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Posts from the ‘Portland’ Category

Shovel Time: The Rheinlander

twoshovelI know no one gives a shit about Rheinlander other than me. Portland is strangely void of history and nostalgia, and well, I’m not sure the food is even good anymore (or if it even ever was). Oh, I guess one person does. It would never even occur to me to pitch a missive from the closing of the Rheinlander to The Awl, but there it is. I’m pretty sure I was there the same night as the author too. That’s why I’m a blogger.

rheinlander-dining-roomI went Christmas week, desperate to see the German restaurant that served as special occasion marker in my family into my early 20s one last time. It was brighter than I remembered, though that may have something to do with the Alpine room (I think it was called) right off the lobby, less labyrinthine and hidden. The food was brought out in quick succession, no waiting for appetizers to be eaten before mains. You could have a three-course meal and be out in an hour (my family who have no patience would probably love that).


There were two accordionists, no Victor Meindl, not in lederhosen. (I recently looked him up as he permanently seemed middle-aged when I was young and could’ve been anywhere from 50-65, so it’s possible he’s still alive. There is an gentleman with his name in West Linn, so I’m holding out hope that he’s still around.)  The fondue is served in a microwavable bowl rather than a cast iron crock.


But…I don’t know…the food was pretty solid. Maybe not so pretty, but delicious. I never order sauerbraten since the last time years ago at Schnitzel Haus it was dry and stringy. Here, it was not, and I could eat the lightly browned, buttered spaetzle for ever. I love red cabbage sauerkraut too.


The local boyfriend who I’d dragged along (I made a reservation for 4 but couldn’t find two other takers!) seemed mystified by the menu and ordered a chicken schnitzel with mushroom sauce, which took me back at least 20 years ago when I attended Christmas dinner with my dad’s new family, and Jody, the methy step-sister who I always imagine in over-sized Loony Toons shirts ordered that very dish. She liked it so much she asked, “Could I get more mushrooms?” and I suffered humiliation by proxy. You ask for seconds at restaurants? She got an extra helping, served in a little side dish, by the way.


Apple streudel, which I’m so-so on, but it was the only German dessert on the menu. I don’t even remember the other three, though I totally wouldn’t be surprised if there was a chocolate lava cake.


We both grew up in the Portland area, so I reminisced how Horst Mager was the original celebrity chef (ok, James Beard, whatever) and appeared on AM Northwest all the time and he had no idea who I was talking about. Times change. Mager was quoted in a press release, “This decision didn’t happen overnight; we’ve been discussing it for a long time. I have bittersweet feelings about it, of course. But I feel it’s the right thing to do, especially considering today’s Portland food scene. It has been evolving, and so must we.” Self-aware, yet I’m not sure what evolution even means for Portland’s food scene. Food trucks and pop-ups can’t be the be all to end all.


I look ok here, maybe a little sweaty, but I had to find and go straight to after-hours urgent care after this meal because I couldn’t swallow or hear and couldn’t stop coughing. I only point this out because Portland makes me crazy but it’s so goddamn easy. (I would consider moving back if the average rents now were less than my NYC mortgage and maintenance.) It was like a 12-minute drive to a different quadrant of the city (NE to NW), we were able to park right in front of the clinic, I was seen right away and in and out in 20 minutes, including the filling of two prescriptions, and it was $65. (I had an ear infection.) I haven’t been so impressed since I had to go to the hospital in Singapore and it was posh and $35.

Previously, on The Rheinlander. 

The Rheinlander * 5035 NE Sandy Blvd., Portland, OR 

Eaten, Barely Blogged: Oregon, Better Late Than Never



Mae. I was reluctant to eat at a Southern food pop-up in Portland. Who needs it? (I would be more interested in a Pacific Northwest pop-up on the South except that there isn’t a distinct cuisine to speak of.) But it was one of the highlights of my trip; very vegetable-focused, light when it needed to be (chilled zucchini & buttermilk soup with sweet pepper relish, cherry tomato, and sumac-toasted pecans and lingerie beans, flame nectarine, pickled chantrelles, purslane with brown butter vinaigrette) hefty when it was required (chicken fried in three fats–no idea which). And I will never again underestimate the power of biscuits slathered with Duke’s mayonnaise and topped with nothing more than heirloom tomatoes and bourbon barrel-smoked salt. At $65 (suggested donation) for ten courses (was too busy eating to take photos of them all) and BYOB I would consider it a great bargain, though in Portland that means you’ll be sharing a table with some wealthy middle-aged Bergen County transplants and siblings from Eastern Oregon of mysterious means (and a dubious relationship) one whose child with a septum piercing will be going to Harvard in the fall. I was the only teenager-free diner at the table (even my boyfriend has a daughter going to the cool downtown public high school, which everyone approved of) and when the sister from Pendleton made everyone state their favorite movie, and wouldn’t let up after I demurred, I was like maybe I’m a poor conversationalist? No matter, when there’s pickled ramp pimento cheese to be eaten.


Nodoguru. $125 ticketed omakase that sells out in minutes. It was all right. Something about it felt off for Portland, not that I’m critiquing quality or creativity.  I just couldn’t get excited because I’m a jaded monster.


Pizza Vendor. Totally the break-out hit of this trip. With its straighforward name and no reason to go unless you happen to already be in Scappoose identity, it suited my needs just fine. It’s the childhood pizza of your dreams, half-and-half if you please, lots of cheese, thin, chewy, and puffy cornmeal-dusted crust, except that now you can get pitchers of beer instead of root beer and I still can’t figure out how what seemed like six-pints worth of some local IPA was only $6.99. Bon Appetit had recently declared Pizza Jerk, a take on East Coast pizzerias, one of America’s Best New Restaurants despite it being closed due to a fire. Magically, it reopened two days before I was to head back to NYC. I had planned to hit it on the way to the airport but went back to Pizza Vendor instead.


Hat Yai. It’s no secret that I’m a fan of Portland Thai food. There are all sorts of interesting niches being filled despite the Thai population being practically nonexistent. The shtick is Southern Thai in a fast-casual format with cute branding. Fried chicken, lightly battered in seasoned rice flour encrusted with fried shallots and sweet chile sauce is featured and I tried a combo with a big buttery roti and chicken curry, not exactly a light lunch. I kind of love that there are six straight liquors for $6, soda an extra $1.50 (though I’m sure that’s considered overpriced since a majority of cocktails in Portland are still sub-$10) as I’ve been on a tequila and soda kick (so I can pretend I’m not a lame as a vodka soda-drinker). Sometimes I think I will move back to Portland and then I see middle-aged foodie dudes with goatees setting up elaborate photo shoots (was under the impression this was a blogger of some consequence) who pronounce prix fixe, pree fixay, and I’m all nope, I would just be too mean for this town.


Urdaneta. Stopped in for a snack because I was wandering around the area and recognized the name as something newish and ended up ruining my appetite for the $5 Little Bird happy hour double brie burger I had planned on later. Complimentary pimenton-spiked chickpeas and a sweetbread-topped pintxo would’ve suited my needs fine. The tortilla was substantial, gilded with Idiazabal and sherry aioli, and I couldn’t stop eating it.


Pine State Biscuits. I’ve been before. It was close to my Airbnb.


Giant Drive-In. There’s a shingled A-frame practically in the backyard of the apartment complex my mom and stepdude are now managing. No, it’s not a destination but I would recommend the big, fun (Hawaiian!) burgers and homemade shakes even if you lived a little more than walking distance.




Cedar Plank Buffet. We gathered 10 family members for a Sunday brunch buffet at Spirit Mountain Casino because nothing is too good for my mom’s 66th birthday. Fried oysters, smoked salmon, biscuits and gravy, lemon meringue pie, french toast, and bacon is just all a part of the deal.

Mountain View Sports Bar. Oh, and a late night sports reuben that I carted around from my mom’s to Scappoose because I’m gross and can’t toss food. I can’t remember if this was before or after the mushrooms and Keno (my sister is a hippie) but it was ok because we stayed overnight, no driving.


Coyote Joe’s. Weird that I would encounter biscuits three times in two days because biscuits aren’t particularly Northwesty.


San Dune Pub. An oyster po’ boy with local Willapa Bay oysters. See? New Orleans appropriation.


Little Big Burger. I completely forgot I ate this.


An Xuyen. Banh mi, only $1.49 more than the ’90s. Best sandwich under $3. The owner/cashier was so damn chatty I thought the line of customers behind me were about to kill us, yet when I looked up no one gave a shit.


Pho Van. Part of a mini Vietnamese empire. Solid pho. No, I did not make it to Rose VL Deli.


Shut Up and Eat. My grandma is into this food truck-turned-brick-and-mortar restaurant and I’m half-convinced it’s simply because of the name. The Italian sandwich contained a little more roughage than I’m accustomed to.


Ixtapa. The waiter was all, “I put habaneros in your food,” I guess to get a reaction, but I was all “ok…” That’s humor in Scappoose. The combos are crazy cheap and you won’t feel weird for ordering a chimichanga. That’s all you need to know.


Shari’s. The last two times I’ve been (2x in one year is more than I’d been in two decades) they did not have my first choice or second choice pie. YMMV. They always have tots, however.


Eaten, Barely Blogged: Portland Barrage, Old-School Mostly

burgerville colassal cheeseburger

I started Portland with Burgerville, partially because I wanted a Colossal Cheeseburger (they aren’t really colossal) for the road, but mostly because I needed to use a bathroom and the Beaverton location is sort of on the way between downtown, where the Bolt Bus dropped me off from Seattle and my mom picked me up, and her place at the coast. I was chided for not getting the seasonal chocolate hazelnut shake and I still regret it. Burgerville spread rules so hard they’ve jarred it.

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Shovel Time: Langbaan

fourshovelI wouldn’t have expected one of my favorite, ok, maybe my total favorite, meal in Portland to be tough-reservation Thai, served just a few nights a week, across the street from the bar I used to frequent two decades ago with the boyfriend who was the age I will be in five months. Why not four shovels? That gif could use some airtime. 

langbaan grid

Langbaan is a pop-up of sorts, a side piece of PaaDee, with a theme that changes monthly. January, my month, was Central Thailand, which could’ve been boring potentially since that’s region most Thai restaurants in the US draw from. I’ve only been to Central Thailand, yet knowing myself I’m still going to say it’s my favorite, leaning sweet and rich with great balanced heat. It’s not like Langbaan was going to put out chopsticks and bowls of overly coconutty green curry with the option to substitute tofu. (If it were my show, I’d be a dick and make pad thai, a really awesome pad thai, but that would be more of an NYC move not Portland. Pad Thai is notably absent from PaaDee’s menu, as well.)

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Top 8 Pre-Portlandia Restauarants

Before there were vegan strip clubs and chickens named Colin, cinnamon-and-sugar crusted elephant ears were the only thing you order from a trailer in Portland (while shopping for rainbow kites and jewelry forged from bent spoons at Saturday Market, of course) and shunning animal products meant ordering drive-thru 7-layer burritos without the sour cream and cheddar cheese. Yet despite the last millennium lack of barrel-aged cocktails, foraged lichen or whole animal butchery, residents managed to dine out every now and then.

In fact, some of these old guard establishments are still in business and presumably maintain a loyal following. Presumably, because I’ve only been back to Portland three times in nearly 16 years so it’s not as if I’m keeping tabs on the current state of near stalwarts. And this is not exactly about the food anyway; longevity and memories count for something too.

Don’t worry, FWx kids. Someday everything you once loved will also disappear. First small plates, then communal seating…and then we’ll all die. Ok, bye!

P.S. RIP Quality Pie, Circus Burger, Pizza Oasis, Yankee Pot Roast, Macheezmo Mouse, and Taste of Bali.

P.P.S. No one ever uttered or wrote “Keep Portland weird” in my multi-decade Portland lifetime.

Photo: 10best

Photo: 10best

Old Wives’ Tales is totally where the feminist bookstore womyn would eat, yet also could function as a meeting place for your meat-and-potatoes mom. In retrospect, it seems a little crunchy though at the time it just felt like a regular restaurant. The brightly muraled kids playroom and muted mint green and dusty rose color palette is still in effect and would somehow be more at home in a second-tier city in the state or the Oregon Coast.  Frankly, the food is kind of boring—I only ever ate the Hungarian mushroom soup and salad bar and rosemary chicken sandwich. They appear to have added a Mt. Hood painting to the facade and attempted to cool-up the name with the acronym OWT. That is too much.

La Sirenita’s arrival on N.E. Alberta when it was still a dead zone, taking the bus out there seemed sketchy and prostitutes would approach my car at night, marked the dawn of New Portland. I rarely eat burritos now that I’m civilized, but no one ate tacos at this taqueria, which was actually Mexican and not gross spinach, brown rice and non-dairy cream cheese hippie-mex. In fact, there was no rice at all in these burritos (though the menu now indicates otherwise) or even cheese. They were also not Mission-style, nor any style I’ve since encountered. Maybe five inches long, and nearly as wide, these flour tortilla parcels were crazy dense and filled with lardy refried beans and meat (carnitas always) so greasy it would ooze orange through the bag and onto every surface. I don’t think these burritos cost more than $3 either; even  now they are only $4.



Rheinlander A million years ago I wrote about Rheinlander and how the long-time accordionist Victor Meindel made me cry (not food-induced tears of joy) when I was in my 20s. Instead of demurring when solicited for a request like I normally would, I asked for “Consider Yourself” from Oliver, a movie that has always skeeved me out, but that I knew he always played in the ‘80s. This was the next decade. The earnest serenading coupled with his goofy grin sent me into nervous hysterics and then tears began seeping out. I have no idea of Victor is still there; he was probably in his 50s at the time of this incident. (This is the only other photo I can find of him.)

victorRheinlander is where we would occasionally have family celebrations and where I went for my high school graduation dinner. My oversized Tasmanian Devil t-shirt-wearing former step-sister that I’ve had no contact with for over a decade once asked for more sautéed mushrooms with her jagerschnitzel like a methy Oliver Twist and they actually complied. This was only slightly less humiliating than her uncle who insisted on a beer-whisky drink that he’d had in the service even though the non-German waitress had no idea what he was growling on about. Rheinlander’s selling point was a sharp cheese fondue served in a cast iron pot, which I now know is Swiss not German, but whatever. The even more TL, DR version here.

Hung Far Low gets attention from its unintentionally ribald name. It’s not even in Old Town/pseudo-Chinatown anymore (which isn’t called Old Town anymore—Pearl District what?) and lost the classic chop suey sign, which means it’s kind of dead to me, but I will always think of the dark vinyl booth lounge (no one ate in the restaurant) fondly. It was my specter of a boyfriend’s (I’m not even dating 44-year-olds now) haunt where we’d drink whiskey sours (me) and greyhounds (him) and eat late-night General Tso’s chicken. You would always run into someone you knew here. When I fell and broke my tailbone and was off work for over two weeks, I recuperated enough to go out but didn’t tell anyone and was spotted at Hung Far Low by a coworker like in those hidden camera workers’ comp sting operations.

Photo: Google+

Photo: Google+

Chu’s Eatery Frankly, I’m beyond shocked that this column A, column B Chinese-American restaurant still exists. In middle school, I briefly lived in the divorced families apartment complex across the street, but was too young to dine on my own. By driving age, and back in a two-parent house, my sister and I would occasionally visit for a cashew chicken combo that contained more chopped celery and carrots than meat or nuts. The adjoining lounge always seemed a bit tawdry and not in a kitschy way. This wasn’t a tiki-era relic, but firmly a product of that ‘80s Northwestern bark dust moat, wooden slat style, in this case fueled by Bud Light and video poker. Because Gresham is/was a small town, I heard from a non-friend high school classmate that her mom had been at Chu’s and was upset by a group of rowdy kids with skateboards including me. She was wrong, though; the weirdo we were with was a 25-year-old man. During this period I also started my first job bussing tables at a restaurant very much like Chu’s called Hunan Garden. Crab rangoon is in my veins.

My Father’s Place This would be as if Chu’s lounge was just one big restaurant that served reuben sandwiches and was patronized by proto-hipsters. I imagine it’s exactly the same now minus the proto part.

Taco Time Burgerville is the local chain that gets the most attention, but I’m pretty sure they didn’t rebrand as fresh, seasonal and sustainable until the 2000s. It used to be a burger joint plain and simple. Taco Time describes itself as an “upscale quick service restaurant chain that specializes in freshly prepared, home-style Mexican fare” on its website, which is completely untrue. You go there for tightly rolled fried burritos, half flauta, half chimichanga, now called Original Crisp Burritos, and lightly spiced tater tots a.k.a. Mexi-Fries.

Montage Technically Le Bistro Montage, the restaurant, which I never thought of as Cajun, but kind of is,  is currently located in what’s now called the Central Eastside Industrial district. It used to be on Belmont and was kind of a big deal to be open until 3am on weekends, considering bars and most everything close at least an hour before that. With white tablecloths and non-paper napkins, Montage seemed like a fancy restaurant—and certainly a step up from burritos and egg rolls—but wasn’t expensive. It was also the first place where I encountered foil animals for leftovers.

There is also an argument that could be made for Higgins, Wildwood and Paley’s Place, but those were far too grown-up and expensive for me to have any first-hand knowledge.


I’m moderately embarrassed to admit that I have always glossed over any mentions of Castagna because I incorrectly assumed it was an Italian restaurant (it once was). Only after Castagna started affecting me directly, i.e. appearing in my heavily NYC-loaded rss feeds because the young chef, Matthew Lightner, was leaving to work at Tribeca’s retooled Compose, now to be known as Atera. My week in Portland was the chef’s final week in Castagna’s kitchen. Now I was motivated.

And he’s a total forage-crazed adherent to the new Nordic ethos (with a good measure of Spanish avant-garde tossed in, as I soon discovered). Ok, as long as he wasn’t going nuts with pine needles, wet moss, slugs and mushrooms, my Northwest bugaboos, I was up for this. I imagined Castagna as a counterpoint to Paley’s. Warm and homey versus cool and rustically cerebral.

Castagna facade
Castagna is designed in style that’s similar to one that's taken Portland by storm during my long absence. There is a regional penchant for turning existing structures into modern glassy boxes done in neutral tones, metal signage and light wood, very Scandinavian with a touch of the Northwest by which I mean ramshackle despite no ragged edges; it’s just a haphazard feeling I get and not visible to the eye. Castagna is less stark from the outside because it's housed in a deco building.

I first noticed this on my last visit two years ago when I realized Laurelhurst Market was a kitted out former Plaid Pantry. This trip, I tracked down a bottle of La Passion de Juchepie wine mentioned in The Art of Eating just because it was described as “so rare as to be almost unobtainable in the United States” yet there was one bottle left at Garrison’s Fine Wines in Portland.

This wine shop was in a shiny, newish strip mall, aesthetically acceptable with its clean lines, wood panels and earth tones that would presumably keep tanning salons and 99-cent stores at bay. This collection of shops was on the former site of a dumpy grocery store that I want to say was called Thrifty Mart, but probably wasn’t. It was my first supermarket after moving out of the house (eight blocks away). Feeling flush with newly granted food stamps ($112 per month seemed like a lot of money) on my inaugural visit I picked up hot cross buns because I’d never eaten the sweet rolls topped with candied fruit and icing and smoked salmon because it seemed fancy. And now you can spend $48 for a half-bottle of obscure imported French dessert wine on its grounds.

No one was wearing fleece or polos in Castagna. Women wore makeup. Two men were dining solo doing full tasting menus. This is where I’d want to say, “you could be anywhere,” but not really. It felt American still, West Coat most likely. The space was far too airy, relaxed and non-bustling to be New York or even Brooklyn despite a tempered hipness.  The background music was so quiet that Shazzam couldn’t even pick up the noise and help me jog my memory to identify a song (it came to me later: The xx’s "Islands"). It felt like a cosmopolitan restaurant in Portland, frankly. The city could use more of these.

We did not do the tasting. One parade of decadence was plenty for one week, and Benu already took that spot. We still received a fair number of dishes before we got into the four-course prixe fixe (a great NYC value at $65, though perhaps high for Portland—I don’t know any locals who’ve eaten at Castagna). If I wasn’t sure what I was getting into, I certainly did after the initial trio of snacks: thoughtful, precise flavor combinations; a little Nordic, a little unexpected, very woodsy.

Castagna snacks

A puff of meringue filled with a bright green herbal mousse. What looked like a Girl Scout Thin Mint was a savory cracker coated in slightly bitter black sesame paste, perfect with a dab of tart rose hip jam. Rye crackers with chicken liver mousse and poppyseeds.

Castagna bread and butter

The butter topped with brown butter solids was nice, and more attractive perched on that rock, but the lardo studded with herbs and I want to say bacon was insane. So insane that we ate the whole thing and were brought a second little dish. The rye rolls were very sturdy, a good match for the smoky, spreadable fat. This would be so good paired with a scotch-based cocktail (maybe I shouldn’t be giving that other Portland expat chef any ideas).

Castagna black cod with pickled potatoes, sour cream, dill, borage

black cod with pickled potatoes, sour cream, dill, borage. Potato chips! The cod, chopped into small pieces and bound with sour cream reminded me of a more compelling tuna tartare; you know, the kind served with fried wonton strips and possibly served in a martini glass. Maybe this will be an ubiquitous starter in 15 years.

Castagna summer squash with beef marrow, tongue, onion blossom

summer squash with beef marrow, tongue, onion blossom. It was the marrow that grabbed my attention on the menu—and presented in rounds like scallops, no less—but it was the beef tongue that got me thinking. I just ate sous-vided, tweezered-painstakingly-by-hand-into-shreds tongue garnished with flowers at Mugaritz in May. Matthew Lighter worked at Mugaritz. Would this be called an homage? Is it taking too much from the original? The duo next to us asked and was given a detailed description of how the tongue was prepared, and they were delighted with the chef’s whimsy. Is it fair to not disclose the inspiration? Certainly, the tangle of meat floss was only one component of a more complex dish. It did make me wonder what I might recognize on the plates if I had had the good fortune of eating at Noma.

Castagna lamb collar, wheat berries, wheat grass, buttermilk

lamb collar, wheat berries, wheat grass, buttermilk. I was eating sticks–woody, lemony twigs–and that was not the only distinct texture; the wheat berries had a lot of pleasant chew. The fall-apart tender cut of lamb, glazed with a vaguely bbq-ish sauce, needed these stiffer accents to bolster it.

Castagna wild ginger with long pepper, ginger shortbread, herbs

wild ginger with long pepper, ginger shortbread, herbs. This was barely a dessert, spiced to the hilt with only the slightest hint of sweetness. Totally un-American, and mildly cruel, crafting this dish would definitely keep an herb chef busy. The pepper and ginger so intense that you almost get that Sichuan peppercorn overload where your mouth’s sensors give up and it almost tastes like you’ve been eating curried dirt. It’s the one item from this meal I ate over a month ago that is still tangible, I can taste the sharp, musty flavors even now. Am I selling this dessert or what?

I never felt compelled to try the short-lived Compose, but now I’m genuinely curious about Atera. Will there be beef tongue?

Full set of Castagna photos.

* 1752 Hawthorne Blvd., Portland, OR

Paley’s Place

I’m not sure if this is a Portland vs New York City thing or a Way We Live Now thing, but when I lived in Portland—up until the age of 25—I ate things like burritos, monte cristo sandwiches and pizza (well, laska too) if I ate out at all. Late night Montage with their leftovers wrapped into foil swans was as fancy as it got. I drank Rainer Beer and whisky sours. Based on daily Twitter skimming, it would appear that it is not uncommon for young adults in NYC to imbibe $14 cocktails, bottles of 20-year-old Oregon Pinot Noir and eat foraged purslane salads and aged, grass-fed beef on a regular basis.

Maybe we just have more choice…maybe it’s just the money flowing in NYC. There’s a reason why food cart culture has flourished in Portland, after all. I didn’t see anyone obviously under 30 eating at any of the city’s high end restaurants during my visit.

Then again, we didn’t have a lot of “nice” restaurants in Portland when I was growing up. The city gets plenty of attention for its food now, but it’s not like there is a Per Se or Le Bernadin (Portlanders still don’t really eat fish) equivalent. In my era, Northwest Portland was the most expensive neighborhoods (I only paid $225 per month because the building could be demolished at any moment, a threat that had been present for years and came to pass not long after I moved in) and that’s where restaurants emerged that were acclaimed at the time: Wildwood, which is still going, and long-gone Zefiro, which stuck out on a stretch of taverns and delis with its soft glow emanating from a wall of windows polished and full of successful adults, it was the ultimate yuppie restaurant. I had no idea what kind of food they even served and would never bother getting close enough to check.

Paley’s Place, opened in 1995, was one of these novel-at-the-time local and seasonal restaurants that it never occurred to me to try. And did I want to now? It seemed kind of passé compared to on-trend Castagna or any number of young cheffy places in neighborhoods that no one would’ve traveled to to eat 15 years ago. But it’s an important restaurant and epitomizes old Portland, by which I mean late last century—things changed post-millennium as an influx of transplants and loftier ambitions began creating the Portlandia of today.

Paley's place exterior

Classic Portland translates to homey, literally, a wood frame house with a wide porch for al fresco dining. The interior is simple, warm; I’m remember drapes and carpeting even though I can see hardwood floors in photos. Despite the reputation as being a special occasion restaurant—it wins votes for Most Romantic and If I Won the Lottery, This is the First Place I’d Eat—suited for anniversaries or where your parents might take you out of they did that sort of thing (mine don’t) or where you might take them if you’re the flush one (maybe I’m doing better than I realize because I didn’t consider the prices lottery-winner steep) the diners were classic Portland, as well. Men wear neither jackets nor ties, but rather shorts and sandals. The servers themselves wear khakis and polos. Babies are breastfed at the table. Formality is an abstract concept.

The food, the whole point really, was completely solid. I chose not to stick with an appetizer/entrée approach, and you don’t have to; many items are available in half portions or aren’t course-specific.

Paley's place seafood sausage

Seafood sausage amuse.

Paley's place oysters

There were three different oysters on offer, all from Washington State: Blue Pool, Diamond Point and Kusshi.

Paley's place wagyu pastrami

Wagyu pastrami might not look pretty on the plate, but it was a delicious, smoky, fatty mess. Extravagant without being dainty, there were hints of brown sugar complemented by both stone ground mustard and thousand island dressing. I wondered if Paley’s other charcuterie—there were at least ten types listed—excelled, as well.

Paley's place pork belly & sweetbreads

More shared richness in the form of a pork belly cube and pan-fried sweetbreads.

Paley's place salmon with aioli

The 3-ounce half-portion of salmon turned out to be just enough when combined with the above dishes. Normally, I stay away from salmon because it seems dull, but it would be silly to avoid a Northwest fish so close to home. The charred cauliflower and saffron aioli gave a nice Spanish luster to the dish.

I was glad that I didn’t skip Paley’s in a quest for the latest thing. I had a reservation for Castagna the following night (so did a woman at the table of men in sandals) and was eager to compare old Portland to the new.

Paley’s Place * 1204 NW 21st Ave., Portland, OR


Le Pigeon

After eventually giving in to the un-ignorable conviviality of the communal table (you can pretend neighbors seated two inches from you in NYC are invisible—or at least I do) it was surprising to discover that I was the only native Oregonian among the New Yorkers, New Jerseyites and Arizonans seated along the wall. (And in turn, just about anyone you might encounter in Portland who is under 35 and mildly hip is likely to be a transplant.) Is Le Pigeon for food pilgrims or do locals eat there too?

When the restaurant cleared after 10pm, my friend Todd who has been living in San Francisco for the past few years after a decades-long stint in Portland and was back in town for a visit, his last night, my first, the only date we had in common, my real birthday, popped in because he didn’t want to hang out at nearby Douglas Fir Lounge, our planned rendezvous, by himself. (Who would? I just wanted to see what it was like since I consider Doug Fir to be early New Portland, circa 2004, an era I missed by refusing to come back to Oregon for many years. It was a showcase of kind of informal bartending, lumberjack chic—in décor and the young patrons’ style—faux heshers and Japanese tourists with not inexpensive prices for straightforward drinks. It was the only place with a doorman and a required hand stamp—on a Monday night, no less.)

My point is that Todd had never been to Le Pigeon. “Too crowded and they don’t take reservations.” Sounds like me and my relationship to Prime Meats, Buttermilk Channel and Lucali, my neighbors I can never easily visit. Le Pigeon does take reservations now, by the way. And they’ve also removed the passive-aggressive “substitutions politely declined” tagline that vexed me on my 2009 visit (that's not why I didn't go–Le Pigeon was closed for Labor Day that particular week). Beast is still using it.

I was extremely lax about making notes, remembering menu details or taking tons of photos—it was a celebratory meal, after all, and the half-bottles of Riesling and Pinot Noir (Willamette Valley, of course) didn’t help boost my memory. The menu changes weekly (I would love to try the quail, peppers, tripe, potato chip I’m currently seeing) and I didn’t have the foresight to save a pdf.

Le pigeon dinner

I had wondered if pigeon would be present and it was…both nearly raw and claw-on with edible bones. I hadn’t expected crudo, though technically it had been sous-vided for three minutes. Footed poultry appears to be a quirk not specific to NYC restaurants like Fedora and St. Anselm (they win, using the charred head too). Pickles and blue cheese were also present. Polenta? Even though this wasn’t my dish, from a visual perspective this was a fairly busy plate.

Boar terrine with pistachios and prunes was far more traditional. This was the first of two times that I would encounter sea beans in five days. A Portland trend? I would take sea beans over fiddleheads or nettles, any day.

My duck was also straightforward, at least visually. I know that I wouldn’t order something with tomatoes and pesto, so now I am remembering that cherries were on top and that the chunky, oil-bound greenery surrounding the potatoes had to have been made from pistachios.

Cheeses were not hyper-local, though it remained a western spread. I’m certain Montana was represented. Maybe even Idaho. I’m all for lesser-known regions (Tenpenny has been serving cheese from Utah). Hazelnuts, of course, couldn’t be more Oregonian. I do wonder if anyone calls them filberts anymore or if only old-timers like myself grew up using that name.

Le Pigeon * 738 Burnside St., Portland, OR

Pine State Biscuits

Read about the Reggie Deluxe, a massive biscuit sandwich I encountered while in Portland, over at Serious Eats. It was yesterday's sandwich in their ambitious Sandwich a Day coverage.

The Dream of the ’90s

I hope to get around to writing more about the food—it was uniformly good, from food truck porchetta, pigeon crudo to a copy cat Mugaritz dish—I encountered in Portland. In the meantime, here are some photos and non-surprising surface observations from someone who hasn’t lived in the city for 13 years.

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People move incredibly slow. You will miss the lightrail waiting for a free ticket machine even though the doors are left open for what feels like five minutes. You will not make it off the lightrail and to the corner in any reasonable amount of time because everyone shuffles in a big zombie mass (you would think sports sandals would make one zippier) and you can’t break free without being rude. I want to say that I was never this slow, but I do recall the first time I visited NYC in ’94 that the subway doors seemed to open and shut in a split second and I was hyper-concerned about not getting smashed in them. 

If you don’t smile and talk a lot when making transactions or even say hi to strangers on the street (WTF? I know I never did that) you also seem rude. An NYC friend who visited Portland the week before I did, said she felt compelled to buy things she didn’t necessarily want in stores because of this. I did not.

Strangers make long, sustained eye contact, i.e. stare. You are not my lover and I don’t even abide that from people I know. This occurred on the street, in restaurants and on public transportation. I wanted to shout “What do you want?!” I guess you’re supposed to say hi?

A normal response to “I’ll have a coffee/donut/cocktail” will be “cool.” I have been known to respond similarly, probably inappropriately in business situations, but I am not in the service industry.

No one can merge onto the freeway (I can’t either and it’s the reason why I flunked my second driving test). The concept of speeding up to squeeze in does not exist.

Everyone under 35 really does have elaborate tattoos. I often feel self-conscious in NYC with two fairly small ones.

90% of families will be wearing sport sandals and cargo shorts or demin shorts. Gussied up with a polo when it’s warm or polar fleece when it’s cool, this is perfectly acceptable apparel for fine dining. Women will also be breastfeeding at upscale restaurants, but that’s probably no different from Brooklyn.

If you make a reservation after 8:15pm, it is very likely you will end up being the last party left in the restaurant.

Straight women have man hair. I like short hair on women. This is not that.