Ask An Expert: PORTLAND

 In this monthly series, I ask local food and drink experts in various cities around North America to share their insight and appetite. 

*For all entries in the Ask An Expert series, click here

Portland

If there’s one word that makes a locavore salivate as much as freshly harvested heirloom tomatoes, it’s Portland. Pavlov’s law is in full force here – the word itself conjures up instinctive notions of fresh roasted coffee, artisan ice cream, full-flavour microbrews, hand-formed cheeses, self-cured (and butchered) meats, hazelnuts (sorry – filberts), an over-arcing organic, local and sustainable ethos and a collective and collaborative city that appreciates it all.

It’s not just for foodies either; the city takes pride in its heritage and culture. “The Nations largest craft market” (Portland Craft Market), and “The World’s Largest Independent Bookstore” (Powell’s City of Books) are here. Portland hosts the “largest children’s parade in America (Junior Rose Festival) as well as the “Largest gathering of Independent Brewers” (Oregon Brewers Festival).  Even their natural spaces are superlative – the “smallest dedicated park” (Mill Ends Park at 24 inches) and “America’s largest forested city wilderness” (Forest Park at 5000 acres).

For the food and beverage obsessive, however, there is a hallowed appreciation for Portland. Above any other city in North America, I’ve found Portland’s chefs and producers humble and modest about their culinary and spirited accomplishments. There’s a distinctly inherent inner pride in producing quality product, without sacrifice. Muddy boots are a status symbol, not a Ferrari.

As a local chef (who chooses to remain anonymous) told me, “if you’re making a living doing what you love, making enough to get by, pay the mortgage, save up a little bit here and there, that’s all you need. We’re not motivated by bigger, better, faster, more. We are looking for a balanced, sustainable, healthy and happy lifestyle, and I believe that comes across in our food and drink.”

What a concept.

I head down to Portland a few times a year to inspire my palate and renew my spirited soul via the craft distillery and thriving wine scene.

*Watch for Treve’s Distillery Row Redux update later this summer. 

It’s impossible for me to keep up with everything that’s going on – so let’s turn it over to the experts.

 

Mona Johnson

Communications Manager for Portland Farmers Market

Mona’s website

Twitter: @portlandfarmers

Instagram: @monajohnson

 

Best new restaurant in Portland (opened within last 12 months)?

Kachka & Lang Baan. A tie, because they couldn’t be more different!

Kachka is a Russian restaurant offering the complete ‘Ruskie Zakuski Experience’ – a parade of savory, smoked and pickled small plates to be enjoyed with vodka. Lots of vodka.

Lang Baan is a restaurant inside another restaurant (PaaDee).  Enter through the secret hidden door and you’ll be rewarded with nine courses of elegant variations on authentic Thai dishes that light up the palate with a full array of sweet, salty, sour, spicy flavors.

 

Your favourite standby, never disappointing restaurant/eatery?

Whether age 8 or 80, everyone (including me) can find something to love about Nostrana, the Italian-by-way-of-Pacific-NW restaurant led by six-time James Beard Award Finalist Chef Cathy Whims. Classic order: Insalata Nostrana (like a Caesar made with radicchio) and a Margherita pizza topped with arugula.

 

Best spot for quick bite (food trucks suggestions welcome)?

Nong’s Khao Man Gai is a food cart serving one dish only: chicken and rice.  What’s so special about this chicken and rice?  Nong’s take on Hainanese chicken is poached in aromatic herbs and served with rice that has been cooked in the fragrant poaching broth. It is served wrapped up in a tidy paper package with sliced cucumbers, sprigs of cilantro and a flavor-packed sauce of fermented beans, ginger and chilis.

 

Best place to fuel your caffeine habit?

In a city brimming with top notch coffee roasters and cafés, Coava stands out for its insistence on single-origin sourcing, careful small-batch roasting and its gorgeous, sleek industrial space.

 

Best bar seat in Portland?

At Expatriate you get double the bar/star power: beautifully crafted cocktails by barman extraordinaire Kyle Webster and Southeast Asian “drinking snacks” from his wife, James Beard Award-winning chef, Naomi Pomeroy.

 

Hot ‘hood in town for food & drinks?

All roads lead to SE Division.  In the past few years, this single street has become Portland’s restaurant row where diners can find everything from fish-sauce wings and pizza bianca to bhel puri and olive oil ice cream.

 

Favourite local brewery?

Upright Brewing is known for their saisons, which combine French and Belgian farmhouse brewing techniques with local Oregon hops and grains. They also have a rotating cast of seasonal brews ranging from Oyster Stout to White Truffle Gose.  Enjoy Upright brews at their subterranean tap room or—bonus!—at the two restaurants co-owned by brew-master Alex Ganum: Grain & Gristle and Old Salt Marketplace.

 

Most welcome trend in Portland dining?

Pop-up dining opportunities abound in Portland. For those unfamiliar, this may be a one-time or recurring dinner or event that “pops up” in an existing restaurant or other venue.  Whether put on by an established chef exploring a new cuisine, a newcomer building buzz and hoping to open their own restaurant or a food professional highlighting seasonal glory at a farm, pop-ups make for singular experiences that are both fun and fleeting.

 

Your one favourite local ingredient?

Impossible to choose one!  Portland is blessed with incredible farmers, agricultural bounty and a long growing season.  How about one ingredient per season?

Spring: Fava Beans

Summer: Tomatoes, tomatoes, tomatoes!

Autumn: Chanterelles

Winter: Chicories

 

Mike Thelin

Food Industry Consultant, Co-Founder, Feast Portland 

Twitter: @mikethelin

 

Best new restaurant in Portland (opened within last 12 months)?


Lang Baan
at PaaDee is a restaurant within a restaurant—a backroom-dining oasis at a popular neighborhood Thai restaurant that features world-class multi-course tasting menus for a steal of a price. This restaurant epitomizes the new bold direction young chefs are taking in Portland.

 

 

Your favourite standby, never disappointing restaurant/eatery?

Navarre is a love-it or hate-it sort of place, but place me strongly in the love-it camp. This quirky and highly personal neighborhood restaurant and wine bar features an ever-changing menu of rustic, regional, and religiously seasonal European food with one of the best wine lists in town. I never tire of Navarre. It’s that old, eccentric friend that always solid but never predictable.

 

Best spot for quick bite (food trucks suggestions welcome)?

For quick and healthy with a lot of soul, you can’t beat Nong’s Khao Man Gai—the Portland food cart that sells just one dish—Thai chicken and rice. Note—the new bricks and mortar spot features additional menu items.

Most exciting winelist in Portland right now? 

Wine-service at DOC is an education on every visit. It’s not the largest list, but it has it where it counts.

 

Best place to fuel your caffeine habit?

I’ve been a Stumptown devotee for more than a decade, and the location at the Ace Hotel is my go-to spot, but I also love Coava for pour over and Heart for one of my favorite espresso blends.

 

Best bar seat in Portland?

Stake claim to one of the dark corner tables at Pepe Le Moko, and stay there as long as you can. You won’t want to leave.

 

Hot ‘hood in town for food & drinks?

With the likes of Pok Pok, Roman Candle, Ava Genes, Pine State Biscuits just to name a few, you just can’t beat Division Street. It is Champs-Elysées of Portland food, and that isn’t going to change anytime soon.

 

Favourite local winery?

There are too many great local wines to pick one, but do check out the new Allied Works designed Sokol Blosser winery and tasting room outside of Dundee. It has raised the bar immensely

 

Favourite local brewery?

Portland has more breweries than any city in the world—not just per capita.  To pick one would be impossible.

 

Favourite local distillery?

 House Spirits and Aria are my local faves, but there’s something new all of the time.

 

Most welcome trend in Portland dining?

The success of underground and backroom dining rooms like Holdfast Dining and Lang Baan shows that Portland is embracing the avant-garde and experimental like never before. This is not only going to drastically change Portland dining over the next five years, it sends a strong message to younger chefs wanting to break from the mold.

 

Your one favourite local ingredient?

Oregon berries are without equal.

 

Lucy Burningham

Food, beer and travel writer

Website

Twitter: @lucyburningham

Instagram: @lucyburningham

 

 

Best new restaurant in Portland (opened within last 12 months)?

I’d say Ava Gene’s, but I think it falls outside of the 12 month window.

 

Your favourite standby, never disappointing restaurant/eatery?

Navarre for dinner.

 

Best spot for quick bite (food trucks suggestions welcome)?

It’s almost a cliché, but Nong’s Khao Man Gai cart. Her singular dish is the best kind of comfort food.

 

Best place to fuel your caffeine habit?

Coava Coffee

 

Best bar seat in Portland?

Clyde Common

 

Hot ‘hood in town for food & drinks?

Division Street is where it’s happening, especially when it comes to great beer stops: Apex, Imperial Bottle Shop and Taproom, Victory Bar and Bar Avignon.

 

Favourite local winery?

I’m excited about all the new urban wineries in town, especially Cyril’s at Clay Pigeon Winery and the Southeast Wine Collective.

 

Favourite local brewery?

How about my favorite new brewery? That would be Ecliptic Brewing, where the beers from brewing genius John Harris are always spot on. I liked the Rigel Sparkling Ale, which was made with Riesling grape juice, and the Spica Hefepils. Plus the understated astronomy theme speaks to me.

 

Favourite local distillery?

Clear Creek. I will never forget tasting the Douglas Fir eau de vie for the first time.

 

Most welcome trend in Portland dining?

Vegetable love. It’s been fun living in Porkland, but I’m excited to see the pork belly fetish being overshadowed by perfectly executed vegetable dishes. For example, Ava Gene’s.

 

Your one favourite local ingredient?

Right now it’s Oregon strawberries, but talk to me in late summer/early fall and I’ll be gushing about fresh Oregon hops. Fresh hop beer season is one of my favorite times of year.

 

Jason French

Chef, Bon Vivant, Owner of Ned Ludd-An American Craft Kitchen and soon to open Elder Hall

Twitter: @jasonfrench

 

Best new restaurant in Portland (opened within last 12 months)?

Kachka

 

Your favourite standby, never disappointing restaurant/eatery?

Olympic Provisions SE, Ava Genes

 

Best spot for quick bite (food trucks suggestions welcome)?

OSO, Boke Bowl, Nong’s

 

Best place to fuel your caffeine habit?

Coava

 

Best bar seat in Portland?

Horseshoe Bar at Angel Face

 

Hot ‘hood in town for food & drinks?

NE

 

Favourite local winery?

Matello

 

Favourite local brewery?

The Commons

 

Favourite local distillery?

Bull Run

 

Most welcome trend in Portland dining?

Better Service

 

Your one favourite local ingredient? 

Hazelnuts

Written By:

Treve Ring is a wine writer, editor, judge, consultant and certified sommelier, and has been with EAT Magazine for over a decade. In addition to her work with EAT, she is a Wine Critic and National Judge for WineAlign, ...

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