It’s official: I am head over heels for Portland. The people are warm and friendly, the scenery’s spectacular (Fir trees! Mt. Hood! Columbia River!) and the arts are alive and well. But we’re really here for the food, yes? Yes, indeed.
Even the most casual observers of Portland’s food scene will first notice the trucks, mostly because they’re everywhere. Semi-permanent assemblies (or “pods” in the PDX vernacular) of food carts are rounded up on street perimeters, corralled in parking lots and wedged along the riverfront, on any sliver of tarmac large enough to accommodate a kitted-out Airstream. Yakisoba, schnitzel, tamales, crêpes, Southern soul food: Portland’s streets look like a UN assembly of ethnic eats and gourmet-grub-on-wheels.
Other field notes include an abundance of stellar craft beers and ethereal Willamette Valley pinot noir, and the city’s deeply entrenched farm-to-table ethos, with humanely raised meats and shout-outs to purveyors on every menu. They’ve been teased about getting a shade too precious about it (and hey, I’m writing from San Francisco here), but the bounty of the Pacific Northwest rightfully invokes a profound sense of pride and stewardship.
Our first night in, my cousin booked us a table at Grüner, a downtown spot with a sleek aprés-ski interior and Alpine menu (Alsatian flatbreads, house-made sausages, Hungarian-style chicken), and afterwards we painted the town red with a little help from the Ninkasi Brewing Company and some newly minted friends. (One of whom, I might add, was a lettuce farmer in a knit cap. It was all very Portland.)
Next day, after a spin through the art museum, we hopped the bus (Portland’s public transit system gets high marks) to lunch at much-loved Pok Pok, the groovy southeast Asian place that I’d read about a million years ago in Gourmet (RIP, sigh) and wanted to try ever since. Let’s just say I haven’t had Thai food of that caliber and quality since my honeymoon. In Thailand. You should go, and when you do, promise me you’ll order the fish sauce wings and a keffir lime-infused G&T. You’re welcome!
On Sunday, after a Stumptown cappuccino and a wander through some vintage shops, we made our way to brunch at Beast, a well-regarded little eatery with two communal tables and a fixed menu that give the place the air of a chic-and-easy dinner party. (My husband cackled all through brunch that someone had hijacked my brain and designed a restaurant: fresh dahlias, bentwood chairs, enamel-handled Lagouile knives, an all-female brigade.) The food was flawless, with a menu of plum clafoutis, poached duck egg on savory hash, frizzy salad with a skinny selection of cheeses and a diabolical chocolate truffle cake sauced with gingery-dark caramel. It was a remarkable meal, refined but utterly lacking in pretense. Much like the city itself.