We amused ourselves this weekend by taking the train down to Portland. It’s a great way to go: the train goes right along the coast, so the scenery is wonderful. You don’t have to deal with I-5 traffic, and Portland has a very good public transportation system and is very walkable. And the food scene there is just amazing. We spent three days and barely scratched the surface.
The train has a bistro car, but we usually prefer to bring a lunch along. For this trip, J made sandwiches out of a baguette and some ham, with brie and fresh basil. We had leftovers of a truly splendid bottle of wine, a Sones petite syrah from the central coast of California, so we brought that along as well. The train was so full that it was a little awkward to eat – we felt like we should have brought enough for everyone. Ah, well.
Our first stop in Portland, after dropping off our bags at our guesthouse, was the Hedge House, one of the Old Lompoc Brewery pubs. We just got beer and salads, but it was just what we needed to wind down. More on the Hedge House later…
After walking around the neighborhood for awhile, we headed for our dinner destination – Pok Pok. We had eaten here last time we were in town, and couldn’t bear to skip it this time. It’s a primarily Thai restaurant, but not like any other place I’ve ever been. They specialize in street food – the real stuff. The food is spicy and deeply flavored, and not subject to special requests – it comes how it comes, and if you don’t like it, order something else. Last time we were here, we got the green papaya salad, a steak salad, and a broken crepe full of mussels. It was all mindblowingly good.
Pok Pok doesn’t take reservations, so it’s good to not be in a hurry. We left our name with the hostess and sat at a table in one of the outside waiting areas, enclosed with plastic and warmed by patio heaters. We both got tamarind whiskey sours, one of the best cocktails on the planet, and after about half an hour we got a table inside, in the Whiskey Soda Lounge.
To start, we got an order of the baby back ribs. They came with two dipping sauces – one a sweet red chile sauce, the other a fish sauce-based concoction. They were both tasty, but the ribs were so smoky and flavorful by themselves they almost didn’t need anything else. To go with them we got an order of coconut rice, which was really good – lightly perfumed with coconut, but not at all gooey.
For our second course, we went for the Chinese eggplant. This turned out to be a very classic Thai dish, with chunks of eggplant in a soy and bean sauce, but the flavors of it were better than any I’ve had anywhere. The only complaint I had was that the eggplant wasn’t as tender as at some restaurants, but it was a minor problem.
Our third and final plate was the famed Pok Pok game hen, and I’m afraid we were a little disappointed with it. It was like a very nicely roasted chicken, and only a few bites had any flavor other than the bird itself. It came with dipping sauces, and we ordered sticky rice to go with it, but it was awkward to eat and just not as exciting as the other things we’ve had there. We were still very happy with our dinner, and we hope to make our way through the entire Pok Pok menu on future visits.
SE Division being a very happening street, we wandered a bit more. We got a complicated dessert at Pix, and a nightcap at Lauro – the Clear Creek muscat grappa was surprisingly wonderful. And so to bed, to prepare for another day of eating!