I was lucky enough to spend the last weekend in Portland, OR while attending the International Food Blogger Conference. This was a pretty neat experience - I've never been together with so many like-minded foodies in one place before! Plus, there was an epic, epic amount of free stuff.
Sadly, there was no video camera on me when I brought this back up to my partner-in-food-and-life in the hotel room. Admittedly, there was some very delicious Oregon wine consumed prior to visiting the gift suite... on a very empty and tired stomach.
Me: A cutting board SHAPED LIKE A PIG! FREE!
Me: An avocado slicer! Free!
PIFAL: Why did you get a cheese slicer?
Me: I don't know... but it was free!
PIFAL: Hemp seeds?
Me: Yup. Also free!
PIFAL: You don't even like black rice!
Me: I know... but it was free!!
I might have bounced on the bed in excitement. We had to buy another bag. Yes, there is a lot of other free stuff there plus other chocolates and drinkables not pictured because they were already consumed or packed away before this photo was taken. (I clearly got into the wrong kind of food blogging... my fellow recipe bloggers were confused by my excitement at free stuff.)
Check out my full post about the conference experience over at tastebudguides.com/news!
I have to thank mr. coffee crew for the hot tip on flying to Portland being the cheapest option. We left Victoria at 7 am, were on the public tram by 10:30, and in the hotel lobby before 11 am... including a stop over in Vancouver! Of course, a 7am flight is not pretty because it means getting up before 5, but still better than the epic ferry dance followed by hours and hours of driving!
Portland is an amazing city as a foodie tourist! Transportation on the light rail within the downtown core is free, and nothing is very far away. Of course, there was delicious food at the conference, including a breakfast sponsored by the pork board with delicious bacon, a banquet dinner with locally-sourced ingredients and several receptions and parties. But there was also Portland food! Let's talk about Portland food, shall we?
Possibly the worst photo I have ever taken of food, but trust me when I say it was delicious! Savoury and filling and exactly what I needed after being awake since 4:30 and consuming an epic amount of drink but not nearly enough food...
Clyde Common is in the Ace Hotel, which is a hotel chain that appeals to my inner hipster in a big way. Their bar is one of the most famous in the city, although we found the experience on a packed Friday night when we were tired to be a bit overwhelming! I confess that I was so tired and hungry that I don't really remember our drinks much, but I would visit on a slower night to try again.
The Central Bar
My partner-in-food-and-life sent me a message to change our plans right before we were supposed to meet. He had stumbled upon Central by accident, drawn in by the Campari umbrellas outside. It wasn't on any of our 'recommended' lists, but it was probably our favourite cocktail experience. The service was a little light, not sure if they thought we were holding out for happy hour (we weren't) but we had to flag people down despite being the only people in the place. Still, the cocktail list was pretty stellar, the space was fantastic and the appy we had was delicious. We will be back!
Brunch is apparently as in high demand in Portland as it is in Victoria, but my p.i.f.a.l. did some epic scouting while I was conferencing to find the best, non-douchey, non-line up place for breakfast. The portions were perfect (no overloading with size or potatoes on the side!), the prices were great and the food came up quickly. The staff were in a tizzy because their payment and ordering system was down, but did a good job regardless.
Boar Sausage Burrito
As a spice-centric person, the fact that this came with a side of dipping salsa made me very happy! The flavour on the boar sausage added an interesting level of gameyness to the burrito that was a welcome change from breakfast sausage flavour.
My p.i.f.a.l. was recovering from some super-cheesiness the night before, so opted for no cheese, but added bacon. The result was the perfect start to an action-packed morning romp around the city!
I feel like Dechutes might be a beer-lovers mecca... just look at those taps! They actually have two breweries, one in the building in Portland, and one in Bend. Apparently the water in Bend is amazing, so there are quite a few breweries in the city. Certainly adding this to the list of mini-side trips the next time we're in town! I really liked that they had small sample options, although next time I would go for the samplers, as they seemed like better value than the 3oz pours if you were having more than a few.
I started with the red wheat ale, as it was on the cask and I was feeling wheaty. A pretty 'drinkable' beer, nothing that really stood out but I could drink a lot of it without blinking too much!
This beer really stood out - I have had white IPAs before, but this one had the perfect balance of hoppiness to wheat beer. It might not have been 'technically perfect' but it was very, very delicious!
My p.i.f.a.l. needed a little help with this one - it was a strong beer, imperial style. It was the special edition release for the 24th anniversary. Lots of super-roasted malt flavours, and a glorious thick mouth feel. (Can you tell I've started training to become a beer judge? Look out, beer geekery will be ensuing in the coming year!).
Saucebox was the start of our evening 'restaurant crawl' as we attempted to stuff as much Portland into our bellies in one evening. I highly recommend it! Saucebox was on the list as a result of recommendations from some twitter-foodies. I'm very glad we visited!
If you haven't heard of Portland's legendary happy hour, this is a good introduction. The menu was divided up into appetizers priced between $1 and $5. Select drinks were also on special. I am sad we only made it to one happy hour, but next time we will be much more organized!
Thai Basil Gimlit
Basil and gin go so well together, and thai basil is no exception! On a drinks list of mostly froofy sweet drinks, I was happy to find something that appealed to my savoury cocktail preference. The perfect drink to start the evening!
This drink was strong. More like a kick in the balls than a kick in the teeth! Still, delicious - although I only had a sip.
I was excited to see kimchi on the menu. It sounded like it was made in-house, which is neat. You don't see that too often here! It was mostly squash, not cabbage, but done in a kimchi sauce so I don't know how 'authentically' it was prepared, but for $1 on the side it was a nice addition to our meal.
Although large, these felt a little over priced for the $4 menu (especially since other $4 menu items included an entire plate of chicken pad thai!). They weren't my favourite, but were certainly meat-tastic!
I was blown away by this. For the price, I was expecting a mini-burger, but instead got a giant burger, with bacon and cheese. I would hit that up again in a heartbeat!
This was the best thing I have tasted in a long time, and the recommendation that brought us to the restaurant in the first place. A flavourful dashi broth with brussel sprouts pan-fried until carmelized on the outside, topped a soft egg. So savoury and flavourful, I have a feeling I'm going to become obsessed with replicating this at home!
This restaurant was neatly right around the corner from Saucebox! How convenient. Little Bird was recommended to us by several people. It is the little-sister restaurant of Le Pigeon, which we didn't have a chance to visit. It was pretty much stereotypical Portland. We might have been on an episode of Portlandia (it was this close to the chicken scene...). I had trouble keeping a straight face. It was lovely though. French and delicious and fancy, although a little on the pricier side of the menu.
My p.i.f.a.l. ordered a 'Vesper' from their small but 'classic inspired' list of drinks. I was too distracted by feeling all Portland-ish and deciding what to order when the drink arrived to really take notes, but it went down well.
The Noveau Manhattan
Despite my hatred for bourbon, I was intrigued by the substitution of bordeaux wine/benedictine for vermouth. I wouldn't say it tasted as dry as a Manhattan, but it was more my style. It went well with our appetizers.
There were two kinds of oysters to choose from, but we opted for the Washington ones to start. We got the story of them - bed raised, less briney and thicker-shelled. They were quite delicious, and despite the price ($2.75! So used to buck a shuck it kind of hurt...) we ordered a few more and tried some of the Cortez island ones (thinner shelled and line-raised). I preferred the Washington ones, but they were both delicious!
Steak tartare seemed to be all the rage in Portland, which is funny because it's not on the menu here much at all, but I had it a total of 4 times in one weekend! This one was a little under-seasoned - I suspect they were counting on the chives on top to provide the zing, but they were quite neutral and didn't add much to the flavour. Still, it was very nicely prepared and presented.
Oven and Shaker
At the recommendation of the waiter at Little Bird, we tried out Oven & Shaker. Afterwards we found out it was started by the founder of locally-made Aviation Gin. The space was quite neat - really big for a Portland restaurant. They primarily serve brick-oven pizza with good cocktails. Tables were primarily communal, with a raised section for your pizza on top, as well as a large bar. They were pretty hopping for a Sunday night! By this point in the night we were a bit silly, and the light was fading, so my pictures are once-again sub par. Oh well.
This came topped with a proscuitto-wrapped cherry (I could see the grease on the top of the drink when I went to take the photo!). Delicious!
The Lost Cosmo
I never would order a cosmo normally, but I liked the idea of the lost cosmo... with fresh raspberries and lemon juice and aviation gin! It wasn't too sweet, thankfully, and hit the spot after all the drier drinks earlier.
The charcuterie was very good! Several different kinds of cured meat, a little sauce and some soft cheese that had a kind of blue cheese taste to it. The bread was deep-fried, making it kind of churro-esque.
The last of the charcuterie plate was turned into a mini charcuterie sandwich. NOM!
We decided that despite mixed reviews from foodies, we had to try some Voodoo Donuts before we left. So we got in line at 10 pm and waited not very long to get inside. Somehow we ended up with a dozen, which is Ridiculous, but our goal was to try as many as possible. Of course, it meant that we only had a bite of each, so I was wishing we had gotten them earlier so we at least could have hosted a voodoo tasting party in our room with other bloggers!
It's impossible to remember all the different varieties we ordered. I was impressed by the cruellers, (although they are pretty close to the recipe that I make at home) and some of the more creative ones were kind of fun. I wished that there was more jelly in the voodoo one, and the apple fritter was almost as big as my head! The maple bacon was more novelty than tasty, but still fun.
This is what the aftermath of a voodoo donut party looks like...
I was surprised to see how much Stumptown is The local roaster in Portland. In Victoria we have so many... I kind of expected it to be the same, but Stumptown really took over. There are several locations - one in the Ace Hotel and one down the block from Voodoo. The original location - near Voodoo - looks exactly like the original Habit (spookily so!).
The coffee profile also tastes a lot like Habit coffee. Very neutral in flavour, with not a lot of standout characteristics (especially if you compared it to the earthy blend of Fantastico or the licoricey blend from Discovery).
What I really loved and adored was their crockery! Picking up the saucer to find 'good luck' was startling and brought a smile to my face. Noticing the stumptown branding on the inside of the rim was another moment of joy! I'm surprised the same details aren't mimicked anywhere in Victoria...
Last but not least, we couldn't visit Portland without making a stop at the legendary food carts! They weren't quite what I was expecting. They tended to be clustered around the edges of parking lots, and looked like they had been there forever! Still, you couldn't beat the price or convenience! My meal, including a san pellegrino, was $6.50! It was pretty tasty, although simpler than I was expecting. It kept me going until a late dinner after arriving back in Victoria, so I was thankful!