Portland, you are awesome--and a food-lover's dream. I spent five days in your misty city-straddling-the-river at the beginning of January, and not once in those days did I eat a single un-delicious bite. Every mouthful was beautiful and fresh and thoughtful, and made me wish that we could have our national linguistics conference in your city every year (no offense to Pittsburgh or Baltimore, where the last two conferences were held in previous years). Of course, I have to include the customary mention of the mammoth Powell's Bookstore, but by the time I made it there at the end of the conference, the impressively-large linguistics section had already been pretty picked over, and there are only so many hours (and, more restrictively, dollars!) one can spend in the cooking section, so instead, we ate our way through the city once all of our official business was through. (Also, thank you all for your suggestions via Twitter and blog comments and email on where to visit and eat in Portland! :D)
[pictured top to bottom: Thai Peacock's tofu tom yum soup, Stumptown coffee, Salt&Straw's ice cream tasting]
My favorite, favorite, favorite thing we had in Portland was the tofu and vegetable tom yum soup at Thai Peacock, a few blocks away from Powell's. Seriously, you guys, this version of the soup was the best I've ever tasted: rich, spicy, delightfully sour, a bit sweet from the stewed tomatoes and vegetables, and all around, incredibly soul-warming. It was so good that I went twice in two days, and seriously considered trying to take a thermos of it home with me (darn TSA security restrictions!). Other stand-out favorites that we tried were the fabulous Salt & Straw ice cream (recommended by many of you, so thank you!), with their inventive and perfectly creamy flavors (particularly, the sea salt ice cream with caramel--yes, the ice cream base is sea salt flavored!--and the lemon-basil sorbet); freshly-made and fantastic Japanese curry from Kalé (not heavy like you normally think of Japanese curry, but light and oh-so-spicy and flavorful!); and the adorable Little Bird Bistro, on the recommendation of Language of Food writer, where we ordered a plethora of small French plates to share, including butternut squash+parsnip+apple soup and beet tart. We even managed to spend one night at the cozy Living Room Theater, watching Melancholia, and feeling oh-so-hipster amongst the cool, twenty-something crowd that populated the place.
Here's a list of where we ate--all wonderful.
Kalé - so good I'd like to beg the owner to open a branch in the Bay Area.
Little Bird - the bread served here comes with local butter, salted with crunchy Maldon salt. 'Nuff said!
Rogue Brewery - they have homemade root beer! (which I'll take over beer any day. :))
Salt & Straw - dare I say it's better than some of the gourmet ice cream places I've had in the Bay!
St. Honore Boulangerie - the Normandy apple tart. Try it.
Stumptown Coffee - though I maintain allegiance to Philz here in SF
Thai Peacock - the tom yum soup: you won't regret it.
Voodoo Donuts - to my surprise, I particularly liked the Butterfingers doughnut/donut
Wildwood - wonderful, wonderful food. The garlicky butter of the mussels is perfect with the crusty toast it comes with, the caesar salad is inventive and novel, and the lobster risotto was exactly what a risotto should be.
One of the marks of a fantastic food experience is that it should inspire you, and my visit to Portland most definitely did. Over the following few days, my friends and I recreated at home some of our favorite dishes that we had had in Oregon: butternut squash, parnsip, and apple soup; crunchy, Maldon salt-flecked butter; and this beet tart with blue cheese and goat cheese and frisee salad.
Before having a version of this tart at Little Bird Bistro, I seriously never thought I would like a beet tart. Beets have just never been a vegetable I voluntarily run to, even though I've had very good beets before in my life (also very bad ones, like the canned beets my parents would insist on putting in our salads when I was growing up, which probably contributed to my aversion). But, for whatever reason, the beet tart looked really good on the bistro's menu, and when I had my first bite of it, it was even better than the menu's description. I think what really did it for me with this tart was how the saltiness of the blue and goat cheeses balanced out the sweet juiciness of the al dente roasted beets, with the buttery, flakey crust and the slightly bitter and acidic frisee on top. It's something I would never dream up on my own, but once I did have it, I had to have more!
One last thing, though not food related: right around my Portland visit, I managed to watch all of Portlandia. I had a few Portlandia moments while I was there (e.g., waiters volunteering detailed information on the origins of the food; little birds everywhere), so watching the show made for was a very hilarious representation of my own experience. I would highly suggest it, in addition to this beet tart. :)
Read on for recipes....