Jolene Eats in Portland (Oregon): Part 1
If you read my Portland travel blog, you already know I became completely enamored with the quirky city of Portland and its Pacific Northwest charm. What I didn't include in that blog was my absolute surprise when encountering the incredible culinary scene Portland has to offer. By no means did we extensively experience the majority of what is available, but our experience was still unbelievable nonetheless.
Please note: This blog is going to be long and filled with photos! We ate so many great things - I want to make sure both my photos and language convey that.
Saturday, June 2, 2018
HEART COFFEE ROASTERS
Our first stop was Heart Coffee Roasters, to jump start our morning with caffeine and a snack before our drive to Multnomah Falls. I'd had this coffee shop on my list after seeing it pop up on countless blogs, and fortunately the Woodstock location was minutes from our Airbnb.
Heart Coffee has a wonderful laid-back vibe that was perfect for the beginning of our relaxing weekend. Natural light flooded the shop, and we were greeted by the temptation to buy coffee almost immediately upon entrance. I exercised self control (only to come back the next day) and headed straight to the counter to order a brewed coffee and a korvapuusti. No, I didn't know how to pronounce it but after asking what the cute swirly thing was, I had to have it.
Korvapuusti is a Finnish cinnamon roll spiced with cardamom and topped with pearl sugar. It was the perfect companion to my Ethiopia brew. We grabbed bar-style seating towards the back of the shop and enjoyed the warm sun while we prepared for our day.
multnomah falls lodge
Our "real" breakfast stop was unfortunately not as impressive, but I wasn't surprised. We drove out to Multnomah Falls and decided to eat something at the Multnomah Falls Lodge, a rustic dining spot often criticized as a tourist trap. Because we visited at the beginning of our trip, I was not as enraged as some of the customers who have left Yelp and TripAdvisor reviews. My expectations were low, and because they were, we didn't have a half bad time.
PRO TIP: SKIP OUT ON BREAKFAST IN THE CITY, LEAVE EARLIER, AND GET BREAKFAST HERE. IT'S NOT THE GREATEST OF ALL TIME, BUT YOU'LL FIND PARKING, SETTLE IN AND HAVE A MEAL TO FUEL YOU UP BEFORE HIKING MULTNOMAH AND FACING ALL OF THE TOURISTS.
I mean, how wrong can you go with two eggs? If I'm being honest, the best part of the Lodge is the ambience. We were bathed in beautiful morning light and enjoyed the rustic details of the place.
SALT & STRAW
We adventured through winding roads and beautiful views, and by mid-afternoon the sun was nearing scorching. Even as a Californian, the sun was intense for me. We still were not the hungriest (as we had eaten two small meals for breakfast), but decided ice cream was the perfect option for where we were in the day. Naturally, we stopped at Salt & Straw in the Alberta District. Everyone raves about Salt & Straw, but I was worried it would be over-hyped and leave me in want. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the hype is worth it, as was the line we waited in!
PRO TIP: EXPECT A LINE, AND BE ADVISED THAT SEATING IS LIMITED.
Jennifer and I didn't want to pick just one flavor, and we have vaguely similar tastes when it comes to food and sweets. The logical and cost-effective option was for us to split a flight, which is 4 scoops for $9. We gladly selected two flavors each and sat down at a communal table. Our four flavors were Chocolate Gooey Brownie, Coava Coffee with Cocanu Craque, Sea Salt with Caramel Ribbons, and Honey Lavender.
Chocolate Gooey Brownie
Salt & Straw's description: "An almost hot-chocolatey chocolate ice cream with chewy chocolate brownies made with homemade marshmallow fluff to give them that soft, freshly baked taste even when frozen in ice cream."
This chocolate was PHENOMENAL. I like a good, bitter chocolate and this satisfied my chocolate-tooth for sure. The brownies were totally chewy and there was a crispness to this flavor that didn't leave you feeling like you ate a bite of brownie mix.
Coava Coffee with Cocanú Craque
Salt & Straw's description: "This cold brew based ice cream made in partnership with Coava Coffee Roasters is light, fruity, and super-eatable; setting the stage to showcase one of the most intriguing candies in Portland called "Craque"' handmade, candied, single-origin cacao nibs by Cocanú Chocolates."
This flavor was so well balanced. There was enough coffee flavor to have a presence, but not enough that you felt like you were biting into a cup of coffee. The craque was also exceptional - a little sweet, a little bitter, a great bite to the java creaminess.
Sea Salt with Caramel Ribbons
Salt & Straw's description: "We created this ice cream with Mark Bitterman, the God of salt. He literally wrote the book on it ("Salted" a James Beard award-winning cookbook). He also owns the Meadow, a world renowned salt shop. We used Bitterman's Guatemalan Fleur de Sel to create se salt ice cream and then ribbon in housemade hand-burned caramel."
I am not a fan of caramel in general, but Jennifer felt we should get this flavor (first, because she loves caramel) because it matched the namesake. How could we not get a flavor with salt in it? I was definitely not disappointed. The burnt caramel had a beautiful smokiness that complimented the ice cream perfectly.
Salt & Straw's description: "We steep pounds of lavender flowers in cream, bringing out a smoky lavender color and a skull thwacking punch of lavender followed by a sweet touch of honey on your tongue."
Absolutely splendid. Lavender is one of my favorite colors, smells, and flavors, so you can imagine I have high expectations when I see something lavender-flavored. Salt & Straw conquered where most ice cream shops fail: they did not over-steep the lavender, and they did not over-do the honey. Both flavors married perfectly together to produce a scoop of lavender heaven.
If it's not obvious already, I am quite a fan of Salt & Straw! I would highly recommend a stop there.
Honorable mention goes to one of the limited/seasonal flavors: Duck Crackling and cherry preserves with Duck Fat Ice Cream and Honey Gastrique. We asked for a sample of this flavor, but ultimately it was just too rich for me! A sample size was great though - very unique flavor, and not for the faint-hearted.
PRO TIP: IF YOU WANT TO TRY MORE THAN ONE FLAVOR, THE FLIGHT IS A GREAT OPTION.
Steven smith teamaker
Next, we stopped by Steven Smith Teamaker to grab some drinks to-go, and I was anxious to try their nitro chai. I could tell they take tea seriously when I entered the cafe located at their headquarters. The shop is sleek, modern, and showcases many types of tea. The menu is extremely extensive, and suddenly I was thankful I already knew what I wanted.
Even though I am a regular tea drinker, I did not enjoy the nitro chai because it was too strong. I could tell that they didn't use anything like a pre-made syrup you can get at Starbucks. The chai had a distinct, robust flavor, but it could have benefitted from the traditional milk added to soften the bitter blow. Jennifer opted for the nitro Thai iced tea, which was more traditional than anything, but suffered from the same ailment as the chai. I also do NOT recommend the Thai tea if you don't like the taste of star anise (licorice)!
I'm going to cut to the chase - Pok Pok is one of those places you see on every blog, noted as one of the best restaurants in the city. Whenever I come across this kind of ubiquity, I have two thoughts: this is a novelty place or this place is really that good. Because we had spent almost 24 hours in Portland by this point, I'd gotten a feel for the city and thought, would Portland really be into hyping up a place that isn't good? So, we decided to grab an Uber (to avoid some parking issues later on) and head over to Pok Pok. I'd read countless reviews of the life-changing fish sauce wings and authentically good Thai street food, but I was still skeptical of our approaching experience.
PRO TIP: ALLOW TIME TO WAIT. FORTUNATELY OUR WAIT WAS ABOUT 10 MINUTES, BUT ACCORDING TO MANY REVIEWS, WAITS CAN BE OVER AN HOUR! IF THAT'S THE CASE, PUT YOUR NAME ON THE LIST AND HEAD OVER TO THE WHISKEY SODA LOUNGE, ALSO OWNED BY POK POK.
Upon entering, I felt my childhood memories surfacing quickly. No, I've never been to Thailand, and I'm not Thai, but the familiar aroma and Southeast Asian music reminded me of my own upbringing. Decor is not like anything we'd seen in Portland - I felt like we'd stepped into a humble restaurant in Thailand. We ordered some specialty drinks and our waitress served us the water on our table. Jennifer took a drink and exclaimed, "THIS IS GOOD! What flavor is this?"
Yes. She asked what flavor the water was. I hadn't taken a sip yet, but I was baffled as to why she would ask such a thing.
To my absolute surprise, the waitress responded, saying it was pandan flavored! (If you've never had pandan, it's a flavoring that comes from a plant, and to me, it tastes the same way fresh Jasmine rice smells when it's cooking.) That was the moment I truly opened myself up to the idea that Pok Pok might be just as amazing as everyone made it out to be.
Let's get to the part you've all been waiting for: the wings. We split an order of wings and tried to order one of the seasonal specials but alas, fiddlehead season was over, so we opted for the stir fried broccolini prepared with garlic, oyster, fish and soy sauces. The broccolini was quite good - not overcooked, brilliantly green and well seasoned.
The wings? I would fly back to Portland just to eat them again. They arrived at our table beautifully prepared - their perfectly fried, golden brown skin glistened with garlic and caramelized goodness. Being the bloggers we were, we exercised constraint to take photos before diving into the umami fest waiting for us. The first bite was like a punch to my taste buds - sweet, sour, salty, bitter - everything was there, putting my mouth into sensory overload. I believe this was my first true umami experience. Am I a foodie yet?
We devoured the wings, supplemented with jasmine rice and broccolini. The sweet and salty goodness was washed down with specialty drinks and pandan water, and two satisfied travelers sat under twinkle lights to enjoy the stillness before the dinner rush.
This concludes Part 1 of my Jolene Eats in Portland series.
Part 2 coming soon!