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Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Portland Dining Month is Awesome

The best part of my travels center around dining. Of course I love every aspect of travel, even when things sometimes go really wrong, but food can create and trigger memories, making your vacation even better. March was Portland dining Month, which is one of my favorite times of the year around here, because it lets us visit some of the city’s more extravagant and fancy restaurants for less. Portland isn’t the only city that participates. Dining Month occurs across America and usually happens twice a year.


Not only is Portland a great travel destination in the winter and spring, because there are lots of things to do inside and outside for the whole family, but it’s less crowded, too. I was lucky to partner with Travel Portland (a fantastic source for all things cool in Portland) to make even more of my dining experience. For $29 restaurants serve from a special Dining Month menu where you choose three courses. You’ll leave petty full, but it’s worth it. We made it to three delicious restaurants in March. Check out where we dined and what yummy foods we had.


Aquariva
We’ve frequented Aquariva on many occasions. It has gone through a few names and incarnations, but the food is always spectacular. It is separated from the Willamette River by a jogging trail, so it has the added bonus of a pretty view with people watching. Below is the DM menu.


First course (choose one):
Curried butternut squash soup with cardamom cream and crispy potatoes
-OR-
Salad of endives, smoked blue cheese, spiced walnuts, shaved red onion, manchego and citrus vinaigrette

Second course (choose one):
Crispy-skinned salmon with sweet potato-goat cheese purée, chickpea ragout and smoked onion relish
-OR-
Braised beef short ribs with aged cheddar polenta and tomato jam

Third course (choose one):
Chocolate and Szechuan peppercorn pot de crème with sea salt and crème fraiche


I was a bit disappointed with the dessert, but the starter and main more than made up for it. We started off with spicy shrimp and Brussel sprouts (because we could) and then moved onto the DM menu where we both had the soup, which was some of the most incredible soup I’ve ever had. It really could have been a main and with the bread they serve, I would have been pretty happy. Eric had the braised short rib and I ordered the salmon. Both of us were immensely happy with those decisions. I love salmon and our restaurants mostly use locally caught fish, so double bonus!
Charthouse
Yeah, I’m aware that this is a chain, but it’s also one that we can rarely afford to eat in. We went once for our anniversary. Our Charthouse restaurant is set up on the hill and overlooks the Willamette River and part of downtown, which is easy to see through the wall of windows. Here’s their DM menu.

First course (choose one):
Caesar salad of crisp romaine, shaved Parmesan, croutons and house-made Caesar dressing
-OR-
Chopped salad of mixed greens, cucumbers, tomatoes, red onions, radishes, hearts of palm, pepperoncinis and croutons in balsamic vinaigrette
Second course (choose one):
Wafu flat iron steak marinated in soy and garlic, grilled and served with garlic
-OR-
Grilled shrimp and artichoke linguini with sautéed spinach, artichokes, tomatoes and garlic herb butter, sprinkled with feta cheese
-OR-
Macadamia nut-crusted chicken with a warm peanut sauce, mango relish and soy glaze over coconut ginger rice
Third course (choose one):
Mud pie with a mountain of coffee ice cream, chocolate sauce and whipped cream
-OR-
Creamy Key lime pie



So, here was another restaurant where we were both stupid hungry when we arrived. They had some yummy sounding appetizers that we wanted to try, but being realistic, we made the smart decision to only get one: the ahi nachos. If you like sushi and you like nachos, then this mash-up is both innovative and delightful. Each nacho is topped with a slice of ahi tuna, garnish and a squiggle of wasabi mayo. It’s served on a plate with a spicy sauce. You shouldn’t leave here without trying these. They’re also on the happy hour menu.
We weren’t very original with our meals here, as we both ordered the chopped salad (which is not a chop salad, like I expected, but a regular salad chopped into little bits), the flat iron steak (I was all set to order the fish dish here, which isn’t shown for some reason, but it was made with cilantro and couldn’t be made without) and the mud pie. The steak was so buttery and didn’t even need a knife to eat. I planned to take part of it home with me, but it was so good with the mashed potatoes that we pretty much scarfed it all. I’m not usually a huge fan of mud pie, but I can’t do key lime pie, so I opted for that. It wasn’t pretty to look at, but it was really chocolately and good. I’d suggest it with a cup of coffee, and to share it with fellow diners.

Trader Vic’s
I love Disney, but I live in Portland, where we don’t even have a water park or a Hard Rock Café. I feel like Trader Vic’s is the next best thing to taking a trip to a Disney restaurant. That’s how good the theming is. Their DM menu reflects that, I think, and is one of the largest of the venues we’ve been to.

First course (choose one):
Caesar salad with fresh ginger, house-made croutons, shaved Parmesan and lemon-garlic dressing
-OR-
T.V. salad of young greens, red Flame Seedless grapes, Marcona almonds, goat cheese and sherry wine vinaigrette

Second course (choose one):
Macadamia nut-crusted mahimahi with mango salsa, balsamic glaze, Dungeness crab risotto cake and sautéed green beans

-OR-
Indonesian lamb yellow curry with eggplant, zucchini, yellow squash, parsnips, green beans, fingerling potatoes and Calrose rice
-OR-
“Express Chicken” stuffed with prosciutto and Boursin
-OR-
Fulton Farms flat iron with fingerlings, braised greens, red chimichurri and crispy parsnips
-OR-
“Divine Shrimp” with snap peas, wild mushrooms, bell pepper, carrots and spicy citrus-honey glaze
-OR-
Crispy tofu stir-fry with green onions, carrots, mushrooms, red onions, garlic, ginger and pad Thai noodles

Third course (choose one):
Peanut butter lava cake 
-OR-
Trader Vic’s snowball 
-OR-
Apple cobbler

We chose one of each of the salads to start this time. I had the Caesar and Eric had the TV salad. The vinaigrette on his was deliciously tangy, plus there were vegetables. I dug into mine and uttered something I’ve never said before. “This salad could benefit from some anchovy.” No veggies and it was a bit bland. Maybe they were trying to appeal to the big vegetarian community here. It’s all good, because my mahi mahi came and it was so good, I forgot all about the salad. No one goes to Trader Vic’s for salad anyway. Am I right? Eric has had the lamb curry on another occasion and it was super-flavorful, but wanted to try something different, so he also ordered the mahi mahi, because he didn’t want to be jealous when mine arrived.
We both ended up taking half our entrées home in order to take full advantage of our meal ending. I had the snowball, which was vanilla ice cream drowned in coconut flakes. So fruity and light. Eric had the peanut butter lava cake, because he can’t refuse anything with peanut butter. He was pretty happy with it. I even was a bit jealous that I didn’t order it, but I’m not sure I could have eaten much after my salad and meal.
As you can see, we were able to get a great sampling of dishes and we now know where we’ll want to return in the future. When we travel during Dining Month, it gives us the chance to visit restaurants we wouldn’t be able to and still stick to a budget. Portland Dining Month occurs in March and again in September. Google Dining Month in your destination to see if you can take advantage of a fancy meal for less. Know that you can also change your mind and order off the regular menu, too. Don't forget to make your reservations through OpenTable, so you also get points towards free dining!
Have you ever dined during Dining Month? If so, where and what did you think?

Disclosure: One of my three dinners was comped by Travel Portland; however, we paid for the other two, extras and gratuity, and all opinions are 100% my own.
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