A Pacific Northwest Culinary and Oenophilic Excursion

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I recently spent a few days in Seattle and Portland on a ‘tour’ of a number of highly touted restaurants, including a few James Beard award candidates. As with any trip to our southern relative, the wine prices and selection were a painful reminder of how unfairly we wine and food lovers are treated in Canada. On the other hand, it is surely a blessing to live so close to such a grand milieu of culinary talent and vinous excitement. I must admit that I refrained from collecting pictures of everywhere I went, instead choosing to focus on living in the moment.

Seattle Opens the Gullet

I began at the inimitable Sitka and Spruce in Seattle’s awesome Melrose Market – a 2012 James Beard finalist. Here you will find the second most exciting restaurant in the Pacific Northwest Corridor from Oregon to Vancouver (after The Willow’s Inn). Focusing on unique middle-eastern inspired preparations and a wickedly delicious wood fired stove, this is a must-visit for any foodie. The wine list is solid, though nothing mind-blowing, but the food is especially innovative and driven by incredibly well-sourced ingredients and a real sense of flavour and texture.

Portland Fills the Belly

Portland and its lack of sales tax allows high end dining for mid-range prices on the Vancouver-scale. Little Bird (the new restaurant by the owner and chef of Le Pigeon) was as fundamentally delicious as its sister restaurant while offering a bit more of a bistro take on food. Ingredients are all exceptional, but the treatment of meat here is amongst the very best. I highly recommend the bird duo with roast hen and a mushroom/chicken pot pie that perfectly conjures up the French countryside. I had a nice 2009 Burgundy along with the food – fruity enough to stand up to the richness of the food, but French enough to be delicious and balanced with a good dose of acidity and earth.

Portland’s PSU Saturday farmer’s market seems to be one of the best of any major North American city I’ve been to, with heaps of beautiful just from the ground fresh organic vegetables, cheeses, mushrooms, bread, chocolate, etc. etc. The Mexican food stand’s Buena Vista taco breakfast was the best Mexican food I’ve had north of Santa Barbara and incorporated the classic Portlandian hallmarks: free run naturally raised chicken eggs, incredible bacon and flash fried fresh veggies from the market.

All that food required some digestive assistance. Heart coffee roasters in the Southeast offers some of the best espresso I’ve tasted anywhere – this is a serious shop, and amazingly one of at least a dozen roasters in Portland. It was the perfect palate opener for the sickeningly brilliant Salt and Straw – an artisanal ice cream shop in the Northeast quadrant whose only peer is Ici in Berkeley.

Another highlight was the 2012 James Beard nominee Nostrana – an Italian joint making classic fare but doing it at a level I have not really experienced outside of Italy. In fact, it even puts my beloved La Quercia to shame with its perfection of Caesar salad, hand made pastas, wood fired pizzas and the killer dry aged flat iron steak served rare with arugula that I ate. When coupled with one of the best wine lists in the northwest, it was a complete experience. I paired my dinner there with a flight of Paolo Bea wines that Nostrana had open for a limited time. You’ve also got to give kudos to a restaurant that has an “orange” section on their wine list. I’ll just let the pictures do the rest of the talking with respect to the wine list.

I finished off the visit with an excellent Cerasuolo di Vittoria from Nanfro purchased at Liner and Ellison, which was all pretty fruits, lithe silky body and elegance, unlike some of the recent examples from both COS and Occhipinti, which have been a bit ripe for my preference.

Visits to Portland always give rise to a bit of city envy on my part. If you are looking for exceptional quality food and wine at incredibly low prices there is really nowhere better. Coupled with Oregon’s focus on small family owned farms and wineries and general eschewal of big corporate agriculture, Portland is assuredly a Mecca for all things food and drink.





… and don’t forget about the beer (Matt was aged 50/50 in bourbon and Calvados barrels and is amongst the very best beers in the world):


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