Jun
01
2014

Wandering Traveler

Exploring the Willamette Valley from our home base, Abbey Road Farms

Exploring the Willamette Valley from our home base, Abbey Road Farms

SAKÉ in the WILLAMETTE VALLEY

Photos and article by Virginia Miller

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SakéOne’s rice milling machine

In the heart of the Willamette Valley, Oregon’s most lauded wine region, I found myself surrounded by vineyards, rolling hills, farmland… reminding me not a little of home in Northern California. I also found myself immersed in… saké? Yes, my Springtime jaunt not only caught rare, blissful, sunny days breaking out amid a sea of rain, but an education on the quality of sake now being made in the US, thanks to SakéOne.

Studying

Studying saké

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The only cedar Koji room in the US

Founded in 1992 (bottling began in 1998) as an offshoot of Japan’s Momokawa Brewing, SakéOne sought to fill a gap in the US where few sakés were made and most of low quality. Head brewer Greg Lorenz (who has been at SakéOne since 2002) and president Steve Vuylsteke graciously gave us proper schooling on saké, covering styles from gingo to daigingo, and walked us through the brewery for a step-by-step of the brewing process.

As with many spirits and beverages, water source is crucial, and theirs is nearby Hagg Lake, a reservoir filled with fresh coastal rain and mountain water.

SakéOne stores tons of rice, a Japanese strain grown outside Sacramento, California, which is first polished in the rice milling machine (pictured above, left), imported from Japan.

What rice looks like as it ferments

What rice looks like as it ferments

SakéOne is the only saké brewery in the US who mills their own rice. The milling/polishing process strips fats, removes bitter and “undesirable” flavors, getting down to the starch core. As with beer and spirits, there are yeasts involved, but with saké, there is also mold (aka koji), which helps convert starch into sugar over a 2-day period in their cedar-walled Koji room – the only one in the US (pictured right). The room is like a dry sauna, hot with aromas of cedarwood and rice.

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Milled rice

While there are numerous styles of saké, SakéOne focuses only on junmai gingo sakés in their production, which refers to the level the rice is milled or polished down to (60% or more, which gets to the essence of the grain, daigingo is at least 50%, gingo is at least 40%) and in Japan, it also refers the fact that no brewer’s alcohol (aka honjozo) is added (in the US, adding brewer’s alcohol is outlawed entirely). They also import a number of sakés from Japan, allowing the pleasure of comparing the subtle differences between US produced and Japanese sakés.

Studying rice in various stages of sake production

Studying rice in various stages of sake production

They cover the range, starting with entry-level sakés, like fruit-infused Moonstone sakés, or the soft, elegant import SakéMoto, produced in Japan in partnership with Hakutsuru brewery. I am particularly taken with their unpasteurized Nama saké, which is sadly only available in Oregon since it is quite fresh and perishable so quality degrades when shipping. It’s subtly effervescent and crisp, gorgeous with food.

I can’t get enough of Momokawa Organic Nigori, the unfiltered, creamy style of saké that leaves rice solids in for texture. It sings with coconut and pear notes and goes well with all manner of takeout and every day eating. One of their imports I am drawn to is the Kasumi Tsuru Kimoto Extra Dry, which is, yes, dry, but also crisp and earthy, produced by traditional methods from a brewery that goes back to 1725.

Hanging with llamas, sheep and goats at Abbey Road

Hanging with llamas, sheep and goats at Abbey Road

Try not to fall in love - my new friend, a precious, one day old baby sheep

Try not to fall in love – my new found friend, a precious, one day old lamb

Abbey Road Farms silos

Abbey Road Farms silos

Sleeping in Silos on a Farm

Enjoying a lovely charcuterie and cheese platter over dinner in the wine room/event space at Abbey Road

Enjoying a lovely charcuterie and cheese platter over dinner in the wine room/event space at Abbey Road

After one night in Portland, I made the jaunt about an hour outside the city to stay at Abbey Road Farms, an idyllic farm where I was surrounded by sheep (including just-born lambs who won my heart), goats, llamas, all manner of animals, and slept in converted, upscale silos.

The stay was made memorable by husband-wife owners, John and Judi, and their sweet dog, Fuzz, whose soulful calm invades the place, ensuring a visit is rejuvenating and restoring… even a press trip, which is normally about a morning-till-night, nonstop schedule. Over farm-cooked breakfasts and singing around a fire pit at nights under the stars, I left renewed and inspired.

Wandering the farm

Wandering the farm

Dining in a Restored Victorian

The Painted Lady

The Painted Lady

The Painted Lady in the town of Newburg, OR, is a special dining experience in a restored Victorian house (yes, the house is a historic Painted Lady, restored as part of the movement begun in San Francisco), which also doubles as a guest house. Charming and elegant, we ate in the intimate upstairs dining room with excellent service over fine dining, each course thoughtfully paired with saké.

Hazelnut-crusted venison loin, horseradish potatoes, foie gras & chestnut sauce with G Sake Fifty

Hazelnut-crusted venison loin over horseradish potatoes in a foie gras & chestnut sauce infused with G Sake Fifty

There were a number of standouts from Chef/Owner Allen Routt, including sweet onion custard accented by smoked, raw diver scallops and porcini consommé (paired with Momokawa Diamond saké) and pure-as-silk, slow-roasted (blessedly rare inside) steelhead salmon alongside spinach and butternut squash ravioli, paired with Momokawa Silver saké.

Tasting Regional Beverages

Big Bottom Whiskey

Big Bottom Whiskey

SakéOne threw an Oregon Craft Beverages tasting while we were visiting, showcasing regional wines, beers, spirits, cider and liqueurs that gave us a chance to meet producers and sample what is happening in drink in the region.

While Reverend Nat’s Hard Cider was a fresh, strong cider in the scheme of artisanal, small production ciders, they were oddly withholding at their table (considering this was a press event) in allowing tasting of the most interesting-sounding bottles at their table saying they were for display (?) and weren’t coming out till the fall, though the full bottles probably shouldn’t have been brought if they weren’t meant to sample. We’ll have to guess what their Sacrilege Sour Cherry (modeled after kreik lambic beer) tastes like.

Reverend Nat's Hard Ciders

Reverend Nat’s Hard Ciders

While I was wary of Vertigo Brewery‘s Razz Wheat beer made with fresh raspberries, fearing it might be too fruity, even after tasting their enjoyable Friar Mike’s English IPA, I actually preferred the Razz Wheat, which was dry, tart and subtle.

Based in Hillsboro, OR, Big Bottom Whiskey was refreshingly forthright about sourcing their “juice” (whiskey) from the South, as countless distillers do, to blend their Big Bottom Straight Bourbon Whiskey. It’s a pleasing whiskey, blending 36% rye whiskey with the corn/bourbon for stronger spice and complexity. They also were also pouring Calhoun Bros. Aged Rum, aged in their bourbon barrels, subtle with sweet, bracing spice.

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Jun
01
2014

Wandering Traveler

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Pepe Le Moko Grasshopper

Pepe Le Moko Amaretto Sour

Pepe Le Moko Amaretto Sour

One Night in Portland

Photos and article by Virginia Miller

In visits past, I’ve had a full week to dig into over 50 restaurants, food spots and bars around Portland. But this Spring it was a visit to the Willamette Valley with the wonderful SakeOne that brought me up north. I only had one night in Portland, though, in typical fashion, I packed in 3 restaurants, a coffee shop and 2 cocktail bars.

Basement charmer: Pepe Le Moko, the new bar from Jeffrey Morgenthaler

Basement charmer: Pepe Le Moko, the new bar from Jeffrey Morgenthaler

Cocktails

Luc Lac cocktails

Luc Lac cocktails

Let’s just get the bad news out of the way: some of the worst customer service I have ever encountered behind a bar anywhere in the world (out of a few hundred visits per year) – and from the bar manager, no less – happened at Luc Lac Kitchen. Though I must warn against making this a stop, it’s not worth getting into the details of disinterested, distant and cold service from the moment guests walk up to the bar (ask, and I’ll fill you in, however). The biggest disappointment  – besides having to pay for such treatment – was wasting a visit on this spot when I had singled out Luc Lac for its unique cocktail menu featuring Asian ingredients from kaffir lime to Thai tea to mung beans. The cocktails were good but the service makes it a big “no” (try Danny Louie’s fantastic Asian-influenced cocktails at Chino in SF… with gracious service).

Bakersfield Picon Punch Royale ($10): Torani Amer Picon, lemon, Oregon brandy, grenadine, sparkling wine

On a happier note, modern day bar legend Jeffrey Morgenthaler‘s Pepe Le Moko, around the corner from his famed Clyde Common bar, was merely a month old when I visited this Spring. Besides a warm welcome at the door, we received engaged service downstairs in the intimate bar that feels akin to spots like the new Nitecap in NYC… but Pepe Le Moko is friendlier. Bar snacks ($3) include cumin roasted pistachio nuts, and there’s also bocadillos ($5) loaded with the likes of sardines and pickled fennel or nutella and Jacobsen sea salt.

What’s fun about the cocktails here is the menu dominates with guilty pleasure favorites like an Amaretto Sour, Grasshopper or a Long Island Iced Tea – yes, elevated but not necessarily always using “artisanal” spirits. In fact, it’s funny seeing mainstream, sweet brands mixed in with smaller brands. Given the cocktail expertise behind the bar, balance is the name of the game and the four I tasted were lovely (and should be, at up to $14 per cocktail).

Pickled mackerel at Biwa

Pickled mackerel at Biwa

Morgenthaler’s Amaretto Sour ($14) recipe is a good as I’d heard: nutty, tart, sweet and boozy with amaretto, overproof bourbon, lemon and egg white.

But I couldn’t help it: my favorite is the Grasshopper ($11). While I’ve had (and make at home) gorgeous versions of what was my first favorite cocktail as a girl (ahem!) when Tempus Fugit first came out with their incomparable creme de menthe and creme de cacao in 2011, the Pepe version is more like a boozy-but-light milkshake – made with Bols Crème de menthe, Decaypur crème de cacao, Fernet BrancaMenta, vanilla ice cream and sea salt for balance. An ideal dessert.

Charming Zilla Sake

Charming Zilla Sake

Izakaya Crawl

Natto fried in shiso leaves at Yuzu

Natto fried in shiso leaves at Yuzu

On an izakaya crawl with SakeOne, I hit three memorable, wide-ranging spots within the category in one night.

The first, YUZU, is technically in Beaverton, a suburb of Portland, and worth the trek out for Japanese food aficionados. A humble hole-in-the-wall in a strip mall known for their sake and their ramen, we fared best on authentic Japanese small plates/pub (izakaya) fare. They shine in affordable dishes like tender, thinly shaved beef tongue, grilled sardines and natto (funky, fermented soybeans) deep fried in shiso leaves.

Snacking at Zilla

Snacking at Zilla

ZILLA SAKE HOUSE is more hipster and funky, but in a more residential area of Portland, it’s mellow and welcoming in rustic woods, churning out solid sushi and sashimi, with pleasing izakaya plates and specials, and a 40+ sake menu.

BIWA is a bustling izakaya with a basement dining room that serves food till midnight every night, fusing Korean and other cuisines and flavors into Japanese pub fare. There’s a number of enjoyable small plates but it’s all about the room temperature, pickled mackerel. Bright, pickled, briny and delicious, it accompanies the array of sakes beautifully.

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Aug
15
2012

Wandering Traveler

Divine (and not overrated) fish sauce wings at Pok Pok

PORTLAND DINING

Photos & article by Virginia Miller

Over 50 places in one week… I may not have covered all Portland this May, but I certainly made a dent. So much so that my Portland reviews are broken up in a four part series. Soaking wet half the week, from my home base, Kimpton’s RiverPlace, in a roomy suite with a fantastic view of the Willamette River, I biked out to neighborhoods East, West and North with my usual (if grumpy, cold and irritable) tenacity to dig in and taste the soul and breadth of a place rather than its veneer. Join me as I eat my way through the rainy town up north.

View from Kimpton's RiverPlace hotel

Last issue I talked cocktails. As they are heavily intertwined in Portland (since cocktail bars are required to serve food), there is some overlap and will be again here with restaurants.

My top two restaurants in Portland are the most obvious, though not at all overrated. Though I’ve heard about Le Pigeon and Pok Pok ad nauseum, they were by far the standout meals in a week of 3-5 meals a day.

The Musts

LE PIGEON

Unforgettable rabbit pot pie w/ hot mustard ice cream

Chef Gabriel Rucker won a James Beard award for 2011 Rising Star Chef of the Year – and the accolades are absolutely called for. In fact, Le Pigeon was easily the best dinner of my visit, a true standout. The intimate space puts you almost on top of fellow diners, especially at the cozy bar, ideal for front row cooking views and chatting with Rucker. Brick walls and vintage chandeliers exude French bistro romance – the place glows with warmth and buzz.

Le Pigeon's warm space

Though a la carte dishes add up, you can go the tasting menu route (5 courses $65, 7 courses $85). Whatever you do, Rucker’s food is the reason Le Pigeon is a must when in Portland. He exhibits both playful vision and precise technique in dishes like a foie gras Monte Cristo sandwich ($19), layered with duck ham, rhubarb, and Emmental cheese, or lobster-stuffed chicken ($28), alongside panzanella (bread salad) and chunks of lobster in morel cream.

The dish I cannot stop thinking about is smoked rabbit pie ($13), savory with cheddar, sweet with apricot, topped with hot mustard ice cream which melts over the warm pie and flaky crust in a dreamy, cool covering. Brilliance.

Lobster-stuffed chicken

Entrees are more complex and intriguing than they sound, from a tender pork dish ($25) layered with yogurt, okra, curried cucumbers and other delights, while a halibut special ($32) accompanied by fermented shrimp-ginger hollandaise (yes!), and a fantastic corn and fermented black bean relish on top of sweet onions, sugar snap peas,and shitakes.

It all may sound like a lot but it’s not overwrought. Rucker’s vision is ballsy, playful and forward-thinking but with a firm grasp of technique and balance. Finish rich with foie gras profiteroles ($12) in caramel sauce or a bacon waffle ($10) topped with maple ice cream, peanut butter whip and sorghum syrup.

POK POK

Like being back in Thailand

Pok Pok is truly is all that. With the recent opening of legendary PDX Thai restaurant’s NY outpost, I figured I missed the heyday now that it has gone national. Yes, it’s Thai food from a white guy (Andy Ricker), but I tasted flavors here I hadn’t had since I spent two  months all over Thailand over a decade ago.

Fresh leaves on ice

There are soms (drinking vinegars) and funky cocktails utilizing soms and beer, those utterly divine fish sauce wings, exciting plates like charcoal-grilled boar collar or durian-scented custard with sticky rice… it’s all top notch.

Unlike any other Thai restaurant in America, Pok Pok is a destination and the other food “must” when in Portland. The raves all true. And there’s their Whiskey Soda Lounge down the block when evening waits are long. Soak up the mellow, vacation-like vibe during the day under thatched roofs smelling rotisserie-roasted game hens in the air.

Broder's Smorrebrod

Cool hangout: Ping

Germanic to Swedish

BRODER

Broder's counter seating

Broder is a cozy, Swedish hipster eatery on PDX’s East side with excellent daily breakfasts. How can you not love breakfasts with Swedish coffee (aquavit, Kahlua and coffee), Dutchman’s Milk (genever, orgeat, milk, bitters) or cups of Stumptown Coffee? I adore this type of food already and at Broder they execute it with youthful charm and homey comfort.

Broder's Dutchman's Milk

A layered Broder Club sandwich ($11) shows off house-cured gravlax, bacon, avocado, tomato and horseradish cream on lightly toasted Pearl Bakery brown bread, or on the same hearty bread, I like a trio of smorrebrod (open-faced sandwiches -$11): skagen shrimp salad in dill, pickled herring, and pickled beets with chevre. Potato pancake or sauteed greens come as sides (or $4 each on their own) with each lunch dish, and baked goods, like a Swedish-style cherry cream tart, rotate at breakfast.

Swedish meatballs ($11 plate/$6 happy hour) in sherry cream sauce or a Stockholm hot dog ($9) wrapped in flatbread and a potato pancake ensure dinner is equally fun.

GRUNER

Gruner's beet deviled eggs

I couldn’t help but compare Gruner to other modern Germanic (Austria, Germany, Switzerland and Alsace) restaurants, whether Leopold’s in SF or BierBeisl in LA. As I adore this type of cuisine and have traveled through these countries, Gruner was high on my Portland list. While a delicate hand was used in dishes such as foie gras torchon on toasted brioche ($14) with pickled rhubarb and superb Riesling gelee cubes (!) or an artful display of shaved radishes ($8) in pumpkin seed oil and cider vinegar, dotted with dill and toasted pumpkin seeds, portions were minimal and at times the food felt just shy of satisfying.

Choucroute garni

Beet-pickled deviled eggs ($4) were among the more gratifying bites. Choucroute garnie ($26) – a favorite Alsatian platter of mine, typically involving sauerkraut, sausages and salted meats - is sausage, braised pork belly, cured pork tenderloin, sauerkraut, sweet mustard and Yukon gold potatoes, but at a pricey $26 is no better than the choucroute garnie at the aforementioned Leopold’s for $18.25. The general mark-up here didn’t result in better dishes. Another example? Stuffed quail and rabbit boudin blanc sausage ($25) are two more foods I’m crazy for, here partnered with dandelion greens and chicories salad, crisp speck and a quail egg, but, again, the dish was sparse and the boudin blanc solid but not among the best versions I’ve had.

Artful radish salad

All said, I respect the vision of the menu though I long for more of the elements to pop, as with sockeye salmon cured with gin and pine liqueur ($14), the juniper-piney elements were far too subtle next to horseradish creme fraiche and dill.

Cocktails ($10) were well-executed though not destination-worthy, like the bracing-yet-soft Munchner (Ransom Whippersnapper whiskey, Cocchi di Torino vermouth, Zirbenz Stone Pine Liqueur, aromatic herbal tincture) and Citro e SpezieSmall’s - lovely local gin, Cocchi, tangerine juice, bay leaf, black pepper), bright with tangerine which I’d hoped would unfold with more notable bay leaf and pepper notes.

Brunch

TASTY ‘N SONS

Tasty 'n Sons' John's Breakfast

Tasty ‘n Sons is one heartwarming brunch, lunch, breakfast, dinner spot. They are open all day in a complex housing a quality butcher as their direct neighbor. Open, hip and bustling, the air is alive with sizzling bacon and fermenting kimchi. What they get right is food that’s filling as it is gourmet, common dishes with enough tweaks and quality ingredients to keep them from being boring.

There’s around eight Bloody Mary variations, including Dim Summore ($8 – Monopolowa vodka, tomato, hoisin, lime, Sriracha, ginger), and light but fun cocktails like a Cool Rickey ($8), vivid with cucumber, gin, lime, Averna amaro, soda. All this happily cuts the heartiness of their oozing Monk’s Carolina cheesesteak ($9) or John’s Breakfast ($9), a bowl of brown rice laden with house kimchi, sauteed vegetables, caramelized onions and sunny side up egg.

Tasty frittata

On the lighter side, a Spring vegetable frittata ($9) is expertly executed, served in a cast iron skillet, fluffy with English peas, roasted asparagus, caramelized onions, mint and feta. Spanish patatas bravas ($7) are taken up a notch, potatoes topped with over easy eggs alongside aioli. My top dish just might be seemingly simple but heartwarming pork cutlets ($12) topped with- what else? – a fried egg and sauteed spinach. They may overdo the egg here but you won’t hear me complaining.

SCREEN DOOR

Screen Door's Bloody Mary & Ramos Gin Fizz

Lines around the block before opening, waiting outside in the rain for a table to open up – welcome to Screen Door. Walking into this lively neighborhood favorite, my eyes popped at the size of chicken and sweet potato waffles ($12.95) pierced through with a steak knife or biscuits and gravy ($7.95-8.95) big enough for two (as is just about everything here). Specials like cream cheese ricotta blintzes and breakfast corndogs with cracked pepper cane syrup amped up my excitement level as did basic cocktail favorites like a Ramos Gin Fizz – never has a better breakfast/brunch cocktail been created.

Chicken & waffles

But the Ramos Fizz arrived in a tall glass watered down, tasting mostly of seltzer and milk on the rocks. My biscuit was ok, the chicken and waffles a subpar version to the many excellent ones I’ve savored from the Deep South to LA (Roscoe’s, I’m talkin’ to you).

Only the praline bacon was unforgettable. Despite friendly, fast service and the appeal of the space, this is one I wouldn’t go out of my way or wait in line again for.

Healthy

PRASAD

Prasad's Feisty Tostada

Despite the town’s hippie-granola leanings, I managed to eat hearty and gain weight at many of PDX’s more popular spots. This made Prasad a welcome break despite annoying yoga shop setting and faux Zen service (whisper, please!) A matcha green tea latte ($4) with vanilla syrup and coconut milk (or almond hemp) and a Bland The Rita juice ($7.5) of celery, cucumber, spinach, kale, parsley, mint, lime, both nurtured as they registered on the green spectrum.

Green tea & juice

Ignore the cheesy name of feisty tostada ($9.50) to savor jalapeno cashew cheese, fresh spinach, avocado, sundried tomatoes, scallions and green chili sauce on pumpkin seed-pesto raw crackers with a yam rice salad in cilantro cream sauce.

The food is evocative of SF’s Cafe Gratitude in its earlier, better days.

The Rest

PING

Chop Suey sign marks Ping in Chinatown

As sister restaurant to Pok Pok, Ping serves the same house soms (drinking vinegars) put to good use in a playful, unfussy cocktail menu. Here there’s a different menu of Asian “fusion” dishes, a mashup of Thai, Singaporean, Japanese skewers, noodles and beyond. Reds and blacks highlight funky decor in a historic Chinatown building with standout “Chop Suey” signage.

A table at Ping

Ping is well worth visiting on its own merit with affordable, comforting dishes like hokkein mee ($10), Singapore-style thin wheat noodles stir-fried in pork fat, dotted with prawns and cuttlefish, alongside cocktails like kalamansi (often dubbed the golden lime) rum punch. This would be my ideal late night eatery.

WOODSMAN TAVERN

Drinks at Woodsman Tavern

A grand seafood platter ($80, or $8-16 for individual items) at The Woodsman Tavern, a charming hipster, wood cabin/ hunting lodge of a restaurant in Southeast Portland, comes overflowing with chilled prawn cocktail, half Dungeness crab, mussels, oysters (Pacific Coast, Fanny Bay, Newport Natives), marinated octopus in pickled lemon and capers, and a crudo of bay scallop in Calabrian chilies and oranges. The platter makes a dramatic first impression at this treny restaurant (opened last fall) from Stumptown founder Duane Sorenson, sharing the building with his original Stumptown café.

Dramatic seafood tower

As the meal progressed with country ham platters ($8 or $18 for all three with baguette, pickles, sweet butter) piled with slices of La Quercia, Johnston County, Benton’s hams (three of the great Southern hams), it felt like a menu taken directly from SF’s Hog & Rocks, which has been open since 2010. But ultimately, I didn’t find the food as satisfying. Jumping around from fried cauliflower tossed with currants and smoked almonds ($7) to smoked trout over lentils with fresh horseradish, and pistachio in aquavit ($9), each dish read better than it tasted, though potted rabbit liver and offal jumped out ($10) with apple butter, hazlenut-parsley salad and Benson’s rye bread. Our server brought us a taste of pickled green strawberries, tart and punchy – a specialty of the season, she told us – and the other highlight.

Pickled green strawberries

Cocktails are a strong focus here, pleasantly leaning towards classic ethos with no more than 3-4 ingredients, in intriguing mixtures like Minor Threat ($8): coffee bean-infused Cynar, white vermouth, rose water. Though appropriately strong on the coffee given the Stumptown connection and pleasantly bitter from Cynar, Minor Threat worked mainly as a stiff, spiked coffee, not as a nuanced imbibement.

OVEN & SHAKER

Oven & Shaker "fresh" cocktails

After eating what feels like thousands (more like hundreds) of Neapolitan, wood-fired pizzas in recent years across the nation (and in Italy, of course), forgive me if I say Oven & Shaker‘s pies, though comforting on a rainy afternoon, didn’t stand out. The pies are average but the roomy, rustic wood space is thankfully open all day, an inviting place to stop in at the long bar or communal tables and enjoy a pie and cocktail while trying not to sing along with classic rock tunes.

Oven & Shaker's inviting space

Cocktails ($8-12) from the “Fresh” section (there’s also “Dry” and “Strong”) are refreshingly vibrant, like a Pepper Smash ($10) of Krogstad Aquavit, lime, maple syrup, mint, yellow bell pepper, or a subtle, bright Corleone ($12): green grapes, Aviation Gin, Clear Creek Grappa di Sangiovese, lemon, simple syrup, Regan’s No. 6 orange bitters.

PAZZO RISTORANTE

Pazzo's panna cotta

A multi-course feast in Pazzo Ristorante‘s wine cellar showcased classic Italian dishes and an extensive Italian wine list, while incorporating local elements such as Eastern Oregon beef in raw carpaccio ($13) doused in 2011 olio verde, Parmesan, arugula and lemon. Sampling through pastas and entrees, I took the most comfort in linguine ($18) mixed with a generous amount of Dungeness crab, garlic, chili and chevril, while a silken, proper vanilla bean panna cotta finishes right.

Chef John Eisenhart, who worked as sous chef with Mario Batali at NY’s Babbo, showcases his love of Italian cuisine from NY and his year training with chefs in Lucca, Venice and Alba, Italy.

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Aug
01
2012

Wandering Traveler

At Beaker & Flask & Rum Club: the Begonia, utilizing Imbue vermouth, aged Novo Fogo cachaca, Benedictine and velvet falernum

COCKTAILING in PORTLAND

Broken Bike: bottled & carbonated at Clyde Common

Photos & article by Virginia Miller

Over 50 places in one week…  I may not have covered all Portland this May, but I certainly made a dent. So much so that my Portland reviews are broken up in a four part series. Soaking wet half the week, I biked out to neighborhoods East, West and North with my usual (if grumpy, cold and irritable) tenacity to dig in and taste the soul and breadth of a place rather than its veneer. Join me as I eat my way through the rainy town up north.

As cocktail bars are required to serve food in Portland, cocktails and food are intertwined – and strong – at many a locale. Though I separate out cocktails and restaurants, there are numerous places where both are worth making your way to so you’ll see some restaurants listed here and in next issue’s Portland restaurant article.

Brendan Wise of Beaker & Flask filled me in on a couple cocktail projects launching just after my visit: Corazon from Chris Israel (chef/owner at Gruner, which I review next issue), and the Beaker & Flask team created a drink menu for popular PIX Patisserie featuring cocktails and sherries to go with their sweets.

RIFFLE NW

Imbibing at Riffle

Visiting Riffle NW in its opening week, I was struck immediately with fresh seafood, friendly service and some of the best drinks of my Portland week. It was opened by Dave Shenaut (former president of the Oregon Bartender’s Guild) with bartenders Emily Baker (formerly of Rum Club), and Ricky Gomez (formerly of Teardrop Lounge) – SF bartender Brandon Josie of Bloodhound just moved to Portland to take over as bar manager for Gomez who is moving on to a new project. Riffle’s spare, modern decor displays seafaring inspiration in wood ceiling panels made of reclaimed shipping docks, while the name refers to a rocky shoal or sandbar below the surface of a waterway.

I came for the drinks but was not disappointed in the food. Black bass tartare ($10) is punctuated with dill, squid Carbonara ($17) is meaty with guanciale, while an overflowing, fresh crab roll ($21), and a huge cut of rare Copper River sockeye salmon ($32) is grilled, its salty skin subtly sweet with a bourbon maple glaze.

Chinook salmon

Emily Baker offered the best service of my entire time in Portland. After I was there a couple hours, we began talking industry connections and drink, but long before she knew I was a writer, she went out of her way to ascertain our taste preferences and make sure we were comfortable at the bar.

On the menu, a Riffle Collins ($11), made of gin, lemon, lime, celery, absinthe, salt, is the perfect starter, garden bright, light and appropriately savory with celery and salt. Room D ($9) delighted with rye whiskey, the spice of Becherovka, while quinine and citrus imparted punch.

Riffle Collins & Self Starter

Off menu, Baker suggested and created just what I was craving: Art of Choke (a Violet Hour creation by Kyle Davidson), mixing Cynar, mint, Bacardi white rum, and Green Chartreuse. Herbaceous, bitter, and vibrant, it hit all the right notes. Similarly, a Self Starter (a Jamie Boudreau drink) balanced Lillet with Old Tom gin, absinthe and Orchard apricot. Not too musky but crisp, sweet, boozy. All around, hand cut ice perfects each drink.

It was a treat sampling Jack Rudy Tonic from Charleston, a bottle I noticed on ice behind the bar and had to inquire about. A small batch syrup (available in SF at Bi-Rite Market at one only one other locale in Oregon), it makes a lovely tonic, set apart with lemongrass and orange peel.

CLYDE COMMON

Chinese 5-spice Dark & Stormy

So much has been said about Clyde Common and Jeffrey Morgenthaler since opening that it’s almost needless to point it out as a Portland “best”. In fact, for one who almost never repeats places in the same trip (ever with an aggressive agenda), I returned to Clyde Common three times in one week. Morgenthaler was only there one of three stops, offering cheeky, impeccable service. But service was warm and accommodating both evenings I dropped in – only during a weekday visit did I experience lackluster, abrupt service from one bartender.

Cocktails are a reasonable $7-9. Morgenthaler’s famed barrel aged cocktails ($10)  – his Negroni and one of my all time favorite cocktails, an Old Pal – rotate but were completely out all three visits. What pleased most were his bottled and carbonated cocktails ($8).

Moregenthaler serves a Kingston Club

Though I’ve seen a lot of these the past year – one was a basic Americano (Campari, Dolin Sweet vermouth, water and orange oil) – the Broken Bike was possibly my top drink on the menu, fizzy and vivaciously bitter with Cynar, white wine, water, lemon oil. Both were well balanced, refreshing and more importantly, fun.

Elsewhere on the menu, a Kingston Club exhibited subtle balance of fruit and herbaceous notes with Drambuie, pineapple, lime, Fernet, Angostura, and orange peel. The Nasturtium cocktail was unexpectedly too sweet for me, Domaine de Canton ginger liqueur hitting heavier than the Dolin Blanc vermouth and Bonal. A Spiced Dark & Stormy is a brilliant idea – and went down all too easy. Rum (Gosling’s dark, in this case) infused with Chinese five-spice, a spicy, house-brewed ginger beer, finished with lime, made for another winning drink.

Clyde Common was the Portland bar that for me most upheld its reputation, centrally located, serving understated drinks, strong on precision.

BEAKER & FLASK

Beaker & Flask sips

It goes without saying that Beaker & Flask, opened by Kevin Ludwig of Park Kitchen, has been one of Portland’s hottest cocktail bars since debuting in 2009. Despite large groups in the spacious restaurant, bar seats free up often, even on a weekend, and we were able to chat, unhurried, with the bartenders, lingering over drinks.

Menu cocktails ($9) like a soft, woody Walk in the Woods (Old Tom Gin, Stone Pine liqueur, lemon, sage syrup, egg white) and elegant Cricket Club (Pimm’s, rose port, Bonal, amargo bitters, cucumber soda) please but going off menu in the hands of talented Chicago transplant Brandon Wise (now President of Oregon Bartenders Guild) and Neil Kopplin, who also makes Imbue Vermouth, is where the real action is.

Fine service from Wise & Kopplin

Wise mixed a Rose Americano cocktail, bright with Martin Miller’s Westbourne Gin and grapefruit, earthy-sweet with Amontillado sherry. Kopplin goes with a recipe from neighboring Rum Club, the Begonia, utilizing his Imbue vermouth, aged Novo Fogo cachaca, Benedictine and velvet falernum. Sweet, spiced apple notes hit first, with a beautifully subtle bitter on the finish.

Seek out Neil’s new product, Petal & Thorn, a gorgeous gentian liqueur using homegrown beets for Campari color, cinnamon, menthol, and other intriguing elements.

RUM CLUB

Rum Club's intimate, low-ceiling space

Depending on which direction you’re approaching, enter Rum Club either on the front or back side of Beaker & Flask. The cozy bar is roughly one year old, conceived by Beaker & Flask’s Kevin Ludwig and Michael Shea of Doug Fir. Affordable $5-10 cocktails, chic wallpaper, low wood ceiling, the bar in the center, and a small patio you can smoke in if you’re nowhere near the door, make it an appealing place to gather with friends until the wee hours.

Enter Rum Club

Though packed and noisy, I was won over by well-crafted drinks like the Hi-Lo Split ($8), vivid with Old Grand-Dad Bonded whiskey, Cynar, lemon, passion fruit syrup, grapefruit bitters – a stunner, actually. Also by Road to Ruin ($8), with a rye whiskey base, dry vermouth and bitters, set apart by cardamom notes from Cardamaro Amaro and texture from lemon oil.

TEARDROP LOUNGE

Teardrop's bar

Despite the widespread respect garnered for this chic, centrally located bar in downtown Portland, Teardrop Lounge was the one disappointment of my bar excursions. It’s long hyped as being one of PDX’s best, and depending on the bartender, I’m sure it could be. The space centers around a dramatic round bar, open air windows ushering in a gentle breeze on a nice day. Even with well-prepared drinks, I found touristy clientele and disinterested bartenders during my visit soured the experience.

The menu reads well, including a glossary of terms educating non-cocktail geeks on terms like oleo-saccharum (a traditional punch base of lemon peels macerated in sugar to extract oils) and Batavia Arrack  (an early 16th century, palm sugar-distilled spirit tasting of spice, citrus, anise – often used in punches).

Teardrop cocktails

There’s sections of House Cocktails, Classics (like Sky Rocket from 1919 or a Morning Glory Fizz – from the Savoy Cocktail Book, 1933), and one called Friends highlighting bartenders’ drinks from other cities, including SF locals: Kevin Diedrich’s Whiskey Wallbanger and Ryan Fitzgerald’s Rodriguez).

Though intriguing, a Wanderlust ($12), made of Banks white rum, a house sherry blend, Marolo chamomile grappa, medjool date bitters, orange bitters, and flamed absinthe was musky sweet without the hoped-for layers jumping out. However, Of Praise for Tulips ($9), was a brightly elegant aperitif, floral with Clear Creek pear brandy, dry and bitter with Cocchi Americano, Dolin Dry vermouth, Barenjager, Boston bitters and Pacifique absinthe.

The DRIFTWOOD ROOM

Lounging at the Driftwood

They had me at ’70′s wood-paneled walls, cocktails ($9-12) named after classic actors (e.g. Sydney Poitier, Elizabeth Taylor), and old school, Rat Pack bar vibe. When asking bartenders at “mixology” havens around Portland where they liked to drink off hours, more than one of them said The Driftwood Room. Granted, it’s in Hotel deLuxe (opened in 1912 – the bar opened in the ‘50’s) and forget catching a cab from the hotel any time after 11:30pm when the train isn’t running (apparently, neither are cabs), but for a mellow, retro vibe with boozy-but-crafted drinks, Driftwood is a welcome respite.

Both Bittersweet Symphony ($10 – Temperance bourbon, Punt e Mes vermouth, Pelinkovac, Peychaud’s and Angostura bitters) and Old Tom Cocktail ($11 – Ransom gin, Agwa de Bolivia coca leaf liqueur, Krogstad Aquavit, lime juice, barrel aged bitters) pack a punch while maintaining balance.

CIRCA 33

Hanging at Circa 33

Another bartender off-hours favorite is Circa 33 in Southeast Portland. For me, flat screens and sports interfered with a vaguely retro, laid back vibe. A library-like wall of American whiskey and bottles line the back wall with wood ladder for easy access. Easy-going bartenders can create cocktail classics, even if they don’t know them. I requested a simple but perfectly classic Old Pal, executed solidly per instruction. It’s the hidden back bar that draws industry folk, an intimate space ideal for conversation.

KASK 

Lingering with friends at Kask

Though not overwhelmed with creative vision at Kask, the newer sister bar to neighboring Austrian restaurant Gruner, they corner casual chic in a small space with welcoming bartenders. Here one can linger with friends, actually hear each other, and savor solid cocktails ($9-12).

Though my favorite drink was an off menu Del Maguey mezcal/citrus creation, I tasted the gamut, from Rabo de Galo, utilizing Novo Fogo’s barrel aged cachaca (a spirit popping up often on Portland menus), Gran Classico, Carpano Antica sweet vermouth, and Brazilian coffee bitters. The Black Lodge covered the whiskey/vermouth/bitter side with Wild Turkey Rye, Punt E Mes sweet vermouth, Combier Rouge, Cynar, Regan’s orange bitters, while another off menu creation, Leather Canary (a Chevy Chase reference), mixed up that profile with tart/sour: Combier Pamplemousse  – a grapefruit liqueur, rye whiskey, Gran Classico, Punt E Mes vermouth.

Kask’s service and relaxed vibe make it one of the better hangouts for cocktailians in my downtown Portland explorations.

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Jul
15
2012

Wandering Traveler

Clear Creek, Oregon's distilling great

PORTLAND DISTILLERIES

Bull Run's charming tasting room

Article & photos by Virginia Miller

In my recent travels in Portland I trekked to three distilleries within city limits, two established, one brand new. My top priorities were Clear Creek and House Spirits which have been the best I’ve tasted historically of what is coming out of Oregon.

I also visited brand new Bull Run Distillery near Clear Creek, boasting a retro tasting room lined with vintage barware and paraphernalia, with plans for tastings and bartender parties. In tasting their light Pacific Rum, Medoyeff Vodka and Temperance Trader whiskey blended from Kentucky whiskies (which they aren’t allowed to name), unable to taste the Oregon whiskey they have begun to age (scheduled to release in 2015), thus far it’s hard to say there’s yet a standout spirit putting them on the national craft distilling map. Waiting for their Oregon whiskey to be released…

CLEAR CREEK DISTILLERY

Clear Creek's stills

On the one sunny afternoon during my week in Portland this May, I walked through the peaceful Alphabet District along leafy, tree-lined streets to Clear Creek Distillery. Housing four stills and smelling sweetly of apples, which they were distilling the day I visited, I spent the afternoon with Steve McCarthy, the gracious owner/distiller who started Clear Creek in the late ’80′s using fruit from his family’s orchard. He told me how he learned directly in the 1980′s from Northern California pioneers Jorg Rupf (St. George Spirits) and Hubert Germain-Robin (Germain-Robin), who pioneered the first US craft brandies on par with the best in Europe. McCarthy’s products are in that style, recalling Old World Europe. Utilizing local fruits and ingredients, he crafts everything from his best-selling pear eau de vie to grappas, an Oregon Single Malt Whiskey and Douglas Fir liqueur.

In production at Clear Creek

TRY: McCarthy said it and I agree: the traditional Williams Pear Brandy ($25.45 for 350ml; $40.45 for 750ml) is my favorite Clear Creek product, pure and intensely pear, on par with Poire Williams brandies I’ve sipped in France, Austria and Switzerland. I appreciate his elegant Cassis liqueur, akin to the black currant liqueurs of France, tart, sweet and ideal in a number of classic cocktail recipes. His Cranberry and Loganberry liqueurs are unique, particularly the bracingly tart, lush cranberry.

HOUSE SPIRITS

Spending a rainy morning at cozy House Spirits Distillery (launched in 2004) with distiller Colin Howard was a pleasure as we sampled future releases straight from the barrels.

Tasting with House Spirits distiller Colin Howard

House Spirits may be best known for Aviation Gin (admittedly a solid Dutch-style gin, though not one of my favorites) – they also produce Krogstad Aquavit and the small batch, limited edition Stillroom Series. Where I was particularly intrigued, however, was in tasting their upcoming Oregon whiskey (due Oct.-Nov.) and just-released rum. Howard exhibits a willingness to experiment, even play, that I admire in distillers and witness in the range of what House Spirits is creating.

WATCH FOR: As Oregon distillers pursue Oregon whiskey as a category, House Spirits is the more intriguing I’ve tasted, nuanced with spice and sweet, creamy grain, made from 100% malted barley, aged in new American oak barrels.

My taste buds were most piqued by their aged rum. It shines with a molasses sweetness from Barbados molasses, fermented with a Guadalupe Island yeast strain. Simultaneously, it exhibits a whisper of grassiness, an almost rhum agricole quality, that surprised and delighted me immediately, giving it greater character than a sweeter molasses rum. Aged in used, whiskey-washed barrels for 6-8 months, it’s smooth but stands apart with a welcome earthiness.

Two Willamette Valley WINEMAKERS

Though unfortunately this trip I did not have time to make it to Oregon’s famed wineries, I recently enjoyed long lunches with Oregon winemakers visiting San Francisco, tasting through either their entire line or in the case of Argyle, vertical tastings through vintages of the past 25 years. Both of these winemakers and wines impressed, produced with care and verve.

ARGYLE WINERY, Dundee, OR

Argyle winemaker, Rollin Soles

As part of Argyle Winery’s Roadhouse Tour around various US cities, I attended a special media luncheon at Ame offering a vertical tasting of Argyle wines celebrating their 25th anniversary with head winemaker and founder, Rollin Soles. With quirky, knowledgeable insights (and timeless mustache), Soles led us through the tasting with laughter, commenting in depth on winemaking in the cool weather climate of the Willamette Valley: “We say, ‘It’s not Oregon wine unless it gets rained on.”

Soles says the climate as ideally suited not just for Oregon Pinot but for Chardonnay, Riesling and sparkling wine, all of which he produces from 650 acres of hillside slopes. His Rieslings sing with Asian-influenced dishes, like Ame’s gorgeous “Kaisen” sashimi salad, dotted with Japanese cucumber and tobiko caviar in a yuzu soy vinaigrette.

Naturally, the Pinots are beauties – Argyle’s Nuthouse, Spirithouse and Reserve Pinot Noirs exemplifying Oregon’s place as one of the world’s great Pinot-producing regions. I also savored a complex yet delicate 2007 Blanc de Blancs’ Brut (earthy minerality on the nose; tastes of white peach and hibiscus) and a meaty 2001 Nuthouse Chardonnay, lovely with cheese. A 2001 Extended Tirage Brut was aged 10 years in the bottle exhibiting a funky mushroom nose, crisp yet creamy on the tongue, while a 1999 Nuthouse Chardonnay is ripe with melon, vanilla, floral notes, and acidic bite.

STOLLER WINES, Dayton, OR

Stoller winemaker, Melissa Burr

Stoller Vineyards boasts the distinction of being the first LEED Certified winery (with Gold rating) in the US. Stoller was founded by owner Bill Stoller, a third generation Oregonian on a 400 acre parcel of land – once Oregon’s largest turkey farm – which his family has farmed and lived on since his grandparents. It’s all volcanic soil above 200 feet, adding depth and earth to wines grown from clones Bill secured in Dijon, France.

Bill brought on a female winemaker in 2003, the lovely Melissa Burr, who I recently enjoyed a long lunch with at RN74. She looks too young to have been winemaking for over a decade, but has a rich history, from science major and intern at Cooper Mountain Vineyards to winemaker, her care apparent in the handful of Stoller releases. I was impressed hearing she’d just become pregnant when first interviewing at Stoller, and upon informing Bill, he welcomed it and brought her on board as winemaker, affirming his belief in a family-friendly winery and business.

A 2009 Chardonnay ($28) – again confirming the rise of Chardonnay production in the Willamette Valley – is crisp, barrel fermented and aged with enough acidity to be food-friendly. It’s pleasantly perfumed, tasting of light baking spice and mushroom. Though I enjoyed the expensive 2008 Reserve Cathy’s Pinot (merely 110 cases, $100), sourced from their oldest vines, I preferred the 2008 Pinot SV ($40), blended from their best 2008 barrels, its nose of plum and violets gives way to damp earth, dusty berries mushroom, and cardamom.

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Jul
01
2012

Wandering Traveler

View from my Kimpton RiverPlace hotel room over the Willamette River

Staying Satiated in Portland:
From Coffee to Bakeries

Hotel Monaco's chic lounge, scene of truly unique wine happy hours (see Red Star Tavern below)

Visiting over 50 places in one week, I may have just gotten started in Portland, but I certainly made a dent. So much so that I’ll need to break this into a 4-5 part series. Here’s my restaurant list – now I cover Portland’s famous food carts, ice cream, coffee (all important), chocolate, farmers markets, bakeries and other memorable snacks.

Soaking wet from rain half the week (no, it’s not just a mist), I biked to neighborhoods East, West, South and North with my usual (if cold and grumpy) tenacity to dig in and really taste the soul and breadth of a place rather than its tourist veneer. Join me as I eat my way through the rainy town up north.

FORKTOWN FOOD TOURS

Starting of a Forktown tour right w/ a sparkling aperitif at Besaw's

Forktown Food Tours are led in either the Alphabet District (Fridays 2-5pm) or North Portland (Mississippi Ave., Saturdays 2-5pm), worth $65 for three hours of tasting and exploring, meeting with owners and tastemakers behind each location. Starting at Besaw’s, an adorable, historic restaurant since 1903, I took a tour led by Forktown’s lovely founder through the Alphabet District, which I had explored a few days before on my own. Impressed with the range and quality of stops, from a distillery and bakery to ice cream and restaurants, the tours give you a real peek behind the food and drink businesses in the area.

FOOD CARTS

EuroTrash's chorizo & chips

In one week, you can merely scratch the surface of Portland food carts (often permanent carts vs. roving food trucks), a vibrant scene allowed to thrive due to looser city legislation and costs than we face in SF. There are numerous food cart “pods” throughout Portland – I visited the main ones downtown and the playful D Street Noshery across the street from Pok Pok on the East side of town. I sampled through about eight food carts on a couple different days, some delightful, others just ok, but taking in the scene in general is all kinds of fun (makes me grateful SF just launched the beer-friendly, permanent food truck “pod”, SoMa StrEat Food Park).

Downtown PDX food carts

Of Portland carts tried, EuroTrash was a standout, not just because of its bright, neon colors, but for good times with mostly fried seafood, like fantastic Squid Fana, a curried squid sandwich on toasted french baguette layered under spicy curry slaw, or fun, fried anchovies – order the heads separately. Chorizo and chips (house fried potato chips) doused in grilled chorizo, cilantro, giardiniera, and a curry aioli, are likewise memorable. Another cart winner? Addy’s Sandwich Bar serves fresh baguettes wrapped in paper, a worthwhile special-0f-the-day being a sandwich laden with pickled herring and avocado.

PSU FARMERS MARKET

Biscuits & chicken fried to order from Pine State Biscuits at PSU Farmers Market

The lush, shaded grounds of Portland State University’s campus in downtown Portland make a welcome setting for a bustling Saturday farmers market. The PSU market is an ideal way to sample a range of Portland bakeries (like Lauretta Jean’s Pies and Pearl Bakery, below), charcuterie (like Olympic Provisions), etc… all in one location, particularly if you have limited time in town. Seely Family Farm’s peppermint patties – made with natural Oregon peppermint – were a standout snack, but, of course, I am crazy about intense, fresh peppermint.

Portland obsession, Pine State Biscuits, however, were a disappointment. With the longest, slowest line by far at the market, I waited 30 minutes for a biscuit sandwich,

Walking PSU Market

grateful to scratch one of many breakfast go-tos off my list here. Chicken and biscuits are appealingly fried before you, while the restaurant’s classics are all here, including the beloved Reggie ($7): fried chicken, bacon, cheese, topped with gravy. I’m used to such lines at home for street food, etc…, and am a biscuit and Southern food fanatic, so it was rough to find the biscuit bland, not even close to the top 25 I’ve had, much less a “best”, and similarly so with the fried chicken. Oddly enough, the cheese is a bewildering grocery store-style slice thrown in the sandwich, every element but the gravy a letdown.

Ice Cream

SALT & STRAW

Dreamy ice cream at Salt & Straw

Worth crossing town for, Salt & Straw is truly exciting ice cream. With two locations (the first opened last Summer), I visited the brand new Alphabet District cafe, a white, airy space winning me over with common flavors done their way, like ubiquitous salted caramel which I first saw as an ice cream at SF’s Bi-Rite years ago before witnessing it pop up all over the country. Here it manifests a local slant using salt selected by Portlandian Mark Bitterman, author of the book, Salted.

Rather than one of the more unusual flavors (and I sampled over 20 here), I was surprised my favorite was Arbequina olive oil. I’ve had olive oil ice creams for years, but this one was uniquely vivid and creamy, standing out above combos like Apricot Sweet Heat with Bridgeport Beer and candied scotch bonnet peppers.

Salt & Straw's menu

Banana walnut was evocative of childhood, while honey lavender is very different from Bi-Rite‘s more elegant, subtle honey lavender, which they were making many years before. Salt & Straw’s beauty is purple, floral, even soapy, but not overwhelmingly so. A rather genius combo is their fresh mint ice cream laced with candied lemon peel – my other favorite.

Salt & Straw sweet coffee offerings

Salt & Straw was just launching a much buzzed about round of custom ice creams in collaboration with individual restaurants, from Pok Pok to Aviary. For example, at new restaurant hotspot Ox, they’re utilizing the chef’s flavor profiles, making a foie with veal stock and s’mores ice cream. I’m in! I love everything about this place, from friendly staff to not-too-sweet flavored coffees, using Stumptown beans.

MIO GELATO

With only a handful of flavors at the Pearl District location (right by Powell’s Books), Mio Gelato is traditional Italian gelato in basic pistachio, lemon, mascarpone, and the like. But this creamy goodness is reminiscent of real, Italian gelato – a welcome treat when in the area.

BITES

LITTLE BIG BURGER

Little Big Burger

Little Big Burger is a local mini-chain doing your basic burger, cheeseburger and veggie burger, all small, all under $3.75. I’d heard the Pearl District location was the best so that’s the one I tried. Friendly servers and the right price made it an ideal snack, though the clientele was mostly teenagers and there was a minuscule smattering of cheese on one side of the cheeseburger. Though decent, I couldn’t help but recall similarly simple – but far superior - burgers at Super Duper in SF or Burger Joint and Shake Shack in NYC.

RED STAR TAVERN

Seductive bites & port/bourbon cocktail at Red Tavern

Inside funky, chic Hotel Monaco‘s Red Star Tavern, an unexpected delight arrived during a special media tasting: marshmallows encased in coffee crumbles and chocolate truffles rolled in tobacco. Served with a cocktail of 10 year tawny port, Bulleit bourbon, maple syrup and Angostura syrup, it was an earthy-sweet joy of a dessert. P.S. Hotel Monaco boasts a truly unique happy hour with wine, Voodoo Doughnut, balloon animals, and other quirky treats.

KENNY & ZUKE’S

Kenny & Zuke's satisfying Reubens

While some locals tell me Kenny & Zuke’s isn’t quite as consistent as it used to be, I found this funky, fun Jewish deli ferments some damn fine pickles (in cinnamon, allspice, mustard seed, etc…) and makes a mean Reuben ($13.45) with their own rye bread and house-smoked pastrami or corned beef in a coriander crust, cured seven days, smoked ten hours, then steamed for three. I prefer ultra-smoky pastrami on the satisfying Reuben (and you know I’m picky about my Reubens from coast to coast), especially paired with dry-hopped Oakshire Watershed Brewing IPA from Eugene on draft.

Bakeries

LAURETTA JEAN’S

Excellent quiche at Lauretta Jean's

With a shop for pick-up downtown and a weekly stand at the aforementioned PSU Farmers Market, Lauretta Jean’s bakes some blissful, all-American pies, lattice-topped and all. Rhubarb is a joy, while tart cherry is the ultimate: tart, juicy, flaky, nurturing. Their quiches are likewise strong – maybe the best breakfast item at the farmers market, like a fresh quiche of snap peas and fromage blanc.

KEN’S ARTISAN BAKERY

My top Portland bakery, after visiting Pearl Bakery, Two Tarts and PIX (all winners – Portland does it right on the bakery front), is Ken’s Artisan Bakery on the Northwest side. Properly done croissants (ham, thyme & Gruyere croissant!) and morning buns made me feel like I was back home, but with local touches like Oregon berries in a sweet pastry. Order a cup of Stumptown coffee to go with.

VOODOO DOUGHNUT

Sampling through a sugary Voodoo Doughnut spread

This is only listed because I’ve been asked by many what I thought of the famed, quirky doughnut legend of Portland? Yes, we’ve seen the maple bacon combo a thousand times now, and at Voodoo Doughnut, where they’ve been doing it for years, that bacon-y essence shines. But sampling through five of their doughnuts, including the bacon maple bar, I must admit I did not like one of them. I respect the kitschy playfulness… but each was sickly sweet, old school sugary, leaving me to scratch my head, just as I have for over a decade re: NYC’s Magnolia Bakery with those legendary cupcakes that taste like someone baked a mound of powdered sugar. It’s all too one-note for me – particularly when there are far more balanced, gourmet donuts (and cupcakes) out there. Realizing we’re talking about two different styles of donut-making, places like Bob’s in SF typify to me what classic, old school donuts should be.

Coffee

Heart's roaster & roomy interior

Obviously, coffee is as quintessential to Portland as constant drizzle. In visiting numerous roasters and local shops, I enjoyed plenty of fine coffee. Disappointed in the subtle, so-as-to-be-somewhat-tasteless coffee (not to mention cold, hipster attitude) at Heart in Northeast Portland, I enjoyed (but wasn’t raving about) Cafe Velo. Yes, I made the required Stumptown stop, though I’ve been drinking Stumptown for years, from NY to the West Coast. Below are my four standout coffee cafes:

STERLING COFFEE ROASTERS

Sterling Coffee Roasters is an utterly charming, old world-style coffee window in the Alphabet District, soon to move into a new, equally tiny space around the corner. As a sister outpost to Coffeehouse Northwest, the two smiling gentleman at Sterling are dressed like trendy, pre-Prohibition mixologists in vests, as classy as the beautiful wallpaper lining the closet-sized coffee haven.

Sterling Coffee Roasters

Both baristas were knowledgeable and passionate about coffee, preparing each cup with precision. They serve one guest roaster – on my visit it was Backporch Blend from Bend, OR, boasting almond butter notes. They also feature two additional, changing beans, typically one from South America, one from Africa, which they roast themselves – I enjoyed the Rosario from El Salvador with apricot & toffee notes.

They’re meticulous, even blessedly geeky about the details, like partly using organic milk for more grassy tones in their cappuccinos or not steaming milk past 130 degrees. One of their special treats is a European-style drinking chocolate (not as thick as ones I’d drink in Italy, but appropriately rich) using Michel Cluizel‘s Bolivian chocolate  – which they describe as adding “barnyardy” notes – with a pinch of Portuguese sea salt on top.

COAVA COFFEE

Coava Coffee

Coava Coffee’s expansive, artistic space houses woodwork, mural artists and all their in-house roasting. It’s such a cool space, most importantly serving impeccable coffee, that I trekked out to it twice when in the Industrial District.

They source, roast and brew single origin coffees from hand-selected farmers. It’s a special place and one of my top two (alongside Sterling) for coffee in Portland.

COURIER COFFEE ROASTERS

Courier Coffee

Sitting in the window at stark but friendly Courier Coffee Roasters with bike messengers, couriers and Portland hipsters is a happy way to while away time working on your laptop, reading or watching the world go by. Especially with cool tunes on the record player, accommodating baristas, and impeccable coffee, like a bracing cold brew served in a mason jar.

BARISTA COFFEE

With two locations (I visited the Pearl District locale), Barista is not a roaster themselves, rather it’s a small shop properly preparing some of the best beans on the West Coast, like SF’s Sightglass, alongside local Portland roasters. Bonus points for the historic, roughly one hundred year old brick building and wood deck from which to sip your chosen coffee.

Chocolate

CACAO

Sampling local chocolatiers at Cacao

With two locations (the main cafe in the Pearl District and one “jewel box-sized” outpost in the Heathman Hotel), Cacao is a chocolate haven of assorted chocolatiers and truffles from Portland and beyond, including Alma Chocolates (below), not to mention drinking chocolates, comforting on a wet, Portland day. I happily spent over an hour in this peaceful chocoholic respite.

ALMA CHOCOLATES

Alma Chocolates is among my favorite little discoveries in Portland, particularly the Thai peanut butter cup. Genius, is what it is. Ginger, Thai chiles, lime, even red volcanic sea salt, elevate this peanut butter cup (also sometimes found at the aforementioned Cacao). While in Alma’s cafe, you might as well order drinking chocolates (go for shaken and iced on those rare, warm Portland days), or keep it hot with the Caramelita, essentially a 4 oz. shot of decadent  habanero caramel, chocolate, milk and heavy cream (moans of pleasure). 

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