Of all the cities I’ve not visited in the U.S., Portland, OR has been on my active radar for a few years now. Mostly inspired by a fellow foodie I met on Facebook years ago, I had this insatiable desire to get to know this west coast diners’ town. His bio on every one of his social spaces used to read: “Seattle, Vancouver, and Portland – where my Seoul’s at.” Pretty crafty. His consistent food scene shares invariably piqued my intrigue. But of all the places I had prioritized over Portland (Houston, etc…), I wasn’t convinced I needed to overlook those first, until my friend Bianca sent me Food & Wine’s top cities for dining in 2016. Portland was listed in the top three. I’ve already been to the other two: NY and San Fran (read more on that all girls’ weekend there); though one can never get enough of the latter. And so off we were two months ago to dig in into Portland’s foodie culture.
Hampton by Hilton appreciates and highly supports an active lifestyle spent exploring the best that’s out there; especially with a friend who can get down and eat like you, but also enjoy the great outdoors. A robust weekend trip with fam or friends is doable if you consider their super affordable rates across the country for your stay so you can spend more of your resources, i.e. cash flow on emersion yourself. It’s all about exploring the Seekender in you.
And that’s what I set off to do.
Summer was about to kick off and I knew if I didn’t get out to explore then, I was inviting an inescapable schedule. I was in the thick of a really important deadline for the cookbook (more on that soon), leaving me little to no choice but to charge Bianca, my traveling partner for this trip, to design a delicious itinerary. I didn’t have any true expectations other than to eat good sushi and doughnuts.
You know two bona fide foodies are serious about their business when you land and make a straight beeline for lunch; without any consideration of sleep deprivation, the long travel day or the unprecedented 90F. Between Pok Pok — the wildly popular Viet-Thai street food pub-ish joint based in right in PDX — and an Indian joint right next door, Pok Pok’s famous “classic chicken wings”, or Ike’s Vietnamese Style Fish Sauce Wings, seemed far more appetizing.
90 minutes later, Bibi and I had comfortably devoured portions big enough two grown men could have easily nibbled on. Chicken wings were third in service after the Thua Paep Po salad, base lined by fava beans and bok Choy, which I enjoyed the most. The wing on the other hand left me a bit I’m a wing lover. Truly. And these were delicious. Just not up to par with my idea of screaming wings, the kind of accolades they’re known for. Was I just too tired to let the flavors properly penetrate; or did I just miss the whole fish sauce boat altogether? I’m open friends. Help me out. Surely, their caramelization is gorgeous and the texture outstanding. I’m for another try. The spicy eggplant, however, did me in really well. I couldn’t finish it all, making it my lunch the next day as I ended up cooped up in our Hampton Inn room… to do none other than send off my manuscript! The Muua Paa Kham Waan – their boar collar (yes, you totally read that right) rubbed with garlic and a ton of other high flavor profiles was the last indulgence for our first stop. I skipped on that last option though it provided conversational fodder. Our culinary exploits were kicked off by learning that mustard greens blanked in a shaved ice bath are the perfect coolant– if not only one – to the searing heat of the boar. Thank goodness for beer and a glass of Thai iced tea.
And so that’s how we seeded the momentum of our 5-day journey: intense, focused, intentional and ultra delicious. Some expectations were now set.
Though lunch was more than filling, we followed a light itinerary and walked over to Salt & Straw for the most uniquely flavored ice cream: fish sauce caramel with palm sugar. Crazy as it sounds, our luck landed us in the middle of their fermentation series, one of their exploratory themes of their monthly franchise. The other flavors in the lineup (honey vinegar milk sorbet, berretta fermented cherries, sourdough with chocolate and strawberries with doughy crumbles, and dill pickle sorbet) were almost as impressive but not enough to keep us from ordering different flavors. Ice cream led to pie at Lauretta Jean’s, which turned out to be a flop, sadly, and a very proper shot of espresso.
I caught a quick glimpse of that “weird” that is Portland, but only long enough to pause and indulge my love for big red anything when I saw this Italian street food cart — the culture birthed here we all enjoy now nationwide, mostly. A row of varying ones in the Richmond district pre-dinner inspired a text to my afore-mentioned friend, who simply replied “that’s just Portland’s weird. Enjoy it.”
Our first day ended with a refined prix fixe dinner at Roe, one of Portland’s premier seafood restaurants run by chef Trent Pierce. Nestled in an inconspicuous back room of the bluish dining area — adorned by chalky squid wall art — of its parent restaurant B&T Oyster Bar , the unmarked door open to the micro dining room where serious foodies can potentially get the best taste of Portland’s seafood. At least within the price point. We weren’t greeted with a shiny boy filled with pearly oysters or anything like that. The young man, instead, seemed to be baffled at the idea I’d be asking for a substitution for their 1st course. I’m thinking “for $130 per person, my personally imposed diet restrictions shouldn’t be too much of a hassle.” Though it was off limits for me, I couldn’t help but wonder-in-lust how delicious the lobster was. It was a mildly complex dish with butter-poached wild diver scallop, radish, sake gelée, pickled ramps, shiitake bacon, under a light bath of miso brown butter. Bianca wasn’t so sympathetic to my double serving of the 2nd course — a lovely butterfish composed of Hawaiian walu sashimi with a delicate and silky shaving of fozen foie gras, truffle, seasoned with white soy (love white soy, by the way) ponzu, yuzu tobik and topped with shiso -which was a smart production.
Remarkable detail to attention, a well-balanced menu and beautifully executed dishes demand a complementary wine pairing program. It’s common for that style of dining – you go in with a certain expectation. I’m not sure the wines met the hype. That’s from Bibi’s pov. I passed on wine that first night. Imagine that. But I still had 4 more dinners to indulge. Fortunately, most of the individual dishes were solid. Thankfully, dessert always offers redeeming qualities. My choice — an Italian cake lightly covered in an bold Grand Marnier macerated strawberry jus and served with meyer lemon curd, white chocolate, honey and lemongrass ice cream — was spot on. Including the glass of sparkling red.
Beyond a perfectly rounded day, I knew exploring a glorifed town with was going to render me 5-7 pounds heavier by the time we left. And it did.
Before I offer you a diverse, 4-day itinerary you can follow if you ever (re)visit Portland, consider where you stay. If budget’s not an issue even with tantalizing meals as your single agenda, then go for the big. If you’re going for a major savings so that you can guiltlessly dine and wine (and a few other exploratory digs), check out Hampton Inn by Hilton’s hotels. The airport one was probably closest to the downtown action, but the East Portland location gave us the flexibility of hopping on and off the highway — a great plus when we decided last minute to go for ½ day hike at Horsetail Falls. Yeah, that, too. You simply can’t devour 2,500 daily calories and expect the unwelcomed heat to burn off the fat. Even better, though, from the highway convenience, was the gem of gold we found just hundreds of feet from the Hampton Inn’s entrance. But I tease you to come back for that in the next recap of this gluttonous girls’ trip.
See more of my #Seekender weekend getaways below:
*This post is part of 4-part series of experiences sponsored by Hampton Inn by Hilton. All experiences, storytelling and opinions are honest and my own.