One of my recent blog posts opened a conversation about the musings I found in 4.5 days while eating my way through Portland. I took my friend Bianca on a girls’ trip to that west coast city to dig into their diverse culinary scence and other extracurriculrs as inspired by Hampton by Hilton‘s Seekender campaign. The point? To get out and explore the outdoors, indoors, and the in between, with a friend or family member, where your savings in hotel stays translate into more cultural ivestment outside. You know I’m all about the new, thrilling and definitely delicious. If there’s great coffee along the way, most likely the trip can be tucked away into my successful jaunts. Our mission was to indulge in Yelp’s, New York Times food and Bon Appetite’s recommendations on the best in a few major cities. We didn’t get to all the top 10 listed, but we put a decent dent in the rundown. Check out a more detailed recap of a few dinners in the that previous post.
While I can give you a very detailed map of every stop and reservation we had you’d be overwhelmed trying to process the amount of calorie-consumption we missioned. You should know, however, that of all the places we enjoyed, all but one hit the spot. My breve synopsis of each goes like this, which I hope you find useful on your own trip to one of the weirdest towns in America.
You have every intention of ordering 2 cake donuts – 1 per – until you realize all you’re there to is eat, possibly like a glutton, so you order 7; an odd number. You can’t eat six donuts and leave one behind. The maple glazed one has changed my life forever. That’s the only thing I’d order at Rocking Frog Café, anyway.
Read about Salt & Straw.
FANCY TEA TIME
You tryst at Maurice to sit with proper posture while extending your pinky finger as you lift your English fine China bone cup of black tea. You order the rosemary scone and birdseed bread at this hipster-acclaimed Swedish-inspired bakery, to which you can saturate with hand-whipped butter and a generous drizzle of Latin American-imported honey. Weird, yes, but so delectable on a blazing hot afternoon. Pale-coloured rosé to pair with any of the menu items is always appropriate, too.
Boise, Idaho blew my mind last November when I spent 5 days there uneathering their secretly jumping food scene. Their craft and purest approach to making cocktails puts them in the upper echelon of superb cocktail knowledge-bearing mixologists. It won’t be a secret much longer. In the meantime, while I wrap up that recount, and since Portland is far more mainstream than Boise, you must visit Expatriate for a purple-laced, Victorian-sequel ambiance. The mood lighting juxtaposed with a massive back wall bar can only mean you’re going to delight in a slow sip of a not-so-traditonal spirit composed of mezcal, comber pamplemousse, ginger, and ancho reyes — a custom conoction made to satisfy my fancy. Visit here first before crossing the street for dinner at Beast. But only fare something light along the lines of the James Beard onion and butter sandwich.
Keep it simple.
Beast honestly deserves more real estate here than I’m going to give it. After all, it was the best dinner out of 4, hands down. Also a prix fixe menu, chef Naomi Pomeroy, an Oregon native, knows her stuff. She knows her stuff so well, her Chef de Cuisine only has her approve (most times) his menu, so that she can go on her media rounds promoting her recent James Beard win.
The wagyu carpaccio is what dreams are made of. Juxtaposed textures from hazelnuts, rosemary and toasted rice were brilliant soft on the palate. The finishing touch was a handpicked selection of edible bucolic varietals and a light stream of olive drizzle. It was one of those dishes you can order three times over without missing its preceding or succeeding dish, that is until the server swiftly slides the third course in front of you. A perfectly poached salmon with crispy new potaotes and chantrelles, lightly bathed in ramp butter and hugged by purslane was beautifully tasteful.
Honestly, it wall all about the chilled strawberry soup with vanilla-roasted rhubarb — which was justly disguised (not a huge fan) — orange pampers, and cocoa butter mouse. The gem of this final bite was the wine pairing a la ‘La Vie en Rose‘ from Loire Valley France — it’s distributed from right in Falls Church, VA, where I grew up. I’ve ordered a case.
Kachka was hands down the best surprise. While everything was great, it was almost very predictable. In the way that I know those other ingredients and flavors combinations as well as I know my pressure cooker, this Russian “hole-in-the-wall” is what we needed to get a 360F view of Portland. Bibi top-billed this quick cocktail-only visit with good reason. She was there for the endless vodka menu. I was there for the culture. That was until we scanned the menu just as this petite serving of brilliance came out of the kitchen for another guest. A salad of sorts, the elongated plated of smoked trout with apple, cucumber, caraway, pickled mustard seed, with triangles of toasted rye was borderline the second tastiest thing I ate during our visit. The accidental roe topping sealed it a winner. It’s one of those dishes I see myself tweaking and recreating at home.
I didn’t make it to Heart, an uber chic coffee house recommended by a friend and colleague. It remains on the list. Bucks a really successful trip doesn’t get all the accolades of perfection without outstanding coffee. Yet somehow, only after 5 days of driving past this very coffee house several times a day, did we finally “notice” it and decided to give it a try. Irish Bros. Coffee is a drive-up window set up, a failed experience every other time we tried. The green house, randomly erected in a random parking lot is owned by an elderly man who used to run security for drug king pins in Columbia. Through that, he got to know coffee really well. Weird, right? The crazier part about this anything-but-typical-looking coffee house: it’s 200 feet from the entrance of the Hampton by Hilton where we stayed. Fortunately, the Hampton‘s breakfast options are varied enough where we didn’t miss out too much on our preferred espresso. Plus, a few kind conversations with the staff resulted in darker roasted coffee Bibi and I could enjoy and take out the door in the mornings. It was especially necessary on the one morning I had to miss out on our agenda to lock myself in the newly remodeled Euro-esque room and work on my cookbook — a final author review of 250 pages. Thank goodness for the warm cookies, oatmeal, apples, and oranges — every one of which I grabbed and filled up over 6 hours.
In my absence, Bianca got to run around the town and fill me in on what I’ll have to knock out next time. That’s what friends are for.
Portland isn’t just about its eclectic culinary scene or the beautiful landscapes we saw at the waterfall hike; it’s also the people. We spent a few hours on Saturday morning pit-stopping at each of the vendors at the Portland’s Famers’ Market, now celebrating its 25th anniversary. Between larger-than-necessary ramen noodle bowls to white truffle caramel sourced by a young woman, the market is the place to prioritize on any visit. I’ll share the vibrancy of that morning glory in another post.
See more of my #Seekender weekend getaways below:
This post is part of a 4-part travel series of experiences sponsored by Hampton Inn by Hilton. All experiences, storytelling, and opinions are my own.