Travel Eats: Portland’s Andina, Cabezon, Gravy & other best bites

This is part of a series of posts about my vacation to Portland, Oregon, in late February 2013.

West coast oysters, Andina
West coast oysters, Andina

This post is a bit of a catch-all, to cover the rest of the great food that didn’t fit into any of the other posts. We knew we had to experience a few food carts, which are a big part of Portland’s dining culture, and got to try an Indian naan wrap, a savory gourmet waffle, British chips with curry sauce, and Nong’s khao man gai, the simple Thai dish that came up in our research again and again. And the latter lived up to expectations: humble poached chicken, rice, and sauce, prepared with enough love and meticulous care to turn into something extraordinary. Happy hour and fresh seafood were two other must-dos; those endeavors resulted in boldly delicious Peruvian food and the best cioppino I’ve ever had, respectively. An incredibly decadent bread pudding was a pleasant surprise with our beer flight one evening – it helped that my favorite desserts include caramel, chocolate, or coffee flavors, and this one nailed all three. We also took the suggestion of my beautiful and talented friend by indulging in a biscuit swimming in staggeringly umami-rich vegetarian gravy at Gravy, and also made a few meals out of their fantastic smoked salmon hash.

Mixta Nikkei causa with Yukon Gold potato, spicy tuna and crab salad, snd crispy breaded prawn, Andina
Mixta Nikkei causa with Yukon Gold potato, spicy tuna and crab salad, and crispy breaded prawn, Andina
Bread basket with three sauces, Andina
Bread basket with three sauces, Andina
Cioppino, Cabezon Restaurant & Fishmarket
Cioppino, Cabezon Restaurant & Fishmarket
Veggie wrap, Taste of India food cart
Veggie wrap, Taste of India food cart
Signature dish from Nong's Khao Man Gai food cart
Signature dish from Nong’s Khao Man Gai food cart
ABC waffle with arugula, bacon, camembert cheese, and fig jam, The Gaufre Gourmet food cart
ABC waffle with arugula, bacon, camembert cheese, and fig jam, The Gaufre Gourmet food cart
Chips with curry sauce, The Frying Scotsman food cart
Chips with curry sauce, The Frying Scotsman food cart
Caramel mocha bread pudding, Deschutes Brewery
Caramel mocha bread pudding, Deschutes Brewery
Biscuit with vegetarian gravy, Gravy
Biscuit with vegetarian gravy, Gravy
Smoked salmon hash, Gravy
Smoked salmon hash, Gravy

The details: Andina, 1314 NW Gilsan St.; Cabezon Restaurant & Fishmarket, 5200 NE Sacramento St.; The Gaufre Gourmet, SW 9th and Alder; Nong’s Khao Man Gai, SW 10th and Alder; The Frying Scotsman, SW 9th and Alder; Taste of India, 950 SW Washington Ave.; Deschutes Brewery, 210 NW 11th Ave.; Gravy, 3957 N Mississippi Ave.

Travel Eats: Portland’s Beast and Toro Bravo

This is part of a series of posts about my vacation to Portland, Oregon, in late February 2013.

A quote on the chalkboard wall at Beast
A quote on the chalkboard wall at Beast – words to live by!

Brunch at Beast

As I said on Twitter, I would consider this the best overall brunch experience of my life. I knew going into it that a four-course brunch (yes, that’s four courses) from one of my favorite chefs on Top Chef Masters would be nothing to scoff at, but there was so much else that came together to make the atmosphere extra-special. Both brunch and dinner at Beast are completely seasonal and change weekly based on that week’s market, so the prix fixe menu that’s posted outside the door is your first glimpse of what you’ll be eating, with no substitutions allowed. While I realize it isn’t for everyone, it probably goes without saying that I am always excited to eat this way. Although Chef Naomi was in Miami for the weekend, her staff treated us 24 or so diners with the utmost care, ushering us in right at 10 a.m. and meticulously plating each course in the open kitchen that comprised nearly half of the intimate space. In the other half, two large communal tables were filled by a collection of food-lovers from all over the country. Speaking of those fellow diners…in a fun coincidence, the party next to us was a couple from the LA-area and their two daughters, both of whom happened to be Northwestern alums, and the older of whom was even in my graduating class! Once we started to recognize each other and talk through our mutual friends and connections (with a little help from Facebook), it became even more startling that two people with so much in common just happened to be seated together at brunch all the way in Portland. Beyond that, it was just a delight to be around so many other foodies – including this one, with an extensive knowledge of food in most major cities and a great Twitter presence – and sharing the experience with people who wanted to soak it in the same way, iPhone-photo-snapping and all (no doubt this restaurant has inspired its own Portlandia sketches).

Of course, the food itself was equally excellent. To begin, the bacon-topped claufoutis was airy with lovely apple flavor – I tried to savor each spoonful, but I’ll admit that it went quickly. The hash combined so many of my favorite savory brunch ingredients that I felt as if they’d read my mind: duck, sweet potatoes, brussels sprouts, broccoli, mushrooms…a mixture that was rich, balanced, and all-out delicious. Next up was a plate of three outstanding (and very different) cheeses that were paired with greens so flavorful and nicely dressed that we could barely stop talking about them. And finally, I now dream of wrapping up every brunch with a smooth, ultra-dark chocolate stout cake cloaked in more chocolate and topped with gold-leaf-flecked chantilly cream. If this is what Beast’s morning meal is like, I’d love to go back someday for a six-course dinner, and make a few more new food-fanatic friends.

Northern Spy Apple clafoutis with soft whipped cream and maple-glazed bacon
Northern Spy Apple clafoutis with soft whipped cream and maple-glazed bacon
Beast hash with duck confit, heirloom broccoli, maitake mushrooms, sweet potatoes, brussels sprouts, poached farm egg, and hollandaise
Beast hash with duck confit, heirloom broccoli, maitake mushrooms, sweet potatoes, brussels sprouts, poached farm egg, and hollandaise
Selection of Steve's cheeses (cow, goat, sheep) with Groundworks organic greens and citrus vinaigrette
Selection of Steve’s cheeses (cow, goat, sheep) with Groundworks organic greens and citrus vinaigrette
Dark chocolate stout cake with crème chantilly
Dark chocolate stout cake with crème chantilly

The details: Beast, 5425 NE 30th Ave.

Dinner at Toro Bravo

Toro Bravo draws crowds for its imaginative tapas, so we had to see what the hype was about. We got there right as the restaurant opened for dinner and claimed a seat at the kitchen counter, which was a fun way to see how some of our food came together and listen to the expedite process and general flow of the kitchen. I was genuinely impressed by most of our dishes, and understood why this place had developed a strong following. The boquerones, for example, were treated as exactly the salty delicacy they should be, served atop piperade with such depth that it felt like it had to have been simmering on a grandmother’s stove all day. I was also a little obsessed with the baked polenta, which was basically the best qualities of a cheesesteak and creamy grits rolled together into one. Great cocktails and attentive service as well.

Octopus a la plancha
Octopus a la plancha
Radicchio salad with green olive toast and manchego vinaigrette
Radicchio salad with green olive toast and manchego vinaigrette
Boquerones with grilled bread and piperade
Boquerones with grilled bread and piperade
Baked polenta with roast beef, peppers, and onions
Baked polenta with roast beef, peppers, and onions

The details: Toro Bravo, 120 NE Russell St.

Travel Eats: Portland’s Pok Pok and Grüner

This is part of a series of posts about my vacation to Portland, Oregon, in late February 2013.

We made a bit of a mess...
We made a bit of a mess…

Late lunch at Pok Pok

When I first decided to go to Portland, Pok Pok was the restaurant that I immediately knew I’d visit. Pok Pok (a Thai slang term for a mortar and pestle) is helmed by Andy Ricker, who’s well-known in the restaurant world as an American chef who became obsessed with Thai cuisine and has stayed fiercely committed to authentically reproducing its bold, vibrant flavors in his restaurants. Pok Pok doesn’t take reservations and is known for long wait times, so we chose to go for late lunch (served 2:30–5 p.m.) to avoid the biggest crowds. Before we knew it, every inch of our cozy corner table was filled with metal dishes and serving bowls. Ranging from deliciously sticky chicken wings and succulent game hen to cool green papaya salad and curry soup with punchy garnishes, every dish struck the sour-sweet-salty-spicy balance that’s the hallmark of Thai cuisine. And the ice cream sandwich – coconut-jackfruit ice cream, chocolate, and condensed milk on a glorified hot dog bun – was a whimsical way to end the meal.

Condiments on the table
Condiments on the table
Drink list next to the bar, complete with Pok Pok's wide selection of drinking vinegars
Drink list next to the bar, complete with Pok Pok’s wide selection of drinking vinegars
Vietnamese fish sauce wings
Vietnamese fish sauce wings
Pok Pok Special, with half a roasted game hen, green papaya salad, and dipping sauces
Pok Pok Special, with half a roasted game hen, green papaya salad, and dipping sauces
Sticky rice inside a basket
Sticky rice inside a basket
Khao Soi mild curry noodle soup with tofu, garnished with pickled mustard greens, shallots, cilantro, and chili paste
Khao Soi mild curry noodle soup with tofu, garnished with pickled mustard greens, shallots, cilantro, and chili paste
Coconut ice cream sandwich on a sweet bun with peanuts, sticky rice, condensed milk, and chocolate syrup
Coconut ice cream sandwich on a sweet bun with peanuts, sticky rice, condensed milk, and chocolate syrup

The details: Pok Pok, 3226 SE Division St.

Dinner at Grüner

Grüner, on the other hand, was a somewhat unlikelier dining destination. After coming across some excellent reviews and deciding that refined Alpine cuisine might be a fun direction to take, I made a late dinner reservation. It turned out to be an exquisite meal, with the flavors of German food that were so familiar, but presented here in an exceedingly clean and artful way. The gorgeous beet-pickled deviled eggs ranked among the best I’ve ever tasted, and we both couldn’t get over how the rabbit boudin blanc and hint of mustard simply melted into apples that were sautéed to exactly the right chew. Each component of both the jägerschnitzel entree and the walnut tart dessert married the heartiness of the Old World with the thoughtful, seasonal elegance of a cutting-edge restaurant in Portland. I also was introduced to another favorite local beer, Occidental Brewing’s Dunkelweizen, which made a great pairing.

Pretzel roll, bread, and butter
Pretzel roll, bread, and butter
Beet-pickled deviled eggs
Beet-pickled deviled eggs
Polenta croquettes stuffed with raclette cheese
Polenta croquettes stuffed with raclette cheese
Rabbit boudin blanc with sautéed granny smith apples and dijon mustard
Rabbit boudin blanc with sautéed granny smith apples and dijon mustard
Jägerschnitzel with sauteed veal cutlets, hen of the woods & hedgehog mushroom sauce, mustard spätzle, and spiced red cabbage
Jägerschnitzel with sauteed veal cutlets, hen of the woods & hedgehog mushroom sauce, mustard spätzle, and spiced red cabbage
Walnut tart with sauce bijou, bärenjäger honey syrup, and goat cheese ice cream
Walnut tart with sauce bijou, bärenjäger honey syrup, and goat cheese ice cream

The details: Grüner, 527 SW 12th Ave.

Travel Eats: Portland beer, wine, and cocktails

This is part of a series of posts about my vacation to Portland, Oregon, in late February 2013.

Cascade's Oblique B/W Coffee Stout, brewed with Oblique Coffee Roasters' Landauer blend
Cascade’s Oblique B/W Coffee Stout, brewed with Oblique Coffee Roasters’ Landauer blend

Consider this my official round-up of PDX libations. Before going any further, I have to tell you about the beer above, which was one of the very best, most memorable beers I’ve ever had. It was a special collaboration between Cascade Brewing and Oblique Coffee Roasters that we tried on our last night in Portland, and I loved it so much that it took several minutes for our waitress to finally convince me that taking a growler on the plane wasn’t the best idea (I settled for a bottle of Blueberry, my second favorite). It has the blonde color of a lager, but the body of a stout and the most intense, in-your-face coffee flavor that I’ve ever tasted in a beer. Addictive. Still wish I could have smuggled some back to Chicago…

We did tasting flights at three breweries (Widmer Brothers, Deschutes, and Cascade), and I was impressed by the variety and character of all three. Widmer Brothers is known for their Hefeweizen, and I also was taken by their Oatmeal Stout; at Deschutes, I liked the Black Butte Porter and Chainbreaker White IPA best, and fortunately those two are available here in Chicago. Wine-wise, we visited the SE Wine Collective to sample from four local wine producers who share the space. Oregon is known for its Pinot Noir, which I don’t drink often, so it was fun to explore new territory and settle on the 2010 Division “Un” to take home. Portland offered fantastic fruit-based cocktails as well, including an ultra-fresh, basil-enhanced pineapple mojito at Andina, and my first experience with pungent drinking vinegar in the apple gin rickey at Pok Pok.

Widmer Brothers Brewing flight: Hefeweizen, X-468, Raspberry Russian, Drop Top, X-291, and Oatmeal Stout
Widmer Brothers Brewing flight: Hefeweizen, X-468, Raspberry Russian, Drop Top, X-291, and Oatmeal Stout
Deschutes Brewery flight: Chainbreaker, Black Butte, DB Hefeweizen, Bomb Squad, Old Pilgrim, and Pondhopper
Deschutes Brewery flight: Chainbreaker, Black Butte, DB Hefeweizen, Bomb Squad, Old Pilgrim, and Pondhopper
Cascade Brewing Barrel House flight: Apricot, Noyaux, Blueberry, Raspberry, Bourbonic Plague, and more (not all pictured)
Cascade Brewing Barrel House flight: Apricot, Noyaux, Blueberry, Raspberry, Bourbonic Plague, and more (not all pictured)
Ready for a five-wine tasting at SE Wine Collective
Ready for a five-wine tasting at SE Wine Collective
"Ricardo" (tequila, orange liqueur, ginger puree, pear puree, lime, cider reduction), H5O Bistro inside our hotel
“Ricardo” (tequila, orange liqueur, ginger puree, pear puree, lime, cider reduction), H5O Bistro inside Hotel Fifty, where we stayed
Apple gin rickey (Som apple drinking vinegar, gin, lemon, and soda)
Apple gin rickey (Som apple drinking vinegar, gin, lemon, and soda), Pok Pok
Vela d’Oro (Flor de Caña 4 yr. rum, orange juice reduction, Galliano cream)
Vela d’Oro (Coffee, Flor de Caña 4 yr. rum, orange juice reduction, Galliano cream), Grüner
Pineapple mojito
Pineapple mojito (pineapple amber rum shaken with fresh crushed pineapple, lime juice, basil and cane sugar), Andina

The details: Widmer Brothers Brewery & Gasthaus Pub, 929 N Russell St.; Deschutes Brewery, 210 NW 11th Ave.; Cascade Brewing Barrel House;, 939 SE Belmont St.; SE Wine Collective, 2425 SE 35th Pl.; H50, 50 SW Morrison St.; Pok Pok, 3226 SE Division St.; Grüner, 527 SW 12th Ave.; Andina, 1314 NW Gilsan St.

Travel Eats: Portland coffee, donuts, and other indulgences

This is part of a series of posts about my vacation to Portland, Oregon, in late February 2013.

Latte at Sterling Coffee Roasters
Latte at Sterling Coffee Roasters

As is probably evident, my roommate/travel partner and I did a lot of research on the Portland food and drinks scene in preparation for our trip. Among the themes that quickly emerged: coffee and donuts, plus other artisanal sweets and breakfast items. With a little planning, we managed to hit most of the major places on our list. I knew we’d cover the classics – I’d heard about Voodoo Doughnut for years, and Stumptown is a well-known roaster whose brews I love when I can get them here in Chicago. But I didn’t expect another donut shop (Blue Star) to win me over with its brioche-like dough and bold-flavored glazes, or to taste such an outstanding bagel-and-cream-cheese combination at Bowery Bagels that I thought it could only exist in Sriracha-spiked dreams, or to have the best French macarons either of us had ever tasted at Ken’s. And as someone who loves spending time in coffee shops, I was thrilled by Stumptown’s wall of magazines to go with its impeccable cups (I paged through Barista and Imbibe) and the vastly different but equally enjoyable atmospheres at Extracto and Sterling. I could go on, but just see for yourself in the photos below.

Oreo-peanut butter doughnut and apple fritter, Voodoo Doughnut
Oreo-peanut butter “ODB” doughnut and apple fritter, Voodoo Doughnut
Blueberry-bourbon-basil donut (and dulce de leche-hazelnut donut, not pictured), Blue Star Donuts
Blueberry-bourbon-basil donut (and dulce de leche-hazelnut donut, not pictured), Blue Star Donuts
Thai chili peanut bagel with lemongrass cream cheese, Bowery Bagels
Thai chili peanut bagel with lemongrass cream cheese, Bowery Bagels
Biscuit with pimento cheese, Pine State Biscuts
Biscuit with pimento cheese, Pine State Biscuts
Almond brittle with salted ganache and Happy Birthday Elvis with malted banana, peanut butter, and marionberry jam, Salt & Straw
Almond brittle with salted ganache and Happy Birthday Elvis with malted banana, peanut butter, and marionberry jam, Salt & Straw
Macarons in chocolate-mint, orange-ginger-chevre, and salted caramel-coffee, Ken's Artisan Bakery
Macarons in chocolate-mint, orange-ginger-chevre, and salted caramel-coffee, Ken’s Artisan Bakery
Chai latte, Extracto Coffeehouse & Roastery
Chai latte, Extracto Coffeehouse & Roastery
Cappuccino, Stumptown Coffee
Cappuccino, Stumptown Coffee

The details: Voodoo Doughnut, 22 SW 3rd Ave.; Blue Star Donuts, 1237 SW Washington St.; Bowery Bagels, 310 NW Broadway; Pine State Biscuits, 2204 NE Alberta St.; Salt & Straw, 2035 NE Alberta St.; Ken’s Artisan Bakery, 338 NW 21st Ave.; Stumptown Coffee, 128 SW 3rd Ave. and 1026 SW Stark St.; Extracto Coffeehouse & Roastery, 2921 NE Killingsworth St.; Sterling Coffee Roasters, 417 NW 21st Ave.

Travel Eats: Portland by the numbers & photo recap

This is part of a series of posts about my vacation to Portland, Oregon, in late February 2013. Jump to all posts.

Beer flights and bread pudding at Deschutes Brewery
Beer sample flights and caramel mocha bread pudding at Deschutes Brewery

I’m back from Portland, and let’s just say it far surpassed my gastronomic expectations. I was impressed by the quality and originality of everything I ate and drank, and generally had a blast. We got to explore the majority of the city – mostly on foot, to burn off at least a few calories! – and also ventured to nearby scenic areas during the last two days.

And now, a quick numerical breakdown:

Full days spent in Portland: 4
Types of cuisine tried: 9
Local beers sampled: 29
Local wines sampled: 7
Donut varieties tasted: 4
Food carts visited: 4
Coffee beverages consumed: 8+
Sit-down meals enjoyed: 7
Sales tax paid: $0!!
Waterfalls seen: 3

Wahkeena Falls
Wahkeena Falls

Needless to say, I have a lot to talk about here on the blog.

All posts:

Look for these posts throughout the next week. In the meantime, check out the slideshow below to see my Instagram photos from the trip.

Travel Eats: Off to Portland!

These bikes were in Chicago...but I'll be seeing a lot more in Portland!
I found these bikes on a snowy morning in Chicago…but I’ll be seeing a whole lot more of them in Portland!

Just a quick update: I’ll be spending the next five days in Portland, Oregon, on vacation. I’ve never been before, but absolutely cannot wait to dive into a food scene I’ve heard so much about. We have an ambitious itinerary – for example, a different pairing of coffee shop and doughnut/bagel/biscuit place is planned for each morning – and hope to fit in as many food trucks, craft brews, and local fare as possible (while also taking in the beautiful scenery and culture of the city, of course). I’m especially looking forward to legendary Thai food on Saturday and a seasonal four-course brunch on Sunday!

Check back on the blog next week for a full report of my Portland adventures.