after dinner sneeze

a lot of g says, t says

The Oregon Trail: Eateries (cont’d)

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t says:  And to complete the whirlwind recap of Oregon dining, here we go …

Wine Country Day 3 – Dinner: Thistle.  Now, this restaurant is quite a controversial topic in wine country.  Our BnB proprietors very clearly didn’t like the place – the chef had a reputation of being “Mr. Grumpy-pants”, and the format of the restaurant is a little too “hip”/”cool” for Oregon.  For example, when we walked in, you’re told by the hostess/waitress/server that the menu is on the board and that that’s the only place it’s written (Little Fish has a very similar tactic).  On one hand, the menu seemed pretty good:

Thistle’s menu

But on the other hand, you can’t see the menu from every seat in the restaurant (actually, I’d say that less than half the seats in the restaurant are even in the same room as the menu!) … and this is why their execution of the chalkboard menu is ultimately a fail!  As the evening progressed, a crowd of people started to build, as patrons had to stand in the room we were eating in (i.e. I picked a seat right underneath the menu so as not to have to rely on memory), make up their minds, memorize their choices, and then return to their seats.

Continuing with Thistle weirdness …
So I got up to wash my hands before eating.  I apparently looked lost (I was), so the bartender gave me directions … but then he warned me … “Yeah, the lights don’t work in there – don’t worry – there’s candles.”  I thought, “that’s weird”.  And then I walked in:

bathroom by candlelight

So then I knew it was weird.  I mean this has to be some kind of violation.  You can’t see it in the above picture, but that bar next to the toilet that people should rely on for balance in case they’re elderly or handicapped (or happen to fall in because someone left the seat up) – there’s candles on that, too.  I’m all for ambience – trust me – but I just don’t see how anyone needs to be put in a romantic mood to void/evacuate/wash.  Kinda weird …

On to the food – it wasn’t bad!  Actually – it was pretty good – technically the best that we had in Willamette Valley.  Fish cookery was top notch.  Gnocchi were soft and pillowy.  Good stuff.  g was especially happy because for all of the negative comments we had read about the chef, we found that his food was tasty.  We did feel, however, that the chef might be a little “green”.  It seems like he has a lot of ideas (i.e. ingredients) that he desperately wants to put on each and every plate without putting enough thought into how the diner would approach them.  As a result, I found myself hunting/dissecting with my fork and knife to ensure that every bite had at least some of each of the components, as I imagined that’s how chef imagined they’d go together.  A prime example was the fish dish:

there’s just too many (at least 7) components! … (but each one is cooked VERY nicely)

I think my favorite of the evening was:

simple appetizer = potato + bacon + kale + egg + mustard

We would consider going back to Thistle again, but there are other places in Wine Country that we’d try first.  Cuvee, Recipe, and The Painted Lady come to mind immediately (oh, and the restaurant in the Allison and the new one in the Inn at Red Hills).

Oregon Day 4:  Mixing it up …

So we decided to visit Columbia River Gorge before settling in Portland.  It’s true that you kind of pass right by Portland to get to the Gorge from Wine Country, however, we felt that we just needed to visit more of Oregon.  It was great!  The views were spectacular, and had g and I been more “into” water sports and/or hiking, I’m sure we could have spent even more time there.  For us, we were content with the pretty surroundings and the waterfalls.

Multnomah Falls is so huge we couldn’t fit more than half of it in any one picture …

Additionally, there are lots of great spots to picnic.  We stopped at a Target to pick up a corkscrew and acrylic tumbler so that we could drink some rose at the Gorge – check it:

lemon zest chevre (Abbey Road Farms) + baguette (Red Hills Market) + Domaine Drouhin rose (in a $2 Target tumbler)

This lunch was AWESOME.

After arriving and getting situated in Portland (and seeing some sights – like Powell’s City of Books), g and I prepared for our first [and only] dinner in Portland: Le Pigeon.

We had reservations to eat at 7:30 but were starving by 5:30.  So we “chanced it” and just showed up, hoping to nail one of the chef’s counter seats that are available to walk-ins only (only 10 or so seats available, first-come-first-served).  We were in luck – we were the last two that fit!  Whoopie!

Ok – let’s slow things down now – Le Pigeon deserves the blow-by-blow …

t’s app: grilled lamb tongue “salad”

So, the lamb tongue wasn’t presented in exactly the way I thought.  I thought that a hunk of tongue was going to be cooked slow and then grilled at the last second.  Instead, this was fine slices of meat mixed with other interesting salad-like ingredients.  Ultimately everything did taste great, but I think people who go ga-ga for this dish are just falling for the hype of “eating tongue”, to which I am no stranger (and this didn’t taste particularly lamby, either).  And, unfortunately, it paled in comparison to g’s app …

g’s app: rabbit pot pie (topped with hot mustard ice cream) + rabbit heart “salad”

Holycrapballsthiswasamazing.  First off, That pot pie totally killed it.  As much as I raved about Alla Spina’s Pig Pot Pie, this is an order of magnitude better.  Seriously.  The succulent rabbit meat (and plenty of it), the ice cream (g loves hot mustard), and I even think there was a little bit of foie hiding in there … heaven.  And then there was that mix of rabbit heart and mustard and something sweet/fruity-tasting (?tamarind?) and unidentifiable other “stuff”.  And then it happened: I was brought to a pause – you know – one of those times when you want to just close your eyes and let your brain and mouth savor every flavor of the symphony before you.  It was the best dish I had had in a long time.  And the surprise/novelty of it reminded me a bit of the old Talula’s Table Bryan Sikora (not to be confused with the new a.kitchen Sikora).  I did not see that one coming … Needless to say, g won Battle Appetizer (lamb tongue never stood a chance).

For mains, I went for the hunk of meat:

t’s main: boeuf bourgignon

I thought that I had this one all locked up.  The meat was fall-apart tender and deeply penetrated with the uber-oomphy braising liquid.  The onions and potatoes were so deeply flavored that they barely resembled their pre-cooked form.  And yes, even the carrots were scrumptious.  It was so classically done and so perfectly executed that team t was going to steamroll team g for sure … or so I thought …

g’s main: chicken … kinda

Ok … so I labeled the above photo “chicken”.  And yes, it was a plate that featured chicken.  But don’t be fooled.  This was no ordinary chicken.  This chicken was possessed by the devil … because clearly only Beezlebub would think of lobster-ifying chicken.  That’s right – lobster chicken.  Now, g confesses that she ordered it because she wanted me to have the beef (I “called it” first) – she only went for the chicken because I had told her that some Yelpers said it was delicious.  They. were. not. lying.  You put a piece of white chicken (stuffed with lobster) in your mouth and it’s so vividly lobster that you swear it was a piece of lobster.  And then, as you bite down, you get the firmness of chicken which while weird at first is actually kind of a well-matched texture for the power of the lobster.  Underneath, there’s dark meat mixed with lobster pieces and that ridiculous sauce (and peas … g loves peas).  Now, g admits that this technically was not the “best” chicken she ever had in terms of chicken cookery (i.e. the chicken alone wasn’t particularly tender or particularly juicy – but done well enough), but she feels that it’s probably a contender for the best “chicken dish” she’s ever had when it comes to flavor – and I’m totally with her.  This chicken – this silly bird that was screwed around with to taste like lobster – was out of control.  As good as my beef was (and as impressive as the picture of the beef was) and as confident I was that “cow beats chicken” is as true/fact/dogma as “rock beats scissors”, g’s chicken, with the power of lobster, slayed my cow.  Damnit.  I was 0-2 this meal (and she let me have first pick!)  On to desserts to see if I could pick up at least 1 victory to restore team morale …

t’s dessert: creme brulee and malt pot de creme

My dessert wasn’t very fussy.  I was feeling kind of full, so I wanted some lighter flavors that went down smoothly.  And, after watching chef torch off a creme brulee (after all, we did have prime seats), I decided that that’s what I wanted.  And indeed everything was delicious!  The textures, temperatures, and flavors were all spot on …

but g showed me no mercy …

g’s dessert: “carrot cake”

I was actually surprised g ordered dessert.  Usually, she foregoes dessert and takes a bite of mine.  But not this day.  This day, she annihilated me 3-0.  Okay.  Look at that carrot cake.  That is clearly NOT a “carrot cake” as the menu suggested.  It was like bringing a gun to a knife-fight.  Forget “gun” – try rocket launcher.  First off, let’s tackle the obvious component: the carrot cake.  This carrot cake was crazy.  Now, I’ve had some darn good carrot cakes in the past (shout-out to w!), but this was super moist and super soft, but somehow not “spongy”, and it boasted carrot and spice flavors, but no actual carrot particles were visible.  The cream cheese icing wasn’t over-bearingly sweet or cream-cheesy, with just the right amount of viscosity.  I’m pretty sure those nuts were toasted because there’s no way they could have had the flavors they had otherwise.  The chamomile ice cream – ok – that was the one thing on the dish that was “normal” – a nice mild flavor to provide some background for the other fireworks.  Now let’s talk about the ridiculous …  Those ribbon thingees are shavings of yellow, orange, and purple carrot that had been treated in such a manner that they were essentially like those Listerine pocket strips … except that they tasted of carrot.  Those yellow raisins were rehydrated in Lord-knows-what, but had this mix of sweetness and a little bit of sour/tart punch.  And then there’s that little cube of orange … carrot, right?  WRONG.  That was some sort of gelatin substance that was cut into cubes (think textured like panna cotta) so it would look like carrot, but have this wonderful cross of creamy and carroty and sweet.  Someone had a lot of fun crafting this dessert … and we had even more fun eating it.

As you can see, Le Pigeon serves some wonderful food.  At “baseline” (i.e. everything I ordered), the food is “delicious” and superbly executed.  But at the extreme (i.e. everything g ordered), it’s whimsical and surprising (and delicious and superbly executed).  g wants to do an FTC trip to Oregon so that we can do up the wineries and go to Le Pigeon.  Who knows – maybe after reading this post, the usual suspects will begin thinking about it …  Whadya say – International Pinot Noir Celebration in July 2013?

Day 5 – Finishing off Portland …

Yes … this has been a very long post.  But give me just a few more pictures to wrap up our trip (rapid fire – I promise!):

I started off the day by bringing some Voodoo Donuts back to the hotel … yea … I know it’s a tourist trap

wait for it …

raspberry jelly, lemon cruller, buttermilk, and Memphis Mafia (i.e. chocolate, caramel, peanut butter, all on fried fritter dough)

Voodoo was good, but I think their “shtick” is just doing “over-the-top” donuts (they have a lot more like the Memphis Mafia pictured above).  I kind of prefer FedNuts super-flavor-packed donuts to these, but I will say that Voodoo has a better actual “donut matter” (Fednuts are a little too cakey for me).

We did Bunk Sandwiches takeout for lunch – they’ve received a ton of accolades and have been on DDD – I know it’s a tourist trap, too …

meatball sandwich – those were some darn solid meatballs and the sauce was actually pretty good (with some spice) … but I know that g’s meatballs could wreck Bunk’s … just sayin …

chicken salad – good components around the chicken salad, but the salad itself was only “meh” – Rotisseur might be able to take ’em …

And that’s it!

We boarded a plane with our wine, prayed that we (and the wine) would arrive safely in PHL, and voila!  Here we are!

Overall, it was a fantastic trip – g was glad she did it! (Her original attitude was “Oregon?  Who goes to Oregon for vacation?”).  To those who’ve “done” California, Oregon is a great trip with great wines and a slower/nicer attitude.  The food might not be as polished/famous as Napa’s, but it’s also a helluvalot cheaper (the wines are, too!).  Portland is an interesting city and worth a visit (lots of cool tattoos), but we can’t justify any more than 2 days (g says:  When we go back to Oregon, we’re only going to stay in Portland for the food – no need for me to see anything else.) – we probably would have spent more time in the Gorge had we had the time.

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Written by afterdinnersneeze

29 May 2012 at 12:48am

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