miles away.  The reviews were raving and I liked the look of the direction so I headed that way.  Down 26th and Right on Powell and then some random twists and turns and a very odd rickety foot bridge over some railroad tracks and after a time I was at Le Cookie Monkey.  Darn it!  Its only open for special orders, so I wend my way home through some funky streets and along the river, over the bridge and back at the hotel at mile 8.9.  Time to get ready for brunch!

I love Southern diner style food done really really well and that is just what the Country Cat is all about.  It serves brunch every day of the week, which I think is genius.  It's a drive out of the typical tourist area, in the Montavilla area of PDX.  We sat down and ordered a tasty (though much booze!) Bloody Mary and deliberated for a long while on the menu, or rather, I did.   Zack knew immediately that he wanted the Monte Cristo sandwich.  We both have a soft spot for those.  But the 2nd dish was harder.  The BBQ brisket sandwich?  The chicken fried steak?  I settled on the fried chicken with maple bacon spoon bread and greens dressed with maple vinaigrette.  It was good but not great.  The fried chicken didn't have the double crust i prefer and the spoon bread honestly had a strange soggy texture on top.  I'd still go back time and again for that Monte Cristo sandwich - house-smoked ham and turkey, amazing custardy bread and a dousing of maple syrup.  The home fries were shatteringly crisp and served with house made ketchup.  Too legit to quit people.  

We've been to Portland a dozen times in our married life, but this was definitely our favorite trip.  A totally memorable culinary adventure, to say nothing of the very sweet time we had together reflecting on the past year and feeling incredible blessed with where we are at as a couple.  Year 9 includes many things, foremost among them our adoption process, which we actually began in earnest that evening, at our chosen agencies mandatory information meeting.  We're on our way and feel peace and excitement about that.  We are praying that by the next anniversary, there will be a baby Zulie Hubert to love.

A couple other absolute Portland favorites:  Screen Door, DOCHeart coffee, Baker and Spice Bakery.

1 comment:

  1. I loved reading this Julie! I love that your first meal was veg!! Go Zack! So glad you guys had a great anniversary and a lovely weekend. I am looking forward to reading your Oakland post. :)


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