Maybe I Do Want to Move to Portland

August 4, 2012 § Leave a comment

A trip is not a trip without tasty eats along the way. It’s just one more way to experience the culture of a new place. Portland, Oregon, isn’t exactly brand-new to me, but nor is it as familiar as home. With my uncle and aunt as guides, I’ve savored many a unique and delicious meal. This, my fourth trip, was no different. Bear with me as I relive the highlights.

Under the guise of meeting their new puppy, my mom and Grannie and I embarked from Birmingham and after a switch of itinerary made it to Portland before midnight.  The next morning, a home-cooked breakfast of eggs and bacon satiated us for the day ahead. We lunched at Cadillac Cafe, where I ordered a non photogenic but filling triple grilled cheese with veggies. My family knows of my love for good food and I am grateful! Our next stop, Salt and Straw, was clearly popular, with a line awkwardly meandering from the register to the first cold case and out the door onto the patio. A wave of cool air tinged with freshly baked waffle cone batter greeted us as we finally crossed the threshold. No pictures exist of my waffle cone bursting with blueberry ice cream shot through with lime marmalade for a host of obvious reasons. Stuffed, we returned home to watch the dogs chew on cow bones and cool off in the wading pool.

When we just couldn’t take anymore relaxing, we loaded up and headed out for our early dinner reservations at Lincoln (located fortuitously near Ink and Peat, a shop I’ve always wanted to check out since we did a story on it at the floral magazine where I used to work). The menu itself was beautiful and mentioned dishes with ingredients I’d never heard of or experienced. My uncle’s lamb dish arrived with a side of sauteed kale cut into ribbons and drenched in bright citrus. It had never occurred to me to prepare kale like this, and you can be sure I mentally filed the idea to try later. That’s one of the things I love most about dining out, especially at restaurants whose focus is on simple seasonality. I’m still learning about combining flavors and textures to make a dish really memorable, so all this “research” is indispensable to that pursuit.

My dish of polenta, turkey egg, and toybox tomatoes was impossibly creamy and almost more like breakfast food. A salad of zucchini ribbons with finocchiona, ricotta salata, mint, chili and lemon was the perfect summer starter. I gamely tried the rabbit mousse on the thyme flatbreads and didn’t mind the salty flavor, but I don’t know if pâtés of small animals are for me. The marionberry frangipane tart definitely was, however. With that, day one of our vacation came to a close.

Sunday dawned cloudy and overcast, with a welcome chill for us sun-weary Southerners, just right, I thought, for our drive to Ecola State Park. On my other visits, we’d not had time to explore the coast. It was well-worth the inclusion and afforded us serene views for our picnic lunch and a bit of exertion to gear us up for another round of restaurants. 

That night, we were joined by my aunt’s parents for dinner at Le Pigeon, which I had only heard raved about in various publications. It blew us all away. The cozy ambiance of the restaurant and the refined but inviting atmosphere contributed just the right amount of gravitas for a special occasion dinner. Beef Cheek Bourguignon leapt out at me from the menu, and I knew I had to try it, though I admit a bit of nervousness about the “cheek” part. I was rewarded with succulent tender meat atop a smooth puree of potatoes (or parsnips) hiding wine-soaked onions that were arguably the best part of the dish. A cold accompaniment of carrots and parsnips in some sort of balsamic/citrus glaze reinvigorated my palate with each bite.

My more adventurous relatives ordered starters of deviled crab with oxtail and a rabbit spanakopita with peaches and truffle vinaigrette. To my credit, I sampled them all. I even had foie gras pass my lips, incorporated into what the waiter described as a “reverse turducken.”  As if all that weren’t enough, there was still dessert looming over us. Literally. It was written on glass window panes right beside our table. Gooseberry sorbet, chocolate cake with raspberries and cocoa nib meringue, bay leaf pot de crème, crème brûlée, croissant apricot bread pudding topped with apricot pit infused ice cream (genius!) were passed around our table like a culinary game of musical chairs. 

Our dinner at Le Pigeon was truly a feast, experienced with all the senses and one that I will remember fondly forever. Unbelievable though it may sound, we had time to savor a few more delights before heading home, but I’ll save those for another post. This one might be bordering on the gratuitous.

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