Finding a restaurant in a foreign city can be hard. There are blogs, Trip Advisor, and Google, yes. But how do you know if any of those reviewers or writers have the same taste as you? Maybe they think something is overpriced, but it’s because when they go out it’s to Chipotle (not that there’s anything wrong with Chipotle, trust me). An “expensive meal” here could be anything over $3 a person, since that is what many of our meals cost! Or maybe they thought the service was terrible but really it’s because they’re just rude to servers? Plus, often the only thing that actually motivates people to write reviews is because they had an extraordinarily good or bad experience. Factor into all of this the fact that we are in Chiang Mai. This means I can’t text my friends or post a question to my fellow bloggers asking them about where to eat for a special occasion.
The point is, when it came time to pick a restaurant to go to for my birthday last week, I didn’t go into it thinking “This is going to be amazing!” Instead, I went in thinking, “Well, this could be good or it could be terrible and I have no idea and I hope it’s not awful and expensive.” Super fun birthday thoughts, right? My birthday started luxuriously – Jonah made me breakfast (scrambled eggs and fruit), then we hopped on the moped and drove to one of the fancier spas in Chiang Mai, where Jonah had booked us both a two hour Thai massage. In the evening, we hopped in a taxi to Anantara Resort, a fancy spot on the river, and home to a restaurant called The Service 1921. I had read numerous reviews and websites and decided that this restaurant sounded fun. Why? Read the description below:
I’m back! From Europe anyway. May is the month of travel for me (I suppose it’s good preparation for the part of my life where I travel the world for 6ish months starting later this year…), and it started with a trip to the Czech Republic with my mom. We were there for just over a week, and spent most of our time in Prague, with a two night trip to Cesky Krumlov, a World Heritage site about 3 hours south of Prague. We spent our days mostly walking, whether on our own through the Kampa Garden and Museum, on a food tour, or on a tour through the Jewish Quarter. It was the perfect balance of sight-seeing, learning, and relaxing – what can I say, we know how to do a vacation. Read on to find out about the culinary highlights of our trip!
Our first day in Prague started at Cafe Savoy, a French inspired cafe in Mala Strana that serves Czech pastries (in addition to coffee, tea, wine, breakfast, lunch, etc.). While we did have to wait a while to get a seat, my mom was very happy with her apple strudel, and the pastries and ambiance were just as lovely. For dinner our first evening we went to V Zátiší, an Indian/Czech restaurant a short walk from our hotel. I had an incredible play on a traditional duck dish, with herbed dumplings and pureed red cabbage, while Mom enjoyed her Tandoori prawns with delicious seasoned rice and chutneys.
Perhaps the highlight of the trip for me was our tour with Prague Food Tours. We did the Scrumptious tour, which was outside of the tourist area of town in Prague 8, a neighborhood called Karlin. Our guide Leona was so incredibly knowledgeable, and we learned not just about the food but also about the culture behind it. It was a small group, 6 of us total, and it was an educational and delicious way to spend the day. We tried some traditional Czech pastries, visited a more modern restaurant called Eska (more on that later), drank beers and ate beef tartare and schnitzel at Lokal, and had a fried cheese slider and a donut for dessert at Maso A Kobliha.
Upon our arrival to Cesky Krumlov we decided to eat at Jakub Restaurant for dinner, which was a fantastic choice. While it wasn’t anything extremely unique or mind-blowing, it was really solid food. We had a carp croquette and salad to start, and then shared a dish from their spring asparagus menu and spaetzle with rabbit for dinner. Four dishes and four glasses of wine later, our bill only ended up being the equivalent of about $50 USD.
We went all out on our last day in Prague, especially because it was Mother’s Day! I had to make it happen for my mama. After a long morning strolling around the Prague Castle, we crossed the river for lunch at La Bottega di Finestra, a fancy deli spot with a fancy sister restaurant next door. After a week of pretty heavy Czech food, we went with a plate of assorted salads and each one was extremely delicious. For dessert we strolled another ten minutes to wait in line at Angelato, supposedly the best gelato in Prague. It did not disappoint – I don’t know if I’ve ever had more heavenly gelato (and maybe even ice cream!). Mom got their pistachio and banana, both of which actually tasted like their namesake ingredient instead of a fake rendition of it, and I indulged in chocolate and rhubarb flavors, which were superb.
For our final dinner we went back to Eska, which was the second stop on our food tour earlier that week. Eska is a restaurant focused on hyperlocal ingredients, cooked in modern ways but based in traditional techniques like fire-roasting and fermentation. The dish that sealed the deal on our food tour and that we were lucky enough to eat again when we ordered the tasting menu was a small potato cooked in ash, surrounded by a buttermilk kefir, smoked carp, and topped with cured egg yolk. It was one of those perfect bites: the smokiness of the carp and the potato balanced delicately with the creaminess and tanginess of the buttermilk kefir. While the rest of the meal was exquisite – buttermilk ice cream with savory granola and herbs, white asparagus with buckwheat crisps and brown butter, zander with kohlrabi – that dish will be the one that I remember.
Since moving here from Seattle nearly ten years ago (wow that makes me feel old), there are a few things I really miss: the presence of all kinds of seafood on menus, oyster happy hours, and serious Chinese food. Don’t get me wrong, I love that Portland now has 1,327 ramen restaurants and that it seems like every week a new izakaya place has opened, but the comfort food of my youth was usually Chinese food. And I don’t mean greasy beef & broccoli or orange chicken – though there were phases when I loved the stuff. I mean hand shaven noodles, bamboo shoots, and those damn scallion pancakes.
When I heard that there were two new Chinese restaurants opening in sleepy little Sellwood, they immediately went on my “to try” list. And isn’t it nice when your restaurant list lines up with the restaurant lists of the ones you love? That’s exactly what happened when the stars aligned and we had my dad, stepmom, and Jonah’s mom all in town for lunch. So we scooted down to Sellwood to get our hands (or chopsticks, really) on some of the noodles at Wei Wei – A Taste of Taiwan.
The place is relatively small, with only 5 or so tables, and the menu is scrawled out on a large chalkboard wall when you enter. Have a seat and get yourself some starters. We enjoyed the scallion pancake (I told you, it’s a comfort food and one I simply cannot resist) and a special cucumber salad, which was perfect given the 80° day. Then it was time for the noodles – I recommend the beef noodle soup if it’s soup eating weather, or the house spicy noodles, which are dry (served without broth). Neither are that spicy, so I recommend reinforcing with some of the house made chili oil. Let’s talk about the noodles. Both of these dishes came with homemade wheat noodles, often cooked up by the owner’s parents in the kitchen. They are fat, perfectly soft, with the right amount of heft and bite to them. What they are is damn good. The beef soup was super savory, with broth as dark as the large pieces of braised beef it’s packed with. The beef comes apart with the pull of your chopsticks and is accompanied by pickled mustard greens, and spinach. The dry noodles are anything but, coated with a glossy sauce of minced pork, water chestnut, and shiitake mushrooms. Both dishes could have easily served 2 if not 3 people, so come hungry or with a friend.
The time has come. It’s March, which means I have combed through the dining month menus of 122 (!!!) restaurants in preparation for Portland Dining Month. This event is all about strategy – which places have you been itching to try, which places have multiple choices for each course, and which places give you the most bang for your buck. I’m here to help: below are my 14 picks for Portland Dining Month (in no particular order).
I also want to add that a donation to the Oregon Food Bank will be made for every reservation booked through the OpenTable links on the PDX Dining Month website! Sometimes we make our dining plans last minute, but I’m going to do my best to make reservations this year to make it count.
Aviary: This is one of my number one recommendations in Portland. I love the playfulness and creativity of the food here, plus the Asian influence doesn’t hurt. They’ve got two choices for every course, so you and your dinner partner can both get the dining month menu without ordering the same meal.
Clyde Common: I still haven’t made it into Clyde Common for dinner since chef Carlo Lasagna took over the kitchen, but I have heard fantastic things. Their dining month menu doesn’t look like anything crazy adventurous, but I bet it will be tasty.
Little Bird Bistro: Little Bird Bistro has a place in my heart – every meal I’ve had there has been pretty perfect, the space is romantic, and the service is great. They’ve got at least two options for each course on their dining month menu, and every single one looks like something I want to eat.
Paley’s Place: A Portland institution, Paley’s Place is reliably delicious. There’s only one option per course on their menu, but how can you go wrong with quail under a brick?!
Smallwares: Serving “inauthentic Asian cuisine,” I love the way Smallwares combines traditionally Asian ingredients in quasi-Asian dishes. For example, their dining month entree is Sichuan cauliflower or pork ragu, pine nuts, gochujang, tarragon and scallions. I mean come on.
Ned Ludd: Another memorable Portland dining month meal I had last year was at Ned Ludd. I love the food at this spot – all cooked in their wood oven, featuring great local ingredients, and with lots of creative flavor combinations. Again, only one option per course (except for a vegetarian option for the entree), but you can bet it will be good.
St. Jack: I’ll be honest, I’ll take any reason I can to make my way up to St. Jack. The space is beautiful, and the food and drink are lovely. For their dining month menu, they’re serving up a pork stew, with fried brussels sprouts to start and a chocolate pots-de-creme to finish.
Verdigris: I haven’t been to Verdigris yet, despite the fact that it’s only a few minutes walk from my house and that I’ve heard great things. Verdigris is offering up lots of options for dining month: 6 options for your started, 5 for your entree, and 2 for dessert, meaning lots of variation for you and your dining buddies.
Xico: Who can resist upscale Mexican food? Not me. While there’s only one option for each course on Xico’s dining month menu, each one looks GOOD.
Biwa: To be fair, it doesn’t look like you’ll necessarily be full after partaking in Biwa’s dining month menu. But their homestyle Japanese food is reliably delicious. So come with a buddy and share the dining month menu plus one or two other items, and I’m sure you’ll leave happy.
Ataula: Ataula remains one of the most fun nights out I’ve had in Portland. The food is something you don’t often find: traditional Spanish food, and the service and atmosphere are lively and fun. Plus, on their dining month menu you’ll find a mini version of one of their famous paellas.
Laurelhurst Market: Laurelhurst Market was my final dining month meal last year (and my last meal before getting my wisdom teeth out, which made it that much more special), and it was stellar. Start your meal with stuff mushrooms, then move to some braised beef shoulder (which is bound to be awesome), and then finish with a chocolate whiskey pudding. (Note: their cocktails are awesome, so I highly recommend getting one with your meal!)
Imperial: Located downtown and headed by two fantastic chefs (Vitaly Paley and Doug Adams), Imperial is my go to for brunch with guests staying downtown. Hit them up for dining month to get some grilled squash salad, braised pork, and a chocolate bouchon for dessert.
Ken’s Artisan Pizza: Is this the most exciting menu ever? No. Caesar salad, sausage pizza, and a brownie sundae for dessert. BUT IT WILL BE SO GOOD. This place has some of my favorite pizza in Portland, so take advantage of the price for the three courses and hit it up!
Where are you looking forward to going for Portland Dining month?