This little road trip has been a long time coming. Portland has been on my foodie bucket list for a while. And there were so many great restaurants to choose from, it seemed you couldn’t go wrong. Alas, I was only going for two nights, and I had to eat around shopping – it was the Black Friday weekend after all! But I did manage to eat my way through a few spots, and I’m quite pleased with the trip. Looking forward to going back to try some more!
Food Trucks: Euro Trash
The first stop was at the food cart pod at SW Alder St. Portland has an insane number of food trucks – something like over 700 of them. What the hey!? I don’t believe Vancouver even has 50. The majority of food carts in Portland are clustered in “pods”, which is convenient. Notice how I keep saying carts and not trucks? That’s because for the most part, the carts in Portland cannot drive away on their own, unlike those in Vancouver. I gotta say the ones in Vancouver are much cooler looking, and bigger too. I didn’t seen any food trucks like Vij’s Railway Express in Portland. But there’s something to be said for variety and that’s where Portland for sure has us beat.
Sadly, a lot of the carts were already closed by the time my friend and I got there. But luckily Euro Trash was open late, and I had heard good things about it. My friend decided to try their Chorizo and Chips plus egg: Grilled chorizo tossed with fresh chips and curry. I would’ve had some too if I ate pork. I can, however, vouch for the chips – delicious. Crispy, and very flavorful with all that curry seasoning. And the egg was perfectly done. My friend loved the whole dish. Generous serving too.
Food Trucks: Cultured Caveman
You didn’t think I’d come back from Portland without visiting the paleo food cart, did you? It was most certainly on the itinerary (FYI – there are actually two locations to choose from).
And of course I had to sample a large selection of the menu. I had paleo chicken tenders (tasty), rainbow rosemary fries (nicely seasoned), bone broth (good), and pecan spice bites (date/nut balls). Everything was made with quality ingredients, and the fries and chicken tenders were fried in 100% grass-fed beef tallow. It was a treat to be able to choose anything from the entire menu without having to substitute or inquire about the ingredients.
I’m surprised Ox doesn’t really come up when talking about paleo/primal restaurants in Portland. I suppose it might be because it’s pretty new (it was listed on Bon Appetit’s 50 Best New Restaurants of 2012 list).
“Ox Restaurant finds inspiration in the wood-fired grilling tradition of Argentina, and with it, the culinary heritage of Spain, France and Italy.”
Almost their entire menu is gluten free, and is very meat-centric. It’s a la carte, so you can choose whatever sides you’d like to go with all that meat. Some do have dairy, but there are plenty that don’t. The focal point of the restaurant is the custom-made stainless steel wood-fired Argentine grill where all the meat is cooked. Basically I would’ve like to try the entire menu. Everything sounded delicious. So we opted for sharing a few different dishes.
To start, I ordered the drink that they’re most known for, the Things Done Changed: Pisco, Smoked Lemon, Jalapeño, Egg White. If you love jalapenos, especially smoked ones, this drink is for you. I almost never send drinks back, but no matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t force myself to drink this one. Oh well. I swapped it for some lovely pinot noir.
We were then given some nice soup amuse bouche.
First up: Smoked Beef Tongue en Vinagreta, Horseradish, Ensalada Rusa, Sweetbread Croutons. That’s right, croutons made of sweetbread. My favourite type of bread I’ve decided. Yes I am talking about organs. And yes they were delicious. Wonder if I can sub in some sweetbread croutons on the next Caesar salad that I order….This dish was amazing. The horseradish was the perfect strength. You don’t typically see tongue incorporated into a dish, as in with other ingredients. I’ve only ever had it as part of a charcurterie plate. Soooo good.
And then the other dishes arrived en masse. Flanken-style beef short rib. Usually short ribs are braised. This one was grilled. Yet it was still super tender. And very flavorful.
Lamb Shoulder Chop. Very flavorful and lamb-y.
The chimichurri accompaniment paired very nicely with all the meats (no need to order it, it came with the meat dishes).
Ash-Roasted Sweet Onion, Buttered Beets, Fourme d’Ambert Blue Cheese, Toasted Walnut. Wow. Naturally sweet. Fantastic flavor combination, especially with the blue cheese.
Coal-Roasted Spaghetti Squash, Toasted Garlic, Lemon, Aged Goat Cheese. The citrusy tang of the lemon combined with the goat cheese plus a little bite from the garlic made this spaghetti squash shockingly good.
Dessert: Warm Hazelnut Brown Butter Torte, Honey-Chamomile Ice Cream, Honeycomb Candy. Gluten-free and unexpectedly phenomenal. The warm torte was made from hazelnut flour. It was more like a square or a melt-in-your mouth brownie. The chamomile flavor of the ice cream was delicate and unique. The honeycomb candy was fun. I’d go back there just for the dessert.
Not one miss during the whole meal (minus the drink). I loved the vast selection of choices. Usually I can only have one or two things. Here I could hardly decide what not to have. Simple ingredients. Flavorful results. The service was good – no complaints. Food came in a timely manner. The room was warm and welcoming. Overall, very highly recommended.
Clyde Commons kept popping up in my foodie research. Mostly for cocktails. The menu looked like it could hold its own just fine. Still, everyone recommended the cocktails. It didn’t take much convincing. It’s basically dessert in liquid form. Except it’s better than that, because a good cocktail isn’t about the sugar or the alcohol. It’s about the flavors, and how they mingle in your glass. Yes, they’re not paleo. But they’re my cheat/treat, along with the occasional dessert. I’ve become a bit of a cocktail snob though. If I’m at an average or even slightly above average restaurant, I refuse to order a cocktail. I have zero interest in the artificially flavored and colored liquers. I’ll stick to the wine. Or the water. But, at a fine restaurant, or at a place renown for its cocktails? How could I resist.
And yes, the chicken wings pictured above are the token food, to distract you from the alcohol consumption. And to give myself permission to review this place on my blog – hey, it’s not like I only drank there…
The chicken: crispy confit chicken wings, pomegranate gastrique. Shmancy. I resisted the urge to ask what was used for the confit. I was just happy they were gluten free. The wings were crispy, succulent, and the sauce was flavorful. Quite good.
And now, the cocktails. Mine:
- Eggnog (top left): añejo tequila, Amontillado sherry, cream, farm eggs, nutmeg. Yum! Very yolky – and n0t your average store bought bland variety of egg – you could taste the farm freshness of these. This was one of, if not the best eggnogs I’ve ever had. So rich and creamy. And luckily for me, I couldn’t make out the tequila.
- Hot Buttered Rum (bottom left): Plantation rum, butter, Demerara, spices, Salt and Straw vanilla ice cream. I never made it to Salt and Straw, so at least I got to consume their ice cream in liquid form. I was excited to try this because I had never tried hot buttered rum outside of my own kitchen. So it was nice to see what it’s “supposed” to taste like. I quite enjoyed it. Although I wish it was a tad more creamy.
- Barrel Aged Negroni (top right): Beefeater gin, Cinzano sweet vermouth, Campari, orange peel). Complex flavors – rich yet refreshing. Orange peel imparts a strong, welcome flavor.
- Unfair Advantage (bottom right): Applejack, sweet vermouth, Bärenjager, pear liqueur, cinnamon bitters, orange peel. Quite tasty. Sophisticated flavors.
At first it was surprising how tiny the glasses were. It’s a tad disappointing when your drink arrives and it’s miniscule. But trust me, that’s actually a good thing. That small vessel contains only the essence, the most important ingredients. It’s not watered down with soda or water or ice cubes (except for the Unfair Advantage, but it didn’t suffer for it). So the taste is concentrated and strong – not in terms of the alcohol, but rather the flavor.
So, I liked the “food”. The drinks were worthy of a return trip. But I’m not excited at the prospect of coming back, due to the lack of hospitality. If I ask you what your signature drink is, don’t tell me you don’t have one. When I ask for a recommendation, don’t tell me that everything on the menu is good. It’s not helpful. And it’s not true. Express an opinion. Engage me. Make me feel welcome. Otherwise, even if I’ve enjoyed the fare, I’m unlikely to come again or even recommend the spot to others. Good food, great drinks, could do without the aloof attitude. I’d consider giving it another try in the hopes of getting better service the second time around.