Friday, March 14, 2008

Wanderlust: Chowing Down and Drinking Up, Stumptown Style

During my last trip to Portland -- due to my admittedly lame reluctance to dine alone -- I failed to sample a single one of the city's many great restaurants. But I more than made up for that shameful omission on this visit, thanks to the ladies at Travel Portland, who squired our little group of freelance writers into one fabulous eatery and watering hole after another. To say that I ate and drank my way around town is an understatement. (And yes, I'm going to be eating nothing but fruit and salads for the next week.)

I'm not a food writer -- or, truth be told, even much of a foodie; basically, if it's food, I like it, and I like it even more when someone else is cooking. So I'll spare you the flowery descriptions of earthy porcini mushrooms and crusty artisinal bread (of which I consumed much). But I will say that the food, without fail, was incredible. Portland is known for its bounty of locally produced ingredients and its chefs' dedication to serving fresh, sustainable, delicious food -- and the fare I sampled during my visit did not disappoint on this (or any) front.

One of the leaders of Portland's sustainable food movement is chef Vitaly Paley, above left, of Paley's Place. Vitaly and his chef de cuisine, Benjamin Bettinger, filled us in on the local food scene and whipped up a delectably rich breakfast of duck eggs prepared via Sous-vide and topped with bacon and truffle oil hollandaise and shaved white truffles, homemade scones with fresh huckleberry preserves, and fresh home-cured ham and bacon. It was basically a heart attack on a plate, but worth every last ounce of cholesterol.

The other establishments whose offerings I enjoyed during the trip included Mint/820, whose barbed-wire light fixture I couldn't stop staring at, even while sucking down two of the bar's signature avocado daiquiris; Saucebox, yummy pan-Asian cuisine in a clublike space across the street from Portland's best-known strip club, Mary's, where PDX native Courtney Love got her start; the Pearl District's Bluehour, specializing in tasty and artfully presented Northwest fare; Le Pigeon, in the arty, up-and-coming Lower Burnside area -- I couldn't bring myself to order the pigeon that the tiny bistro is famous for, but the fallen blue cheese souffle was exquisite; NE 28th's Tabla, delicious, rustic Mediterranean with a relaxed, unpretentious vibe; the Hollywood District's Mio Sushi, where my new friend, food writer and all-around cool chick Joanna Miller helped me polish off the restaurant's signature Sushi Pizza, which sounds gimmicky but was delectable; Fleur de Lis Bakery, also in Hollywood, whose golden raisin and fennel scone features the perfect combination of sweet and slightly astringent flavors; and Clyde Common at the Ace Hotel, which serves up a mammoth bowl of spicy carrot soup for just $6.

(God, my pants feel tight just from typing this.)

One of my absolute favorite Portland food experiences, though, was the chocolate tasting at Cacao, in downtown's newly trendy Burnside Triangle area. Similar to a wine tasting, the chocolate tasting involved nibbling on chocolate from all over the world, as well as trying Cacao's three sinfully rich varieties of "drinking chocolate," which is to hot cocoa what espresso is to Folgers.

In addition to the museum-worthy collection of chocolate, Cacao is simply a beautiful shop -- showing that the owners' talent for curation and presentation extends beyond their namesake confection.

Cacao's founders, Jesse Manis and Aubrey Lindley, are absolutely passionate about chocolate. (Honestly, can you blame them?) My basic operating philosophy has always been chocolate = good, but thanks to Jesse and Aubrey and their encyclopedic knowledge of all things chocolate, I now know why the cocoa bean is truly a gift from the gods.

That same day, after a tour of the BridgePort Brewing Company, the oldest craft brewery in the world capital of microbreweries, we were off to House Spirits, the makers of Medoyeff Vodka and Aviation Gin. We toured the small distillery and sampled its products, which House Spirits partner and bartending whiz Ryan (that's him above, with his cocktail shakers flying) whipped up into a series of classic-with-a-twist cocktails. I'm not much of a liquor drinker, but these were some tasty tipples -- and Ryan put on quite a show behind the bar.

With my Portland excursion winding to a close, I couldn't pass up a visit to Voodoo Doughnuts & Wedding Chapel. Steer well clear of this place if you've been drinking -- I'm positive it's dangerous to anyone whose sobriety is compromised.

I was too embarrassed to ask, but I think this chocolate guy with the pretzel priapis might be the suggestively named "Cock-n-Balls."

Presenting the Voodoo's infamous Maple-Bacon Bar -- so wrong, and yet so very right. Anthony Bourdain is a fan, and since Nick is a big fan of his, I couldn't come home without one of these for him. Of course, I sampled a few bites myself, too. Delicious!

Finally, who could forget Stumptown Coffee? Indeed, they make a mighty fine cup of joe.

Now if you'll excuse me, I believe there's a grapefruit with my name on it ...


deerseason87 said...

Yum! Actually, the "Cock and Balls" at Voodoo Donuts is more accurately shaped; that one is a voodoo doll, I think.

Anonymous said...

I want it ALL. Maple bacon bar? Wow. I love the stamped logo on the Voodoo Doughnuts bag, too.

Kerry said...

I hope you tried the tapioca balls at Saucebox -- my husband was the chef there for a few years and introduced that recipe after a trip to Asia. Ridiculuosly good.

Anonymous said...

Hi Leah-

I just checked out your blog and noticed you had an amazing time eating your way through Portland! I am so loving all the good food that is happening up here. If you visit again make sure to try Toro Bravo, my favorite new restaurant.

I saw you went to Cacao...their spicy drinking chocolate is sex in a cup. 4 blocks up from them is a tiny shop called Sahagun that makes all their own chocolate (the owner looks like Amelie from the movie). She makes these salted caramels that are unlike anything out there...they explode in your mouth. My friend and I usually get 1 each and walk over to Cacao to top it off with drinking chocolate. Food is my weakness! Sahagun's site is:

Leah said...

Hey Kerry,

I was too stuffed to eat another bite, but someone in my party ordered the tapioca balls and was *raving* about them.


Thanks for the recs -- Toro Bravo and Sahagun are on my list for next time!



Anonymous said...

Let me invite you to taste some of Oakland's fine artisan chocolates. There are more stores that sell chocolate, but all of these make it. Some from the bean. Sorry about my html-ignorance.

Unknown said...

Agh, I had Stumptown Coffee at Mix in Ashland, Oregon last year and was hooked. It is my #2, after Blue Bottle (#1) and before Intelligentsia. We order Stumptown beans online and highly recommend them. I am so jealous because I've been planning to go on a eat and drink tour of Portland for a year and just haven't done it. Ace Hotel, that's where I want to stay. I'm off to show husband this post and pester about booking tickets.

Leah said...

Hey Moonsinger,

Thanks for reminding me about all the great stuff we that Oaklanders have in our backyard (more here:

I've been on the Scharffenberger tour (highly recomended!) and love XOX Truffles and Bittersweet, but didn't know about Michael Mischer. I'll be checking that out pronto!



Anonymous said...

Stumptown is our absolute favorite -- and we live in Seattle! (GASP!) You can order it online, too. : )


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