Skamania’s Polenta Cakes with Salmon
Perhaps in the future the Taste of the Nation will have a nap room, but until then pacing is important. With more restaurants than ever trying to woo new customers, the number of delectable dishes is far beyond the capacity of even a seasoned gorger like myself.
Intensely flavored dishes work better in the tasting format. They delight the tastebuds with minimal stomach space sacrificed. Dishes with too much subtlety don’t make an impression after one bite, nor can they compete with the palate saturation throughout the evening. For example, Paley’s had two enjoyable soups, one made with sorrel and one made with beets. But both were mildly flavored, making me think I would need an entire bowl to truly evaluate them.
However, you can pace yourself right out of some of the best dishes. Pix’s chocolates were gone within an hour of opening. Moments after receiving a recommendation for a cheese at Curds and Whey, the cheese ran out. By the time I took photographs of all the restaurants’ offerings and got back to Autentica’s table for green mole, it was gone, too.
My primary strategy, however, worked in general. Every time I met up with a friend, I asked for their favorites and then made a bee-line for that dish. I didn’t taste everything, but I tasted a lot. The following were my favorites. (Note that my photos turned out especially good this year, so I recommend looking through the album.)
Running, holding bottles, putting a finger in a drink — a few of the violations in the Waiter’s Race.
Beyond the typical French words and phrases — bonjour, au revoir, s’il vous plaît, merci, etc — I only know two: quoi d’neuf, docteur (what’s up, doc), which I learned from a rabid Bugs Bunny fan from Quebec, and ce restaurant n’est pas aussi bon que le Mc.Donalds’ (this restaurant isn’t as good as McDonald’s), which I am saving to retaliate for snobby service in France. Other than those, anything French in my mouth is food.
If Bastille Day — comparable to our Independence Day — gives French folks and francophiles in Portland a reason to offer me up tasty treats, I say Viva la France, let the heads roll, whatever needs to happen so I can get some buttery pastries, stinky cheese, and meat cooked in its own fat.
The smoked pork neck, one of many house-cured meats from Higgins.
Once again I had the chance to gorge myself silly at Taste of the Nation, a charity event that supports Share Our Strength, an anti-hunger organization. The only things more packed than my stomach were the floors of the Portland Center for the Performing Arts where tables featuring dozens of Oregon restaurants, wineries and breweries had lines of people waiting to get a bite or a sip.
Unfortunately, I was unable to try several places in the VIP sections. I was jealous when I found out a friend had walked right through the security and tasted his favorite item of the night: Merenda’s foie gras mousse-filled cheese profiteroles with cherry compote. I had to cross off Nuestra Cocina, Andina, Saucebox, and several other places that were off-limits.
Nonetheless, it was a successful night. I don’t know that any tastes reached the heights of last year’s best, but I think the average was better. Following are my favorites, but by no means everything I tasted. And there were almost as much wine as food.