A couple of months ago I had some frequent flier miles burning a hole in my pocket, and decided to plan a trip to visit friends in Seattle. When my old college roommate Kathy heard I was going out that way, she insisted I swing by Portland and stay with her for a couple days. We hadn’t talked in about 10 years but had recently reconnected on Facebook… I have to admit I was a little hesitant about whether it would be awkward after all that time, but I noticed from her Facebook page that she was into cooking and good food in general, and she won me over with the promise of teaching me how to make her mom’s recipe for guo tieh(aka potstickers)! I was sold.
My first day in town Kathy had to work, so I trekked all over downtown Portland. My first stop was Powell’s Books, where I spent most of my time in their HUGE cookbook section (4 enormous, beautiful aisles…) I found a book on baking that I had been wanting (on sale, no less) as well as a handful of non-fiction food writing/ memoirs/ etc. It amazes me but even after working in a bookstore all those years, I can still find room on the shelves for just a couple more books…
Kathy had told me that due to the temperate weather, there were outdoor food carts in various spots throughout downtown (in at least one spot, they take up an entire city block!), some of which I saw but alas did not get a chance to sample. All types of nationalities and foods are represented and you can apparently get any number of great meals for cheap. One of many reasons to come back for another visit.
Kathy met me for lunch at the Bijou Café, a cute little breakfast/lunch spot on the Eastern side of the downtown area (132 SW 3rd Ave, to be precise). Apparently Portland is known for being a “breakfast” town (there are several websites and blogs devoted solely to Portland’s first meal), and with lots of competition there’s no room for slack. I chose an omelette that was on special, with chanterelles (a local product) and smoked gouda. The omelette was amazingly fluffy and came with great hash browns; my only issue was that the smoked gouda kind of buried the flavor of the delicate chanterelles. Kathy ordered a mushroom panini which looked fabulous; I was actually a bit jealous looking at her mushrooms since I couldn’t really taste mine. I couldn’t believe I ate my entire omelette plus the muffin it came with AND Kathy’s green salad, but I guess that’s what walking all morning will do for your appetite!
We had designated Friday as our “potstickers” night, so Thursday we decided to go out for dinner. Kathy and her boyfriend are fortunate enough to live mere blocks from what is known as “Restaurant Row”, a 3 or 4 block stretch of NE 28th St. just north of Burnside. After getting a haircut at the neighborhood outpost of Bishops, a local chain of hair salons whose gimmick is to give a free Miller High Life with your haircut, I was feeling good, and ready for a nice meal.
We decided to stick close to home since we had lots of good restaurants to choose from right in the neighborhood. We ended up at Navarre, a wonderfully authentic tapas restaurant at 10 NE 28th St. I always lament the fact that there are no “real” tapas places in the Detroit area; everything is more like small plates or appetizers, and usually priced so that you would have to spend an ungodly sum to sample more than a few items. Not so here!
The à la carte menu featured several items in the $5 range and it would have been completely do-able to assemble a filling meal for under $20 per person. As it was, we opted for the “We Choose” menu at $25 per person, where the chef sends out a variety of dishes. The wonderful thing about this is that if you have more than one person, they don’t duplicate dishes (at least not that I’m aware; there were three of us and we all ordered the “We Choose” and didn’t get two of anything). So, happily, I was able to sample many more items than if I had been dining solo or ordering à la carte. The only request we made was that the game bird paté (see above) be included in our menu, and they happily obliged. It was served with a country bread and a little dish of sweet pickled vegetables. Kathy and I had to restrain ourselves not to polish it off before Garrett arrived- it was one of the creamiest, most delicious patés I have ever tasted (outside of France, no less).
After the paté we were served a plate of beets and spinach, both lightly dressed and with toasted breadcrumbs for garnish. Those were followed by trout cooked in parchment paper, which would have been delicious had it not clashed with our wine
choice, a 2004 Andrew Rich Pinot Noir from Oregon’s Willamette Valley (my favorite region for domestic Pinot). After discussing this with our waitress, I was kindly informed by Kathy that the local pronunciation is “Wuh-LAMM-it” (rhymes with dammit), not “Will-uh-METTE”, as I’d been saying. (Weirdos.)
After the fish and veggies, there was a slice of meatloaf in a delicious sauce with an egg baked in the center, as well as two types of legumes: a dish of lentils and a dish of white beans with parsley. Both were very good, but I was running out of steam at that point. We sat and chatted and digested; then rolled ourselves out the door, but not before I tried to snap a couple last tipsy photos of the décor (in my defense, it was incredibly low lighting in there and difficult to shoot without flash!). I was glad for the walk home; the fresh air was refreshing and it was nice to feel like I was burning a couple of the calories off…
Stay tuned for Day 2 of my visit to Portland, and the potsticker recipe!
(Note: all photos in this post were taken by yours truly EXCEPT the Bijou Café photos, which I found on the world wide interweb.)