|Technicolor display case at Voodoo Doughnuts|
Portland, Oregon is one of my favorite places. I love the hip vibe, the green parks, the rain. I love the light rail and the teeming masses of people always surging through Powell’s City of Books. And I really love the food.
On this visit, I was especially excited about food carts. According to the Food Carts Portland blog, there are about 600 licensed food carts in the city, serving everything from Laotian sausages to fish and chips to… waffle cones filled with food?
Somehow, I wound up only taking pictures of food carts I didn’t actually try. I did try a few though, mostly at the annual Bite of Oregon festival. The standout for me was 808 Grinds, which served Hawaiian food. Arne and I shared a combo plate with pulled pork, rice, macaroni salad, and teriyaki chicken. There was a wonderful herbal flavor to the chicken – it was not your average teriyaki. A grilled local-foods PBJ with hazelnut butter, Marionberry jam, and Rogue blue cheese was pretty special too.
I also tried my first Korean taco, and was rather disappointed. I’ve heard rapturous reports about them, but really, I didn’t find that bulgogi and kimchee tasted that great in a corn tortilla.
On the evening when I took these food-cart pictures, we ate at one of my favorite restaurants in the world: Pok Pok. I have wonderful memories of visiting Pok Pok when it was little more than a roadside stand with a tiny seating area covered with plastic sheeting to protect diners from the rain – which was quite appropriate, since Pok Pok serves Thai street food. Amazing, amazing food. Choosing from their menu is agonizing, because almost every item sounds life-changingly good. And one of them just may be: the wings.
I dream about Ike’s Vietnamese Fish Sauce Wings. They are sweet with palm sugar, salty from fish sauce, fragrant with garlic and herbs, crispy, juicy, and… unbelievable. If you are ever in Portland, promise me you will get to Pok Pok, stand in a 90-minute line if you have to, and eat these wings. Really. I mean it. Promise.
While we’re talking about fried things, let me tell you about Voodoo Doughnut. The first thing you may notice about Voodoo Doughnut is the line. It stretches out the door and down the block. At times like these, I remember a piece of advice from a food travel book I read once: When you see a really long line, get in it. It will be worth it.
So we got in the line and admired the gold-painted, glitter-coated bricks of the building, and in not all that long, we could see the menu through the doors. We had time to dither, and finally settled on a Portland Cream, a Maple Bacon Bar, and a Triple Chocolate Penetration. And a cup of coffee for Arne.
The Triple Chocolate Penetration – topmost in the photo – was covered in Cocoa Puffs. It was a surprisingly satisfying combination, with the puffs contributing both crunch and a nice malted flavor. The Portland Cream was really a Boston Cream, only the best I have ever tasted, with lots of rich pastry cream and a heavy mantle of very chocolaty icing.
And the Maple Bacon Bar… oh, the Maple Bacon Bar. Its impressive amounts of very sweet, very rich, very maple-y icing exploded with the salty meaty bacon, with a solid foundation of yeasted doughnut. Not for the faint of heart.
After this breakfast, we noticed Voodoo Doughnut boxes all over downtown for the rest of the day. A popular place, and with reason!
Let me digress for just a moment from food, so you all can celebrate with me. Here you see the roadside 24-Hour Church of Elvis, at which my sweetie and I renewed our vows on our 17th anniversary for the low, low price of 25 cents. The computer screen behind the window on the right did the honors. We declared our love, swore that we did not believe in the “Elvis Is Dead” scam, and were wed by the power vested in an aging computer screen. Pure romance!
Later in the day, we continued our anniversary celebration at Beast. (Thanks, Angela, for the recommendation!) The chef at Beast is Naomi Pomeroy, a finalist in Top Chef Masters. Tucked into a side street in a residential neighborhood, Beast is unlike any restaurant I had been to before. The room is dominated by an open kitchen. Guests are seated at two seating times at one of two long, communal tables, and everyone is served the same menu.
I nabbed a seat facing the kitchen, of course.
As you wait for all the diners to arrive and things to get underway, you can entertain yourself watching prep work in the kitchen and reading the food-related quotes chalked on the black walls. A favorite of mine was “There is no sight on Earth more appealing than the sight of a woman making dinner for someone she loves.”
We had a great time chatting with the other two couples at our end of the table, also out-of-towners; one couple was from Austin and one from Boston. The only problem was all the talk made it harder to concentrate on the food!
It was really fun to watch the bustle in the kitchen, and see the plates come together.
I don’t have many pictures of the meal, because it was rather dark in the restaurant and I didn’t want to disturb the other diners with my camera flash. I made an exception, though, for the gorgeous charcuterie plate above. This was the part of the meal I had been looking forward to most, and it was my favorite part of a delicious six-course repast. Clockwise from 2:00: Chicken liver mousse on leaf lard cracker, pickled green strawberry and chard stem, steak tartare and quail egg on toast, pork pate en croute, cornichon and grainy mustard, slices of locally made chorizo, and finally the divine foie gras bon-bon with sauternes gelee, which we were advised to eat last. In the center, a palate-cleansing fennel salad.
Oh, my. I was so sad when I ate my last bite from that plate.
I have saved dessert for last, though we didn’t do so in Portland. At lunchtime on our anniversary, peckish but not exactly hungry, and knowing we’d be eating a six-course meal for dinner, we stumbled across Cacao. And we decided we were grown-ups and could have chocolate for lunch if we wanted.
We chose the tasting flight of drinking chocolates and a Michel Cluizel raspberry chocolate. I love Michel Cluizel, but the raspberry chocolate paled next to the drinking chocolates – essentially very concentrated, not-too-sweet hot chocolate. They were astonishing. Switching back and forth between the 60% cacao, 72% cacao, and Mayan (with cinnamon and a bit of red chile) varieties, my favorite was whichever was in my mouth at the moment. Really amazing stuff.
And last, with a wistful sigh, I will mention Pix Patisserie. I am in love with Pix Patisserie. It’s not uncommon for Arne or me to say in the evening, “You know where I want to go tonight? …Pix.” Which is sad, because Pix is in Portland, and we usually are not.
The world needs more places like Pix Patisserie. Pix is a cool, fun hangout with the feel of an upscale bar. But instead of serving primarily alcohol, they focus on… dessert.
After dithering over the selection of gorgeous treats, we shared a fruity Ghetto Cake (named for the similarity of the word “Ghetto” to “Gateau”). Arne had a beautiful cappuccino, and I had a rich dessert wine (Domaine de Demoiselles, Riversaltes Ambré). We relaxed, and people-watched, and left with a bag of pates de fruits and the most delicious macarons I’ve ever had – sad to go, but knowing one important thing:
We’ll be back.
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