Eating PortlandTHIS NORTHWEST CITY HAS ONE OF THE MOST VIBRANT FOOD SCENES IN THE U.S.
Portland is known for its bike paths and hiking trails. I appreciate its outdoorsy life style and the newly expanded Japanese Garden is not to be missed; but the truth is I came to Portland to eat.
Portland is one of our most vibrant food cities, due to an influx of ambitious chefs, agricultural bounty, and the spectacular Willamette Valley wine country within an hour’s drive. It’s also home to brewers and bakers, coffee roasters and chocolate makers, doughnuts and distillers. Over a long weekend it’s possible to sample the artisanal booze, craft beer, and fabled local berries, visit the buzziest restaurants, and taste some world class wines.
Attracted by Portland’s pioneering spirit, Chef Vitaly Paley became a pioneer himself when he opened Paley’s Place in 1995. “There are no staunch traditions or rituals of any type that we need to speak to like in the South where you cook jambalaya or gumbo one way,” he says. “We just have a bunch of great ingredients and make it up as we go.”
Last year, drawing on his own Russian heritage, he originated a spectacular Russian Tea with samovar service in the Heathman Hotel’s two-story wood-paneled Grand Tea Court. A three tiered stand of sweet and savory treats including grandmother Paley’s Steopka, a sour cream and walnut cake, is accompanied by teas from the locally revered Steven Smith Teamaker. This is one of the few places in Portland where it feels right to dress up.
Get back in your jeans and head out to Pastrami Zombie, one of the best of Portland’s 600 food trucks. Native Texan Melissa McMillan makes a ‘kick ass” pastrami sandwich from meat she smokes, roasts, and cures in-house.
Continuing with other great chefs, a night at Peter Cho’s Korean Han Oak is magical from the moment you step into the courtyard. At meat centric Ox, Greg Denton and Gabrielle Quinonez fire up an Argentine Grill while over at vegan Farm Spirit, chef Aaron Adams serves no meat at all. Chef Troy MacLarty says his Bollywood Theater “saves you the plane ticket to India.” The xurros at 180, so named for the frying temperatures of the Spanish doughnuts, will transport you to Madrid. Chef Gregory Gourdet conjures Asia at Departures, the sexy rooftop restaurant and lounge at the ultra-modern Nines Hotel. And chef Earl Ninsom reinterprets his Thai heritage at Langbaan.
You can’t help but love Portland’s entrepreneurial artisans, many located within walking distance of each other in the Central Eastside. In 2011 Ben Jacobsen started Jacobsen Salt, now sold nationally, hauling salt water in the back of his pickup truck from Netarts Bay. Salumist Elias Cairo put Olympia Provisions on the map as Oregon’s first USDA approved salumeria. Sarah Hart was inspired to start making her delectable Alma chocolates in 2005 because she couldn’t find a decent chocolate Easter bunny.
It’s hard to miss at any of the nearby wineries, but it’s easy to concentrate in a small area around Dundee. Domaine Serene has spectacular views and its 2014 Evenstad Reserve Chardonnay was named best white wine of 2016 by Wine Spectator. Domaine Drouhin carries on an old French family Burgundy tradition; Argyle Winery will put the sparkle in any party. And at neighboring Oregon Olive Mill at Red Ridge the only olive oil in the state is being milled.
“If I had a crystal ball 20 years ago,” says Vitaly Paley “this is what I would have seen.”