Every year Share Our Strength lets Portlanders fight hunger by stuffing our faces with food from 50 or more of the best restaurants in Portland. (There’s lots of wine, too.) Allegedly, it’s not the case that the more you eat the more kids you help feed, but just to be sure, I try to eat enough to feed a whole family for a week. This year, I’m sure I succeeded.
After the jump is my take on the event this year, the first year I’ve been when it was held in the somewhat controversial Luxe Autohaus, and my 10 favorite bites out of the 50-plus things I tried. Oh, and there are tequila-slinging strippers.
While it is rapidly becoming fashionable to question whether food carts (especially in Portland) have jumped the shark — ie, shed their hip, underground status and gone mainstream –, it’s hard to deny the energy, passion, and optimism of the food cart vendors and their hardcore patrons. Willamette Week’s Eat Mobile 2010 festival, packing 30 carts, a beer garden, and a stage into a two block stretch of Belmont under the Morrison Bridge concentrated that energy into one place on one night creating an effective counter-argument to the cynics who believe trends are only good insofar as they don’t become trendy or that something is only worth patronizing as long as it doesn’t become popular.
Unfortunately, the tip sheet won’t be updated until this summer. But as throngs of celebrity chefs, food geeks, and other culinary professionals descend on Portland, here’s my offering as how to organize caloric intake. All of the primary recommendations are less than 10 minutes by taxi from downtown, many within walking distance of conference sites and downtown hotels.
I was one of the few stalwart fans of Lucier, perhaps the only real attempt in the last decade at creating a destination restaurant with luxurious food in a luxurious setting in Portland. My meals were always good with moments of brilliance. But the soulless monstrosity meme was established before the restaurant had even opened. I believe that largely colored the opinions of many of those I otherwise respect on culinary matters.
However, two people from the kitchen seemed to get uniform praise: Kristen Murray, the pastry chef, and Gregory Denton, the sous chef. Kristen Murray has since returned to her former employers’ other restaurant, Fenouil, while Gregory Denton helms Metrovino, possibly the most under-appreciated fine dining restaurant in Portland right now. Metrovino is housed in the former space of another (formerly) under-appreciated restaurant, DF. (You’d think that Lovejoy had a moat filled with alligators or something, given Portlanders’ unwillingness to consider the second half of the alphabet truly part of the Pearl. Just because it’s on the other side of the tracks, doesn’t mean it’s the other side of the tracks.) The food at Metrovino fits the Portland aesthetic well, much better than Lucier did, probably. It’s more restrained with technology and technique, plus there’s a stronger emphasis on renewing old world foods and methods. Expect things like sweetbreads, marrow bones, house-cured meats, house-cured fishes, and tripe to make frequent appearances on the menu.
So when I saw there was a goat dinner with Gabe Rucker splitting chefly duties, I knew that I’d be scraping together the cash and getting on bended knee to beg my wife for permission to go. Ironically, while I love what both Rucker and Denton do with less-used cuts of meat and offal, these two also gave me two of my best meals in my month long vegan quest. But I had no doubt they’d do even better with goat and I wasn’t disappointed.
Mexico Lindo’s Posole
Cinco de Mayo is one of Portland’s better festivals. It has a character. It’s not just another county fair on the waterfront. In 2005 I lamented the event’s cultural decline compared with the wonderful 2004 Cinco de Mayo, my first. There were fewer real artists. There were more commercial promotions selling credit cards and the like. And basically, this year’s is the same. There were only four to six real artists selling Mexican crafts. The majority consisted of the crappier Saturday Market vendors — bad jewelry, cheap imports, and caricature artists.
That said, it’s still worth visiting. The latin musical entertainment is worth the admission price, especially the folklorico and mariachi. And then there’s the food…
Viande’s Sausage and Peppers
This was my fourth year at Portland’s Taste of the Nation, but my first as a vendor rather than a volunteer. I enjoyed meeting so many food lovers. I was gratified by the response to Kenny & Zuke’s pastrami, pickles, bagels, etc. But come on — I like to eat.
The event seemed smaller than years’ past, but apparently there were both more food and drink providers than ever. I had to feed and photograph fast and furious to finish before the VIP hour ended and the masses overwhelmed our booth. I got done with five minutes to spare. I tasted most of the offerings, at least the food, and got pictures of most as well. (I do apologize for my interior photos which are a little grainy from the low light.)
I can’t remember a single bad dish. There were some ho-hum items, like Salty’s chocolate fountain, Celilo’s ceviche, or Pazzo’s salmon tartare on scallion pancake. But even these weren’t BAD. They just suffered in comparison to the following dishes that were so good I wish I could pile them up and lay face first making chow angels.
God, I love dairy foods. I’ve always hated the filmy coating milk puts in my mouth and I stopped drinking it when I was about five and discovered a big black fly floating halfway up a tall glass of the white liquid. But cheese, yogurt, butter, and ice cream — drool… I went through a period in my life where I couldn’t handle acids. Soda, orange juice, chiles, and anything with lactic acid, especially melted cheese and ice cream, put the GI into fits. Of those, cheese and ice cream were what I missed most. When I went on my original diet and lost over 100 lbs, I probably went a year without eating either.
That’s all behind me now, and just to prove it, I went to lactose intolerant hell Saturday, the American Cheese Society’s Festival of Cheese, and then followed that up with the 3rd Annual Pix Ice Cream Social. I love you dairy foods. You weren’t mad at me for leaving you, were you? Quiet now, I won’t leave you again. That’s a good cheddar. Mmmmm. That’s right, ice cream, nothing can keep us apart now…
After selling pastrami and waiting tables this weekend, I rushed over to North Portland. “Eclectic” is such an over-used word that it doesn’t really capture the Mississippi Street Fair, but I can’t think of a better descriptor. Maybe this is the “weird” that the bumper stickers insist Portland should keep.
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.)
For nearly 100 years, the St. Stanislaus Catholic Church and the adjacent Polish Library on N. Interstate Avenue, has been the nucleus of the Polish community in Portland. The Overlook neighborhood has been many Polish family’s home for even longer than that.
For the past 12 years, the Polish Festival has been held on Failing Street between these two historical landmarks. The organizers expected nearly 20,000 visitors to the event this year, making it the largest Polish festival in the western United States. With free admission as incentive and needing something to curb my appetite before being tempted by a chocolate tasting later that day, I drove down Interstate Avenue eager to taste some authentic Easter Bloc eats.