My first time exploring the Pacific Northwest was my trip to Seattle last year where I had an amazing experience visiting fun tourist sites and eating delicious food. Numerous people have told me that Portland is another cool hip foodie city but nestled in the outdoors.
We arrived at the airport around 9pm and headed straight to our Airbnb which was located downtown. Since it was late by the time we got there, we just relaxed at the apartment and went to bed.
Our first full day in Portland, we woke up early and headed straight to Blue Star Donuts, a gourmet donut shop that serves intriguing flavors. At Blue Star Donuts, they make a brioche dough made from high quality bread flour, cage free eggs, milk, and European butter.
All three donuts were creative and tasty with a fluffy moist dough. My favorite was the horchata (a traditional drink typically made from rice and flavored with cinnamon).
When we arrived, there was even a camera crew filming a segment for Travel Channel and they wanted us to participate! They served us sweet potato fritters with marshmallows and asked us questions about what we thought about it as well as our opinions about Blue Star Donuts. Look for us on TV!
After our decadent donuts, we went to Washington Park which includes the famous rose garden, Japanese garden, and the zoo.
First stop was the International Rose Test Garden, a testing ground for new rose varieties. The first “Gold Medal” rose award was given in 1919, making it the oldest rose testing program of its kind in the country.
Next was the Japanese Garden, so beautifully serene and tranquil.
After strolling through the gardens, we decided to go to the Oregon Zoo. Since it was a weekday and slightly rainy, there were barely any people there!
I really enjoyed the Oregon Zoo, not only to see all the cool animals roaming around but also because the zoo was practically in the woods, completely surrounded by gorgeous trees.
After an adventure packed morning, we grabbed lunch at one of Portland’s most recognizable restaurants, Pok Pok. Chef Andy Ricker first travelled to Thailand in 1987 and fell in love with the cuisine. Since then he travels to the country yearly to research the food and ingredients. Here you can watch an episode of Munchies featuring chef Andy Ricker and his travels.
The curry was rich and flavorful with coconut milk nuances. The yellow noodles had a nice chew to them and I also enjoyed the crispy fried noodles on top as well.
Shallots, pickled mustard greens, roasted chili paste, and lime all amped up the flavor of the mild curry.
These chicken wings were off the chain delicious. A definite must order! Perhaps not everyone will like the fish sauce glaze (I happen to love that funky flavor) especially with the chili flakes. These wings were crispy and sticky and paired perfectly with the pickled daikon and carrot, fresh cucumber, and rau răm (Vietnamese mint).
So many items sounded delicious on the menu such as the various laaps (traditional minced meat salads with herbs and aromatics), papaya salad, and charcoal grilled meats. Since portions are quite substantial, it’s difficult to try numerous items unless you’re with a large group or super hungry. Overall Pok Pok served scrumptious Thai cuisine so my rating is an 8/10.
After lunch, we spent the remaining of the afternoon at the Oregon Museum of Science and Technology where there are various exhibits, a planetarium, theater, and submarine tour.
After exploring the exhibits, we got a tour of a USS Blueback submarine, the US Navy’s last non-nuclear fast attack submarine.
Before dinner, we enjoyed the view from the balcony at the apartment.
For our first dinner in Portland, we wanted to dine at one of the city’s most iconic restaurants, Le Pigeon, but they were completely booked so we visited their sister restaurant Little Bird Bistro. Both restaurants serve hearty French inspired cuisine but Little Bird Bistro is more affordable and casual.
These clams were little tender jewels of the sea paired with creamy savory oyster aioli, crunchy charred croutons, and various herbs. I wasn’t crazy about the pork noodles because they didn’t have much flavor and the texture was slightly strange.
This crêpe was on point! Super crispy exterior stuffed with sweet caramelized onions with a silky celery root purée and crunchy pickled apple slaw on top.
The chicken fried trout is one of their signature dishes. The trout was super crispy yet moist inside with gribiche (a mayonnaise type sauce) and fried capers (super good). I especially loved the pickled carrots, raw radish slices, and herbs that helped balance the dish.
This side dish was simple but oh so satisfying. Roasted pieces of cauliflower tossed in a tomato butter and crumbles of creamy blue cheese.
Normal french fries, nothing special.
We were pretty full from a long day of eating so we skipped dessert which is almost unheard of. Overall the food was pretty delicious and fun and service was great too so my rating is an 8/10.
The next day we woke up early once again and headed to Pine State Biscuits for brunch.
I was slightly disappointed with these fried green tomatoes. They didn’t have that nice crunchy texture nor the tartiness of a green tomato that I was looking for and I wasn’t crazy about the cornmeal breading.
A giant hash brown, what’s not to like? A squirt of ketchup and you’re good to go!
The McIsley was everything I could dream of. The fried chicken was crispy and crunchy and paired so well with sweet and sour pickles, whole grain mustard, and a drizzle of honey. The biscuits themselves were crumbly and moist too.
The Reggie was delicious especially with the peppery sausage gravy and melted cheese. Definitely more robust than the previous biscuit sandwich.
Obviously if you come here, you have to get a biscuit whether its in sandwich form or just plain with jam and butter. My rating for Pine State Biscuits is a 7.5-8/10.
After brunch, we went to The Grotto, a national Catholic Shrine within the forest with massive fir trees and plants all around. The Grotto’s motive is “to provide a welcoming presence and a beautiful environment conducive to peace, quiet, and spiritual inspiration”. The heart of the shrine is a rock cave that has been carved into the base of a cliff with a life sized marble replica of Michelangelo’s Pietà (original is in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome) featured in the center. Above The Grotto is a garden with various shrines only reached by an elevator next to the cliff.
Our next stop was Pittock Mansion, a historic house built in 1914 for one of Oregon’s influential families. Henry Pittock, owner of The Oregonian newspaper, and his wife Georgiana lived in the house with numerous family members until 1958 when the last family members moved out. The mansion is surrounded by 46 acres of forest and has one of the best views of the city.
After the mansion tour, we walked around the Pearl District to see all the cute shops and boutiques.
Our final night in Portland we dined at Castagna, a fine dining New American restaurant serving two types of tasting menus. We decided to order the more extensive menu where each course was delicately crafted with precision and care and highlighted particular ingredients.
The meal started off with a mini cocktail, almost like a palate awakener. The flavors all melded together and the gin wasn’t overpowering whosoever.
The next five dishes were snacks to keep the palate enticed.
Each snack was a little burst of flavor, varying in texture and taste. I especially liked the charred leek with the baker’s yeast aioli and the crispy beet chip with beet tartare underneath.
These rye bread rolls were warm with a nice crust and fluffy interior. Both the butter with brown butter crumble and whipped lardo with herbs were great accompaniments to the bread. My only criticism is that both the bread and accompaniments were seasoned well so when eaten together, they were slightly on the salty side.
I love the taste and texture of geoduck (giant clam) because of its crunchiness and crisp sea flavor. However, the young coconut didn’t add much to the dish.
The pocha bean (white kidney bean) foam was light and flavorful with fresh cherry tomatoes and herbs.
The carrot was marinated in goat’s milk, giving it a tangy flavor, served with a creamy dollop of goat’s milk butter. Small but intense flavor.
Cubes of beautiful albacore tuna paired nicely with the charred padron pepper (gave heat to the dish).
Morsels of tender crab meat topped with tiny brûléed tart pieces of juicy grapefruit and charred radicchio made this dish a winner.
The calabrian chili leather (same texture as fruit leather) was a fun dish with an eggplant terrine underneath and velvety sheep’s milk yogurt.
The squid was one of my favorite dishes of the meal. It was perfectly cooked, nice caramelization yet still soft, and served with wilted sorrel (gave a pleasant acidic component to the dish) and garlic scapes (a delicate garlic flavor).
I’ve never tried antelope heart but this was executed nicely. Super tender meat that was seasoned well with a confited tomato and a lovage oil.
The silky rich foie gras mousse was topped with an intense venus grape jelly served with a warm moist slice of apple bread.
The chanterelle mushrooms didn’t have much flavor and I felt like the dish was slightly disjointed.
The duck had a crispy skin and flavorful meat with various parts of broccoli (the stem and leaves) with lemon basil.
This A5 wagyu melted in my mouth. The fat is completely intertwined with the meat giving an unctuous mouthfeel and intense flavor and paired nicely with the toasted nori. Umami at its finest.
The vanilla sundae was an intriguing dish because of the salty dehydrated black olives that actually paired nicely with the sweet huckleberries.
I really liked the monochromatic look of this dish. The flavors all worked together and wasn’t overly sweet.
This was another fun dish with a caramelized potato skin ice cream which actually tasted awesome. I especially liked the crispy meringue pieces of top.
While the food at Castagna might not be for the average diner, I liked the inventiveness of the dishes. I tried ingredients that I hadn’t tried before and saw combinations of flavors that I would never dream of. Atmosphere was pleasant without being stiff and service was attentive so my rating is an 8-8.5/10.
Portland was a great city to visit for a weekend due to its small size and of course all the fantastic food. I’d love to come back to Oregon to explore more of the outdoors since even all the parks within the urban city were beyond breathtaking and beautiful.