A few days in Portland

If you've been following along on my instagram or snapchat (meganleevoigt), you'll have noticed that for the past few days, I was in Portland! A wonderfully quirky and cool little city with some awesome food. Portland has made a name for itself in the past few years as a foodie city, with a lot of incredible restaurants and food trucks all over the place. My dad, a huge foodie and craft beer junkie, has been to Portland many times and always raved about the food (and the beer, but that's not my thing). My friend Dana, also a pastry cook, and I decided to go on our own little food pilgrimage to Portland. We got our recommendations from my dad, my brother (also a frequenter to Portland), websites, and of course, a fellow blogger that knows Portland like the back of her hand 'cause she lived there - Michelle

With the list narrowed down, we planned out every meal for the trip and made resos where we could. And every place we went to eat was amazing. Every single meal! And it was all so different and delicious and cool and fun. Every time we went somewhere to eat, I'd say to Dana, "What a cool little place!" because, well, they were all cool little places. Long story short, I loved Portland. 

I'm not an expert on Portland and this isn't really a "guide" to Portland, it's just a little summary of my trip and how awesome the food was at these places. I didn't get photos of every meal 'cause I really hate being that person that busts out a big camera in a restaurant and starts shooting away. I didn't even try to get shots at dinner because I knew the artificial light would make for a shitty photo. 

Anyways, here it is, my few days in Portland!

 

Saturday

We flew in to Portland around 7pm and took the MAX into the city, then a short bus ride to our hotel, The Jupiter Hotel, which was a funky little place that was perfect for our needs. It's got a great location and it's so easy to get just about anywhere by bus (seriously, their transit system is way better than Vancouver…). We dumped our bags and headed out to a little izakaya just a few blocks away called Biwa. It was the perfect spot for us because it was already pretty late and we didn't exactly want a full service restaurant, just something casual. We sat at the bar and watched the cooks work, something that I love to do. We ordered a bunch of stuff (probably too much…) and loved it all. An asian pear and radish salad, beef tartare with a quail's egg, house made kimchi, gyoza, grilled pork belly and enoki mushroom skewers (the best), chicken karaage, and grilled beef skewers. It was simple but so delicious and perfectly done.

Sunday

The morning of the second day was windy as hell and pelting down rain. We braved the weather, while seriously doubting the choice of clothes we brought, and headed off to the southeast location of Olympia Provisions. The sun started to peek out from behind the clouds as we walked past produce warehouses and industrial buildings. We thought we were in the wrong place, but eventually spotted a few people waiting outside of an unremarkable building next to a tea factory. We went in and were greeted with a cool industrial interior, complete with the big "MEAT" sign which I'm sure some of you recognize from various instagram posts. 

It was already pretty busy - I mean, it was brunch on Sunday, what can you expect - but we managed to get a seat at the bar again so we could watch the cooks do their thing. I ordered a hash of kielbasa, lardons, cheddar, potatoes, and frisée, all topped with a poached egg. It was a perfect warm bowl of goodness to reward me for braving the rain. 

After that, the rain had passed and so we headed downtown and explored the city. We spent some time in Powell's bookstore browsing the dessert cookbooks, went into Union Way and bought some Quin candy caramels - I bought earl grey and bergamot caramels for me and coffee, orange, and smoked sea salt for my dad. We explored some of the big name shops, then just started to wander around. We stopped in at Heart Coffee Roasters, where I had a deliciously spicy chai latte and watched the people go by. We wandered down to a wonderful patisserie called Nuvrei (best in the city in my opinion) and had some delicious pastries - a plain butter croissant, a hazelnut double baked croissant, a flourless chocolate cookie, a raspberry and rose danish, and a sesame and thyme croissant that blew my mind. Since we were there around 4pm, most of their pastries were sold out so we resolved to come back another day in the morning when they were fully stocked. We chatted with the baristas about pastry places in Portland and one of them mentioned a stellar bread bakery that milled their own flour and baked their bread in a wood-fired brick oven. We made a note to check them out later. We were also able to have a quick chat with the co-owner Jessica, who makes all the macarons downstairs. It's always super cool to chat with other people in the industry and see how they do stuff there. We told her we'd be back sometime in the next few days to try some more of her awesome pastries.

We went back to our hotel, freshened up, and headed out to Ava Gene's for dinner. I wish we were hungrier, but because of our late afternoon snack of pastries, we weren't starving. Nevertheless, we ordered a charcuterie plate to start, then I ordered a hearty pasta made with house made pork sausage in a tomato sauce and my friend ordered the best damn kale salad I've ever tried - and I don't even like kale all that much.

Despite being so full, Salt and Straw was only a few blocks away and we couldn't just pass that up. Despite it being a chilly Sunday night, the place was packed with people. We waited in line for about 10 minutes and ordered just one scoop each - I got strawberry, balsamic, and black pepper and my friend got matcha. They were pretty good, although the texture of mine was a bit hard. 

Monday

We figured that Monday would be a better day to go to Tasty 'n' Alder for brunch because we'd heard about the crazy lines and we thought it would be less busy on a Monday. It was still pretty busy and we waited for about 20 minutes, but it wasn't that bad. Dana had house made granola with sweet lebneh as well as a frittata, while I went for the burger with bacon, cheese, and hazelnut romesco. It was definitely one of the top three burgers I've ever had. 

After, we headed up to Nob Hill to check out Ken's Artisan Bakery, which is a pretty special place for me because the bread that I make almost every week is from his book, Flour Water Salt Yeast, which I highly recommend to anyone interested in bread baking at home. We ordered a chocolate croissant, butter croissant, an orange morning bun, a ham and cheese croissant, and a loaf of their Country Blonde bread. All their pastries were delicious, but the morning bun was my favourite. Croissant dough, filled with an orange marmalade (I think), then rolled up and covered in turbinado sugar. - crispy, crunchy, sweet, soft. And, of course, the best was on point.

We wandered around the Nob Hill neighbourhoods, admiring the adorable houses on streets lined with cherry blossom trees and the quaint little stores. It looked so picturesque. We decided to head up what we thought was a small hill, but ended up trudging up a small mountain to where all the fancy houses were. It gave us a great lookout of the city, but maybe we were too ambitious, especially after such a butter-heavy breakfast.

We got back to the room and luckily, the restaurant we were going to that night, Le Pigeon, was right next door. Literally, we could see it from our window. It was a tiny little restaurant with exposed brick (like everywhere in Portland, I love it) and antiques here and there. It had an old school French vibe, but also a little bit of modern industrial thrown in there. I had a wonderfully rich appetizer of rabbit ravioli with a creamy mustard sauce with bacon and goat cheese, then I had the most tender beef cheek I've ever tasted atop a crunchy potato latke and simple roasted carrots. My friend Dana had the roasted pigeon with dirty couscous, fried cauliflower purée, and an onion raisin relish. For dessert, Dana had a green apple and celery leaf sorbet which was spicy and herbaceous and kind of like a green juice in sorbet form, which was right up Dana's alley. I had a mango pavlova, although it wasn't the traditional pavlova that most people are used to. The baked meringue was two hollow half domes of meringue, one filled with mango ice cream and the other filled with chantilly, mango chunks, champagne gelée, and candied almond clusters. Light, fresh, flavourful, and an overall really well made dessert. 

Tuesday

We decided to check out the bread bakery that was recommended to us, so we took the bus out to the Mount Tabor neighbourhood and found Tabor Bread, which looked like a cozy red house on the outside but was an even cozier bakery on the inside. If it wasn't raining, I would've taken some photos of the outside, but I was cold and wanted to get inside for some warm tea and bread asap. It looked like the kind of place that the locals would come, sit, and relax for hours while catching up with friends or reading the paper. It was quiet and homey and felt exactly how a neighbourhood place should feel. I ordered a toast platter, which had a selection of four of their breads, simply toasted and served with butter on the side. It was the best bread that I've ever had. The subtle flavours of each bread, the toasty richness of the seeds, the  incredible texture of each one… Seriously, I was blown away. While each one is made with a starter, they don't have that overpowering sour flavour that most sourdoughs have. It's subtle and sweet and all kinds of flavours, depending on the bread. 

Tabor Bread is also pretty special because they're the only bakery in Portland that mills their own flour right there in the bakery, as well as milling the flour fresh daily. They actually sell their various flours to the public and if I had the space in my bag, I probably would've bought a bag (or two!).

We wandered around the area and then walked down to our next destination, Pok Pok! I'm sure most of you have heard of Pok Pok in some form or another, and let me tell you - it's worth the hype. It's a tiny little place in a cute neighbourhood (a couple blocks away from Ava Gene's!) and from the outside, it doesn't look like much at all. But we knew what a bombshell this place was.

We knew we had to get a couple things - the wings and the rotisserie chicken. We ordered the half chicken with a half green papaya salad, the wings, as well as a flank steak salad, and cucumber relish. Holy shit, it was good. I had high expectations, but I was still amazed at the amount of flavour and their complexity, all so bright and fresh and…flavourful! The flank steak salad (second picture above) was the best thing I've eaten in a long time. It was tangy, fresh, herby, sour, sweet, everything! The best part was once I had eaten all the salad, I used the rice like a sponge to soak up all the delicious sauce. I would have licked the damn plate if it was socially acceptable. I'm actually salivating right now thinking about it. I would make the trip back to Portland just for that one dish.

We were so full from our feast that we decided to go back to our room and have a little down time. After all, we had been walking the city for the better part of the past two days! Plus, it was rainy and we were so full and it just seemed like a great idea. We chilled, watched about 3 episodes of Criminal Minds in bed, and then headed out to dinner.

We went to Toro Bravo for tapas that night and once again sat at the bar to watch the cooks do their thang. I love getting lots of little plates because you can try so many different things without getting too full. We tried the bacon wrapped dates, young manchego cheese with bread, roasted leeks with vegetable ash, potatoes bravas, fried empanada, grilled octopus, seared scallops, and seared cauliflower, which was all awesome. The empanada was my favourite - filled with chorizo and molten mahon cheese, flaky friend pastry, and topped with pickled veggies. We also went and ordered three desserts 'cause why the hell not - hazelnut semifreddo, churros with chocolate ganache, and a meyer lemon soufflé with blueberry caramel. I wasn't expecting much in terms of dessert from a tapas place, but they were really good. 

Wednesday

On Wednesday morning, we went back to Nuvrei for more amazing pastries. We ordered a chocolate croissant, a sesame thyme croissant (too good not to get again), two vanilla and rum canelés, and a blackberry danish, and thanked the barista for the recommendation for Tabor Bread. All their pastries are so well-made and flavourful, with little twists here and there to set them apart from everyone else. The raspberry and rose danish we got on Sunday had just a little hint of rose flavour, not too much to taste like soap, but enough to make the danish a little different than the usual. The sesame thyme croissant, once again, was just crazy good - it reminded me a little of everything bagels and za'tar.  The canelés were so crispy and caramelized on the outside and deliciously custardy on the inside. I creeped their instagram and saw that in the summer, they made all kind of flavours of mini canelés - strawberry basil, chocolate triple sec, pistachio cherry, and peach cardamom (!!) so I basically have to come back in the summer and try them all.  

I gotta say, their pastry display is top notch. The simple and clean look with the lighting from below really gave a sleek and modern look to the display and the café as a whole, which was offset by the exposed brick (love me some exposed brick). The big floor to ceiling windows overlooking the street make the small café seem light and airy and also provides an awesome people-watching spot. We sat down at the window and wolfed down our pastries while watching the people go by. Jessica came and sat with us and we chatted about the pastry scene in Portland and how it's tough to find really dedicated pastry people, while we lamented the fact that at our job (well, my old job), the production is so big that it doesn't leave much room for experimenting with viennoiserie, like with the rose or matcha croissant at Nuvrei. It was so cool of Jessica to take the time out of her day to hang out with us and chat with us like we were already good friends. 

To make things even better, they sent us off with a box of even more pastries! A sesame thyme croissant (which comes to three in three days - oh baby), an apricot and pistachio brioche, a chocolate croissant, a chocolate canelé, and a rose croissant. If I wasn't already in love with them, that sealed the deal.

The final destination of our Portland trip was Lardo, a place that makes some pretty badass sandwiches. We initially planned to eat one sandwich there, then get another one to go for the airport, but we were so full after one that we just couldn't do it. Dana had a pork shoulder with kimchi (top photo) and I had a pork meatball bahn mi (above), both of which were awesome. I'm a sucker for anything with pickled veggies in it. After that, we headed off to the airport and made our way back home.

All in all, Portland was a stellar food trip and I would recommend it to anyone even remotely interested in food and eating (which is everyone). There's tons of places that I didn't get the chance to go to, but the places I did go to were ridiculously tasty and worth every penny and I'd go back to them all in a heartbeat. Thanks Portland!! :)