I’ve told this story now so many times, I can’t believe it took me a couple weeks to actually write it down.
I was in Portland for Portland Cocktail Week 2012 and had just spent three whole days socializing, eating, drinking, talking, attending all kinds of events, hanging out with others, and even sharing a room with someone. So, on my last day, when I had no plans with friends after class and my roomie had already hopped a flight back to Denver, I decided I was going to do what had needed to be done since arriving three days earlier- I was going to eat some fish and seafood.
Riffle was on my radar as THE place to go for freshly caught, perfectly prepared fish, so I put on my raincoat, hat, and gloves, got out my iMaps (or whatever Apple calls it), and walked from The Doug Fir to Riffle.
Best. Idea. Ever.
I walked in alone, all misted upon, and was seated at the chef’s bar. I greeted the chef de cuisine with a smile and heard the words “Salmon tartare, VIP, Fire it up.” I thought to myself, “Man, it would be so cool if I were the VIP…”
A couple minutes later I was presented a delectable salmon tartare.
But, I had just had a cocktail photography class that morning (remember- I was at school all day for Portland Cocktail Week, friends), and in class we learned the importance of maximizing light, so I put my drink in front of a candle. I was also dining alone, so even though I had a Portand dining scene magazine, I needed something to do while waiting for my amazing meal.
Next, before I ordered any food, came a monkfish stew tasting. Wow. That’s what I’ll say. I loved it very much, but it was so rich, a tasting was perfect for me. It let me know what I’d be getting into, but gave me an out so I didn’t have to regret the calories in the morning.
What I had ordered was a sole dish. I read about this dish in Portland Monthly’s Best Restaurants 2012, and it’s what inspired me to come to Riffle over most other places mentioned in the magazine. What I was presented was far more visually stimulating that I recall enjoying lately.
This fish is de-boned, but the bones are deep fried and, in this case, placed as sails of a ship, and ready to be snacked upon like any deep fried treat. Yes- I’m saying you eat the fried bones. It’s genius.
Mind you, the whole time I’m loving my tartare, stew, and sole, I’m graced with the presence of the Chef de Cuisine, Joseph Cefalu, and the Sous Chef (who’s name I don’t know), so we were chatting about food tours, Denver, Boulder, Portland- all things food, really. The Sous Chef asked me about Black Cat Bistro, which was obviously pretty cool, as he had been to Boulder.
I ordered two veggie dishes with this sole because I had been, let’s just say, consuming copious amounts of alcohol for a few days. I needed vitamins, and as someone who usually drinks vegetable Vitamix smoothies most days, all this eating out was getting unhealthy. I ordered some broccoli with Rogue Blue and squash with kale. Yes. Please. Thank you.
I must say, I was really disappointed I couldn’t find room to finish all of these plates. Despite my efforts, I failed and couldn’t even consider dessert. As I was realizing my fullness, I found myself talking to the owner, Ken Norris. He came by the chef’s bar to make sure his guys were doing their jobs entertaining me, or feeding me… or something like that. Ken was a really nice man and I told him how coming into his restaurant was the best decision I had made in a long time.
I left that evening, after one of the most unrivaled meals I’d ever had in Portland, and met Randall Layman of Ace.Eat.Serve. in Denver for a beer in a dive bar. I was over the moon with my dining experience and he told me that the most important guest in a restaurant is the one who’s there alone. They’re there dining with the restaurant, not with someone else.
So, thank you, Riffle, for a lovely meal. It was my pleasure dining with you and I look forward to dining with you again.
The day I landed I wound up at Clyde Common, of course. I seem to go there at least once every time I’m in Portland. But, I must honestly say, it never disappoints. The menu is always tempting, the food perfectly executed and well presented, and the cocktails are consistently satisfying. I enjoyed a meal with Allie of Denver’s Star Bar and Audrey of Boulder’s OAK at Fourteenth. We said cheers over some cocktails and then went to town ordering food.
Allie, Audrey, and I shared some fantastic dishes, such as a roasted beet salad, chickpea pasta in a lamb ragu, roasted chicken, and some sort of ravioli I remember liking very much even though I can’t recall the filling any longer.
The next day I had the privilege to have lunch at Olympic Provisions Southeast. Now, this place is located in an industrial area you’d never think to walk through looking for a good place to eat. It’s actually kind of hidden, but well worth seeking out.
Olympic Provisions Southeast is small and decorated to be like a private liquor library/charcuterie maker, or something like that. The sliding wall shelf ladder drew my attention, as well as the handmade sausage and meat-products. The menu is small, but let them keep it small because I’m sure everything is absolutely delicious.
The pickles, for example, tickled my tastebuds. But, if you know me, you know I can’t resist homemade pickles on any menu, ever. And the garbanzo bean and baby octopus dish- OK, seriously, this was one of the best bites of food I’d ever had. Ever. Well done, Olympic Provisions! Not since living in Spain in 2001 have I had properly prepared baby octopus and this dish not only brought my tastebuds back to one of the best times of my life, it was incredibly pleasing in the moment.
Oh- before I tell you about their sandwiches, let me say the cocktails were perfect. I somehow have no cocktail photos, but Olympic Provisions is also a cocktail stop, just so you know, even though they’re likely known for their huge, delicious sandwiches.
I, lame as I can be, decided to go vegetarian with a blue cheese and apple sandwich and “taste” my friend’s mortadella meaty mountain packed into a bun of a sandwich.
All I know is I love this place and I’ve been talking about it now for a couple weeks. God I wish I lived in Portland (smile).
Cascade Brewing Barrel House was a stop, as it’s close to Olympic Provisions Southeast, and no trip to Portland is complete without sampling some sour ales. Beaker and Flask was also a stop for a number of craft cocktails, and that was a good place for Audrey to sip from her cocktail, then switch to coffee, then water, then back to cocktail, coffee, cocktail, coffee, repeat, as we prepared ourselves for a night that would end in the wee hours of the morning after a private bowling party at midnight for hundreds of bartenders from all over the country…. but…. back to dining out in Portland.
On my third day there, I had the pleasure of visting with my friend Julia from college (study abroad Spain 2001!!!!). After a day of classes at the Mc Menamins Kennedy School (there WAS an educational component to this week, after all), Julia picked me up from school with a good plan- First a stop at Whiskey Soda Lounge and then The Woodsman Tavern- I had been DYING to check out The Woodsman Tavern, so, perfect. plan. Julia!
The Whiskey Soda lounge was a fun place to grab a couple drinks and snacks. I especially liked how their spiced peanuts came in a stapled paper sack, by the way.
Julia and I also shared some deep fried papaya. This things was crazy looking, but we dug in, pulling off slivers of papaya and dunking them in a spicy Southeast Asia-style fish sauce. It was a great dish to share.
At The Woodsman Tavern, our lovely bartender Lydia (who is TOTALLY Tommy Klus’ twin sister, by the way) guided my friend Julia through some whiskey. I had decided Julia was going to break through her Maker’s Mark comfort zone, and Lydia helped make that happen. We also enjoyed fried ricotta balls and a jar of pickled shrimp.
So, let’s see… I said hasta luego to Julia and wound up at a Drambuie event where I met up with Audrey from OAK (you remember Audrey) and the Layman Brothers- Randall of Ace.Eat.Serve, and his equally handsome identical twin brother, Ryan of Steuben’s. Now, let me assure you- these men are not your typical Laymen- They’re the Layman Brothers, to be exact. We grabbed food at The Doug Fir, some sips at a Zwack party, and then Audrey and I caught a ride to Circa 33 for an Oban tasting, and then to Beast for another Scotch tasting and a pork extravaganza, including the pig’s head and a lot of sliders…
My last full day of eating and drinking before catching a 6 am flight back to Denver included 4 hours of classes on cocktails, blogging, tasting… etc. And then I had one of the best meals ever at Riffle, which deserves and entire blog post of it’s own, which you’ll find HERE.
Anyway, my taste of Portland ended in a dive bar with Randall (Denver Eater Bartender of the Year 2012) Layman over a Ninkasi beer and industry/life talk, as well as observing that even in a dive bar there were great beers on tap and a pretty decent selection for booze should someone want a cocktail. Overall, I’d say it was the best trip to Portland. Ever.
So, until next time… P-Town. Thanks for hosting all of us drunkards for Portland Cocktail Week. We mostly remember it…
I was recently invited to join a number of food bloggers for a private dinner at Cascades in Estes Park. I had never been to the historic Stanley Hotel, nor had I heard about their restaurant, Cascades. I have, of course, seen The Shining, and have always been intrigued by that gorgeous white hotel sitting on the hillside in Estes Park that inspired Stephen King to write the haunted horror story. And, as I approach my seventh year in Colorado, it seems to be about time I step foot in The Stanley. Lucky for me, I got to enjoy a fine meal there as well as meander the enchanted hotel.
Cascades is known mostly as a steakhouse, but Executive Chef Richard Beichner demonstrated his modern approach to classic steakhouse fare. He told us that Cascades buys as much locally sourced foods as possible, and he presented us plate after plate of modern interpretations of classic dishes.
While we waited for everyone to arrive, cocktails were served. I started with a French 75, a gin martini with champagne and lemon juice. After the first sip I had great expectations for the afternoon because, in my experience, a good cocktail is often created in establishments that serve good food.
Our first dish was Pastrami Salmon on a cucumber slaw with 1000 Island Panna Cotta and Rye Croutons. This was a play on Reuben sandwich and it worked.
Garlic infused olive oil sat on the table. I couldn’t stop dipping my bread in this golden delicious temptation.
Next came a raw vegetable salad with radish, carrot, fennel, and honey mustard dressing. Again, a real crowd pleaser.
Our next dish was quite unique- zucchini spaghetti with rock shrimp in a San Marzano tomato sauce. I love zucchini noodles and this dish, which was really well done, inspired me to make some as soon as zucchini is in season.
Our next dish was a preserved lemon and rosemary roasted veal loin with a red wine demi glaze served over fresh corn polenta and orange scented carrots. I must say- I wasn’t thrilled to be served veal, but it was good. I definitely wouldn’t order it… probably ever from any where, but, after casting my anti-veal opinions to the side, I enjoyed the dish. I could have eaten a large bowl of fresh corn polenta and would highly recommend looking for that on the menu at Cascades.
We enjoyed thoughtful wine pairings throughout the meal, though I did not pay close attention to them. I have in my notes that a Pinot Grigio was served with the zucchini spaghetti and a Le Nez Pinot Noir from the Willamette Valley was served with the veal. (My ears perk up when I hear Pinot Noir and Willamette Valley, so I made a point to write that one down). With dessert we enjoyed a Canadian Ice Wine, and if you’re not familiar with ice wines, they’re super sweet and have a concentrated flavor. I really enjoy them.
And then more sweet bites came out, or “mignardises,” if you’d like to be proper. We all sat and nibbled on a variety of delicious mini pastries for a while before venturing off to explore the haunted hallways of The Stanley Hotel.
If you’re a resident of Estes Park, Cascades offers you 20% off year-round, so I’d suggest treating yourself to a nice meal there at your local neighborhood restaurant. If you’re passing through Estes, you’ll see there aren’t as many dining options as we have in Boulder, so I’d give Cascades a try.