Power Dining-out

Jan 30th, 2008

With my nose to the grindstone working in my own place, it is harder to keep up with what’s happening on the city restaurant scene. We ate out so regularly in the cities we have lived that keeping current wasn’t an issue then. Now when customers ask us if we’ve eaten here or there, we too often haven’t even heard of the restaurants. So when the opportunity arises and we find ourselves in the city again, we’ve come up with a new way to get it done. It’s fun, quick and even efficient –we call it power dining. On a recent trip to Seattle for example, we got together with three of our friends and hit 9 places in 12 hours. We started at with a couple new bakeries and one old fav, and ended at a fine new Italian restaurant in old town Ballard, followed by dessert at Palace Kitchen, another old favorite.

We are always on the lookout for menu/recipe inspiration to stay competitive in a marketplace whose guests also keep up on the latest food trends, and power dining is our way. Since we are taking a few weeks off this winter, we decided to spend a couple days getting know the restaurants of Portland. Considering the suggestions by customers, other chefs, along with restaurant reviews I outline our weekend. Our goal is to go to as many restaurants in one day as we can, staggering reservations based on walking or driving times. Walking is preferred.

Now you might wonder how we eat that much. Let me assure you that this undertaking works best with like-minded friends so we can taste more stuff and leave less food on our plates! This speed eating is a blast, yet it is research that drives it. It is not unlike how I imagine a restaurant critic approaches a review, except that our discussion is always positive, focusing on the creative process, techniques in execution and what changes/options one of us might utilize if repeated back home.

In Portland our culinary whirlwind was less aggressive than Seattle. It began a little later with lunch at Blue Hour, so named for the romantic “blue hour” in the evening as sun begins to fade. The romance we found there was the way chef Kenny Giambalvo took some of the classics and gave them a fresh spin. Clearly there’s talent in the kitchen that starts with great ingredients so that even a grilled chicken and truffle mashed potatoes is executed so well it is new again. I really enjoyed learning that this kitchen brings in whole pig and uses every part of it. We sampled the slow roasted suckling pig of pulled pork butt wrapped in a thin crepe that is pan seared into a crusty oversized egg roll and is as good as it sounds.

Dinner at Clyde Common was a surprise. This funky respite greets you with communal tables and a happening bar area. We were seated beside a party that was well underway in their dining and we took their lead on some of our choices. We began slowly with a seared squid stuffed with fennel sausage and bathed in a broth of sherry vinegar and squid ink. It came with perfectly cooked garbanzo beans that popped with every bite. A martini with a hint of smoky scotch, peaty and rich, complimented the dish perfectly. Following our neighbors lead, we ordered the “Poutine” – French fries, gravy, Gruyere and Foie gras torchon. Put simply, fries with gravy, duck liver, covered in cheese that takes bar food to another level, not to mention our blood pressure. Next it was a short walk to Saucebox, a Pan-Asian restaurant featuring sushi and diverse menu items. We ordered the appetizer platter to try several options at once. It is especially nice to see assortment plates on the menu when power dining. In this case the sampling included one of the reasons we want to go there in the first place. Tapioca dumplings were an interesting texture of large unsweetened tapioca pearls wrapped around chicken, peanuts, cilantro and garlic oil and enhanced by a tamarind dip; as good as we had heard.

As I often say in our classes, I almost always order duck when it is on the menu. It is my version of a collectible. I collect orders of duck, making mental memories of its characteristics. This one was right up there, especially with the Thai ginger gimlet we ordered to go with. Specialty drinks was another must at the Saucebox.

Breakfast on Saturday took us to the highly touted Kenny & Zuke’s Delicatessen where pastrami is the mainstay. It was tender with a slight salty background and pungent smoke that came through with a burst. Piled on top of classic rye, it was made only slightly better by my slathering of coarse mustard and horseradish.

Our evening dining started at 5PM with the arrival of Cannon Beach friends, Rob and Kristin, who had recently returned from a trip to New York City and were pretty familiar with power dining, though this is the first time they heard the label. Leveraging our ability to try more things, and me as the designated driver, the four of us set out to discover what’s new, delicious, and worthy of recreating at home. We began with an encore at Clyde Common since we had time before our first reservation at Hiroshi, and ended at VooDoo Donuts! If that sounds extreme take a quick look at our entire weekend itinerary. After some amazing dishes and a new wine blend discovery by Sinnean called Abbendente, we were back to the hotel by midnight with full bellies and many new food memories.

The next morning we got up late, checked out and drove for dim sum at Wong’s King Seafood, whose chefs have received international recognition. The shear volume of food that came to our table probably matched what we had consumed the entire night before. It was quite good and takes care of our dim sum fix for a long time.

Admittedly our approach to culinary research seems extreme, but it gets the job done. Power dining is like taking a bus tour when arriving in a new town so you can see all the sights in just a few hours, and discover where you want to focus your time while there. We know we want go back to Portland and hit the places we couldn’t get to this time such as Le Pigeon, Country Cat Dinner House, Pok Pok, and Moonstruck Chocolate, and to return to a few of our discoveries this visit. In fact, so many good restaurants still to see we will be power dining in Portland again another day!

Power dining in Portland
Blue Hour (250 NW 13th avenue 503.226.3394) for slow roasted suckling pig
Clyde Common (SW 10th and stark 503.228.3333) for grilled whole fish with winter tabouli, pistachio and pomegranate molasses or the crispy pork belly with blood orange marmalade
Saucebox (214 SW Broadway 503.241.3393) for tapioca dumplings and updated martinis
Kenny and Zuke’s deli (1038 SW Stark 503.222.3354) – pastrami, pastrami, pastrami
Hiroshi’s (926 NW 10th Ave 503.619.0580) for sushi or whatever owner Hiro fancies that night – the tuna belly with ponzu sauce and steamed monk liver over miso dressing was fantastic!
Wildwood (1221 NW 21st 503.248.9663) for pork rillette and foie gras with zinfandel braised cippoline
Paley’s Place (1204 NW 21st Ave 503.243.2403) for either the house specialty of razor clams with a petite cassoulet and bacon wrapped radicchio; and the emmer faro, wild mushrooms with roasted squash and black truffles.
VooDoo Donuts (22 SW 3rd Ave 503241.4704) for crispy bacon maple bar!
Wong’s king Seafood (8733 SE Division 503.788.8883) – dim sum! Plan to wait.