Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Casa Garcia's Fabulous Oregon Adventure Part I: The Food

We enjoyed a wonderful vacation in Oregon last week, visiting Portland and several other destinations throughout the area. There was beautiful scenery literally around every corner! Thanks to a great deal on a rental car with unlimited mileage, we saw quite a bit of the Pacific Coast, as well as Tillamook National Forest and the Willamette Valley wine region! We also ate some really delicious meals along the way...from Portland to Dundee...and from Astoria to Cannon Beach. For between-meal food adventures, we visited a fantastic artisan bakery, a gourmet chocolate shop, and Voodoo Doughnut...which is a must for anyone visiting Portland! I made sure to take lots of pictures so I could share our adventures with you. So, come along...and remember: there are zero calories in pictures of food!

Our first official day exploring Portland started off with lunch at Pine State Biscuits. This restaurant specializes in sandwiches made with southern-style scratch biscuits. They’ve been featured on Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives, so we were excited to check it out. It’s small inside, with only a few tables...we lucked out and snagged one while we waited for our food. I had the Chatfield, which has fried chicken breast, bacon, cheddar cheese, and apple butter. 

The combo of sweet and savory in this yummy sandwich was unreal! Michael had the Reggie Deluxe: fried chicken breast, bacon, cheese, a fried egg, and sausage gravy. It was so stacked with stuff that he had to eat it with a  knife and fork! We shared a side of their awesome loaded hash browns with country ham, cheese, onions, and mushrooms. Oh yeah...a spicy-good andouille corn dog too, which you can just see in the background in the picture above! 

Not surprisingly, we left Pine State completely stuffed. Luckily, we spent the rest of the afternoon walking off some of the calories by strolling through the lovely International Rose Test Garden. We snapped tons of pictures of roses. This place was so peaceful and beautiful...and free to visit! Imagine several acres of roses on three tiered levels...a new photo op every few seconds. I took a ton of pictures there, but this rose is my favorite: such vibrant, gorgeous colors!! During our pre-trip research, we had read great things about Apizza Scholls in the Hawthorne District of Portland. It’s consistently ranked as one of the best pizza restaurants in the entire country, so we wanted to see how it compared with our favorite pizza joints in New York and Chicago. 

It was indeed some amazing pizza that totally lived up to its hype. We ordered the Apizza Amore, which is margherita pizza with the addition of their spicy house-cured capicollo. I had never tasted this meat before, but it's a spicy cured pork shoulder. Wow, was it full of flavor!!

The crust of this pizza was truly amazing -- crispy in some spots and chewy in others. The sauce was robust and spicy...and that capicollo took the flavor over the top.  Apizza Scholls takes their artisan crust very seriously, fermenting it at room temperature for 24 hours before using. This is some legit pizza, y’all! I would rank this pizza with the best I’ve tasted anywhere. Michael calls it "labor of love pizza," which pretty much sums it up.

My brother-in-law made reservations for us to dine at the upscale Portland City Grill one evening. It’s one of their favorite special-occasion restaurants, partly because it’s on the 30th floor of a downtown office building...which gives you AMAZING views of downtown Portland! However, this place isn't just a pretty view: the food here was superb. Michael and I shared sweet Dungeness crab cakes with lemon-basil butter sauce. He had the aged ribeye for his entree, and I had locally-caught wild salmon with pistachio-basil pesto. My entree was served with grilled asparagus and potato-fennel gratin. This fish is some of the best that I’ve ever lie. Coming from a gal who grew up on the Gulf Coast, this is high praise! It was grilled to perfection...and the pistachio pesto was sublime.

We found The Country Cat while researching restaurants on Zagat. We liked the look of the menu, and we especially liked that they serve brunch 7 days a week. We dropped in for brunch one morning before spending an afternoon at the Portland Art Museum. The food was really good...all local, organic, and sustainable. I had the boneless Cast Iron Fried Chicken with Pecan-Bacon spooonbread and salad. Michael opted for the Eggs Benedict with spinach, house-cured ham, and preserved lemon hollandaise. The prices here were very reasonable, and the food was all really tasty. Can't ask for more than that!

As you can see by the line out the door in middle of a weekday afternoon, no visit to Portland is complete without a stop at Voodoo Doughnut. We lined up, waited our turn in line, and ordered a few doughnuts...the places is full of sass and personality. It’s great for people watching, that’s for sure! There are so many flavors to choose from, but we managed to pick a few...including a Dirt doughnut (with Oreos), Bacon Maple Bar, Grape Ape, and a No Name (peanut butter, chocolate, and rice crispy). 

I’m sorry to report that we weren’t huge fans of their doughnuts. They are VERY sweet, and the doughnuts themselves have a somewhat heavy texture. Keep in mind, we are HUGE fans of Doughnut Plant in New York, so it’s the yardstick that we measure all other doughnuts with. This is definitely a fun place to visit, and a must if you visit have to at least see it and sample some of their fun flavors!

Ken’s Artisan Bakery is consistently cited as the best bakery in Portland. We stopped in late one afternoon and found their case pretty picked over. However, I was able to score two large macarons and a mini chocolate croissant. Everything was superb, but the hazelnut macaron was especially delicious!! My sister-in-law knows I love good chocolate, so she suggested we try Moonstruck Chocolate. We found a location just up the street from the Portland Art Museum, so we figured it was fate that we stop in. 

Parking was scarce, so Michael dropped me off and drove around the block a couple of times while I picked out some truffles for us to try. I bought two Mayan truffles -- milk chocolate, cinnamon, and crushed almonds -- and a HUGE champagne-raspberry mousse truffle for us to share. This is some high-end chocolate, folks. Their products are available via mail order, so this is one Portland craving that I can satisfy in all the way here in Texas.

We didn’t just eat good food in Portland, though. We had some fantastic moderately priced meals when we hit the road! We even found time to visit the Tillamook Cheese Factory on our way to the beach. We observed workers making and packaging the cheese, and we sampled several flavors in their cafe/gift shop. We couldn’t resist a pre-lunch treat of fresh waffle cones with their super-creamy ice cream. Michael opted for strawberry, but I wanted to try something I could only get in I had the marionberry. The ice cream was creamy and flavorful -- the perfect snack, even if it was a cool 58 degrees outside that day! We kept tabs on the weather back home and marveled at our luck to be enjoying such cool temps while our family and friends back home were roasting in the Texas heat! I know I'm talking about food here, but I have to share this picture of the Pacific, just outside Cannon Beach.

Since our 2009 trip to San Francisco, we love clam chowder...but it’s not something we usually see on the menu here in San Antonio...caldo de res is more like it! We knew the day we drove to Cannon Beach, we would be in search of delicious clam chowder. It was 55 degrees and very breezy on the beach that afternoon, so it was definitely “soup weather.” We asked around, and everyone recommended we hit Mo’s...which is famous in the area for their chowder served in a sourdough bread bowl. 

OMG, the chowder was creamy and delish...full of clams, bacon, and diced potatoes. Add in a fantastic view of the beach and Haystack Rock in the background, and you have the makings of a fabulous afternoon. Sigh...sometimes the best memories of a vacation don't cost a single dime!

There are so many wonderful places to eat in Portland that we already have a list started for our next visit! Make sure to come back here on Friday for Part II of Casa Garcia’s Fabulous Oregon Adventure. I’ll be telling you about our day spent visiting several lovely wineries in the picturesque Willamette Valley...and our fabulous post-winery meal at Dundee Bistro.

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