So I was up in Portland for a few days and felt the need to share.
Last time I was in Rip City was a whirlwind stop several years ago and I did not have the time the fully digest the culture but here's what I remember: ironic facial hair, provincial peeps, trees and beer. What's interesting is that nothing has changed in the above description and given that I should have been treated to ridiculously hyped up cuisine and culture that in reality is thoroughly average...yet the opposite proved to be true. Let me explain:
On the outside, Portland reminds me of San Francisco. In SF, everyone dresses the same, listens to the same music and praises the same restaurants. If you don't subscribe to the list, you might as well be from a leprosarium. While I respect the idea of the narrow-minded, powerful opinion - the basic fact of the matter is that with few exceptions, San Franciscans are culture morons who haven't said hello to good taste since Reagan was the HNIC.
You get my drift. I was expecting mediocrity from The City of Roses. Instead here's what I got:
First stop was Ha VL, a Vietnamese noodle joint on SE 82nd that Charlie (and old friend in these parts and a recent transplant to Portland) suggested I try.
Perusing the menu I quickly settled on the daily special, the yellow flat noodle soup - and how could I not have with the following listed as ingredients: steamed shrimp with coconut juice, baby pork ribs, steamed pork ham, shredded shrimp, rice cake and yellow noodles topped with mixed veggies and roaster peanuts.
A little too oily, but overall fairly delicious. After wolfing it down, I had a very pleasant conversation with the proprietor, Christina. She told me her story of being a boat refugee from Vietnam and eventually settling in Portland 30 years ago. She's had this joint for a few years now, and judging from the fact that it was pretty crowded by the time I left, it seems like she's doing well with it.
Sunday night was Pok Pok with Charlie, Hayden and Naomi. Chuckles has been talking this place up since he moved up north for six months now. And boy was I prepared to hate it. Some white dude who spends a few years travelling around SE Asia trying out street food starts up a stall that gets embraced by the hipsters and soon after opens a brick and mortar that becomes beloved by the so-called culinary gurus. The value of being a cynic is that when your presumptions turn out to be dead wrong, a special type of blissfulness sets in. Which is exactly what happened throughout my meal at Pok Pok. Fried catfish over vermicelli, wild prawns baked in a clay pot with pork belly and of course the famous fish sauce chicken wings. This is quality, quality food at the highest level. In fact, I was so elated afterwards that I was talked into going to Stripparaoke at Devil's Point (a mistake).
In case I haven't mentioned it round these parts, I don't much believe in breakfast served Stateside. I mean sure, every now and then I'ma need of a breakfast bagel from the Bagel Broker on Beverly or H and H in NYC, but generally speaking no one west of the Atlantic ocean really knows how to slow cook scrambled eggs. Steak and eggs? Honestly, what the fuck is that? So color me awestruck when I discover the best breakfast I've had since the three star (and 200 Euro) one I had at the Plaza Athenee shortly after Alain Ducasse took over the kitchen almost 10 years ago is located at some place called Tasty n Sons in Portland.
Marvel at the following - Burmese red pork stew with short grain rice and eggs two ways:
Shaksuka - red pepper and tomato stew with baked eggs and merguez sausage:
Polenta and sausage ragu with mozzarella and fried egg:
And finally breakfast dessert, biscuits and berries:
Hot frikkin damn this imaginative grub was good. The amazing part was that even though the above seems like the breakfast equivalent of watching an Ingmar Bergman film dead sober, it didn't feel nearly as heavy as a prototypical oily eggs and sausage breakfast does. It boggles my mind that an epic breakfast like this can't be found in Los Angeles. People embrace The Griddle and Home? Unreal. The only thing that comes close is the delicious Jar sunday brunch, but even that has half the inspiration and twice the price of the Tasty n Sons menu.
Last but not least, drove out to the Oregon coast and tried out the Bandon Fish Market in Old Bandon town.
Sampled the Alaskan halibut and the Dungeness crab and bay shrimp cocktail. Not mind-blowing but pretty damn good. Specially that fresh Dungeness...mmmm.
So, to review...Stumptown = awesome. Expectations blown completely out of the water. And I haven't even mentioned the three hours I spent grazing the literate buffet at the institution that is Powell's Books. The evening I relived my childhood at Ground Kontrol. Hiking through Forest Park, the largest forested city park in the nation. Can't wait to get back.
2738 SE 82nd Blvd, Suite 102
3226 SE Division St.
Tasty N Sons
3808 N. Williams
Bandon Fish Market
249 1st St. SE