Portland proved to be the perfect city to explore for this brief visit and lived up to its unknown hype of being one of the places I was most looking forward to visiting on this roadtrip. Its gentle, ‘out-there’ vibe allows the locals freedom to do and be what they want and the tourists a chance to experience one of America’s freshest and hippest places without fear or confusion. Everywhere we roamed gave us the opportunity to see a neighbourhood that was different from the one before and each made us feel as welcome as if we’d been there every day of our lives.
By the end of our time here, our hot little feet were in need of a rest and our parched little throats were in need, quite frankly, of a good alcoholic beverage. Something cold, crisp and with fizz. Wandering along the beautiful waterfront and through the Tom McCall park, named after the Oregon governor who supported the revitalisation of the area, we came across a string of restaurants all looking out along the Willamette River as joggers, cyclists and dog walkers took full advantage of the setting sun, the warm evening air and err, the sounds of a bagpiper sharing his music lustily with the world.
Odd? Yes. Unexpected? Maybe. Portland? Absolutely.
Unlike so many of the edible gems we’d stumbled across already, Veritable Quandary where we ended up was recommended to us by a friend of J’s. A friend who I’d like to shake the hand and pat the back of because it was such a lovely way to spend the evening and to both rest, reward & revitalise our weary bones.
Sat along the waterfront since 1971, VQ has been a part of Portland’s dining history long before other restaurants sprung up around it.
The Business Journal calls it ‘… slice of old Portland that keeps pace without losing it’s authentic Portland feel’ and really, isn’t that exactly what you want when in a new town and searching for somewhere that will convey the true sense of a place but in a modern way?
You want somewhere that hasn’t steamrolled over its old charm with things that are modern for modernity’s sake but likewise, you don’t want to feel as though you’re still in the dark ages, eating and drinking food that has never been allowed to progress.
As the need for cold, crisp fizz grew evermore urgent, the Wandering Aengus Bloom cider appeared before us in the bar and promptly ticked all three boxes. It being a local brew was the first thing that caught our eye but it being utterly delicious with an almost honeyed sweetness sitting alongside a tart apple freshness was the reason we went back for seconds.
Hit the spot?
It totally hammered it.
One of the things American food is famous for is portion size. Let’s be honest here and say that generally, starters are massive, mains dwarf the table and desserts often cause legs – both human & furniture – to buckle and waiters to anxiously hover nearby in case everything collapses in a sea of melted fudgy-chocolatey-creamy-cheesecakey-sugary-sweet puddingness.
Yep. Three weeks of eating out was going to have to be handled with more caution than the career of Lindsey Lohan and this is why we decided that appetizer and bar menus might just end up being our salvation. Cheaper, smaller but every bit as delicious as their grown-up siblings?
First up, how about duck confit spring rolls with a ginger wasabi sauce?
Fact of the matter is, I don’t like ginger. Or wasabi.
Fact of the matter is, let’s put both of those in the past tense because in words of the great Sheldon Cooper ‘Bazinga!’ We have a winner! Apparently apart, they are not my friends but together? Oh they’re just swell. Like Joey and Chandler, Buffy and Angel or Zack and Kelly, they’re just so good together that it’s the only way that makes sense to me now.
The rolls themselves were deeply brown and crunchy – they were at the point of perfect deep-friedness that allowed them to be utterly delicious without grease oozing into your mouth and onto your hands. The duck was soft and dark, the vegetables fresh and light and the sauce? It filled every millimetre of your mouth, nose and throat with a spicy heat that wasn’t overpowering but would be a great way to clear your nose and head should you ever find yourself suffering from a cold in Portland.
I have a small obsession with kale. I’m obsessed with its earthy flavour, its dark green leaves and how insanely good it is for you. I wish I felt that way about broccoli which could claim all the same things but that is a relationship that’s never going to work. Like Jack and Rose, Rhett and Scarlett and Sid and Nancy but without the iceberg, the Civil War or the insanely, uncontrollable punk passion, broccoli and I are just not good together.
Kale though I eat in every way I can. Salad? Check. Wilted? Check. Juice? Check. Served with a bacon and bourbon jam? Oh hell yeah check. Enjoying a sweetness from the bourbon and a saltiness from the bacon, this was soft but not mushy and packed with flavour in every leaf and every drop of juice.
We’ve known each other a while now, haven’t we? Long enough for me to say that a bowl of this juice alone with bread to mop it up with would have more than satisfied me? Yes, that’s right. Bacony-bourbony-kale juice and bread makes me happy.
Our third pick for the night was a pizza topped with black figs, prosciutto, rocket and roasted hazelnuts. Y’know how people always say that real Italian pizza is light and thin and crispy and doesn’t leave you feeling weighed down with enough carbs to tackle Tough Mudder? It’s very rare I actually eat one that fuflills that criteria but here tonight, I did. There wasn’t a hint of greasiness about this; instead tender figs, crispy ham and golden nuts added sweetness, silkiness and crunch. I believe anything can be a thing of beauty and decadence but sometimes it’s hard to match a name to those labels – this pizza was thoroughly deserving of both.
It’s pretty obvious that the food here is A-plus. Importantly though so is the atmosphere which is warm and relaxed with a beautiful outdoor patio in which you can sit and enjoy the rainbow of blossoms that surround you, the gentle chatter of fellow diners and food that you can watch being carefully prepared in the open kitchens. The staff are wonderfully friendly with busboys, waitresses and a maitre’d attending and checking on us in a manner that was genuinely cheery and superbly unobtrusive.
Perfect for people watching, for toasting the end of your day or for simply reminding yourself of some the things that make the city great – prime ingredients, location and people – VQ was a gorgeous way to end 36 hours in a city I have no doubt will welcome us to it again and again.