Although we certainly want to see the primary sights and explore the more interesting neighborhoods of the cities we visit, we are practically obsessed with experiencing some of their best and most interesting local restaurants. While we did get to, and absolutely enjoyed, three of our top priorities, could not make it to all the restaurants on our list. Those that we did enjoy were:
- Beast is a casual restaurant based on a formal concept: a six-course, prix fixe menu (each available with paired wines)consisting of complex, elegantly plated combinations of small tastes of locally-sourced products. The restaurant has two seatings per evening, with each lasting about three hours. Our dinner began with a chilled curried apricot soup (delicious other than the sharp taste of onion), then an eight-item charcuterie plate (which included steak tartare with quail egg and culminated in a rich foie gras bonbon on peanut shortbread, topped with Sauternes gelee). After a palette cleanser (blackberry-lime sorbet), we moved onto the "main course" of fennel-brined poussin with a delicious black garlic Hollandaise. Then to an arugula salad with marinated chanterelles and Parmesan with pepper-honey vinaigrette, a selection of three artisanal cheeses and ended with sour cherry clafoutis with vanilla bean whipped cream and buttermilk ice cream. While the dishes were creative and generally delicious, the wines (with a particular concentration of German, Austrian and Loire valley whites) were mixed, with a particular down note struck with a Willamette Valley cab/cab franc blend. While the food was generally comparable to that of very expensive fine dining establishments, the accommodations were very different. We all dined together shared, bare wood tables, with everyone served simultaneously by one very good server. This, combined with the restaurant’ slow-rent location allowed it to provide all this for $75 per person (plus $35 for wine). Overall, a very nice, affordable dining experience, including the community among the patrons–marred only by the difficulty in hearing others in the austerely furnished and decorated room.
- Ava Gene is one of the most revered and popular restaurants in the city. Although we were initially skeptical of the relatively austere, non-descriptive menu, we took a chance and are glad we did. We shared a number of dishes, beginning with the soppresata and the wonderful Gnocco Fritto, a lightly fried, crusty pillow (the least interesting part of the dish) with peaches, prosciutto and, honey and shaved parmigiana. The pork chop (with cucumbers, salsa verde and chiles was juicy and tasty. Our two favorite dishes, however, were the ribeye-based Meatballs with cavatelli, pommodoro and ricotta, and the incredibly rich corn polenta. A lovely meal.
- Pok Pok is an inexpensive, very casual, very popular Thai (Chiang Mai-style to be precise) restaurant. We began bey sampling spicy chicken wings with fish sauce and chili and grilled corn on the cob with salted coconut cream. Then onto the main events of game hen with lemongrass and garlic with tamarind sweet and sour dipping sauces and grilled pork loin skewers marinated in coconut butter and TamRind with peanut sauce. All were good, if not necessarily extraordinary. We then splurged by trying two of the featured drinks: Thai pineapple-flavored whiskey (very sweet) and a cocktail consisting of muddled peaches with rye, mint and lemon (interesting). Overall, a fun experience. We can see why people are willing to endure long waits at this no-reservation place.
Two other restaurants were also near the top of our Restaurant To Do list: Le Pigeon and Mucca Osteria. Hopefully, both will still be around, and still hot, during our next visit. And based on our IPNC and Willamette Valley experiences of this trip, our next visit will come much sooner than the six years between our two most recent trips.