Last weekend during my Feast Portland adventure in this Pacific Northwest culinary capital, I squeezed in visits to a few notable dining destinations in the city.
One thing I appreciate about Portland that I’ve learned in my last few visits is that this city loves to explore a lot of global flavors. This is the city that has flocked to restaurants serving up cuisine from Russia, Thailand, Hawaii, Japan and more. No one cuisine seems to really dominate the dining scene, unless you consider brunch a type of cuisine.
On my first day, I dropped in for an afternoon snack of Blue Star donuts and Stumptown coffee, two classic Portland spots that are conveniently located near my sister’s Pearl condominium. It was my first time trying the passion fruit cocoa nibs donut, which was coated in a bright orange like burnt caramel but with the refreshing tartness of passion fruit studded with cocoa nibs.
And now, here are some of the actual restaurants I checked out during my long weekend.
This 1-year-old restaurant in the Southeast area of Burnside serves up Middle Eastern cuisine, primarily Jerusalem dishes but with a modern twist. It was recently named one of Bon Appetit’s Best New Restaurants in 2017, and the light airy room was buzzing when I dined on Saturday night.
I went with my friend Ann, who also started a diet primarily of fish and vegetables, which made Tusk a great choice because its dinner menu offers up a lot of vegetarian dishes as starters along with several options for hummus. We also appreciated that when we ordered flatbread with our hummus, the restaurant provided a gluten-free option as Ann’s request.
A lot of the meat dishes that I tried had a lot of flavors, like the chicken skewer ($6) with yogurt, black pepper, and mustard seed oil (it had an odd green powdered coloring that I couldn’t identify). A crispy bread with oxtail dish ($15) had a rich meaty taste with the tender oxtail, but was a challenge to eat (it was basically like a salad on top of a lavash cracker).
But not every dish was successful. An artichoke small plate ($8) turned out to just be a whole grilled artichoke with dipping sauces, and the classic hummus ($10 for the small) was tasty but Ann felt it wasn’t close to what she experienced in Israel.
Ann also had a disappointing grilled eggplant ($10) that was so charred that she couldn’t eat it because it mostly tasted of ash. She had to send it back to the kitchen, and oddly our server didn’t offer to redo the dish (although she asked if Ann wanted to order another entree instead).
While I appreciate the adventure of trying new Middle Eastern flavors at Tusk, I found the experience a bit mixed. Some of the dishes were bold and flavorful, but the service was a bit nonchalant.
The deets: Tusk, 2448 E. Burnside St., P0rtland. PH: 503.894.8082. Open daily for dinner from 5 p.m.; weekend brunch from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Reservations, major credit cards accepted. www.tuskpdx.com
Proud Mary Cafe
This new coffee house and cafe in the hipster Alberta District of Portland has got the city buzzing with lots of Instagram-worthy dishes. Opened earlier this summer, it’s an import from Melbourne, Australia, bringing its brand of coffee and that cosmopolitan’s city of blending Asian flavors with fresh, seasonal ingredients.
I dropped in for lunch and was excited by the sounds of the unique dishes for breakfast and lunch (they’re not open for dinner). Where else can you find sashimi for breakfast? (OK, maybe in Japan.) Proud Mary’s Breakfast Sashimi ($16) offered up wild caught Oregon albacore sashimi covered in a beautiful bounty of heirloom carrots and fennel with a soft boiled egg on top. I loved the fatty fish but it was a bit too much fennel.
But then the real love came in the “sticky pork and watermelon salad” ($16) that I also ordered (because I knew I wouldn’t be able to come back again soon). This was tamarind glazed pork belly that are cooked to perfect tenderness with crispy edges around the fat, balanced with watermelon cubes in a chili lime dressing and cooled by crunchy cucumber slices. I would come back for this dish again and again.
Proud Mary is a spacious and gorgeous spot, and the food measures up as well. The coffee is a bit of the softer side (similar to Blue Bottle), but the service and friendly vibe makes this an exciting new neighborhood hangout.
The deets: Proud Mary Cafe, 2012 NE Alberta St., Portland. Open daily for breakfast and lunch. proudmarycoffee.com
Opened in a residential neighborhood in the Northeast, Chalino is a modern, industrial-chic restaurant opened by chefs putting a spin on Mexican cuisine.
The stylish Mexican dish brings local ingredients with recognizable formats such as a salmon tostada (pictured at top) and ribeye asada. I went for Saturday dinner with my sister, and we opted for the Chef’s Tasting Menu ($50 each, entire table must participate). The tasting menu is five to six courses from the regular menu with the plates brought to the table family-style similar to how it’s done at San Francisco’s Progress.
Summer dishes were natural and simple to allow the fresh ingredients to be the star, such as summer tomatoes with pico de gallo, buttermilk, lime and cilantro. While other dishes came out like modern art, such as the albacore ceviche with sour cucumber, ground cherries, and thinly sliced kohlrabi cut into squares and creating a canopy for the fish.
We were so full by the time the ribeye asada came, but the meat was so perfectly cooked I had to eat a few slices. Dessert was a mix of fancy and simple, with the fancy being a special Mexican chocolate cake topped with rice crispies, compared to a simple bowl of pineapple ice cream with pepitas.
Chalino was a bit quiet for a Saturday night, but the food bumped up the volume in flavor and presentation. With a strong cocktail program, Chalino is the type of spot for fancy food and fun.
The deets: Chalino, 25 N. Fremont St., Portland. PH: 503.206.6421. Open for weekday lunch, and dinner from Monday through Saturday. Reservations and major credit cards accepted. www.chalinopdx.com
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