Portland has a reputation for having restaurateurs who take the idea of utilizing organic and locally grown produce seriously. Since living in Mexico, where tomatoes and beef really had fierce flavor, I’ve missed eating dishes where the quality of the ingredients mattered. So far, so good. I’ll be updating this post with reviews of places I’ve dined as they come along. Perhaps the best sign is that since returning to the US, I’ve eaten at Wendy’s just once, and amazingly, have managed to avoid McDonald’s.
One restaurant worth visiting is Pok Pok. It’s a bit out of the way, located away from the river in SE Portland (not the easiest public transport access). Having traveled a few times to Thailand, I was hoping for something that went beyond the bland curries and Panang beef, and I wasn’t disappointed. The space was cute, if not slightly cramped inside, and the outside sidewalk patio tables reminded me of the casual beach atmosphere in Koh Samet with space heaters. I ordered the Muu Paa Kham Waan, described on the menu as “Boar collar meat rubbed with garlic, coriander root and black pepper, glazed with soy and sugar, grilled over charcoal and served with chilled mustard greens and a spicy chili-lime-garlic sauce. Northern Thai drinking food.” It was all that and more. Seeing the perfectly sized portion, I passed on the idea of utensils and wrapped a small piece of the pork in a few fingers of sticky rice, swirled it in the sauce, and followed each bite with a munch on the mustard greens to reduce the heat. It was one of the few times in recent memory that I recall my tongue burning slightly from the spices, lime, and anticipation of the next bite, and the Tiger beer helped round out each morsel. The dish’s abundant flavors, particularly the spiciness, may be a little too much for the average palate, but my experience already has me thinking of a return trip.
Clyde Common, located near Powell’s books in the Ace Hotel, is a good place to eat as a solo traveler or with friends. The restaurant occupies an expansive space with large, rectangular tables taking up the bulk of the main floor. There are smaller tables upstairs. The hostess explained to me that true to its name, Clyde Common employs communal seating, which is a nice way to entertain yourself listening to others’ conversations — it doesn’t feel like eavesdropping when you share a table — or you can tune them out and read a magazine. I sampled the tagliatelle with chanterelle mushrooms listed on the spare, typewriter-style menu. Combined with the two pieces of fresh, grainy bread dipped in olive oil, pepper and salt, and a local beer, I felt like I was eating comfort food at a cozy, stylish bar. Coincidentally, Clyde Common is open late (2am) on weekends.
When it’s cold, you need a hearty, toasty, Sunday brunch. This Sunday, as I drove over to the Simpatica Dining Hall, I was accompanied by snow flurries. This little joy was multiplied by the option of chicken fried beef steak covered by two eggs and a side of potatoes. Simpatica is located in a large warehouse just off hip E. Burnside (“hip” seems to be a common way of describing Portland). Like Clyde Common, Simpatica offers community tables, and I was given the corner of a small table with a view into the kitchen, where I saw large, transparent bottles filled with various beans. The food was hearty, the coffee was spot on, and it was all way too much for me to eat. Two ladies in their early 60s joined me at my table corner and we had a nice conversation about Portland real estate, Mexico City, and even Orhan Pamuk. Simpatica apparently offers set dinners in the evenings, which would be a nice way to spend dinner with friends. Hell, it was all nice, all friendliness and all simpatico, and even as I was leaving the host suddenly turned to me and introduced himself — Hi, I’m Marcus by the way.