Toro Bravo: Behind the Scenes at one of Portland’s Finest

Up until last week, I had somehow in my 4.5 years as a Portland food blogger not yet made it to Toro Bravo, one of Portland’s most notable dining establishments. In all fairness, I had made two prior attempts and with a two hour wait time, I had decided on other options so as not to risk getting my blood sugar too low and becoming a potentially unpleasant dining companion.

Several other bloggers/media folk and I had the fabulous opportunity last week to be taken on a tour by Chef Gorham of Toro Bravo behind the scenes, experience the new standing tapas bar and to be treated to an impeccable tasting menu and pairing. After that, yes, I just might wait two hours to come back…as long as I have a snack right before.

Photo Feb 25, 5 37 33 PM
Portland Gin & Tonic: Aria gin, house tonic, lime shrub, hibiscus berries

Upon arrival, we were greeted with this fresh and delicious Aria gin and tonic to compliment some unique tapas.

The first of the tapas were “Spanish Kisses” in which the olives undergo some molecular gastronomy to be turned into mini balloons that pop and burst with the briny olive flavour once they touch your tongue.

Manchego pillows with jamon, caviaroli piment d'espelette
Manchego pillows with jamon, caviaroli piment d’espelette

Absolutely delicious. Such unique and scrumptious tapas, perhaps even the best I’ve ever had. Yes, I said that.

After sampling the tapas, Chef John Gorham guided us downstairs to see where all the magic is made- not just for Toro Bravo but also for his other restaurants, Tasty n Sons, Tasty n Alder and Mediterranean Exploration Company. And as one would expect, there was a whole lotta meaty action down there.

I’ve gotta say, I definitely gain a further appreciation for the dining experiences I have when I get to see all the behind-the-scenes work that goes into it whether it be learning about the experiences the chef(s) had which inspired a certain dish or method of cooking or getting to watch all the cool kitchen gadgets they’ve got in action.

After the grand tour, it was time for dinner…little did any of us know just how much of a treat we were in for.

 So much deliciousness; everything was so impeccable that I can’t even designate which dishes were my favourites. The Charcuterie Board at Toro Bravo is impressive, not your typical couple slabs of meat and bread deal but a generous arrangement of specialties such as rich and creamy duck liver mousse terrine and dates stuffed with foie gras. Definitely cool to know that a lot of those meats were cured just downstairs!

Then there were the clams, I for one am admittedly not a huge fan of clams as the texture kind of irks me. However, if you ask any of my tablemates, I was practically licking this bowl clean thanks to its rich, tangy tomato sauce. Another big standout was the Canelone Catalan, perhaps due to the fact that it contained a bunch of my favourite ingredients (lots of cheese, black truffle and chicken). Definitely the creme de la creme of comfort foods.

And, don’t think Chef John Gorham let us leave his establishment without dessert. Funny enough, while on the tour downstairs, pastry chef extraordinaire Carrie Merrill (formerly of Urban Farmer and Departure) and I mutually recognised each other from Instagram. Sure enough, she is now the Pastry Chef for the Brave Bulls and was debuting her first dessert at Toro Bravo to us.

Carrie's blood orange olive oil cake with spiced chocolate cremeaux and olive oil ice cream
Carrie’s blood orange olive oil cake with spiced chocolate cremeaux and olive oil ice cream

As was expected, Carrie’s dessert was impeccable and an appropriate finale to such a splendid supper. If you’ve ever tried a dessert at Departure or Urban Farmer in the past couple of years, chances are Carrie concocted it and that it was beyond delicious. This olive oil cake was light and sumptious and beautifully complimented with some hidden blood orange, a dollop of olive oil ice cream and an accent of chocolate. So stoked to see what else Carrie is going to be bringing to the table in the coming months!

Alright folks, well if the above food porn hasn’t tempted you to try Toro Bravo then I’m not sure I could trust your taste buds. Check out their mouthwatering tapas menu and head on over to this NE Portland gastronomical landmark for your next date, birthday, girl’s night or supper out on the town.

A humongous thank you to Chef John Gorham, the fantastic staff at Toro Bravo, and the lovely ladies of Little Green Pickle for hosting such a wonderful Wednesday night at one of PDX’s finest.


Café Castagna: A Family Style Mediterranean Menu Tour

Café Castagna may be the first “nice” restaurant I ate at in Portland. Several years back when I was a junior in college, a couple of friends and I ventured over to this splendid SE Hawthorne establishment in order to try their famous burger. It was of course, splendid yet for some silly reason I never ventured back up until a couple of weeks back when Irene of Watershed Communications invited me to join herself and other Portland Bloggers with trying the newly revamped menu.

Last July, Chef Wesley Johnson was hired by Café Castagna and he took the reins on reformulating the menu to a nouveau Middle Eastern cuisine abundant in fresh vegetables and herbaceous accents. Chef Wesley, formerly worked under Chef Michael Solomonov at the famous Middle Eastern restaurant, Zahav in Philadelphia and also spent a significant chunk of time in Israel/Palestine studying the cuisine of the region.

Being half Saudi/Palestinian and raised part of my life in Dubai, I was extremely excited to try out Chef Wesley’s concoctions and see how he was meshing middle eastern flavors and cooking techniques with seasonal Pacific Northwest ingredients.

Kicking a Beehive: Mezcal, Drambuie, Grapefruit, Honey, Salt & Honey Crystal Rim
Kicking a Beehive: Mezcal, Drambuie, Grapefruit, Honey, Salt & Honey Crystal Rim

Upon arriving for the family style dinner, I ordered the “Kicking A Beehive,” a delicious and beautifully concocted craft cocktail blending the smokiness of mezcal with a hint of citrus from the grapefruit and a tinge of sweet from the honey. Café Castagna also now features a $45 bottle wine list which provides an affordable way to try a quality red or white alongside your meal. Even better is that the bottles drop to $40 if you and your dining companions opt to choose one of the tasting menus for your dinner (there is a $30 and a $40 option in which the Chef selects your dishes for the evening).

As you can see above, it goes without saying that we had an extremely generous selection of items from the menu to try including nearly all of the vegetable/salad dishes. The flatbread with dips is an excellent sharing starter at only $10 with a hot and chewy zaatar dusted flatbread and a choice of creamy labneh, herby Turkish hummus and smooth and succulent chicken liver mousse to dip it in. The fried panissa was also excellent, a super fluffy and healthier alternative to French fries (panissa is chickpea flour). As for the salads/veggie dishes, everything was excellent whether it be the summery and light citrus/ginger salad or the excellent roasted carrots topped with some feta, mint and zhoug. There was also an impeccable roasted brussels sprouts dish that I forgot to picture which featured chickpeas, preserved citrus, black olive, aleppo chile.

And if you thought the starter dishes were a treat, then just take another glance at the main dishes we got the pleasure of indulging in. The celery root and parmesan agnolotti may be on of the best pasta dishes I have had in recent memory and in fact would be one of my top three dishes of the evening. It was perfectly al dente and a theme park of the finest grade of umami flavors. Irene (who is Italian) was swooning about it all night so you KNOW it is legit. There was also the Cipaille; essentially a massive Middle Eastern meatfest of a pot pie that reminded me somewhat of the Moroccan dish Pastille which also features a mix of meat, puff pastry and cinnamon/semi sweet flavours. Chef Wesley was also so kind as to serve us a sneak peek of a dish not yet on the menu- a Persian wedding rice rendition mixed in spices such as saffron and dried fruit/nuts topped with a housemaid rabbit roulade and rabbit chunks. If I wasn’t already so full I could’ve gone to town on that delectable pistachio and plum infused roulade.

Then there was dessert…

Profiteroles with a tahini/pistachio ice cream
Profiteroles with a tahini/pistachio ice cream

The IDEAL light dessert to end an incredibly abundant and diverse meal. These profiteroles were like mini ice cream sandwiches stuffed with a tahini and pistachio ice cream which reminded me of the tahini “halawa” my mom used to buy my sister and I as kids.

If you haven’t checked out Café Castagna yet, then add it to the top of your “To Eat” list ASAP! There is no better place to take a vegetarian or vegan dining companion as the selection is plentiful as well as anyone who loves a good dose of quality meat. If you’re a fan of the fare available at Levant and Mediterranean Exploration Company, then you will adore what Chef Wesley Johnson has up his sleeve. Café Castagna is also open for brunch on weekends as well as Happy Hour and yes, that burger is still indeed on the menu and still just as fantastic (if not better).

A huge thank you to Chef Wesley Johnson, the staff at Café Castagna and Watershed Communications for hosting such a fantastic dinner*. I will most definitely be back soon!

*This dinner was free of charge, however all my reviews and statements are true to my personal experience and opinion. 

Restaurant Review: Bluehour

Bluehour just may be one of my favourite restaurants in the Pearl District. The ambiance is classy, chic and elegant with a menu that is both adventurous as well as comfortable enough to take someone who might just want a plate of pasta made solely with ingredients they’ve heard of.

This beautiful restaurant is located on the corner of NW 13th and Everett sharing a building with Wieden & Kennedy and has been providing Portland with fine, modern dining for over 10 years. The crowd ranges from couples on first dates, client dinners, families having a celebratory lunches to a melange of Portland’s upper echelon mingling over martinis at the bar.

I’ve been to Bluehour for happy hour and lunch countless times over the years. For one thing, they do have one of the best happy hours in NW Portland- it goes from 4-6:30 PM M-F (and 5-6:30 PM on Saturdays) and is one of the few spots of its caliber where a $20 bottle of bubbly is available (not to mention a vast selection of nibbles ranging from lamb sliders to bruschetta to their delectable Bluehour burger).

Splitting a bottle of Bubbly and a Cheese Plate at Bluehour Happy Hour a couple of months back
Splitting a bottle of Bubbly and a Cheese Plate at Bluehour Happy Hour a couple of months back
And another time at Happy Hour
And another time at Happy Hour

Besides Happy Hour, I last hit Bluehour’s impeccable lunch for my 25th birthday:

And finally, I got the chance to sample Bluehour’s dinner menu at last week’s Blogger Dinner hosted by the ladies of Little Green Pickle.

Bluehour’s menu is printed on a daily basis and aims to provide a selection of dishes that exhibits seasonally relevant regional ingredients in a unique yet refined manner. Chef Kyo Koo is an expert at combining the best of what’s available with his experiences in the kitchen to create one-of-a-kind dishes that will keep you coming back to see what else he has in store.

Our table setting
Our table setting

Besides the food, as one would expect, Bluehour also has an impeccable selection of cocktails. The bar manager, Gigi in fact led us in a hands-on “Make your own cocktail” tutorial:

Huge thanks to Gigi for being so patient with all of us as we muddled, shook and poured our own libations for the evening. This particular cocktail was concocted from muddled cucumbers and rosemary, a splash of Ginger liqueur, lime juice and 2 oz of Templeton Rye. Incredibly delicious and a great lesson in how much muscle it takes to be a bartender…shaking mine basically qualified as my exercise for the day (sad, I know).

Once, we all had cocktails before us, the supper service began…

The salads above were anything but your regular salad course. In fact the amaranth/truffle oil/king crab salad may have been one of my favourite dishes of the night- such a rich and unique blend of flavours and textures.

Of course, all these dishes were served family style. Definitely a thoughtful way to ensure that we all got to sample a decent chunk of the menu’s offerings. The risotto was luscious and velvety; ultra hearty and perfect for the blistery weather outside while the Chinese-inspired noodles were also delicious and full of black-bean bolognese encased surprises between the chunks of high quality meats. The salmon and duck were also impressive; I’m not one to typically order duck but this one was splendid, not too fatty nor gamey.

And, of course what’s a meal without dessert? Pastry Chef, Salina Rubio killed it with these beautiful final courses. None of the desserts were overly sweet and each blended complimenting textural components and hints of salt. The ideal way to end such a fantastic meal.

After last week’s Blogger Dinner, I will say that I’ll be back at Bluehour for more than just lunch or happy hour. If you’re looking for the perfect place to celebrate a special occasion, have a ladies night, take a date/client/your parents, then Bluehour is sure to impress with both service and delivery. Plus, you can dress up (or down…I’ve admittedly been to Bluehour in yoga pants but in my defense it was spontaneous).

Portland Food Adventure at Mediterranean Exploration Company: A Sneak Peek

If you  consider yourself a Portland “foodie” and haven’t heard of Mediterranean Exploration Company, then you’re obviously slacking on your Eater PDX feed.

Regardless, the keywords about MEC that you need to know to get the gist: John Gorham, The Revolving Door of Restaurants on NW 13th and Flanders, and Greek potatoes. John Gorham, the culinary sheikh behind Tasty n Sons, Tasty n Alder and Toro Bravo recently took over the former Riffle space; painted the walls an extremely favourableTiffany turquoise (aka The Nines Hotel’s signature hue) and revamped it into a clean, industrial chic restaurant peppered with a street sign in Hebrew here and there.

True to it’s name, MEC’s menu is a blend of locavore bounty fused into traditional Mediterranean dishes (mostly focusing on the Jewish side of Middle Eastern cuisine). If you’ve tried any of Gorham’s other restaurants you will see some crossover in terms of ingredients and style- for instance MEC has it’s own rendition of radicchio salad (there’s a mean one at the two Tasty’s if you didn’t know).

Since I accidentally slept through the MEC Preview Party a couple of Sundays back and suffered the subsequent Instagram-induced FOMO, I decided to attend the Portland Food Adventures dinner last Wednesday to get a taste of the Pearl District’s newest destination. The menu, as has been the case with each PFA I’ve attended was far from skimpy:

Mediterranean Exploration Company's Menu for the Portland Food Adventures Dinner
Mediterranean Exploration Company’s Menu for the Portland Food Adventures Dinner

Upon entry, I was greeted with a refreshing Moroccan Spritz craft cocktail, a plate of olives and some scrumptious fried tomato fritters. Forgive me for prioritising my hunger levels over getting a photo of the fritter- just envision an ambiguously shaped fried tidbit.

Moroccan Spritz Cocktail with Olives

As I’ve mentioned previously, my mother is Saudi-Palestinian and I grew up a decent portion of my life in Dubai. As a result of this upbringing, I’m incredibly discriminating on what I consider to be stellar Middle Eastern food. The term ‘Middle Eastern food’ itself is rather vague anyhow as it encompasses a plethora of different sub-cultures and their regional cuisine; much which is unbeknownst to most Western palates. Besides, Middle Eastern cuisine is often categorized as Mediterranean cuisine (particularly Greek)- and while there are some similarities in ingredients and structure within a meal; they are quite different when done authentically. Plus, “Mediterranean Cuisine,” in it of itself has just as much variety.

From my understanding, Gorham isn’t necessarily trying to make MEC into a 100% accurate emulation of Eastern Mediterranean cuisine but to rather inspire local bounty with those flavors and combine them with a few of the traditional staples. For instance topping hummus with a lamb ragu- a play on the traditional lamb or chicken shawarma topping.

In the first set of courses, we got to sample a variety of dishes that I would compare to Mezze (small typically vegan/vegetarian dips and bites that make up an appetiser course):

 From the initial courses, my favourites were the fried cauliflower with labneh and the radicchio salad (because I’m a sucker for radicchio salads as my neverending love affair with the Nostrana salad can confirm). The Vered Hagalil salad was a fresh and welcome component considering it was a hot summer day, however I found it to be a little bland- perhaps a little bit more acidity and seasoning would put it right on the money. I’d also say the same about the trio of dips and pita- the textures were on-point; the pita full of the right amount of stretchy chewy doughy bliss and the dips just the right amount of chunky. The only thing was the bread could have used a bit more salt and the dips, a little more seasoning and oomph.

If you’re a fan of seafood, then you will love the offerings at MEC. I’m a relatively new fan of seafood (and still a slightly hesitant one). I admit I’ve never eaten something with it’s head attached and I also tend to avoid octopus or anything else that I might have to chew a few seconds too long. The calamari however was great! Lightly fried, not fishy in the least and fabulously balanced with the acidity of the ouzo, lemon and tomato sauce. The Chreime (Tripolitany Jewish Fish Stew) was also a pleasant surprise- I initially expected some sort of soup full of various ambiguous sea creatures but instead I got a generous portion of lean white fish dunked in what seemed to be a harissa type of sauce.

Being the carnivore I was born to be, the final set of savory courses was my favourite. And a huge part of it may surprisingly have been due to the potatoes- scrumptious Greekified steak frites roasted in a melange of spices. The lamb chops were also beautifully seasoned- and in some of my favourite flavours- oregano, garlic and lemon. As for the lamb ragu and hummus- I wanted to be impressed and being the hummus and meat fiend I am, I had been looking forward to this course. However, I do admit I found the hummus to be a little underwhelming, I’d like to go back and taste it again without the background noise of all the prior courses, but I found the texture to be a bit stiff and lacking the creamy viscous-ness that I associate with the world’s favourite chickpea dip.

Dessert however…

Rose Water Panna Cotta with pistachio caramel and accompanied by Marco di Bartolia Marsala Superiore
Rose Water Panna Cotta with pistachio caramel and accompanied by Marco di Bartolia Marsala Superiore

Yes! This dessert course was a winner; light and guilt-less and a harmonious way to pair rosewater and pistachios. Along with dessert, per the usual PFA protocol each guest was presented with an envelope of goodies; goodies in the form of giftcards to three of Gorham’s favourite establishments. And really, I couldn’t be more excited about the selection we received:

1) A $20 Dining Certificate to Ringside Steakhouse (or Fish House)

2) A $10 Gift Card to Måurice; an adorable new lunch and gourmet dessert cafe

3) A $20 Gift Certificate to Serratto

Really, if you’re looking for an evening out on the town savouring the bounty of Portland’s best chefs in the company of other food-admirers, then attending a Portland Food Adventure is the way to go. You get a lengthy tasting menu with drink pairings and $50 worth of gift certificates so you can go and find another new favourite place. This particular PFA was priced at $125 and you can see which other ones are on the docket for the next couple of months so that you can plan out your next date night right at this link!

A huge thanks to Chef John Gorham and his lovely wife, Renee for hosting this delectable event and I look forward to trying MEC again in the near future. They will be open limited hours Wednesday-Sunday from 5:30-10 PM on a walk-in basis from July 16th-July 31st and will begin taking reservations on August 1st!

Taste of the Nation: End Childhood Hunger, Sip Moët and Dine on Portland’s Best

What if you could experience Portland’s finest cuisines and libations all in the same night? And what if on top of that you would be supporting efforts to end the overwhelming problem that is childhood hunger?

Well, guess what? You can and you don’t even need to wait til Feast in September to spend a few hours tasting and sipping on the best of PDX!

Taste of the Nation Portland 2014 still has tickets available and if you’re looking to fancify a Tuesday night and take a platonic (or non-platonic) date out for an unforgettable night of the town, then you best get a move on.

I attended Taste of the Nation’s Media Launch Preview a couple of weeks back at Irving Street Kitchen and let’s just say that I am more than excited for this celebration of Portland chefs, wineries, distilleries and breweries collaborating to support local charities aimed at eliminating childhood hunger. There are over forty participating businesses this year including Indio Spirits, Argyle Winery, Full Sail Brewery, Aviary, Bamboo Sushi, Smallwares and Xocolatl de David! For the full list, check out this link!

While not all the purveyors expected to be at the actual event were at the Media Launch, I still got to experience a delightful handful including Lardo, Renata, Irving Street Kitchen, Paley’s Place, Boke Bowl, Fire + Flood and Bull Run Distillery:

Too fabulous. As usual everything was innovative and delectable whether it be Boke’s Asian Jambalaya-Poutine fusion dish or Vitaly Paley’s mouthwatering latke bites. On top of that, Bull Run Distillery mixed for me one of the best whiskey gingers I’ve ever had using their American whiskey, ginger liqueur and a splash of Cock n Bull Ginger Beer.

Oh, and dare I forget to mention that there were also bottles upon bottles of one of my very favourite #glamlife sponsors:

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Taste of the Nation Portland 2014 will take place at the McMenamin’s Crystal Hotel and Ballroom on Tuesday, April 29th. Both VIP and General Admission Tickets are still available at $150 and $85 respectively so come join me and the city’s best chefs, bartenders, brewers and distillers for an ultra fabulous night out on the town all for a great cause! See you there darlings!


Partners for Hunger-Free Oregon

Oregon Food Bank

St. Vincent de Paul Society

Klamath/Lake Counties Food Bank

Wildwood: A bittersweet farewell

If you haven’t yet heard the unfortunate news, one of Portland’s landmark restaurants, Wildwood will be closing after two decades in business on Tuesday, February 25th.

Wildwood is undoubtedly one of the dining establishments that shaped Portland’s locavore scene with it’s emphasis on utilising seasonal ingredients from local purveyors to create innovative yet familiar dishes in a warm, homely atmosphere. The reason for the closure is related to a disagreement on lease negotiations and as forlorn as the Portland community is to see such a fine restaurant go- apparently Executive Chef Dustin Clark and General Manager, Cana Flug have plans to undertake a new endeavour.

As soon as I had learned about the closure this past week, I decided to partake in one last meal in support of this incredible establishment with my parents who are currently in town visiting me from the Middle East.

The menu for the evening
The menu for the evening
Ken's Artisan Bread with trapani sea salt, bamboo sea salt and butter
Ken’s Artisan Bread with trapani sea salt, bamboo sea salt and butter
Compliments of the chef: Crostini with chicken liver mousse and saba
Compliments of the chef: Crostini with chicken liver mousse and saba

We started off with the essential platter of fresh Ken’s Artisan bread followed by a pizza to share; since my parents do not eat pork we ordered it sans the prosciutto it typically comes with:

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This pizza was incredible. Chewy, glossy crust with piping hot stretchy mozzarella, charred scallions and a delectable arugula pesto. Sometimes I forget how satisfying a good pizza can be. My parents proclaimed this one of the best pizzas they’ve ever had- definitely a profound statement.

As for the entrees, I had been torn between the lamb or the chicken but since my mother decided on the chicken I chose to go with the former so that I can obviously experience both.

Mesquite Roasted Chicken: Yam, spinach, sauce au poivre
Mesquite Roasted Chicken: Yam, spinach, sauce au poivre
Grilled Lamb Shoulder Confit: Collard greens, green curry, smoked potato, fresno chiles
Grilled Lamb Shoulder Confit: Collard greens, green curry, smoked potato, fresno chiles

My mother’s chicken entree was absolutely impeccable; one of the best chicken dishes I have had in Portland; and the perfect comfort food dish- a take on mashed potatoes with juicy roasted chicken spiced up with a little pizzazz. My lamb was also delightful; surprisingly lean and complimented with smoky banana potatoes, and collards on a bed of green curry- a fascinating fusion of flavours for sure.

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My father went with the ravioli; a fantastic choice. I persuaded him to get it since I have an aversion to ordering pasta dishes when confronted with alternate meat-heavy choices (you all know how much I love my protein).

And of course, what would a family meal at Wildwood be without dessert?

Fromage blanc cheesecake: oat shortbread, citrus segments
Fromage blanc cheesecake: oat shortbread, citrus segments
Chocolate and Pistachio Layer Cake: Pistachio ice cream, pomegranate coulis
Chocolate and Pistachio Layer Cake: Pistachio ice cream, pomegranate coulis

The desserts were alright, I personally think Wildwood excels much more at their starters and entrees. However, they were still perfectly sized, not overly sweet and appropriate meal-conclusions. The cheesecake was a little soft in texture for my liking, but I enjoyed the slightly tarter flavour.

So there you go, if you’re having a meal out sometime between tonight and Tuesday, make Wildwood  a priority and cheers farewell to this landmark that helped form Portland’s dining heritage.

Lunch? Eastside? Accanto? Done.

When was the last time you lunched on a week day? And by lunched I don’t mean packing a melange of salads at the Whole Foods hot bar or microwaving last night’s leftovers while scrolling Reddit in your cubicle.


By lunching I mean: When was the last time you grabbed a dear friend, left the office for two hours and indulged in a proper lunch. A sit-down establishment with plenty of nearby parking, a focused menu, and tranquil ambiance? A place where you can catch up, discuss your next holiday and indulge in some much needed midday bliss. It’s been a while, huh? The last time I lunched must have been during my one month of funemployment between my job at Gilt and my current on at Conscious Box.

When Frances of Little Green Pickle e-mailed me a couple of weeks back to invite a guest and I to experience and enjoy Accanto’s new lunch service- I couldn’t say no. I’ve been to Accanto once before for an Urbanspoon event last year and adored it. For one, it’s a darling neighbourhood establishment on SE Belmont- and for another the dishes are beautifully executed; Northwestern-influenced Italian- unfussy, fresh and familiar with an injection of unconventional.

From the inside of Accanto
From the inside of Accanto

Who did I decide to take as my guest? No other than my dear friend, Zoe- a “foodie” herself having gone to culinary school and interned with Cookbook/Oregonian Gluten-Free columnist Laura Russell. Zoe, in fact is in the process of starting her own blog, Toasty Talk so I’m definitely more than stoked to have a partner in crime to hit the PDX Dining scene with in 2014.

I started with a glass of Prosecco since it was after all 1PM on a workday- however, the craft cocktails at Accanto are most definitely worth ordering (perhaps at their weekday happy hour when it’s a slightly more socially acceptable time for a libation). As for the food, we decided as usual to do everything family style so that we can experience multiple facets of Accanto’s new lunch service.


Dungeness Crab Salad: Butter lettuce, grapefruit, avocado and creamy tarragon vinaigrette
Dungeness Crab Salad: Butter lettuce, grapefruit, avocado and creamy tarragon vinaigrette

We started with the Dungeness Crab Salad; a light, refreshing and healthy lunch. I can see this being a fabulous choice in the summer time.

There were three bruschetta options on the menu; all unique (one with duck confit and candied kumquat and another with chocolate)! We decided on the one with pepper jelly, escarole and duck egg atop slabs of Ken’s Artisan Bread. I, personally was a fan- the pepper jelly was a bit sweet but balanced nicely with the slight bitterness of the escarole and rich duck yolk.

And since Accanto excels at Italian fare, it was only right that we ordered a pasta dish. The first time I tried Cacio e Pepe was in Rome this past summer where I fell in love with this extremely simple albeit comforting dish so it was fantastic to see it on the menu here. Zoe and I were both huge fans of the pasta- al dente and lots and lots of cheese. Win.

And, our delightful waiter persuaded us into ordering the Brussels Sprouts. These were OUT of this world. I seriously cannot believe that I was under the impression that I was allergic to Brussels up until a couple of weeks back. They were perfectly crispy and who would have thought to combine anchovy flavours and almonds with them? I guarantee if you haven’t yet had a love affair with Brussels Sprouts, you will indeed after trying them cooked like this.

Since no meal can be truly complete without dessert…

Pot de Creme: Chocolate, Grand Marnier, salted caramel, whipped cream

…we split this luxurious Pot de Creme. While it looks like a small serving- this dessert is no joke and will relieve you of any lingering sugar craving.

A fantastic lunch and a huge thank you to Accanto and Little Green Pickle for providing Zoe and I with this fantastic experience. We will most definitely be back soon.

2013 Recap: The Best of Meals and Experiences

2013 has sure been an interesting year. A dichotomy of fantastic and unpleasant experiences, most of which ended up culminating towards my personal growth. I almost want to crack a joke about how cliche that sounds, but it’s the truth.

Most of my closest friends moved out of Portland this year, however the opportunity gained from that was meeting a plethora of incredible people who I can truly call some of my best friends despite the short time I’ve known them.

For instance, I met Caitlyn and Zoe at the Silver Dollar (ironically…) early this summer despite the fact that we all went to college together and simply knew ‘of each other’. The rest is history, in the few months I’ve known them we’ve had a tremendous number of amazing times together; and it wasn’t just the nights out in heels holding flutes of Clicquot but all the Sunday Kardashian marathons, trips to the dog park, family suppers, coffee dates, sleepovers, and simply being there for each other with Luc Lac leftovers, tissues, roundtrip taxi cabs or gatorade when stuff got rough.

I’ve been lucky to have met so many other amazing people this year as well through circumstance. Back in May, the job I had for a year and a half closed their Portland office and the lay off culminated in my current job at Conscious Box. And that all stemmed from a blog post I’d put up regarding my unemployment that a recruiter happened to stumble upon.

For this post, I wanted to highlight the best of this year; and since this is a food blog I am focusing on the best of food with a little something-something accompanying each of my choices. This is not a “Best Restaurants” post, but rather a collection of some of my favourite dining opportunities from this year. Enjoy!

1) Rome, Italy: One of the many pizzas we gorged on during our four day visit. Friends, family, top notch carbs, espresso and splurges at Ferragamo. The makings of a fine holiday. 

Pizza in Rome
Pizza in Rome

2) Helsinki, Finland: My mother’s birthday supper at Ravintola Sasso, a foray into Northern Italian-Finnish fine dining. 

Veal sirloin with asparagus, tomato, anchovy tapenade and butter
Veal sirloin with asparagus, tomato, anchovy tapenade and butter

3) Portland, Oregon: A glamorous and heavily anticipated supper at Le Pigeon

4) Portland, Oregon: Bollywood Theater, the consistent go-to when nostalgia hits. I introduced Zoe to Bollywood the first week we met and ever since then countless trips for Kathi rolls and fried okra have ensued. 

5) Portland, Oregon: Will Preisch’s Holdfast Dining. This may have been the most gourmet meal I experienced in Portland this year all thanks to @garythefoodie! An impeccable and unforgettable fine dining pop-up experience. 

6) Portland, Oregon: My 24th birthday- a several day feast involving some of my favourites: Departure, Podnah’s Pit and Clyde Common. 

7) Portland, Oregon: FEAST Portland; the epic Food Festival I had the great honour and opportunity to participate in both as a blogger and patron. 

8) Portland, Oregon: Prasad. This very quickly became a favourite go-to after I started working at Conscious Box. 

9) Portland, Oregon: Not only has Luc Lac been a consistent late night saviour but also my go-to take out place for those nights in which I favoured Bo Tai Chanh and Netflix over heels and flutes of Moet. 

10) Portland, Oregon: My #1 dining partner, Anne and I have managed to maintain our “nice dinners out” habit throughout 2013. This year we’ve managed to do several including Ned Ludd, Luce, Levant, and most recently: The Woodsman Tavern

What were your best experiences this year?

Tula: An Evening at Portland’s Largest Gluten-Free Bakery

Through all the dining out I do, I admit I’ve never forayed into the world of gluten-free breads and baked goods.This is not so much because gluten-free substitutes are often stereotyped as being cardboard-like and less appealing, but more because I simply haven’t taken the initiative to.

I have however gathered a general knowledge about some of the innovative gluten-replacements used to bake these goods from working at Conscious Box where a large portion of our customer base pertain to a gluten-free diet. One of the girls I used to work with in fact was both gluten-free and a fantastic baker and would make all sorts of delightful concoctions from ingredients such as sorghum or coconut flour…stuff I admittedly have zero expertise with using.

So, when Lisa Hill (or Lisa Hill PR) and Erin of Bakery Bingo (a pretty kick-ass blog about…you guessed it, bakeries) invited me to a blogger event at Tula, I was rather excited about the prospect of tasting various celiac friendly samples- both savoury and sweet.


I’ve driven past Tula a million times as it sits on the corner of the constantly traffic-ridden NE MLK Blvd and Alberta Street intersection. It does seem like an odd location for a cute and kitschy bakery cafe, but guess what- it’s adjacent to a parking lot! And with how Portland winters seem to be going recently, parking lots are a HUGE factor in my persuasion to go somewhere and save myself a few blocks of potential frostbite.

Tula first started a couple of years back as a cafe to offer 100% gluten-free breads, pastries, cakes and savory items such as pizza, hot dishes and paninis. They source over 25 different types of gluten-free grains from nearby Bob’s Red Mill and are dedicated to using high quality and conscious ingredients purchased from local vendors.

One of the owners of Tula, Mieke served as our wonderful hostess for the night. Mieke herself is gluten-free, went to fashion school (and was wearing a fantastic pear of animal print jeans) and is clearly very passionate about her business and providing her customers with a welcoming and delectable experience.

For this intimate gathering of bloggers, Mieke put together a delightful tasting menu so that we could sample some of their savory dishes (followed by dessert, of course).

This Tasting Menu

All dishes were served family style and with different variations of gluten-free bread. The focaccia, which is used on Tula’s paninis was perhaps my favourite, and yes- I would have never known that it was gluten-free considering it’s nearly identical resemblance to it’s conventionally made counterpart.

I love the abundance of vegetables used in Tula’s savory dish meals; and at around $8 apiece including the bread on the side, they are perfectly reasonable and healthy gluten-free hot entrees. I can’t exactly say I have a personal favourite as they all had their own unique twist. The Italian hot dish had a delightfully piquant fennel tomato sauce (and lots of cheese) while the Indian included a tangy and creamy green “pepita sauce” that I would easily buy the jar.

The paninis are another solid deal being two slabs of piping pesto-slathered hot focaccia stuffed with a melange of cheeses, balsamic roasted tomatoes, arugula and a protein of choice. A fantastic  hot sandwich if you will.

The pizzas are another affordable and filling option, however after all the hot dishes I admit I was less excited about them (though I do appreciate the abundance of cheese used).

And, since Tula is a bakery after all…dessert was no other than some fresh baked goodies:

Chocolate hazelnut rolls, cranberry raspberry tart in almond flaxseed crust and curried pecans
Chocolate hazelnut rolls, cranberry raspberry tart in almond flaxseed crust and curried pecans

If you are a fan of Nutella, these chocolate hazelnut rolls are TO DIE for. Think delicious fluffy rolls stuffed generously with fresh chocolatey hazelnut paste. The tarts were also impeccable if you’re looking for something less sweet to nibble on beside a cappuccino or a cup of tea.

Mieke was also so generous to pack us all with gift bags containing some Ethiopian coffee, gluten free sugar cookie dough and their famous orange almond olive oil cake (which I have already inhaled so my apologies for the lack of photo).

I had a wonderful time at Tula dishing and dining with Mieke, Lisa, Erin and a few other Portland food bloggers and definitely recommend this cute NE Portland spot not only for those on a gluten-free diet, but for anyone. Another great part? Everything is affordable, fresh, and made with love.

All of us bloggers with Mieke. Photo Credit: Lisa Hill
All of us bloggers with Mieke. Photo Credit: Lisa Hill

Tula Gluten Free Bakery and Cafe on Urbanspoon

Pacific Pie Co: Your New Pies, Cocktails and Pasties Destination

Pacific Pie Company opened their second outpost (the first is in SE near Distillery Row) this week on NW 23rd and Savier. I was lucky enough to get an invite to the Pre-opening media soiree on Tuesday night, which as expected included a constantly refilling buffet of various pies, pasties, and samosas.

And if for some reason, a meal encased in a delicious layer of buttery crust isn’t your thing, there were also Moroccan meatballs, crudites and a series of fantastic craft cocktails to sample.

Soooo, let’s get to the food! Pacific Pie is open for both lunch, dinner and a Happy Hour spanning from 3-6 PM and includes a full menu of snacks, soups, salads, pies, sandwiches and “Aussie Favourites” such as Shepherd’s Pie, Bangers & Mash and Tuna Mornay. It’s the perfect spot for a casual bite to eat- especially if you’re looking for something warm and hearty to satiate you this winter.

Everything was delicious, especially considering the near subzero temperatures outside. My personal favourites were predictably (or should I say stereotypically) the lamb meatballs and the curried samosa pasties. However, the baked brie was also ridiculously gooey, rich and fantastic especially with the infusion of sweetness when dipped into the apple chutney.

As for the pies? The caramel pecan hands down! While the other flavours were delightful as well, I like to have my sugar with a little substance- and the protein and crunch from the pecans was the perfect combination.

Now onto the cocktails…

The bartenders are absolute darlings here and as you can see above ensured that there was plenty of each cocktail for us to taste.

The green one is the Japanese Slipper, a cocktail created in 1984 by Jean-Paul Bourguignon at Mietta’s Restaurant in Melbourne, Australia and it’s a simple yet delightful concoction of Midori, Cointreau and lemon juice.

My personal favourites however were the Portland Buck (House Spirits Bull Moose White Whiskey, lemon juice, Fentiman’s Ginger Beer, and mint); the Pacific Sour (Novo Fogo Cahaca, bourbon, lemon juice, cinnamon ginger syrup) and the Oakheart Toddy (Bacardi Oakheart Spiced Rum, Kama Black tea syrup, lemon juice and Allspice Dram). If anything, this especially frigid December weather has caused me to switch my generic cocktail of choice from whiskey ginger to a hot toddy- and this one was indeed a tasty rendition (albeit a bit sweet).


Pacific Pie is now open from 11am-9pm seven days a week, so if you’re looking for some quality Aussie-influenced bites and treats, then give it a shot. Considering that this location is a mere three minute drive from my office, I know I’ll be stopping by again soon.

Pacific Pie Company on Urbanspoon