Another November, another trip up to Portland - this time strictly for work, and in which I interview a potential replacement IT consulting group. They're pretty slick, know the printing biz real well, and offer a lot of good advice. Pretty stoked about that. Also got a good idea of what's going on in that office, talked tech shop, did some server & workstation maintenance, etc. Also managed not to keep working until there wasn't any work to do, which is a hard habit to break. Only worked one 12 hour day, then an 8 hour! Much improved over my 16 hour standards for such work.
On to the dining, which was the only "fun" thing I had energy for this time around (still fighting a mild cold and was under-dressed for the weather).
First, I'll start with the bad:
On these trips I make effort to get "bundles" with my room to save a bit of cash, usually getting the breakfast included and parking. On a busy work-trip, it pays to have breakfast right there, then scoot off to the office for immediate get-to-workness. This time it was a mistake. The vegetables in my omlete were rotten and the salsa was spoiled. Ick! Didn't really figure that out until I'd taken a few big bites, and paid for it over the next few hours in discomfort. Combine that with shoddy, almost non-existant internet in my room and it wasn't a good stay this time. Could be worse. We could have had two basketball teams staying on our floor... never again...
The fair-to-good was having lunch at the Heathman Hotel. I'd been there before, but I wanted to try their pictured dungeoness (dungeness?) crab salad with avocado, arugala and mango. Crab was fantastic, avocado was underripe - as was the mango - and the arugala didn't impress. They combined fall crab season with unseasonal fruits and bitter greens. Oh well. The drink was nice: Stone Rose. Also on the tart & bitter side, but it went well with the crab.
The good was lunch at Mother's Bistro. Portabello mushroom scramble was excellent, paired with hot apple cider. I'd certainly go back there for breakfast, and I already know the dinner's fantastic. However, I'd been there before so no surprises.
Also good was the Evil Jungle Noodles at Thai Peacock, nearby Powell's Books. It should have been listed as a curry dish, because the noodles were buried under the curry making me wonder if I'd ordered the wrong thing. Very tasty ... "orange" curry, like a cross between red and yellow. My co-worker warned me they'd be really hot, but as it turned out "medium" spicy = my take on "mild-medium". Which means it's safe for my more gringo-mouthed friends. Thai iced tea was a bit more creamy than I'm used to, and they have no brown rice. Minor points, but there you go.
The last bit of good was breakfast at Bread & Ink - one of Terra & my favorites to have Saturday breakfast at. Showed up a bit too early at 7:40, as they don't open until 8. First one in the door, I also encountered the problem with ordering one of the specials - they were still making it, and it'd be 20 minutes until it was ready. I got the Pancetta Strata with parmesan, spinach on top of a crust of grilled polenta. Side of fruit contained mango (ripe this time), pineapple, pear and melon. Comfort food, for sure, as it contained tons of creamy goodness!
The great was dinner at Toro Bravo, a Spanish-style tapas (Spanish & French, really) restaurant just under a mile up the block from my hotel. The location is sort of light commercial/single family homes off the main strip (MLK Jr.), and the space is nice. Sort of loud when full, and not a whole lot of seating. I got there at 6:30-40, and there was one table for 4 in the middle that wasn't empty. By 7:00, everywhere - including the bar - was full and there was a waiting list. Anyhow, for drink I got the Classic Lemoncello first. Too dry and flat for my taste, I'm used to having sharper & tarter lemon flavors. Next had a Pear Crusta, which was more my style (they blended the pear fresh) and fit better with the dishes I had.
Because they had such a wide variety of dishes, easily 30, I ordered the Chef's Taster menu ($25). You're taking a gamble, sure, but every item on the menu looked either good or something I was willing to take a risk for (duck eggs, for example) - except, perhaps, the foie-gras stuffed prunes. Sure enough, the first item I got was the French "Kisses" (brandy soaked prunes stuffed with foie-gras). I'm not an organ eater, and I'm not too pro on that sort of food, but I gave it a taste. I'm sure people who like foie-gras will enjoy them. Moving on, a much more "safe" salt cod fritters with garlic aioli. Good, and certainly Spanish - otherwise I'd use a different fish. Grilled bacon wrapped dates were fantastic, could have made a dessert out of those! They were drizzled in a molasses honey syrup, which balanced the salty, smokey flavors of the bacon and intensified the sweetness of the date. The sauteed spinach with pine nuts and golden raisins I've had many times before; good, but a rather standard dish. Also, the field greens with beets and hazelnuts... I'm sure hazelnuts were chosen for the "Europe"-ness. Good, but nothing to write more about.
Next up was the grilled shrimp (prawn, for its size) with chilies. One shrimp/prawn. For $9. I'm pretty sure there would be more if it wasn't on the tasting menu, but normally it was $9. Chili sauce, which tasted like maybe dried ancho or smoked chipotle - or a blend, did an excellent job flavoring the shrimp. Shell was still fully intact, with the legs, which is typical. No head, which I was greatful for - those you get in Spain. Not in Portland. Good! The last item on the service was the House Smoked Coppa Steak, with olive oil poached potatoes (nothing special) and chopped olives & salbitxada. I have no idea what the last item there is, but it tasted sort of like shallots. Worked very well with the olives, for sure, and the steak itself was also well tempered with the smokey flavor and the natural flavor of the meat. That seemed to be a popular item of the evening, as I'd heard many orders of that go through the kitchen from where I was - sitting right next to the order window.
Through that experience, I sat next to a couple who'd moved here from New Hampshire - John and Ann - for a 4 month stay (part of his job, I think). I'm pretty sure they'd started up a conversation with me in part because they found Portland to be very casual and relaxed, and it helped - I'm sure - that I'm a genial guy who has a warm smile. Also they had finished off a bottle of red wine. Anyway, great couple. They love to eat and have been following Yelp for places to eat on their drive from the East Coast here to Portland, so far having nothing but fantastic dining experiences. I, myself, stumbled upon this place via Chowhound forums looking for good places to dine solo. I'm glad I did!
Anyway, cupcakes were a bit hit & miss this time - for flavors my housemates would enjoy. We'll see how those go over, but it's not a trip to Portland without visiting Cupcake Jones. Lunch today will probably be nothing too special; probably the Flying Elephant because it's a tradition, although I may hit someplace in the Pearl District since I'll be there picking up the cupcakes anyway.
Happy Close Proximity to Thanksgiving Weekend, ya'll!