Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Portland, OR | Day 2

June 24, 2014

I started our second full day in Portland early, jumping on a bus down to Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge for a few hours of birding. It's a lovely park - beautiful forest, a big lake and heaps of birds. There's a slideshow below - for those playing along at home, the birds pictured are:

  • Lesser goldfinch
  • Song sparrow
  • Bushtit
  • Downy woodpecker
  • A deer! (not a bird, I know)
  • Cedar waxwing

Cindy and I arranged a post-birding rendezvous at Junior's Cafe, a popular and vegan-friendly brunch joint just off Hawthorne in the South East. It's a cosy space with stylish wallpaper, a few cute pictures and lots of beautiful old fashioned framed mirrors on the wall. It's a small-ish room and on a Tuesday morning things are pretty quiet, although it seems as though things get busy on the weekends. The staff are charming and friendly and were happy to load me up with coffee while I waited for Cindy to turn up.

The menu is massive, with a mix of meaty, eggy and vegan dishes - most everything has a vegan version, so there's French toast, scrambled tofu, vegan sausage, even spud-based brekkies (no pancakes though, strangely). I continued my adventures in scrambled tofu, ordering the Superhero (scrambled seasoned tofu with tomatoes, vegan sausage, green onions and spinach, served with toast and spuds, US$9.50 ~ AU$10.10). I'll tell you this: Americans really know their way around scrambled tofu - it was consistently good wherever we travelled and Junior's was no exception. The fancy ketchup didn't hurt either.

Cindy went for the vegan French toast with a side of fresh fruit (US$7 + US$4.50 ~ AU$12.30). She had no regrets, but I really thought she should have gone with the full vegan French toast meal (featuring scrambled tofu and sausage).

We waddled off from brekkie to meet up with the free Secrets of Portlandia walking tour in the city. It's run by the charming and funny Erik Kennon and involves a couple of entertaining hours hearing a nice overview of the city's quirky history. Highlights include the Portlandia statue (top left) and the world's smallest city park (bottom left).

The tour finishes right by Voodoo Doughnuts, but we decided to hold off on the sugar and explore one of the big food cart blocks in the city - there's something like 70 different vendors taking up the block of SW Adler from 9th to 10th. After a quick lap, we settled on Satay Indonesia, which offers tempeh and tofu skewers alongside meatier alternatives. We skipped the satay and went with the grilled tempeh and tofu combo (served with rice and coconut curry, bok choy, picked cucumbers, tossed greens, pineapple, kecap manis and chilli sauce, US$7 ~ AU$7.50). It was incredible - among our favourite meals in Portland I'd say (the super sweet condensed milk coffee didn't hurt either).

We took the afternoon off to recuperate before our first fancy-ish dinner in Portland at Portobello Vegan Trattoria, an Italian-style vegan place on SE Division (just across from Los Gorditos).

The menu has a complicated structure - there are antipasto plates, burgers, pizzas, starters, pastas and main dishes. I pushed hard for the set menu deal (one starter, one pasta, one main and one dessert for US$38 ~ AU$40.50 each), but Cindy spotted the size of the dishes on other tables and talked me out of it. A confession: she was totally right.

Instead, we combined a little gem caesar salad (romain lettuces with vegan caesar dressing, fried capers and garlic toast, US$9 ~ AU$9.60), roast corn ravioli (fresh pasta stuffed with roast corn and cashew cheese served with basil fondue and asparagus fava bean succotash, US$14 ~ AU$14.90) and a portobello steak with crispy onion rings and housemade steak sauce served with roasted asparagus, radishes, spring onions and gold potatoes (US$16 ~ AU$17)

The caesar salad was bit lettuce heavy for my tastes, but the other dishes were amazing - the pasta rich and creamy and laden with wonderful fresh veggies and the mushroom steak marinated brilliantly and accompanied by more great vegetables. Superb. The pizzas that came out around us looked incredible too, but sadly we didn't get a chance to try them - I guess another trip to Portland is in order!

Our lack of pizza was made up for by a dessert each - a blueberry tart (short bread crust, almond frangipane and strawberries with blueberry sauce, US$8 ~ AU$8.50), the chocolate mousse (with whiskey-coffee granita and orange hazelnut praline, US$8 ~ AU$8.50) and a scoop of the salted caramel coconut ice cream (US$3 ~ AU$3.20). Both dishes were meant to come with coconut chantilly cream, but the kitchen was out (they warned us at least) and both would have benefited from some sort of creamy accompaniment. A minor complaint though - they were both great dishes.

Portobello is a wonderful restaurant - it was buzzing on the Tuesday night we visited and is clearly a go-to place for Portland vegans looking for a slightly upmarket meal. It should be on any visitor's must-visit list.

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