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Primal-ish in Portland Round 2: Part 2

April 10, 2013

Andina Beef Heart Kabobs

In the first part of this post, I reviewed: Evoe, Pearl Bakery, Nong’s Khao Man Gai, and St. Jack. The culinary adventures continue here as I comment on my visits to Podnah’s Pit BBQ, Salt & Straw, Andina, Tasty n Sons, and St. Honoré Boulangerie, as well as Cacao and Stumptown Coffee.

It was a gorgeous weekend for visiting Portland, and one of the best things about checking out restaurants in a town you’re not familiar with is exploring all the various neighbourhoods. One of my favourites was Nobb Hill, home of Salt & Straw and St. Honore Boulangerie (as well as many other spots I didn’t visit). The neighbourhood is lined with cute shops, restaurants and cafes, and also gorgeous trees like the magnolia one below. Overall, a great weekend, and I look forward to returning and eating my way through more of Portland’s awesome food scene.

Portland Magnolias March 2013

Podnah’s Pit BBQ

Podnah's Pit BBQ chicken

The downside of being a well known restaurant is that expectations are high. When I kept hearing that Podnah’s is THE place for BBQ in Portland, and that it rivals the BBQ in Texas, of course I had to stop by.

Plus, they use high quality, natural meats, and the meat is never pre-cooked. I was happy to see this on the website:

“All our meats are slow smoked using 100% oak hardwood. Without electric, gas assistance, or charcoal. I start at 5 a.m. every morning to have meat ready by dinner that night. “

I loved the space. The massive floor to ceiling windows slide open and are screened, so you feel like you are eating outside. The room is bright and airy with very high ceilings and plenty of natural light.

So I was excited to be eating there, and liked the space, but was disappointed by the slow, mediocre service. Luckily, we didn’t have to wait long for a table. But then it took a while for the server to come get our order. And then it took forever for the food to come. No one came by to check on us or talk to us during the very long wait. We ordered a few different things, so you’d think they’d bring us something, anything. At the end, we had to wait a long time for someone to come by so we could get the bill, and then for someone to retrieve the bill with the credit card. Perfect example of poor service.

Podnah's Pit BBQ pork and brisket

Anyways, the food. The chicken was quite good – moist and very smoky. The beef brisket was tender. My friend also had the pulled pork and the pork spare rib, both of which were very juicy, but not above anything you’d expect at a BBQ joint. Also, my friend commented that all the meat tasted sort of bland, without any real flavour, and that it all tasted very similar. The BBQ sauce which went on a lot of the meat wasn’t anything special. None of the meat looked anything like that fatty, dripping goodness that Bourdain was eating on an episode of No Reservations Texas that I saw recently. The coleslaw was refreshing and my friend’s baked beans were extremely good, as was the cornbread which was very moist.

Overall, it was very decent BBQ. Not the best I’ve ever had (although the chicken came close), and in my mind, not worthy of such hype, but good enough to satisfy your BBQ cravings.

Podnah's Pit BBQ Interior Podnah's Pit BBQ on Urbanspoon


Salt & Straw

Salt & Straw Exterior Line-Up

This ice cream shop was another much hyped spot. The lineups were literally out the door and down the street. It probably didn’t help that it was a gorgeous, sunny day and that it’s located in the trendy Nob Hill area.

Salt & Straw Interior Line-Up

They call themselves a farm-to-cone ice cream shop, which is kinda cute.

Our ice cream is handmade in small-batches using only all-natural dairy with the best local, sustainable and organic ingredients Oregon has to offer, as well as imported flavors from small, handpicked farms and producers around the world. We start with local cream from Lochmead Dairy in Eugene, Oregon. All their cows were born right there on their third generation, family farm – so we know it’s the highest quality we can get and super fresh. Our ice cream is made with 17% butterfat, very little air in the churn process, and a low sweetness level…so the flavors can really shine through!

Salt & Straw Flavours

So, I tried a few of their flavours: coffee and bourbon (quite good), arbequina olive oil (not my thing), honey balsamic strawberry with cracked pepper (too sweet), almond brittle with salted ganache (didn’t do anything for me), and pear with blue cheese (really good).

Salt & Straw vanilla and pear blue cheese

I ended up getting the pear with blue cheese , which was delicious with chunks of pear and a hint of blue cheese (could’ve been stronger). After all that waiting, I didn’t want to leave with a single scoop, but I didn’t really like any of the other flavours I had tried except the coffee bourbon which wouldn’t have been a good pairing. So, I opted for the neutral sounding double fold singing dog vanilla, which was pretty average.

Salt & Straw Coffee Bourbon

I liked the creaminess of the ice cream, and the pear with blue cheese and coffee bourbon flavours (my friend got the latter). And I certainly appreciate the quality of the ingredients. But the question that kept popping up in my mind was, isn’t this what ice cream should taste like? Meaning that it didn’t really blow me away. And I was disappointed that out of all the flavours I had tried, I only liked two.

I’ll stop by again to try some more flavours the next time I’m in the area, or am in Portland and craving ice cream.

Salt & Straw InteriorSalt & Straw on Urbanspoon


Andina

I had been looking forward to trying this Peruvian restaurant for a while. It’s ranked on Urbanspoon as the #1 fine dining restaurant in Portland, and it keeps coming up as a must visit spot. I love South American food, and we don’t really have much of it here in Vancouver, so I was excited about having dinner there.

There are two parts to the restaurant, the lounge area to the right where they have live music and a very upbeat, happening vibe, and the dining room area which is slightly quieter and more formal. The dining room is very bright and cheerful. You can hear the live music, and between that and the chatter from the other tables, and dishes breaking (happened 3 times while we were there!) the atmosphere is lively which translates into yelling your conversation. But it’s just part of eating in that kind of a fun environment.

When you first get your menu, it can be a little overwhelming, especially if you’re not accustomed to Peruvian food (really, how many of us are?). There is a lot to choose from. Luckily (?) for me, not eating seafood or pork narrows it down quite a bit. And the best thing about the menu is that they have an entire, separate gluten-free menu (you gotta ask for it). So if you only want to see what you can eat, and don’t want to be teased by all the stuff you can’t have, you can have your very own menu, that looks just like the regular menu but only lists gluten-free dishes (lots to choose from!). Personally, I like to see all the available options, so I was cross-referencing both menus, which I found very helpful rather than having to ask a million questions.

Andina SACSAYHUAMÁN cocktail

Andina is known for one cocktail in particular, the fun to mispronounce sacsayhuaman (habanero pepper vodka shaken with pureed passionfruit and cane sugar, served up with a sugar rim and a cilantro leaf garnish).  I was hesitant to order it because I had ordered a similar drink at Ox (Things Done Changed) which had jalapeno in it, and I hated it (it was the only thing I disliked at Ox). But I’m glad I took the risk on this one – it was phenomenal. Lots of passion fruit puree, and the contrasting spicy and sweet flavours danced around in my mouth. I highly recommend trying it, unless you have a strong aversion to any sort of spiciness in your drink, like my friend, who didn’t like it at all.

Andina Cocktail

My friend had the server’s recommendation, melones con aji (Hendrick’s gin shaken with lime juice, sugar and agua de melón (fresh cantaloupe juice), served on the rocks with a float of agua de pepino (cucumber water), lime zest and ají en polvo (ground hot peppers)) and very much liked it despite the bit of hot peppers on top. Andina is also known for their mojitos and margaritas.

We weren’t that hungry, so we decided to share a couple of apps and one main, which turned out to be more than enough food.

Andina Dipping Sauces

The bread they bring comes with three dipping sauces, only one of which is gluten-free (the one on the left).

Andina Yucca Fries

And then they also brought out some gluten-free yucca fries for me since I couldn’t eat the bread. Yay! I adore yucca fries. These were quite good, although slightly bland, but mostly because my main point of reference is the heavily seasoned yucca fries at Vij’s Rangoli. The dipping sauce that came with the yucca fries was very spicy but good.

Andina Beef Heart Kabobs

Personally, I quite liked the beef hearts (anticucho de corazon: marinated beef heart kebobs, served with a spicy salsa de rocoto), but my friend thought they were a little dry. And I really enjoyed the dipping sauce.

Andina Spanish-style potato fritatta

Perhaps my favourite part of the meal was, surprisingly, the Spanish-style potato frittatta with ají amarillo aioli (tortilla de patata y alioli de aji amarillo). The aioli was very flavorful and I loved the texture of the frittata. So good.

Andina double rack of grass-fed lamb

For the main, we chose the double rack of grass-fed lamb (corderito de los andes: a succulent double rack of grass-fed lamb, grilled to order, and served with a Peruvian potato-two cheese timbale with a roasted pepper demi-glace). The lamb was tasty, although a little bit on the rare side of medium rare (which I don’t personally mind, it’s just not what we had ordered). The potato two cheese timbales were very good – Peruvians know their potatoes! But overall, the dish didn’t wow me. It didn’t have any distinct flavours that stood out, and between the potatoes and the sauce, I found it a little heavy.

Andina Mousse Dessert

I had to order dessert, as I didn’t have one at St. Jack the previous night, and everything on the dessert menu sounded so good (I just had to steer clear of the quinoa, which was rather ubiquitous – I don’t eat grains or pseudo-grains). It was between the crème brûlée trio, the wine-caramel flan and the mousse. I chose the latter, which sounded the most interesting: mousse de valle y selva (a tiered semi-freddo of velvety lucuma and espresso mousses, chocolate ganache, and crushed cocoa nib meringue, served with espresso shortbread). The only thing I couldn’t eat was the espresso shortbread, but after trying it, my friend said I wasn’t missing out. I didn’t find the dessert to resemble a semi-freddo at all. It was simply a multi-layered mousse. I also didn’t notice any meringue. It was my first time having lucuma, Peru’s national fruit. I don’t know if that was the flavour I didn’t like – everything tasted like slightly off and bitter cocoa nibs. It was very heavy and I didn’t enjoy it at all. The only thing I liked about it was the pretty presentation with flowers on top. I almost never leave dessert behind, but in this case, it was just too unenjoyable to continue eating – certainly the lowest point of the meal.

Overall, I liked Andina. Some of the foods were exotic to me, the drinks were great, and I especially enjoyed the yucca and potatoes. Service was very good – professional, and at the fine dining level. The ambiance was great. I wasn’t really blown away by anything though (with exception to the drink). So I don’t foresee coming back any time soon. But, if you want to experience Latin cuisine, or just something a little different, I’m sure you’ll enjoy yourself, so I do recommend checking it out.

Andina on Urbanspoon


Tasty n Sons

Can’t say I’m a fan of all the waiting that seems to be a requirement of being fed in Portland. At least there was a place at Tasty n Sons to stand around inside, and you could order a drink if you wanted. But they’re pretty bad at estimating how long you’ll be waiting (on the side of being overly optimistic). Which is especially annoying when you see lots of tables that are just sitting empty. Makes me want to grab a dish towel and wipe down my own table just so I can finally be seated. What’s worse is the slow service once your name’s finally called. How long can it possibly take to plate some snacks? You’d think they’d expedite at least the basic stuff to you since they know full well how long you’ve been waiting. Instead, not only do the cocktails take forever to come, you’ve practically finished your drink on an empty stomach before any food arrives (PS – don’t judge, it was a very late brunch).

And after all that waiting, one hopes that the food will at least have been worth the wait…. Because a combination of long waits, slow service, and mediocre food does not a good brunch make. Which is why I consider Tasty n Sons to be overhyped. I’ll happily wait outside Café Medina in the cold and rain for 45 minutes, because I know that I’ll be well taken care of inside, with terrific food and efficient service. Not so much the case here.

Tasty n Sons cocktails

The cocktails: My friend’s Peach Pit (laird’s applejack, lemon, cana’s feast chinato, combier peche de vigne, regan’s no. 6, peach bitters) was okay, pretty run-of-the-mill  a little too sweet and sour at the same time. The coconut milk cocktail I had (not yet on the online menu) was alright, but nothing special. Both drinks lacked any sort of sophistication or complexity.

Tasty n Sons chocolate potato doughnut Tasty n Sons Bacon Wrapped Date

Snacks: My friend loved the chocolate potato doughnut with crème anglaise, and said it was the highlight of the meal. It was crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. My friend also enjoyed the griddled bacon wrapped date with maple syrup & almond, which was a nice play on savoury, salty, and sweet.

Tasty n Sons Glazed Yams with cumin-maple

We both liked the glazed yams with cumin-maple. They were cooked to the point of mush (in a good way) and were strongly flavoured with cumin.

Tasty n Sons Moroccan Chicken Hash

My Moroccan chicken hash with onion sour cream & over easy egg was a bit too much of a mish mash of stuff. The only flavour that really stood out was lemon, which sort of came out of nowhere. It seemed like something that was just thrown together with whatever was in the fridge at the time. Rather underwhelming.

Tasty n Sons Shakshuka

My friend had what could be considered their signature dish, the Shakshuka (red pepper & tomato stew, with baked eggs and merguez sausage ). The presentation was nice, and I liked the boldness of the red peppers, but my friend thought the spiciness  was overpowering and didn’t really like it.

The only thing I really liked was the space. It looked like a warehouse/loft with very high ceilings and the entire front glass wall rolls up. Also, the prices were somewhat reasonable, with most of the big plates costing $10-$12. I really wanted to like this place, but I was unimpressed by both the service and the food. There’s gotta be more exciting brunch spots in a town as food-centric as Portland.

Tasty n Sons exteriorTasty n Sons on Urbanspoon


St. Honoré Boulangerie

St. Honore Sign

St. Honore is one of the top rated bakeries in Portland, and is classically French…

“Discover a slice of Old World France…”

They make breads, pastries, desserts, salads, sandwiches, and light entrees. I was a little worried that there wouldn’t be any gluten-free offerings at this traditional French bakery. But I was relieved to find two gluten-free desserts!

St. Honore Chocolate Raspberry Delice

The chocolate raspberry delice (flourless chocolate cake layers with chocolate mousse, crème brulée and raspberry gelée) was very tasty, although slightly on the sweet side. I enjoyed the strong raspberry flavor, as well as the multiple layers.

St. Honore Creme Brule Millefeuille

My friend really liked the crème brûlée millefeuille, even though it didn’t really taste like crème brûlée. I tasted some of the cream, which was delicious.

St. Honore Gateau Orange et Gingembre

But the star of the show was the gateau orange et gingembre (flourless cake made with ground almonds, puréed orange and a hint of ginger). I loved the pronounced orange flavour and the touch of ginger. If I ever break my own rule of not baking with almond flour, this may be one of the first things I make. Fantastic!

St. Honore goodies to go

There is plenty of seating to linger over your treat, and the large windows let in lots of light. Service was okay – one person there was very friendly, and the other less so. The to-go treats get packaged in a very pretty yellow box.

Overall, I’d definitely recommend this bakery.

St. Honore InteriorSt. Honoré Boulangerie on Urbanspoon


Cacao

Cacao Portland

I also stopped by Cacao, Portland’s go-to store for all things chocolate. They are known for their drinking chocolates as well as chocolates from all around the world (including many with a high cocoa percentage and some single origin).

It wouldn’t be wise to feed my chocolate addiction with $8+ bars of chocolate, so I opted for a few smaller “souvenirs”. Fran’s Coconut Gold Bar was delicious – so creamy. I also sampled some of their drinking chocolate (very good) and I much enjoyed their mocha coffee.

Cool store concept, tasty chocolates and drinks, and great service.

Cacao on Urbanspoon


Stumptown Coffee

And a trip to Portland wouldn’t be complete without some caffeine, so we stopped by Stumptown Coffee. I was first introduced to their coffee at Mother’s Bistro. This time around I grabbed a cappuccino, and my friend had an iced coffee. I liked both, but especially the cappuccino, which reminded me of my fave local coffee chain, Café Artigiano, but even better. Nice space that reminded me of Gastown. Service could use some improvement though – super long waits for no apparent reasons and not very helpful.

Stumptown Coffee Roasters on Urbanspoon


And that’s it for my Portland adventures this time around. What do you think, have you visited these spots? Are there any others I should put on my list for next time? There will certainly be a next time, it’s just a matter of time – Portland’s dining scene is too exciting to stay away for too long!

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