Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Quick Hits: Showing Off PDX

I love taking visitors to see the sights as much as anyone. A drive to Timberline or the coast. If it's clear, going up to Washington Park for that fabulous view of the mountain looming over downtown. If it's not, a tour of the Pittock Mansion or a walk through the Japanese or Chinese gardens. Regardless, thanks to national media like the New York Times (and my own proclivities), food is always on the agenda.

When people ask me what the best restaurant in town is, Evoe is my hands-down favorite. Despite its nonstandard hours (Wed.-Sun., noon-7 pm) and absence of even nominal restaurant equipment—just a slide-in electric stove/oven and plug-in pancake griddle that would have been at home in the kitchen of my childhood—chef Kevin Gibson (top, holding some red mole from Mexico) makes magic. Give the guy a mandoline and a pot and he's golden. It doesn't hurt that he's got years-long relationships with top local farmers who bring him the best of the best of our local produce. Or that he's a master charcutiere of the highest order (I'm still working on him to let me take a picture of his walk-in).

Suffice it to say that his deviled eggs—such a simple, yet, in his hands, sublime mouthful—were divine. The tomato salad with chevre and a sprinkling of olive oil, the duck salad (kill me now), the chistorra (Basque sausage) sandwich, even the pickle plate (left, with "mouse melons" and aji dulce peppers), all over the top. If you have friends who love food, you can do no better than to go here. If not, you can sit at the counter and make new ones.

Details: Evoe, 3731 SE Hawthorne Blvd. 503-232-1010.

* * *

After our late-ish lunch at Evoe, it might have been easy to simply have wine and snacks for dinner. Except for the fact that we were meeting a half-dozen or so friends at the back table at Bar Avignon, another of my under-the-radar (at least as far as national press) PDX hits. When Randy and Nancy opened their first restaurant after years serving at the likes of Wildwood and Café Azul, it was going to be "just a bar" for neighbors to stop in, have a beverage and a snack and move on. An idea that lasted about three minutes.

Now, with chef Eric Joppie behind the counter of the tiny open kitchen, this place is on a roll. From appetizers like the freshest of NW oysters (so clean!) and to-die-for lamb rolls to a drop-dead delicious pork chop, locally sourced wild mushroom risotto, crazy-tender bavette steak and so much more, there is virtually nothing on the menu that isn't a great choice. Combine that with a deeply deep, moderately priced wine list and beer selection (courtesy Monsieur Goodman) and awesome cocktails (merci, Ms. Hunt), and our evening was long and luscious. And that back table? Private but alive with the bubble of conversation from diners in the restaurant, it was the perfect spot to spend an intimate evening with friends old and new.

Details: Bar Avignon, 2138 SE Division St. 503-517-0808.

* * *

Portland is, to put it mildly, a breakfast town, and the bigger the better, it seems. So much so that a new restaurant can't be open more than a few months without adding brunch on the weekends. Me, I'm more of a coffee-and-pastry-in-the-morning gal, even better if it's at home in my jammies with coffee and a slice of Dave's toast topped with Ayers Creek jam. But I digress.

Our out-of-town friends wanted to have brunch and, it being a novelty in our little world, we were happy to oblige. We could have gone to Mother's downtown, the Waffle Window (inside…it was threatening rain), the Tin Shed on Alberta or a huge fave, Toast on SE Steele, but we chose Ned Ludd on MLK since it was close to home and we hadn't tried their brunch yet. And yes, put this on the list of undiscovered gems.

Jason French's wood oven does all the cooking and baking here. Period. He butchers his own meat and the restaurant makes most of its own charcuterie and cured products, sourced as close to PDX as possible. And the food is amazing. Homey yet elegant, to me it's quintessential Portland. Vegetable hash with smoked trout and a poached duck egg. Pork confit with creamed kale on a rosemary biscuit topped with a gently fried egg. Whole trout. French toast. It's all great.

I have to say our friends got a real taste of Portland, and by that I mean food grown here, prepared by people who are passionate about showcasing the flavors of this place. I think they were pleased. And full.

Details: Ned Ludd, 3925 NE Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. 503-288-6900.

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