NICE DAY FOR A PORTLAND WINE AND FOOD CRAWL
Two Lips, One Stomach, One Brave and Hardy Woman: How I Made a Day of Discovering Practically Everything Good to Eat & Drink in Posh Northwest Portland
By Kerry Newberry
Special to Oregon.com
Ah…another beautiful day in Portland, blue skies and sunshine. Should I get out the boots and go hiking all day in Forest Park? Wash the windows and air out the apartment? No, a girl has to eat, and I have a grander vision for the day. I will kick off the pink galoshes, lock the cleaning closet, step into some flip-flops and sip, stroll and streetcar a Saturday away in my favorite Portland neighborhood – known by the locals as “Northwest” -- for food and drink. Savor a few wise words from J.R.R. Tolkien as you meander the city streets with me (for I am a writer with a skewed sense of direction), “All who wander are not lost.” My personal motto is more along the lines of, “Well, maybe just one more bite.” Enjoy.
9:45 a.m. • Alfresco Brunch
The latest issue of Food and Wine in hand and my silver scarf tied loosely around my neck, I toast the start of the weekend on N.W. Vaughn at Meriwether’s Restaurant, in a hidden garden oasis tucked behind the restaurant. It’s alfresco dining most divine, with petite bistro tables peppered amidst a palette of pine and sage, a gurgling Italian fountain and a fire pit for evening embers.
Field-to-table cuisine thrives here with produce from a garden just up the road. Chef Earl Hook and farmer Spence Lack collaborate to nourish a three-acre vegetable farm on N.W. Skyline Boulevard, with plans underway to build a smokehouse and chicken coop. It doesn’t get much more field-to-table than that.
Speaking of fields, the seasonal frittata with farm fresh fillings, greens and homefries sounds perfect. But wait – the wild salmon omelet with a dash of crème fraiche speaks to me. Yes, that’s the one.Or should I indulge in something sweet? I ponder the importance of starting out my day with that classic breakfast dilemma: Sweet or savory? A stack of the Oregon blueberry pancakes? Maybe I’m more in the mood for contemporary and southern comfort, certainly found in the coconut fried chicken and waffle with grilled fruit and applewood-smoked bacon. I finally decide that the seasonal frittata it is. My grandmother always said go with your gut, and my gut is very happy with my choice.
This being Saturday, and me being a woman who loves the grape in all of its many fascinating applications, I call for the fizz list. Shall I go with a sleek flute of the sparkling and locally crafted Domaine Meriwether? Or Meri Cocktail of Domaine Meriwether Brut and a splash of pomegranate juice? No, this morning mine will be the Grand Mimosa: Grand Marnier, fresh orange juice with Adami Prosecco on the rocks. Thank you, cute waiter. Sip, sigh, satisfaction.
11 a.m. • Un Café, Please!
Once my lavish brunch wound to a close, I began my Northwest crawl in earnest. I crossed the street to 23rd, walked two blocks to Thurman, then swung a left until I ran into a smattering of outdoor bistro tables reminiscent of the famous Parisian Café de Flore that sits on the corner of the Boulevard Saint-Germain and the Rue St. Benoit. I had in fact arrived at St. Honoré Boulangerie, which many people say is the closest thing to Paris in Portland today, with its café culture of locals sipping espresso and sharing croissants. I stepped inside the cozy bakery and was instantly transfixed by the glass-encased display lined with a poetry of pastries. There was the flaky Chausson au Pomme and the puffy Chouquettes, the custard flavored Canelet and the petit Almond Friand, perfect for a nibble. I settled on just window-shopping the rows of pastry and ordered an espresso with a drop of milk (known as a “noisette” in any proper bistro in France) to sip outside and people-watch while I plotted a move to my first wine haven. Mustn’t get carried away here; pacing is critical to a proper Northwest crawl.
11:20 a.m. • Ageless Companions: Wine and Cheese
“Wine and cheese are ageless companions, like aspirin and aches, or June and moon, or good people and noble ventures,” penned M. F. K. Fisher. If, like me, you harbor a deep yearning for fine cheese and wines au natural, you will definitely fall head over heels for The Square Deal, which is next door to the St. Honoré.
Go ahead, pretend you’re tramping the backroads of Burgundy or the Loire Valley as you set your wanderlust free over bottles stacked from the great wine regions of Europe. Chalkboard signs hang from the ceiling denoting sections of the shop devoted to Alsace, Burgundy and beyond. Owner Dan Beekly and crew feature wines from winemakers they know and vineyards they’ve likely visited. Many of the wines are organic or biodynamic and small production (2,000 to 4,000 cases).
Saturday tastings happen in the back of the shop near conveniently located leather chairs and Steve’s Cheese corner, a corner so filled with such savory bites that it could incite one to statements of profundity or poetry. “The poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese,” wrote English novelist G.K. Chesterton. Au contraire, Mr. GKC: Didn’t someone once say that cheese was milk’s leap to immortality? In any case, ask Steve Jones, the resident maître fromager who can and does wax poetic on not only cheese, but charcuterie as well.Each selection of artisan cheese features a handwritten ode to the farm, region and essence of the cheese. It is difficult to coax myself away from the counter, particularly because in addition to the cheese novellas, there are 25 to 30 alluring charcuteries that practically reach through the glass and beg me to taste them. One mere sliver of Pata Negra, a type of cured ham produced only in Spain, imparts a seductively nutty flavor that leaves me with a quite-unbecoming lusting for more. I beat it out of the shop before I spend my entire day there and become something resembling a cured meat myself.
Noon • Wit and WineWine, more wine!
I swung a left off 23rd Avenue at Quimby to visit the venerable Liner & Elsen Wine Merchants. Domestic, imported, old, rare, elegant and funky bottles line the walls of this 18-year-old wine shop. This is where I first fell for Riesling, expanding my wine world beyond pinot noir. Every Saturday starting at noon, the shop hosts free wine tastings, usually featuring vintners from France, Germany and Italy.
A trio of gentleman with astute palates are always on hand with winemaker stories, the perfect wine to pair with your dinner and witty repartee. Be sure to taste what they are pouring; it might be a Trimbach Riesling Clos Ste. Hune, a wine made from a parcel within the Rosacker grand cru and considered to be one of the greatest expressions of Riesling in the world.
12:42 p.m. • A Streetcar Named Desire
You know that young woman with the silver scarf and hat and flip-flops, slightly shaky on her feet, whom you saw hopping the Portland Streetcar at the intersection of 23rd and Marshall and riding to the 11th and Lovejoy stop? That was me. The streetcar arrives every 12 minutes in case you miss this one.
12:50 p.m. • Do You Bling?
And now I wash up to Portland’s version of adult Disneyland. Chocolate, caviar, cigars and Champagne are just a few of the delicacies to peruse at Pearl Specialty Market and Spirits on N.W. Lovejoy. Luxury reigns in this 2,300-square-foot space, chic with a touch of industrial. My first stop is to drink from their wall of water -- the selection spans more than 15 countries. Hmm, how shall I hydrate, let me count the ways? With water from an Irish spring in Tipperary? Or maybe Fiuggi, the water served at the Vatican? Now that’s some holy water. Or perhaps the couture Bling H20, a bottle so rare and precious that it is sealed with a cork and handcrafted with Swarovski crystals ($50)? I need some help here, and proprietor Malik Pirani, who is akin to a water sommelier, explains the nuances of water (more than you might realize), from pH levels and salinity to nitrate levels and the varied bubbles in sparkling. If I ever get my fill of fine wine, and this is doubtful, I will turn next to the hidden universe of water.
1:10 p.m. • Chocolate at Tiffany’s
Thus cleansed, I then bodily pick up my palate and transport it to the mountains of Lebanon at Verdun Fine Chocolate and Gifts on N.W. 10th Avenue. It feels like a chocalatier’s version of Tiffany’s. Exquisitely handcrafted chocolates sparkle in colorful foils at this family run shop. I sparkle at the thought of eating a select few.
1:45 p.m. • Words on Wine
Now my mind needs nourishment, so I stroll down Burnside to Portland’s cavernous Powell’s Books for a visit to the wine book aisle. I pick up the Kermit Lynch classic, “Adventures on the Wine Route: A Wine Buyer’s Tour of France.” For some local words on wine, try the lyrical book by Brian Doyle: "The Grail: A Year Ambling and Shambling Through an Oregon Vineyard in Pursuit of the Best Pinot Noir Wine in the Whole Wide World," chronicling a year at Lange Winery. Some people read about kids in secret boarding schools who learn how to become magicians; me, I like to read about wine.
2:45 p.m. • The Lady Who Lunches
Across the street, lunch awaits at the elegant ten-01. In the upstairs wine cellar, ham hocks mingle with bottles of Burgundy as sommelier Erica Landon (voted Best Sommelier in the city 2008 by Portland Monthly Magazine) and Chef Benjamin Parks (new to Portland from Ducca, a San Francisco Italian restaurant) duke it out for space, housemade charcuterie versus wine. I’m happy to try both. For a light lunch, I pair a glass of bubbly with Pacific Northwest oysters, a seasonal side of greens, the charcuterie plate and the divine bacon-shallot tater tots. My only regret is that I have but one appetite to devote to lunch at ten-01.
4 p.m. • Siesta
I sit on a park bench on the South Park blocks for a good, long rest. Wine-infused dozing ensues, with fleeting dreams that are too complicated and personal to explain here.
4:45 p.m. • Chocolate Seduction
Oops, time for chocolate again; what has it been, nearly four hours? I cross toward the Pearl and immerse my highly trained senses at Cacao; it is exquisite. Co-owners Jesse Manis and Aubrey Lindley created a Parisian-style chocolate shop inspired by the legendary Angelina’s on the rue de Rivoli. Elegant and exotically named chocolates call out to me from long shelves that frame the shop. A glass case holds delicately crafted artisanal concoctions from six premier producers across the world. I prefer to drink my chocolate today, so I sip a dark, silky beverage named Rivoli in homage to their Parisian muse. I approach total chocolate Nirvana.
6:15 p.m. • Wine and Philosophy
Hey, it’s dinnertime, so jauntily (this is thanks to the chocolate), I saunter back towards the Park Blocks and the Southpark Seafood Grill & Wine Bar. I make sure to find a seat at the bar in order to philosophize with the quixotic, goateed wine director Will Prouty. His specialty is pouring wines both worldly and homegrown, with a side of wit. The menu has over forty-five wines by the glass, so he’ll be able to guide you to one you love. Or two that you’ll love, or forty-five. For dining, the paella Valencia hits the spot.
9:00 p.m. • Nightcap
I skip home, refreshed and happy and well-fed. No late-night imbibery for me on this day. But tomorrow is another day. I plot my next move, and my next meal in this city that seems to have a new delight around every corner.