After a long flight and five hours sleep, I woke up in Portland, Oregon ready for the International Association of Culinary Professionals (I'm on the board of The Culinary Trust IACP's foundation) "Behind the Food Business Scene in Portland: A Guided Tour for the Entrepreneur. Thanks to Colleen Foster and the entrepreneurs it was an informative and fun intro to Portland's buzzing food scene.
From the serial entrepreneur to the newby start-up, we visited many shops, a restaurant and brewery. All made locally, and many made with local ingredients. Here's where we went:
414 SW 13th Ave
Described by owner, Jesse Manis, as "chocolate curators", he and partner Aubrey Lindley sell chocolate from all over the world in a tiny little shop reminiscent of Parisian chocolate stores. They don't make the chocolate themselves they simply curate it. Similar to a high-end wine shop, but for chocolate, they feature small batch and single-origin chocolate makers including from the typical European - France, Italy, Switzerland, Belgium, many African and South American countries but also from Oregon, Washington State, Minnesota, New Hampshire and NYC's Brooklyn (the makers of Madecasse chocolate bars)!
By no means a chocoholic or even a lover of chocolate, but will say that I DOVE into the chocolate drink served in demi-tasse cups made from a melted Swiss Chocolate bar (not cocoa powder), Felchlin Grand Cru.
Drink slowly. Savor every sip. It's the best chocolate drink you'll ever have (Angelina's in Paris included).
Smith Tea Works
1626 NW Thurman St.
Steven Smith has his dream tea job. A serial entrepreneur (he started Stash and Tazo brands), at his high end retail shop, Smith Tea Works, Steven does not look necessarily for consistency in his tea batches but rather savors the slight variances of each flower depending on the season, or how the flavor is enhanced when the leaf is cut, crushed or fermented in a slightly different way. He approaches tea like a "wine maker" to "let the ingredients speak" and despite the higher cost buys his botanicals during the peak budding season to get the fullest flavor. Green and black teas from China, India, Sri Lanka and herbal infusions, including one made from local peppermint grown by farmers in eastern Oregon who Steven has worked closely with over the years, were all part of our seven tea tasting. Lord Bergamont a rich and round Earl Grey-like tea was my favorite made with black tea and bergamonts from Southern Italy. The creamy, dense and super minty peppermint infusion was a close second.
4237 N. Mississippi Ave
Portland is leading the "food cart" movement, although they are actually mobile trucks, where mostly young and ambitious chefs and bakers are cooking inside a 8x14 foot kitchen inside a truck that's park in food cart zoned area. Sugar Cube's founder and resident baker Kirsten (aka "Kir") Jensen greeted us with an early morning friendly, light, tangy and delicious bundt cake topped with a super lemony lemon curd and local rhubarb which is abundant at the Portland farmers markets right now. Like pretty much everyone in Portland, Kir sources fresh, seasonal ingredients from local farmers whenever she can. I want to go back for one of those chocolate cupcakes everyone raves about. I'm not sure I could make all these pastries in this tiny kitchen could you?
3713 N. Mississippi Ave
Mark and Jennifer Bitterman turned their passion for travel and food (and salt) into the world's largest salt store with over 150 types sourced from far and wide. We tasted nearly a dozen salts served with slices of cucumber before we were let loose to explore the retail shop and the storage and packing area in the attic room above. The salt categories include: smoked, infused, Asian, Hawaiian, fleur de sal, flake salt, sel gris, traditional, mined, and curing salt. I bought 12 jars of salt -- two starter sets -- and three lovely salt dish and spoon sets!
3925 NE MLK Jr. Blvd.
A locavore's fantasy of an urban restaurant serving food that's "super local" in "an American Craft Kitchen". Surrounded by a community garden (shortcutfarm.org) that's protected by the Oregon Sustainable Agriculture Land Trust, one of 9 farms that supply Ned Ludd, Jason French and Ben Meyer have outdone the locavore restaurant scene even in a place like Portland. Named after the back to the land no electric appliances allowed Luddite movement, Ned Ludd's cooks all its food in a 700 degree wood burning brick oven -- no modern day appliances, stoves or gas ovens -- and does so with great skill. The restaurant used local and recycled wood, scrap metal and other materials that were hand crafted into a beautiful interior design. They are able to keep prices low due to their head-to-tail and leaf-to-root cooking philosophy -- nothing goes to waste. Our mixed green and radish salad from the garden was fresh and flavorful, our table had seconds of the homemade pate and super crispy bacon, and I savored every last bite of the whole ruby trout (deboned/head on) seasoned to perfection with lemon and fresh herbs served over a bed of braised fennel.
3898 N. Williams
Din Johnson and Nancy Rommelman have created "coffee theater" in their shop that serves small-batch hand roasted, and fair trade coffee from farmers who they know and nurture a relationship. Din likens coffee roasting to wine making "but with immediate gratification". I enjoyed a cup of Nicaraguan Mancotal Organic with milk (although I felt I should have had it black to taste the pureness of the rich and flavorful roast). Die-hard yelp.com reviews claim Ristretto is THE BEST COFFEE in Portland, better than the infamous independent artisanal coffee roaster of Portland Stumptown Roasters (which now in NYC's Ace Hotel on 29th and Broadway).
3901 N Williams Ave
With names like Aphrodite and Tart Menage a Trois and macarons in bright colors and unique flavors how could you not fall in love with Pix Patisserie, an authentic French bakery in the heart of Portland? It's a darling and cheerful spot with a huge display case of delicious looking and tasty works of art. Cheryl Wakerhauser started her career as an astronaut before going to France to learn to bake. After a short time in Portland, she set up shop at the Farmers Market which is "a great incubator to get customer reaction". Ten years later she has two thriving pastry shops and a loyal following.
New Old Lompoc Brewery/Side Bar
3901 A North Williams Ave
Admittedly late for the beer tasting (I couldn't resist a few minutes of card shopping at the beautiful Lark Press Stationers next door), I got there in time to taste one of their barrel aged brews, the "sour" draft, a Belgian beer that's been "soured". I loved it. I'm not a regular beer or ale drinker but do appreciate a good artisanally crafted draft every now and then. A strong ale taste, this "sour" draft has a smoky flavor to it and was dark in color. Apparently "souring" a beer is a trend that includes a lactic acid bacteria as part of the fermentation. Difficult to manage during the barrel aging process, sour beers have become popular among Belgian/Flemish style craft beer makers in the Pacific Northwest and other parts of the US.