When I got back to my fabulous room at the Nines hotel, I was quickly passed out and found myself in a nice deep sleep for a wonderful 8 hours – which for myself, is really quite rare.
I woke up invigorated with an excitable, but relaxed demeanor. It was Friday morning and I had some awfully good plans lined up for city exploration. First things first, a beautiful morning requires a beautiful cup of coffee, so we started our seemingly familiar route to Stumptown.
Friday Morning: Bijou and Nobody Else
En route there, we happened to feel a little hungry so we started poking around to try to find a nice patisserie, but our efforts yielded no results. Instead, I remembered a recommendation from someone regarding Bijou Cafe, which was conveniently located right next to Stumptown. It was fate.
We were quickly sat in the comfy breakfast diner/cafe and promptly served by a quirky older waitress who seemed a little jumpy. Trying not to ruin the good appetite for lunch, we decided to split a couple of plates amongst the three of us. And since, they served Illy coffee (a favorite amongst our group), we fulfilled our coffee fixes at Bijou as well.
For our meal, we ordered a big stack of pancakes (3 total) and an oyster hash, which sounded like it would probably be on the lighter portion size. That turned out to be an incorrect assumption, see for yourself:
The oyster hash was wonderfully textured and fried. It’s not mind blowing food that will numb your brain, but it sure was tasty good comfort breakfast. How can you possibly go wrong with good caffeine and a nice libido kick. It puts you in the right place and the right mood for love, baby. Portland love that is.
Friday Lunch: Castagna
After walking around a few corners and visiting a little modern gadget boutique store called Canoe, we went back to the hotel to catch a little break. At around lunchtime, we hopped on a cab and crossed the river down Hawthorne and stopped at Castagna (cafe to be exact, the main restaurant is not open for lunch).
Castagna was this trip’s equivalent of Zuni Cafe I guess. Portland Northwestern cuisine served and cooked beautifully with nothing but what seems to be local and seasonal produce in mind. The wonderful thing about Portland is that it seems to not particularly dabble in label marketing for their restaurants. They cook locally, seasonally and focus on simplicity, but they don’t care to start putting up the franchising on the terms “Northwestern” or “Portland cuisine.” It’s refreshing to see people not stress out about pointless particulars, labeling and semantics. Sometimes, you wish people would just shutup and eat it. Myself included. Oy.
Well, anyways, we spent a good 2+ hours having lunch, which again was very Parisian. We went all out and did a full 3 courses each with a nice bottle of Pinot Noir to accompany our meal. I don’t think I had a nice lunch meal like the one at Castagna in a long time. It was a fantastic lunch and even though I enjoy street food, cafeterias and In&Out, let’s not confuse a real meal with a park bench.
Standout dishes: almost cracker crust on pizza, scallops, berry coulis trifle (of sorts), Alsatian sausages and crimini robiola sandwich.
Friday Afternoon: Wandering With Hot Lips, Beers and Coffee
After waddling out of Castagna, my friend and I did the Hawthorne stretch and along the way found some nice little spots to taste some local goodies. The first was the Hot Lips Pear Soda which, as advertised tasted exactly like carbonated pears. Sugary goodness…
The Hawthorne neighborhood is one filled with little independently owned stores and shops, mainly selling a bunch of trinkets/jewelry and other things that bring joy but have absolutely no use. It had a bohemian hippy feel about it, which caused a slight distaste in my mouth, but I realized I hadn’t run into any crackheads or street lounging bum hippies, so it was quite an enjoyable way to burn off the big lunch. It’s like a nicer Haight neighborhood if it was ten times cleaner, ten times prettier and had 99% less unsavory types wandering aimlessly.
During our big stroll around town, we stopped for a stout and ale at the Bridgeport Brewery and eventually walked up to Belmont St. where the Stumptown Annex (where all their awesome coffee beans are available for drip). We also came upon Pine State Biscuits, but they were unfortunately closed. I had heard stories of their greatness, but it seemed that fate was not on my side that day. Ah well.
Friday Dinner: I Wish I Could Pok All Night
After a nice buzz of beer and coffee, I decided it was time for dinner. Even though my watch was reading 5:45, I felt it was a necessity to pull a geriatric special because of the possible long wait that would happen at my restaurant of choice that night.
My restaurant of choice, also the 2nd most anticipated meal of Portland was:
You probably guessed from the section title, but if you were clueless, Pok Pok was the one. Pok Pok is a Andy Ricker’s ode to a Northwestern twist on authentic Thai regional dishes. Yes, while it may seem unfathomable that a white guy would be putting out better Thai food than a Thai guy, people should start getting used to the fact that race has absolutely nothing to do with devotion and quality of cuisine. There are going to be Asian guys killing it in French restaurants and there are white guys killing it in Japanese restaurants (Sebo anyone?). The quicker you get past that idea, the happier your stomach will be. Oh yeah, Pok Pok’s probably won about a million awards and critics because they are just that Pok-in’ good.
Vis-à-vis, you can go pok yourself for not liking my lame pok jokes. They’re witty and funny to me.
Unfortunately my friend wasn’t a particularly adventurous diner so she limited her choice to the Kai Yaang game hen, which in turn limited my ability to steal food and order more plates. I, however, could not resist ordering Fish Sauce Chicken Wings and the Hoi Thawt, which is broken crepe with mussels, eggs and all kinds of good stuff.
I’d say without a doubt, the best meal was Le Pigeon, but my favorite meal was definitely Pok Pok. I wish I could have ordered everything and ate all night long, but the portions were not nearly as “sharing” as they said they were. These were not your SF “share plate” portions – they were clearly superior as you can see. Pok Pok itself is a reason to go to Portland.
Why did I enjoy it so much? Bistros, French, American and Southern cuisines may be beautiful, technical and indulgent, but ultimately that’s all a little too familiar and boring sometimes. What I crave is passion and excitement. I want SPICE, I want adventure, I want ethnic and I want the blood to rush from my brain to my loins. Is that too much to ask for in a meal? It’s enough to be stuck in a cubicle at work, don’t stick yourself in one during a weekend meal.
Pok Yeah Baby.
(to be continued very soon)