A couple weeks ago I boarded a plane heading toward Portland, Oregon. I had no idea of what was ahead of me. I had no expectations either. I have learned that beside the ones I put on myself or my work, expectations can ruin an adventure. They make you focus on one thing and make you miss the alternative, the little things, the beauty that lies wherein.
I had nothing on my mind than not to miss my flights because Portland, a city I had never visited awaited. And I was meeting up with Tami in Chicago to catch our connection. Both our schedules had been so incredibly intense that we had to put ourselves on a self imposed "time off – time out – see you later – don’t burn the house down and please feed the pets" to finally give each other a big hug and a good conversation.
We did not sign up for the trip just to hang out with each other but it was definitely one of the perks. Actually neither of us (and neither of the twenty or so other participants on that trip) knew the other was going for a while. It makes me smile that a group of strangers all received the same email one night, not knowing how much they would gain of the trip, discovering a new city, new kindred spirits and themselves in the process.
Yes, I had been asked on a sponsored trip. I am never asked on any of them or swanky organized parties and dinners and frankly, I am ambivalently happy about that because I’m still not sure how I’d feel if offers were frequent. I had never been to Portland. There was an opening in my schedule. Bill was busy every day and night with work and music. I said yes. So glad I did!
For three days, Travel Oregon made sure that we discovered the city of Portland, its food, its people, its landscape and many facets. From canoeing, foraging, fishing, to canning and charcuterie with people and artisans who cared about their craft, their land and wanted to invite us to come visit and leave with the desire to come back. Never were we asked to post, tweet, facebook or promote anything.
Portland, honey, I fell in love with you. You’ve got mountains like back home. You’ve got heat and snow. You’ve got magical hours and colorful places. You did not have to twist my arm, just to let me soak it in to hook me up.
This post will be part of a series of three, all accompanied with a recipe inspired by a dish I had there. There was some good eating and good drinking in Portland. Happy hour seem to start early and lasts all night. The running joke was "it’s been a full 5 minutes since my last cocktail/bite"…Portland, you’re pretty special.
Tami and I flew in a day before to get our feet wet, catch up and catch our breaths before the trip would start with some friends we’ve known for years and some we were meeting for the first time. We had only one "must do" for that evening: Pok Pok and its famed Thai & Vietnamese dishes. For various reasons, I did not take any photos of the dinner. I was focused on conversing with Tami, our bartender was extremely distracting (think Toni Bourdain and Eric Rippert secretly engineered offspring), and I needed both hands to polish off the most succulent fish sauce chicken wings. The numerous cocktails created with the restaurants house made drinking vinegars, did not help with focus either.
Dinner was quite an adventure for my palate. Every bit of spicy was balanced by a hint of freshness. Every sweet met its salty. I must recreate one of the desserts we shared that night, the Pok Pok Affogato, when I have more time. Quite possibly the best of the last five years for me.
We rounded up the evening with cocktails at the hotel (Hotel Deluxe) lounge, The Driftwood Room. I am rarely impressed by the lounge within a hotel but this one quickly became a rendez-vous point for most of us on the trip. Crisp and refreshing cocktails with glamourous names and vintage appeal. The Springtime In Paris, the Ginger Rogers or the Rita Moreno kept us going and talking a little while longer each night.
The next day, the official start of the Travel Oregon weekend was not starting until late in the afternoon so Tami and I grabbed our cameras and walked about town. We stopped in the famous Powell’s bookstore and happily got lost in this mecca of new and vintage books. A short walk down to Porch Light, a lovely prop shop recommended by Lara and we met up with Paula from bell’alimento who had just arrived for the trip also.
Gruner restaurant and its shaded outdoor seating provided a lovely respite for three ladies with varied tastes and preferences. More lovely cocktails and beet pickled deviled eggs to start us off. Salad with smoked trout, apples, blackberry vinaigrette, toasted hazelnuts, a tarte flambee (Flammekueche), zucchini and ricotta dumplings with roasted tomatoes. All were passed around the table and enjoyed without restraint.
Dessert is what inspired today’s recipes. We clearly would have been happy to sample all of them but we only had room for a few more bites. And what glorious bites! The hazelnut-powdered sugar doughnuts with warm chocolate ganache were surprisingly light as a feather and melt in your mouth dangerous. The star of the meal was however the Honey Walnut Cake with Riesling Sabayon and Blackberries. A perfectly light cake with deep flavors of honey and walnut balanced by the soft and refreshing cream of the sabayon. This one was a sure winner for us three.
After more walking around town and a little get together to meet our trip companions for the next three days, we were whisked off in separate groups to different restaurants for dinner. Three of the activities on the trip were a choice between 4 or 5 options making it a truly tailored experience to our preferences or adventurous spirits. It also made it more manageable to handle small groups and to share our activities with our friends later on in the evening as we were recapping the day.
That evening Paula and I found ourselves seating across at the dinner table at Ping, created by the man behind Pok Pok. I know, two Asians restaurants in two days….Given the lack of seriously authentic ones here, I was a darn happy camper again.
The menu and cocktail pairing created for a small group was truly amazing. And abundant. Two dishes really stood out for me. The Quail Egg Skewers wrapped in local bacon and drizzled with a spicy mayo were an unusual bite of soft and crunchy, spicy, salty and neutral. The Vietnamese Style Short Ribs marinated in fish sauce, lemongrass, garlic and scallion oil were a perfect balance between balance of execution and presentation and depth of flavors. Strong, salty, refreshing and sweet.
The rest of the menu food was as rich and interesting as the setting and atmosphere of the restaurant with a theme of street food meets bistro carried out throughout the building.
The rest of the evening is a blur. My belly was full and grateful. My senses overwhelmed by this much "different" experienced in one day, one evening. Hard to believe that we all got up hungry and joking about it. Luckily for us, our next meal was just an adventure away…
Stay tuned for more about Portland! I hope you enjoy the Honey Walnut Cake, with sabayon or just a spoon of whipped cream. It is even great the next day, toasted for breakfast…
Note: the winners of Tart Love: Sassy, Savory and Sweet by Holly Herrick is Jessie in Los Angeles and Kate in Rochester NY. Send over your mailing address at mytartelette [at] gmail [dot] com and I’ll send the book right away.
*Disclosure: I was not asked nor received compensation to write about the trip. Transportation, meals and drinks when enjoyed as part of the trip itinerary were all taken care for by Travel Oregon. I did come in early and left late, staying and eating on my dime at the hotel and restaurants around. And it was all worth it…!
Honey Walnut Cake With Riesling Sabayon:
For the cake: Recipe from David Leite of Leite’s Culinaria
1 1/2 cups walnut pieces
1 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for the pan (or 1 cup gluten free flour mix here)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for the pan
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon grated orange zest
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C). Butter and flour a 9-inch cake pan. Reserve.
Spread the walnuts on a sheet pan and toast in the preheated oven for 4-5 minutes. Allow to cool slightly.
Grind the nuts in a food processor with 1/2 cup of the flour until fine. In a medium bowl, stir together the ground nuts, remaining flour, baking powder, and salt.
In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or with an electric hand mixer, beat the butter with the honey and sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
In a small bowl, beat the eggs with the orange zest and vanilla. Add it in three times to the butter mixture. Beat well to incorporate after each addition. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the dry ingredients and mix until fully incorporated.
Spread the batter evenly in the prepared cake pan. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
Cool the cake in the pan for 5 minutes and then turn out onto a cake rack to cool. Serve with the sabayon.
For the Riesling sabayon:
1/2 cup Riesling wine
4 egg yolks
1/3 cup sugar
Place a saucepan filled t 3/4 full with water over low heat. Bring water to a low simmer. Place Riesling, egg yolks and sugar in a stainless steel mixing bowl. Place mixing bowl over pan with water. Whisk vigorously until mixture thickens. Remove from the heat and let cool 10 minutes. Serve with the cake and fresh berries.