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18 Date Night Restaurants – Portland

21 Jul

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Compiled by Molly Norton

It's Date Night in PDX!

Portland has more romantic restaurants per capita than any other city in the world. Ok, I just made that up, but it’s plausible. A few things are for certain: Portland does design, coziness, and low-lit ambiance really well and the prices (no sales tax) can’t be beat. Romance + supporting Oregon’s farmers, breweries, and wine makers = winning.

And here’s a quick link if you would like to support Oxfam’s donation drive addressing the East Africa drought and food crisis. OXFAM. They do good work.

Unless otherwise mentioned, these restaurants accept reservations (good to know if you’re paying a babysitter by the hour).

Top 18 Restaurants for Date Night  – PDX (note that these are just the tip of ye old iceberg)

Price Guide:
$ = Not too Spendy
$$ = Medium Spendy
$$$ = Spendy Spendy Spendy

Ava Gene’s (SE – Division/Clinton) – A 2013 recipient of Bon Appétit’s Best New Restaurant in America, Ava Gene’s never fails to impress. Bonus: they take reservations, but be sure to book well in advance. Ava Gene’s manages to be all things to all people; elegant without being stuffy, festive without being loud, culinarily creative without being pretentious. Menu changes daily and some of the ingredients may be a mystery, but with the help of the knowledgeable wait staff, you are guaranteed to find a dish (or two or three) that will make your taste buds sing. Focus is on interesting preparations of radically fresh vegetables (radical!), amazing cheese, and perfect charcuterie, but pescatarians and carnivores seeking hearty entrees will find much to delight in. The wine list is thoughtful and reasonably priced. The sommelier suggested an amazing bottle of Sardinian white wine – a bargain at only $39. Magic. (Food: Creative Italian. Price: $$$)

Pok Pok (SE – Division/Clinton) – Portland loves Pok Pok. Cozy, loungey, hip with interesting cocktails. Known for “Ike’s Wings” – spicy chicken wings and baby back ribs marinated in whiskey. Don’t miss the Khao Soi which has a little less heat than other offerings. They don’t take reservations, but if you have to wait, mitigate the pain by sampling the drinking vinegars or the Mango Alexander cocktail at sister bar Whiskey Soda Lounge. (Food: Thai/Vietnamese “street food”  Price: $)

St. Jack (NW Alphabet District) – We won’t lie – this place is going to transport you to Paris and you won’t have to deal with any public transportation strikes. It’s swoony romantic and cozy. Start your date off with one of the best happy hours in town and then move on to dinner. Salade Lyonnaise? Mussels? Charcuterie? Whole roasted trout? All wonderful. Just leave enough room for made-to-order Madeleines afterwards. (Food: French  Price: $$)

Roe (SE – Division) – Roe is the grand-dame of the romantic dining scene in Portland, but not in a stuffy or pretentious way. Their focus is on masterful, creative preparations of seafood. The atmosphere may transport you to Tokyo, New York, and Barcelona simultaneously. Go here if your dining partner appreciates “high art” cuisine as much as you do. And if it’s a really REALLY romantic occasion, go all the way with a wine pairing. (Food: Modern American seafood   Price: $$$$)

Beast (NE) – As the name implies, this restaurant will not pleaseth vegetarians. But if the thought of the perfect charcuterie and a selection of cheeses from Steve at Cheese Bar make you salivate, make reservations here. The tables are communal, but they still find a way to make the experience intimate. Chartcuterie and slow-cooked meats are usually the highlight of their set menu which includes both a cheese course AND dessert. (Food: Modern French Price: $$$)

Toro Bravo (NE) – Perfect place for unconventional small plates/tapas. Great atmosphere, festive buzz, always a crowd pleaser. Not sure how they manage to make every item on their huge menu manifest fresh and delicious, but they do. Try the griddled bacon dates in warm honey, the sautéed chard with a sunny side up egg, Steve’s Cheese Board (we dig cheese, ok?), or the “French Kisses.” If you do have to wait, have a drink at the Victorian era lounge Secret Society next door. (Food: Modern Spanish/Tapas Price: $$)

Ataula (NW) Want a taste of Catalan, but a trip to Barcelona isn’t in the budget this year? Get you and your date to Ataula in NW Portland. The good news is that every last detail is top-notch – from the beautiful vaulted ceiling with skylights to the lovely recycled glass bar to the small plates which are some of the best Portland has to offer. The not-so-good news is that they only accept reservations for parties of 6+. Get there early, enjoy a glass of sparkling cava or their oh-so-good sangria made with brandy and vanilla beans. Tuck into Ataula Montadito – silky salmon with truffle oil and marscapone on toast, pulpos, or fantastic croquetas. Don’t leave until you’ve tried dessert featuring freshly made hot donuts or chocolate with sea salt and olive oil. Now also doing brunch.  (Food: Creative tapas  Price: $$-$$$) 

Tabla (NE) – Bills themselves a Mediterranean Bistro. Their $28 3 course pre-fixe is a steal. The Tajarin with truffle butter and truffle “pearls” is the stuff of dreams. Sample all of the pastas – you pretty much can’t go wrong. (Food: Pacific NW meets the Mediterranean  Price: $$)

Veritable Quandary /VQ (Downtown) little spendy, but VQ has one of the nicest atrium and outdoor garden patio set-ups in town. The food is consistently terrific as are the cocktails and the wine list. Duck confit spring rolls; poached egg, smoked bacon & butter lettuce with crispy cornbread, house made fettuccine with prawns. Need we say more? (Food:  Modern “Northwest”  Price: $$$)

Andina (NW) – Festive and romantic. Interesting ceviche, tapas, and sangria. Try a Tortuga (gin with cucumber, mint, and lime) and enjoy the twinkling lights with your tasty tapas. (Food: Peruvian/Spanish Price: $$-$$$)

Levant (East Burnside/Buckman)- Note that Levant doesn’t take reservations for parties of less than 5, but you should plan for an early date night here any way. The neighborhood is charming, the atmosphere is exquisite, and the food some of the most interesting in Portland. Think tapas from the Middle East with French preparation and fragrant North African spices. Don’t miss artichokes with lamb bacon or the wildly addictive fried garbanzo beans with Za-atar. (Food: Inventive Middle Eastern/French/Tapas  Price: $$-$$$)

Irving Street Kitchen (Pearl) – Top-notch happy hour. Great vibe inside and out. Upscale Cajun meets creative comfort food. Entire menu rocks. Try everything. (Food: Upscale Cajun/Comfort  Price: $$-$$$)

Departure Lounge (Downtown inside the Nines hotel) – Go here if you’re interested in a rather sexy, “loungey” vibe with a dance beat. Some of the best views and Asian-fusion small plates in PDX. And Chef Gregory has vegan selections that will knock your socks off. (Food: Asian Fusion  Price: $$-$$$)

Le Pigeon (E. Burnside) – Cozy, quaint, and charming. The pork with cabbage, bacon, and mustard is moist and juicy. Cornbread cake with apricots and bacon is a wonderful sweet and savory finish to a meal. Because bacon really does make all things better. (Food: Modern French Price: $$-$$$)

Coppia (Pearl) – Terrific food and wine pairings – don’t miss the Bagna Càuda with a glass of Deltetto rose. Pastas are fresh made and topped with ridiculously tasty ragus. Great place for happy hour with a reasonable price-point. It also has a “vera nahhhce” date night vibe. (Food: Italian/Piedmont  Price: $$)

Brasserie Montmartre  (Downtown) – The red brick interior with indentations in the wall highlights the fact that the restaurant once was next to a jewelry store where an attempted robbery occurred. And they make the most of their history. Soaring ceilings, lots of light, a hopping happy hour, and live jazz make it a venue for a date with “buzz.” You might be tempted to kiss each of the black truffle frites with sel gris – they are that good. Everything from the tomato fennel soup to the charcuterie to the perfectly cooked pork loin to the buttery/garlicky escargot was wonderful. And that live jazz may just put you in a sentimental mood. (Food: French  Price $$$)

Portland City Grill (Downtown) – There isn’t much that beats the view from the US Bancorp Tower which makes it good for business dinners and special date nights. They do a nice job with salmon and have a pretty decent wine list. If on a budget, go during one of their two happy hours featuring asian-fusion small plates and piano jazz.  (Food: Steak/Seafood/Asian Fusion Price – $$$)

Gracies (in the Hotel deLuxe) (SW) Order the lovely lavender “Elizabeth Taylor” (Creme de Violette and champagne) and be transported to the Golden Era of Hollywood. Their pre-fixe menu is usually a pretty good deal. Retire to the elegantly retro Driftwood Room afterwards or see a show at Artists Repertory Theatre. (Food: Modern Northwest  Price: $$)

Mingo West (Beaverton) – If you find yourself on the West side, heading towards The Beav, check out the popular Caffe Mingo’s sister restaurant – Mingo West. It’s a larger place with indoor / outdoor seating — just as cozy as its urban sister and even nicer in the summer months. Penne al Sugo di Carne (beef braised in Chianti and espresso tossed with penne pasta) is outstanding, but everything you order will be perfectly grilled/seared/baked and full of flavor. Save room for prunes poached in nebbiolo, port and cinnamon with housemade mascarpone or olive cake with honeyed mascarpone. Leave feeling so full of epicurean gratitude, you pay the babysitter twice their normal rate.


Willamette Valley Wine Country: Perfect Day for Foodies and Families

7 Jul

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By Molly Norton

Beautiful grounds, fantastic Pinot on offer at Domaine Serene

Enjoy food and wine, but would rather stick a spoon in your eye than take your kids out to decent restaurant? Grab a designated driver and spend a sunny afternoon wine tasting in Oregon’s family friendly wine country. Gorgeous views, great wines, relaxing atmosphere. Many wineries have lawns where kids can tumble in the grass while families picnic. And you can easily wine-taste on a budget.

We almost hesitate sharing these jewels, but figure that supporting our amazing local wine makers who just brought $2.7B into the state of Oregon is a good thing to do.

Tasting fees run between $5 and $15 and are usually refunded with purchase. Some favorites include:

  • Oswego Hills (Lake Oswego) – Excellent Syrah, tasting up to 11 wines (usually on Sundays), spacious covered patio and lawn where kids can play.
  • Domaine Drouhin – Amazing Pinot, though at a higher price point. Stunning, sweeping views from this winery’s outdoor patio. Go early as it can get quite crowded. (price point $40 – $60)
  • Domaine Serene – Stunning grounds. Upscale ambiance both inside and out. Classy and refined Pinot and Chardonnay in a European-styled winery. Bring a picnic. Higher price point ($40 – $60)
  • Penner Ash – Another good choice for excellent Pinot and Syrah, not much in terms of area for kids to spread out/run around, but a beautiful facility with lovely views of the vineyards. Being Syrah fans, we really enjoy their Rubeo which is a Pinot/Syrah blend – the best of both worlds. Check out their wine dinners.
  • Anne Amie – Winery up on a hill. Known for their Müller Thurgau and Pinot Noir. Offers impressive views of vineyards and the Pacific Coast Range. Nice place to sit and meditate (if you don’t have the kids, of course).
  • Ponzi (Beaverton) and Ponzi Tasting Room (Dundee) – While the tasting room is not the ideal place to bring kids, it’s next door to the Dundee Bistro which is an excellent place to have a kid-friendly lunch/dinner during your wine country adventures. Both venues offer Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay and White Riesling, as well as Arneis and Dolcetto, two rare Italian varietals. Reasonable price points.
  • Red Ridge Farms – This lovely vineyard is a destination retreat in itself. Sample their olive oils and you’ll realize that you may have never experienced the “real thing.” Enjoy wine tasting in their new tasting room, pick up some fresh lavender, suck in the sweet air while surveying the vineyards, and then tuck into one of their gorgeous cottages or guest suites for an evening.
  • Archery Summit – Wine Spectator calls Archery Summit the “Rolls Royce of Pinot Noir.” More of those sweeping vineyard views which are some of the best in the region. Offers special wine/food pairings with reservations.

There are several dozen more that are worthy of a favorites list, but these are good places to start.

If you find yourself hungry while in wine country, stop by the lovely Red Hills Market for a snack where you can enjoy a pizza with a blistered crust or a sandwich with bacon and fresh farm egg. Great children’s menu available and the place is very kid-friendly; they even have a “secret” cubby area with chalkboards where kids can entertain themselves. Bocce ball court and picnicking supplies can be found here along with live music and an extra nice covered patio.

For lunch, check out Dundee Bistro. Terrific food, great wine list, reasonable prices, and they even bring out crayons and high chairs for the littlest foodies. For brunch, lunch, or dinner, don’t miss Paulée for a more upscale offering that’s actually family friendly. For lunch or dinner (check their schedule), you can’t go wrong with Tina’s, though it is a smaller venue, so not the ideal place for toddlers who are on the go. Perfectly roasted meats, inventive pastas, seafood chowders can all be had for a pittance. Yes!

Pro tip: If you stop at Red Hills Market, be sure to pick up some Kelly’s Jelly. This sweet and spicy Habanero goodness by a local mom makes an excellent dip with cream cheese and crackers. Or as a glaze for chicken/ham. Or just enjoy naked (the jelly, not you). It’s so good that Voodoo features her jelly in their doughnuts on Thursdays.

I can haz Kelly’s Jelly?

Enjoy! And stop sticking spoons in your eye.

What Took You So Long? A Handy Chart.

25 Jun

By Molly Norton

Because diaper changes in public places require full disclosure

Have you ever gotten the stink-eye upon exiting a restaurant’s restroom with your toddler in tow? Had non-child toting people look quizzically upon you or even have the guts to come out and ask “why did that take so long?”

Here’s a handy chart you can place outside a restroom door the next time you find yourself dragging your diaper wearing tot to a public potty. And then when you exit, you can say “This is why.”

Click here for chart thingy! Diaper Changing Timeline Chart

Portland’s Best Kid-Friendly Restaurants

29 May

By Molly Norton

Kid tested…Mom and Dad approved

Portland’s food scene is just one-of-a-kind.

How many cities in America boast so many great non-chain restaurants that are not only kid-friendly, but have food worthy of a mini Iron Chef? You mean I can have a beer/glass of wine AND have a great meal in a place that will accommodate my squirmy toddler? Sign me up!

NOTE: There are a bajillion great kid-friendly and family friendly restaurants in Portland, so understand that these are really, truly just the tip of the iceberg.

1) Hopworks Urban Brewery (HUB) (SE) – Bills themselves as “Portland’s First Eco-Brewpub.” Sweet. Casual place to bring the kids with a small play area with chalkboard, games, toys, and a train table. Interesting soups, sandwiches, salads, burgers and pizza. Reuben sandwich soup with pastrami and sauerkraut? Actually, delicious! Seasonal selection of delicious organic brews on offer. Also, don’t forget to check out the relatively new Hopworks BikeBar = quintessential PDX.

2) Slappy Cakes (SE) – Get your pancakes and Dubstep here. The formula for this place is genius: skillets built-into the tables that allow kids to make and decorate their own pancakes + amazing brunch choices for adults + a robust cocktail list = best place to take kids for brunch in town. Try the pork belly with a sparkling cocktail to counterbalance the fattylisciousness while your kids have fun adding chocolate chips to banana pancakes. Come early (at 8am) or late (around 2pm) or there may be a looooong wait.

3) Seasons and Regions (Hillsdale) Friendly neighborhood spot in Hillsdale. While they don’t have a play area for kids, they do have a nice enclosed patio with enough room to spread out a bit. Nicely prepared seafood dishes and a good “cheap food” happy hour where most items are $3. Wide assortment of items on the kid’s menu and crayons to boot. Don’t miss the raspberry scones for brunch or check out their gluten-free menu.

4) Sunshine Tavern (SE) Folks with kids and without love this place. Keeps the kids entertained with a 14ft Shuffleboard table, vintage Donkey Kong AND Ms. Pac-Man, but make no mistake — this is not an annoying video game parlor à la Chuck E. Cheese. Food is top-notch and includes wood-fired pizzas, salads, thoughtful pastas, and fried chicken-n-waffles with clover honey. Did we mention the soft-serve ice-cream? Did we mention that soft-serve ice cream with Fernet on top? YOWZA.

5) Lovely’s 50/50 (N) – Wood fired pizzas, salumi, nettles, fresh farm eggs, Oregonzola, and homemade salted caramel or flowering thyme ice cream (drool). Better for kids with longer attention spans or who are less mobile as there isn’t a whole lotta room to stretch out.

6) Bollywood Theater (NE Alberta) – Pimm’s Cup and Papri Chaat! While it sounds like more of a cool dance party than a restaurant, Bollywood Theater is a great place to take the kids to introduce to them to quality Indian “street food.” The portions are large, the vibe is fun, the price is cheap. Grab some of the country’s finest ice cream afterwards at Salt & Straw nearby and roll home full and happy.

7) McMenamins Kennedy School (NE) – A local institution in terms of family dining. Two words: Tater tots. I’m not sure what addictive substance they lace these with, but doggone it, tots (and adults) love these tots. Lots of eye-candy to keep the kids engaged and distracted while you enjoy a hand-crafted ale in the courtyard restaurant (which is actually a converted school cafeteria – so cool).

8) Laughing Planet (Gabriel Park, Pearl, and other PDX locations) – Fun, casual café with an ENCLOSED BACK PATIO promises “to fulfill your daily requirement of goofiness and humor.” Healthy, creative burritos, salads, soups, smoothies and juices are what’s on offer here. Great menu for kids, vegetarians, and meatatarians alike. And who can resist the dinosaurs on the tables?

9) Waffle Window (Hawthorne and NE Alberta) – This place rocks. A window on the side of the Bread and Ink Cafe serves up little mini masterpieces for about $4. Try the 3B’s (Bacon Basil Brie) waffle with a green tea and mint lemonade. Kids will love the Chocolate Dipped Waffle or the fresh Oregon Strawberry Waffle. Vegetarians will salivate over the Farm Fusion with mushroom, spinach, roasted pepper, tomato and marinated chèvre. Visit on a sunny day and enjoy the picnic tables outside with the kids. You can also eat your waffles inside the café, but the venue is tight and not terribly stroller-friendly. There’s also a location on Alberta in NE that’s cute as a button and has some tables outside.

10) Laurelwood Public House and Brewery (NE) – This pub feels so quintessential Portland, it makes us happy just walk in the place. Come here to enjoy the trifecta of tasty organic beer, terrific food, and 3 tot-friendly areas. And you have to order the Space Stout, not only because it has a cool name, but because it has flavors of coffee AND chocolate AND beer. Ribs, chicken, burgers, sausage plates, salads, mexican food, veggie delights, seriously tasty garlic fries — the menu will definitely have something for everyone.

11) Maher’s Irish Pub (Lake Oswego) – If your travels take you out to the burbs slightly south of Portland, this is one of the best places to take the kiddos. Cuddle near the fireplace of this festive, cozy little pub with its sparkling lights in the winter. Enjoy the outdoor fire pit, picnic tables, and enclosed back patio in the summer. Nice selection of local beers and wines on offer and a cheap food happy hour that includes sliders, an Irish cheese board, and a tasty shepherd’s pie. Live music and entertainment 7 nights/week.

12) Mother’s Bistro (SW) – Local moms and dads love this place for breakfast. The space has chandeliers and lots of natural light. And they serve breakfast nachos, matzoh ball soup, crunchy french toast and they accommodate those who are veggie and gluten-free. Make reservations.

13) Bumblekiss (Beaumont Village) – I’ll start with a disclaimer that this brunch place doesn’t have a play area and the tables are a little tight, but the food is wonderful and the staff welcoming. Try the mini muffin basket with flavors like lavender coconut and banana. Whether you are vegan and gluten-free or drool over bacon, you’ll find something to love at Bumblekiss.

14) Fire on the Mountain (NE) – Serves up tasty wings (free-range!) in a fun micro-brewery on Fremont Street with an outdoor patio. The owners, inspired by Nigel Tufnel “like to take things to 11.”

15) Mississippi Pizza Pub (NE)- Some radically tasty pizzas here that include veggie, vegan, and gluten-free options. Fun place to take the kids to listen to live music like Franchot Tone and dance, dance, dance.

16) Deschutes Brewery Portland Public House (Pearl) – One of our favorite kid-friendly breweries in town. Great atmosphere with outdoor patio and a solid menu that will please everyone from finicky kids to finicky foodies to those who are vegan and gluten-free. Root beer glazed pork belly, ribs, Dungeness crab roll, sweet potato fries, smoked chicken, burgers, Obsidian Stout Mac-N-Cheese, salads. Desserts are HUGE. Wash it all down with a pint or two of their top-notch ales or seasonal brews.

17) Playdate PDX (NW) – While not a restaurant per se, it’s a terrific place to bring the 8 and under set to play while you have a hot mug of Stumptown coffee, a mimosa, local beer, or one of their many delicious sandwich/salad options. Great meal choices for kids, too. Free Wifi allows you to work while the kids climb through tunnels and hit the slides.

18) Play Boutique (Lake Oswego and Beaverton) – Similar to Playdate PDX, Play Boutique allows the little ones access to bouncy houses, kinetic toys, and other fun-ness while parents can relax in the cafe, work on their laptops, and enjoy light food and drink offerings.

Did we miss any great places? Let us know and we’ll include in the next update.