Thursday, July 24, 2008


Over the July 4th weekend I paid my first-ever visit to the Pacific Northwest, spending most of the time in Portland, which is revered as a foodie mecca for its bountiful fresh produce and local microbrews. I hoped to eat and drink as many tasty things as I could, documenting all of the tastiness with photos of every meal. In this I was only marginally successful. First of all, I was only there for three full days, and I would have needed about a month (or possibly a second stomach) to make my way through my wanna-eat list, so I regretfully shelved some of my food dreams (seafood, brewery tour, Tillamook ice cream, Pix, The Tin Shed, Roots Brewery) for another time. Secondly, travel eating always involves compromise for the sake of expediency—you’re hungry or someone else in your group is, you don’t know the lay of the land, and you just need to eat what’s readily available at the moment so you can get on with your sightseeing. Even I’m not about to spend an entire vacation in the pursuit of restaurants, not when there’s Powell’s and The Grotto to see. And the photo thing fell by the wayside on the second day. Restaurants were dark, or I was too eager to eat, or the food wasn’t that exciting, or I would have felt weird whipping out my camera. I can, however, present you with this excellent portrait of my first morning’s breakfast (I must say, our breakfasts were uniformly excellent on this trip, but this one was my very favorite), an open-faced bacon-tomato-avocado-poached-egg sandwich at CafĂ© Marron in Spokane:

Here are three more delicious Portland moments:

1. Circumstances conspired to allow us to dine in the home of a real Portlander, a sort of friend-of-a-friend (well, actually, a father-of-a-friend-of-a-brother) none of us had met before. I knew it was a good sign when we arrived at his lovely house and were immediately drafted to pick raspberries for the dessert. Sitting in the backyard, we drank wine (a good Syrah we’d picked up, at the Maryhill Winery on our way into town) and chatted while dining on a delicious homemade chard-rice casserole and salad featuring vegetables from the garden, followed by an amazing chocolate tart (like this one, from Jamie Oliver’s book Cook With Jamie) garnished with the fresh-picked raspberries. It was our first night in Portland, and it was perfect.

2. In Portland I became determined to finally try this year’s (or last year's?) food-blogger-darling dessert, the French macaron (not to be confused with a coconut macaroon, this is a ground-almond-based sandwich cookie that looks rather like a tiny hamburger, with two rounded layers enclosing a creamy filling, available in a wide array of colors and flavors, making it as photogenic as it is delicious). Of course these are probably widely available in L.A., but in my normal, sensible, well-balanced life I try to avoid bakeries, and traveling is always such a good opportunity to (a) try something new and (b) indulge. Though we weren’t able to make it to Pix, where my source assured me that the salted-caramel macaron was so good “you almost need to eat it in private,”* two varieties of macaron, chocolate and mango, were available at Ken’s Artisan Bakery, just a couple of blocks from our hostel. On a restless late-afternoon walk while my travel companions were resting, I decided to go for it. I had chocolate, of course, and it was delicious—lightly crisp on the outside, tender within:

3. On the final night of our trip, we decided to splurge at Higgins, a highly recommended restaurant in downtown Portland that emphasizes local, organic, seasonal, sustainable food. And wow, it was a great dining experience from beginning to end—excellent food in a relaxed, unpretentious-but-still-fancy atmosphere. K and I both had good regional wines (I don’t remember what mine was called, but hers was “Jezebel”). S had a roasted-beet salad and a cold vegan soup made from pureed potatoes and almonds, seasoned with smoked paprika (it sounds odd, but was quite good). K had a beautiful piece of salmon with vegetables and homemade spaetzle. I had a fabulous sweet-pea risotto featuring three forms of peas—peas, pea pods, and a pea puree swirled in. The sweetness of the peas was perfectly balanced by rated Grana Padano cheese, smoky little chunks of coppacola, and salty wafers of fried Parmesan. I don’t even particularly love peas or risotto, but I loved this. It was the kind of restaurant where you sensed that anything you ordered was going to be delicious, even if it was something you didn’t normally like. This caused us agonies of decision-making over the alluring dessert menu, but at last we settled on house-made rhubarb sorbet and hazelnut ice cream, both served with an assortment of tiny house-made cookies and an amusing cube of Cognac gelee (think freestanding, upscale Jell-O shot). But the show was stolen by the third dessert, and utterly amazing raspberry-ricotta tart with a lavender shortbread crust (I’d been skeptical, fearing it would taste like potpourri or something, but was pleased to be proven wrong—thanks for sticking to your guns on that one, K!). In short, I will definitely be returning to Portland, and Higgins will be on the itinerary.

*This turn of phrase led us to fantasize about opening a restaurant featuring a dessert so supposedly decadent and delicious that when you ordered it, you would simply be brought a plate with a silver key on it. You would get up and go to the back of the restaurant, where your key would open one of several little phone-booth-sized red-velvet-padded rooms, inside which your dessert would be waiting on a silver platter, for you to eat in private, able to groan and gorge to your heart's content, away from strangers' eyes. The dessert wouldn't really even have to be that special; it would all be in the fun presentation. If anyone executes this idea, I demand a lifetime of free desserts!

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