My sister-in-law often gives me a restaurant research project when she travels for work. She likes what I like so I call upon my own experience in the city, places I’ve visited during food conferences, my knowledge of the culinary scene, the latest lists of James Beard Foundation nominees, and my contacts to help me guide her to a great dining experience. When she visited Louisville, Kentucky I was able to point her to Ed Lee’s 610 Magnolia which she loved. Last November the city was Portland, Oregon.
Iconic White Stag sign. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.
A great food town! I was excited to get to work and see if I could come up with some interesting places that met her perameters which were:
- Near the Benson Hotel in the Pearl District
- Not super-expensive (expense account allowed but no hair-raising surprises to the financial department)
- Not too loud/crowded/noisy
- Excellent independent chef (not a chain restaurant)
- Thoughtful, trained servers
Here’s the list I pulled together for her. (Jump to the end to see where she and her colleagues went and what they thought!) Starting point: The Benson Hotel in the Pearl District, 309 Southwest Broadway
Built in 1912, The Benson is a city landmark and on the National Register of Historic Places. Photo courtesy of The Benson Hotel.
701 Northwest 13th Avenue (.8 miles from Benson Hotel, 4-minute cab ride) Chef Sarah Schafer calls her food American cuisine with a Southern twist. She’s lauded for her classic French techniques and her dedication to her purveyors. Schafer worked in Boston and in some of the most prestigious kitchens in NYC including Gramercy Tavern under chef Tom Colicchio, where she was quickly promoted to Sous Chef, the first female Sous Chef in any Danny Meyer restaurant. (In my opinion, anyone who has trained with or worked for Danny Meyer is worth a shot as chef. His restaurants are like the Ivy League for chefs, sommeliers, bartenders, and servers.)
Park Kitchen 422 NW 8th Avenue (.6 miles, 3 minutes from hotel) New American-Pacific NW food ably matched by engaging service. Park Kitchen’s Scott Dolich is twice-nominated for Best Chef Northwest by the James Beard Foundation. Some of the reviews: “36 Hours In Portland – Saturday Night – 8pm Hot Reservation – subtly superb.” – The New York Times “The meal is amazing from beginning to end, the service is first-rate, the ambience friendly and relaxed — the perfect place to sit back and enjoy an evening.” – The Oregonian: Arts & Entertainment
2601 NW Vaughn Street 2.2 miles from Benson, 6-minute drive
Meriwether’s grows the produce it serves at its own Skyline Farm. Chef Peter Kuhlman crafts menus inspired by the Willamette Valley’s abundance, matching harvest with some of the finest raw ingredients in the world from the farmers, fishers and ranchers of the Pacific Northwest. Beautiful outdoor garden setting in a historic building.
2601 NW Vaughn Street 2.2 miles, 6-minute drive
For the sixth consecutive year Chef/Owner Cathy Whims has been nominated by the James Beard Foundation for Best Chef Northwest. Pricey but awesome pizza, great salads. From Portland Monthly: “This is Italian home cooking as it should be—stripped down, honest, powered by wood fire. No place in Portland is better suited to please a diverse crowd: foodies, kids, wine lovers, your adventure-fearing relatives.”
527 SW 12TH AVENUE .5 miles, 5-minute drive
The Gruner Burger
Old-world comfort meets new-world sophistication at Grüner, Christopher Israel’s restaurant devoted to the warm, hearty flavors of Middle Europe. Grüner serves European “Alpine” cuisine, and was named one of the 10 best new restaurants in America by GQ magazine. What is “alpine” cuisine? Chef Chris Israel describes the fare as lighter and brighter than German with the influences of northern France, Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Hungary.
Email from my sister-in-law:
Dear R: 1,000 thanks for my Portland little black book. I passed your list along to A. G. and we chose Park Kitchen which was FAB.
Moreover, she passed the list to another colleague who had to take a group of people out to dinner and he used the list so I got big brownie points for that.
At Park Kitchen we shared 5 little tasting plates:
- A paté with salad – great flavors but it should have been called salad with paté because there were only 3 slivers the diameter and thinness of a 50 cent coin. Nonetheless, it was delish.
- A salad of beets, toasted hazelnuts, goat cheese, and frisée—absolutely yummy, my surprise favorite dish. Really sensational flavors.
- “Torn corn ravioli” with pork ragu—sounded yummy and it was good. I thought it would be my favorite but it wasn’t.
- Chick pea fries – 4-inch by ¾-inch logs with a dipping sauce—great texture, not greasy at all. So good we could have had another round.
- Stuffed calamari – not my thing. AG. had this one to herself and liked it a lot.
- Bread and cracker plate — to die for, great artisan bread with home-churned salty butter and these amazing little wheat crackers.
- We split a dessert — a slice of chocolate pie (dense and dark like a flourless torte) with a salted caramel ice cream—yum yum.
Friday night we went to Nostrano.
We had a table for nine. Great pink prosecco. I had strozzopretti (“prieststranglers” or “priestchokers” in Italian) with grappa, cream, and prosciutto. Pasta spirals with great texture. Certainly tasted the grappa but there wasn’t enough prosciutto for a DNA test. Still a fun evening.
We also walked around the Pearl District shops. Some very cute places.
Thank you, darling, for the well-researched list!
Pearl District’s Oven & Shaker pizza. Photo: Oven & Shaker