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Saturday, March 25, 2017

Celebrating Portland Dining Month

By now, you know I love food. I plan full days around where I want to eat. I have lists of restaurants I want to try when I travel. At home here in Portland I adore trying new dining venues, but there's only so much time and money. Once Portland Dining Month rolls around, I choose some restaurants that are usually too expensive for casual dining, so I can eat there for less and still enjoy more options from their menu than usual.

dining in portland

Restaurants participating in Dining Month offer up a three-course menu for diners for just $29. Sometimes this includes an appetizer, sometimes it includes a dessert. It really depends on the restaurant. Usually there are several dishes to choose from, so if there's more than one of you, everyone can try what's on offer. This month, so far, we've hit up three participating restaurants. There's still a week to go, for any of you in town. And if you aren't in town, look online to find out when your local Dining Month is or plan your next trip here to coincide with the month of March to enjoy some fancy restaurants on a bit more of a budget.


Aquariva is one of "our" restaurants. Want to go somewhere more upscale, but don't want to drive that far? Let's go to Aquariva. It's right on the river, the service is always great and the seasonal menu is usually delicious. We have friends that live in the apartments right across the parking lot, so we asked them along with us. Unfortunately, I couldn't eat the citrus starter or dessert (allergy), and there was only one option for both, so I ordered off the regular menu. My friend went for the PDM menu and enjoyed each course:

The first course was a chicory and blue cheese salad with candied hazelnuts and citrus in a Marionberry vinaigrette. It was gorgeous and she said it was even better tasting. 

The second course was either Oregon rockfish (I really did) want to try that or a smoked boneless pork chop with Japonica rice, pea tendrils, glazed carrots and a bacon-balsamic gastrique. She and her boyfriend both found it delicious, as they shared from each other's plate. I ordered the lamb instead, because I'm not one to pass up lamb or duck on a menu, that came with smoky white beans and kale. I was in heaven.

sorry about these wonky camera angles

The dessert course was another citrus explosion, but I was told it was more creamy and smooth than tart: preserved lemon ice cream with caramelized honey biscotti. Eric and I chose to order the flourless chocolate tart. I'm happy to say that I would easily have that over and over again. It came with a perfect scoop of homemade chocolate ice cream.


How I've never been to Gracie's before is beyond me. It's a posh place located inside the Hotel deLuxe and, if you weren't in Portland, you'd feel underdressed here. Gracie's had a big selection of their normal menu items on offer for PDM and made it work by giving you approximately a half portion of each course. 

The choices for the first course were spinach salad with spiced pecans, bleu cheese and fresh strawberries in a raspberry vinaigrette, or fig and arugula salad with prosciutto, parmesan, balsamic vinaigrette and local honey or beet salad with goat cheese, grapefruit, pickled ginger and candied pistachios. As much as I love a good beat salad, we both had to give into the temptation of the fig and arugula salad and boy was it worth it. A delicious combination with a lovely light dressing. I kinda want to go back just for that.

The second course choices were crab and shrimp cakes with shaved fennel, apple slaw and remoulade sauce or roasted cauliflower with a hazelnut Romesco, Sambuca currants and cilantro or spicy broccolini with Calabrian chilies and white cheddar. We split up at this point. Eric got the crab and shrimp cake, that he said was bursting with meat and very little filler, and I ordered the broccolini, which was cooked to perfection and was pleasantly (if not surprisingly) spicy.

Now, I was conflicted on what to order for my main, because all the choices sounded mouth-watering: Seared scallops in a saffron cream sauce with melted leeks and fingerling potatoes or braised beef short ribs with a celeriac puree and roasted root vegetables or oven roasted salmon with a shrimp and andouille ├ętouffee and roasted asparagus. I ordered Eric's favorite, the scallops, and he ordered the salmon. The portions were not large, but with the courses being served separately, it felt like the appropriate amount of food that filled us up, without being overfull. Both mains were fantastic, so we decided to go rogue and also order dessert.

Desserts were not included in the PDM menu, but the sticky toffee pudding caught my eye, so we had to get it to share. The cake was light and flavorful and I would gladly eat it every day for the rest of my life. It was that good. It inspired me to make my own for my annual Harry Potter party.

The Hairy Lobster

As far as I know, this restaurant is fairly new. It's next to Jamison Square and the menu sounded so good I didn't even have another choice for my third dinner. In fact, I enjoyed my experience so much, I may go back for my birthday.

The starter and dessert only had one choice, but that was okay with me. We started with wild mushroom bisque with basil crema and oh my. It was pleasantly thick and spicy and a dish I'd go back for. In fact, I would have been happy with two bowls all for myself. Speaking of which, all the china we were served was fantastically mismatched, which I loved.

The choices for mains were buttermilk-dipped fried half chicken with spicy whipped sweet potatoes, sweet and sour eggplant and parker house rolls or fresh sage gnocchi with winter squash, fiore sardo cheese and arugula pesto. We don't have anything against gnocchi, but when fried chicken is on the menu, it's almost like there are no other options. The chicken was perfectly crispy, the pickled eggplant was not expected, but I loved it. Eric wants to try to pickle his own now. And the sweet potatoes had just a bit of spice that paired well with everything else on the plate. 

Now, it was time for my second sticky toffee pudding of the week. It was swimming in caramel sauce and also came with house made brandied cherries and vanilla bean crema. It was heavier than the one at Gracie's, and not quite as good in my opinion, but I wouldn't turn it down if offered it again. It was still yummy, but in a different way. The cake was denser and I'm not sure it needed all the accoutrement to give it pizzazz, but still a winner.

If you want to try out some of Portland's best dining, Portland Dining Month is definitely the time to visit. It helps your dollars go further for those looking to splurge a bit. The same can be said for other destinations that participate in their own dining month. The cost may be a different, but look at what value it gives you for where you are eating.

Do you have a favorite restaurant and, if so, what's the best dish there?

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Basics That Help Your Pack Lighter

Packing. It can be a four-letter word for some. What do you take? What do you leave at home? How big a suitcase do you need? While you want to be comfortable, unless you’re trekking around the Outback, you probably don’t want to be seen in zip-off pants and hiking boots. Dressing like a traveler will only put a big target on your back that screams “tourist”. It’s always nice not to be pegged as an easy mark the second you step off the plane. 

basic travel pieces

You can still be stylish while being relaxed. In fact, you can find things right in your closet to coordinate with other versatile items to pack in your carry-on. You can pack light and look great.

Bring your new favorite jeans

Look for denim with stretch that will be comfy to wear on the plane and walking around all day (and after you’ve eaten way too much five days in a row). This is not the time to skimp on a pair of jeans. Get a high-quality pair that will look amazing on you and last for a long time. James Jeans and Hudson make great stretch skinnies that hug your curves in the right way and pack easily without taking up as much room as your regular denim. You can wear them with anything and they can be dressed up with the right shoes and accessories. You’ll love them so much you’ll want to wear them all the time. And you will!

Basic black always works

Black pants are a fab travel staple. They don’t show dirt and you can find them in any fabric you like. Rayon is perfect, because it is lightweight and resists wrinkles. Linen is great option for tropical climates. You can even find your favorite khaki pants in black. These also can be dressed up or down, depending on what you wear with them. Pretty much everything matches a pair of black pants, which means you only need to bring one pair.

Blaze a trail

Sure, you could bring a fleece with you, but in some destinations the locals wouldn’t be caught dead in such a thing. Blazers work for jeans, trousers, skirts and dresses. You always look sharp and put-together when you throw a blazer on, even over a basic tank or t-shirt. Not only will you be trendy, but it also doubles as a jacket if it starts to get chilly.

Look to the trees

Everyone loves a t-shirt and they are always acceptable. Leave your cotton tees at home in favor of those made of bamboo or soy. They are softer, keep their shape, dry quickly and they don’t hold odor, so even when you don’t have time to do laundry, your clothes won’t smell like it.

It’s a classic

Just like you have your favorite LBD at home, you will want one on the road. Travel dresses come in all shapes and sizes and you’re going to want to find one you love, because it will go everywhere with you. While you may be tempted to pull a dress from your closet in this case, think about how wrinkle-resistant, moisture-wicking and breathable it will be. You can find a huge range of styles, prices and brands on sites like Backcountry.com and REI.com.

Layer it on

If you’re like me, a good number of pieces in your closet are cardigans and cover-ups of some kind. The ¾ sleeve cardi can be your best friend on travels. It guards against chills and can be thrown over t-shirts and tanks. Bring one or two in neutrals that will match the other items you’ve packed and you can make more outfits out of fewer pieces.

Step it up 

Walking shoes are a must when you travel, but that doesn’t mean you have to wear trainers that make you stand out like a sore thumb. There are more walking shoes out there than ever now and many probably come from some of your favorite brands. A nice pair of sandals or ballet flats can go with everything from shorts to dresses and won’t get you kicked out a fancy restaurant like a clunky pair of sneakers will. Plus, this way you don’t have to choose between fashion and function.

When you have a handful of versatile pieces in your carry-on, it doesn’t take too many others to complete your packing list. Coordinating items enables you to pack less and still maximize your outfit options. You’ll be stylish and, as long as you’re not walking around with your nose stuck in a guide book or map, no one will ever think you’re a tourist. When you get asked for directions by other visitors, you’ll know you’ve really blended in with the locals.

I have a great pair of Clarks sandals that I take everywhere. What's your go-to basic that you always pack?
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