I had the good fortune to spend half of last week at the IACP (International Association of Culinary Professionals) conference in Portland, OR. It’s been several years since my last visit to PDX when there were a whopping *two* hot new restaurants in town. These days the food scene is bursting at the seams (as was I by the time I left). It was fantastic meeting colleagues, making new friends and catching up with those I hadn’t seen in awhile; exciting to have friends nominated for (and win!) cookbook awards; and it was an absolute blast exploring the local food scene with food biz buddies.
My first day out I found a fab little modern home/office/life accessories store called Canoe. The style maven owners have a keen eye for all kinds of wonderful things from around the globe, including my rad new cast iron spice grinder. Can I just say how much I love the no sales tax thing in Oregon!?!
Since I’d gotten up well before dawn for my flight that morning, I ventured just around the corner to Cacao for an afternoon chocolate fix where hot chocolate ‘shots’ are on tap….little espresso cups filled with rich, liquidy chocolate heaven. I chose a spiced choc shot but you can also opt for a flight of three different hot chocs. I was familiar with most of the confectioners in the case but didn’t know the locally handcrafted chocolates by DePaula Confections–what a find! The fleur de sel caramels (one of them with coconut – yum!) were silky smooth with just the right amount of sweet, salty and bitter.
Dinner led me to Clyde Common for some seriously great grub! I was so convinced I couldn’t get any sort of decent shot of the first course, I neglected to capture the most tender & tasty broccoli rabe with housemade Coppa, crispy fried egg and lemon dressing. I only got daring after tasting the pasta course of buckwheat cavatelli with nettles (yes!) in a super buttery, light cream sauce & sprinkled with toasted walnuts. Forks were feuding over it!
I have an entirely unproven hypothesis that it was my friend Cory Obenaur at Blue Plate in San Francisco who started a movement with his signature grilled romaine 10+ years ago. The Clyde Common version that accompanied a succulent grilled steak, perfectly poached egg, aged balsamic and shaved piave was great. The whole dish was definitely my kinda main course!
Then there was the rhubarb parfait I just couldn’t pass up…and the then de rigeur (as in truly and seriously necessary) digestif. It was one I didn’t know, made from myrtle. I was pleasantly surprised — and, thankfully, it did the trick!
The next morning started off with some Stumptown Coffee in the lobby of the Ace Hotel. My friends and I hopped into the photo booth there in the lobby to mark the occasion. Word of warning: four adults in a photo booth early morning after a late night does not a lovely picture make. On the contrary, my latte was lucious, beauteous & creamy. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that owner Duane Sorenson was awarded a special IACP award for his bike project in Rwanda. Unfortunately, Duane wasn’t able to accept the award in person as he was in Amsterdam, opening a ‘coffee shop’ (mmhmmm….).
After my morning caffeine upload, I felt fortified to walk to the first breakfast stop: Voodoo doughnuts. This place is incredibly popular and has a plethora of hyper sugary & kitschy options, all displayed in a constantly circulating case by the register.
My pick was the maple bar with crispy strips of bacon laid on top. If you’re a fan of old-school maple bars and of bacon, you might just want to make the haj to Voodoo — they’re open 24/7.
My heroines, the Pixie Retreat girls, arrived to save the day at lunch time with this incredible (raw & free of sugar) picnic lunch for me. I felt revived — and redeemed! [Clockwise from upper left: Sin Bun with dates, walnuts and vanilla bean icing in the little cups; tangy kale salad w/ sesame seeds and avocado; chocolate caramel cups; candy bar (for the following day!) and flax/multi-grain bread] If you live in Portland and enjoy eating clean healthy food, these girls who can hook you up like no other.
On to dinner at the stellar Nostrana restaurant. It was a phenomenal parade of food and I was so engrossed in conversation with the fascinating people around the table, I failed to pull out my camera — sorry! Suffice it to say that the locally-procured, regional, Italian fare put out by chef Cathy Whims
leaves no question in my mind as to why she’s a James Beard finalist again this year.
My last day in town, I went to the Portland Farmer’s Market. Wow, what a gorgeous location and what a bevvy of vendors. I’m pretty sure at least a couple hundred of us conference goers were among the crowd, but the local community came in droves.
Spring flowers were everywhere and this spectacular basket of lilacs was one of the first things I saw.
The urban planning profile for Portland allows the principles of farm to table to thrive since farmland literally abuts the city limits. The produce is out of control!
I don’t imagine you’ll believe me, but seriously I don’t normally drink coffee. PDX is a coffee town and when in Rome…Café Velo is renowned for their drip but the barrista advocated for the pressed coffee that day. It was really lovely, bright coffee — and supercharged, so kept me going til I got home that night.
These wood fired bagels from Tastebud are ‘Montreal style,’ which means they’re smaller, denser and, I dare say, better! Just one more incentive to venture to Montreal. In the meantime, I’ll be getting my bagel on at Tastebud on the west coast when I’m in Portland.
The number of bakeries in the area must be close to a 1:1 ratio with artisan coffee roasters. There were so many at the market it was almost impossible to choose. This display by ’The Tart Lady’ dba Market Gourmet sucked me in. I walked away with two little pecan tarts that are sitting patiently in the fridge, waiting to be delivered to my folks.
And the fleur de sel chocolate chip and citrusy shortbread cookies by Two Tarts Bakery got devoured by newly devoted SF fans!
I watched the line swell at Pine State Biscuits.
Despite the incredibly enticing biscuits and a queue the length of which would potentially allow my hunger to percolate again, I knew that I just could…not…eat….one….more….thing!
**photo of Cathy Whims by Basil Childers for Portland Monthly magazine