Rebecca’s Little Black Book: Portland, Oregon

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.

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.

Built in 1912, The Benson is a city landmark and on the National Register of Historic Places.  Photo courtesy of The Benson Hotel.

Irving Street Kitchen

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

Park Kitchen

Photos by David Reamer for Park Kitchen 

Meriwether’s Restaurant

2601 NW Vaughn  Street 2.2 miles from Benson, 6-minute drive

Meriwether garden 043-slider-1920

Photo: Meriwether’s


Photo: Meriwether’s

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

Nostrana tumblr_inline_mspwm54Mfk1qz4rgp

Photo: Nostrana

Nostrana tumblr_inline_mv8wltoWYP1qzvuj9

Photo: Nostrana

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 Photo:

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.

The Feedback 

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

Pearl District’s Oven & Shaker pizza. Photo: Oven & Shaker


A Night in Virginia Hunt Country -The historic Ashby Inn & Restaurant


The old School House at The Ashby Inn & Restaurant
Photo credit: Rebecca Penovich

For my birthday, my lovely husband took me for a winter sojourn in nearby Virginia hunt country – one of my favorite things to do.

We had heard many good things about the historic Ashby Inn in Paris, Virginia and booked a night in one of its School House suites and dinner in the restaurant.

Paris, Virginia is a tiny village (population 70) located an hour outside of Washington, DC with a view of Ashby Gap and the Blue Ridge Mountains.  The village (really just one street) is charming with several old residences and a charming old church.

The Inn was built in 1829 by Manley Pierce as a private residence. The original house had four rooms with additions over the years.

Generals Joseph E. Johnston and Stonewall Jackson rested on the house porch on their way to the First Battle of Manassas the night of June 17, 1861. The house also served as a Methodist parsonage for many years.

A view of the Inn and the church from the air.

A view of the Inn and the church from the air.  Photo credit:  The Ashby Inn & Restaurant


Trinity United Methodist Church on Federal Street in Paris, Virginia, built in 1892.
Photo credit: John Penovich



The old church is now closed due to a dwindling congregation. Might there be a renovation or second life as an event venue in its future?
Photo credit: John Penovich

We stayed in the Lafayette Room in the School House which was lovely and large.

Photo credit: The Ashby Inn & Restaurant

Photo credit: The Ashby Inn & Restaurant


Photo credit:  The Ashby Inn & Restaurant

Photo credit: The Ashby Inn & Restaurant

There are four private rooms in the School House and each has a king bed, wood-burning fireplace, mini-fridge, large bathroom en suite, and a private balcony with Adirondack chairs to enjoy the view of the Blue Ridge Mountains.


Beautiful sunrise over the little village.  Photo credit: John Penovich

The polar vortex (read, wind chill and snow) prevented us from sitting out on the balcony but we had a lovely view at sunrise out of our bedroom window.

Staring into a wood-burning fire is mesmerizing, no?

Staring into a wood-burning fire is mesmerizing, no?

Upon arrival, John immediately built a fire.  The innkeepers had laid the first fire for us so it was ready to go and there was plenty of firewood, starters, and matches.

They also provided a sample of Virginia port in a lovely decanter on the dresser. We loved all of the antique furniture and we remarked that we had some similar inherited pieces at home (the cherry wood dresser, the one-drawer turned leg bedside table.)

The evening was going swimmingly!

We had a couple of hours before our restaurant reservation and were feeling quite peckish so we asked for a little nibble to be sent to our room. Chef David Dunlap sent an abundant charcuterie and cheese plate, including some of the house-made rabbit rillettes he was serving as a first course that night.

Incredible food from Chef---left to right, cheese & charcuterie plate, ribeye, lamb loin

Incredible food from Chef Dunlap—left,  cheese & charcuterie plate; top right, ribeye; lower right, lamb loin
Photo credit: Rebecca Penovich

Dinner was wonderful:  John had the grilled ribeye, parmesan espuma, herb pesto, and roasted marble potatoes; I enjoyed the loin of lamb with mustard, boudin noir, peas, carrots and potatoes.

For starters we had the house-made snacks:  chicharrónes (freshly fried pork rinds) and comté gougères with some craft cocktails (John:  Hendricks gin martini, dirty, with 3 olives; Rebecca: Copper Fox Distillery gin (made in Purcellville, Virginia) with Fever Tree tonic and ginger simple syrup.)

We shared dessert: fuji apple-almond cake, honeycrisp sorbet, apple brandy foam.

I love me some foam!

Do book a special occasion or simple getaway at The Ashby Inn & Restaurant if you have the opportunity.  Winter or summer, it is delightful (especially if you like old places, antiques, gracious service, fabulous wine, wonderful food and who doesn’t!)

NOTE: to ‘type A’ types:  don’t expect your cell phone devices to work all the time and don’t expect room service or ice at 10 pm or any of that.  Just relax and be mesmerized by the fire and the quiet and your partner’s good company.  Beds are comfy, too!

On the way back home, we enjoyed touring the countryside and looking at some old churches.

Old churches from the 19th century?

Top left, Trinity United Methodist Church in Paris, VA.  Top right, Guilfield Baptist Church, Millwood, VA.  Middle right, Boyce Town Hall, Boyce, VA.  Bottom, Emmanuel Episcopal Church, Delaplane, VA.
Photo credits: John and Rebecca Penovich

We enjoyed our brief winter exploration into Virginia hunt country (as we have many times before).  More to come about what we saw and ate in a future post!



The Ashby Inn & Restaurant

692 Federal Street

Paris, Virginia  20130