Full On Oregon – getting to Portland, Grüner & great collaborations September 25, 2011

I’m gonna go ahead and get all this gushy, flowery stuff out of the way first – I’ve gotten to do some pretty cool stuff because of my blog. I’ve gotten to meet amazing folks, taste cuisines I never thought I would, capture images of memories I can’t believe I got to make, and travel to see places I’ve always wished I could. One of those spots is Portland, Oregon. Everyone I know that has ever visited comes back changed. Preaching the gospel of its beauty and laid back appeal. Singing the praises of its food and its wine. Yearning to go back. I’m now one of those folks, thanks to Travel Oregon and its invitation to join a group of food & wine bloggers to experience all Oregon has to offer.

Helene and I deduced that we’d both been invited on this Portland trip and – after a sqweee on Twitter – we started making plans to get to Portland a day or so early. Let’s not even comment on the fact that we had to go across the country for our schedules to allow for us to visit one another. We spent the first day catching up, recovering from our flights, and eating at an Asian food destination – more on all that later.

Thursday, Paula got into town & joined us early in the day for an al fresco lunch at Grüner, a spot that had been recommended to me numerous times. They specialize in “Alpine” food – Alsatian meets Scandinavian meets Portland. It’s a food theme we’d visit again and I’d happily eat it every day. Beet pickled deviled eggs topped with finely grated horseradish, ricotta dumplings with herbs and just picked tomatoes, flammkuchen (also known as tarte flambée in French) – a thinly rolled out crust topped with onions and lardons, and healthy pours of dry Rosé. We took photos, laughed, relaxed, and enjoyed a warm but not humid afternoon – a welcome change for these East Coast Southern girls.

It’s a wonderful thing when a table full of food bloggers – the kind that like to cook at home – sit around and plot how they’re going to replicate something when they get home. Make it so they can share it with the people they love. When this honey walnut cake with Riesling sabayon hit the table, all other conversation stopped and we moved on to how soon we’d make this once we got back. Helene was the speediest – her beautiful first post about Portland and a recipe for this dessert are already on her blog.

As a breather from all the food – both that afternoon and here in this post – Helene, Paula and I wandered around the neighborhood around Grüner and did some (not-so-window) shopping. I’m including a photo of the window at Canoe so you’ll know what you’re looking for when I insist you stop by this spot when you’re in Portland. It’s minimal on the inside but every product they carry is quality. Incredible, limited edition housewares and personal goods…and the staff is super friendly and helpful. They were more than happy to wrap the present I bought for Mike and make conversation with us as we ooohed and aaahed around the shop.

The evening found all of the trip attendees splitting off into four separate dining adventures – all very fabulous and all very different. I had the chance to dine with the folks from Aviary, a destination for in the know food folks for some time. Sadly, the restaurant recently had a set back in the form of a fire that damaged the building it’s housed in. In the spirit of Portland community – something we’d run into on our trip time and time again – other business owners all over the city have opened their doors to the Aviary crew to let them host pop-up dinners in order to stay connected with their customers and the city as a whole. For our dinner, we pulled up to breakfast spot of legend Pine State Biscuits. Kevin and Brian, two of the restaurant’s founders, joined us saying their one stipulation in letting Aviary cook in their spot was that they, too, would be able to eat the food.

The first dish was clearly chosen to set the tone of the rest of the evening…and to really show the diverse points of view that the three chefs behind Aviary bring to the table. A perfectly poached egg was delicately placed in a shallow bowl of mushroom dashi with daikon, sea lettuces and bites of creamy uni. It was one of the first “official” things I ate on my Portland trip…and weeks later…it’s one of the things I remember most vividly. Uni is often a texture issue for me but the contrast of textures and temperatures made it work for my palate and, honestly, is there anything better than a perfectly poached egg?

The force behind dishes like a zucchini and warm bean “charlotte” garnished with warm tomato consommé spheres and a berry soup with peach & Moscato sorbet is Jasper Shen, his two partners in the kitchen Sarah Pliner & Kat Whitehead, as well as manager & wine director Leah Moorhead (seen above pouring wine). Between the four of them, they have restaurant heavy hitters like Jean Georges, Ducasse, and Aquavit under their belts but founded Aviary to break out on their own. They’re all equals in the kitchen and this collective dynamic works – just as it does all throughout Portland. It’s sharing and collaborating without ego – something not seen anywhere else I’ve been. The folks in Portland stand by this principal and it helps elevate the entire food and beverage scene to new heights.

This is just one of three (or four) posts about my trip to Portland – there was so much incredible stuff to share, I can’t squeeze it all in one post and do any of it justice. I’ll be giving the rundown of our foraging trip, seeing Mt. Hood, getting our hands dirty making artisan chocolates, dinner on the Portland rooftops, the best ice cream I’ve ever eaten, the wines of the Willamette and more. Please note for all these posts: my expenses were paid but I was not compensated & did not guarantee a blog post of review in exchange for my trip. I’m writing about Portland because, well, I loved it.

Comments

michael Sep 27, 2011 11:09 am

great photos as always :)

Broderick Sep 27, 2011 11:09 am

So jealous. Can’t wait for the rest of the posts!

Lemon Sep 27, 2011 01:09 pm

Not surprising you enjoyed Portland! I’ve been thereto several times and I really loved it. It’s a great place because it offers a lot, is not as big as NY, but not too small either. People there are very friendly and I liked the different areas in the town and their specific characteristics. From a tourist point of view, I thought there’s a lot to do, also in the surroundings (not to forget Mount Hood!). Looking forward to your next post on Portland.

lis Sep 27, 2011 03:09 pm

beautiful beautiful ! those eggs!
can’t wait to see more.
cheers!

Denise @ Creative Kitchen Sep 27, 2011 05:09 pm

Your photos are beautiful & the trip sounds amazing!!

Winnie Sep 28, 2011 07:09 am

Gorgeous!

twoOregonians Oct 1, 2011 11:10 am

It’s so much fun to see Portland through the eyes of visitors. Glad you had a lovely time, and thanks for sharing your beautiful photos.

Danielle Oct 7, 2011 09:10 pm

Oh god. Now I’m kicking myself for going fishing and missing out on this amazing restaurant! Uni and poached egg in one dish? I am *so* sold.

You gals did the smart thing of arriving early to explore the city, I wish I stayed for longer!

Kasey Oct 19, 2011 02:10 pm

I’ve been reading everyone’s posts about this Oregon trip and it looks absolutely incredible! Your photos are beautiful, as always.

Lisa Feb 5, 2012 05:02 pm

Gruner is a good restaurant. I was doing a series “Quest for the Best Burger in Portland” and Gruner was in the top 5 for quite awhile. Their burger was fantastic!