Vitaly Paley is an immensely gifted chef with a cooking vision from many different viewpoints. His training comes from high-end kitchens of France and New York in the 1980’s and 1990’s, while he has helped pioneer the hyper-local focused Pacific Northwest regional cuisine since moving across the country to Portland, Oregon, opening his now iconic Paley’s Place.
Over dinner at the charming Victorian in the city’s Northwest Alphabet District, you certainly get a sense of the classical background with textbook veal osso bucco, a consummate egg yolk crowned steak tartare, and a unique new meets old classic French tripleheader combining the not familiar together escargots, bone marrow, and sauce Bordélaise. On the other 2013 hipper side, Paley makes a burger that every new gastropub aspires to replicate, and he gladly brings elements of the local forests and fields into a spring pickled green strawberry salad with crispy sweetbreads, and a confit of local spring vegetables joining the halibut a la plancha on a white bean purée accented by a piquillo pepper coulis.
That’s not haute cuisine. That’s Paley’s cuisine.
What about scallops with a blood orange gastrique? It’s not necessarily envelope-pushing or a clear-cut haute cuisine or Pacific Northwest standard. Instead, think of this as a unique adaptation of duck à l’orange, evolved in many directions.
Just because there aren’t Oregon blueberries or Copper River salmon doesn’t mean this isn’t a terrific Pacific Northwest recipe. Paley’s scallops and gastrique idea should be your go-to scallops recipe. (more…)
Not long ago, a coffeehouse was, well, just a coffeehouse. Think “Central Perk” from “Friends.” Think about the coffeehouses that dot university towns, with stressed out students sprawled out on couches and fliers covering every inch of the walls.
A coffeehouse was a meeting place and a place for reading. As time went by with the wi-fi generation wanting coffee to go with their Facetime chats or work on their laptops, the coffeehouse became a de-facto anti-social computer lab, the complete opposite of the social epicenter that coffeehouses once were.
What to call a nondescript Starbucks or Peet’s? They are what they are, the same in Topeka or Temecula. They are somewhere in between a coffeehouse and laptop center, where at least half the customers don’t even consume the coffee on the premises.
With the rise of the “Third Wave” coffee movement (a global movement of local, small batch coffee roasters who seek out higher quality beans and often have their own cafés) over the past decade, the actual coffee has been surging in quality. In turn, the idea of a coffeehouse has had both a renaissance and a complete re-imagining. These are the cafés where your barista is both expert and artist, where your precious Ethiopian single origin pour-over arrives ten minutes and five dollars later, and where your espresso’s blend has been sorted with the meticulous care a fine Bordeaux winemaker will do with his grapes.
To accompany the loftier coffee, coffeehouses, including Sightglass and Four Barrel in San Francisco, now are combating the anti-social laptop crowd by not having wi-fi available. Here, it’s about socializing, reading, and of course, the coffee.
Yet in the past few years, the concept of the coffeehouse has been taking an even more peculiar turn. Forget about the old coffeehouses of couches and tables. Welcome to the generation of where bike shops and running stores co-exist with coffee shops. In many cases, these hybrid shops even roast their own beans. One thing is for certain at these “cycle cafés” and “jogging cafés,” you will be wide awake for that next bike ride or run. (more…)
Cocktail of the Week: “Things Done Changed,” The Whey Bar, Portland, OR, Plus Other Portland Cocktail Notes
To close out the Portland reports on this Mardi Gras Tuesday, let’s celebrate with an exceptional riff on the classic Pisco Sour courtesy of the holdover room known as The Whey Bar, at NE Portland’s red hot Argentine-Portland inspired cuisine restaurant, Ox.
The “Things Done Changed” is a force, a glowing sunshine hue with a perfect frothy egg white shaken consistency. The key is the exchange between the smoked lemon and jalapenos with the Pisco, leading to a sensation akin to umami. I noticed some bacon on the palate, but also papaya salsa and bountiful fresh in season citrus without an ounce of bitterness. Unfortunately, the rest of the cocktails didn’t have the same fully locked-in balance or depth at Whey. I was underwhelmed by the “Shipwreck” with Bourbon, Rum, lime, and mint with a dash of Angostura Bitters, and the “Devil in a New Dress” with Tequila, Red Pepper, Combier Orange, Lime, and Mezcal, where the sugary orange notes commanded the proceedings, and more spice and smoke would have elevated everything much higher.
The standard-bearer of the Portland cocktail scene continues to by Clyde Common, anchored by one of the country’s definitive cocktails, the Barrel-Aged Negroni. It’s deservedly a legend, made poetic by fervent admirers such as yours truly. Beefeater Gin, Sweet Vermouth, and Campari, the classic holy trinity, are aged two months in Tuthilltown Whiskey barrels, then shaken with ice, served up in a coupe, and finished by an orange peel garnish. Somehow those two months of aging add vanilla and squeeze out the rosewater notes of Campari with the Juniper in the Gin, sharpening its focus while softening the edges, and together it soars every time.
Inexplicably, the Negroni was out one night. Hence, I was forced to sample a Boulevardier aged in the same manner, essentially the same drink with Bourbon swapped for the Gin. It’s enjoyable, but still just not the same. The Bourbon doesn’t click in harmony with the other elements as much.
After numerous visits to Clyde Common, itself also a terrific restaurant attached to the über-hip Ace Hotel, my most recent stop was the first time with Jeffrey Morgenthaler tending the bar. Morgenthaler is the mind behind Clyde Common’s game-changing cocktails and one of the country’s leading “mixologists,” a pioneer for championing barrel aged, bottled, and carbonated cocktails. None of the other cocktails reached the Negroni’s lofty heights, though a version of a Pisco Sour with Mezcal called “I Punched You in the Nut” was close. I asked about the name’s history. Fortunately, it’s only the drink’s name, not what is served as a garnish with it. (more…)
Beer of the Week: Gigantic Brewing Co., Gigantic IPA, Portland, OR, Plus Lots More Beer of the Week Quality Beers Abound in Oregon
I had for the longest time been under the impression that Portland, Oregon only boasted some 45 or so breweries, a runaway winner for the title of city with the highest population of breweries in the country. What a fool I was. Now, according to the Oregon Brewers Guild, the Portland metro area is 68 breweries strong, most of whom (not named Widmer) can be considered microbreweries or much smaller nanobreweries.
At least I’ve made a small dent into those 68 breweries, visiting a dozen or so over time.
It’s not easy to craft an IPA that stands out above the competition in this hops to the exponential power mad city. Somehow, Gigantic’s Gigantic IPA is the genre perfected. It is now one of the standards that top tier IPA must be measured by.
Which is the “weirder” city between Portland, Oregon and Austin, Texas, the two well-known cities that pride themselves on mottos preaching “Keep Portland (or Austin) Weird.”? That’s hard to say. They’re both truly unique cities in their own (sometimes weird) ways.
Which city has “weirder” food? Again, spend some time at Portland’s food carts or Austin’s food trailers and you’re bound to find some distinctly quirky creations that usually are equally unhealthy.
On both sides of the Willamette, north and south, Portland’s dynamic dining scene is certainly no longer a little regional secret. Yet, what is it that necessarily makes Portland such a stand-out? Is it the endless days of rain? Is it the beautiful parks and gardens? Is it the abundant ingredients chefs can grow and buy from within the city and the surrounding areas?
Perhaps, it just might be those brilliant, daring minds of Portland’s chefs who are not afraid to push the envelope. This isn’t a Nathan Myhrvold-Ferran Adrià type of cutting-edge, avant gârde horizon changing type of cuisine. Sous-vide doesn’t even seem too fashionable in Portland compared to the rest of the country. The futuristic techniques and high wire acts fit in the big ticket dining cities. Here, it’s about channeling your passion to the plate.
It’s that these chefs are so good at finding a particular niche and sprinting away with these fascinating visionary concepts.That is what makes Portland’s unique and weird at times dining scene, truly Portland. (more…)
It’s not a little known fact that Portland boasts quite the coffee culture. Think about coffee and you imagine several cities synonymous with either rain or café culture: Vienna, Rome, Buenos Aires, Seattle to name a few.
But, who in the world has 30 coffee roasters within one city? 30. Not a dozen, which even the mightiest of dining scenes like San Francisco and New York haven’t even reached yet.
Hey, Portland, Oregon isn’t a normal city when it comes to eating and drinking. After all, those 30 coffee roasters pale in comparison to the hundreds of food carts and roughly 45 microbreweries now.
Starbucks isn’t from here, but Stumptown started on SE Belmont Street. I’ve enjoyed Stumptown roasted beans in New York and obscure San Francisco Bay Area towns. Is Stumptown more Starbucks or one of the little roasters of Portland still?
Whatever we consider Stumptown, there is no doubt that they led the charge of what is far and away the country’s most dynamic coffee culture. Yes, blue sky is a rare sight. But, it’s not the cloudy days that makes Portland’s coffee roasters and cafés so successful. It’s the people and the companies themselves. If Honolulu had roasters and baristas of this caliber, we’d be rolling up to grab a macchiato after every surf session instead of shaved ice.
Stumptown’s cafes around Portland continue to be local and visitor favorites, whether it’s the hip school hangout at the Ace Hotel, or the original and its annex for cupping at SE Belmont. There is no shortage of competition though for the now nationally well-known pioneer. (more…)
In the city where food carts populate parking lots everywhere, no reservations-hour plus long waits are the norm at the hottest restaurants, and hangover brunch is the official meal, sometimes it’s easy to forget about the tried and true classic restaurants for relaxed, comfortable meals.
It’s also very easy to yearn for an established, refined dining experience when the rough edges of newer destinations start jading the adventuresome diner in you. Sometimes, you just want to make a reservation, arrive on time, sit down on a plush banquette with a crisp glass of J. Christopher’s Willamette Valley Sauvignon Blanc, peruse the perfectly sized ambitious yet still humble menu, and know that the professional service will pace your meal appropriately.
Dinner might not be an eye-opening tour de force of cutting-edge culinary creativity at the now 18 year old Northwest Portland legend Paley’s Place.
It will, however, soothe you into knowing that there is still a chance to breathe and savor a smooth, very enjoyable meal in this all too chaotic world. This is how neighborhood bistros once were before sous-vide machines and wood-fired pizza ovens became the de rigueur symbols of a neighborhood “bistro.” This is how neighborhood bistros still should be. Remember, “bistros” in France are bustling and mature destinations for weeknight dinners and special occasion dinners alike. They are not gastropubs.
Step off the Portland Streetcar rumbling along Northrup Street at Northwest 21st Avenue and into one of Portland’s icons, almost there with the International Rose Test Garden, the Steel Bridge, and Bill Walton’s 1970’s Trail Blazers teams. (more…)