PORTLAND — Getting a great meal in Portland is harder than you'd think.
Not for lack of talented chefs creating world-class food. Rather, too many of them. Deciding where to dine among the many contenders can quickly leave you overwhelmed.
I know. First-world problem.
But it's true. Portland's dining scene has such a delicious glut of talented, creative chefs, you may find yourself calculating how many dinners — if one started early — could be jammed into a single evening. Gluttonous, perhaps, but nonetheless the best way to make the most of a short visit.
And if you were to attempt said gluttony, consider starting the evening at Gabriel Rucker's Le Pigeon, where the rustic French-inspired food — including a jerked take on the namesake bird — simply astounds.
Le Pigeon is ideal for an early dinner because it's likely the only way you'll get in the door. Reservations for this tiny restaurant are tough, but 10 seats at the chef's bar are reserved for walk-ins. Get there 10 minutes before they open at 5 p.m. and you'll be good to go.
And don't even think of leaving without getting the foie gras profiteroles for dessert. They are, simply, an intensely rich and decadent dessert that will leave you so very happy.
For dinner No. 2, try like mad for a reservation for the 8:45 p.m. seating at Naomi Pomeroy's Beast, where diners enjoy a six-course prix fixe dinner built around massive flavors and the chef's penchant for butchering whole animals. The rustic, yet refined menu changes weekly, but you can expect the likes of charcuterie plates with steak tartare and mains of braised pork belly.
But what about the rest of the day?
While planning your multiple dinners, you'll probably be walking around the city. And it would be a shame to do that on an empty stomach.
For breakfast, head to Kenny & Zuke's Delicatessen, a wonderful ode to the classic Jewish deli. Though they have ample seating and a full — and deliciously tempting menu — consider trying the take-out counter.
Spend a moment admiring the wall of vintage-style and artisanal sodas, then move to the deli case. Grab some of the house-cured gravlax to go (sold by the deliciously thin slice). It is savory and salty with a wonderful chew that teases an almost jerky flavor and texture. Don't be afraid to ask for a sample.
There is no shame in eating the gravlax straight up. But you also could get a bagel — the salt bagel would be a delicious choice — or a potato and onion knish. Have them heat the knish for a rich, flaky, yet substantial breakfast.
Now take your deli goodies next door to a Portland institution, Stumptown Coffee Roasters. The coffee — particularly when served up as a gorgeous whole milk latte — is as good as its reputation suggests, smooth, yet bold in a way that a certain national chain could only wish to be.
After you grab your coffee, head into the adjoining lobby of the Ace Hotel, where chairs and couches welcome you and an oversized (massively so) coffee table anchors the room. And if the caffeine leaves you feeling feisty, the lobby has a fun old-school photo booth.
Ready to explore? Start by crossing the street, where in an architecturally stunning alley-like mall is hidden the tiny candy shop known as Quin. But this is no ordinary sugar load. This is artisanal candy of the highest order, all dreamed up by candy maker Jami Curl and made from local ingredients. Grab a bag of the Jacobsen sea salt caramels (made with Oregon salt by local producer Ben Jacobsen), and maybe some of the strawberry gumdrops.
Ready for a rest? Head across the street where you'll find the amazing indie bookseller Powell's Books. You could lose yourself — and delightfully so — in here for hours. Or even just long enough until dinner.