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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

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.


Gracie's 

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?
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