Tuesday, May 19, 2009

NW Tour: Not Lean Cuisine

Belly Timber in Portland
Pok Pok in Portland
Cafe Juanita in Seattle
35th Street Bistro in Seattle
Blue Water Cafe & Raw Bar in Vancouver

I figured we'd probably have a few good meals on our trip but was not prepared for the gastronomic extravaganza that was about to take place. I was blown away by just about every restaurant we checked out - luckily our friends in Portland and Seattle are total foodies, and we managed to find our way to Yaletown, otherwise known as "Little Soho" in Vancouver to find some tasty late night eats. Here are a few of my favorite places we discovered and would definitely visit again:

Saturday Brunch at Belly Timber did not disappoint. With an incredible cocktail list of specialty drinks made with local vodkas and gins it was hard to choose. We waited for an outdoor table by bellying up to the bar and I had an excellent bellini made with their own peach puree. When we got outside the cheeseburger with house made fries that must have had crack in them definitely hit the spot, especially when paired with their bloody mary with smoked applewood vodka and house made bacon salt. Best. Bloody. Ever. After a long hike through the Japanese Tea Garden, down into the NW neighborhood of Portland (where Jeff and I took our first trip to visit his friends in 2000 after we had been dating 3 weeks and where we like to grab a beer and reminisce when we're in town) then on to the Pearl District which is what I wish my neighborhood could become - all huge warehouse lofts, boutiques, wine bars, art galleries and impossibly hip but not expensive bars and restaurants. We popped onto the patio of Isabel Pearl for a fab glass of Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, where our friend Jessica joined us and drove us home to get ready for dinner at del Inti. Randomly, my friend Ignacio who I worked with at Maya in San Francisco, moved up to Portland with his wife and started this amazing Peruvian Restaurant a few years ago, and it happens to be in the Alberta Arts district, about 10 blocks from where our friends live - who we were staying with. Of course we walked there - biking and walking are highly encouraged in Portland, which I love - and got a table on the spacious patio with a roaring fire pit, under the cozy heat lamps. We ordered some Willamette Valley Pinot Noir - like you do - and a few amazing appetizers - Ceviche with Fish, Onions, Cilantro, Choclo, Yams, and Rocoto Leche de Tigre, Skewers of Beef witih Chimmichurri and Potato Croquettes Filled with Queso Fresco & Raisins, Tapenade - they were so delish we had to keep 'em coming. I had the Hanger Steak Saltado with Onions, Roma Tomatos, Fried Potatoes and Soy Sauce as my entree and it was fabulous. Everyone loved their meal - we were all quite impressed with the food and walked back home full and happy on a lovely spring evening to pass out after a full day of fabulous food and spectacular sights.

Sunday we spent wine tasting down in the Willamette Valley, which will be another post, but is a gorgeous area and has some of the best wineries I've experienced. Unfortunately they are not quite on par with Napa/Sonoma as far as hotels, spas and restaurants go. We had a late lunch on the patio of the Dundee Bistro, which was pretty good but nothing like the bistros in CA Wine Country. Hopefully the Willamette Valley can become a wine country destination - it seems like with all the fantastic restaurants in Portland, some chefs should start opening other locations in the wine country.

Monday was our last day in Portland, so after some strong french pressed coffee and a walk through the lovely Rhododendron garden in full bloom, we headed to Pok Pok for lunch. About 2 weeks ago I opened the mail and received an issue of Food & Wine magazine for some reason - I don't subscribe, but there it was . I was up on the roof deck browsing the mag and stumbled upon a glowing review of Pok Pok and knew I wanted to try it when I was in town. So glad I did. The Chef spent a lot of time in Thailand learning Thai bbq techniques and brought them back to Portland, where he started a small Thai take out shack outside his house in SE Portland which became so popular that he eventually turned his Victorian house in to a sit down restaurant, which won Oregon Restaurant of the Year in 2007. I had a refreshing blackberry, sage cocktail to compliment a dizzying array of amazing Thai dishes that we all shared: Roasted natural game hen rubbed with lemongrass, garlic, pepper and cilantro served with a spicy sweet and sour dipping sauce, Carlton Farms pork loin skewers marinated in coconut milk and turmeric, grilled over charcoal and served with peanut sauce, cucumber relish and grilled bread, Green papaya salad with tomatoes, long beans, Thai chili, lime juice, tamarind, fish sauce, garlic, palm sugar, dried shrimp and peanuts made to order in the pok pok (mortar and pestle) and my personal favorite: Fresh natural chicken wings marinated in fish sauce, garlic and sugar, deep fried, tossed in caramelized Phu Quoc fish sauce and garlic and served with Vietnamese table salad. Our daytime grill cook Ich Truong’s recipe from his home in Vietnam. YUM! I could not get enough - especially of those wings. I will definitely go back for dinner next time I am in Portland. Here is a great NYT article about Frugal Portland that really sums up the city.

We arrived via Amtrak train Monday night and our friends picked us up and whisked us off to happy hour at Olivers Twist, a super cute little bar with incredible sparkling cocktails and tasty little morsels. We sampled garlic truffled popcorn, blue cheese bacon stuffed dates with marcona almonds, and Mt. Townsend seastack with bacon compote, brioche crouton and orange marmelade. After dropping our luggage at their place and meeting their rambunctious dog Stella, we walked through their Ballard neighborhood to La Isla, a Puerto Rican restaurant with a ridiculously cheap late night happy hour. We feasted on all sorts of Empanadas, Bacalaitos, Camarones and several mojitos each, and the bill came to $55 for 4 people. Loves it.

Tuesday was one of the more gluttonous days of my life. After strong french pressed coffee to cure the Mojito hungzies, we walked by the water for a bit and then headed to the 35th Street Bistro where our friend Meredith is the sous chef, and has done an incredible job with the menu. Everyone there including the owners were super friendly and made us feel very welcome in their intimate and relaxed Fremont neighborhood bistro. We lunched on Duck Leg Confit, Warm Chicken Salad, Tuna Nicoise Sandwich, Trio of Tartlets and an incredible lemon and blackberry dessert, with a glass of crisp sauvignon blanc. Then Jeff went to golf and dropped "us girls" off at Olympus Spa for a Korean Scrub & Moisturizing treatment where after spending about 30 minutes detoxing in the very relaxing salt, sand, mud and charcoal hot rooms they made us soak in 104 degree water for 30 minutes to open our pores, exfoliated several layers of skin by scrubbing us down for 50 minutes and then replenished our skin with warm olive oil, milk and honey while we wore face masks made of mashed up cucumber. I felt like a human salad - and loved every second of it. Fully relaxed from our treatments and a few cups of hot tea in the tea relaxation room, we went back to their place and had a couple of strong vodka sodas - our friend Pat is a fantastic bartender - and then headed out to Kirkwood about 20 minutes outside of Seattle to dine at the best Italian restaurant in Seattle - Cafe Juanita. We brought along an incredible Domaine Serene Syrah we'd picked up at the winery in the Willamette Valley and started off with Bufala Mozzarella with Assorted Fritti, Grilled Octopus with Fennel, Green sauce and Chickpea Puré and Hearts of Romaine with Garlic Anchovy Vinaigrette, Toasted Breadcrumbs and Parmigiano Reggiano. I had the Local Morel Tagliatelle with Parmigiano Reggiano for dinner - by far one of the best pastas I've ever tasted.. They specialize in Northern Italian cooking and this restaurant was on par or better than foods I ate while in Northern Italy. Viva Italia!

After eating like kings in Portland and Seattle we kept it pretty mellow in Vancouver and focused more on the natural beauty of the area than the food. But we still managed to find some good eats - starting off Wednesday afternoon with totally authentic and cheap Chinese food at Hon's Wun-Tun House where we had sweet & spicy soup, pot stickers and fried rice. It was pouring rain our first day there - the only bit of rain we got the entire time - and of course we didn't bring the umbrella from our hotel in our mad rush to go explore the city, so we walked in the pouring rain to Stanley Park nearby and went to the spectacular Aquarium complete with beluga whales, but that's another post. After that we decided to take advantage of the amazing view from our Westin hotel room, overlooking the marina below and majestic mountains in the distance. Since it was still pouring rain, I got in my robe, put on some classical music, climbed into bed with some hot tea and read my book to chill for a bit while Jefe went off in search of vino. He brought back some amazing Pinot Noir and we luxuriated in the room while watching the rain come down. Then we headed downstairs for a long hot tub, steam and swim in the indoor pool and finally got ourselves ready for dinner around 11 pm. It was a Wednesday night so we weren't sure what would be open, but decided that Yaletown sounded most like our scene, and found a hip Pan Asian placed called Goldfish that was still serving a limited bar menu. We noshed on tuna tataki with warm sake and then headed across the street to a fantastic little lounge called George Ultra Lounge - which quickly became my new favorite bar with an amazing DJ, amazing cocktails and super loungey vibe.

Thursday was a busy day for outdoor hiking activities from Grouse Mountain to a suspension bridge above a waterfall in a rainforest and we needed some time to chill, swim, hot tub, steam that night and again made it out the door for dinner at 11 pm. Luckily the Blue Water Cafe & Raw Bar was still serving sushi - we sat at the bar and dined on sushi - albacore tuna marinated with sesame seeds and soy, thinly sliced hamachi with jalapeno, ginger and sesame oil and a Dynamite roll with crispy prawns, tobiko and cucumber with spicy mayonnaise. They're known as the best sustainable seafood restaurant in Vancouver and everything was insanely fresh, so I'm glad we got a chance to check it out. I keep reading about this place because apparently the Twighlight cast had their wrap party there last week as well. All in all, we enjoyed an incredible culinary tour of the Pacific Northwest.

1 comment:

  1. Gluttony is sometimes good to admit especially when it comes to great food. That is exactly what it sounds like you were able to enjoy at 35th Street Bistro! Duck is one of my personal favorites and the rest of your meal sounded exquisite! It is definitely great that you were able to top it off with the unique fruit dessert which sounds like an unusual combination but delectable nevertheless.