Tag Archives: travel

Portland: Donuts, Beer, and More

25 Apr

It is fast approaching that time of year when the travel bug starts biting us British Columbians and we begin exploring our beautiful province and country, whilst also venturing south of the border for trips to Seattle or Portland. I thought this was a good time to condense all that I’ve learned on my trips to Portland and share them here on the old blog. You know, just in case you were looking for a bit of inspiration for your trip.

In my experience, Portland is all about the food and the drinks. Sure, there is an indie scene worth exploring but that ain’t my jam so I am sticking with telling you about the food and booze. On the two trips that I did last year, Portland lived it up to its reputation of being a city all about the beer and donuts (seriously, is it spelt doughnuts or donuts?!). Let’s start with the donuts (or doughnuts, whatever you prefer).

Everyone knows about the famous Voodoo Doughnuts, these are the gimmicky, sweet, brightly-coloured donuts that come with a variety of toppings and funny names (a Cock-N-Balls or Old Dirty Bastard doughnut anyone?). If you see people carrying a pink “Voodoo Doughnut” box around Portland, you know that they are pretty happy with themselves as they have survived the long line-up and now have their doughnut bounty. Consider yourself warned: there is a line-up at almost every hour of the day and they are open 24 hours a day so that’s saying something. There are two locations in Portland and they accept cash only.

A cabinet full of Voodoo Doughnuts

The Loop Doughnut from Voodoo

The Marshall Mathers Doughnut from Voodoo

Once you have visited Voodoo, the donut store that started it all, you should definitely make room to sample Blue Star Donuts. These were the donuts that I actually enjoyed the most and would recommend over Voodoo. Voodoos were fun, but gimmicky, whereas the quality of Blue Star was obvious. They make their donuts from a brioche recipe that takes 18 hours to make from scratch (which they do every day). They speak with pride about the quality ingredients that they use and that they avoid artificial flavours and preservatives (maybe not a big deal for some but I like to know what I’m eating). Their recipes aren’t crazy innovative, yet, they are still intriguing. Some of the flavours are pistachio cheesecake with raspberry hibiscus glaze, a blueberry bourbon basil (delicious), and a blackberry compote with peanut butter powder, amongst others.

Lemon Poppyseed from Blue Star

Maple Bacon from Blue Star

If you are looking for a coffee to wash down your donuts, the coffee that is most famous in the city, and that you’ll be offered almost everywhere, is Stumptown. Personally, Stumptown isn’t one of my favourite coffees (each to their own) but the Stark location, which is in the lobby of the Ace Hotel, is a great spot for people watching and lounging about in the cool space.

Stumptown Coffee at the Ace Hotel

I had actually been trying to find Heart Coffee Roasters (one of my favourites) but I got lost so unfortunately I didn’t make it. I did, however, find Courier Coffee Roasters, which is a tiny little coffee roasters not too far from Powell Books (another must visit) that does great coffee. Other coffee shops worth a visit are Spella Coffee and Barista.

If you are looking for a brunch spot, look no further than Clyde Common. I went here with some girlfriends and we enjoyed a long boozy brunch where you get to make your own mimosas at the table (complete with a choice of two juices). Loved the open space of Clyde Common and the laid-back style, I would definitely return for another meal (they also do dinner).

Breakfast from Clyde Common

If you’d rather have your breakfast fast and on-the-go, drop into Nuvrei. I hadn’t heard about this place before arriving in Portland but whilst walking around the Pearl District in the early morning, I caught a whiff of the smell of baking pastry (probably the best smell ever). I followed the scent and discovered a small line-up at this chic little café. I joined the line (I can never say no to a food line-up) and was rewarded with a buttery, flakey croissant and a bagel sandwich. Other places that I’ve heard do a great breakfast are Pine State Biscuits and Tasty n Sons (I’ve not been to either so I can’t say for sure).

A few posts ago, I raved about Pok Pok, which is a must when visiting Portland. Another must visit, which is very close to Pok Pok, is Salt & Straw.

Salt & Straw serves scoops of unique and delicious ice-cream flavours worthy of waiting in the fast-moving, but consistent, line-up. Flavours change but can include Pear and Blue Cheese, Strawberry Honey Balsamic with Black Pepper, Stumptown Coffee & Burnside Bourbon, and Sea Salt with Caramel Ribbon. Yum! Try and save some room after eating at Pok Pok for a scoop or two from Salt & Straw. You won’t regret it.

So now that we have indulged in coffee, donuts, breakfast, ice-cream, and more donuts, let’s move on to alcohol! Woot! I was pleasantly surprised with the drink scene in Portland. If I’m not drinking wine, I can be found enjoying some cocktails and boy, did Portland deliver on the cocktails!

My girlfriends and I wanted to drink all of the cocktails on the menu at Saucebox. Seriously, check out the cocktail list here, don’t you just want to sample them all? I can’t narrow down which one was my favourite but I really enjoyed some of the spicy ones (the Jade Scorpion and Kickboxer, for example). The pan-Asian food from Saucebox is decent too, but with the dark, sexy vibe, I would even go just for the cocktails and atmosphere. On a side note, the service we received at Saucebox was outstanding. We had a reservation and the guests before us were late leaving, which wasn’t a big issue for us, but they still offered us all a complimentary cocktail whilst we waited. Excellent customer service!

Another place that does great cocktails, is Departure Bar, which has a roof top bar and serves delicious mod-Asian dishes. Go for the view, stay for the drinks! Trader Vic’s is a tiki bar that offers ridiculously cheap happy hour cocktails (from 3pm to 6pm). Their regular cocktail menu has over 80 cocktails so you will surely find something you like. Try to snag a seat on the patio for some people watching.

Drinks at Trader Vic’s

When in Portland, you must sample the beer. The city is known for it. I’ve lost the taste for beer over the years but I decided to give it a go whilst I was in Portland. When I was there with my girlfriends, we decided to do a fun brewery tour on this:

Ha ha! Yep, lots of fun was had sitting around this bad boy for an afternoon. You pedal your way to three different local breweries, where you are able to sample the different beers on offer. We found this very social and a fun way to see the city, whilst enjoying an afternoon beer tour.

When I was there with my parents, it was in the middle of winter so doing the BrewCycle wasn’t an option so we popped in to Deschutes Brewery, a local brewery, instead. For someone who thought that they were over beer, I sure did knock back quite a few glasses of the Zarabanda brew (the brewery partnered with Chef José Andrés to make this brew).

I loved it. It has been my experience that the food at the breweries has been quite disappointing, so perhaps stick to the beer and eat at one of the great restaurants that the city has to offer.

So there you have it. My trips to Portland in summary. I still haven’t even scratched the surface of Portland’s restaurant scene but when I return, I have a long wish-list to hit up. Feel free to make a comment if you have any questions about any of the places that I’ve mentioned above. Safe and happy travels!

Chicago

29 Nov

Admittedly, the sole purpose of my recent trip to Chicago was to eat Alinea. It didn’t matter to me if we ate mediocre meals for the rest of the trip as long as I got to visit a Grant Achatz restaurant. We had confirmed reservations at Alinea before we left Vancouver, but I had been desperately trying to get a reservation at Next or The Aviary – unfortunately, our dates didn’t match their opening hours (they are open from Wednesday through Sunday) so we didn’t get to sample any of Chef Achatz’s other establishments. Whilst that was disappointing, it freed us up to explore the Chicago food scene before our highly anticipated meal at Alinea. In a brief summary, here is what we got up to:

 Chicago Sightseeing

Merlo was an easy introduction to Chicago. It didn’t blow my socks off but it was a nice evening at a restaurant that made an effort. For the Vancouverites reading, it reminded me of a Lupo/Cioppino’s amalgamation, but with a little less polish than Cioppino’s. The execution was a little sloppy for us (a few small bones in the peasant pasta, the expensive tenderloin with white truffles was very acidic and not worth the hefty price-tag) but overall the experience was cozy, romantic, and a nice welcome to the Windy City. We ended up back at our hotel bar, closing down the bar whilst drinking Prosecco and cocktails. This happens when you are two hours ahead of everyone else in the city (we were still on Pacific Standard Time).

Wild Tuna Carpaccio from Merlo

Pasta special with Peasant from Merlo

Beef Tenderloin with White Alba Truffles from Merlo

Dark Chocolate Molten Cake from Merlo

We struggled to find good coffee in Chicago. We went out of our way to find Intelligenstia Coffee but it really wasn’t worth it. We found our best coffee in Eataly, which if you’ve not been to the New York store, you really should visit the Chicago store when you are in town. You will find delicious coffee, snacks, pasta, pizza, cheese, and wine (amongst other things). I love this place as it is a foodie’s playground. Just try to say no to the carbs!

Spaghetti Cacio e Pepe from Eataly

 Housemade Tagliatelle with Short Rib Ragu from Eataly 

I had to try the deep pan pizza that Chicago is famous for and after some research I landed on Lou Malnati’s for an original deep pan pizza. Unfortunately, this beast (above) played havoc with my stomach. I don’t think my stomach and I are cut out for the calorie overload that was a deep pan pizza from Lou Malnati’s. I wouldn’t go back for this. The base was too buttery/oily and it was far too much heavy food for this delicate tummy (I only ate half of the “personal” pizza and found that it was too much).

I would, however, go back for Champagne at RM Champagne Salon. This beautifully decorated bar was so cute that I wanted to stay there all night and drink bottles of Champagne. The atmosphere was incredibly romantic and I’d highly recommend a visit to this place if you are in the area. It is somewhat hidden but if you know what you are looking for, it isn’t hard to find.

After our pre-dinner drink at RM Champagne Salon, we made our way around the corner to the famous Girl and The Goat. This place was jumping from the minute we got there – think: dark, loud, and busy. But the reason folks stand in line for this place is for the food – it is so good. The menu was a little peculiar but all of the dishes that we tried (five in total) were exceptional. Reservations aren’t accepted so go and put your name on the list and drink at the RM Champagne Salon whilst you wait for your table.

Steamed Cape Cod Mussels with garlic crunch from Girl and The Goat

Crisp Braised Pork Shank – so good! From Girl and The Goat.

I had a great time in Chicago even though it felt a little sleepy compared to New York, although, I have a feeling that this might have been because we were there on a long weekend. Next time I return to Chicago (I must go back to Alinea), it will be in the summer as there is more happening at that time, like baseball and outdoor summer events. The highlight for our trip was, without a doubt, Alinea.

Bearfoot Bistro – Whistler, BC

6 Sep

4121 Village Green
Whistler, BC
V0N1B4

T: 604 932 3433
www.bearfootbistro.com

B and I were in Whistler a few weeks ago for Crankworx and decided that, rather than have dinner at our usual Whistler hang-outs (Araxi or Rim Rock), we would try Bearfoot Bistro for the first time. I hadn’t been before but I’d heard some pretty great things about Bearfoot, particularly about the Champagne Lounge and the Vodka Ice Room. It was about time that I experienced it for myself.

The restaurant feels as though it caters to a slightly older clientèle, with live piano music and a more traditional look for the bar and restaurant décor. Along with the Champagne Lounge and Vodka Ice Room, there is also an outdoor patio where you can have a few drinks before you start your meal, or curl up by the outdoor fireplaces for some post-dinner drinks.

To the best of my knowledge, guests can only order the tasting menus (no à la carte) but that’s OK as Bearfoot offers a ridiculously affordable summer dinner menu with 5 courses at $68. The menu was well-executed, although not unlike what you would get at Araxi or Rim Rock. For me, the best part of the evening was the Nitro Ice-Cream, which was vanilla ice-cream made table-side using liquid nitrogen. It was pure theatrics and I lapped it up. What’s not to love about a bit of theatre with your dessert? Thankfully, it wasn’t just all gimmicks and tricks – the ice-cream was excellent and was served with a variety of toppings – the salted caramel sauce was my personal favourite.

Besides the ice-cream, the food didn’t blow me away but all in all, we had a lovely evening and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend a visit to Bearfoot Bistro.

Oysters with mignonette

 Pemberton Potato and Garlic Scape Soup

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Foie Gras Pheasant Terrine

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Fraser Valley Pork Tenderloin, with Lobster Tail ($20 supplement for lobster tail)

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Cheese Course

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Nitro Ice-Cream (additional $16 per person)

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Mixing…

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 Final Product: Tahitian Vanilla with Sundae Toppings (not shown)

New York – May, 2014

20 Jul

Wow! It has been a long time since I’ve updated this blog and I absolutely blame my absence on being busy, with a hint of laziness. Life has been wonderfully busy as I have recently started a new job…in the food industry! I’m so excited to have finally made my dreams of working in the food industry a reality, that I’ve been completely absorbed with learning all that I can and that means that I’ve had no energy for my hobbies. Hopefully I can find a balance soon.

I had a week between jobs so my sister and I made a last-minute decision to fly to New York for a quick trip. We learned that May is a glorious time to visit the city that never sleeps. The flowers were in full bloom, the weather was warming up but not yet humid, and the city didn’t feel overly busy. Having been to New York a few times, this trip was all about taking it easy, avoiding the touristy stuff, and eating and drinking our way through NYC. Unfortunately, as our trip was last-minute, we didn’t get into some of the restaurants that I had really wanted to visit (at the top of the list was the NoMad restaurant). I also couldn’t afford to do the high-end experience that B and I had on our last trip so, instead, we explored the more affordable side of the New York food scene.

Spring time in New York = lots of flowers!

I was less adventurous this time around when it came to food and we ended up going back to a few places from my last trip with B, so that I could show them to my sister. These included Eataly (always reliable), Shake Shack (meh, won’t be going back again), Blue Bottle coffee, and Magnolia Bakery (we know this place well!)

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Magnolia Bakery Cupcakes (I still love these, regardless if people think they are over-rated).

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Eataly – Buffalo mozzarella with olive oil and sea salt. Classic. Perfect.

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Eataly – Ravioli filled with spring pea, ricotta, pecorino, mint, and finished with butter and asparagus – superb!

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Eataly – Tagliatelle with short rib ragu

I had wanted to visit Momofuku Milk Bar last time I was in NY but could only find the time to get to the UrbanSpace market stall. This time, I made it my mission to visit an actual store. We ended up at the East Village location on East 13th street (I recommend that if you go here to also time it with a visit to Momofuku ssäm bar as they are across the street from each other). I wasn’t as taken with the things that we tried as I’d hoped to be. I found that the crack pie, which is what they are famous for, was a bit of a disappointment. To me, it just tasted a lot like pecan pie, without the pecans. I still absolutely adore their birthday cake truffles though – I ended up with two bags of those to take home.

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Cereal Milk Soft Serve

P1080661The famous Crack Pie

We made the mistake of spending most of our first day getting to, and visiting, Smorgasburg in Williamsburg. Smorgasburg is an outdoor market, right on the water in Brooklyn (great views of Manhattan). With over 75-100 food vendors on offer, it sounds like heaven. Unfortunately, I found it more like my personal hell. There were soooo many people at the market that we couldn’t even see what most of the vendors were selling. The line-ups for the vendors were ridiculously long and, once you’ve managed to get some food, it was difficult to get a spot to eat it. Personally, I won’t be going back even though I love the concept.

Although we didn’t try too many new food places, we did try a lot of bars. My favourite bar of our trip was Employees Only. Hidden down in the West Village, the cocktails and the prohibition bar atmosphere were awesome. We actually popped in for “one drink” but end up staying for three. I could have gotten into a lot of trouble at this bar as every cocktail was tempting to me.

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P1080667Cocktails from Employees Only

Not too far from Employees Only is The Top of the Standard. Here is a tip: save your money and avoid the long line-ups at The Empire State Building or The Top of the Rock and, instead, soak in the impressive city views from the Top of the Standard for the cost of a cocktail. Personally, I found it a bit pretentious but worth suffering through for the views.

We started to do a bar crawl through the East Village but couldn’t get to even half of our wish-list as the East Village has so many excellent drinking spots. The ones we did visit were Amor y Amargo and Mayahuel. Amor y Amargo is probably the smallest bar I’ve ever been in, which creates a very intimate atmosphere. They are all about the bitters here and the cocktails are interesting as a result. Mayahuel has a strong focus on tequila and mezcals and, again, has some very interesting (and dangerously tasty cocktails) on offer.

Due to lack of time, we missed out on going to Crosby Street Bar (in Soho), PDT, Booker & Dax, Death and Company (over an hour wait), Beauty & Essex, and Schiller’s Liquor Bar. I plan on spending two nights the next time I’m in NY, just exploring the bar scene in the East Village.

My perfect New York trip would include some of the high-end places from our last trip (Eleven Madison Park is a must-visit) and I would combine those with some of the bars that we visited. I still have a very long list of places that I’d like to visit when I next return (Buddakan is one of them) so this isn’t it for me and New York.

Osteria Francescana – Modena, Italy

25 Apr

I recently became aware of two terms that I feel are very fitting for me, and for this post. Those terms are “destination foodie” and “culinary conservative”. “Destination foodie” is someone who is willing to travel to a destination, or make a major detour, for the purpose of indulging in food. “Culinary conservative” is someone who isn’t adventurous when it comes to food and tends to eat what they know or within their comfort-zone.

I believe that both of these terms could be used to describe me, and our visit to Osteria Francescana in Modena (Italy) reinforced this. When B and I were first planning our trip we hadn’t intended on visiting Modena at all. Time was limited and “it’s too far from Florence” we claimed but, in the end, our curiosity won and we felt that the more than three-hour round-trip to the third best restaurant in the world (2013) was completely reasonable. Hence, the “destination foodie” label.

Even though months have passed since our dinner, I still have difficulties reconciling how I felt about our experience at Osteria Francescana. On one hand, it was like no other menu that we’ve had before (and that is one of the reasons why we go to fine dining restaurants) but on the other hand, I was disappointed by the menu. I found that I didn’t enjoy the dishes as much as I had hoped – some I found to be quite odd – and this is why I (shamefully) think I deserve the label of “culinary conservative”.

Once seated in the dining room, you are given the choice of three menus to select from: Traditions (€130); Classics (€165); and Sensations (€190). The titles of the menus describe them perfectly; the first two are definitely more traditional and classic Italian. Feeling bold, we ordered the Sensations menu, which was created to be a tour of Italy through the eyes of the Chef, Massimo Bottura. Each dish represents a different area of the country and all were a complete surprise. Here we go…

The entrance: an unassuming door off the beaten track

The dining room

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Almond Granita

Savoury Oyster and Anchovy Macarons

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House-made bread selection

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More house-made bread

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Baccalá: dried and salted cod

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A whole grilled sardine, stuffed with cream of scampi, and topped with the ash of seaweed, vegetables and lemon peel. Finished with squid ink

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Risotto with cod fish balls

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Eel with saba sauce, swimming upstream

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Lamb Oyster (lamb meat in an oyster shell)

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“Think Green” – green peas and beans, topped with green pea granita, chlorophyll, and curd of Parmesan cheese

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“Snails on a grapevine” – snails with chlorophyll, red beet sauce, and black truffle shavings. Weird!

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Foie gras ravioli, topped with black truffle, served on a black truffle and balsamic vinegar sauce – easily my favourite dish

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Pigeon with beet reduction. I could barely eat this as it looked like a murder scene!

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I don’t really know how to describe this one. Candied leaves, served with strawberry, pumpkin and chocolate purees and topped with black truffle shavings

P1080007“Oops! We broke the lemon tart”

So there you have it…a trip through Italy without leaving your computer chair. Unfortunately, for me, it was a very seafood-focused menu (strike 1) and I personally found some of the dishes to be just down-right strange (strike 2). Whilst I appreciated the innovation, the boldness, and the skill, I did not love most of these dishes. It would appear that I am just not adventurous enough to have appreciated it for everything that it was.

In no way do I want to discourage anyone from going to Osteria Francescana; it was certainly unique and I will absolutely remember it.  However, I do believe that the Sensations menu is not for everyone, particularly the “culinary conservatives” out there. The next time I return to Osteria Francescana, I will settle on the more traditional menu and be satisfied in my comfort-zone, but for now I’m glad that I tried a menu this interesting and creative.

Bites of Italy – Part 3 of 3

10 Mar

Bruschetta

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Spaghetti Carbonara

P1080119Wild Boar Pappardelle

Platter of Tuscan meats and cheeses

Grapefruit and Prosecco Gelato

Dinner made up from our market finds

Porcini Fettucine from the incredible Le Logge del Vignola, Montepulciano

Porcini risotto from Le Logge del Vignola, Montepulciano

Wines from Poggio Antico winery

Bites of Italy – Part 2 of 3

4 Mar

Pappardelle with wild boar ragout from Borgo Antico, Florence.

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 Rigatoni with bacon and tomato sauce from Borgo Antico, Florence.

Pizza from O’Munaciello, Florence.

Porchetta sandwich, Florence.

P1080104A simple, yet tasty, lunch that we had whilst on a bike tour through Tuscany.

We didn’t meet a bottle of Italian red that we didn’t like…

Although not visually appealing, ribollita was surprisingly delicious.

 Mushrooms at San Lorenzo Mercato Centrale, Florence – a must visit for foodies.

More truffles!!