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Family Fun, Gardens, Oregon, Outdoor Activities, Pacific Northwest, Portland

It’s Time to Stop and Smell the Roses in Portland

August 31, 2017

A visit to Portland’s world famous International Rose Test Garden is truly a treat for the senses. The heady fragrance of thousands of roses greets you even before you see them. Here on 4.5 acres in the city’s Washington Park, high above Portland’s hustle and bustle, visitors will delight in the sights and aromas of more than 10,000 individual plants and 650 different varieties of gorgeous roses.

About 700,000 people visit Portland’s International Rose Test Garden each year.

With whimsical names like Angel Face, Candy Cane Cocktail, Carmel Kisses, Champagne Wishes, First Crush, Falling in Love and Jump for Joy, giant blooms and tiny tea varieties give approximately 700,000 visitors a year something to smile about.

How about Gold-medal winning Sunshine Daydream to brighten your day?

These beautiful blooms are a delight to the senses.

Barbra Streisand, Bishop Desmond Tutu, Pope John Paul II, Dale Chihuly, Ingrid Bergman, George Burns, Coretta Scott King, Dick Clark, Marilyn Monroe and England’s Queen Elizabeth are among the luminaries who have a namesake rose here.

Well-known people from around the globe including artists, philanthropists, world and religious leaders have namesake roses here.

While the peak month for rose viewing is June, our visit in August was sensational. According to the Portland Parks & Recreation Department, which owns and manages the Rose Garden, roses are in bloom from May through October.

These floral favorites were glorious even in August.

Plan accordingly–we arrived in April one time and were disappointed to see we’d come too early. We enjoyed a stroll through the lovely Japanese Gardens across the street instead (see earlier blog post).

More than 650 varieties of roses are grown here.

“Hot Cocoa” seems right, even in the summer.

The oldest continuously operating public rose test garden in the U.S., Portland’s International Rose Test Garden just celebrated its 100th birthday. The centennial was marked this August with music and other activities.

Portland recently celebrated 100 Years of Roses– that’s why it’s called the Rose City.

During its 100 years of operation the Rose Test Garden has served as just that—a testing ground for new varieties of this floral favorite. During World War I, the Garden also became home and protector of European-grown rose varieties threatened by bombing.

Admission is free and so are guided tours given at 1 p.m. daily from Memorial Day through Labor Day.

To get the most from your visit, download a self-guided tour from the Rose Garden website www.portlandoregon.gov/parks or join one of the free guided tours offered daily at 1 p.m. from Memorial Day through Labor Day. Enjoy the roses during your visit but remember, absolutely no plantings or cuttings can be removed from the Garden.

Dick Clark’s namesake rose won “Portland’s Best Rose” last year.

 

Admission to the Rose Garden is free. There is limited metered parking available but it can be a challenge to find due to construction in Washington Park. Consider taking public transportation or a ride share to reach the Garden. Take Trimet MAX to Washington Park and then use the free shuttle from the station that runs throughout the Park.

The next time Portland, Oregon is on your itinerary, treat yourself to a visit here and find out why it’s called the Rose City. And take time to smell, the well… you know!

 

 

 

Dining, Oregon, Pacific Northwest, Portland, Restaurants

Let’s Eat—Downtown Portland: Departure, Mucca, Andina, Irving St. + Imperial

June 6, 2017

Portland is known as a food lover’s paradise and for good reason. The Rose City has something for every palate and budget from food trucks to fine dining. Every time we visit, and it’s pretty regularly, the big decision is always where to eat next.

It’s hard to beat the views and ambiance at Departure Lounge on the rooftop at the Nines Hotel.

If the weather is nice and the skies are clear, begin your evening at Departure Restaurant + Lounge www.departureportland.com on the rooftop at The Nines Hotel. There are splendid views—some of the best in Portland, by our reckoning– to accompany your beverage of choice.

Head upstairs for beautiful views, a lively happy hour and tasty Asian-fusion cuisine.

There are appetizers to order and you can take a peek at their rooftop herb garden. The rooftop is hugely popular so go early or be prepared to stand. Seating is limited but no one seems to mind. Happy Hour takes place every day from 4-6 p.m.

Cheers!

If you’re looking for dinner, as well as drinks, inside Departure you’ll find an Asian- fusion restaurant with good food and attentive service. The menu features a fine assortment of sushi, salads, dim sum, kushiyaki dishes, wok fired items, and chef’s suggestions. They offer lots of small dishes good for sharing, which is what we did. There’s plenty of seafood to choose from, like the wildly popular poke, as well as meat and vegetarian selections.

Order dinner at tables or the bar inside Departure Restaurant + Lounge.

There are plenty of sushi options from traditional to vegetarian rolls available.

The wings in a sweet chili glaze were tasty, as was the steamed short rib bun and the pork shumai. The chili prawns were a little salty and we thought could have used more heat, but flavorful, nonetheless. Crispy Striped Bass was a highlight, served with mango, cashews and a chili lime sauce.

Chicken wings were crispy and delicious.

Chili prawns were perfect for sharing.

Departure Restaurant + Lounge has an interesting wine list with plenty of wines that have been selected to pair perfectly with the food. They also offer a full compliment of cocktails, as well as spirits, beer, saki, teas and interesting sounding “no proof” libations. Knowledgeable staff are happy to help with decision making.

The wine list has lots of fun choices that complement the menu nicely.

Mind your step– you may well feel like you’re aboard an aircraft, especially walking down the long hallway towards the restrooms.

For views, atmosphere, beverages and a bite to eat, it’s hard to beat Departure.

Prepare for a delightful dining experience at Mucca.

If you’re in the mood for delicious Italian cuisine prepared with care and graciously served in a charming, intimate setting, try Mucca- www.muccaosteria.com.

Enjoy a taste of Italy with a Sicilian flair in Downtown Portland.

The prosciutto and burrata is a great starter and easy to share, as is the insalata barbabietole (beet salad) with ricotta and hazelnuts. Try the excellent scallops with Parmesan fondue, if you’re looking for something richer.

A generous portion of creamy burrata is hiding inside this delicious nest of prosciutto.

The pastas are all terrific (we’ve tried just about every one here), especially the tortelli ai funghi—a beautiful dish of fresh pasta stuffed with mushrooms and ricotta, and topped with asparagus in a light and lovely cream sauce.

The tortelli with mushrooms is a personal favorite at Mucca.

The papparadelle with boar ragu is a hearty dish, full of flavor and reminds us of Tuscany. For an interesting take on risotto, try Mucca’s preparation with elk sausage.

This braised rabbit ragu with olives and pine nuts is typically served with a red beet tagliatelle. Here, we substituted pici pasta for the tagliatelle.

Elk sausage makes Mucca’s risotto delightfully different.

If you have a big appetite, opt for the pork shoulder, which is slow cooked, and falling off the bone. It’s served with creamy polenta. The daily fish special is always a winner, too.

Mucca’s wine list features producers from across Italy from Tuscany to Sicily.

Enjoy a digestivo after your meal. Mucca has many excellent ones to choose from.

With the exception of some French sparklers, the wine list is all Italian, from regions throughout the country from Piemonte to Sardinia. Knowledgeable servers are happy to help with your selections. In our experience, Mucca never disappoints.

Marvelous Andean cuisine awaits at Andina.

If you have a taste for amazing Peruvian cuisine try Andina www.andinarestaurant.com. You’ll find South American cooking in both traditional and contemporary, or NovoAndean (as they call it here), style at this big, bustling eatery.

We always say “yes, please” to the empanadas at Andina. Both the beef and vegetable versions are terrific.

Empanadas are just one of Andina’s “don’t miss” tapas dishes. Several superb preparations of scallops, shrimp, and other seafood, vegetable dishes, soups and stews, plus cerviches make up the extensive list. There are so many great sounding options it can be overwhelming to choose.

Pimento Piquillo Relleno, stuffed with quinoa, cheese and Serrano ham, makes a very tasty starter.

A classic Tortilla de Papa brings potatoes to a new level.

The tapas are meant to share so be sure to bring friends. That also gives you the chance to try more of their tasty dishes. There have been times when we have selected so many tapas; we could barely eat our entrees, which we would also recommend sharing.

Crunchy, crispy Chicharrones de Langostinos are perfect for sharing.

Among Andina’s entrees, we recommend the lamb shank, which is perfectly prepared and served with traditional accompaniments. It’s a very large portion. The fish dishes are also very good, especially the tuna, which is served with red lentils and a gooseberry sauce. There are numerous vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options here, too.

Quinoa turns up in a number of dishes, including this delightful presentation of Quinoa con Verduras.

Though walk- ins are welcome to dine downstairs or in the busy bar area on a space available basis, if you want a guaranteed table, it’s essential to reserve. You’ll be glad you did.

Another award-winning downtown dinner spot to try.

 Named one of Portland’s 2016 Best Restaurants by The Oregonian, Irving Street Kitchen is right down the street from Andina in the Pearl District. Irving Street is going for an “elegant casual” vibe and it seemed to be very of the moment on the Saturday night we dined there.

Everyone seemed to be having a great time at Irving Street Kitchen.

They have a terrific “wines on tap program” so you can sample a bunch of local wines you might not have heard of—we hadn’t– without breaking the bank. There were four whites, six reds and a rose on tap, all from Oregon and Washington, when we visited.  In addition to the wines and beers on tap, there are craft cocktails and a nice wine list with lots of choices from the Pacific Northwest.

Sample a few selections from the “on tap” wine program featuring wines from independent producers in Oregon and Washington.

Irving Street has heartier starters like the charcuterie or cheese selections, Manila clams, and meatballs, for example, but we began with salads, which were fresh and crisp. We had the baby lettuces and the Bibb wedge—classics, updated with additions like wildflower Riesling dressing and candied bacon with pecan nibs, respectively.

Decisions, decisions, decisions.

We started with several crisp salads, including the Bibb Wedge shown here.

The double pork chop was superb and enormous, as was the buttermilk fried chicken. Both were extremely satisfying and big enough to share. The carrot butter poached halibut sounded awfully tempting but we went for the salmon this time and weren’t disappointed.

The succulent double pork chop was redolent with a smoky flavor throughout.

Crispy buttermilk fried chicken was a winner.

A peek inside Irving Street’s kitchen.

Irving Street Kitchen is hip and happening so definitely book in. Get one of their curtained booths if you can, or stake out a seat at the buzzy bar. Irving Street Kitchen also serves brunch on weekends and has a Happy Hour. Check it out!

Another downtown favorite is Chef/Owner Vitaly Paley’s Imperial. This casual and always crowded restaurant has been one of our Portland “go tos” for years. http://www.imperialpdx.com.

The award-winning Imperial is popular for good reason.

Though former Top Chef finalist Doug Adams is no longer in the kitchen, his signature fried chicken is still on the menu, served with house-made hot sauce and honey. (Word has it that Doug is opening a new place in the fall–we’ll keep you posted).

The signature fried chicken is a standout!

 Though we don’t love paying for bread and butter, the Parker House rolls with Jacobsen Sea Salt are always on our table at Imperial, along with a big basket of their terrific fries.

Imperial’s fries are irresistible. Maybe it’s their “secret sauce.”

The sunflower seed brittle on the kale and vegetable salad makes that one special. The duck meatballs are a terrific starter, too.

Sunflower seed brittle gives this kale salad a satisfying crunch.

The duck meatballs deliver big on taste.

Some of the other “don’t miss” dishes are the barrel planked pork secretto, roasted half chicken, any fish done la plancha-style, and the fried rabbit with bacon, though we haven’t seen that dish on the menu lately.

Perfectly prepared Planked Pork Secretto from Tails & Trotters, is served with a fantastic Romesco sauce.

The grilled halibut is simply delicious.

The wine list features plenty of French selections but Oregon, Washington, and California wines are also well represented. Italian wines, along with craft cocktails, reserve, draft, and bottled beers, and ciders are all on offer.

There are always new and interesting wines to try on Imperial’s list.

Though we missed seeing a few of the friendly faces that always made dining at Imperial a bit more special, we still had a wonderful dinner on our most recent visit. Imperial serves breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Try their Happy Hour, too– the food is terrific and the prices are a real deal.

These are a few of our downtown favorites in Portland. We’ll be back with more dining recommendations in another post. In the meantime, let us know about your Portland picks!

 

 

Family Fun, Gardens, Oregon, Outdoor Activities, Pacific Northwest, Portland

A Walk in the Woods—Portland’s Hoyt Arboretum

May 22, 2017

If you enjoy a walk on the wilder side, visit Portland’s Hoyt Arboretum. Just up the hill in Washington Park from the refined and well-manicured Japanese Garden, nature lovers will find 12 miles of rustic trails that run through the 187-acre park.

Visitors can explore 12 miles of rustic trails, many fairly rugged. There are two miles of trails suitable for strollers and wheelchairs.

Trails are well marked and lead to “family” groupings of trees.

The Hoyt Arboretum boasts 6,000 plants and trees representing 1,100 species and it’s free to visit. The trees, first planted in the 1930s by John W. Duncan, are grouped with others they are related to, in areas closest to their natural, native habitat.

The Hoyt Arboretum is a nature lover’s paradise in Portland’s Washington Park.

Visitors can meander down the Magnolia Trail to the Magnolia Grove or view a broad array of holly on the Holly Loop. You’ll find Oak Trail, Beech Trail, Maple Trail, Hawthorn Trail, Walnut Trail, Redwood Trail, Bristlecone Pine Trail— you get the picture. If you have a favorite kind of tree, chances are you can find it here, along with its closest relatives.

Volcano Vista is one of many scenic spots in the 187-acre “living museum.” Mt. Ranier, Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Adams and Mt. Hood are off in the distance.

Be aware that many of the trails are fairly rugged and not well suited to people with ambulatory challenges. There are, however, two miles of trails appropriate for strollers, wheelchairs and less sure-footed visitors. Be sure to wear comfortable walking shoes for your Arboretum adventure.

The Magnolia Grove was a personal favorite. There are so many varieties of this beautiful flowering tree to enjoy at the Hoyt Arboretum.

The Hoyt Arboretum hosts 90-minute tours on many Saturdays, but it’s best to call or check the website www.hoytarboretum.org to confirm the schedule. In the autumn, there are Fall Color Tours and during April, which is Arbor Month, volunteer docents guide visitors on the Magnolia and Spring Blossom Tours. A $3 donation is suggested for the tours.  Check with the Arboretum for other tours and events throughout the year.

Check out the guided Magnolia and Spring Blossoms tours, held on Saturdays in the Spring.

The Hoyt Arboretum is pet and family friendly.  We encountered a number of families with cavorting canines and energetic children frolicking in the meadow areas.

Daffodils, a sure harbinger of Spring, were blooming in the Winter Garden during our recent visit.

The Visitor Center, which includes a small nature center and a research library, was closed when we visited, but the restrooms were open. There were brochures available, which included handy trail maps.

There was something to delight the eye in every area of the Hoyt Arboretum. This is a view of the Winter Garden.

There is a Winter Garden to explore and a picnic area when you’re ready for a break. There are no cafes or restaurants on the Arboretum’s grounds so come prepared. We often stop by Elephant’s Deli on NW 22nd Avenue. It’s a great place to pick up provisions on your way to Washington Park. You can order everything from pizza to black bean burgers, prepared while you wait, or order ahead for sandwiches, sack lunches, full picnics, and platters. They also have “grab and go” items, a full bakery, and plenty of specialty foods and gift items. A complete menu is available at www.elephantsdeli.com.

Specialty foods, full picnics, platters, pre-packaged salads and sandwiches, side dishes, baked goods and more are on offer at Elephant’s Deli.

Get a pizza, fried chicken, burgers and other entrees to bring to the park or enjoy before you go. There are no dining facilities at the Hoyt Arboretum so be prepared.

There is a small pay parking lot at the entrance to the Hoyt Arboretum or take the free Washington Park shuttle bus up from the transit center (Max Red or Blue lines to Washington Park). The complimentary shuttle runs around the park from April through October. For current information, please visit www.explorewashingtonpark.org and enjoy your walk in the woods in this remarkable spot in Portland.

 

Architecture, Art, Cultural Attractions, Family Fun, Outdoor Activities, Outdoor Art, Pacific Northwest, Portland

Seeking Serenity at Portland’s Spectacular Japanese Garden

May 9, 2017

Gorgeous grounds, stunning views and an authentic Japanese experience have been delighting visitors to Portland’s spectacular Japanese Garden since 1963. Now, the beautiful 12-acre oasis, which includes five separate gardens with plenty of peaceful seating areas for reflection, a Japanese Tea House, tranquil ponds, and meandering paths perfect for contemplation, has even more to offer. Last month the new $33.5 million Cultural Crossing opened to visitors.

Follow the footpaths, steps and bridges that lead to each of the separate and distinctive garden spaces within Portland’s Japanese Garden.

The new $33.5 million Cultural Crossings expansion project includes new exhibition space, library, tea house and additional garden areas, all designed to enhance the authentic Japanese experience for visitors.

Designed by respected architect Kengo Kuma, the Cultural Crossing’s new buildings provide the perfect showcase for traditional Japanese arts and culture and serve as a venue for family-friendly activities and interesting demonstrations. An already popular attraction is even more appealing with the new expansion project. No wonder the lines for tickets are long. Purchase tickets online and check-in at the membership desk, exchange your voucher for a ticket there, and avoid the serpentine lines that are sure to continue for some time.

Minutes away from Portland’s busy streets, the Portland Japanese Garden is an oasis of tranquility.

Many visitors take the complimentary shuttle up to the gardens and walk back down to the parking area along the paved pathways.

Visitors can either take a complimentary shuttle bus or walk up the pathway to the open and airy Japanese Arts Learning Center–the heart of the new project with performance space, library and classroom.

Young visitors take a break on the steps inside the new Jordan Schnitzer Japanese Arts Learning Center.

The ground level Tanabe Gallery currently hosts an exhibition of ceramics, calligraphy, and sculpture by former Japanese Prime Minister Hosokawa Morihiro.

A delightful display of ceramics, calligraphy, and sculpture by former Japanese Prime Minister Hosokawa Morihiro are currently on exhibit in the Tanabe Gallery and Pavilion Gallery.

The expansive display, Hosokawa Morihiro: The Art of Life, a Rebirth in Clay, continues in the Pavilion Gallery, which also includes a portable teahouse.   Two additional “Art in the Garden” showcases, one featuring Kabuki costumes and the other, Noh masks and costumes, are scheduled for later in the year. The Japanese Garden will host related events and activities associated with both.

A portable tea house with the implements needed to perform a classic Japanese tea ceremony are part of the current exhibition. Noh masks and costumes and Kabuki costumes will be featured in the galleries later this year.

Now, to explore these magnificent gardens! The Strolling Pond Garden was our first stop, after a visit to the Learning Center and Gallery. Visitors can walk across the “iconic Moon Bridge” over the Upper Pond and enjoy the views.

Stroll the “Zig-Zag Bridge” over the Lower Pond which is surrounded by iris. It had not quite bloomed at the time of our visit, but was close. The aptly named Heavenly Falls provide the perfect backdrop to the Lower Pond and were a popular “selfie stop.”

The Heavenly Falls provide the perfect backdrop for contemplation or photo opps.

Follow the rough stepping stones along a lantern- lined path through the beautiful Japanese Tea Garden to the authentic Kashintei Tea House. Typically, the tea garden is a place to appreciate nature’s beauty and “the art of living in harmony” while leaving the cares of the world behind. This is certainly the case at the Portland Japanese Garden—it is so serene it’s easy to forget you are mere minutes from busy city streets.

Visitors are invited to leave their worldly cares behind when they explore the authentic tea garden and Kashintei Tea House.

The Kashintei Tea House, which is where tea demonstrations and related events are held, was brought to Portland from Japan and reassembled here.

Contact the Japanese Garden to learn when tea demonstrations and other events are scheduled for the Kashintei Tea House.

The Portland Japanese Garden has a lovely Sand and Stone Garden, created by Professor Takuma Tono, the Garden’s chief designer in the 1960s. These “dry landscape” gardens are sometimes called “Zen Gardens” because they are often found at Zen monasteries and are meant to invite quiet contemplation. The Sand and Stone Garden here illustrates an important Japanese concept—“the beauty of blank space.”

Enjoy your moments of Zen at the Sand and Stone Garden.

Recent additions to Portland’s Japanese Garden include the Natural Garden, which features local plants not typically associated with Japanese gardens and depicts seasonal change.

The cherry blossoms were in full bloom during our recent visit to Portland’s Japanese Garden.

The small courtyard garden (Tsubo-Niwa) and the Ellie M. Hill Bonsai Terrace are both new and located near the Tateuchi Courtyard in the Cultural Village.

Visitors are treated to an exquisite display of bonsai at the new Ellie M.Hill Bonsai Terrace.

The Flat Garden, which highlights each of the four seasons with specific plantings and trees is popular with visitors. The weeping cherry tree on the left represents spring while a 100- year old maple depicts autumn.

The Flat Garden is meant to be viewed from a single angle either from inside a home, where the door or window serves as a frame, or from a verandah, as these visitors are doing.

The gravel stands in for water, signifying summer in the Flat Garden.

After you’ve finished strolling around the gorgeous gardens and interesting exhibitions, stop in and sample the fare at the new Umami Café. During our visit, just a week after the April 2 reopening, the café was not yet serving food but was offering complimentary samples of four delicious teas from Tokyo-based Jugetsudo Tea Company. We were told that light snacks and sweets would be offered in the near future.

Stop in the new Umami Cafe for a restorative cup of tea and authentic Japanese sweets and snacks.

During our visit, guests were offered four different and delicious teas as part of a complimentary tea tasting.

When His Excellency Nobuo Matsunaga, the former Ambassador of Japan to the United States, visited the Portland Japanese Garden, he proclaimed it “the most beautiful and authentic Japanese garden in the world outside of Japan,” according to the organization.

Tranquil settings such as this one near the Upper Pond, have been drawing visitors since 1963.

They currently report more than 350,000 visitors annually, a number that will surely grow with the addition of the new Cultural Crossroads expansion. Be sure to add this spectacularly beautiful and serene spot to your Portland itinerary.  Visit www.japanesegarden.org for the most up to date information on tickets, events and hours.

 

Dining, Pacific Northwest, Portland, Restaurants

PDX Hits and Misses: Muscadine, Nonna, and Din Din

October 12, 2015

Portland has become one of our favorite food cities and we’ve been fortunate to visit frequently over the last few years. There are so many terrific restaurants–we have to force ourselves to branch out from our favorites and give other places a try. That was our goal on our most recent excursion to the Rose City.

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Try Muscadine for delicious Southern cooking.

Muscadine

Southern food is enormously popular in Portland, especially when it is as well prepared as it is at Muscadine muscadine.  We stopped by for lunch a scant 30 minutes before closing, yet were warmly welcomed.  It was a beautiful, sunny day so we opted for one of the picnic benches outside the casual restaurant.

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Choose one of Muscadine’s outdoor tables on a sunny day but get there early for the fried chicken!

Sadly, the fried chicken, which we had been anticipating hungrily, was sold out.  We had been warned that that could happen to late arrivals. Never the less, there were ample appealing choices on the menu and the four of us settled on several portions of catfish, the salmon croquettes and the BBQ cup.

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Muscadine’s tasty BBQ Cup…

The BBQ cup turned out to be a nice big biscuit filled with tender pulled pork in a tasty BBQ sauce topped with cheese and baked in the oven.  So delicious, I soon forgot about the chicken.

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…delicious, tender pulled pork in a fluffy biscuit.

The catfish had a crunchy, crispy crust and was moist and tender on the inside. It was served with a “come back” sauce much like a traditional home made tartar sauce with a kick—a perfect foil for the fish.  The salmon croquettes were flavorful and included two ample croquettes

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Crispy catfish, fried okra and crunchy cornbread.

The mains came with three side dishes and there were fourteen to choose from. The sides could also be ordered separately for $4 each. We sampled several–perfect corn bread; fried potatoes; tasty, crispy fried okra (I’m not usually a fan of okra but this was really good); a sweet and sour coleslaw—different but flavorful; extra crispy bacon; braised local squash; grits; and biscuits with excellent preserves and butter. The preserves were great with the cornbread, too, and our server was happy to bring more.

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Salmon croquettes, grits, squash and fried okra.

Service was attentive and gracious and though we probably overstayed our welcome, were never rushed– in fact our waitress kept our coffee cups filled right up to the time when we finally pushed ourselves away from the table. We’ll be back for sure.

 

Nonna

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DOC’s casual sister restaurant Nonna.

We were excited to try this casual offering from the popular and well-regarded DOC next door. Nonna  nonnapdx has a casual vibe with a large bar area and simple, wooden tables. There is another equally casual dining room just beyond the bar.

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Nonna has a large, welcoming bar.

Nonna also has a cozy and charming patio in the back, hung with clothes lines and a few items of clothing that were certainly not going to dry on the rainy Friday evening we dined there.  It would be a wonderful place to gather with friends and enjoy some good Italian cooking and a beverage on a pleasant Portland evening.

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A small, charming patio would be a great gathering spot in nice weather.

Like many Portland restaurants, Nonna’s menu is locally focused and changes often.  We ordered four appetizers to share between the four of us, as suggested by our server. We chose the octopus, polenta, golden beets, and spaghetti with chilies and breadcrumbs. Everything was nicely prepared and presented.

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Charred octopus reminded us of Sicily.

The octopus was tender and delicious with a nice char and served with a lemony aioli, olives, peppers and potatoes–just like the octopus we had enjoyed many times in Sicily. This was my favorite of the starters we chose.

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Polenta with pesto.

The fried polenta with pesto was tasty, though not terribly exciting.  The roasted beets on the other hand were sublime – a beautiful, big bowl of golden beets with walnuts, chevre, mache, with tasty tarragon vinaigrette.

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Golden beets received a generous topping of chevre and hazelnuts.

The pasta dish was small but perfect for sharing.  The chilies had a nice zip and the breadcrumbs added welcome texture.  We did feel that three appetizers would have been sufficient since we had each ordered an entree as well.

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Piquant peppers and toasted breadcrumbs made this spaghetti dish special.

We felt dinner was off to a great start and were all happily enjoying our shared plates when halfway through the appetizers, our entrees arrived.  We were surprised, especially since the room is so small that anyone who had even glanced at our table could see we were nowhere near ready for our next course.   We cannot account for the lack of communication with the kitchen on this score.

With no place on our small table to put them, the server pulled up a smaller table and rather unceremoniously plopped the four main plates down– we commented that we were not ready for the entrees and were in no rush.  Our server replied we could eat the mains when we were ready and walked away.  We quickly dispatched the appetizers so our main courses wouldn’t be ice cold when we began.

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Perfectly prepared halibut was a hit.

There were three main courses or “secondi” to pick from and we selected all of them. Two of us chose the halibut, which was served with wonderful caramelized fennel wedges and grapefruit segments– a great compliment to the fish in both flavor and texture.   The halibut was crispy on the top and perfectly tender and moist inside– cooked just right.

Another in our party had the pork chop with the Romesco sauce served with nice bitter broccoli rabe and roasted potatoes — a large plate with a nicely done chop. We shared a bottle of 2014 Domaine de la Fouquettee —a nice Rosé that worked well with everyone’s meal. Two in our party enjoyed local craft beers as well.

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The pork chop was perfect.

Our other dining companion chose the enormous burger served with crispy fries and topped with cherry tomatoes, provolone, aioli, and mixed greens– a step up from the usual accompaniments.  He pronounced it the perfect burger.

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Non-traditional toppings made the burger a standout.

I have to think our dining experience would have been greatly enhanced had the food service been better timed. Several online reviews alluded to service issues. If they can work out this problem, we’d happily return for the delicious and deftly prepared food. In the meantime, we’re adding DOC DOCpdx to our list for next time.

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DOC looks inviting.

 

Din Din

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Din Din’s “Supper Party” is held one weekend each month.

We had wanted to try Din Din dindinportland for several years– ever since we had gone in search of brunch one weekend only to find the place closed.  Note to self–always call first.  We were delighted to secure a reservation for our party of four for their Saturday night Din Din “Super Party”. One weekend each month the restaurant hosts small groups– about 12 to 14 guests at a time, for a fixed price menu, wines included. Dinner begins at 7:30 p.m.

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A lovely Rosé got things off to a great start.

We were greeted in the bar area by our hostess, Courtney, who provided us all with a nice glass of Schloss Gobelsburg Cistercien Rosé and a passed appetizer of roasted Persian Star garlic, Silver Queen corn, and Fiore Sardo on pain d’épices. Ours was a festive and friendly group and several of the guests had dined at Din Din before.  They raved about their experiences and we were all eagerly anticipating a splendid evening ahead.

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Our group was lively and friendly.

Everyone introduced him or herself and we chatted amiably until Courtney directed us to the communal table, set with vintage silver and china, in the center of the casual but charming room.

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A beautiful buttercup squash soup started our meal.

Our first course was a delicious buttercup squash soup garnished with a Costata Romanesco zucchini salad. The soup was accompanied by a glass of Chateau d’ Orschwaihr Pinot Gris ’13. We were surprised that the soup was served at room temperature but still enjoyed it very much.

The wine and conversation flowed nicely but the meal sadly did not.  There was quite a long gap between the soup and the next course and it became clear that Courtney had to prepare, plate and serve the food singlehandedly. Our fellow guests who had dined at Din Din on other occasions were very surprised that she had no assistance and commented that there were usually two or three people working together on the meal.

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Salmon with a Chartreuse sauce was next.

Next up was a lovely 
salmon with a Chartreuse romaine sauce and baby carrots, served with a glass of Domaine de Juchepie Anjou sec “Les Monts” ’11. The salmon dish was also served at room temperature, bordering on cold, and it was pretty evident it should not have been. I can imagine that had it been the proper temperature, it would have been delicious. Nonetheless, the conversation continued to be lively, more wine was poured and a helpful guest made sure everyone’s water glasses stayed full.

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The meat course would have been delicious had it been hot.

After another lengthy lull, the meat course was served– to half the guests. Finally, we all had our plates– flank steak with a sauce of Melrose pepper Tulsi basil cream, cucumbers and brussel sprouts with lime. I believe this would have been a wonderful dish had it been heated, but the entire entree was cold. The vegetables were still tasty though cold but the meat and sauce suffered badly.  This was accompanied by a very good glass of
 Domaine de la Bonne Tonne “Les Charmes” Morgon ’13. At this point our fellow guests were assuring us that ours was not the typical experience at Din Din and counseling us to give it another try.

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Conversation and wine flowed freely but the meal’s pacing was problematic.

Next up was a crisp salad of simply dressed greens.  While we ate our salads, I noticed Courtney in the kitchen quickly slicing fruit.  Finally, dessert was served– thinly sliced Seckel pear with Cointreau caramel
 and gruyère cheese. Personally, I was disappointed.  The sparkling rose—a Foss Marai “RooS” brut rosé NV served with the dessert compensated somewhat– it was delicious and an excellent finish to an uneven and puzzling dining experience.

By the time we had dessert and the final glass of wine it was nearly midnight and our fellow diners began requesting their checks.  The party was clearly over and it seemed no one wanted to be the last to leave.

I followed up with Courtney several days after our meal and learned that her colleague, who usually assists in the kitchen, had been taken seriously ill and so she was left to create the Din Din experience alone. With this in mind we’ll give it another try sometime.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

California, Italy, Portland, Rome, San Diego, San Francisco

Happy New Year!

January 11, 2015
Rome, Italy

Rome, Italy

Happy New Year!  In the year ahead we’re looking forward to returning to some of our favorite European cities including Berlin, Florence and Rome. We’re also planning  a first time visit to Milan, named #1 travel destination for 2015 by the New York Times.

Florence, Italy

Florence, Italy

We’ll also be back to Portland, OR, San Francisco, Los Angeles and other U.S. destinations still to be determined.

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Need we say more?

San Francisco, CA

San Francisco’s Ferry Building

Since we live in sunny San Diego, we’ll be exploring some places closer to home and will share those, too.

Polar  Bear at San Diego Zoo

Polar Bear at San Diego Zoo

San Diego Bay

San Diego Bay

We hope you’ll join us on our travels and look forward to your comments.