Dates traveled: 5/19/16 – 5/22/16
Hi, friends! If you know me, you already know about my undying love for Portland. I mean, between the quirky selection of vegetarian friendly food carts, countless amounts of craft beer, and Powell’s bookstore, what isn’t there to love? And as if Portland wasn’t amazing enough, it just so happens that two of my favorite humans, and one of my favorite dogs, live there! Do you see why it’s so easy to love?
Nacira and I met in 2009 and I thank her every chance I get for popping her head through my bedroom door that faithful day in September. She has become one of my best friends and has remained a constant in my life during the good days and the dark ones, through first loves and broken hearts, from the first shot of tequila to the last dance of the night. She has found love and happiness with man named Tim, who is equally as remarkable as her, and the two currently reside in Portland with their adorable pup, Lenny.
In May, Tejinder and I traveled up to the PNW to spend a weekend with Nacira, Tim and Lenny, enjoying all the tasty dishes time allowed us. Lots of storytelling, laughs and, apparently, dance moves, were shared in between plates of some of the most delectable and creative food I’ve had.
Tasty n Sons: Located in North Portland, Tasty n Sons is a lively brunch spot serving the classics with an inventive twist. Dishes are served with the intention that diners order several plates of food to share among the group.
We started things off with their Dutch baby. Topped with a lemon curd and raspberry jam, the warm eggy crepe served in a cast iron skillet melted in my mouth leaving me with a smile that stretched from ear to ear. It was a little lighter than your typical Dutch baby with subtle hits of lemon and just the right amount of sweetness.
Next came the scafata. Can we just take a moment to appreciate their scafata? The sautéed spring veggies dripping with the yolk of a perfectly cooked egg inspired me not to just be a better cook, but a better human being. The tender crunch of the asparagus paired with the vibrant flavor of lemon juice was a delicious combination that left me a changed woman.
Following the scafata came the frittata which was your typical spring veggie egg cake. What made this dish noteworthy enough to end up on ElaOutLoud you may ask? Oh, you know, it was just topped with a chunk of fried feta, nbd! I had a few bites of the frittata but you know I devoured half of the fried feta! In my defense, calories don’t exist on vacation.
On deck were the potatoes bravas which took me back to nights in Cordoba where my two options for drunchies were tortilla or patatas bravas. True to the Spanish dish, the potatoes were crispy on the exterior and soft and steamy on the inside. Each bite was coated with the traditional sauce made up of tomatoes, vinegar, red pepper and a variety of spices and topped with a fried egg and aioli. It wasn’t as spicy as I remembered but nostalgic and satisfying nonetheless.
We left Tasty n Sons drunk with good food complete with grins across our faces.
Great Notion: A short walk away from Salt + Straw on NE Alberta resides Great Notion, a tap-room specializing in New England style IPAs and eclectic sour ales. We originally came to try a fleet, which we did, but it was just after we sat at our table on the back patio when it happened. The dark, aged gates of paradise opened up and cloud of smoke billowed out carrying with it the sweet smell only seasoned wood chips can create. Through the smoke, beautiful pieces of pink salmon peaked through, tantalizing all of my taste buds at once. I was in a smoked salmon spell and even though I was still full from breakfast, I knew what had to be done: I had to order the smoked salmon sandwich. I marveled at the crispy bread that encased the succulent salmon and it’s fixings: tartar sauce, capers, tomatoes and salad greens. One bite and my senses were engulfed in each smoky note. The salmon was flaky yet juicy and had such a complex yet genuine flavor profile. Paired with criss cross fries, I left feeling extremely stuffed but it was worth every finger licking bite.
Pok Pok: Not your typical Thai spot, Pok Pok straddles the fine line between authentic and inventive Thai food. You will not see a hint of pad thai, pad kee mow or fried rice on their menu. In fact, the menu is so overwhelming it took us a solid amount of time to figure out what we wanted.
You’re probably thinking “why does Pok Pok sound so familiar?” Well boys and girls, because it was featured on the hit show Diner, Drive Ins and Dives. And if that doesn’t sound familiar, you should really spend a Saturday binge watching Food Network. On the show, the chief chef shows us how to make their famous spicy wings. Obviously, I wasn’t going to try the wings so Tejinder took one for the team and ordered six of their celebrated wings. According to him, it was a sweet, savory and spicy explosion in his mouth with every bite. The crispy, tempura battered chicken wings were glazed with a mixture of fish sauce, garlic and thai roasted chili paste. I was so curious why they had brought over a stack of napkins with the wings but after seeing his satisfied smile smothered with sauce, I immediately put two and two together.
After his first bite, last bite, every bite in between and to this day, Tejinder says they "were the best damn chicken wings" he's ever had.
Cascade Brewery Barrel House: As far as bars go, Cascade totally knocked all others out of the park. They take sour beers to a whole new level with tart, barrel aged beers that are fueled on the imagination and available resources of the Cascade Brewery owners. I was told that it is best to order samplers of multiple beers vs pints of one beer for two reasons: 1) they have a very diverse and intriguing selection of beers and 2) the have a very strong ABV percentage.
My favorite three were from their vintage aged barrel sour beers section. The Sloe-ji Berry had the tart yet sweet aftertaste you find in goji and other summer berries. L’orunge dujour had hints of oranges which I was shocked to find out because I hate oranges. I guess I’ll enjoy oranges three ways - with tequila, champagne and in beer, apparently. Bump n Rind, which was really fun to order after a few, is infused with watermelon which gives a fruity and summery flavor. It was so fun trying such inspired beer recipe. I bet the creative owners have a lot of fun testing various combinations.
Veritable Quandary: Our last morning in Portland, we gathered our hungover selves and headed to Vertiable Quandary for brunch. Since 1971, VQ has been serving a slice of “old Portland” in both their cuisine and their impressive 200 + wine selection. I didn’t realize what “old Portland” was until I soaked in the setting. VQ had an old school charm to it that was unlike anywhere I’ve seen in Portland. The glass walled dining hall stretched up towards the high ceilings providing a beautiful view of their outdoor patio. During the spring, it is bursting with buds and families enjoying a good meal but was just as beautiful in the rain. The setting was intimate and cozy, exactly what I wanted on a rainy hungover morning.
I ordered the veggie benedict – two timely poached eggs on top of a bed of roasted wild mushrooms and spinach topped with a creamy Hollandaise sauce all piled on top of two buttery biscuits. It was a very rich dish to have so early in the day but the flavorful spinach cut thru the heaviness with the right amount for freshness. With each bite, I tasted the silky smooth hollandaise sauce mixed with vibrant yolk of the poached egg, the savory, caramelized mushrooms playfully blended with the spinach, and the crunch of the biscuit responsible for holding all the goodness together. With a cup of tea and in the company of my favorite people, it was the complete recipe for a memorable meal.
Boxer Ramen: It rained pretty hard on our last day in Portland and nothing pairs better with a rainy day than a hot bowl of ramen. At Boxer Ramen on NE Alberta, we started off with okonomiyaki tots which is probably one of the best things to happen to tater tots since Napoleon Dynamite. In a hot skillet, came a heap of crispy tots coated in a creamy spicy tonkatsu sauce and topped with shredded nori. Typically a sauce served with breaded pork, tonkatsu sauce is a delicious mixture of ketchup, rice wine, soy sauce, Worcestshire, sugar, apple sauce, mustard and an assortment of spices. It was definitely as much of a flavor explosion as the ingredients elude.
We each got an order of ramen from their short and sweet menu. My vegetarian curry ramen came with the usual fixings but topped with an ingredient I’ve never come across before. There were flakes of what I thought was pepper floating atop my curry and when I dove in for the first slurp, this intense smoky flavor awoke my palette. Could it be liquid smoke? But in ramen? No, it can’t be! For the rest of the meal, I tried to decipher what that amazing flavor was and after the list bite, I was truly stumped. As the waiter came to take our bowls away, I asked him if they smoked any of the ingredients in my ramen. He told me it was mayu which gave the zest I’d spent my entire meal trying to pinpoint.
Mayu is black garlic oil that is the product of cooking grated garlic in oil until it is black in color. This condiment used in soups gives a bittersweet, smoky, garlicky aroma that adds extra dimension when used sparingly. It was interesting to learn that such a small addition to a very typical ramen dish elevated the flavor palette so drastically. I might just have to bring my own packet of mayu next time I grab ramen in SF.
Our time in Portland was spent in good company enjoying some seriously awesome food. I can’t think of a better way to spend a weekend with the people (and pup) I love.