Weekend Getaway: Portland Dining Month

Portland, OR

A winter getaway away doesn’t have to involve lengthy travel or multiple days off work. Just as experienced travelers can fit everything they need into a carry-on, with good planning you can pack a lot of discovery into a single weekend.

While you could easily spend a month in Portland and not run out of fresh experiences, my two nights there did give me a tantalizing taste of the dining and drinking scene.

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As the weather warms and the scent of cherry blossoms perfumes the air, Portland welcomes the end of Winter with Portland Dining Month. This foodie’s dream offers 31 days of three-course meals at over 100 restaurants for $29.00. It’s a wallet-friendly way to revisit classics or cross new restaurants off your dining bucket list.

Rather than flit madly about, I decided to focus on just a few of Portland’s numerous neighbourhoods. After checking into the Marriott Waterfront, I had a comfortable home base for changing and recharging, plus endless attractions and dining choices within walking distance. It was a great way to make the most out of my short time, and to access the city’s delights without renting a car or hailing cabs.

It turned out my biggest challenge was narrowing down my food choices. But I’d done my homework before I’d arrived, using my lunch breaks to whittle the hundreds of dinner options to these three:

Higgins – Downtown Portland (Northwest/Regional)

  • 1239 S.W. Broadway, Portland, OR 97205

One of the challenges of travelling solo is that when dining out you don’t get to try as many dishes as when you’re with others. The solution? Invite someone along. Maggie, who I met while travelling in Maui, calls Portland home, and we decided to experience Higgins together. This Portland landmark focuses on regional Northwest cuisine, with an emphasis on ingredients that are local, seasonal and organic.

After catching up at the bar, Maggie and I reviewed the menu, and decided that sharing the first and second courses would be the only way to go.

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First course:

Endive and radicchio salad with blue cheese, Marsala roasted figs and croutons
-OR-
Alsatian style terrine of duck and pork with cherries and hazelnuts

Optional Wine Pairing: Colene Clemens Chardonnay Willamette Valley 2013

Second course:

Roast Carman Ranch Lyonnaise sausage with pistachios, green lentils and fingerling potatoes
-OR-
Risotto of rapini, carrots and provolone picante

Optional Wine Pairing: 2013 Colene Clemens Estate Pinot Noir Willamette Valley & 2013 Colene Clemens “Adriane” Pinot Noir Chehalem Mountains

Third course:

Lemon panna cotta with Swiss meringue, raspberry coulis and sesame tuile

Pairing my meal with the recommended wines enhanced the experience. The Pinot Noirs were full of body; each mouthful made me sigh with pleasure. My favourite course was the Roast Carman Ranch Lyonnaise sausage with pistachios, green lentils and fingerling potatoes. The lentils melted in my mouth while the sausage and potatoes added to the range of flavours. The service was attentive without being intrusive, and the waitstaff were well able to answer all our questions. Higgins has an excellent reputation — and lived up to it.

Park Kitchen – Pearl District (Northwest/Regional)

  • 422 N.W. Eighth Ave., Portland, OR 97209

Portland Dining MonthOn Sunday night, after spending the day walking thru downtown Portland and the Pearl district, I strolled by the greenery of the North Park Blocks to the Park Kitchen’s historic building. They specialize in creating new dishes using ingredients from local Oregon farmers and producers. So I knew I was in for a treat. Several, in fact.

First course:

Chickpea fries with roasted squash ketchup

Second course:

Ayer’s Creek barley with smoked beets and pomegranate
-OR-
Blood orange with radish, pumpernickel and crème fraîche 
-OR-
Charred carrot with black olive, pecans and carrot top

Third course:

Ayer’s Creek adzuki bean cake with braised collard greens and popcorn sauce
-OR-
Blackened steelhead with cauliflower grits and watercress
-OR-
Grilled Maupin Farm’s ham with Anthony’s garbanzo beans and green olives

As you can imagine, this was an embarrassment of riches to choose from. But after consulting with my server, I opted to treat my inner vegetarian. It was, as they say in the restaurant biz, an excellent choice. The blood orange salad melted in my mouth. And while the bean cake and popcorn sauce had sounded like a strange combo, it totally worked. Popcorn — it’s not just for snacks any more. As I savoured my meal, I glanced at other tables; like me, everyone was delighting in every bite.

A tip: don’t miss out on the Park Kitchen’s bar selection. Ask to see what the bartender will create for you.

I discovered the Park Kitchen after asking the twitterverse for Portland dining recommendations. And now I totally get why it’s a local institution. I can’t wait to go back and try their chef’s supper.

Salty’s on the Columbia – Airport, NE Portland (Seafood, Steak House)

  • 3839 N.E. Marine Drive, Portland, OR 97211

Portland Dining MonthI wanted my last meal before my flight home to be a five-star experience, but with an early evening departure, I wasn’t sure it would be possible. Then I discovered Salty’s. With dinner service starting at 4pm, I was able to fill up on superb seafood while watching the Columbia River flow past. As I drank my Hopworks Hub Lager, workers flooded in for happy hour. Inspired by the brew, I tried to think of a reason to extend my stay that my boss would buy. Sadly, nothing plausible came to mind.

First course:

Sautéed Manila clams with serrano ham, artichoke hearts and tomato jus
Second course:

Pan-seared sea scallops with celery root puree, apple and fried garlic bread crumbs, taro root and balsamic reduction
Third course:

White chocolate carrot cake with cream cheese mousse, pineapple orange compote, toasted pecans and maple syrup

Each excellent in their own way, the first and second courses tied as my favourites. As I dipped my bread into the remaining sauce from the clams, the serrrano ham with the tomato made me wish for more. And then the perfectly cooked scallops with celery root arrived, making me glad I had room left for every mouthful. I highly recommend visiting Salty’s on your way to or from the airport; it’s a high point start or finish for any visit to Portland. According to my Uber driver and many other locals, their weekend brunch is legendary.

 

Three days gave me only a teasing soupçon of what Portland has to offer on the dining front. Nevertheless, it was a weekend getaway that left me recharged, sated and happy. The craft beer, Pinot Noirs, food carts, coffee bars and incredible restaurants just whetted my appetite for a return visit and more time to explore the different neighborhoods and cuisines.

I’ll be sharing more about my time in Portland with you soon, but I wanted to get the word out quickly about Portland Dining Month, since it runs only until the end of March. You really should try to catch it. I’m already scheming for more time off work so I can head back on the Easter long weekend!

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